Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Okayama (San Jose, CA)

After spending the afternoon in Monterey Bay and Carmel, our plan was to drive the two hours back to my godparents' neighborhood for some sushi. Well, two hours into the trip, and we were still stuck in stop-and-stop traffic on 101 and not even remotely near where we needed to be... (Pro tip: Do not—I repeat— D O  N O T drive from Monterey Bay back to the San Francisco area at the end of a holiday weekend!) Knowing that we wouldn't be able to make it back to our 'hood until 10 pm, we needed a Plan B for dinner somewhere enroute.

I really don't know how we ever survived in the stone ages before smartphones, but since we're in 2014, R. did an Urbanspoon search and found Okayama in San Jose, which was open 'til 10 pm and along the way. By the time we arrived at 9:15 pm, we had been sitting in the car for 3.5 hours in what should have been a one hour drive between Monterey and San Jose! We were exhausted and ready to stuff ourselves.

Nigiri at Okayama (San Jose)

Nigiri (another view) at Okayama (San Jose)
Nigiri (another view)

Mango Tango Roll at Okayama (San Jose)
Mango Tango Roll

Mango Mochi Ice Cream at Okayama (San Jose)
Mango Mochi Ice Cream

Located in Japantown (a fact we discovered only once we got there), which seemed to be a very heavily residential neighborhood, Okayama was not so much small as it was unassuming. Given the hour, we got down to "business" right away. I ordered nigiri sushi a la carte: Toro (fatty tuna; $8), Hamachi (yellow tail; $4.75), Sake (salmon; $4.50), Unagi (fresh water eel; $5.25), and Hotate (scallop; $4.25). Each order came with two pieces, so the prices were quite good. Everything was amazing, but I was particularly impressed by the melt-in-your-mouth fatty tuna that was just phenomenal. R. got the Mango Tango Roll ($10.50) with salmon, cream cheese, and avocado, topped with mango and thin lemon slices, which we also loved. Since we are big fans of mochi ice cream, we ended our delightful meal with some Mango Mochi Ice Cream (may have been two orders as pictured).

I really can't begin to express what a great find this was. My godparents kept commenting that Okayama was better than the Japanese restaurant that they had originally planned to take us that evening, and I'd have to say this was easily a Top 3 meal for me during my weeklong stay in the Bay Area. And to think, we owe this all to some nasty Californian traffic!

Restaurant info:
565 N 6th St, San Jose, CA 95112
(408) 289-9508

Okayama Japanese on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Fish Hopper (Monterey Bay, CA)

On Memorial Day, we drove two hours down to Monterey Bay to check out the aquarium. After a few hours of octopuses, bat rays, and jellyfishes, we were hungry for a late lunch. We wandered down the street and into The Fish Hopper, a restaurant with nice views of Monterey Bay (dining by the water seems to be the theme around these parts!). I ordered the Sand Dabs ($17.95) as I had been wanting to try this Pacific white fish, and Monterey is supposed to be the place to get them! At The Fish Hopper, the sand dabs are breaded and grilled, topped with diced tomatoes (on the other side of the plate) and a light basil sauce. The fish was very fresh and the melt-in-your-mouth meat was cooked just perfectly. It was just a quick stop at The Fish Hopper as we had other places to be so I didn't try any other dishes, but this certainly seems like a great option amidst the many touristy options.

Sand Dabs at The Fish Hopper (Monterey Bay, CA)
Sand Dabs

Restaurant info:
Fish Hopper
700 Cannery Row, Monterey, CA
(831) 372-8543
Web | Facebook | Twitter

Fish Hopper on Urbanspoon

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Skates on the Bay (Berkeley, CA)

After four days in San Francisco proper, we trekked over to the suburbs of the Bay Area to spend some time with my godparents. On the first night, we visited Skates on the Bay, a waterfront restaurant at the end of the Berkeley Marina with breathtaking panoramic views of the San Francisco Bay. If you're lucky enough to score a window seat, I'd imagine it would feel a bit like sitting right on the water because of the way the building juts out into the bay. Although our table was farther in, we still had a stunning view of both the Golden Gate Bridge and the new and very modern eastern span of the Oakland-Bay Bridge. In fact, with bay views gracing three sides of the restaurant, I don't think there is a bad seat in the house at all!

Of course, seafood was the only natural choice for us in a setting like this! R. and I shared a scrumptious Pan Seared Crab Cake to start ($18.95), with succotash, sweet corn puree, and fresh herbs.

Pan Seared Crab Cake at Skates on the Bay (Berkeley CA)
Pan Seared Crab Cake

Pan Seared Crab Cake at Skates on the Bay (Berkeley CA)
Pan Seared Crab Cake

My entree was the fresh and delicious Limoncello Scallops and Prawns ($33.95), with polenta, snow pea sprouts, asparagus, and limoncello sauce.

Limoncello Scallops and Prawns at Skates on the Bay (Berkeley CA)
Limoncello Scallops and Prawns

R. had the Almond Milk Poached Alaskan Halibut ($34.95), with toasted pasta pearls, almonds, asparagus, and charred cucumber vinaigrette. He thought it was just to die for!

Almond Milk Poached Halibut at Skates on the Bay (Berkeley CA)
Almond Milk Poached Alaskan Halibut

I was far too full for dessert, but R. couldn't resist the Hot Fudge Waffle Sundae ($8.95), with vanilla bean ice cream, fresh strawberries, candied pecans, housemade hot fudge and butterscotch sauces, and whipped cream. In fact, I was the only one at the table who didn't order dessert...and so the waitstaff brought out a Creme Brulee for me, on the house! What a lovely surprise!

Hot Fudge Waffle Sundae at Skates on the Bay (Berkeley CA)
Hot Fudge Waffle Sundae

Creme Brulee at Skates on the Bay (Berkeley CA)
Creme Brulee

To be honest, due to its location, I had been worried that Skates on the Bay would just be the kind of tourist trap that wouldn't live up to its hype. Luckily, the amazing food and service proved those fears wrong. Add to that the gorgeous view, and Skates on the Bay really has it all.

Restaurant info:
Skates on the Bay
100 Seawall Dr, Berkeley, CA 94710
(510) 549-1900
Web | Facebook | Twitter
Check out the virtual tour

Skates on the Bay on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Zero Zero (San Francisco)

The last of Twitter friend Alison's recommendations that I tried in San Francisco was Zero Zero, a trendy Italian eatery located in SoMA (south of Market). Alison's other recommendations had all turned out to be gems, so I was expecting nothing short of excellence from Zero Zero. In addition, we were meeting up with some friends for this meal, and since anyone who knows me expects to eat high quality food with me, my reputation was definitely at stake! Luckily, Zero Zero delivered.

R. and I split an appetizer and a pizza. He picked the appetizer: Tomato Braised Chickpea, Rosemary, and Burrata Bruschetta ($8.95) which came in one large scrumptious piece, and I picked the Mason pizza ($18.95), with grilled corn, speck, scamorza, thyme, fresh garlic, mozzarella, and Grana Padano cheese — a great combination of flavors. Zero Zero also serves up some tasty cocktails: my Hot Lips ($12), with Blanco tequila, jalapeño, cilantro, lime, and ginger syrup was the bomb.

Tomato Braised Chickpea, Rosemary, Burrata Bruschetta at Zero Zero (San Francisco)
Tomato Braised Chickpea, Rosemary, and Burrata Bruschetta

Mason Pizza at Zero Zero (San Francisco)
Mason Pizza

As with many other popular San Francisco restaurants, advanced reservation is a must to secure a table. Even with a reservation, we had a bit of a wait.

Restaurant info:
Zero Zero
826 Folsom St, San Francisco, CA 94107
(415) 348-8800
Web | Facebook | Twitter

Zero Zero on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Hog Island Oyster Company (San Francisco)

R. was busy with a work thing on the Saturday of our trip, so I decided to check out the Ferry Building on my own, which I knew would be busy because of the farmer's market there that day. Unfortunately, time was tight so I didn't have time to explore the market too much, but from what I could tell it was huge and impressive!

While at the Ferry Building, I did manage to grab some lunch at Hog Island Oyster Company. It really was the perfect plan, since I LOVE oysters and R. doesn't (what a crazy man!). Lunching alone also worked out nicely in this case because it was a Saturday and there was a massive line outside waiting for a table, but being a party of one, I was able to be seated at one of bars right away!

Hog Island Oyster Company (San Francisco)
View of another bar area from my seat

Perhaps it was the freedom of being on my own and doing and eating whatever the heck I wanted, but I'll admit I kind of went all out on this meal. I started out with an order of a raw Oyster Bar Mix ($20) which consisted of one each of the day's oysters, largely because I just wanted to try everything. The oysters of that day were: Hog Island Sweetwater (Pacific; Tomales Bay, CA), Redwood Curtain Kumamoto (Kumamoto; Humboldt Bay, CA), Hog Island Cliffside (Pacific; Discovery Bay, WA), Sea Cow (Pacific; Hammersley Inlet, WA), and Northern Cross (Atlantic; Ballard Point, VA).

Oyster Bar Mix at Hog Island Oyster Company (San Francisco)
Oyster Bar Mix

I also got the Casino Grilled Oysters ($13 for 4 oysters) with butter, Spanish paprika, bacon, shallots, and thyme. I loved the raw oysters, but I thought the grilled oysters were divine beyond words.

Casino Grilled Oysters at Hog Island Oyster Company (San Francisco)
Casino Grilled Oysers

As I was enjoying my lunch, I noticed a cute older couple sitting next to me enjoying what looked like an oyster chowder. I was intrigued. They told me it was an Oyster Stew ($12) that used to be on the menu but for some reason is now off-menu. The woman used to live in San Francisco, and even though they live out in Arizona now, they come back every year and most look forward to this meal at Hog Island Oyster Company! Their revelation told me two things: first, that I had absolutely picked the right place to eat, and second, that I could not leave there without trying some of that oyster stew!!

And so I did. And it was exquisite. With five large oysters, it was plenty filling, too.

Oyster Stew at Hog Island Oyster Company (San Francisco)
Oyster Stew (off-menu)

Oyster Stew at Hog Island Oyster Company (San Francisco)
Oyster Stew with massive oyster

What can I say except that this was hands down the best meal I had in San Francisco!

Restaurant info:
Hog Island Oyster Company
1 Ferry Plaza, San Francisco, CA 94111
(415) 391-7117
Web | Facebook | Twitter

Hog Island Oyster Company on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Fino Restaurant (San Francisco)

On our third night in San Francisco, I met up with two of my childhood friends who now live there—one I hadn't seen in 24 years!! She also happens to be a regular at Fino, located inside The Andrews Hotel in Nob Hill, and suggested that we meet there.

The atmosphere at Fino is classy yet cozy. Not sure if it was my friend-the-regular-patron's influence or if the staff at Fino is just naturally awesome (I'm leaning towards the latter), but our other friend had run into some unexpected major traffic delays on her way to meet us (not surprising in the Bay Area, as I can definitely attest to even in my brief time there!) and we ended up starting our meal much later than our reservation time, but the staff was super cool about it even though it looked to be a busy evening for them. My friend loves the linguini there and orders it every time. I decided to go the pasta route as well and ordered the Fettuccine con Prosciutto e Funghi ($15) or fresh fettuccine with prosciutto and mushrooms, as well as tomatoes and garlic, in a creamy tomato sauce. It was simple, but fresh and delicious—better than some of the meals I had in Italy. R. liked his pizza as well. Unfortunately, I was much too full for desserts, but it was a lovely meal with a precious opportunity to catch up with old friends, which was sweet enough.

Fettuccine con Prosciutto e Funghi at Fino (San Francisco)
Fettuccine con Prosciutto e Funghi

Restaurant info:
Fino Restaurant
624 Post St, San Francisco, CA 94109
(415) 928-2080

Fino on Urbanspoon

Pompei's Grotto (San Francisco)

There are probably few places more touristy than the Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco, and like all good tourist we spent a few hours there during our trip. We had taken advantage of a free walking tour which led us to a crab fishery on the wharf. We didn't eat their crabs, actually, but the reason I bring it up is because the owner of the crab fishery said that when she dines out, she likes going to Pompei's Grotto. So naturally, that is where we ended up after the tour.

Pompei's Grotto is smack in the middle of the busy Jefferson Street. It has a fairly large seating area indoors but we opted for patio seating because, you know, San Francisco. We started with an order of Baby Cakes ($14.95), which consisted of two small Dungeness crab cakes with pesto aioli, and then we each had some Clam Chowder, mine in a regular bowl ($7.95) and R.'s in a bread bowl ($9.95).

Baby Cakes at Pompei's Grotto (San Francisco)
Baby Cakes

Clam Chowder Bowl at Pompei's Grotto (San Francisco)
Clam Chowder

Clam Chowder in a Bread Bowl at Pompei's Grotto (San Francisco)
Clam Chowder in Bread Bowl

Overall, Pompei's Grotto is pretty low-key. There is nothing fancy or surprising about it, but the food definitely hit the spot. Not a bad option amongst the many touristy options.

Restaurant info:
Pompei's Grotto
340 Jefferson St, San Francisco CA 94133

Pompei's Grotto on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 2, 2014

Wayfare Tavern (San Francisco)

Both R. and I have friends in the San Francisco Bay Area and we met up with some of them at Wayfare Tavern, a contemporary American restaurant in the Financial District, which was another one of Twitter friend Alison's fine recommendations.

I typically skip the pre-meal bread, but I couldn't resist these phenomenal popovers we were served! That definitely won the "best bread service" award in my book. Then, instead of an entree, I opted for two appetizers, which actually ended up being rather filling. I had the Seared Octopus ($15), with charred scallion hollandaise, cippolini onion, and linguiça which is a cured pork sausage, and the French Fried Oysters ($12) with cauliflower tartar sauce and shaved cauliflower. Both were high-quality dishes prepared to perfection. Our friends also commented favorably on their meals.

Popovers at Wayfare Tavern (San Francisco)
Popover for bread service

Popovers at Wayfare Tavern (San Francisco)
Popover for bread service

Seared Octopus at Wayfare Tavern (San Francisco)
Seared Octopus

French Fried Oysters at Wayfare Tavern (San Francisco)
French Fried Oysters

The decor at Wayfare Tavern is upscale, its atmosphere lively, and its service friendly and professional. As with most other San Francisco restaurants that had been recommended to me, advanced reservation is a must.

Restaurant info:
Wayfare Tavern
558 Sacramento Street, San Francisco, CA
Web | Facebook | Twitter

Wayfare Tavern on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Tacolicious (San Francisco)

The Mission District in San Francisco is the place to find great Mexican food, I was told. Unfortunately, with our jam-packed schedule, I wasn't able to squeeze in a full Mexican meal, but we did manage to stop in Tacolicious for a delicious taco snack.

We initially ordered two tacos: a Veggie Taco with asparagus, fingerling potatoes, oyster mushrooms, and green garlic, and a Guajillo Braised Beef Short Rib Taco, served with three salsas. They were so appetizing and full of flavor that we ended up getting a second order of the tacos, which was well worth it. We sat at the bar, but there is also some cute patio seating in the space between this and the neighboring building.

Tacos at Tacolicious (San Francisco)
Left: Veggie Taco with asparagus, fingerling potatoes, oyster mushrooms, green garlicRight: Guajillo Braised Beef Short Rib Taco

Taco Salsas at Tacolicious (San Francisco)
Close-up of the salsas

Tacolicious's Mission location is a bit hard to find as the restaurant name is not visible from the street; look for the orange taco logo instead.

Restaurant info:
741 Valencia St., San Francisco, CA 94110
Web | Facebook | Twitter

Tacolicious on Urbanspoon

Akiko's Restaurant (San Francisco)

I was told that San Francisco has great sushi, so I did a bit of internet digging to find a sushi restaurant with good reviews near where I would be staying. This is how I came across Akiko's Restaurant on Bush Street in the Financial District—not to be confused with another restaurant bearing the exact same name located on Mason Street in Nob Hill, just a short walk away! We had actually started heading towards the other Akiko's before we realized that that was not the right one!

Akiko's (the one on Bush Street) is a popular joint, and reservations at least two weeks in advance is probably needed to secure a desired time. (Luckily, the online reservation system makes it easy.) Akiko's is not exactly easy to find either as there is no restaurant sign out front, so it was a good thing we had the address with us as we searched for the restaurant in unfamiliar territory. By the time we arrived (a few minutes late) for our 11:30 am reservation, which is the restaurant's opening time, many of the seats were already taken, and we saw many customers being turned away during the course of our lunch.

I ordered four types of nigiri: Sake (New Zealand King salmon), Suzuki (sea bass), Unagi (fresh water eel), and Uni (Santa Barbara sea urchin). Everything was fresh, amazing, and definitely lived up to the restaurant's reputation. My only wish is that I was hungrier as I had really wanted to try a few more items! R. wasn't hungry at all and ordered only the Wakame Salad, with seaweed on a bed of mix greens and sesame soy dressing, which he thought was fantastic. Although the meal was light, we enjoyed Akiko's immensely!

Sake, Suzuki, and Unagi Nigiri at Akiko's (San Francisco)
Sake, Suzuki, and Unagi nigiri

Sake, Suzuki, & Unagi Nigiri at Akiko's (San Francisco)
Sake, Suzuki, and Unagi nigiri (another view)

Uni Nigiri at Akiko's (San Francisco)
Uni nigiri

Wakame Salad at Akiko's (San Francisco)
Wakame Salad

Restaurant info:
Akiko's Sushi Bar
431 Bush St, San Francisco, CA 94108
(415) 397-3218
Web | Facebook | Twitter

Akiko's Sushi Bar on Urbanspoon