Monday, December 29, 2008

Looking Back at My Favorite Meals

It’s the time for end-of-the-year lists as we say BUH-bye to 2008, and I decided I’d look back at my Top 10 dining reviews. (I feel like I ate out more than cooked this year. Gawd I was lazy. Resolution No. 1 for 2009: Cook more for Cooking With The Single Guy.)

So here’s my Top 10, starting with No. 10. These are solely based on the ratings I gave at the time: (And remember, these are only out of the restaurants I had a chance to visit. I'm sure there are many more top 10 restaurants in the Bay Area that I might have missed because I have yet to make it there.)

10. Serpentine, San Francisco’s Dogpatch neighborhood. Rating: 4 stars. This sister restaurant to the Slow Club (haven’t been) is in the up-and-coming Dogpatch neighborhood just south of China Basin. I love the open, warehouse feel, and the California comfort food is always sharply prepared. (Ironically, I returned to Serpentine recently for brunch and now I’m rethinking the 4 star rating. Hmm, check back in 2009 to see what I mean.)

9. Incanto, San Francisco’s Noe Valley. Rating: 4 stars. This neighborhood restaurant headed by offal man Chris Cosentino offers creative dishes for the adventurous eater. I often think about its spaghettini with shaved tuna heart. Mmmm.

8. Zinnia, San Francisco’s Financial District. Rating: 4 stars. This is a fairly new restaurant to San Francisco’s dining scene, but it has a lot of old roots. One: the chef-owner is Sean O’Brien, who got raves when he was chef of the now defunct Myth. Two: The restaurant is in the old spot of the once popular Scott Howard. I’m sure Zinnia will do well because of O’Brien’s reputation, and always always order the crispy sweetbreads on the menu.

7. Yoshi’s, San Francisco’s Fillmore Jazz Heritage District. Rating: 4.25 stars. Beautiful new dining room with fresh, clean Japanese stylized cuisine. I’m a little sad to hear that Yoshi’s (the original is still in Oakland’s Jack London Square) is struggling in the current economy because it’s such a massive building with a lot of seats to fill. I hope they can ride out this rough time because Chef Shotaro Kamio is really talented.

6. Jack Falstaff, San Francisco’s SOMA district. Rating: 4.25. This restaurant in the PlumpJack Restaurant Group often gets overshadowed by its more well-known older sibling PlumpJack Café. But Chef Jonnatan Leiva is among the rising stars (according to the San Francisco Chronicle) and it’s worth checking out his elegant dishes in a plush dining area.

5. Coi, San Francisco’s North Beach. Rating: 4.25. I’ve been very vocal about my feelings about the price of Chef Daniel Patterson’s 11-course tasting menu ($120), especially when you see the portion size of each course. But there’s no doubt that his seasonal and sustainable dishes are creative and some are extremely tasty. I just want more of it! Coi got bumped up to two Michelin stars this year so you know people will continue to come check out this cozy but refined restaurant.

4. Wood Tavern, Oakland’s Rockridge neighborhood. Rating: 4.25 stars. I’m proud to call this my neighborhood restaurant, but it’s more than a neighborhood restaurant, it’s a dining destination. This handsome, charming American brasserie provides perfectly cooked Mediterranean-California cuisine. The pastrami sandwich for lunch is always a popular choice.

3. Bar Tartine, San Francisco’s Mission District. Rating: 4.25 stars. One of my favorite restaurants around. A quaint wooden décor with a beautiful bar for the Single Guy diner and perfectly executed dishes with influences of California, Mediterranean and French styles.

2. Ubuntu, Napa Valley’s Napa City. Rating: 4.5 stars. For a place that can change your minds about eating your vegetables, you have to try the food by Chef Jeremy Fox at Ubuntu, a place that consistently gets rave reviews for good reason. Chef Fox creates dishes that make you forget that you’re missing the meat. Roasted peppers polenta or white pizza is just so fabulously done and served up in an African-inspired decorated room. And you can take a yoga class too!

1. La Vinera de Bolivar, Buenos Aires’ San Telmo neighborhood. Rating: 4.75 stars. The only restaurant to get the highest rating by me since I’ve started doing this blog two years ago is all the way in Buenos Aires. My eating vacation to this South American city in October was fun, but I wasn’t blown away by the food, which was very similar to San Francisco. That was until my very last meal on my very last day in Buenos Aires when I went to the tiny restaurant of chef Alejandro Digilio, who only serves a 9-course tasting menu. It was creative. It was entertaining. It was tasty. This is the only place where I didn’t really mind eating foam because there was actually a taste to it and a reason for it. My only criticism is that I have to travel more than 5,000 miles to eat here.

Thanks to all the chefs at the above restaurants for providing me with such memorable dinners. I hope to discover more in the coming year! (And living in San Francisco, I have no doubt I will.)

Ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 5.


Mrs. L said...

All sorts of good restaurants to add to my "to eat at" list! Thanks for all the great reviews.

Nate-n-Annie said...

Of all the plates, the pastrami really caught my eye. Must. Have. Pastrami. Now.

foodhoe said...

Mmmm, that pizza from Ubuntu is calling to me! What a fun recap Chef Ben. Hope you're eating well for the holidays and Happy New Year!

Anonymous said...

so you've moved to SF?

Chef Ben said...

Hey Foodhoe, three of the 10 places I list I went to with you! Interested to see if they made your top 10 meals for the year.

Anonymous, I should have been clear and said living in the San Francisco "Bay Area." I'm still in Oakland across the Bay but get into San Francisco often, especially for food! :) Happy new year everyone!