WAKO – a special Japanese dinner

I have never had a prix fixe Japanese fine-dining experience so for my birthday, my sister took me to WAKO, a quaint Japanese restaurant in the Outer Richmond district of San Francisco.

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The evening started with an “amuse-bouche” of miso tofu and uni (sea urchin). A perfect start for uni is my favorite!

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It’s followed by a platter of appetizers: clockwise from top, tako (octopus) and cucumber, roes, miso cream cheese, unagi (eel) and egg, snapper, squid and sea weed, ad waguy beef ball. Everything was tasty but nothing knocked our socks off…

FirstCourse

Then the nigiri sushi starts…all from left to right

Kelp-Sandwiched Halibut and Wild Red Snapper

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Bonito, Striped Jack, Ink Squid with Sea Urchin

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A small plate of Cherry Blossom Rice Cake with Organic Chicken and Bamboo Shoot in Bonito Broth – quite yummy!

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More nigiri sushi …

Barracuda and Red Nose Amberjack

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Jalapeno Soy Marinated Blue Fin Tuna, Cold Smoked Cherry Salmon and Mackerel (forgot to take a picture but you get the idea! ;-))

Another small plate, Mackerel with Vegetables

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Horse Hair Crab with Crab Miso

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Sea Urchin (again! YUMMMM!)

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Blue Fin Tuna with Caviar (and a gold leaf!) – this is absolutely delicious

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Sea Eel

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Wagyu Beef – after a Wagyu dinner at Alexander Steakhouse (not recommended!), I am not a big fan of Japanese Wagyu beef (way too fatty, like eating a stick of butter). But in this tiny nigiri sushi amount, it’s actually very good!

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Red and White Miso Soup

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Last small plate: Seafood Egg Pancake

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And two delicious desserts: Panna Cotta with Strawberry Sauce

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And finished with Red Bean Jelly with Green Tea Sauce

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With everything being bite size, it didn’t seem like a lot of food – and we could order extra from its Nigiri and Sashimi Selections (there were 6-7 that weren’t in our dinner) – but we both were fairly full.

All in all, it was a nice experience. Each piece/serving was already seasoned so there was no soy sauce/wasabi as with regular Japanese sushi dining. But raw fish/seafood is essentially raw fish/seafood and the seasoning/sauce already prepared with the delicate fish is pretty mild (as not to power the fish itself). I’d just be as happy going to our neighborhood sushi restaurant for a fraction of the cost and dip my nigiri in soy sauce and wasabi! 😉

 

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Alinea

Ever since we watched the Alinea episode in Season 2 of Chef’s Table, it has been on our Bucket List. Getting a reservation at the Michelin 3-star restaurant (one of two in Chicago) was a completely different story, however. So when we were going to head back to the midwest for a special family celebration AND was able to reserve Salon seatings at Alinea, we simply couldn’t resist!

This wasn’t our first rodeo at a top-rated restaurant but what we didn’t expect was how the courses were orchestrated like a performance… and with hidden treasures along the way! In addition to sight and taste, Alinea cleverly integrated another sensory to some of its courses – smell!

The first course was a pear sherbet with roes and shiso leaf along with a spear of romaine lettuce “boat” of vegetables on a lime “pedestal.”

WET SNOW | ASIAN PEAR, ROE, SHISO
SPEAR | ROMAINE, AVOCADO, JALAPENO
Henri Goutorbe “Special Club” Brut, Vallée de la Marne, Champagne, France 2006

WetSnow

The second course was sweet crab with coconut, curry, and gruyere cheese, under dried savoy cabbage (that has the texture of seaweed/nori), along with encapsulated orange juice. Water was poured into our citrus bowl center piece (dry ice?) and smoke started to fill our table creating the citrus aroma that enhances the dining experience.

RANINA RANINA | SPANNER CRAB, COCONUT, CURRY
GLOW | SPICED ORANGE
Forge Cellars “Sawmill Creek” Riesling, Finger Lakes New York 2016

RaninaRanina

SpannerCrab

Glow

Our citrus bowl was replaced with a bowl of salt with grain alcohol that was promptly lit (from smoke to fire!). The squid was served with squid ink butter along with a platter of black “rocks” that yielded two hidden artichoke purée stuffed soft gel olives (those were really yummy).

BLACK | OLIVE, ARTICHOKE
INK | SQUID, BLACK GARLIC, CALENDULA
Eladio Piñeiro “Envidiacochina” Albariño, Rías Baixas, Spain 2016

Squid

Can you find our artichoke purée stuff olive gel? They are shinier than the real rocks!

Black

Juniper branches were placed over the bowl to smother the fire creating a smokey aroma to go with my favorite dish of the evening – a translucent piece of langoustine noodle that resembles a piece of rice paper in a bowl of the best bouillabaisse broth I have ever had. We were to submerge the noodle in the broth to reconstitute it and have it with a very crunchy purée black garlic potato (mine was carrot) stuffed nori roll.

And two “eggs” – small venison and pork sausage stuffed donuts – were hiding in the juniper branches!

CRUNCH | ROUILLE, NORI
PAPER | LANGOUSTINE, BOUILLABAISSE, OLIVE OIL
Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet, Burgundy, France 2014

SMOLDER | VENISON, JUNIPER, HUCKLEBERRY

You can barely see one of the donuts hiding in the juniper branches, it’s slightly to the right of center at the very top of the picture.

CrunchPaper

Then we had an interruption. We were told to all stand up and follow the leader down the stairs for a kitchen tour! We were served savory steamed cake (the lightest cake ever!) with mint, allspice and brown sugar, along with apple brandy with pomegranate.

Cake

KitchenGroup

Kitchen1

When we got back to the table, the juniper branches were removed and our server prepared the next dish at our table. He first dug up a Yukon Gold potato from the salt, cleaned it off with a brush, mashed it up with butter, chive, parsley, celery, onion, Applewood smoked bacon, etc., and adding to it thick and creamy clam chowder.

THE CAPE | CLAM, POTATO, BACON
OLD BAY | OYSTER CRACKER

clam

Next was Maitake mushroom, foie gras truffle with kale kim chee with raspberry thins and sauce.

GLASS | BLUEBERRY, LAPSANG SOUCHONG, MAITAKE
Antica Terra “Ceras” Pinot Noir, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon 2015

Glass

The final savory dish was Sonoma squab served under a piece of binchotan charcoal along with black rice “noodles.” On the side was a spiral of beet and a piece of beef jerky masquerading as a vanilla bean.

COAL | SQUAB, BLACK FORBIDDEN RICE, BINCHOTAN
SPIRAL | BEET, MUSTARD, CHILI
BEAN | TENDERLOIN, SPICES
Bergstrom “Gargantua” Syrah, Oregon 2014

Coal

Squab

First dessert was a light goat’s milk honey cake with goat cheese (mine was just olive oil) served with a shot of shiso (red), aloe (clear in the middle) and pineapple (yellow at the other end). We were told to suck from the red side like a straw until we got to the pineapple end. It was delicious!

AIR | GOAT CHEESE , MANUKA
SHOT | PINEAPPLE, ALOE, SHISO

Air_Shot

A platter of yummies – cherry blossom, purple sweet potato, miso, chocolate, hazelnut, and etc. Can’t say I was paying that much attention anymore at this point! 😉

ROCK | SWEET POTATO, CHOCOLATE, MISO
Chateau Suduiraut, Sauternes, Bordeaux, France 2008

Rock

Last but not least – S’mores on a stick served on charred birch so a little smokiness was captured in the s’mores, along with a green apple helium balloon. We were told to kiss the balloon and breath in… so I did and spoke with my helium induced squeaky voice!

NOSTALGIA
CAMPIRE | DARK CHOCOLATE, BIRCH, MARSHMALLOW
BALLOON | HELIUM, GREEN APPLE

Nostalgia

It truly was a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

An Exceptional Evening at Benu!

There are six Michelin Three-Star restaurants in the Bay Area with three – Saison, Benu, and Quince – in San Francisco. Needless to say, reservation at these restaurants can be difficult. We were lucky to actually manage one at Benu last evening with only a five-week in-advance booking (neither Saison and Quince had availability thus making the decision easy).

Benu offers prix-fixe Asian-inspired cuisine and its offerings exceeded all of our expectations. It was truly an extraordinary evening of creative culinary delights.

We also did the (shared) beverage pairings and enjoyed sake, Riesling, Grüner, beer, Madeira, Pinot Noir, and Côte-Rôtie throughout the evening but for the life of me, I can’t remember what was served with what!

The evening started with “small delicacies” and there were many of them! Each was single-bite size yet Benu managed to introduce so many fabulous and complementary flavors within that one bite – we felt like a symphony was playing on our palates with each course!

First delicacy was a chicken “jelly,” mountain caviar

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It was followed by tuna “marrow” but none of us took a picture! 😉

Third delicacy was ankimo (monk fish liver), crispy bulgur wheat, ikura (salmon roe)

ankimo

Fourth delicacy was dumpling with pork belly topped with an oyster

porkbelly

Fifth delicacy was Korean blood sausage wrapped in ika (squid) “sushi” (didn’t know blood sausage could taste this good!)

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Sixth delicacy was abalone and crispy abalone “liver”

abalone

Last (seventh) delicacy was egg white custard, truffle, faux shark fin

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Whole-grain bread fresh from the oven served with tangerine-infused honey butter was followed – finally – by the first of our menu items! Wasn’t sure I was hungry at all by this time… but we did persevere! 🙂

Thousand-year-old quail egg, potage, ginger – it wasn’t quite 1,000 years but the egg did take six weeks to make

1000ydegg

Foie gras xiao long bao with house made soy sauce

xiaolongbao

Uni (sea urchin) marinated in fermented crab sauce served with green onion Koshi Hikari short-grain rice

uni

Crispy frog’s leg, lettuce, vegetable sweet and sour (I skipped this due to my issue with frogs… don’t ask!)

frogsleg

Steamed bass, fish maw, black moss

rockcod

Smoked quail (we were told that Benu works with a farm that has been raising these quails for the past 40 years, breeding them for a larger size, and picking the docile ones for their sweeter meats … )

quail

Served along with spring bamboo shoot

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Warm mantou (Chinese steamed bun) with truffle cream

trufflecream

Sea of Okhotsk sea cucumber (I never liked sea cucumber until tonight!) stuffed with lobster

lobster

Beef rib steak with assorted condiments – kimchi radishes, marinated fern with shaved cashew (sure wouldn’t want to be that sous chef shaving those wee cashews, one at a time?), and soy bean paste (the leftover from its house made soy sauce that takes 9-12 weeks – in the little celadon jar)

beefrib

Leafy crudités for dipping in the soy bean paste

crudite

Consommé, shiitake mushroom, vegetables

broth

Omija (five-flavor berry – sweet, sour, salty, bitter, umami), olive oil

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Fuji apple, bellflower root, acorn and chocolate (another miss on the photography!) rounded out our scrumptious dinner!

I recommend putting a Benu dinner on your bucket list – it IS that good!

The Best New Bakery in America

On 10 August, bon appétit named Arsicault its Bakery of the Year. For 10 days, no matter what time of the day we drove by Arsicault, there was a long, long line out its door and down the street. So on Tuesday after our early workout (what better way to enjoy buttery baked goods guilt free?), we decided to check it out. We got there 15 minutes after it opened at 7am, waited 30 minutes (the line was actually short by comparison, others have waited upward to two hours!), and got our maximum allowance – one type per person, four items total (limit varies from day to day) – a plain croissant, a chocolate, an almond and chocolate with powder sugar on top, and a savory ham and cheese each for $18.50 (about the going rate for high-end baked goods in San Francisco).

The verdict? Let me simply quote bon appétit:

What does it take to stand out in a city of sourdough savants? One, and only one, thing: a croissant that’s simultaneously so preposterously flaky it leaves you covered in crumbs, so impossibly tender and buttery on the inside that it tastes like brioche, and so deeply golden that the underside is nearly caramelized.

And yes, it’s worth the hype. Most croissants this buttery and flaky get very greasy, theirs don’t. Have them fresh and enjoy a slice of nirvana!

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Clockwise from top left: plain, chocolate, almond and chocolate, ham and cheese

The Wonder of a Vitamix

Breakfast is the most difficult meal when it comes to a healthy diet. Most breakfast options are usually high in carbohydrates and/or sugar, and often high in cholesterol. We purchased this book, Clean Green Drinks by Candice Kumai, while on vacation years ago and promptly forgot about it until recently. It contains 100+ cleansing recipes for juices and smoothies that are healthy and some are quite filling. Healthy ingredients such as avocado, kale, spinach, beets, and ginger are paired with yummy fruits (frozen okay) such as bananas, berries, melons, mangoes, pears, pineapples, peaches, and apples. Add almond milk, coconut milk/water, and/or yogurt, as well as healthy powders such as protein, green superfood, or spirulina, and you have a wonderful breakfast (or lunch) smoothie.

CGD

The trouble is the actual processing of these ingredients. Regular household blenders just don’t do the job right. So we finally broke down and got a Vitamix… and truly understand the value of the “you get what you pay for” concept! Beside a perfectly blended smoothie every single time and doing it automatically (as in press a button and it stops on its own when the smoothie is blended) – I don’t know if it’s true with every model (we have the Professional 750) – it self cleans!!!!! I kid you not. We prepare our smoothie. Once it’s done and as we are drinking our breakfast, we simply give the Vitamix a quick rinse, fill it half way with fresh water, add a drop of dish soap, set it back on its base, and start the self-cleaning cycle. It automatically goes through 30 seconds of various speed to thoroughly clean the machine. Another quick rinse and before we finish our breakfast, the Vitamix is spotless, drying, and ready for the next morning!

Now we want a simple self-cleaning functions on ALL our appliances in the future … especially the juicer!!!

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Gjelina and Rustic Canyon

We were in Santa Monica over the weekend and did what we loved doing most – food!

Yes! This blog will include our culinary indulgence. We love to travel and instead of shopping, we enjoy local “epicurious” offerings instead.

A friend recommended Gjelina at Venice Beach. We ended up at the take-away counter – GTA – after completely missed the corner entrance to the restaurant! No matter for it was quite an experience. Sitting on a bench at a side alley with milk crates as our table, we devoured delicious sandwiches (my pork belly one is TDF) and shared a kale salad while people watched. As it turned out Gjelina had its own cookbook!

An afternoon along Abbot Kinney required a stop at Salt and Straw for some yummy fresh made ice cream – my chocolate brownie fudge is definitely worth another trip back to Southern California!

Whenever we travel, we try to research and make dinner reservations ahead for popular restaurants are normally booked up well in advance and don’t necessarily take many walk ins. Having done that, we found ourselves ready for dinner early and ended up eating at the bar of Rustic Canyon anyway. Sharing an endive salad, steak tartare, and pork shoulder main with tasty martini (our first time with Brooklyn Gin) and Vista Luna Borden Ranch Neyers Zinfadel (from St Helena by Napa!) was a perfect end to a lovely day.