Trick Dog – San Francisco, CA

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Fortunately for Trick Dog, they’re still just a pup…and they already know all the tricks.

We touched down at SFO around 9:00 pm, excited, hungry and ready to hit the town. Hertz rental cars had other ideas. I found myself locked in a Seinfeldian conversation with the rep regarding the importance of taking and subsequently holding a reservation. I received a complimentary bottle of Hertz brand bottled water for my trouble and was told to wait. This minor setback gave everyone’s favorite snack sleuth, Logan Crumpton, a moment to find us a meal.

You’d think in a world-class city like San Francisco, the choices for late nights eats would be endless. The search was more difficult than you’d think. The clock ticked on as our options dwindled. This is the part where the men and women who make up The Bon Vivants, the creative group behind Trick Dog, showed us their first trick, staying open past 10:00 pm! In fact they laugh at the clock face as it ticks past midnight as this place is hopping ’til 2 am, every single day! After finally receiving our vehicle, we made a bee line for Florida and 20th.

In an otherwise sleepy neighborhood, one industrial frontage still had the lights on. No sign, no address, but the music was loud and it smelled of alcohol and red meat, this had to be it. The dining room had just closed, but the bar serves the full menu, so our trio quickly staked out a spot near the end. A group of three guys all over 6′-0″ always manages to clear a space. Libations were quickly supplied by the friendly bartenders as we got to work on the menu.

Trick Dog bar

At this point in our relationship, Matt, Logan and I have developed a hive mind when it comes to eating, so we took turns rattling off the choices, each meeting with a resounding “yeah baybay!”. The Trick Dog, beef tartare, scotch egg and thrice cooked fries, manimal style, of course…done!

The Trick Dog

The trick of the Trick Dog is that’s it’s not a dog at all, it’s a dog shaped patty of chuck, brisket and sirloin doused in a tangy house sauce and slapped on a buttered and toasted bun. If that’s not drinking food I don’t know what is. The taste is immediately familiar and new all at once, the house sauce, some sort of creamy relish lights up the sumptuous beef with a sour pop.

Two of my favorite dishes landed simultaneously. The scotch egg played a third trick on us. Traditionally wrapped with sausage, here it’s replaced with brandade (a salt cod and olive oil emulsion), and sits proudly on a purple potato salad in a sea of romesco. The sea flavor of the crispy cod exterior is front and center and blends well with the soft-boiled egg. While the romesco and potato salad play off each other with spicy and soothing notes.

Scotch egg & steak tartare

Now Logan and I both have had our share of post midnight tartare. I think I speak for both of us when I say that this was one of the best. While many dishes on the menu play fast and loose with geography, this tartare sits squarely in France, a perfect rendition. Smooth and creamy, savory and sour, every note you expect and hope for from a tartare were there. Slather a healthy spoonful on the accompanying garlic bread and you’ll tune out the incredible din for a few seconds while you bask in the sun-like glow of quail egg coated rare beef.

Thrice cooked fries

Of course the boys of The Root couldn’t pass up and opportunity at a little market research, to see how the west coast does fries. If double frying is good, triple frying has to be better right? It’s crisp upon crisp with this dish, and it has to be to handle the downright deluge of “manimal” sauce and cheese. Well seasoned and cut sturdy enough to handle the moist attack, these fries are perfect drinking companions. The salt mixed with the sweet and sour of the sauce is one of those addicting combinations that lures you back like a siren. The poor bowl was ravaged by three greedy hands grasping and groping for every last crumb.

So here we are just about 12:30 am, six drinks and four dishes down when the bartender asks, “how about dessert?”…”what have you got?” we reply, “how about a gin fizz panna cotta?”…”um, yes please”.

Ramo's gin fizz panna cotta

I should probably let Logan step in here as he was having something like a religious experience with this thing. I have to admit, I’ve never had a panna cotta quite like this. Made with Tanqueray, orange blossom and citrus pop rocks for the “fizz”. Chef Watson obviously knew what he was doing when he thought up such a refreshing dish to leave you floating after a meat filled, fried fiesta.

Amazing cocktails, killer pub food, cool atmosphere and late hours, Trick Dog does all the tricks and does them well. Do you live in San Francisco? Visiting soon? If you’re anything like us, you’ll want to stop here, maybe learn a few new tricks while you’re at it!

Trick Dog on Urbanspoon

NAOE – Miami, FL

I’ve long bemoaned the state of sushi in Florida. You’d think a state surrounded by ocean on three sides would be more discerning when it comes to seafood. There are myriad establishments where one can enjoy a maki roll, perhaps drizzled with a fruit infused syrup and blanketed with tempura crispies. There are even a few places that offer omakase at the bar, but when it comes to traditional Japanese kaiseki dining, well, until recently, I had given up the search.

Thankfully, my good friend and occasional food cohort, Mr. Todd Sturtz, threw me tip a few months back about a little sushi bar on Brickell Key called NAOE (pronounced nah-o-ay). Ever since, I’ve been trying to make a reservation, to no avail, tables are usually booked straight through their 3 month window. A couple of weeks back though, I was making my regular check of OpenTable (the only place you can reserve a table), and found a table for the second seating (NAOE only has two seatings a day) the very next evening! I couldn’t book it fast enough for fear of some sushi sniper snaking it out from under my scallop loving nose.

Naoe Interior

What you see above is the entirety of the restaurant, not counting the private dining room off the entrance (the design of which was enough to get this architects juices flowing), so it’s easy to see why they’re booked solid for months in advance. You’ll receive the warmest of welcomes from Wendy, who plays the dual role of maître’d and tour guide throughout the meal, answering questions and explaining dishes and their ingredients.

Our seats at the bar afforded us an unobstructed view of Chef Kevin Cory’s immaculate kitchen. You’d be excused for thinking you’re in a showroom, until Kevin enters from behind the curtain to begin a solo performance that transforms it into a stage.

The first act was a bento box, with a beautifully composed assortment of seasonal ingredients, many of which I’ve never tried before. You can check out the detailed menu here. Each quadrant had something unique to offer, a creamy chawanmushi with geoduck and shimeji mushroom, tangy and sweet boniato potato rice with daikon pickled with koji, a rice mold used in the making of sake. A striking bowl of cobia sashimi, two tiny kombu and roe “sandwiches” on shiso and freshly grated wasabi was a favorite. The upper right corner displayed a smattering of fresh seafood, game, and produce. Small fried chunks of kisu (small fish often used in tempura) rolled in poppy seed, fried gingko biloba nuts with firefly squid, and roast duck breast with local green beans were just a few of the items. At the time I didn’t know what I was eating, even after Wendy’s masterful explanation. This allowed for the rare experience of trying something new with absolutely zero expectations. It was truly an adventure in eating.

Naoe Bento

Soon after our boxes were cleared, we were presented with a handsome broiled kasugodai (baby red snapper) with king trumpet mushrooms, spinach and meyer lemon. The texture was pillowy, like a gently cooked marshmallow, but not sticky. The flesh is sweet, offset by a soft touch of salt from the skin. Pro tip, don’t stop eating once the body is consumed, grab that head and dig out the fluffy cheeks on either side, you’ll be in for a treat. As we patiently made our way through the kasugodai, Wendy entertained us with stories of past diners apparent discomfort with eye contact, who attempted to hide the fish face under a napkin. Welcome to America.

Broiled Kasugodai w: Trumpet Mushrooms

Now what I’m sure you’ve been waiting for, the sushi. The procession lasted for 11 courses and was, if I’m honest, the most amazing sushi I’ve ever had in the States, hands down. Taste, color, smell, touch, each sense was able to enjoy the superlative freshness that the fish displayed. Both my father and I were speechless as each piece was presented, how the heck do you keep this stuff so fresh traveling all the way from Tsukiji?! While everything was outstanding, there were a couple of particularly bright spots. In the top right square is a baby golden ring octopus, paired with poached lobster and pea tendrils, atop a slice of Florida avocado. I wish I’d had the gall to ask for a whole bowl of this octopus, the flavor was addictive to say the least, it even beat out the lobster in my opinion. The second moan inducing piece is in the square just above the logo. Both look like uni, but on the right is something called konoko, which are, wait for it, sea cucumber ovaries! Dear lord this was the most delicious thing I’ve put in my mouth in some time. I’d take this over uni any day, and I’m an uni man through and through.

Naoe Sushi

From the oyster, to the live scallop, two preparations of unagi, the Seuss sounding red bluefish, it was a tasty parade of sea life this Floridian has never experienced.

For dessert Kevin started us with a palate cleanser of locally grown ugli fruit, caimito and sapodilla. Those last two were new to me, the purple and white slices were the caimito, also known as star apple. The taste and texture were reminiscent of lychee. The sapodilla on the other hand was more like a pear. All the fruit was sourced personally by chef Cory from local grower Robert Is Here in Homestead, FL. 

Ugli fruit, Caimito & Sapodilla

Our next dish was brought with a challenge, guess what’s in the ice cream. After a half-dozen bites of it paired with the kasutera (Japanese sponge cake made with milk and honey) I was stumped. It was delicious to be sure, but I just couldn’t figure it out. Then Jep blurts out, “it’s soy sauce!”. A round of applause please for a fantastic palate. Sure enough the ice cream was infused with soy sauce straight from Oono, Japan where chef Cory’s family has owned a shoyu brewery since 1825.

Matcha tea soup and a healthy chunk of mamey, another unknown fruit, was the final dish. Mamey is related to mangosteen, although the two are nothing alike. It was creamy and sweet, more custard than fruit, so soft you could slice it with the provided toothpick. We enjoyed a refreshing frozen sake, again provided by chef Cory’s family.

Naoe dessert

NAOE has easily made its way into the top ten meals of my life (the top 5 was getting a little restricting, sue me). In my opinion, this place easily stands among the greatest restaurants in the country, and the world for that matter.

Now I must share a few disclaimers to anyone considering a visit here:

  1. Don’t bring anyone who’s unwilling to try new things, this is not the place for them. Unless you’re ready to taste everything without preconceived notions or squeamishness, don’t bother.
  2. Allow 2-3 hours for dinner, don’t be like the couple sitting next to us who got up and left halfway through the sushi courses. For a restaurant that only has two seatings a night, you have to be a pretty big douche to snub the chef like that (although we did get to eat their eel…serves ’em right).
  3. When you make the reservation you pay for dinner up front, $200 a head, while it is more than worth the price for what you get, it’s something to keep in mind. NAOE would be a fantastic venue for an amazing anniversary dinner or other quiet special occasion.

Well there it is folks, a top of the top-notch Japanese restaurant right here in Florida, but don’t tell too many people, I still want to be able to get a table!

Mission Chinese Food – San Francisco, CA

I enjoy reading about about up and coming chefs from around the country. Their stories tend to be filled with glorious ups and massive downs. A while back I was reading about the winner of the best new chef award who hailed from San Francisco and cooked at a tiny, no-name Chinese restaurant. Actually it did have a name. On the façade was the name of some long defunct Chinese restaurant that once inhabited this famous spot in the Mission district. The inconspicuous, almost secretive, nature of the storefront adds to the allure. It’s one of those things us food lovers, well…love. To be a know it all, in the know, knowing all even if we know nothing.

Mission Chinese SF

The restaurant itself seems to be unchanged from the stereotypical Chinese restaurants we’ve all come to know, but then you see the menu. Classically inspired, but clearly innovative when you consider the produce, protein and technique used in the dishes.

Mission Chinese Menu
Over the past three years, this place and its chef have been white-hot, lauded, applauded and set on high by every major publication. Needless to say, Mission Chinese has been a large blip on our radar for a while now. I’d been dying to try it, but I never had a chance to fly out west. Then, it was revealed that Mission Chinese was opening an east coast branch in NYC. I thought for sure I stood a greater shot to devour some thrice cooked pork belly now. Sadly a trip to New York still hasn’t come.

Eat a Duck’s longtime friend, Todd Sturtz of Tasting Tampa fame and soon to be snacking in San Diego, got the chance to dine at Missions New York branch recently and was thoroughly impressed with his meal, which added to my already burning desire for Mr. Bowein’s thoughtful cuisine.

Miraculously I found myself with an opportunity to visit The City, a warmth growing in my heart from the prospect of eating at Mission Chinese for the first time. So, my research began. As I planned out an itinerary which included a surplus of other buzz worthy Chinese restaurants, I noticed a very sobering trend. People were straight up crapping on Mission. Not even in a civilized way either. It’s as if they built a special outhouse in which to dump their vicious verbal excrement on Mission Chinese as a whole. They’d been praised so highly by all the online eating, entertainment and travel sites I frequent, and now, just as I was about to visit, it seemed Mission Chinese was falling off the radar, with complaints of quality control issues.

Now do you see why we don’t trust the general public?

Because they aren’t very smart. Sadly the fickle majority has a voice much louder than the small group of individuals qualified to judge quality. Mission Chinese has been fortunate to stay in business long enough to have their initial buzz wear off. Apparently to some that’s the mark of a restaurant in decline. I lump these people in with the same godless rabble that vote (insert generic chain restaurant here) as best eats in town.

So what’s wrong with Mission Chinese. Nothing. It was amazing, thought provoking and most certainly innovative to a degree you don’t often see. Although, in the same breath, I would say a steady respect to classic Chinese was clearly shown. General Tso or (General Torso as my family pronounces) is one of those dishes every Chinese restaurant has to cover. It’s kind of the new sweet and sour. Something that’s been done to death, but if you get a wild hair and order it at a good place, it is actually quite tasty.

General Tso's Veal Rib

Think about adding that sweet, onion-chile sauce on top of a slow cooked veal rib. The meat was so tender it harkened me back to a fatty wagyu beef brisket I once had. With added heat from copious amounts of chiles, I was ready to get out of my seat and clap my hands say yeah.  Our mini meal also included a beautiful bowl of pork wontons with pea tendrils, relaxing ever so comfortably in a crystal clear bath of ham consommé, a broth so soothing it could have cured Sutro’s many ailments.

Grandma's Pork Dumplings
The only downside was that Mission Chinese was only stop three on an all day food crawl, so we were only able to sample these two dishes. Had there been more time, or if I could somehow figure out a way to distend my tripe more than it already is, I would have gone back again. It was so great I would have bypassed other seemingly worthwhile places for a second waltz with some kung pao pastrami or quite possibly an order of schmaltz fried rice. So let me emphasize a key point for your travels. Guides are just that…guides, think of public opinion as 1200 grit sandpaper, it doesn’t really accomplish anything. Generally, people can’t be trusted, but they can come in handy to get a ballpark idea of what could be good. Popularity does not necessarily equal quality and unfortunately vice versa, so train your heart to decipher sample menus and form your own opinion. If a menu includes a number of items that look like the best thing you’ll ever eat, that’s a good place to start.

Mission Stree Food Cookbook

Mission Chinese Food on Urbanspoon

Enzo’s – Longwood, FL

So where are you from?

That question has stumped me for years. I’ve moved around so much in my life, that the idea of “home” doesn’t immediately bring to mind a place. Does it refer to where I was born? Perhaps it’s where I currently live? Or maybe it’s where I graduated from high school. I tend to go with the latter, but I still can’t be sure.

I recently had an interesting conversation with some old friends, as is usually the case, over a meal. Everyone had a clear idea of where “home” was, except for me. I graduated from high school in Winter Park, FL, where I have many fond memories, a good amount of those involving food. The more I thought about it, there was one place in particular that, to this day, whenever I get the chance to eat there, I’m home (and it’s not Olive Garden ya jerk!).

enzos-logo

Enzo’s has been a part of my family for the better part of two decades. My parents used to take me and my sister to their pizzeria in the early 90’s for authentic Italian food when we were feeling too lazy to cook. Sadly that location closed years ago, but their main spot in the mostly unknown town of Longwood is still going strong, well over 30 years and counting.

Honestly, Longwood is the last place I’d expect to find seriously authentic Italian cuisine, but Enzo Perlini saw something that reminded him of home, so I can’t argue with the man. He managed to transform the small plot of lakefront property into his own teleportation machine, bringing its patrons straight to lush countryside around Rome.

Scenery can only take you part of the way, the food is what does the heavy lifting. Enzo knew that to truly give his diners a real Italian experience, he couldn’t skimp on freshness. This stands true from the antipasto to the dolce. At a glance, the menu doesn’t seem like anything special, but with Italian food, it’s not about creating something new, it’s about executing a classic perfectly and consistently.

antipasto-1

All the favorites are here, blushing carpaccio di manzo with olive oil and freshly shaved parm, toasty country bread topped with ultra ripe tomatoes, basil and mozzarella. Here’s a pro tip, skip all that and let your waiter prepare you a plate from the antipasto bar, everything is at the peak of freshness, you’ll get a couple different cured meats, some pickled veggies, potato salad, marinated peppers, and olives. Make sure to ask for extra grilled eggplant, trust me on this one.

Eggplant

You like pasta? Yeah me too, how about the classic Roman dish, spaghetti carbonara with smokey bacon, sweet onions and romano cheese tossed in a hot skillet. Or my personal favorite, penne vodka, with a simple sauce made from marinated red pepper, tomato and you guessed it, tangy vodka. I’ve tried nearly everything on the menu and this…this one dish is the one I keep coming back to.

Penne Vodka

A close second is the pappardelle alla Farnese. The concise description hardly tells the story of this dish. I think there are only four or five ingredients in the whole dish not including the pasta, but it has a flavor that fills the mouth like nothing else. Thick sheets of homemade pappardelle act as the perfect vehicle for the spicy duo of arugula and black pepper. Pillowy shitake, softened with olive oil balance everything out on the tongue.

Pappardelle alla Farnese

No Italian meal is complete without something sweet. I’m slightly ashamed to say that I’m not exactly sure of all the dessert options as I always order the same thing, tiramisu. I believe there’s a cheesecake, possibly a panna cotta and a flourless chocolate cake. All of that fades away when I get my first bite into that familiar creamy exterior, marked with spiked ladies fingers and a healthy dusting of cocoa powder, careful not to inhale!

Tiramisu

Unfortunately the location may be a deal breaker for many of you as it can be a haul to get there. I assure you, if you make the journey, at least for an hour or two, you’ll forget all about the miles you traveled since your tongue and brain will be far away in the rolling hills of Italy.

Enzo's on the Lake on Urbanspoon

Tartine Bakery & Cafe – San Francisco, CA

“In life, there are no Fastpasses.”

Each of us wait in a line almost every day, in anticipation of a service to be performed on our behalf. We wait on the phone for faceless, pseudonym-bearing voices to give us support, or take our money in one form or another. A majority of the time, we’re forced to grin and bear it with the patience of a saint, with the occasional Gary Busey inspired outburst.

That’s why I find it fascinating when people balk at my willingness to wait in line for food. It’s as if it’s reasonable to wait for any number of ultimately unpleasant activities, but only a buffoon would queue up patiently at a world-famous patisserie. The question is, which of those activities hold more worth to you?

When you were a kid, about 10 years old, do you remember getting in line for a roller coaster, say for instance space mountain, and being willing to wait 45, 60, 90, or even 120 minutes for a 45 second ride?! For some reason that’s ok. To most of us, as adults, it’s still ok, not as ok, but we find ourselves waiting often and for long stretches. Like I said earlier, we will wait for much less and much worse. I once spent my whole day off getting my oil changed, and the new oil wasn’t even infused with tartufo bianco!

Tartine queue

James and I recently found ourselves on the cusp of a bro trip to the west coast, with a 36 hour blitzkrieg of the greater San Francisco area. The research was minimal, however we’d both had a resource exceedingly more effective than any travel site, guide or chefs feed. Word of mouth from friends and colleagues. The consensus from everyone we spoke to was to shoot over to Tartine Bakery & Cafe for the some of the finest French pastry to be had in the states.

Walking down Guererro St. toward the bakery, on what appeared to me to be a dead quite Sunday morning as far as San Francisco goes, we joined a crowd of about 75 people lining the sidewalk, all with smiles on their faces and an eager yearning in their hearts fueled by the gentle wafting of freshly baked goods. Surprisingly, there are people who love food as much, if not more than me. We’re out there, we love to share, we love to visit one another and we love to wait for things worth waiting for.

There are many reasons for this seemingly odd behavior, many of which reside cozily in the displays lining the front counters glass enclosed case.

Tartine pastry case

First, waiting in line adds to the suspense. In almost every artisan bakery, items rotate so often every trip can offer a whole new experience. One day you might be looking forward to a morning bun, but then you see a blueberry frangipane tartlet with its 1,800 layers, buttery brown crust and tiny California blueberries adorning the crown.

Frangipane tart, double pain au chocolat, passion fruit lime cake

There is a fantastic phenomenon, possibly part of the owners ingenious plan, that often occurs while in the line at a great bakery. As each happy customer exits and passes by, full and happy, they leave behind an aromatic tail, a sort of pastry contrail if you will. This you’ll find more intoxicating than drakkar noir. With every inch you move closer to the door, your anticipation grows, until you find yourself planning an order far larger than you originally planned.

In the bread basket that is San Francisco, Tartine sits as the tallest baguette in the heap. Granted, there is great pastry to be had without the line. However that line you see out the door is the difference between good and great. It marks that moment reminiscent of your first coaster drop, where you feel your stomach float. We wait for that first bite of a double chocolate croissant, we wait because you don’t know if you’ll ever have another chance to savor another slice of passion fruit, lime and coconut bavarian cake. You’ll never forget what happens within these walls, and you’ll want to send all your friends to experience the same feeling. I was the recipient of that extra special moment of remembrance, and I thank my dear friends for sharing.

Tartine Bakery on Urbanspoon