Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Range - San Francisco, Ca

Critical darling--3.5 stars in the Chronicle, one Michelin star all in its first year of being open.

Me and girlfriend Charlie. 'Twas her birthday.

The Space:
Long storefront--bar and tables in front and then an crowded but somehow airy main dining room in back. Range manages to pull off the industrial chic look with a more pronounced homey-ness and warmth then some of its counterparts. Comfortable enough seats and big enough tables. Banquette tables are a little close together, but that seems to be the case everywhere.

The Wine:
A bottle of 2004 Schlumberger Grand Cru riesling. Nicely dry and crips with moderate acid and creeping minerality. Pronounced stone fruit nose--lightly floral. Good small winelist overall, well-priced and with a broad reach--not particularly deep in any one region or style, though. Props to the server for steering me to the riesling instead of the more-expensive Sancerre that I also had my eyes on.

Appetizers: We tried their soup--a flageolet bean soup with crostini and olive oil. Nice and bean-y with an earhty creaminess induced entirely from the beans. It was a suprisingly light but still comforting cold-weather dish. We also had the roasted beets with arugula and goat cheese. A competent take on a classic salad. Beets were left in fairly big chunks which was nice--you could actually bite into a beet instead of swallowing little cubes. Good goat cheese.

The real criticism I had with the appetizers was a lack of innovation and originality. Besides the two that we had (which are pretty standard fare) there was butternut squash ravioli, roasted scallops in scallop jus, and raw hamachi with cucumber, avocado, and meyer lemon (and one or two other items that I forget). All of which are very conventional fare--no doubt all quite tasty--but they weren't pushing any innovation boundaries. And as much as I love butternut squash ravioli, that's kinda reached cliche at this point. Let's be honest.

Entrees were a different story however. Charlie had the chicken--a half roast chicken with pecan, bacon, and scallion bread salad with sherry jus. I know what you're saying--Zuni. It's true. But the pronouncement here? Range's chicken is BETTER. That's right. Crucify me now and feed my entrails to the avocado demons. The skin was not as crisp, but the chicken itself was moister and infused with flavor without being overly salty. Bread salad was fantastic too--more bread pudding than salad with all the ingredients sort of oozing into each other. Flawless execution.

I went with the striped bass (a change from the cod that was on the menu) with melted fennel and baby artichokes. The fish was also crusted with a luques olive tapenade. This dish was great too--perfectly cooked fish (cooked through but not chewy) with a crispy savory skin (thanks to the tapenade). The fennel and artichokes were cooked to just this side of mushy consistency that extract complimentary flavors from the fish. The dish did lack a touch of substance--not to say that it needed a starch, but perhaps an additional more substantive vegetable--salsify maybe? Nevertheless, well-done and fresh--I was tasting something new.


Range's pastry chef was recently featured in San Francisco Magazine as the best in the area. I didn't know this until after we ate and it seems the recognition was deserved. Every dessert had compelling attributes and we had a hard time selecting. We opted for warm crepes with huckleberries and pear. Fabulous. Fresh sweet fruit and made-to-order crepes that were perfectly crisp on the edges.

It was so good in fact that we had to try another dessert and went with the pumpkin pot de creme topped with toasted spiced pumpkin seeds. This was even better--surprisingly light and not overly sweet. It actually tasted like pumpkin and not sickeningly sweet pumpkin in mousse form.

In Conclusion:
Great food in a great space (not to mention relatively inexpensive). Some of the menu lacks inspiration and innovation, but everything we had was perfectly cooked and quite good. And there were more then just the occasional flashes of brilliance. Great wine list, phenomenal dessert. California cuisine done right--perhaps even better then Chez Panisse Cafe. Better service and desserts at the very least.

Cuisine: California
Price range: Appetizers: $7-$12 Entrees: $16-$22
HFF's cost for two (two appetizers, two entrees, two desserts, bottle of wine, two coffees, tax, generous tip): $110
Reservations: 415-282-8283 or
842 Valencia St.
San Francisco, Ca 94110

Sunday, November 12, 2006

HFF Quickie: 900 Grayson

*****UPDATE: A return visit and a taste of the "Demon Lover"--a slightly spicy breaded and fried chicken paillard on their waffle smothered in rich white gravy. Fucking great! Honestly one of the best pieces of fried chicken ever moist and tender, crispy on the outside. Great peppery gravy, slightly sweet waffle, crisp-crusted paillard. Big but balanced flavors, rich and filling. Also available on the lunch money.*****

It's Monday. A new week, a new breakfast. Met up with coworkers at 900 Grayson, the hot(ish) breakfast/lunch spot in industrial West Berkeley.

Home-y interior with neo-rustic chic tables and chairs. Nice garden out back, reasonably secluded from the surrounding manufacturing and biomedical research facilities. Large creepy painting of a rooster on the wall.

We were promptly greeted by a friendly host/server who informed us that the coffee machine was broken, though espresso was flowing freely. Not a big deal. The machine was back on-line before we left and he circled, offering complimentary coffee.

So the food. At the table we had the Potter's Creek--a basic fresh egg and herb scramble with shredded hash browns and toasted pain de mie. Not what I would've ordered, but it definitely was well-made.

We also had a Time-Life Cookbook--an emmental omelette "souffle" with the same hash browns and a small fuji apple salad on the side. Eggs were light and fluffy and the apple salad was a nice touch. It was lacking flavor depth--herbs, veggies, something. This proved a common theme--everything was well-executed and tasty, but lacking a savory depth that would've heightened the other flavors.

Another dish--cheekily called "Breakfast"--scrambled eggs, levain toast, bacon or sausage, and the same shredded hashbrowns. A fresh organic take on breakfast.

I had the "7th and Grayson"-- a tofu, red onion, tomato, mint, olive, and harissa scramble with levain toast and hash browns (these cooked in olive oil to keep the dish vegan). This was great--it had that savoriness that the other dishes lacked. I added hass avocado (one of the many sides and add-ons offered on the "make-up kit" a la carte list). Tasty.

We also shared an "I'm Not Belgian" waffle. This was a minor disappointment--neither light and fluffy nor dense and nutty. Ah well.

One service note: my breakfast didn't arrive initially--seemingly as an error. Server took it off the bill, no harm done.

Probably the best organic/farm-fresh take on breakfast I've had and the tofu scramble showed flashes of brilliance. Curious to try lunch (and the upcoming dinner menu) to see what 900 Grayson can do when freed of the constraints of what we expect from "breakfast."

900 Grayson
Grayson at 7th St.,
Berkeley, Ca 94710
Total Cost for Four (4 plates, 4 coffees, 1 side, tax, tip): $45

Monday, November 06, 2006

From Michael Bauer's Blog, Part 2

"fingering potatoes"

A typo sure, but still....


From Michael Bauer's Blog

"I find it shortsighted that expensive, high-profile restaurants put inexperienced people (mostly young women who have tight bodies and wear even tigher clothes) at the door. They might dress up the restaurant visually, but the wrong person -- whether not properly trained by management or just inherently inhospitable -- can create an icy chill that is difficult to shake. The waiter's job immediately becomes more challenging, because to warm things up, the server has to work twice as hard."

If Bauer ever (ever) uses the term "young women who have tight bodies" again I will track down his automobile and personally urinate in his gas tank.

I'm still having douche chills. And will no doubt have nightmares.


Saturday, November 04, 2006

The Protagonist Adventures in California Cuisine: Brussels Sprouts, Turnips, Apples: Pumpkin In All Forms

Down Gilman street toward the freeway you remember that you never (never!) exit at Gilman street headed west on I-80. The frontage road is also of little use (paritcularly on weekends) as greasy townies from Cities Past Richmond wend their into The City (or Berkeley should there be a college football game). You might think that city streets are better than crawling at 20 mph on the interstate but you'd be wrong. Sitting at a stop at a manic and bizarre nine-hundred way uncontrolled intersection for five or ten or ninety minutes as cars barrel past and you have nowhere to go but attempt a left turn is a recipe for a hernia.

For you see, the couple in the Subaru in front of you won't move their goddamn car and you shout at the window for them to Grow Some Goddamn Balls! But it's a Subaru so they're lesbians and they cast a scalding glare as the air escapes from your tires along with the crumbling artifice of 5,000 years of patriarchy. Slowly and inexorably.

But you're not there. You know better--you're on San Pablo Ave. What's that? Backed up for eight traffic lights? Quick make a left and now you're on Kains! Ah Kains! And now you think you can't get past Cedar on Kains. You are wrong! Cross the Avenue again and now to 10th and make a left! Here's where it gets sticky (that's what you're telling me, I know)--crossing four lanes of angry University traffic. Suicide, no? Worse than anything Gilman St. might throw at you? How wrong you are! You are so wrong that it is funny! Haha! When San Pablo is backed up for eight traffic lights so is University! Barring the occasional spot of douchebaggery--if the drivers are obeying the basic rules of the road--you should be able to zoom straight through the parted Red Sea of late model Japanese cars as they wait with an eerie patience to move a car-length closer to the hills or the sea.

That's not your business though. Socioeconomics and geography are not for you. Gay rights and patriarchy are things you talk about at the dinner table to pretend that you are Socially Aware. You don't actually care about them. You are a middle-aged upper middle-class heterosexual couple (probably secular Jews [probably self-hating]). You are looking for food. You are looking for The Best Food in the Country. The Best Food in the Country that you are so blessed to have available to you on your front porch. That unification of Ingredients and Technique that defines California Cuisine.

And it is November. You, oh educated one, you know what you're going to get. And what's that? Why Apples! Brussels sprouts! Turnips! Apples again! Even more apples! Apple slaw! Apple salad! Apple compote! Apple confit! Apple conclave! Apple compost! Apple convex! Apples and apples! Show me a restaurant without apples in November and I'll show you a restaurant at which it is not worth eating! Show me a restaurant without brussels sprouts in the autumn (that's how we say it in California Cuisine Land--it is not fall but autumn [adjective form: autumnal]) and I'll show you a restaurant without a soul! Show me a restaurant without turnips and I'll show you a restaurant that doesn't care about weird virtually flavorless root vegetables! Then there are the apples!

And when you sit down you will no doubt lament the lack of that one particular obscure French appelation on restaurant's list of wines by the glass (though they have three of them by the bottle, all decently priced) and you'll snidely mention this to your server and then order a glass of chardonnay--"though you don't usually drink California wines." And then you'll ask if they plan to have dungeness crab--how can they not when this is California in autumn when the Crabs are in Season!

Oh aren't you in for a treat tonight! Remember, it is autumn--which means you can eat pumpkin in every form. Start with pumpkin soup! Then pumpkin ravioli! Then wild salmon on a pumpkin puree topped with an apple-turnip tapenade! And for dessert? Pumpkin pie? No! How banal! How quotidian! How facile! What a terrible person you are for even suggesting it! You will have a warm apple-pumpkin crisp on a bed of pureed apples and pumpkins and topped with apple and pumpkin spiced whipped cream of course! Would you accept anything less? I didn't think so.

(Butternut squash and pears are an acceptable substitute. Huckleberries too, but only Wild and Hand-Picked. But you knew that.)

And you lament that you can't get the turnips in your own garden to taste as good as those you just ate. And after thanking the chef you leave in your automobile (probably a Volvo, maybe a Saab), sated and self-satisfied. You wend your way back to your 1920's Craftsman home, let in the dog that substitutes for your child, and head to your bed where you celebrate your tired and loveless marriage with a quick kiss and some light reading.

And as you drift to sleep there's one last thought that flits in and out of your head--I can't wait for spring and I can't wait for asparagus!