A total meat party at Alexander’s Steakhouse. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
Hubba hubba, it’s Friday. I’ve already had enough of this week back to work—my email feels like a fire hose. I’m so ready to step away from the burning car. Fortunately, I get to punch the clock shortly. (Yeah, and I mean punch it.) This afternoon, I’m judging a culinary competition at the WCR (Women Chefs and Restaurateurs) conference, and then it’s the Good Food Awards later this evening—see you there? Sunday is when the Fancy Food Show madness kicks off for three days—just get me to the Iberico ham booth.
In case you’re looking for more reading, I posted my monthly cheat sheet on 7x7.com on five new restaurants to try this month.
Enjoy this sunny and MUCH warmer weekend—64 degrees sounds pretty damn fabulous to me!
Some of my favorite dinner excursions begin with a friend who knows food, telling me, “Hey, I’ve heard about this place that’s really good in X. Have you been? Wanna check it out?” And so that’s how I was off to KIRAKU in Berkeley one evening. It charmingly has a sandwich board out front explaining the origin of the word “izakaya”—fortunately I am well schooled on the whole eating and drinking at the same time thing.
I’ve heard the petite place can be bananas, so we called ahead for our two-top (they quote a $30-per-person minimum if you want a reservation, which is probably in place to keep the students in the area from eating more than just corn tempura for dinner). After being offered a hot towel (oshibori), it was time for business. We primed our palates with the takana pickles ($4), a finely chopped bowl of pickled takana leaves (mustard greens), and the menma ($4), spicy bamboo shoots that quickly disappeared from our table. You can also go a little more hard-core with aburi mentaiko (seared and spicy cod roe, $5) or salted bonito stomach ($5). I recommend the tsumami sampler deal, which lets you choose three of these starters for $10.
A must-order are the duck pot stickers ($6) with balsamic sauce. Chef Daiki Saito was French-trained in Japan (and cooked at a French restaurant in Tokyo), so you can guess where he got the inspiration to use duck in gyoza. The gyoza were golden brown and tender, and the flavor of this dish is out of the park (especially when you dunk them in the sauce).
At this point you’ve been drinking a bit (we were enjoying our sake and Echigo and Coedo beers, and they have Asahi on tap), so it’s time for some sluttier food, like the grilled beef tongue ($10.50), which came out piping hot and thinly sliced, and the spicy hamachi kama ($13), the juicy and smoky collar meat sprinkled with shichimi. Okay, fine, we ordered the rock shrimp tempura ($9) with mayo, okay?! We scarfed the juicy shrimp coated in thick and crunchy batter, topped with togarashi threads. So wrong yet so right. (We had to go there.) The fried octopus ($7) was less successful—the whole bodies were too chewy, and the wonton-style sweet chile sauce on the side was a clang. A nice foil to the richer dishes is the grilled rice ball ($3); be sure to nab one.
Look, this place is a gem. After one visit, I’m already plotting my return, and the extensive menu holds many delights. The servers score high on the adorable scale (chef Daiki’s wife, Sanae, runs the front of the house), and they take good care of the (mostly) Japanese crowd, which got a bit younger and more eclectic as the night went on. You’ll note some beautiful ceramic dishes—it ends up the chef makes most of them. The potter-chef, it makes sense. He also has a kikizake-shi license, which is the equivalent of a sake sommelier, so there are some good sake and shochu selections as well. Between Ippuku and now Kiraku, I now have two Berkeley izakayas that will be coaxing me across the bridge. Oiishi!
Kiraku - 2566B Telegraph Ave. Berkeley - 510-848-2758
Hold onto your wineglass, because this year’s Clash of the Sommeliers at Forestville’s FARMHOUSE INN AND RESTAURANT pits the old schoolers against the young guns. At the first dinner on Thursday February 28th, Bobby Conroy of Benu takes on Josiah Baldivino of Michael Mina, followed by Fred Dame (founder of the North American Chapter of the Guild of Sommeliers) and Steve Morey of Ernie’s in March. The restaurant will also host a series of guest chef dinners throughout the winter and spring that include Sarah Scott and forager Connie Green of The Wild Table on January 31, Matt Accarrino of SPQR on March 21, and meat master Bruce Aidells in May. The four-course dinners range from $150 to $165 per person. For details, call 707-887-3300.
SPOONBAR at the h2hotel in Healdsburg will host four Forks and Corks dinners showcasing innovative Bay Area chefs (collaborating with chef Louis Maldonado on each menu) and sommeliers. The first dinner, on Saturday January 26th, features chef James Syhabout (Commis, Hawker Fare) and a selection of wines from Saison’s Mark Bright. The six-course menu nods to Sonoma County’s bounty with turnips and radishes marinated in a red mustard bouillon, geoduck clams, brown rice congee with sea urchin, black cod in ras el hanout, guinea hen with green curry, chile-braised short ribs, and parsnip milk tapioca. Future chef-somm lineups include Brett Cooper (Outerlands) with Kevin Wardell (Bergamot Alley) on Saturday February 23rd; David Bazirgan (Fifth Floor), John Paul Carmona (formerly of Manresa), and Evan Rich (Rich Table) with Cappy Sorentino on Saturday March 23rd; and Lauren Kiino (Il Cane Rosso) and David Lynch (St. Vincent) on Saturday April 20th. Each of the six-course dinners is $110 per person. Call 707-433-7222 for reservations or visit the website.
A rock star chef is heading up the forthcoming BELLY LEFT COAST KITCHEN AND TAP ROOM in downtown Santa Rosa. Just not that rock star chef. Slated for spring, chef-owner Gray Rollin, who’s been tour chef for the likes of Mötley Crüe, KISS, the Black Eyed Peas, Katy Perry, and most recently Linkin Park, is rehabbing the former Checkers restaurant (523 4th Street) to showcase a hearty menu of locally inspired comfort foods from throughout the Pacific. Already booked for several weeks of touring, however, Rollin has tapped partner and co-exec chef Reino Cruz and GM Pablo Scurto to get the restaurant ready for a mid-March opening. All three have worked at Tres Hombres, with Cruz’s most recent stint at Lark Creek restaurant Yankee Pier. Look for dishes like Three Hog mac and cheese with chorizo, smoked bacon, and pancetta; pulled pork sliders and beer-braised sausages; Dungeness crab cakes; the Belly Burger; barbecue ribs; and churro fondue. There will be 20 beers on tap.
707 Scout caught up with HEALDSBURG SHED owners Cindy Daniel and Doug Lipton, along with general manager Kenny Rochford (previously of Medlock Ames) for a quick hard-hat look at the sleek “modern grange” under construction just off the Healdsburg plaza. Though there’s still plenty of work to do before its March 2013 opening, Daniel has already carved out spaces for a grain mill, larder, café, a fermentation “bar,” and an event space upstairs (with a kitchen any chef would covet). In a breathless discussion of what’s to come at the 9,700-square-foot project, Daniel, Lipton, and Rochford are clearly working from an evolving wish list of ideas that encompasses everything from SHEDtalks to beekeeping and salumi classes and generally embracing the homesteading and farm-to-table movement.
Chez Panisse alum Niki Ford will be overseeing the facility’s culinary program and the trio have consulted with many local farmers, winemakers, historians, makers, and producers to make the experience of SHED as interactive and authentic as possible. “We want to connect into the community and support the people growing our food,” said Daniel. Things to look forward to include grain salads inspired by Middle Eastern and Indian cuisines, homemade yogurt, locally sourced grains milled on-site, molasses doughnuts, and house-smoked meats. See more pictures of the construction here.
Second only to grapes, olives are one of Sonoma County’s most beloved—and prolific—crops. These tiny fruits will take center stage at the annual FEAST OF THE OLIVE DINNER on Saturday January 26th at Ramekins Culinary School in the town of Sonoma. Nineteen of the valley’s top chefs (Ari Weiswasser of Glen Ellen Star, Bruno Tison and Andrew Cain of Santé Restaurant at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa, and John Toulze of the girl & the fig) along with winemakers and olive oil purveyors prepare a multicourse olive-inspired feast as part of the two-month-long olive season. The cost is $150 per person for the five-course dinner with wine pairings; call 707-996-1090 x108 for details and tickets.