TheGourmez’s Reviews

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Urban TavernUrban Tavern
American (New) / Gastropubs / Bars

Urban Tavern horse Union Square Hilton


The restaurant’s central showpiece at Christmastime: a colorful, metallic horse.

When I visited the Cityscape Lounge last fall, high up on the 46th floor of the Union Square Hilton, Executive Chef Michael Vaughn was still working on the vision for remodeling the hotel’s ground floor restaurant, Urban Tavern. But he was full of excitement for the project, describing it as the next stage in the evolution of the gastro pub. As of December, and with Chef Michael Raub heading up this branch of the Hilton’s culinary program, that vision has been realized.

Urban Tavern bar San Francisco


Step in from the street, and you’ll find an attractive bar of marble. Tile and wood tie in other natural materials. That aesthetic can also be seen in the metallic reed border in the dining room itself, bringing in a bit of greenery, at least in spirit, to this escape from the city outside.

Urban tavern dining room San Francisco


If you come in through the hotel lobby, the dining room is where you’ll enter, so make sure to cross through it to the host table by the bar. Whatever route taken, be prepared for a feast for the eyes, the stomach, and the imagination. Don’t believe me? Why, I have a case for you!

deep fried deviled eggs Urban Tavern


Evidence #1: Deep-fried deviled eggs! What?! The hard-boiled egg whites are battered and deep fried, filled with the whipped egg yolks and bacon, then topped with white balsamic balls. What a fun way to liven up this old standard! The crunchy bacon added textural contrast.

buffalo chicken meatballs urban tavern


Evidence #2: Buffalo wings in a way you’ve never seen. This was for sure a highlight of the meal, in large part because of the exceptionally lively fresno chile sauce that paired remarkably well with the pickled veggies, which of course included carrots and celery leaves. Piles of blue cheese foam and chicken meatballs completed the dish. Oh sure, you might argue the meatballs should star, rather than complete, but you haven’t tasted that sauce yet.

Urban Tavern year of the monkey cocktails whiskey, san francisco 

Evidence #3: The Year of the Monkey cocktail. Urban Tavern has plenty of fun cocktails to partake in, but the Year of the Monkey topped my list. With apricot liqueur and apricot preserves, you might fear too much sweetness for a proper whiskey drink, but the result is a surprisingly light-bodied beverage. The Jameson Black Barrel strikes a beautiful balance with the sugar content.
salad urban tavern


Lack of Evidence: A salad with no room for maneuvering.  While nicely presented, the serving bowl undid this salad’s potential. When a salad must be cut to be eaten, like this one, a knife must fit in there somewhere. That was a Mission Impossible, or at least Improbable, in this case. The croutons were also too hard, but the Dijon herb vinaigrette was delightful — when I could get down to it.

steak balsamic onion Urban Tavern


Evidence #4: Steak that makes me salivate. Most of my readers will be aware by now that I rarely order a slap of beef to cut into for myself, but this is one I’d consider. The balsamic onion marmalade served with it is phenomenal, and Chef Raub’s team shows that oh-so-important basic skill that many cooks never master: applying the perfect amount of salt and pepper. The blistered tomatoes added a warm gush of brightness.

fish Urban Tavern San Francisco Hilton


Evidence #5: Saucy sole with a crust. Fish can be so difficult to get right, and Urban Tavern did it by bringing in extra moisture from the accompanying sauce while maintaining a golden char on the sole itself. The side dishes were tasty, and the butter soaked in everywhere it should without pulling focus.

Chicken cooked under a wine bottle Urban Tavern


Evidence #6: Chicken cooked under a wine bottle. This will be Urban Tavern’s signature dish, I have no doubt. The presentation is great, and that unique roasting technique yields wonderfully cooked meat. Lots of flavor came with the equally well-roasted potatoes and purple carrots, but, fair warning, the stuffing cakes are on the dry side.

hippie bark Urban Tavern candy


Evidence #7: Sweets that tickle the senses. Feeling creative, Chef Raub came up with his hippie bark the night of our media dinner. It’s the sort of unexpected treat you might find appearing on your table unasked for, if the mood strikes him. The hippie bark was a playful conglomeration of trail mix ingredients melded with chocolate.

skillet brownie TCHO chocolate Urban Tavern


Our second dessert — a sea salt, skillet brownie made with TCHO chocolate — was served with brandied cherries, ginger, and honeycomb meringue cookies. It’s all the soothing satisfaction you think it’s going to be. There’s also a citrus panna cotta on the menu that fruit fans will love.

Have I made my case? If you need further convincing, let Chef Raub’s obvious enthusiasm for buying local sway you. He relished speaking of his relationships with his producers and shared his love for witnessing what such fresh, well-tended ingredients spark in his patrons — often a sense of nostalgia and feeling of wholesomeness. That’s likely part of what made him the right chef for the job, as Executive Chef Vaughn considers sustainability in every aspect of the Hilton’s culinary program with an ultimate goal of zero food waste and leaving as small of an environmental footprint as possible for the largest hotel on the West Coast.

While you deliberate, I’m going to slip on out and see if I can scrounge up some more of that hippie bark. I’ve already arrived at my verdict.


This media dinner took place 15 December 2016.


  • Urban Tavern horse Union Square Hilton 760498
  • Urban Tavern bar San Francisco 760499
  • Urban tavern dining room San Francisco 760500
  • deep fried deviled eggs Urban Tavern 760501
  • buffalo chicken meatballs urban tavern 760502
  • Urban Tavern year of the monkey cocktails whiskey, san francisco 760503
  • salad urban tavern 760504
  • steak balsamic onion Urban Tavern 760505
  • fish Urban Tavern San Francisco Hilton 760506
  • Chicken cooked under a wine bottle Urban Tavern 760507
  • hippie bark Urban Tavern candy 760508
  • skillet brownie TCHO chocolate Urban Tavern 760509
Paris BaguetteParis Baguette
Bakeries / Coffee & Tea

Paris Baguette Dublin


Obligatory disclaimer: This was an invited visit to Dublin’s Paris Baguette and thus, all food and drink was free to me.

Early in November, I was invited out to Paris Baguette’s newest franchisee in the Bay Area: the Dublin store opened just over a month ago at the Almond Plaza shopping center.


Almond Plaza Dublin shopping cart


Before this visit, I had only been to Paris Baguette twice before, and before my Bay Area move, I had never seen one. Yes, folks, I had no idea this brand was all over the globe! The parent company, SPC Group, is based in Korea, and their first Paris Baguette opened in 1988. They came to the USA in 2005, and the Dublin branch marks the 49th store in this country and one of about 3,500 stores worldwide.


Paris Baguette Dublin


As I walked in, I experienced the familiar sensation of “What do I do?!” that’s greeted me on my past visits to Berkeley’s Paris Baguette. The sensation comes because the first things you see are rows of baked goods, display cases, and shelves without clear instructions on the process for purchasing.

Paris Baguette


Take this?

Paris Baguette cheese pretzel


Take that?

At the Dublin store, there is also a register in back along with menus, cold cases, and a coffee counter. Plan of attack? Grab a cute bamboo tray, select your pastry items, then order everything else you want at the register. Don’t forget to grab some ready-to-go sweet breads for holiday hostess gifts!


Paris Baguette mocha roll


Ellie Han, a district representative for the company, guided me through the pastry section, where any of 250 or more baked goods might be available at any given time—the selection is constantly changing. Case in point: Berry cronuts that didn’t come out until after I’d tasted a plate full of baked goods already. Quelle horreur!


Paris Baguette cronut


Paris Baguette’s Korean influences are clear, playfully intermixing with baked goods of European traditions on the pastry island, sometimes in creative fusion. I went for an eclectic selection to try a little bit of everything.


Paris Baguette



That’s a lie; there’s no way someone could try a little bit of everything Paris Baguette offers. I’m not sure it’s physically possible. But it’s something to aspire to. My favorite pastry of the day also happens to be Ellie’s: the chocolate roll.


Paris Baguette chocolate roll


It’s beautiful and has lots of chocolate chips baked in. Try it with a cup of coffee. Paris Baguette makes a great one of those, too, to-go in a distinctive design.


Paris Baguette coffee


I really liked the earthy, nutty, Café Adagio blend. I also really liked the chestnut roll, which is a yeasty bread that comes crusty on the outside and soft on the inside. I apparently don’t know my nuts very well, because the chestnuts, mixed into the icing and sprinkled on top, tasted just like hazelnuts to me, which is no complaint—hazelnuts are amazing.

The sprinkle of black sesame on the sweet potato twists also worked well.


Paris Baguette sweet potato


Those twists feature a light layer of sweet potato paste running through them.

I was less enthused about the sweet rice donuts because they were denser and heavier than I usually want for my pastries, but if that sounds great to you, try them!


Paris Baguette


Paris Baguette


I’m not drawn to donuts in general, as deep-frying soaks in more grease than I prefer. But the layers of sweet rice jelly and red bean paste made for a unique donut experience, for sure. On the red bean side, I also tried, and quite liked, its creamy popsicle flavor in the freezer case.


Paris Baguette red bean popsicle

Isn’t that pink-lavender shade lovely? Paris Baguette Dublin offers several other flavors, and they come straight from Korea, unlike the baked goods, which are baked in-house each day.

Interestingly, the Dublin store so far is doing most their sales with the lunchtime sandwich crowd. By the register, you can pick from several displayed sandwich types. They’ll be served to you nice and toasty.


Paris Baguette sandwich


Of course, I tried one of those, too. The bread was quality, as one might expect, and I found the chicken, bacon, cheese, and peppers satisfying together. Sandwiches come with salad rather than chips. As Ellie explained, they figure they’ve done enough caloric damage to their customers already with the pastries!

But I had not dealt enough damage to myself yet. Time for dessert! Pastries totally don’t count.


Paris Baguette

Paris Baguette


Paris Baguette makes some beautiful cakes! They smartly focus on layer cakes with fresh cream, though cheesecakes and buttercream also appear. I decided the green tea chiffon was calling my name most.


Paris Baguette green tea chiffon


And I am glad for it. A slice can barely stand up under the power of its own weight, yet the cake itself was remarkably fluffy while puzzlingly moist—there’s some sort of magic going on in that kitchen, that’s all I know. And why grapes on top? A mystery, but I want more, please.

Alas, I had tried enough of Paris Baguette for one day. As I prepared to go, I took in the fresh orchids on several tables, possibly there only for grand opening but a nice touch nonetheless. The space has café-style seating that welcomes laptop workers in one section and a patio and glass-enclosed dining area in another.


Paris Baguette Dublin


It’s welcoming with cool tones despite the initial bustling hunt to find the best, most unique pastry available at any given moment. Once your selections have been made and paid for, take a bite and let your taste buds soar while you do the relaxing.


Paris Baguette


Thank you to the Paris Baguette team for inviting me out!


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  • Paris Baguette green tea chiffon 751834
  • Paris Baguette Dublin 751835
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Noir LoungeNoir Lounge
American (Traditional) / Cocktail Bars

the Lunchpad San francisco

The Coming Storm

The Lunchpad has been holding court in Hayes Valley’s Noir Lounge for about three years now, transforming the posh, gothic nightlife space into . . . a posh, gothic daytime space with breakfast and lunch fare.

The Lunchpad Noir Lounge

Okay, it’s somewhat less gothic when it’s not Halloween.

That unique atmosphere—one doesn’t usually think dark for brunch dates—may be the Lunchpad’s biggest draw. Nah, who am I kidding. That’s the candied habanero bacon.

Bacon the Lunchpad

It makes an appearance in a wide range of the Lunchpad’s sandwiches as well as in their signature drink, the Brunchpad Bloody, which makes its appearance on the weekends.

the brunchpad lunchpad bloody mary

This bloody mary boasts extra earthiness, likely from a healthy dose of worcestershire sauce in the blend. It’s so savory, the bacon garnish comes across as bright by contrast! But among the fancy bacon options in this region, and there are many, the Lunchpad’s gets that sweet + savory + spicy balance just right.

The Brunchpad Bloody isn’t the only menu item that makes a rare appearance. Co-owner Chris comes in on Wednesdays only to offer his special fried chicken sandwich, the Chicken Run.

Fried Chicken the lunchpad

Our reactions to these ranged from delicious (the majority), to a little dry and overcooked (me and my shall-remain-nameless new media friend). If you like your fried chicken battered in a gritty buttermilk base, you should like the Chicken Run, and the garlic aioli and sweet & spicy coleslaw mostly solve the moisture problem anyhow.

Coleslaw is also a star player in the Roast Beast. The slaw has a horseradish, blue cheese, and celery seed bent in this sandwich.

roast beef the lunchpad

Those pungent ingredients are used sparingly enough for the celery seed to stand out from among them, which I think is wise. The garlic aioli again did a great job imparting flavor and moisture. My slices of beef were very tender, though the coleslaw did most of the heavy lifting in terms of taste. I’d definitely eat it again, and I’m not a big roast beef fan.

The sandwich most worth sampling, or perhaps shoveling into your mouth, is the Turkey Drizzle.

turkey sandwich the lunchpad

Chris called it the kitchen sink sandwich, which is both accurate and unfair to this delicious combination of, well, of everything. It contains warm and tender roast turkey, the candied bacon, swiss cheese, cashew pesto, giardiniera, greens, tomatoes, and a beautiful balsamic reduction sauce. Of all those ingredients, the giardiniera is what makes the sandwich a star, intensifying the vegetable element while simultaneously adding a tang your tongue will keep chasing. The giardiniera is also available by the jar and is one of the Lunchpad’s signature items along with the bacon and Grandpa’s pickles.

pickles the Lunchpad

These giant cucumber slices are cold-brined and ready in as few as three days. That translates to a pickle that retains its crunch while offering a mildly sour note that pleases. If you’re a pickle fan—good news!—the Lunchpad is offering a pickling class on Sunday, December 18! The cost is $20, and interested parties can register here. I hear hot peppers may get some sweet treatment there as well . . .

But I am not yet done working my way through the Lunchpad’s sandwich list! The Dolce Vita is your standard caprese-style sandwich worth noting here for that sweet, in multiple ways, balsamic reduction sauce.

caprese the Lunchpad

The Chicken Lil, a sandwich served to us as more of a salad shooter, offers wonderfully moist sliced breast meat, though a livelier mixture of ingredients would be nice. I did not try the Berry Delicious salad, but the reaction I heard was similar to my thoughts on those last couple of dishes: nicely done, but not enough to stand out from among the crowd.

salad the Lunchpad

But there is plenty at the Lunchpad that does, especially in the brunch department. The breakfast cheddar biscuit is humongous and comes dressed to impress any weekend hangovers.

biscuit egg the Lunchpad

That’s right, melted smoked cheddar, fried egg, avocado, habanero candied bacon, and garlic aioli? Be still my grease-loving heart! The basic biscuit is $7; avo and bacon are add-ons well worth the addition. For a biscuit that size, it’ll still be a good value. The biscuit itself is respectably made, kneaded just beyond the fluffy zone so it can stand up to the pressure of all that vein-clogging goodness.

Also only on the brunch menu is huevos rancheros, and the Lunchpad makes a stellar one.

huevos rancheros the Lunchpad

Our small version was plenty of food for me, especially after all the sandwich samples that came before it. Rest assured, the real version offers plenty to please your inner glutton. It features six-inch tortillas instead of our four-inch ones and chicken eggs instead of quail, but the delicious, ultra-fresh enchilada sauce, tasty corn-laced pico de gallo, and pork chorizo that miraculously doesn’t drip with grease are the same. Refried beans add an extra layer of strength to help the tortillas stand up to all that performance pressure.

I’ll end this feast in the opposite order of a meal: With soup!

tomato bisque the Lunchpad

Besides the bacon, this tomato bisque was my favorite part of our brunch. The roasted tomato is soothing and flavor-punched, and getting a bite of basil with it makes it more than pop. It explodes! If it’s on the menu when you visit, GET IT.

So if you stroll through Hayes Valley on a lovely San Francisco day and find your curiosity piqued by a sign advertising sandwiches beside a snazzy lounge, head on in and explore the Lunchpad’s sandwich boards.

the Lunchpad Noir Lounge

Yes, I find the dark super inviting!

Pick an item featuring pickled pickles, pickled veggies, candied bacon, tomato bisque, or brunch and you won’t be disappointed. But you will be full.

Thanks to the Lunchpad team for this sampler of their signature dishes! And don’t forget to sign up for the next pickling class on December 18.


  • the Lunchpad San francisco 751803
  • The Lunchpad Noir Lounge 751804
  • Bacon the Lunchpad 751805
  • the brunchpad lunchpad bloody mary 751806
  • Fried Chicken the lunchpad 751807
  • roast beef the lunchpad 751808
  • turkey sandwich the lunchpad 751809
  • pickles the Lunchpad 751810
  • caprese the Lunchpad 751811
  • salad the Lunchpad 751812
  • biscuit egg the Lunchpad 751813
  • huevos rancheros the Lunchpad 751814
  • tomato bisque the Lunchpad 751815
  • the Lunchpad Noir Lounge 751816
Cityscape Bar & RestaurantCityscape Bar & Restaurant
American (New) / Californian / French / Breakfast & Brunch

Hotels may appear off limits to pedestrians passing by, but often, they harbor secret niches the public can access if they know where to go. Such is the case at the newly opened Cityscape, a sleek bar at the top of San Francisco’s Union Square Hilton (333 O’Farrell Street).

Cityscape Hilton San Francisco View

Photo courtesy of Cityscape.

Head into the corridor behind the Hilton’s lobby and up to the 46th floor to find the bar. Near sunset is the optimum time; no matter how good the food and cocktails are, which I’ll get to in a minute, the reason you’re coming here is the view. Unfortunately, on the evening I visited, San Francisco’s fog staked its claim, but as you can tell from these pics provided by the hotel, it’s absolutely gorgeous on clear days.

Cityscape Hilton San Francisco sunset

Photo courtesy of Cityscape.

And to be honest, I thought the city lights coming through the fog that night were pretty cool, too.

Fog Cityscape Hilton San FranciscoFog Cityscape Hilton San Francisco

Or maybe that’s just the horror writer in me loving the spookiness. The bar itself isn’t spooky at all; it’s a giant square of comfy, modernist furniture in a palette of grey and beige.

Cityscape Hilton San Francisco

They all face the limitless windows and that amazing view. A central bar lights up more confidently in pink as the night falls.

Cityscape Bar Hilton San Francisco

Cityscape’s cocktail list will quickly confirm that you’re paying for the view as much as the alcohol, but together, they are worth the splurge ($16-$20). The Berkeley Bramble was as vibrant as the sunset should be, boasting a bold blackberry hue that belied the soft gin, lemon, and club soda mixture.

Cityscape Hilton San Francisco Berkeley Bramble

The Nob Hill Manhattan—made with Maker’s 46 bourbon, Carpano Antico sweet vermouth, and bitters—does justice to that classic drink.

Cityscape Hilton San Francisco Manhattan

We also enjoyed a couple glasses of “the Mariner” red wine blend from Dry Creek Vineyards. The best deal on drinks at Cityscape may be selecting the glass and a half size of whatever wine you prefer.

Chef Michael Vaughn, who signed on with this Hilton this past July, asked for the drink list before crafting the menu of bar bites. As the kitchen is over forty floors away, he knew that cold plates would be the focus so no quality would be sacrificed in the course of delivery.

Chef Michael Vaughn Cityscape Hilton San Francisco

Chef Michael Vaughn.

Vaughn loves playing with how the same drink changes when paired with different foods, and he’s really passionate about the Cityscape space and the Hilton’s new Urban Tavern, what Vaughn described as a fresh take on a gastropub, focusing on healthier dishes with whimsy.

The bar bites also fit that bill, though they provide more of an adventurous dip into Asian-inspired dishes.

Chips Nori Salt Cityscape Hilton San Francisco

Potato chips are served with nori salt and an amazing black garlic and charred scallion aioli that was so earthy and rich, I nearly thought it pâté. Vaugh loved my enthusiasm as black garlic is apparently a hard sell. It’s so very good, though, worth every second of the week-long roasting process.

Charcuterie Cityscape Hilton San Francisco

The charcuterie is top notch and arranged with finesse. What stood out most on that platter, however, were the beet-pickled eggs with tons of color. I don’t know if any tea was involved in the process of imbuing the eggs with delicious flavor, but the image conjured of tea eggs is apt.

The two seafood dishes also offered vibrant flavors, with the ahi, salmon, and hamachi poke—

Poke Cityscape Hilton San Francisco

—inching out the chilled prawns—

Prawns Cityscape Hilton San Francisco

—in lasting memorability just a bit. Spiced cucumbers with sesame, chile, scallion, and a fleeting impression of burnt peanuts also pleased. Small plates range from $7 to $17. Add that together with a drink, and yes, it’s a pricy evening, but I can’t imagine a much nicer way to enjoy a repast before heading to a nearby show. Extravagance worth the cost, but make sure to get your money’s worth of that view before heading back down to floor level and reality.

elevator Cityscape Hilton San Francisco

Cityscape is waiting to provide you with more than a moment of tranquility.


  • Cityscape Hilton San Francisco View 748806
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  • Cityscape Bar Hilton San Francisco 748811
  • Cityscape Hilton San Francisco Berkeley Bramble 748812
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  • Chef Michael Vaughn Cityscape Hilton San Francisco 748814
  • Chips Nori Salt Cityscape Hilton San Francisco 748815
  • Charcuterie Cityscape Hilton San Francisco 748816
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  • Prawns Cityscape Hilton San Francisco 748818
  • elevator Cityscape Hilton San Francisco 748819

Zing! Cafe Berkeley

Zing Café is located in the Marmot Mountain Works suite of buildings, a really unique complex done in old Storybook style right across the street from the Ashby BART station. The Marmont Mountain Works has been defunct for a number of years now—

Marmont Mountain Works Berkeley

–but there are still plenty of businesses in working order within its walls, including Zing. The café is owned by the Sanchez family, three brothers and one sister—you’re likely to see one of them working the tiny counter and kitchen. They’re delightful, super friendly with regulars…and random newbies walking in from the street.

Zing Cafe Berkeley

Have no fear as you place your order; there is seating and Wi-Fi to be found once you poke your head around, either hidden away in a quiet alcove—

Seating at Zing Cafe

—or outside on the sun-filled patio. Unique art decorates many walls and walkways, including a beautiful cliffside mural above the large entry way.


The menu includes coffee drinks, agua frescas, hot and cold sandwiches, and salads. I got a cappuccino, which comes with two shots standard and that makes me happy—I hate having to ask now that so many places, Starbucks included, cheap out and just do one shot for smalls.

Cappuccino at Zing Cafe Berkeley

The latte art, whether intentional or not, was good inspiration for this horror writer with an epic Greek monster look to it. The foam was great, boasting plenty of microbubbles.

I also went in for lunch, choosing their take on a Philly cheesesteak.

Philly Cheesesteak at Zing Cafe Berkeley

Shh, haters, I know that bears little relation to a real Philly cheesesteak, but out here in California, we just like a good pile of ingredients. And this one was great! I picked ciabatta bread of the options, and it came filled with steak, provolone, tomatoes, roasted peppers, grilled onions, spinach, and chipotle sauce. Lovely crunch on the pressed bread, and the spice heat level was way more than I expected—chipotle adobo is definitely involved. I LOVED it.

When time for a decaffeinated beverage after a couple hours working in the alcove, the house horchata did just fine.

Horchata at Zing Cafe Berkeley

It’s a watery version rather than a creamy one, which means healthier though it does lose some lushness in that trade-off. I found the lack of guilt over calories to be worth it, especially as an occasional sipper while working.

With more seating, Zing would be a frequent stop on my regular coffee shop rotation. As is, it’s got great sandwiches and coffee and plenty of hospitality to go with them.


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Back in March, I visited the Ivy Room soon after its redesign and re-opening. Since then, they have added specialty cocktails to their full bar, and whichever bartender has developed them deserves a raise!

Ivy Room Cocktails

Sure, a full bar ensures you can always get your favorite drink when you want it, but I love bartenders that come up with inventive drinks I wouldn’t think of on my own. Ivy Room is doing just that, and I’ve managed to try half of them over the course of two trivia nights.

Connect the Dots

Connect the Dots cocktail at Ivy Room Albany

The Connect the Dots, pictured above, features El Jimador tequila infused with habanero, agave, and fresh lime and watermelon juices. The color is beautiful, and despite that strong pink, the watermelon presence is only strong enough to delight rather than dominate. It hugs the heat kick all the way down your gullet. My only suggestion is to serve it up rather than on the rocks. 3.5/5

The Wildcat

Wildcat Cocktail at Ivy Room Albany

I knew the Wildcat had my number the moment it combined two hard-to-balance ingredients, Green Chartreuse and Luxardo maraschino liqueurs, with mezcal. I admit skepticism upon reading the description, as those can all be challenging to do well in cocktail form, but the bartender demonstrated a masterful skill at making unexpected combinations. Mezcal smokiness envelops the peppery, horehound element of Chartreuse, providing restraint. Their interplay gives the impression of a cumin and ancho chile rim, though the drink has none. The maraschino liqueur yields a beautiful wash of berry that reminds you of better days as the drink goes down. 5/5

Those two cocktails together are enough to raise my rating of Ivy Room up a notch, but throw in the adult slushies churning behind the bar—

Cocktail Slushies at the Ivy Room Albany

—and you’ve got a local hangout with market savvy hidden behind a sheen of pure fun. Go on, stay awhile.


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What is Persona Pizzeria?

Obligatory disclaimer: I was asked to do this review by Persona Pizzeria. Thus, all food and beverage described in this post were free.

Persona Pizzeria is a fast-expanding small chain with a fantastic reason for it: they make customizable Neapolitan-style pizza to order with quality ingredients from flour to toppings …. and they are ready in 90 seconds! Co-founder and chef Glenn Cybulski, a world champion of wood-fired pizza making, is responsible for the award-winning specialty pizzas Persona offers, and the reason those pizzas come out so fast is a brick oven set to 800 degrees.

Persona Pizzeria Wood Oven

Think about it: pizza that is genuinely fast food without being by the slice. REVOLUTIONARY.

Santa Rosa’s Persona Pizzeria

I tried out the Santa Rosa location on a recent weekend trip to the Russian River, and first things first, I love that these guys have figured out how to cash in on the Pokémon Go craze.

Persona Pizzeria Santa Rosa

Knowing how to harness the power of cellphone trends shows smart marketing acumen. But Persona Pizzeria doesn’t really need it, because the concept is great from the get-go. Nick Ulrich, who owns the franchised location with his two brothers, guided me through the process. Nick has been with Persona Pizzeria in some capacity or other since early on, having been friends with Glenn since they were kids.

Nick Ulrich Persona Pizzeria

Nick Ulrich

When opening a downtown Santa Rosa location became a possibility, Nick couldn’t resist trying his hand at the day-to-day operation of the restaurant with his family. On this particular day, that hand prepared my pizza from scratch.

Pizza making at Persona Pizzeria

Build Your Pie!

Check out the menu as you enter, then decide whether you’re making your own pizza or going for one of the suggested combinations. Or do both, like I essentially did. Whatever you decide, begin your order at the Start Here sign right above sacks of imported Caputo 00 flour from Naples.

Caputo flour Persona Pizzeria

I could not resist trying the Chipotle Chicken pizza, which earned Glenn that World Pizza Champion designation. But I also couldn’t say no to adding a few extra ingredients, because that’s how I roll. So Nick layered on salami, corn, basil, and peppadew peppers in addition to the chicken, chipotle dressing, and mozzarella. Then he fed it to the flame.

Baking at Persona Pizzeria

Were I a regular customer, each of those additions would cost $1.25, and the veggies are locally sourced when possible. At the Santa Rosa location, the basil comes from a school garden at St. Eugene’s Cathedral School. Unsurprisingly, the pesto was quite a hit on the school’s fundraiser night at the restaurant! A build-your-own pizza — which includes cheese, garlic, olive oil, and either marinara, margherita, pesto, or blanco sauces — starts at $7.95. Specialty pizzas range from $11 to $13. The pizza’s size easily feeds two people.

Nick shared with me that the craziest toppings pile he’s seen came from a man who wanted to add every topping he could to his pie! That made the cost well over $40, but the customer thought it was worth it just for the thrill.

The Results

Finishing pizza at Persona Pizzeria

In less than two minutes, my pizza was taken out and finished off with crema, more chipotle sauce, and pico de gallo. I retreated to my seat and dug in.

Chipotle chicken pizza at Persona Pizzeria

The bubbled to charred crust ratio was perfect, and I was impressed with how well the crisp crust held up under a load of that many toppings. The chipotle sauce tasted great, with enough spice to satisfy without dominating the other flavors. The corn disappeared without a discernible trace, but the peppadew peppers added good sweetness and a little extra fire. I could have done without the crema, as the chipotle and marinara offer enough moisture between them, but overall, it was a great pizza.

Since one cannot — okay, should not — live on pizza alone, we also tried the burrata salad, one of the few non-pizza items on the menu. Its simple arrangement was rather visually pleasing.

Burrata salad at Persona Pizzeria

The burrata was as creamy as it should be, and that pesto is a delightful herbal bevy – good job on the basil-growing, St. Eugene kids!

Other than those small critiques, I don’t have a negative thing to say about my Persona Pizzeria lunch, and I’d be surprised if you do. Give this unique concept a try; you’re going to sooner or later, because it’s going to explode all over the place. When done well, expansion can be a very good thing for all of us.



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  • Nick Ulrich Persona Pizzeria 741857
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  • Caputo flour Persona Pizzeria 741859
  • Baking at Persona Pizzeria 741860
  • Finishing pizza at Persona Pizzeria 741861
  • Chipotle chicken pizza at Persona Pizzeria 741862
  • Burrata salad at Persona Pizzeria 741863


Obligatory disclaimer: The cocktails and food mentioned in this post were complimentary as part of a special media event.

It’s September in the Bay Area, and we all know what that means – Indian Summer! It’s been one of the coldest actual summers on record here, which means the annual warmth of September and October will be welcome — though we’ll never refuse a little rain. As a Californian, I’m obligated to include that last part.

The Clift Hotel: A Modern Classic Setting for Style and Sipping

Clift Hotel Union Square

Looking up at the Clift Hotel.

There wasn’t a drop in sight the day I tried the Indian Summer cocktail and bar menu at the iconic Redwood Room in the Clift Hotel (495 Geary St., Union Square, SF). What makes it iconic? How about being paneled from a single redwood tree? Is that iconic enough for you?

First look at the whimsical, atmospheric Redwood Room.

First look at the whimsical, atmospheric Redwood Room.

The whole hotel is quite historic, which anyone who’s lived in the Bay Area awhile probably already knows. Commissioned in 1913, it has hosted a slew of celebrities and was the first earthquake-proof hotel of its time. The modern classic style it currently boasts is the result of a remodel once the Morgans Hotel Group, a firm specializing in big city boutique offerings, took it over in the mid-1990s. I knew from the moment I walked through the lavender-lighted entryway that this was no ordinary hotel. It’s more of an adult wonderland!









Pay close attention to the lamps if you visit; a few of them are Salvador Dali originals! The giant, focal chair is, of course, a highlight of the lobby, drawing plenty of playful pictures. If you stick your head underneath it, you’ll find a surprise as well—


How fun! But I was talking about cocktails, wasn’t I?

Suggested Indian Summer Pairings

Anthony Kim Redwood Room Bartendar

Anthony Kim at the bar.

Anthony Kim, the Redwood Room’s head mixologist, has come up with a great menu of cocktails inspired by classics but jazzed up with his own spin. Combined with Chef Thomas Weibull’s inventive bar bites, they make for a great beginning or end to a night out in Union Square. Note: I’m using the Clift Hotel’s images for most of these pictures, as believe me, you want to see these in their full glory rather than the dimly lit versions I ended up taking.

Cool Desire Clift Hotel Mimosa

The Cool Desire was my definitive favorite. It’s essentially a mimosa and should please lovers of that brunch standard though the Cool Desire is more sophisticated for the evening crowd. Passion fruit subs in for orange, and Kim added a light touch of mint syrup for herbal complexity. Topped off with Veuve Clicquot, it’s a great pairing with the tuna poke tacos.

Clift Hotel tuna poke tacos

Those are a delightful fusion, using wonton shells in place of tortilla, which I’ve also seen at the Albany Taproom recently. Messy, certainly, but what taco isn’t? I would have preferred the poke enhanced with a citrus vinegar, but with a Cool Desire in hand, that effect is already achieved.

Clift Hotel King's Lemonade Rye Cocktail

The King’s Lemonade is an approachable rye drink for those not yet convinced they can handle whiskey-heavy cocktails. Made with Woodford Reserve, it offers lots of fresh produce appeal with strawberry puree and basil syrup. Try it with the compressed watermelon salad.

Clift Hotel Compressed Watermelon Salad

This dish uses honey from the Clift’s rooftop hive. The presentation is lovely, and it’s a simple, lightly sweet dish that will benefit from the King’s Lemonade’s layers.

Clift Hotel Sandia Amara

The Sandia Amara’s chili and salt rim is the cocktail’s standout element. This one’s heavy on the tequila, to the point that I’d appreciate more of that watermelon puree giving it color. Traditional fruit sprinkled with chile, so common in Latin American cuisines, inspired Kim. The tequila makes it a great partner for the earthiness of my favorite dish on the menu: mushroom spring rolls with truffle aioli.

Clift Hotel Mushroom Spring Rolls

Here’s the thing – I dislike mushrooms, often passionately. My rating system even uses them to denote my lowest score. But in this offering, they are expertly prepared, exuding the woodsy atmosphere that so often gets lost when simply thrown into a dish. The shell’s fried, paper-thin crunch completes a wonderful bite.

Don’t Forget Dessert!

Dessert is also an excellent choice at the Redwood Room.

Clift Hotel Honey Cake

The honey cake, sourced from the rooftop again, is surprisingly more of a spice cake – the honey seemed to mostly come into play by soaking the bottom of the cake in it. We were only served bites – I’m sure the actual portion is much more substantial, and it would make for a playful combination with the creamy Clift Painkiller.

Clift Hotel Painkiller

This is a dessert cocktail all the way. Kim dialed back on the OJ presence to bring in more of a pineapple focus. That pineapple chases the coconut cream around the glass. I’d liken it to a pina colada served on the rocks rather than blended. A restrained use of nutmeg grated on top is appreciated.

While not strictly for dessert, the Raspberry Sour provides a fun contrast to the salted caramel cheesecake.

Clift Hotel Salted Caramel Cheesecake

Served to us in a cup, that cheesecake impressed! Because it’s so omnipresent on dessert menus, impressive cheesecake is hard to find, but I assure you this is one, with a perfect proportion of topping to filling and one of the tastiest fillings I’ve had in some time, to boot.

Clift Hotel Raspberry Sour

Place the emphasis on sour for the cocktail, as looks here are deceiving. Raspberry pulp provides texture and a float of Chambord brings flavor, but lime juice mixing with the Absolute Elyx vodka is the strongest element – it’ll bring out whatever lemon is used in that cheesecake base. Ginger syrup elevates all the cocktail’s ingredients, making for an intriguing drink.

Whatever your choice, the Redwood Room’s Indian Summer menu has plenty hiding inside it to whet or sate your palate. Just step on in through its alluring doors…

Clift Hotel Redwood Room

Entering the Redwood Room through the lobby.

Event took place 17 August 2016.


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  • First look at the whimsical, atmospheric Redwood Room. 741866
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  • Cool Desire Clift Hotel Mimosa 741876
  • Clift Hotel tuna poke tacos 741877
  • Clift Hotel King's Lemonade Rye Cocktail 741878
  • Clift Hotel Compressed Watermelon Salad 741879
  • Clift Hotel Sandia Amara 741880
  • Clift Hotel Mushroom Spring Rolls 741881
  • Clift Hotel Honey Cake 741882
  • Clift Hotel Painkiller 741883
  • Clift Hotel Salted Caramel Cheesecake 741884
  • Clift Hotel Raspberry Sour 741885
  • Clift Hotel Redwood Room 741886
Golden GarlicGolden Garlic
Asian Fusion / Szechuan

Golden Garlic San Jose

I don’t get invited out to San Jose restaurants often, being as I live in the East, rather than South, Bay. But after Golden Garlic reached out to me, I headed to their website, and the pictures convinced me this spot was worth a trip. The De Anza location is one of two Golden Garlics opened in the past three years by Eddie Lu. Co-owner and chef David Dai, whom Eddie met while living in China, concentrates on two types of Chinese cuisine, Sichuan and Tianjin. Tianjin is what he knows best, and Golden Garlic can boast of being the first Bay Area restaurant to offer that type of Chinese cuisine. Be sure, if you go, that you ask for the chef’s specialty dishes! I had Eddie on hand to recommend them to me, and you don’t want to miss out on the best this restaurant has to offer.

Golden Garlic menu

Eddie informed me that an appetizer course in Chinese meals is usually a cold dish, and that sounded perfect at the end of a warm day. One of their house specialties, jelly noodles in chili sauce, came out almost instantaneously.

Golden Garlic jelly noodles in chile sauce

At only $5, this was a steal and a great way to start a meal, especially with that vibrant palette of colors. Intense black bean paste and chili oil painted the slightly sweet, blank canvas of rice jelly. The scallions and sesame seeds increased its earthiness. Friend #1 was similar impressed, and although we knew more food was coming, it was hard not to polish it off.


All four main dishes also came out lightning fast! In a lesser restaurant, the speed might give reason for pause, but quality was evident in every bite here, so we were just glad at how fast our hunger was satiated. This kitchen obviously understands how to prep food for speedy delivery without sacrificing taste.

Golden Garlic’s signature dish is Golden Garlic beef, composed of filet mignon chunks and garlic cloves.

Golden Garlic beef garlic filet mignon

The garlic is cooked using a secret technique that Chef Dai won’t even share with Eddie. It results in cloves that have the crunch of water chestnuts and a pungency that doesn’t linger past the meal. The filet mignon was tender and juicy and the sauce lively with black pepper primacy but enough sweetness to temper the heat. Delicious, and Friend #1 loved it even more than I did.

Another dish unique to the restaurant is tomato-glazed crispy fish.

Golden Garlic tomato glazed crispy fish flounder

I’m still puzzling over how little it tasted of tomato, instead giving off an apricot-like citrus with plenty of tang. It’s similar to the orange sauce you’ll find in many Chinese restaurants but less thick and sweet and more memorable in flavor. The flounder is cut nearly all the way through and then battered to create maximum crunch coverage while maintaining its shape. At the ends, you’ll get almost all batter but the closer in you go, the fluffier white fish you’ll find. There’s quite a lot toward the middle!

Friend #1’s eyes went wide as Eddie pointed out the fried chicken with dried chili on the Sichuan menu, so I knew we were picking that dish.

Golden garlic hot chili wings

Eddie explained that they get really large wings and cut them in half. I love hot chicken done in this style: a dry fry surrounded by hot chiles and/or peppercorns to create a great, lingering tingle of spice on the lips and tongue. It’s healthier than saucing wings up by a longshot, and Golden Garlic offers a great take.

We went more traditional–well, traditional for American Chinese food diners–with Tianjin-style fried rice.

fried rice GOlden Garlic san jose

But even that familiar dish showed the thought and quality offered by Golden Garlic as the chunks of pork, beef, shrimp, and fried egg were much larger than typically found. The flavors blended nicely, no greasiness to be seen or tasted.

The thoughtfulness that goes into Golden Garlic’s cuisine is also reflected in the restaurant itself. Diners can take their leftovers home in customized reusable bags, and the restaurant is an appealingly casual combination of bright purple booths and baby blue walls with red and white accents. Most thoughtful of all is the engraved flatware settings offered to children as wooden chopsticks can be choking hazards.

golden garlic engraving chopsticks flatware

Come for the food and come again to support a restaurateur who’s excited about the unique qualities Golden Garlic brings to the Bay Area’s table.


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  • fried rice GOlden Garlic san jose 738325
  • golden garlic engraving chopsticks flatware 738326
Hawaiian / Asian Fusion / Breakfast & Brunch

My food-writing friend, Jennifer Ng, joined me for brunch at ‘āina recently. Jennifer is the author of the Ice Cream Travel Guide, a book that explores the best ice cream shops worldwide and the stories behind the people who built them. I’ve been discovering that Jennifer’s foodie knowledge isn’t limited to ice cream, and she suggested ‘āina, picking a Hawaiian restaurant with Portuguese influences that she’d tried in its former incarnation as a pop-up.

This was my first time in the Dogpatch neighborhood, and I gaggled at all the food shops making homes in its former and current industrial strips. The restaurant immediately won me over with its cool blue interior full of succulents and excited diners. It’s only open during brunch hours, and I highly recommend making a reservation, as the small space fills up fast.

Aina Dogpatch San Francisco

The menu mostly consists of fancy, farm-fresh variations on the loco moco, a staple of Hawaiian cuisine that features rice, fried eggs, meat (usually hamburger), and gravy piled together in a bowl. ‘āina’s versions don’t always have gravy, but they do more heavily feature vegetables, which I consider an improvement. The meats currently range from locally made spam to kalbi short ribs. Taro french toast and chicken katsu in omelet form also make appearances.

We started with malasadas, Portuguese-style donuts dusted with light and dark coconut sugar and filled with guava custard.

aina malasadas doughnuts

They assuredly won me over. The fluffy texture reminded me of beignets, which are my preferred donut variation. Beautifully round, these balls burst with delicious guava custard just like the Fruit Gushers I loved as a kid. We soaked up every drop we could until, sadly, no donut remained.

But our main courses did.


kahlua pork belly brunch aina

Jennifer was quite happy with her Kalua Pork Belly, featuring slow-poached eggs, pickled onion, fennel puree, shaved squash, basil, and arugula with rice. She’s admittedly not a fan of bitter leafy greens and found that the amount in this dish was just right. She also loved the pork belly, which was fall-off-the-bone tender had there been a bone to fall off of. I only like my pork belly crisp, but those of you who love the richness of those fat layers will love this.

Portuguese hash brunch aina

My Portuguese sausage hash was nearly as delightful. I’ll start with my complaint, which is also a bit of a mystery: the hash could have used more moisture to unite the ingredients, which the sunny-side eggs would have provided had they been cooked slightly less. But I generally don’t like gushing eggs, so perhaps the chef had psychic insight into my preferences and followed them! In any case, extra of the green-garlic salsa verde would also have done the trick, and frankly, the perfectly roasted brussel sprouts and so-fresh sausages earned the price of the dish all by themselves. I cannot find the right words to describe just how awesome those sausages were: medium spice kick, full flavor pork, so juicy.

‘āina’s second specialty is inventive drinks to go with their Islander bent.

cocoktail aina lemonade hawaiian vog sesame foam

Jennifer’s nonalcoholic, ginger-hibiscus lemonade satisfied, but she thinks she’d love it with a lavender floral flavor instead. My Hawaiian Vog, on the left, intrigued with that malted, black-sesame-foam scene stealer, which grounded the mixture of lillet, byrrh, earl grey-infused caramelized banana, and spices hiding beneath. Those conjured up an unexpected approximation of a tropical punch for a drink that primarily consists of wine-based aperitifs. I loved the surprise! I also love that ‘āina’s owner, Jason Alonzo, specifically aims for cocktails with low alcohol content, a great goal for a brunch location–who wants to spend the rest of the day all fuzzy brained? Of course, it’s also a practical goal without a full liquor license, but they are certainly making the most of what they have.

‘āina has earned its place on my go-to list of brunch recommendations for visitors to San Francisco. Yes, I had critique, but all the positives swamp those in my memory. Jennifer ultimately thinks the pop-up versions of their signature dishes were better, but I don’t have that ruler to measure against. And this is my blog, so my opinion trumps all. 



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Smoke’s PoutinerieSmoke’s Poutinerie
Comfort Food / Fast Food

Smokes Poutinerie

I recently tried the Mac Daddy at Smoke’s Poutinerie in Berkeley (2518 Durant Ave). Little did I know beforehand that there was such a thing as a poutinerie or that this Canadian chain had an outpost in the Bay Area! As a fan of fries, and a bigger fan of tons of crap thrown on fries, I was not about to decline their invitation to try the Mac Daddy summer special dish. Obligatory disclaimer: That means everything I tried in this review was free.

Smokes Poutinerie Berkeley

Smoke’s has positioned themselves well, right across the street from UC Berkeley, and they are smart enough to know that hours lasting until 4 AM are a VERY good idea in a college market. I live about two miles away and I, a 36-year-old night owl, am adding them to my mental inventory of late-night eats. You would be surprised at how few there are out here, folks. Shame, shame!

Smokes Poutinerie Berkeley

At Smoke’s, you order at the counter then grab a seat at the bar running along its window walls. There are A MILLION combinations to choose from (I counted), though you can stick with just fries or the traditional Quebec-style gravy and cheese curds. In some stores, there’s even a poutine with pierogis on top that makes me wonder what I’ve been doing with my life in the face of such genius. Sizes are snack, meal, and WOW, ranging from $3 for a snack-size plain fry to $13 for a WOW-size specialty poutine. Both of our selections were meal-sized specialty poutines ($9), and one of them would have filled up my friend and me, even if we’d been famished. They have HEFT!

Side note: Please excuse my shouting in caps. Can you blame me? It’s poutine, the forebear of all cheese fries. BE EXCITED!

Mac Daddy Smokes Poutinerie

The 99.3% Original Mac Daddy perfectly captures the Big Mac in poutine form–I’m pretty sure the Big Mac is what that 0.7% unoriginality refers to. If you’ve ever wanted to forgo alternating between fry and burger bite, then this is for you.  A sprinkle of sesame seeds on top evokes the sesame bun, and a sharp cheddar cheese sauce, shredded iceberg lettuce, plentiful special sauce, and prime hamburger meat bring in all the essential ingredients to satisfy your Big Mac cravings. It’s the sliced pickles on top that really seal the deal, however. They have just the right amount of tang and flimsiness to conjure the appropriate connections. The special sauce is more mayonnaise than Thousand Island, but that 99.7% original has to be earned somehow.


The fries, however, are thicker than Mickey D’s, and dare I say superior? I know you can’t see them beneath all the beauty of Smoke’s globs of stuff, but by keeping their skins on, they are packed with plenty of toasty potato flavor. The tips were still crunchy after being sauced and smushed for fifteen minutes worth of eating. That’s impressive! These are fries I would happily munch plain, but the gods are good and I did not have to. We even got to try a second specialty combination!

Bulgoger bulgogi poutine at Smokes Poutinerie

The Bulgoger is the Berkeley branch’s featured dish. I have dubbed it the ultimate fusion food because it combines the already blessed union of Korean barbecue and Mexican tacos with the Canadian poutine.  I’m pretty sure it blasts “It’s a Small World” on a cellular level as soon as you take a bite. Can’t you feel your gut bacteria rejoicing?

The diced beef tastes quality and has a slightly sweet marinade. Smoke’s gravy takes center stage, providing richness that overrides the sriracha mayo. The kimchee is less pungent than most, so your less brave friends may be able to handle it. I absolutely loved the grilled scallions in the dish, but I always, always love those. I will likely order the Bulgoger again.

If I can make any suggestions to Smoke’s Poutinerie, it would be a request for more cheese curds and less cheese sauce. The gravy and/or other condiments already provide plenty of moisture, and cheese curds are such an iconic poutine accoutrement that they should be front and center rather than hard to pick out of the pile. That reminds me of my second suggestion! Real forks, or at least thicker plastic ones, would be much better for literally picking things out of that pile. The fries stand up well to the pressure placed upon them, but getting down to them can be a challenge!

The Mac Daddy is only available until August 7, so go now if you want to get your fast food burger fix in fry form! Luckily, the Bulgoger’s available in Berkeley anytime. Thanks for having me out, Smoke’s Poutinerie! You’re on my late-night radar permanently now.


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Scratch (Mtn View)Scratch (Mtn View)
American (New) / Beer Bars

Scratch Mountain View Restaurant

Scratch, not to be confused with the Scratch I reviewed in Durham a few years back, bills itself as a purveyor of American comfort food in an elegant style, a common trend among restaurants these days–upscale comfort food is the new American bistro. And who can blame them, as restaurants dare much if they don’t have a version of mac and cheese, fried chicken, or flatbreads on the menu. We do always need to please our less adventurous friends! And who am I to talk when I did a whole series on mac and cheese in the Bay Area?

What I find interesting, though, is that their description fails to highlight Scratch’s extensive seafood focus as seafood and American comfort food don’t always go hand in hand. Scratch has an impressive raw bar menu and a preference for seafood reflected in their appetizers, salads, and entrees. Indeed, both my friend and I opted for menu items that included it.

I waffled between the lobster cocktail and the lobster roll, being as I had a dinner appointment as well and didn’t want to fill up too much. But our somewhat inattentive server gave me his preference for the roll without hesitation, so I went with it. Don’t ever underestimate the importance of the waiter recommendation for the indecisive diner.

Scratch lobster roll mountain view

He chose well! While pricy at $24, my lobster roll had plenty of succulent meat. Carrot, red onion and Old Bay seasonings accented, rather than dominated, the lobster’s delicate flavor. I would have liked the bread, almost Hawaiian in its sweetness and fluffy texture, to have a condiment coating at the ends, but it held together well, which is the more important quality. The mixed greens, which I opted for instead of fries, were okay, with some of the lettuce leaves wilted.


Friend #1 decided to go for the market fish special, which was $20 for a rather large helping of grilled halibut over peas and carrots succotash. It came with a side of some sort of shoot salad and shallot dressing.

Scratch halibut succutash bean sprouts

She loved the shoot salad, though both of us failed to identify exactly what sort of shoots they were–maybe lima or soy bean? The shallot dressing impressed her most with its hint of fruitiness from the wine vinegar involved. The halibut, while delicious on first bite, soon lost her interest as it was mostly flavorless–cooked tender, but not at all dressed up. Sometimes, at some prices, simple isn’t enough.

Friend #1’s succotash in a beurre blanc sauce also failed to impress, providing a mushy texture that did not combine well with the halibut. It gave off a creamed corn impression that she found too sweet.

That’s not the best way to end a meal, but luckily, Scratch started off quite well! We began with a grilled artichoke appetizer served with grilled asparagus, lemon aioli, and red pepper sauce.

Scratch grilled artichoke

Friend #1 was more impressed than I, reveling in the flavor the grill brought to the artichoke–it was especially noticeable for the outer leaves and when eating the heart. I, however, have strengthened my conviction that artichoke is best prepared steamed rather than grilled, as the uneven heat distribution makes the leaves tougher than they should be. Still tasty, but artichoke can be so much more. The asparagus was grilled nicely, but I’m not sure why it was added to the dish. Great red pepper puree, though! And Friend #1, who isn’t a big mayo fan in general, though the lemon aioli was aces.

Is it weird that we may have been most impressed with our drinks? That was one of the best iced teas I’ve had in ages.

Scratch iced tea

I think a hint of fruit made it shimmer, but I can’t vouch for that. Friend #1 loved her iced coffee, made from Equator beans, so much she nearly forewent cream and sugar, which is not her usual cuppa.

I’d also like to give Scratch accolades for the atmosphere.

Scratch bar mountain view

The large, oval bar dominates the entryway, providing a tantalizing look at Scratch’s extensive whiskey collection, though we forewent alcohol as I knew I’d be driving around the South Bay all day. The selection of wines, ryes, and other spirits is large enough to intimidate! I also liked how the restaurant managed to look quite calm, almost empty, but walking to our seats revealed that the space was nearly full. The design is crafted toward creating quiet and privacy for diners, which was welcome and something that most upscale comfort food joints forswear in favor of high ceilings and a loud ambience that caters toward trendiness.

I’m finding it hard to arrive at a rating for Scratch. Ultimately, value is playing a role in this one, as I enjoyed my meal, but for the price, I expect every element to be well-thought out and of highest quality, and Scratch failed to hit that standard. The lobster roll was fantastic, but the salad was not. The halibut lacked flavor, but the lemon aioli impressed. Which means Scratch has hit or miss potential and for that much money, I want to be assured a hit. Ultimately, that makes my decision a chicken Scratch.



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Tiburon TavernTiburon Tavern
American (Traditional)

The Lodge at Tiburon, and its restaurant, the Tiburon Tavern, are located just a hop and skip from the scenic old shipping town’s shoreline and historic Main Street. You won’t even need to jump.

Tiburon rock and Golden Gate

A weekend ago, I was invited out to sample Tiburon Tavern’s new brunch menu, and because my husband’s birthday was the same day, we decided to make an overnight of it. Marin is only across the Bay from Oakland, but any excuse for a different view of the water is one worth taking, right?

Lodge at Tiburon room

Obligatory disclaimer: Our meal and drinks were complimentary, and we received a discounted room rate for the stay. We also received a great room upgrade, a cheese platter, and a bottle of delicious wine.


Heirloom tomato caprese mozzarella

Yes, I’m just trying to make you jealous at this point. And with the Tavern’s new chef, Mo L’Esperance, at the helm, you should be. We found out she arrived just a day before we did! Having a bloggers’ brunch preview the next day is certainly hitting the ground running, and L’Esperance was excited to share a few dishes she’s hoping to incorporate into the menu soon, as well as some of the Tavern’s regular fare.

Avocado lox toast Tiburon Tavern

The mozzarella and tomato salad certainly started things off well! From the description, I was worried it would be too simple of a dish to impress, but Chef L’Esperance is capable of making the simple memorable. Each ingredient’s summery freshness shone through, and with just the right amount of salt to highlight the tomatoes, it sang. There’s a reason for the omnipresence of caprese salads on menus. When done well, they prime taste buds for what’s to come.

white nectarine bellini Tiburon tavern

Another starter, the avocado and lox on toast, is also a common dish, but this incarnation elevated it. As you can see from these first two dishes, pleasing the eye first with vivid, contrasting colors is a strength of Tiburon Tavern’s. An overly generous helping of lox melded right in with the avocado’s lushness, and the pickled red onions and slight bite of radish made that richness easier to indulge in. My one suggestion would be a thicker slice of Panorama bread to support it all. I also think the salmon may have been smoked rather than brined, but I’m not complaining about that as I much prefer the former.

Chef L’Esperance isn’t the only talent in the back of the house. General Manager Brian Campagna helms the bar’s creations, and he came up with two lovely, sophisticated cocktails. For the appetizer course, this white nectarine bellini took control.

beet cucumber tequila tiburon tavern

I thought it an excellent drink. Nectarine provides much less by way of sweetness than orange or peach, the most common bellini and mimosa juices. Being as I tend to prefer grapefruit combos, this was perfect. In combination with a quite dry Caposaldo prosecco, it woke me just as well as my cup of coffee. If you prefer your breakfast drinks layered rather than sugared, it’s an excellent choice.

The BC Refresher–a beet, cucumber, lime, and Gran Dovejo tequila concoction–was also a unique and fun choice, especially on a warm afternoon.

potato pancake Anelise tiburon tavern

Again, Tiburon Tavern’s colors are spectacular. The drink was most notable for my husband’s willingness to drink it all, as he’s not a beet fan. In combination with cucumber, the beet’s earthy dominance became a well-rounded team player.

breakfast bacon taco tiburon tavern

That cocktail was paired with the main entrees. Above is my husband’s Pancakes Anneliese, a potato pancake recipe that Chef L’Esperance has long been working on. It’s made with a smooth, bubbly batter–notably not middle European in style, so don’t expect grated, or chunks of, potato. Instead, the pancake was slightly sweet and light, and I loved its combination with stone fruit and the crunchy contribution of crispy pancetta chunks.

Blondie sundae Tiburon Tavern

The breakfast tacos are different from any others you’ve tried. No, that’s not fruit leather on top but thin strips of pickled beet that hide arugula, avocado, queso fresco, extra crisp bacon, and a charred salsa verde. On first bite, I was skeptical but quickly won over by the novelty of a breakfast taco that felt and went down light and tasty. The salsa verde was the most essential element, and I enjoyed the depth of flavor and moisture it added. The dish would benefit from more of that moisture, but I think it’s wise to keep it on the lighter side, so I don’t think sour cream or a cheese sauce is the way to go. Maybe just a lot more salsa verde!

As mentioned, it was the husband’s birthday, and they made him a special birthday treat to end the meal.

 Tiburon's downtown sculpture.

This is a slight modification of the blondie sundae on the regular dessert menu and OH MY GOD, ORDER IT. The blondie has such a delightful texture, teetering on the edge of molten. Quality vanilla bean ice cream accompanied it, and I never kick a good amarena cherry out of bed–I mean off the plate, never off the plate. Other desserts currently include a chocolate croissant pain perdu and bananas foster pot de crème.

In case you can’t tell, I think brunch at Tiburon Tavern is a great choice. At $8 to $19 for breakfast and sandwich items, it’s also a potentially affordable choice, which can be hard to find in Marin or anywhere in the Bay Area, especially for this quality of craftsmanship. Entrees are available at an extra markup of $5 to $10.

I’ll write up a separate post on the Lodge itself soon, with pictures of the grounds and that nice room upgrade. Thanks again, to Chef L’Esperance, General Manager Brian, and everyone at the Lodge at Tiburon and the Tiburon Tavern for the great introduction to Tiburon hospitality. Here’s looking at you, kid.

Tiburon Tavern

Tiburon’s downtown sculpture.

Brunch took place 26 June 2016.


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American (New)


Northern Californians have never had a better reason to welcome a southern invader. By southern, I mean Southern Californian, of course, as Lemonade is a SoCal cafeteria chain with 23 locations. Those have all been concentrated in Los Angeles, San Diego, and Orange counties before now, but the Bay Area has six Lemonade openings slated for this summer, with two shops already open. All this just in time to enjoy the introduction of their summer produce-inspired dishes!



Watermelon radish & tuna side.


And I do mean enjoy. The Yerba Buena location has been open a few months, and last week, I was invited out for the opening party for Palo Alto’s shop at 151 University Drive, right in the heart of the downtown retail district.



Bright, lemon-inspired interior.

When I lived on the East Coast, I endured years of my SoCal friends and family telling me how great Lemonade is, and when I tried it myself on visits, I agreed wholeheartedly. Lemonade prides itself on using local sourcing and inventive recipes to reinvent the concept of a cafeteria–there are no forgotten pieces of dry chicken dripping oil under warmers here.



The Hot Dish section.
The Surf & Turf section.
The Marketplace section.


Quite the opposite in fact. And if you can believe it, it’s even affordable! But it is a little confusing, so let me help dispel that for you. Walk inside a Lemonade, take a look at everything on display to make your ordering game plan, ask for samples if you’d like, then jump in and out of the line to pick your choices.


The different sections of Lemonade’s wares are clearly marked with overhead signs, and you decide what speaks to you. Two Marketplace Vegetable sides combined with a Hot Dish? Go for it. A Sandwich with a full Leafy Green salad? Go for it. A Land & Sea filet, a Hot Side, and Dessert? All the way. Sides run from $2 to $4 and meat/sandwich items from $5 to $10. Don’t forget to add a $3 lemonade at the end!


I tried the cucumber-mint and the pictured carrot-ginger lemonade during the opening party, and they are solid choices. The cucumber-mint blew me away with the sheer amount of cucumber flavor they managed to extract. If you’ve followed my cocktail reviews over the years, then you know cucumber beverages are a personal favorite, but I’m often disappointed with how little cucumber flavor actually makes it in. This lemonade hits the highest notch possible. The carrot-ginger lemonade was much tastier than a V-8, and easier to drink, avoiding the pulpiness common to carrot elixirs.



Friend #1’s plate


My plus one, Friend #1, enjoyed the red quinoa salad, the salmon louie-stuffed avocado, and the Canadian bay shrimp and sweet corn. The quinoa included curried cauliflower, tangerines, cucumbers, mint, and peanuts and was cooked just enough to retain a crunch. She thought the ratio of sweet to savory elements was great.



She loved the avocado dish, finding the buttery richness of avocado balanced out the saltier salmon filling with finesse. A sample of the traditional mac & cheese made her think it wouldn’t pass the toddler test, being mushier than her son likes. It neared the top of maximum cheese capacity.

No, I didn’t comment on her Bay shrimp side yet, because I also had it and it was hands down my favorite item on my plate.



The zucchini and shrimp, both cooked just to tenderness, were tossed with a collection of spices, nuts, and coconut that approximated Punjabi street snacks. In my humble taste buds’ opinion, it elevated those snacks with the utter freshness of its ingredients and restraint in seasoning use; note, that is no slight against the snack foods, just a comment on the difference between dried, bagged treats and a fresh dish. YUM, either way.

Lest my readers question my objectivity, I think the honey kiss melon and chiogga beet side, pictured in the middle, needs some work — and I LOVE beets. Don’t get me wrong, if you love blue cheese, you’ll love this dish. The problem is that the cheese dominates because the melon and beet are mild in contrast. I’m not sure if that indicates a need for riper melon and thicker beet slices, but I think simply reducing the amount of cheese would go a long way toward improving it. The fresh hazelnuts were awesome.

I was also pleasantly surprised by the Basque chicken, on the left, which I went for even though I’m not an olive fan. But I wanted to try a hot, braised meat dish and I’ve had the red miso short ribs before and oh my god, EAT THOSE NOW. As for the Basque chicken, the olives lent just enough salt to please without making my nose wrinkle in annoyance, as it’s usually their brine that turns me off. The chicken was super moist, and I cannot stress enough that I didn’t mind the olives. That’s a feat.

Most of the items I’ve mentioned are part of Lemonade’s new summer menu, which means you may not have access to them year-round, and that Bay shrimp dish and the red quinoa are ones you don’t want to miss. But I can confidently say, despite only having a sample of it, that the Chinese long beans with summer plums is another standout summer offering.



Picture courtesy of Lemonade.

I wouldn’t have thought of that combination at all, but the expertly roasted beans went so well with plums and a subtle-for-hoisin vinaigrette.

Finally, dessert.


Lemonade makes many different types including blondie brownies, cupcakes, and the Pick Me Up mini-trifles that just made their debut with options like strawberry s’mores and mint grasshopper pie. We went with chocolate hazelnut and caramel fleur de sel macarons.


That’s palm-sized, folks! Giant! Friend #1 thought the cookie texture was closer to cake than macaron, but I thought they approximated macaron’s standard flaky, light texture pretty well, though they were on the moister side of the spectrum. The fillings are buttercream frosting-based and thicker than you’d find in other macarons. I did not expect the rush of cinnamon flavor in the caramel one, though I liked it. I’m still trying to decide whether that’s what made me taste an apple presence or not. Yet my husband had my second half and asked right away if it was apple, so I think caramel apple may be correct. Friend #1 did no sharing with the leftover half of the chocolate one she took home.

Whew. We managed to try a lot in one night, didn’t we? In case it’s not obvious, I love Lemonade, and I hope the Bay Area will enjoy them just as much as I do. Thanks to the company for the invite to the Palo Alto opening party, and I hope you find success in this northerly region!

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Timeless CoffeeTimeless Coffee
Vegan / Bakeries / Coffee & Tea

Mexican hot chocolate cake: the marshmallows need some work, but I love the delicate spice kick in t

Mexican hot chocolate cake: the marshmallows need some work, but I love the delicate spice kick in the frosting. _____ #Oakland

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Brews & BratsBrews & Brats
American (Traditional) / Bars

Brews & Brats Hayward

When I lived in Hayward, 2013–2014, I avidly anticipated the opening of Brews & Brats on B Street, one of several new restaurants moving into the downtown strip at the time. Alas, Brews & Brats still wasn’t open by the time I moved to Oakland, but now, a year later, it’s fully established. As I was due for a visit to my optometrist up the street, I decided now was the time to finally check this place out.

The interior is more casual than I expected, consisting of a handful of tables and a prominent bar. There’s not much seating–we were lucky to cram four people around one of the dark, wooden tables. But somehow, that makes the place feel like a natural extension of Hayward’s vibe. Popular with sports fans, the restaurant’s televisions provided the majority of the background noise. Patrons were mostly singles at the bar, and the dining area seemed more like bar overflow space, though table service from the bartenders was prompt and ours had a great sense of humor.

As usual, I went for a beer sampler–part of why I’m a blogger is because I have to TRY IT ALL.

beer sampler brews and brats

You pick your own selections (4 for $8), so I went for two fave styles, a chocolate porter and a cider, and two beers with the funniest names to say, the Amarillo Pillow and the Toaster Pastry. As feared, the cranberry cider was a tad sweeter than I like, though Friend #1 said the cherry cider was quite tart, so I may try that on a return trip. The chocolate porter was everything it should be, rich and filling. The other two beers were both quite good and moderately hoppy. The Toaster Pastry was earthier and deeper, and the Amarillo Pillow felt like a fleeting visit to sunbathed shores. It’s the Pillow I went for when ordering a second pint.


Food is reasonably priced and includes various sausages made in-house and a barbecue menu including tri-tip, pork ribs, pulled pork, and smoked salmon. The sausages may seem expensive at $7.50 each, but the size is definitely filling. Only my husband was able to order a second, and even that was after much consideration of whether it was wise.

The standard dog comes with onions, red bell pepper, and a gentle sauerkraut. Yellow mustard and ketchup are, of course, on the table. Of the nine sausage varieties, two of us chose chicken cheddar and jalapeno dogs, I went for the jerk chicken, and Friend #1 opted for swedish potato.

Shroom dog Brews and Brats

That’s my husband’s cheddar and jalapeno dog made “shroom” style, which is one of six topping combos that can be added on for $2.00; individual toppings are 75 cents each. Shroom style adds swiss cheese, mushrooms, and sautéed onions. As you can see, the toppings are generous. Friend #2, who had the same sausage, found it came quite moist and with a good amount of heat. His was topped as “the bracho”: nacho cheese, tomato relish, and jalapenos.

Bracho dog Brews & Brats

We’ll just pretend that picture can double as my own sausage as well, as I forgot to take a picture before diving in. I, too, chose to add on nacho cheese, and for a time, Friend #1 and I were lost in memories of Orange Julius’s majestic nacho cheese dog. I’ve waxed poetic about that before, so I’ll spare you the details here. I did think the complimentary onions and bell pepper were plenty of toppings on their own, as long as you add something to moisten the bun. My jerk chicken dog was impressively spicy, and I too found the meat moist and flavorful.

We were surprised that the much milder swedish potato dog still conveyed a little kick of its own. That was Friend #1’s, and her dog tasted dry at first, so she dove for the ketchup and thought it went very well with the potato-laced sausage. Potatoes and ketchup? Who’d have imagined such an amazing combination?

Brews & Brats is a great new addition to the Hayward dining scene, but if you go, be prepared for a very relaxed experience. This is a kick-back-and-watch-the-game sort of place. With great sausages and beers, that’s not at all a bad way to spend the evening. And if you do go, please let me know how the bacon-topped potato salad is, because I love the idea that you can order it with or without bacon when bacon is part of its name.


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Vitality BowlsVitality Bowls
Vegetarian / Gluten-Free / Juice Bars & Smoothies

Trying aai bowls for the first time I today, and this jaded foodie is impressed! Thanks for the invi

Trying aai bowls for the first time I today, and this jaded foodie is impressed! Thanks for the invite Vitality Bowls! More pics coming... _____

The toasted mulberries on top of the Graviola Bowl make it an intriguing, crunchy delight.

The toasted mulberries on top of the Graviola Bowl make it an intriguing, crunchy delight. _____

The Warrior VitalityBowls is a fruity friend's feast! With goji berry's intriguing texture...

The Warrior VitalityBowls is a fruity friend's feast! With goji berry's intriguing texture...

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  • The toasted mulberries on top of the Graviola Bowl make it an intriguing, crunchy delight.
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La FarineLa Farine
Bakeries / Coffee & Tea

Birthday dessert : Brandied cherry chocolate torte from La Farine. Very dense, but worth savoring.

Birthday dessert : Brandied cherry chocolate torte from La Farine. Very dense, but worth savoring. _____

  • Birthday dessert : Brandied cherry chocolate torte from La Farine. Very dense, but worth savoring.
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Brotzeit LokalBrotzeit Lokal
German / Breakfast & Brunch

Brotzeit Lokal is memorable for more than being a mouthful to pronounce. We all love beer gardens, right? So what makes a beer garden even better? A beautiful view!

Brotzeit Lokal View Brooklyn Basin

You can see it from inside the tinted glass walls of Brotzeit’s dining room, but the open-air patio is where that beer garden pull is strongest. The patio is lined with picnic benches and comes with a refreshing breeze from the little marina it shares space with. It’s especially scenic in those late afternoon, early evening, happiest of hours on weekdays. I have one friend who’s a big fan of the $1.50 oyster specials at that time.

brotzeit lokal mussels oakland

Yes, those are mussels, but just play along and pretend I have the right photograph.

Brooklyn Basin isn’t the same as gazing across the Bay to San Francisco, of course, but it’s ideal for feeling more secluded from the crowd. You’re more likely to find housecats dashing between the moored boats than cargo ships crossing under a bridge there.

In food and beer selection, Brotzeit Lokal aims squarely at the fatherland of beer gardens: Germany. Belgium also plays a significant role in the list of 16 drafts and 20-odd bottles available.

Beer Brotzeit Lokal Oakland

A Dirty Hoe and a Dirty Blonde, drunk by friends on my most recent excursion.

Luckily for me, Brotzeit also has a selection of ciders. Possman’s Pure Cider, from Germany, was a little too sweet for my tastes–

Possman's Pure Cider

–but Aspall’s Dry Cider, from the UK, hit the spot, providing the crisp, dry, minerality I find refreshing in a good cider.

Aspall Dry Cider

Over the past three years, I’ve made roughly five visits to Brotzeit Lokal, and the waitstaff have varied greatly in demeanor. Some of them are gruff, loathe to offer details, and hard to locate when you need them. Others make regular rounds and complete service with a smile. Dishes, similarly, have ranged from acceptable to excellent. On that most recent visit, I tried the pretzel bread pudding served with whipped cream and a salted caramel sauce.

Pretzel bread pudding brotzeit lokal

While still bread pudding, which is nearly always tasty in my book, I was disappointed they went custard- rather than homestyle in preparation–if pretzel is in the menu item description, I want it to be somewhat recognizable in the dish. But my potato pancakes, called kartoffelpuffer, may have been the best I’ve had since I worked at a Czech restaurant in Davis in 2002–2003.

potato pancakes kartoffelpuffer brotzeit lokal

A little greasy, but they had great crunch, good flavor, and just the right amount of apple sauce and sour cream to complement them.

We’ve had the most success with dishes at dinner time, as I believe Brotzeit does a pretty good job of serving up the standards, such as wiener schnitzel and sauerbraten. Of course, I’ve also tried the sausages, specifically the wurzige, a “spicy chicken and pork everything sausage”:


The sausage accoutrements are good, though warmer than I prefer for pickles and slaw. The sausage itself disappeared within that bun, leaving me with little impression other than dryness. To be fair, that is partially my fault for not liking mustard. I know, German sausage without mustard?! The scandal. But I would hope the sausage served would leave an impression without it.

Ultimately, I think Brotzeit Lokal is worth going to for the view alone, and the chances of also finding tasty food to go with your brews are good, if not always as memorable. If you go, you should know that it’s actually situated behind the Homewood Suites on Embarcadero. Drive down the hotel’s right side and head toward the water. You’ll see Brotzeit Lokal and its views soon enough.



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