The stunning cheese plate at ChocolateLab. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
Happy spring, fabulous people. Boy am I feeling it—although I am sorry for the folks on the East Coast currently freezing their heinies off. What I can’t believe is that in one week I’m going to be in New Zealand’s late summer weather. With one look at my pale legs, those Kiwis will know I’m not from there.
Did you go to Taste of the Nation last night? Holy cow, was that an amazing turnout of chef and bartending talent. A lot of folks really brought their A game. (You can see a few of my Instagram pics here.) Big thanks and kudos go out to everyone who participated in this fantastic fundraiser to benefit Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry. After watching A Place at the Table (you have watched it, right?), it made me appreciate last night’s abundance even more—we are all so lucky lucky lucky.
Speaking of lucky, today I have a fun sugar mama ticket giveaway for you to the WLX Soirée, along with a review of M.Y. China (maybe it will inspire you to check it out for brunch this weekend), a Checking Lists piece from Alan Goldfarb about corkage (a topic that is always worth discussion), and a 707 scout on Wine Country happenings from Heather Irwin. It’s a wonder I got this thing out today—had a serious tech meltdown for the past three hours. Where’s my DRINK?
Oh, and this week on 7x7, I posted a roundup of the newest bakeries (and tasty baked goods) to join our local scene—yeah, things are smelling really good around here. Mmmm, buttery goodness.
Enjoy the sunny weekend, and if you are coming to the Chocolate Salon on Sunday, my talk about the city’s best chocolate desserts is at 2:30pm. Do come by and say hi! There’s also the Artisan Cheese Festival in Petaluma, always a good time.
As someone who lived in Los Angeles for five years, I’m no stranger to dining in a mall. My top sushi spot was in a mini-mall, ditto one of the cooler tiki bars I loved. But M.Y. CHINA is no hole in the wall—this spiffy spot on the fourth floor of the Westfield Centre (“Under the Dome”) boasts 200 seats, a mega exhibition kitchen, a horseshoe bar around an 1,800-pound-bronze bell from a Chinese monastery suspended from the ceiling, and some other beautiful artifacts, from the display of cloisonné monks that seem to be levitating on a back wall to the shelves of colorful little snuff bottles you’ll see on your way to the dramatic bathroom.
With this sprawling size, there are a variety of seating options, from round corner tables for large groups to a counter for singles or duos of diners that looks into the busy exhibition kitchen (the guys manning the wok stations will give you a few grins and waves as the flames fly high). I also came for a business lunch; the experience was very well suited (har) for it—the vibe was right, there’s room in between tables, and it has a handy downtown location. M.Y. China would also be a prime spot for weekend dim sum brunch before (or after) you do some shopping.
It’s a big venture, with some culinary kung fu masters behind it: Martin Yan (he of 3,500 broadcast cooking shows and 30 cookbooks), badass brothers Willy and Ronny Ng of Koi Palace (they are managing partners), and executive chef Yong Dong (Tony) Wu, who is not only the noodle master (you may see him hand-pulling noodles in the kitchen or dining room at some point), but with 30 years of cooking under his belt, this Tianjin native is skilled in four major Chinese cuisines: Szechuan, Jiangsu, Shandong, and Cantonese (you’ll see elements from all on the varied menu).
You’ll note some classic dishes that any American knows well (sweet and sour pork, honey glazed walnut shrimp), but these are not the dishes I gravitate toward. With the Ngs behind the venture, of course you have to indulge in some dim sum, like the pork and crab “juicy” dumplings (aka xiao long bao, $12 for 5), or my preferred version, the wild boar XLB ($8 for 4), their thick wrappers containing a gingery meat and oh so delicious broth within. While I appreciate the almost dummy-proof presentation in porcelain soupspoons, they come out hot, so don’t burn your fingers. The plump and savory shu mai ($6 for 4) are other table pleasers.
I was pleasantly surprised with the wok-tossed shrimp with gingko nuts ($18), which does not fit the usual American flavor or preferred texture profile. The nuts have an almost Taleggio-like cheese undertone, along with the unexpected addition of sliced cucumber, wolfberries, and a cornstarchy sauce. It’s a homey dish, one I really enjoyed.
You definitely need to take a jaunt in noodle territory here: the wild boar scissor-cut noodles ($14) are a must, the plump and sauce-coated noodles twisted with a fine julienne of carrot, fungus, sprouts, shallots, and thin pieces of tender boar. The beef hand-pulled noodle soup ($14) is also notable, the gelatinous broth rich with star anise; the baby bok choy keeps things light, especially after a bite of the tender pieces of slow-simmered rib-eye. (A glass of the Batasiolo barbera d’Alba went well with this dish, $9.)
There are three kinds of live Dungeness crab available (ranging around $42); the fried kung pao version—spiked with jalapeños, red bell pepper, and Huang Fei peanuts—was worth the greasy hands, although they need to figure out a better wet towel to bring out at the end (the poly-blend ones don’t contain the water and you’ll end up with it all over your lap and table).
You don’t have to have a group to indulge in the crispy roast chicken ($16/$32), beautifully presented but sadly the white meat was rather dry (even the quick bath they give it in the fryer before serving didn’t help). The Peking roast duck ($20/$38) is the better choice, which comes with the classic DIY spread of clamshell buns, ribbons of green onion, cucumber, and hoisin. Gorgeous presentation—everyone can get little squares of the crispy skin with the meat.
For the life of me, I can’t figure out why the delicious garlic pea shoots are $16, but damn are they good. What I also don’t understand is with these high prices, why doesn’t the menu say where the ingredients are from? Is the chicken sustainably raised, is the beef corn-fed or not? I’d like to know.
There’s a menu of small eats you could nosh on over a few cocktails at the bar after work, like the Shandong beef roll ($9), which comes wrapped in a green onion pancake. The (spendy) cocktails include a refreshing Nixon Visit ($13, with Hendrick’s gin, dram allspice, cucumber, agave), while the Buddha Mary ($12)—which features bonito flakes and fish sauce—is built for brunch. For some thoughts on the wine list, please check out Alan Goldfarb’s in-depth “Checking Lists” piece for tablehopper.
The dessert menu sounded really appealing, like a Meyer lemon egg tart ($8), but it needed more baking love—the crust wasn’t very golden and flaky. The M.Y. Sundae rice bowl ($8) was delicious, with toasted rice and lemongrass ice cream, coconut-pandan sorbet, rice brittle, and poached pears. But I didn’t need the soy caramel in the bowl—it took it over the edge. Sadly the oil-sodden sugar egg puffs ($8) also suffer from unnecessary lily-gilding: there’s no need for the side trio of dipping sauces like chocolate fondue and chantilly cream. Eh, no one can touch Shanghai Dumpling King’s eggy version of these puffs.
Service needs some dialing (on both visits, I had to continually flag my servers down for things) but everyone is friendly and very well intentioned. At these price points, however, I need to see more polish.
So how does this all net out? There’s a lot on the menu I enjoy and think they’re doing well here (and uniquely, at that). I want to make my way through all the noodle dishes and soups, and a friend can’t stop talking about the chilled eggplant. I’d totally come back for another biz lunch or dinner at the counter, even though I wouldn’t be surprised to experience a few more stumbles along the way. For now, it’s still M.Y. China, and not quite my China.
M.Y. China - Westfield San Francisco Centre, 845 Market St., 4th Fl., San Francisco - 415-580-3001
Wine Country is still abuzz at the news that M.Y. China’s Martin Yan has filed for a business license in Sonoma County. Though company spokesfolks aren’t confirming the news, rumors abound that Yan is looking at the forthcoming Graton Resort & Casino as a possibility. Under construction in Rohnert Park, the upscale casino is promising four fine dining establishments and locals in the know say the offerings should be pretty impressive and have confirmed that the casino was in talks with Yan and a number of other high-profile restaurateurs. With plans for more than just gambling, including headlining concerts and events, and additional nine quick-serve eateries and close proximity to the new Green Music Center at Sonoma State (host to both classical and contemporary live music), it’s no wonder Yan and others may be eager to head north.
Excuse us if we’re moving a little slow today, but after five nights of SONOMA COUNTY RESTAURANT WEEK (and a gut-busting three more to go), there’s little doubt that this year’s event has been a boon not only to the local food industry, but will be adding a few delicious inches to locals’ waistlines. We’ll work it off running around the Artisan Cheese Marketplace on Sunday.
One of Petaluma’s signature events, this year’s ARTISAN CHEESE FESTIVAL (March 22-24th) is three full days of shoulder-rubbing with the cultured culturers of the local and national artisan cheese scene. The tented marketplace happens from noon to 4pm on Sunday March 24th at the Sonoma Sheraton in Petaluma. Come hungry (and thirsty) to the walkaround tasting featuring more than 70 cheesemakers, wineries, and breweries. Plus, plenty of chef demos and book signings. Tickets $45 at the door, 745 Baywood Dr. at CA-116, Petaluma, 707-283-2900.
Out-of-towners often find out the hard way that the kitchens—and sidewalks—of Wine Country often roll up around 9pm, leaving few options for late-night diners and midnight munchers. Skip the trip to Denny’s and cuddle up with a dish of lobster, bacon macaroni and cheese, or an egg-topped croque-madame at Petaluma’s SPEAKEASY, open from 5pm to 2am daily. The tiny bar and dining room has quickly become a late-night hangout not only for restaurant industry folks, but also for barflies and revelers looking for a postparty nosh. The tapas-style menu covers all the bases—from creamy asparagus soup with tarragon crème fraîche ($6) to butternut squash and goat cheese panini (with crispy pork belly, $13), vegan tahini burgers with hand-cut fries ($9), spring pea and mushroom risotto ($10), chicken paillard with citrus caper butter ($13), the signature lobster mac (which may run out, so order early, $13), and the smoked ham, cheese, and fried egg sandwich with Mornay sauce (croque-madame, $11).
Don’t miss the jalapeño firecrackers ($8), which come with a verbal warning: Apparently the heat level is variable and you never know what you’ll get. Avocado purée and an offer of a glass of milk help mitigate the fear. Also worth the trip is orange tea-infused crème brûlée ($6) with cookies. So now you know where to go to quell your 1am munchie attack with a nice pork belly taco and sweet and spicy chicken wings. You’re welcome. 139 Petaluma Blvd North, Suite B, at Washington St., Petaluma, 707-776-4631.
The burgerfication of Wine Country continues with the forthcoming opening of BURGERFI, a casual burger chain popular in the Southeast and Midwest. Call us a bit nonplussed at the burger offerings, since we’re pretty sure they’re not going to beat the offerings at GOTT’S ROADSIDE or our beloved In-N-Out. As a born-and-bred Midwesterner, however, there’s good reason to plotz a bit at their frozen custards, something rarely seen west of the mighty Mississippi. The eggier cousin of ice cream, it’s the key ingredient to Frozen Concretes, which put runny, watery milk shakes to shame. BurgerFi does a red velvet and key lime concrete (both hovering around a whopping 900 calories) that sound worth the splurge. Watch for it this summer at 967 First Street in Napa.
Alan Goldfarb was the wine editor at the St. Helena Star, where it is said that assignment must be akin to covering Catholicism in Vatican City. He was also the senior editor for AppellationAmerica.com. His work has appeared in the San Jose Mercury News, Wine Enthusiast, and Decanter. He’s the contributor of the chapter “Chewing on Chile” in the Travelers’ Tales book Adventures in Wine. He was also the technical editor for California Wine for Dummies.
He’s a restaurant wine consultant and advises wineries on public relations projects. (For his “Checking Lists” column, he will not promote his clients.) You can listen to his latest appearance on iWine Radio. Have a question or a comment? You can email Alan. He’d love to hear from you.
Corkage Fees: Some Restaurants Are Waiving It
I once schlepped to a restaurant in Ojai because I read that it had one of the largest and best wine lists in the world. Indeed, there were a gadzillion wines in a book so big that lifting it could give you a hernia.
I selected my meal, chose a wine (which took about 24 minutes), and anticipated a great experience. The wine, indeed, was beautiful. The food? It made me nauseous. The moral: The food was so bad that this was the kind of restaurant where you might want to bring your own food—and they could charge you forkage!
But what about bringing your own wine to a restaurant? You know, where the restaurant charges you a corkage fee.
The concept of corkage can be confounding. You mean I can bring my own wine to a restaurant? Any wine? They allow this? Do I pour the wine myself? The restaurant charges just for opening the bottle? Wow, I can save a lot of money.
Well, yes, you can save some money, but there are unwritten protocols and manners to adhere to when bringing your own wine. Consumers and restaurants traverse a fine line—on both sides of the table. I used to give the sommelier and/or server a taste of what I’d brought in. The gesture wasn’t totally altruistic; I was hoping they’d waive the corkage fee, though I also truly wanted to share a great bottle with someone who would appreciate it.
But that strategy doesn’t work much anymore. Profit margins have become thin and wine directors are working too hard to lose money on a wine brought into the restaurant from outside.
Corkage fees are charged because the restaurant is not selling you a bottle of its wine. So, if you bring your own, that fee goes toward training the staff, to stemware and the washing of those glasses, and for storage—sometimes over a long period—to keep the wines on its list in inventory. That’s what you’re paying for when you pay a corkage fee, not just to open the bottle.
It used to be a universal rule that if you brought a bottle and bought a bottle, the fee would be waived. While that practice endures to a large extent, one could still be charged a tariff. While bringing your own wine is not de rigueur in most restaurants, it has become an accepted practice. Some restaurants have even turned their corkage polices into a draw by waiving the fee entirely.
If you play your cards right, you can actually bring a wine to a restaurant every night of the week and not be charged, even on weekends. At 231 Ellsworth in San Mateo, you can bring up to four bottles on a Friday night. If you purchase a cocktail or order a dish that costs more than $10 at Andaz in Napa, any day of the week? No corkage. Saturday nights are free from corkage at Palio d’Asti in San Francisco. At Quattro at the Four Seasons in East Palo Alto, corkage is free on Friday nights; and bottles from the list are half-price.
Sunday through Thursday nights, Tra Vigne in St. Helena offers no fee and offers the suggestion, “We’ll take care of the corkage, you take care of the server.” At San Francisco’s Zazie, on Tuesday nights, “bring as many bottles as you can gracefully handle.” At Hillstone (née Houston’s) in the city, if you bring your own, they’ll look the other way and give your dog a biscuit to boot (outside, that is). Up in Forestville, at Corks at Russian River Vineyards, there’s no corkage on rainy days.
Finally, Heirloom in San Francisco’s Mission District has a unique corkage philosophy. If you bring a 2003 vintage and younger, you’ll be charged $25; 2002 and older, it’s $10. Matt Straus, ever the wine-centric restaurateur, wants to encourage diners to bring in only older bottles. And, of course, as with all restaurants, it’s bad form to bring a wine that’s on the list or one that has no special value.
Corkage fees these days are averaging about $20 in midpriced restaurants. I’ve seen it as low as $10, but that’s rare; and as much as $75 in the highest-end places, such as the French Laundry, whose incredible cellar features a lot of incredibly expensive wines. Or if you think the cuisine at a restaurant might leave you wanting, bring your own food. The forkage fee might even be waived.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: NV Scacciadiavoli Rosé Vino Spumante Brut Metodo Classico, Umbria, Italy (App. $26 retail)
There’s not much dry sparkling wine made in Umbria, and especially not from the Sagrantino grape, of which much of this wine is made. I had it at the A16 Festa Della Donna dinner recently and it was gorgeous. It finished bone-dry but there were many layers of flavors, especially in front of the palate. Dark cherries and strawberries, and it went swimmingly with Maria Helm Sinskey’s tender meatballs and outrageous stuffed guinea hen. It isn’t cheap ($8 for a 3-ounce pour). Though I had this wine at a special dinner, it’s still on the wine list.
(Sponsored): Ticket Giveaway: Savor Deco Glory and Decadent Tastes with Master Sommeliers April 26th
On Friday April 26th, join Wine Luxury, some 30 dynamic vintners, and our team of Master Sommeliers for an evening of exquisite tastes over three floors at the historic, deco-glam City Club. Benefiting Share Our Strength, the first-ever WLX Soirée offers live entertainment, a fashion show featuring local designs and styling by Swell Attitude, dancing, a photo booth, silent auction, optional cigar service and lessons by Telford’s, and a Riedel wineglass seminar.
Enjoy sips from Rich Aurilia’s Red Stitch label, Blackbird, Chapellet, Crocker & Starr, Date Night, Pride Mountain, Qupé, and more. Roederer Champagne, Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese, and Tsar Nicoulai Caviar will be served in the WLX Luxury Lounge. The event begins at 6pm; masks aren’t a must but festive cocktail attire is encouraged!
Tickets to the event start at $110 per person, and VIP packages go up from there.
To enter to win a pair of tickets to this fabulous event (value $220), all you need to do is forward today’s tablehopper newsletter to one friend (but even more would be so very fabulous), and add a note to your friend(s) about Wine Luxury, the Soireé, or why you read tablehopper, or all of the above! Be sure to Cc: or Bcc: me at email@example.com so I know you sent it—I promise I won’t use anyone’s email address. The deadline to enter is Sunday March 31st at 11:59pm. We’ll notify the winner on Monday and get your tickets to you! Good luck!
Event Info Friday April 26th, 2013 6pm-10pm Tickets start at $110 City Club of San Francisco 155 Sansome St., San Francisco