It’s not. No chef’s table available during our trip (I think; partner didn’t want to eat at 9PM).
Congrats @paranoidgarliclover. I think you’ll really enjoy Californios! Looking forward to your report back.
So what . I miss it . I used to get the six dollar plain . Take it home to Santa Cruz and put olive on it after reheating. Now I live 275 miles north. I would still go there.
I miss it because it no longer exists.
A slice or three of Golden Boy isn’t a bad fallback.
I’ve caught a bit of a cold, so recuperating indoors and catching up on reporting.
Arrived in the late afternoon and met up with a friend in Berkeley at Zut (so no photos). Nice ambiance and service, but the food was not hugely impressive. The server offered to cook the salmon medium rare; it looked pretty through cooked to me. My pizza also seemed overcooked (dry), and a bit tasteless. Crispy brussel sprouts were fine.
Visited La Boulangerie. Seems to be a relatively new (and serious-looking) operation; we were under the impression that the were orienting employees. The bread looked very tempting, but we got some quiches and a kouign amann instead. The crust of the corn/poblano chile crust was very odd (difficult to break, even when using a knife). Filling tasted fine (if a bit grainy). The place suffered bc we had just had Parker Lusseau the day bf.
A late lunch at The Slanted Door. Lounge and bar service only. Bartender was very good and recommended a Hungarian riesling (which partner enjoyed). Bartender also made an off-menu rec (hamchi), which was excellent. The rolls and vermicelli were fine, but not exceptional. The cost (incl tax and service charge) was a gasp-inducing $90. Glad I came, but don’t feel the need to return.
Dinner La Ciccia. Was it @Chowseeker1999 @PorkyBelly @BradFord @ipsedixit who had recommended this place? It is indeed exceptional! Baby octopus stew, spaghetti bottarga, and the whole prawns were just amazing. Partner was a bit thrown off by how chewy the spaghetti was; I loved it. I tried sucking the prawn heads, but it’s a bit difficult when they’ve been butterflied. I think I got an eyeball by accident. The octopus is SO tender p, and the stew is perfectly spiced.
Service is excellent, and the person who I presume is the chef quietly made rounds (and even folded one of napkins). People in the restaurant only started taking photos when dessert arrived, which is why I don’t have pics of the other dishes.
Saffron and bergamot panna cotta, and meringues with hazelnuts. Partner wished the panna cotta were smoother; I enjoyed it as is. The meringues were small but SO delicious and decadent. YUM.
This place is a gem.
BTW, was there another FTC’er at La Ciccia last night? Someone at the bar appeared to be taking notes…
Hope you feel better!
Great report. I’m so glad you enjoyed La Ciccia! (Yes, I was one of the group that recommended this place.)
Looks like you stopped by Dragon Beaux as well. Did you like it?
@Chowseeker1999: posting pics from phone and typing text on tablet.
Dim sum, IMHO, doesn’t make sense when you have a party of 2. I somehow made it out of Dragon Beaux w/o ordering the baked BBQ buns (!!!), and I would’ve been interested in trying the geoduck congee and abalone tart. The amount of food we did order was a bit overwhelming. Roast pork belly was excellent, w amazing skin. XO dumpling were stuck to the steamer paper. I liked the topping, but the there wasn’t much flavor otherwise. Scallop siu mai were excellent. Fish chip and red rice wrapper were excellently cooked (fish filling was so light and crisp), but the dish was also bizarrely sweet.
Fried rice didn’t have a ton of wok hei and was a bit undersalted.
Loved the black sesame mochi.
In the end, I enjoyed the food from a technical perspective but would only return if I could come with a party of, like, 6.
Dinner was judt around the corner from us (lower Pac Heights) at the unimaginatively named “Osteria.” No pics, aside from the menu. Very much a mom-and-pop place, with warm service. Bread was very good, mozzarella (not burrata), cesar salad, and capellini were all fine. Not at all a destination, but not every meal needs to be a special occasion.
Zut’s one of my favorite places for pizza these days, crisp American-style rather than tender Neapolitan. First-rate burgers as well. If you want salmon raw in the middle, you should say so explicitly.
La Boulangerie’s been around for about four years. It’s the resurrection of the La Boulange chain Pascal Rigo sold to Starbucks in 2012. They make excellent canelés.
La Ciccia’s owners Lorella Degan and chef Massimiliano Conti
Morning at b. patisserie. Had to get the black sesame latte after seeing @Chowseeker1999’s post, and it didn’t disappoint! Loved the pain suisse and didn’t find it particularly decadent. Passionfruit bostock was good, but I think I’m fundamentally a viennoiserie kind of guy when it comes to pastries. Chocolate kouign amann was fine in terms of taste didn’t have the sugary crust I normally associate with a kouign amann. Quiche (not pictured) had a very loose filling, which was unexpected but actually quite pleasant.
The main event (food-wise) was Californios. I took most of my pics on a camera, hence the lack of photos from the meal. I’ll upload those (blurry) pics later.
Since I can’t divorce money from food (at least at a place this expensive), let’s get that out of the way first. The total tab (wine, 20% mandatory gratuity) for 2 was ~$650, making this the single most expensive meal I have ever had. Was it worth it???
I would say, yes.
Every bite of the 19 course (with exception of the rack of lamb) was exceptional, delightful, and, for me, inventive (I don’t do fine dining, so maybe other posters have seen this stuff before). The corn tortillas actually tasted, like, you now, CORN, and the lamb broth will forever haunt my dreams. Even the lowly turnip gets its turn in the sun (having been fermented), and the care and thought put into each dish is exceptional. The entire staff was wonderful and really made the dinner something special. So, for me, this was hideously expensive, but it’s very clear where all the $$$ went.
Highlights for me were the taro root croquette filled with queso oaxaca, taquito de trucha, purple peruvian masa topped with Hokkaido uni (I don’t know if I’ll ever eat non-Hokkaido uni again), chilapita stuffed with dungeness crab, the bacalao taco (the spring salsa verde is AMAZING), wagyu taco, grilled pescado zarandeado of CA king salmon, the lamb broth.
I also loved the booklet that accompanies the meal that describes ALL the course and explains the meaning behind many of them. It makes the experience much more meaningful.
I took a pic of the vanilla plantain butter bc WHO THE F*CK WOULD EVER THINK TO MAKE A VANILLA PLANTAIN BUTTER??? It was original (I think), and it was delicious.
And, about the lamb… It was actually quite good. It’s just that every other dish was much better, alas.
I also liked eating at the earlier seating (5:30) since it felt more intimate and personal.
Toto, of course. @PorkyBelly
So glad you liked the Black Sesame Latte at B. Patisserie!
And Californios! Yes! Really glad Chef Cantu and staff delivered another stellar meal. I love that Bacalao Taco (and if it’s the same as mine, that means he served it on their unique, housemade Sourdough Tortilla!). That Grilled Pescado Zarandeado of King Salmon sounds insane!
And I’m so glad they switched back to Wagyu (I’m guessing it was true Japanese A5 Wagyu?). I respect them for trying to get away from “bling” items, but the one downside in our last meal was when they tried using beef from a local dairy cow that was just… no bueno.
So glad you enjoyed it. IMHO, one of the most inventive meals evolving what “Mexican cuisine” is and California cuisine and doing something really special.
That’s the very reason why I splurge on fine dining tasting menus. I rarely get those level of finese, inventiveness, and flavor balancing at a casual a la carte restaurant…not that I can’t have a great meal at those places though
Nope, it was American wagyu. It didn’t seem as fatty as other wagyu I’ve had, but it was still good. Menu makes no mention of the tortilla type for the fish. Do you recall if your sourdough tortilla was super smooth in texture? One of our tortillas was so insanely smooth that I made a comment about it to partner, an I think it was for the fish taco.
We did have rib eye from a retired cow. Nice beefy flavor, but rib eye can be a chewy cut.
And I think this really gets at, what does the diner want from their experience? I don’t cook (or, at least, I don’t cook well), so I’m bold-ish flavors and some homey and comforting about the food seem to be what I like best. I think that’s Californios worked for me; the food wasn’t so high concept as to get in the way of taste. The best single meal I’ve ever had was at The Mansion in Las Vegas. But, while the meal was technically flawless, it also left me just a wee bit “cold.” All that also explains why, when QPR is taken into account, my favorite meal this trip has been La Ciccia.
I’m under the impression you know how to cook, so I imagine what you’re looking for when you want a nice meal out might be considerably more sophisticated.
Hm, it’s been a while, but I don’t think it was super smooth, but relatively smooth. The distinct taste is what blew us away.
La Ciccia is the real deal.
Late to the responses but glad you and your traveling companion are having a blast up here!
It’s a good solid sampler so far, you can definitely come visit again and explore more of what SF Bay Area has to offer!
Californios is so great. The attentiveness, the top level service, the technical execution of the kitchen staff, being able to coax flavors in ways that build structure for beverage pairings, really elevate the entire experience and set them apart from different places.
When it is mushroom season, that mushroom taco that is smokey and intense, demands the right pairing with it (and I’ve actually brought sake there too that worked so nicely…actually they are supposedly incorporating sake now into their beverage pairing or at least are considering it…but I am a bit wary of what they have tasted and their possible choices so far, although I’m sure it will work for casual drinkers).
For those that drink, Californios has virtually almost all staff that are certified sommeliers. At least all female staff on the floor are certified as well. Charlotte guided them well, and of the few times I’ve had their wine pairings, they were genius and out of the box enough that even I as an amateur enthusiast appreciated. The safest pairings are of course the Rieslings as they can handle spicy, but how they actually interact especially with the complex spices and pair is so much fun and enjoyment (this is why also the Tedorigawa Kinka Arabashiri Daiginjo I took there, handled all the food super spectacularly).
They draw from multiple influences, and Chef Val Cantu’s time spent previously at other restaurants speak to that. I believe they have also visited (and hosted) chefs from high end fine dining establishments in Mexico City as well, so in a way they’ve given and received validation from their peers which is really cool.
I need to go back to La Ciccia again with my wine friends and go for another spin with their Riserva selections… and I’m long overdue for a return visit to Californios myself.
I’m still dreaming of that smoked 3 mushroom taco…
Jaisus! $650 at Californios! I have eaten there several times, but I never paid anything like that I don’t think it is worth $270 pp. It was much less before, and even then, I was not wowed. Intrigued, but not wowed.
I’m glad you liked it.
La Ciccia is one of a kind.
It’s a shame you did not sample any of the higher end offerings.
Californios is currently $197-223 (depending on which night of the week) per person and the optional pairing is $125.
They have. When I heard the staff introducing the sake to the tables next to us, I was like, “Oh, I wonder if @beefnoguy knows???” I’ll check the menu later today to let you know which one and w/ which course.
That explains a lot. All of the staff seemed so thoroughly knowledgable about the wine that I assumed it had to be the case.
Well, to be fair, once you add tax + 20% gratuity to $270, you aren’t far from $325 pp (my total was for 2 and was inclusive of tax and gratuity).
It seems like most people liked the apps and pasta, so that’s what I stuck w/, plus I was saving my wallet for Californios! And it always gives me a reason to go back.
Which of the higher end offerings do you suggest?
Brief report from last 1.5 days in SF coming in the next few days…
Oy, I seem to have run out of steam for the last 1.5 days in SF!
Just real briefly, Les Gourmand (SOMA?) is very good, Zuni Cafe was great and the space was wonderfully airy (and introduced me to Acme Bread, which is AMAZING), and Eiji is a tasty Japanese hole-in-the-wall in the Castro (really enjoyed the tuna steaks).
Plow was a mess on Sat (1.5-hr wait!!!), so we went down the street to Parker (casual French-inspired), which was staffed by a delightfully cranky (and very French) man who, when I asked for a triple-shot latte, said, “Triple shot latte? [dramatic pause] I don’t get it.” Food itself was quite tasty (nice if you’re in the area; I wouldn’t make a special trip).
For @beefnoguy, the sake at Californios was Doi Shuzo, “Sense of the Sensei,” Junmai Daiginjo, Takatenjin, Japan, paired w/
- Campechana (Bay shrimp, heirloom tomato granita, pickled haricots certs, and celery leak)
- Cerviche of cured shima-aji w/ Spring Crow Peaches in a broht of habanero and fingerlime
- Smoked Aguachilde of heiloom Toy BOx cherry tomatoes, fresh tomato water, chili oil of New Mexico chiles and Chile Morita