Friday, July 28, 2017

Restaurant Review: Montesacro Pinseria and Hamilton

Montesacro Pinseria - dinner on July 21, 2017
More than seven months ago, I was one of those people who was online in a virtual waiting room, waiting for my turn to purchase tickets to the musical, Hamilton, which was coming to the Orpheum Theater in San Francisco. Tickets went on sale starting at 10 am. Before 10 am, you could log on and join the virtual waiting room. At 10 am, everyone who was in the waiting room was randomly assigned a place in “line” to purchase tickets. My random number was in the 45000s. Yes, there were more than 45,000 people ahead of me to purchase tickets. Each person could only purchase up to 6 tickets. During the 5 hours and 46 minutes that I waited in line/online, I looked up how many seats were in the theater, calculated how many performances there would be multiplied by how many seats divided by 6 tickets per person to figure out if being #45xxx would be good enough to still have tickets available by the time it was my turn. What? I’m a numbers nerd and it helped kill 5 minutes.
Fortunately, being number 45,000-something was good enough to still get tickets. Although by the time I got in and was able to scan the available dates and the seats that were left, I had to book a date almost at the end of their SF run and could only get 4 seats together in the mezzanine and 2 in the orchestra, not 6 seated together. No problem. I invited 3 other friends for the cost of the tickets and sold the 2 orchestra seats to another friend. We were going to Hamilton.
But first, on show night, we went to dinner….of course. My friend Jenny was the most familiar with San Francisco since she’d lived there for years so we went with her recommendation of Montesacro Pinseria-Enoteca, which was near the Orpheum Theater. Pinseria, as I found out later, isn’t pizza but is a Mediterranean flatbread with toppings just like a pizza. Most people probably wouldn’t make the distinction.
What I cared about was that it be good and it was. As our server explained to us, Montesacro focuses on healthy ingredients. As an aside, they don’t serve sodas since it doesn’t fit with their healthy eating vision or their focus on using ingredients that are organic and sustainable. That was okay by me because I was focused on the pinseria.
Pietralata - Grated Pecorino/Parmagiano, Mozzarella, Guanciale, Egg, Cracked Black Pepper
I ordered the Maranella which was flatbread with spicy sausage, broccolini, and burrata. I know, why broccolini, given my aversion to vegetables? Ah, but you’re talking to the champion picky eater who can pick anything I don’t want out of my food. Of course, later I realized I could’ve just asked them to omit the broccolini entirely but our wait person was so earnest about how they use fresh, healthy ingredients locally sourced as much as possible that it didn’t occur to me to counter her spiel with “I’ll take the Maranella without the fresh, organic, locally sourced broccolini.” I might have even eaten a spear or two in an attempt to add some healthy to my bites. As my friends bluntly told me, “it won’t kill you.” Humph. So they say.
Maranella - Mozzarella, Broccolini, Spicy Pork Sausage & Stracciatella di Burrata
The flatbread was really good as was the whole pinseria. It’s best eaten right away while it’s still warm as it did have a tendency to get a little chewy at the ends as it cooled and it also got a bit soggy in the middle. I couldn’t finish the whole thing (had to leave room for dessert, ‘kay?) as it was a generous serving but I liked what I had, especially using the uber-cool all-metal pizza cutter that came with each of our pinserias. 
Corviale - Buffalo Mozzarella, Porcini Mushroom, Lardo & Parsley
As I was wont to do, I had checked out the menu online so I already knew what I wanted for dessert. The menu called it a small pinseria stuffed with pistachio Nutella. I had a vision of a mini-calzone with Nutella lava spilling out sprinkled with toasted chopped pistachios. The real thing was not quite close to my vision. The pistachio showed up as some form of green paste that was mixed in with the Nutella. It wasn’t “stuffed” so much as “spread on the inside” like peanut butter or jelly. It was lukewarm when it arrived and for texture purposes, I would’ve preferred it served just a bit warmer as the flatbread was best when it was warm to hot.
Pinsa con Nutella al Pistacchi di Bronte: small pinsa stuffed with Sicilian Pistachio Nutella
The actual pistachio-nutella “paste” wasn’t that appetizing to look at. There’s something off-putting about green paste. Which was unfortunate as the taste itself was pretty good. I don’t know if that was due to the pistachio paste but it really drew out the flavor of Nutella. If I had to tweak this dessert, I would make it more like my vision of a thin Calzone stuffed with Nutella and garnished with pistachios. And I say “thin” because I was already feeling kinda bread-y full from the pinseria.
Budino - chocolate chili mousse
The other dessert we shared was the chocolate chili mousse. I’m not a believer in spiking my chocolate with spices or fruit. I had a tiny, tiny taste of the mousse and the chili wasn’t very prevalent. That means I couldn’t really taste it from the tiny tip-of-the-spoon-ful I had. A light, airy mousse is probably a better topper to a pinseria but I’m glad I tried the pistachio-Nutella pinseria, even if it wouldn’t make my top 10 list of dessert beauty contestants.

After dinner, of course, it was showtime. I won’t go into raptures about Hamilton here….no, wait, that’s a lie. The show was excellent. It was pretty hyped up so I was afraid my expectations would be too high and I’d be disappointed but that wasn’t the case. I had actually read the 800-page+tome by Ron Chernow (yes, I’m a girl-nerd) so I had a good idea of Hamilton’s life story and could follow the musical pretty well. 

I expected great voices and I got them. I was particularly expressed by the purity and beauty of the cast’s voices, especially by the female leads (Eliza Hamilton!!). I expected an edgy musical score and I got that too. Hamilton, the birth of our nation and rap? Not your usual combination. It was brilliant. King George was an unexpected riot (cue much hysterical laughing). Props to Lin-Manuel Miranda for his vision and creativity in conceiving and executing such a score and such a show. For me, it was worth the 7+ month wait.


5 minutes before showtime

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Restaurant Review: Nabe and Night at the Museum

Nabe - dinner on July 20, 2017
I’m almost caught up with my round-the-world eating spree. Left Milan, went back to work, reviewed the Mexican restaurant next door and now we head back up to San Francisco. One night after work, our auditors took most of the team out to dinner (an annual thing) at a restaurant in San Francisco called Nabe. I’d never heard of it before but that means nothing since there are so many great restaurants in the city and I haven’t been to even a tiny fraction of them.
Nabe was a small enough restaurant that they hired out the whole place for a couple of hours that night and could seat the 40 or so of us who went, albeit just barely. There were 2 and 4-toppers as well as a long table in the center of the room that could accommodate 16-20 people (I didn’t count). I sat at a 4-topper with 3 of my coworkers and at each place was a burner. Because Nabe was a hot pot restaurant. If you’ve never been to one, you’re missing out.
The premise is you order what broth you wanted as well as what proteins, veggies and noodles (as extras) that didn’t already come with your original order. They bring it out in a soup pot, set it on the burner, turn on the burner, bring your proteins and vegetables and you cook your dinner once your chosen broth was sufficiently hot enough.
Each person could order their own “set” and Nabe’s recommendation is for a maximum of 2 people to share one set. What they mean by “set” is half a hot pot. For efficiency’s sake, if you wanted a different order or broth than the person across from you who was sharing your burner and therefore the same pot, they had a divider in the pot so you could each enjoy your half of the pot without commingling your set.

Tako Su Octopus Salad
At my table of four, we started with the Tako Su Octopus Salad with cucumber and vinaigrette and Tofu with Kimchee. Plain eater here passed on those. But I did partake of and enjoy the Kurobuta Pork Sausage (delicious) and the Gyoza filled with Kurobuta pork (also good).
Kurobuta Pork Sausage

Tofu with Kimchee

Gyoza
But the main event was the hot pot set. I ordered the Sukiyaki which was Wagyu beef and shirataki in Warishita broth. I don’t know what all that was but it sounded good.  My coworker, Eileen, who sat across from me and shared the same pot and burner got a miso broth so we had the pot with a divider. Super cool and super convenient for me because my Sukiyaki with its “Warishita broth” came with a bunch of veggies in it. Um, okay. My head knows that’s what helps make the broth so tasty but it would’ve gone to waste with me if Eileen hadn’t been a veggie lover and very accommodating in my tossing most of my vegetables over our hot pot divider into her broth. 
Sukiyaki

Miso broth on the bottom half of the divided hot pot set

They also brought out a separate plate of vegetables for those who ordered the miso broth since miso broth came out plain without any veggies already added. Once our hot pot began bubbling, I started adding the thin slices of Wagyu beef. I don’t do hot pot often so I wasn’t sure of the “right” way to do it but I figure there’s no wrong way since it was my hot pot and my dinner. My broth already came with udon noodles in it but you can also order more noodles. They offered a bowl of rice which I took them up on, the better to enjoy the super-freaking-delicious broth. Everything was good but for the broth alone, I’d go back again and I’m telling everyone I know they should go to Nabe and order it. 

Normally with hot pot or even a really good ramen place, I like the broth initially but as it keeps cooking and you eat your way through the bowl (or pot), it tends to get more and more salty so I tend to only eat/drink/slurp it at the beginning. Not so at Nabe. The broth was amazing from beginning to end. Even after I had cooked all my proteins (we ordered scallops as an add-in), I couldn’t seem to stop eating/drinking the broth. I wasn’t even hungry anymore but I still wanted the broth. Did I mention it was super-freaking-delicious broth? Because it was.
Fortunately, since the hot pot was, you know, hot, I couldn’t actually pick it up and slurp the broth straight out of it so I eventually did back off because I was getting full. But not so full that I didn’t have dessert. There were only three desserts on the menu and I chose the one that seemed most palatable to me: butter mochi cake with either black sesame ice cream or green tea ice cream.
Butter Mochi Cake with Black Sesame ice cream
Here’s a not-so-secret quirk of mine: I don’t have very Asian taste buds. Doesn’t matter that I’m Asian. I still don’t like many traditional Asian flavors. I don’t care for mango, ube, jackfruit (my Filipino ancestors would cringe at me), lychees, guava, passionfruit, dragonfruit, green tea or, as it turned out, black sesame. At least not in ice cream. I ordered my butter mochi cake to come with black sesame ice cream, thinking I would at least try it. Which I did. Turns out I don’t like black sesame ice cream either. I don’t mind sesame flavor in savory foods and occasionally cook with sesame oil and sesame seeds. But I didn’t care for the flavor in ice cream. My Asian companions who shared the dessert with me thought the ice cream was delicious so okay, yeah, it’s just me.

I did better with the butter mochi cake. Mochi has a chewy, spongy texture and the cake was better than the one I’d tried to makefrom scratch some time ago; it wasn’t as sweet as mine was and had better flavor and texture. My non-Asian taste buds would’ve liked it with vanilla ice cream instead of black sesame or green tea but that’s neither here nor there.

Me with a few of my coworkers in front of the California Academy of Sciences
After dinner, our evening outing included A Night at the Museum at the California Academy of Sciences which wasn’t too from Nabe. The place was quite busy for a Thursday night but it turns out the Night at the Museum only occurred every Thursday and rumor in the crowd said it was a “good date night” so that might explain some of the activity. We didn’t have a set agenda other than to wander around aimlessly, chatting amongst ourselves and queueing up at the bar. I don’t drink so I stuck to the wandering around aimlessly and chatting part. 


Jellyfish
I only took a few pictures as some of the more interesting exhibits didn’t have good lighting for cell phone pictures (most of mine turned out too dark). The jellyfish were the prettiest ones to me, as long as they were in their tank with the changing lights to show off their translucence.
All in all, a fun evening and outing. Big thumbs up for Nabe as well and thank you to Deloitte, our auditors.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Restaurant Review: Casa Lupe

Casa Lupe - lunch on July 7, 2017
Back from my Italy travels, back to work and back-to-work lunch meeting makes up this post. I'm still taking a break from baking in this summer heat (more or less) but don't worry, the recipes will be back up next week after a few more posts.

If you search for all the restaurant reviews I've done, you'll notice I don't go to a lot of Mexican restaurants. That's because I don't eat a lot of Mexican food. I have nothing against the cuisine per se but I've explained before that I don't eat so many of the foods that form the base for many Mexican dishes.
If you search for all the restaurant reviews I've done, you'll notice I don't go to a lot of Mexican restaurants. That's because I don't eat a lot of Mexican food. I have nothing against the cuisine per se but I've explained before that I don't eat so many of the foods that form the base for many Mexican dishes. I only eat tomatoes in spaghetti sauce and pizza so no salsa for me. I don't like avocados so no guacamole for me. I only like kidney beans in their whole form; I can't do refried beans (the texture and appearance put me off). Forget peppers, bell or other kinds. I don't like sour cream or a lot of sauce on my food. Not to mention my bland taste buds make spicy dishes something I normally avoid.
Carne Asada - $19.95
But my coworker suggested Mexican food and there was one near the office so there we went. I'm a picky eater but a social one and I figure I could find something on the menu that I could eat without too much fuss. And so I did. Carne Asada for me, which they plated very nicely and I felt guilty leaving so much on the plate but I dug under the bell peppers and veggies for the steak underneath. Between that, the rice, the corn tortillas that came with it and the warm tortilla chips that came with our meals, I was good.
Chicken Enchiladas - $12.95
The wait staff was very friendly and service was good. Some of the lunch entrees seemed a bit pricey for a casual restaurant but I've found that's often the case with restaurants near my office. Cheap eats is the Subway down the block. Friendly service, good food, supporting a local small business? You pay a little more but if you like Mexican food, this is worth it. At any rate, I enjoyed the steak part of the Carne Asada.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Milan: Eataly and Esselunga

"Grocery shopping" in Milan - June 24-26, 2017

Although the last 4 posts chronicled my (delicious) dinners and gelato in Milan, I’d be remiss not to make one final post to show the rest of my foodie pics from that trip, mostly from two food shops I found on my perambulations around Milan. It seems too prosaic to call them mere grocery stores. Other people might shop for fashion in Milan and peruse trendy clothing boutiques, admire Italian leather shoes, drool over purses and jewelry. Me? I go for the food.

It might seem odd to take touristy pictures in grocery stores. I do it all the time when I travel. Not just because I’m weird that way (although there is that) but I like seeing what kinds of food are in the stores of different countries, how they’re presented, what the local brands are and what the differences and similarities are from what I’m used to. Even the packaging and the sizes of various foodstuffs interest me. Not to mention the prices.


Eataly was the first food store I went into.  It was like a combination of Williams Sonoma, a mini Jean Philippe Patisserie, Italian Starbucks and an uppity version of Whole Foods. In other words, I loved it. I didn’t buy anything but enjoyed wandering around – from the patisserie section with its display cases of beautiful individual desserts to the cafĂ© section with its baristas making cappuccinos, espressos and other coffees to the smallish book department to the foodstuffs. They also had a Venchi inside the Eataly - bonus. Although I didn't get a gelato while I was there. I waited until I was at the stand-alone Venchi.

I walked around in an enjoyable touristy haze up and down the aisles of Eataly. I was still jet lagged and wasn’t hungry when I was there so I didn’t buy anything but my eyes ate for me.

The Bread bakery section
Near my hotel, I also discovered Esselunga, which I found out later was an Italian store chain. I enjoyed wandering around there even more than at Eataly and ended up going back a couple of times since it became my bottled water supply. It was also almost the only store where I could find a diet Pepsi or a diet Coke. Excuse me, Coke Light. The skinny people of Milan seemed to only drink the fully leaded version of Coke and didn’t do diet soda. Eek.

I loved Esselunga and all its offerings, particularly the ones I’d never seen before, like the Nutella-stuffed “breadsticks”. I had to buy one for a Nutella-loving friend back in the States. I was sorely tempted to buy a couple of jars of the Pernigotti Gianduja – holy smokies, gianduja and the Pernigotti brand? From Italy? I finally ended up talking myself out of it because I wasn’t checking in a bag and I didn’t know if airport security would consider it a “liquid” and not allow it because it was more than 3 ounces or if US Customs would have an issue with my bringing foodstuffs back. Better to leave it safely on the store shelf than to risk seeing security toss it in the trash receptacle at the airport. I don't think my foodie-loving soul could've taken that sight.


There were many other items and brands I noticed in the store and absorbed. Too many to mention but that is part of my traveling experience to see what else is out there in the foodie sphere. There are similarities (global brands like Cadbury and Nestle) and differences (a lot more fresh produce, meats, cheeses, breads) in specialized departments.

Fresh meat and cheese

Fresh seafood
Cheese, cheese and more cheese
The one thing that did strike me as I was checking out was that all of the cashiers were seated at their cash registers rather than standing. I don't know how long their shifts are but it's probably a lot easier for them not to be standing all day. The checkout terminals are also adapted so that the cashiers can be sitting down for their shifts with lower registers and everything in arm's reach. I didn't take any pictures of them since I didn't want them to think I was some kind of weirdo taking their picture. I'm okay with them thinking I'm weird for taking pictures of the food but I didn't want to be Creepy Weird Tourist taking pictures of the cashiers. None of them spoke any English, at least not to me, but there was no need to since I can see my items being rung up, what the amounts were and I knew how many euros to hand over and receive back as change. I was greeted and thanked in Italian and went on my way.
The pastry and chocolates
Dessert display case