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The Bazaar by Jose Andres – Part 2: The Patisserie

May 28, 2015

As if our amazing Spanish tapas meal at The Bazaar by Jose Andres at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills wasn’t enough, it’s now time to continue with dessert.  At the Bazaar, the restaurant is set in three completely separate, yet integrated, sections:  the bar, the main dining room, and the Patisserie for dessert.  When you arrive at the restaurant, while you’re waiting to be seated, you can get started at the bar where they serve some innovative and fresh cocktails.  For dinner, there’s plenty small tables and comfortable seats set around a partial open kitchen in a very understated, muted and intimate atmosphere all designed to encourage guests to sit back, relax and enjoy the amazing Spanish tapas meal they are about to be served.  And at the end of the evening, when you’ve finished your meal, you’re moved along to a new table in the Patisserie where you can begin your dessert experience.

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The very elegant, and somewhat whimsical design of the Patisserie highlights all of The Bazaar’s unique and creative dessert selections.  In the middle of the room is a long, glass high top table meant to be shared communal style by multiple parties and groups.  In the surrounding nooks and crannies of the room, there are smaller, cozier and more intimate seating arrangements with plush wingback chairs and love seat arrangements.  In the middle of the room hangs a gorgeous white glass chandelier.  And at the back of the Patisserie is a large, partially open kitchen which has a fully display of small dessert selections where guests can wander up, choose what they want from the various choices and take it back to their table to enjoy.  This is, of course, only if you want small bites for dessert.  There is a much larger dessert menu with large, shareable dessert selections that are made by the pastry chef in the back kitchen and brought out to your table.

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The dessert bar, as we’ll call it, highlights a number of unique and creative small bite desserts such as hand made chocolate bars, cupcakes, homemade marshmallows and homemade cookies.  Just looking at the gorgeous selection of deserts displayed under glass dome display cases made me tempted to just order one of everything!  For someone with a sweet tooth like mine, everything looked so irresistible.  I’m not the world’s biggest fan of nuts, but even I have to admit that the walnut brownie and milk chocolate mousse cake looked amazing.  There was also the milk chocolate with caramel & pecan tart, a fancy up-scale version of the pecan pie.  Hiding in the back was a blonde chocolate tart with salted pecans and lemon, quite the play of on the sweet and sour flavor combinations with a little pecan for added texture and crunch.  Those pecan pie cookies were big enough to look more like mini muffins rather than cookies.  And then there’s the gorgeous red hue of the milk chocolate & passion fruit mousse cake.  Much like the tapas at dinner, everything at the dessert bar was not only a creative combination of flavors, but also a true artistic work meant to appeal to all of the senses.

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My husband was quite fascinated by the Patisserie’s selection of hand crafted chocolate bon bons.  The question wasn’t whether or not we should try any of the different types of bon bons, but more so whether we should try all of them or limit ourselves to just a few selections.  Some of the bon bons came in the form of mini-tablettes, which was essentially a large square of chocolate composed of 9 smaller squares of chocolate.  Each tablette was made from a base of either dark, white or milk chocolate with other flavors then added into these bases.  The dark chocolate tablettes included maldon salt and togarashi pepper, the white chocolate includes opals & vanilla bean as well as the beautiful green tea, and finally the milk chocolate tablettes included toasted black sesame and blonde chocolate and lemon.  They all sounded so wonderful.  Other chocolate bon bon included the caramelized salted hazelnut and candied orange and the vanilla bon bon.

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As I said, everything looked more like a piece of high end art, rather than a miniature dessert intended to be enjoyed.  There was the Tahitian vanilla & milk chocolate bon bon, and the palet d’or 70% valrhona chocolate bon bon.  What about the beautiful iridescent speculoos bon bon.  The Patisserie also made their own homemade caramels, such as the sea salt vanilla caramel and the chocolate sea salt caramel.

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Look at the gorgeous raspberry and almond praline Beverly Hills lips!  Only in Beverly Hills would you see a desert such as this.  Or there’s the praline milk chocolate rocher with the gold leafing on the top.  Other bon bons included the caramel & organic milk collection, the Tahitian vanilla & milk chocolate collection, white chocolate verbena & yes milk chocolate, rice crispy and the peanut & milk chocolate.  What about a dessert called dark chocolate pop rocks?  I’m almost afraid to know what that is!

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The Patisserie also features two different homemade marshmallows: coconut marshmallow and blueberry & yogurt marshmallow.    For those looking for a fruitier, more classic dessert, there is a variety of different pate de fruits, including passion fruit, clementine and berry.

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And finally there the cupcakes, cookies and cream puffs.  The cream puff is probably the most substantial item in the dessert bar, a huge chestnut & chocolate cream puff.  I was so tempted to order one!  For cupcakes, there was a selection of either vanilla or red velvet cupcakes.  And the mini homemade cookies included chocolate chip, alfajore, vanilla crescent, chocolate mini shortbread, milk chocolate, lemon & almond shortbread, gianduja & hazelnut, and lavender & almond shortbread.  It’s interesting to see all the different flavor combinations that the pastry chefs have concocted, some of which make sense and some of which leave you intrigued because you aren’t quite sure how the different combinations fit together.

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Ok, so my husband and I were tempted by these mini sweets, but we knew we wanted to order some of the larger, full-size desserts not featured at the Patisserie bar, so we ended up compromising.  We chose a few mini sweets to be boxed up so we could take them home with us and enjoy them as a sort of second helping of dessert.  And believe me, enjoy them we did!  This is what we had boxed up for home:  rice crispy chocolate bon bon, the white chocolate verbena and yuzu milk chocolate bon bon, raspberry and almond praline Beverly Hills lips, praline milk chocolate rocher, a milk chocolate toasted black sesame chocolate mini-tablette, the blueberry and yogurt marshmallow, and finally the chocolate chip cookie.  Personally, I thought that the chocolate chip cookie was outstanding.  It was soft, and chewy, and full of flavor.  I probably could have eaten a dozen of those cookies.  I also thought that the praline milk chocolate rocher was delicious, it was crunchy and smooth and delicious.  My husband liked the blueberry and yogurt marshmallow, and the flavor of the white chocolate verbena and yuzu milk chocolate bon bon was just so unique.  I’m sure there probably wasn’t a single thing that we could have taken home that we weren’t going to enjoy.

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On to the real desserts we enjoyed, or what my husband and I could call the “second meal.”  We started with some after dinner coffee.  A latte for me, and a cappuccino for my husband.  We rarely both indulge in after dinner drinks, in fact I can only think of only a handful of times that we both ordered after dinner coffee, and all of those times have been and really amazing restaurants where the meals were so fantastic that we wanted to linger over dessert as long as possible and decided to indulge in coffee just to make the experience last longer.  This experience at The Bazaar was no different for us, we just never wanted the night to end.

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For his dessert selection, my husband chose the hot chocolate mousse with pear sorbet and salty hazelnut praline.  I admit, that the whole dessert sounded a bit odd to me, the combination of a chocolate mousse with a pear sorbet seemed unusual as I don’t normally think of pears and chocolate going together.  Also, what is a hot chocolate mousse?  When the dish came out, it looked like pudding to me, honestly.  However, I couldn’t be further from the truth.  One spoonful of this desert and I was sold.  First off, the hot chocolate mousse was fantastic.  It was light and airy, with a great hot chocolate flavor, but it wasn’t over-the-top sweet.  Pairing the mousse with the pear sorbet helped to enhance the chocolate flavor of the mousse.  The pear sorbet itself was fantastic, almost like a palate cleanser.  It had a nice subtle pear flavor that just felt refreshing and crisp and clean.  And the little crunch salty hazelnut praline balls added texture and crunch to the dessert and a little tiny pop of saltiness that also enhanced the chocolate flavor the mousse.  While I was skeptical about the dessert to begin with, I was won over by the end.  This is definitely a tasty, fun dessert that I would order again.

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With my selection for desert, I chose the nitro coconut floating island.  I had no idea what it was other than the description said banana and I was sold.  The actual menu description reads, “nitro coconut floating island with caramelized banana, passion fruit and vanilla.”  When the desert was brought to the table, it was so fun and whimsical and made using molecular gastronomy that it just fit with the rest of our experience at The Bazaar.  The dessert was served in a wide bowl, with the outside rim of the inner bowl lined with passion fruit, in the center of the bowl, there was caramelized banana pieces that were standing up and holding up a semi-frozen coconut and vanilla-flavored island.  A little liquid nitrogen was added into the bowl and it immediately created this amazing smoky, liquid effect that made it appear that the coconut island was indeed floating in the middle of the bowl.  It was so neat.  The coconut island almost had the consistency of meringue, it was light and airy and tasty on it’s own, but when eaten with the banana and the tangy passion fruit, it was fantastic.  I loved the caramelized banana which gave the dessert a real sweet note.  And the passion fruit, just that little bit of it gave the whole dessert a whole tropical feel, but also gave it a tart and tangy flavor profile which brought everything together.  Like everything else we’d eaten at The Bazaar, the desert was fun, and crazy and new-age, but yet tasted just as amazing as it looked.

Wow.  That’s about the only word I know to describe what my experience at The Bazaar was.  I freely admit that I was completely skeptical about dining at The Bazaar.  When my husband said he wanted to take me here for my birthday, I balked.  Why couldn’t we go to a restaurant I wanted to go to, rather than something he wanted to go to.  It was my birthday after all.  All my husband kept saying was that I needed to trust him.  I was still complaining as we drove up to the restaurant.  But 2+ hours later, as I walked out of the restaurant, I was in love.  I guess I should have trusted my husband.  My husband’s comments about The Bazaar was that the hype of the restaurant is completely worth it.  He thought that the place was fun.  And fun indeed it was.  The dishes were all prepared artfully and thoughtfully combining old-school and new-school techniques to perfect the dish.  And each dish literally tasted amazing – the main meal, the desserts – everything was perfect.  I didn’t have a single complaint.  The restaurant is definitely an experience, something everyone should experience at least once.  I’m already wondering when we can go back again.

The Bazaar by Jose Andres – Part 1: Spanish Tapas

May 26, 2015

As my birthday was approaching this year, I was curious as to where my husband would take me to for my birthday meal.  As the date got closer and closer, I realized my husband hadn’t really come up with a restaurant.  He threw out a couple of suggestions for places we had been before, but I was pretty noncommittal on those suggestions because a) we’d been to these places before, and b) I really wanted my husband to just make a decision and surprise me with something.  Well, I guess be careful what you wish for.  The week of my birthday, my husband got in touch with me at work and asked me to look into a specific restaurant that he had read about.  As soon as I saw the restaurant, I was hooked.  It looked nice, served the kind of food that I would love, and it was a new place we’d never been to before.  So, I told my husband that this place would work and he should make reservations.  Fast forward an hour or so as I’d been away from my phone and hadn’t seen his response back to me.  All of a sudden, he told me he really wanted to choose a different restaurant – despite the fact that he chose this first restaurant and I had already agreed to it.  Instead he wanted to make reservations at a restaurant that, while we’d never been to before, he has talked about wanting to go to for years now.  Located in Beverly Hills, we had never been to this particular hot spot because we always were afraid that it was way too swanky for us and one of those locations that’s all about being seen.  You know, the usual Hollywood/Beverly Hills hotspot.  On top of the fact that perusing the menu made it somehow seem like a place where I’d have difficulty finding much I’d want to eat.  Not the kind of place I envisioned for my birthday, and I let it be known to my husband that I preferred the first restaurant as opposed to this particular restaurant.  After going back and forth a couple of times, I ended up relenting and agreeing to go with the restaurant he chose, but I made it known the whole time that this was his selection and not mine, even though this was my birthday.  So, I told him if I ended up not liking it, he’d be the one paying for it.  He told me not to worry that he knew I’d like it and justified the decision by saying that since he was taking me out for my birthday he should get to choose where we go and all I needed to do was enjoy it.

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The Bazaar by Jose Andres at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills is a masterpiece of both food and interior design.  The brainchild of James Beard Award winning chef Jose Andres, the Bazaar features classic Spanish tapas of Chef Andres’ childhood combined with new, modern, sophisticated culinary techniques.  Combine that with the modern, cutting edge interior design of Philippe Starck, and you’ve got a fun, fanciful, sometimes whimsical, and very retro restaurant that sometimes feels more like an art gallery or a high end fashion shop rather than a beautiful, relaxing, and intimate restaurant.

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When you step into the restaurant you immediately notice that the restaurant is essentially divided into three very different, and distinct sections, all separated subtly by color, lighting and decoration.  To the far right is the Patisserie, highlighted by a beautiful display, buffet style, of some of the nights dessert options.  You can walk right up to the display case, look at the selection, point to what you want, and have your hand picked dessert delivered right to you.

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In the middle section of the restaurant, the bar is featured.  Not only is The Bazaar by Jose Andres known for its food, it’s also well known for its creative and distinctive cocktails, many of which are prepared at the backlit bar which is the focal point of the middle section of the restaurant.

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Finally, to the far left hand side is the main dining area of the restaurant.  There is a semi-open kitchen area where you can watch sous chefs create some of the many tapas on the menu.  The main dining area is filled with comfortable, intimate dining areas all intimately lit so as to provide each party with privacy.  Some of the seating is made of couches, and wingback chairs and long benches.  It’s a beautiful, but classic mix of styles to create an air of modern sophistication.

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The Bazaar may be famous for its Spanish tapas, but it has quite the reputation for its modern and creative cocktails menu as well.    Of course, that meant that my husband was going to have to sample at least one of their handcrafted cocktails.  What he chose to order was a drink called “Smoke on the Water”.  Made with Johnnie Walker Black, blackberries, Islay mist and flame, the drink itself was a work of art when it was brought to the table.  You can easily see where the drink gets its name.  The interplay of the alcohol, the flame and the large spherical ice cube creates a cloud of smoke that fills up the stemless glass.  And you’ve got to keep the ice cube in the glass in motion until the “smoke” dissipates or else the chemical reaction causes the drink itself to start freeze and crystalize.  The whole thing was very cool.  My husband loved the flavor of the drink with combination of the Johnnie Walker Black and the Islay mist, the blackberries then added a nice hint of fruitiness and sweetness to the drink along with the orange peel in the drink itself.  My husband said that the drink was so smooth and good that you could easily get loaded off of these drinks and not even realize it.

As this is a tapas restaurant, that means that everything on the menu is rather small in size, therefore it is recommended that you order a number of different items and share them so that you can sample a little bit of everything.  The menu itself is divided into a section “traditional tapas” and “modern tapas” and then within those categories it is further broken down into other categories such as jamones, quesos, sopas, carnes, pescado y mariscos, salads, vegetables, seafood, little starters and little sandwiches.  My husband and I decided we wanted to sample a little bit of both sides of the menu.

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From the “modern tapas” menu there is a section called “some little starters” and “some little sandwiches” for which everything is divided into a “per person” price, meaning that you could order individually for each person at the table and whatever you were ordering literally came out as a single serving per person.  This is useful if there are items that only one, or some, of the people at the table want to sample and item, this way the people not interested in the particular item don’t have to eat something they don’t want.  This worked out for us with an item my husband insisted on ordering called the “cotton candy foie gras.”  With the lifting of the ban of foie gras being allowed to be served at restaurant, The Bazaar has brought back one of their most popular and whimsical creations.  As its name states, it is literally a buttery piece of foie gras enrobed inside silky strands of homemade cotton candy.  You can see why this is considered a “modern tapas” as you’d never see anything like this in a traditional tapas bar in Spain.  When the lone single serving of the cotton candy foie gras was brought to the table, the server politely asked me why I wasn’t interested in giving the dish a try.  He even told me that he never liked foie gras himself until he tried this dish and now it’s one of his favorite dishes on the menu.  My husband was so excited to try this dish and after eating this creative, sweet and buttery dish, he wasn’t disappointed.  His words to me were that the cotton candy foie gras was “funky” but in a good way.  The dish was rich from the foie gras, but that the cotton candy was the perfectly compliment to help cut through the buttery richness of the little slice of heaven hidden beneath all that cotton candy.  My husband even said that he could have enjoyed a couple of these little one bite wonders.  I’ll take that as a sign he really enjoyed it.

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Another selection from the “modern tapas” menu that my husband decided to enjoy on his own was the caviar cone.  Made with American sturgeon caviar atop a bed of creme fraiche all inside a mini cone, this creation really was a cute little one bite sample of caviar goodness.  My husband who is a big fan of caviar just couldn’t resist ordering a cone for himself.  After he popped the cone in his mouth (it really is just a one-bite cone) I asked him how it was, and all he said to me was that it was really good.  You either like caviar and its salty goodness or you don’t.  If you do, then this combination of the caviar and the creme fruit is a match made in heaven.

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The third item we ordered off of the “some small starters” section of the menu was a dish called the tortilla de patatas.  This was actually something I wanted to try, and my husband was interested as well, so we actually ordered a serving for each of us.  Described as having been concocted in a “new way” the dish is made with potato foam, egg 63, and caramelized onions.  I think I loved the dish more than my husband did.  Not to say that my husband didn’t like the dish, but he didn’t find anything earth shatteringly unique about eggs and potatoes.  For me, this tiny glass jar with its mini wooden spoon held a delightful treat.  The cooked egg at the bottom of the glass jar is fantastic and unlike any egg I’ve ever had before.  Egg 63 is the modern way of cooking a perfectly uniform egg.  By that, it means that the egg white and yolk cook evenly and uniformly so that they melt together as one mass rather than having the egg whites become firm while the yolk is still runny.  To create egg 63, you have to drop an egg in its shell into 63 degree Celcius water and allow it to cook for one hour.  This creates a texture to the egg yolk and white that I’ve never experienced before and found to be incredibly creamy and light and wonderful.  All the taste of a delicious egg, but without really being able to tell a difference between the white and the yolk.  Atop the egg you had this potato foam which felt light and fluffy and was pretty much an aerated mashed potato.  The caramelized onions were crispy and crunchy and sprinkled over the top of the dish almost as a “salt” for the dish along with some chives.  When you combined the soft delicious egg with the airy potato foam and the little bit of salty caramelized onion in one small bite, the taste was rich and fantastic full of unique and different flavors and textures that you just wouldn’t expect.

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From the “traditional tapas” side of the menu, I couldn’t resist ordering some jamon.  Jamon is the Spanish word for ham, or in English its the translation for the dry cured ham found in Spain that is so hard to resist.  There are two different types of jamon, jamon serrano which means ham from the mountains, or jamon Iberico which is ham from the black Iberian pig.  My husband and I are big fans of jamon and couldn’t decide between the different types of jamon, so we decided to order the fermin platter which would give us a small sample of three different types of jamon served at The Bazaar.  The jamon is served with Catalan style toasted bread with tomato jam, which I absolutely loved as the bread and tomatoes were a perfect compliment to the salty jamon. The three different types of jamon included Jamon Serrano de Fermin  which is dry cured ham, Jamon Iberico Fermin which is dry cured, free-range Iberico ham, and finally Jamon Iberico de bellotta Fermin which is acorn-fed, free-range Iberico ham.  It was interesting that you could actually taste the distinct differences in the three different types of jamon, and I definitely had a favorite.  Unfortunately, I didn’t know which type of jamon was which, so I can’t tell you which one I liked the best.  That salty and smoky flavor of the dry curing process just imparts so much flavor into the ham that it’s irresistible.  Can you go wrong with jamon?

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One dish that I wanted to try, that ended up really surprising my husband by how good it was, was the market fish ceviche and avocado roll.  A couple of years ago, when I didn’t have an appreciation for how amazing fresh fish could be, I never would have touched this dish.  But when I read the description on the menu, it sounded so fantastic I couldn’t pass it up.  Classified as a “modern tapas” the dish is made with fresh ahi tuna made into a ceviche with micro cilantro, jicama and coconut all rolled into thin sliced avocado and topped with crushed corn nuts.  At first, my husband was more skeptical about this dish because he is not a lover of avocados as they tend to have a chalky taste to them.  However, the avocado used to make this avocado roll was perfectly ripe and soft and literally melt-in-your-mouth.  The ahi tuna ceviche was fantastic, a little bit of acidity from the tang of lime juice and incredibly fresh fish combined with the coconut giving it a bit of a tropical flavor.  The kicker was the crushed corn nuts atop the avocado roll which gave the dish a bit of crunch and texture and a slightly salty flavor as well.  My husband and I both thought this ceviche inside the avocado roll was one of the most unique things we’d ever tried.  Every element of the dish complimented the other elements and the flavor was a little sweet, a little salty, and all smooth and silky.  It was literally like having butter melt-in-your-mouth, I’ve never experienced anything like it.

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From the salad section of the “modern tapas” we ordered the Not Your Everyday Caprese salad.  Sticking with the idea of using modern gastronomy techniques in the modern tapas, this salad is definitely not your every day salad.  Peeled cherry tomatoes are set atop a bed of fresh made pesto, a garnish of balsamic vinegar, little squares of air bread and balls of liquid mozzarella.  Again, using the technique of molecular gastronomy, The Bazaar creates what they call liquid mozzarella rather than using slices of fresh buffalo mozzarella as you’d assume to find in a caprese salad.  First off, the air bread was fantastic.  It’ll be revisited again in another dish we ordered later in the night.  The fresh pesto was delicious, the sweet basil, garlic and olive oil flavor hitting my tongue, combining with the acidity of the ripe cherry tomatoes the flavor profiles of this dish are off the charts. The idea of peeling the ripe cherry tomatoes is a terrific idea that I wish I’d see in more dishes.  But, it’s the liquid mozzarella that makes this dish.  Inside the “skin” of the mozzarella ball, the cheese literally is liquid.  You have to eat the whole ball of mozzarella in one bite.  The minute you bite into the ball and break the skin, the liquid mozzarella shoots out at you.  It’s one of the more unique experiences of “eating” food in liquid form.  It taste exactly like a caprese salad, and yet this is so different from your traditional caprese salad.

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Back to the “traditional tapas” side of the menu, we ordered the Jamon Iberico and a fried farm egg with truffle butter.  The description of this dish hit all my husband’s buttons, Jamon Iberico, fried farm egg, truffle butter, all combined into one dish?  My husband couldn’t resist, and frankly, neither could I.  Served in a cast iron skillet, a fried farm egg topped with truffle butter is cooked to the perfect consistency and topped with a few slices of Jamon Iberico.  At the table, the fried farm egg is cut into by the server into quarters to release the delicious runny egg yolk.  The dish is served with homemade bread.  The flavor of the egg with the richness of the truffle butter was creamy and slightly sweet.  Therefore, the Jamon Iberico was the perfect compliment with its slightly salty and smoky flavor to match to the sweet egg.  But, it was the bread that was the star of this dish.  The slightly toasted and crusty bread that was served as an accompaniment to the dish was the real star.  Thin, and crispy, yet incredibly airy this bread was like nothing I’d ever tasted before.  How could it be this thin, yet still flavorful.  How could it be this airy and light, and yet still have body and be crispy?  It was like a great puzzle, a juxtaposition, which was a great accompaniment to the creamy fried farm egg.

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Another item my husband wanted to order off the “traditional tapas” menu was the stuffed piquillo peppers.  Again, this was going to be a dish strictly for my husband as piquillo peppers are not something that I eat, regardless of what they are stuffed with.  In this case, the piquillo peppers were stuffed with Capriola Farm goat cheese to create a sweet, creamy texture with the roasted piquillo pepper which adds a bit of heat, and yet still slightly sweet flavor.  My husband enjoyed the stuffed peppers and insisted that I would too as it really wasn’t that spicy at all, just a little bit of heat all balanced out by the smoky flavor of the roasted pepper and the cooling effect of the goat cheese.  He definitely said that this was a dish that would want to order again.  It was simple, yet flavorful.

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Admittedly, by now, we realized that we had ordered a lot of food, or at least it seemed like a lot because there were so many dishes, but we knew going into this experience that we wanted to be able to try a lot of dishes.  And honestly, it was a lot of dishes, but there wasn’t a lot of quantity in each dish.  Our next to last dish was probably the dish most reminiscent of an “entree” of any of the dishes we ordered.  From the carnes section of the “traditional tapas” menu, we ordered the braised wagyu beef cheeks with mojo rojo.  IMG_6672IMG_6676

Our final dish was the most anticipated dish of the night, and the dish that brought The Bazaar the fame it has today, the “Philly cheesesteak” off the “some little sandwiches” section of the “modern tapas” menu.  This is the dish that had my husband and I taking notice of The Bazaar and has been the dish that my husband has dreamed of trying for years now.  After all this time, we were finally going to get to enjoy Chef Jose Andres’ modern molecular gastronomical take on the classic Philly cheesesteak sandwich.  The Bazaar’s version of the “Philly cheesesteak” is made with air bread, cheddar, and seared wagyu beef.  Those sound like your traditional Philly cheesesteak ingredients, but this is anything but your traditional Philly cheesesteak sandwich.  First off, the cheddar cheese is melted cheddar cheese that is somehow stuffed inside this incredible, airy, light crunchy air bread.  This cigar-shaped, crusty on the outside, air bread that’s hollow inside and filled with melted cheddar cheese.  Then, seared, ultra-thin sliced wagyu beef slices are then layered over the top of the air bread, a garnish of minced chives is thrown on top, and these Philly cheesesteak sandwiches are then served hot to the table.  One bite into the Philly cheesesteak and your mouth in assaulted with all sorts of incredible flavors.  The crunchy, crusty air bread, the tangy, sharp cheddar cheese, and the incredibly tender and flavorful seared wagyu beef.  All of the elements come together perfectly.  You can taste each individual element, but yet, it blends together to form what your mouth thinks is a classic Philly cheesesteak sandwich.  I’ve never experienced anything like this, and now I see exactly what all the hype over this Philly cheesesteak is.  I could have devoured about 10 of these.  This was as about as perfect a dish as you could get.

After the tapas portion of the meal, I was quite impressed with everything we’d experienced so far at The Bazaar.  And yet, this was only the beginning of it all.  When you’re finally done with your meal, it’s time for the next phase of your dining experience at The Bazaar.  This would be dessert offerings in the Patisserie.  A table in the Patisserie is prepared especially for you, and when you’re ready, a host guides you from the table you sat at for dinner, to your new table where you can enjoy after dinner drinks and dessert.  It’s time to experience dessert in a whole new way….

Ike’s Place – Westwood

May 20, 2015

Not too long after my husband and I returned from our quick jaunt up the coast to San Francisco to celebrate New Year’s, we discovered that a place we had enjoyed in San Francisco had recently opened up a Los Angeles store.  Luckily for us, this first Los Angeles store was located in Westwood, just down the street from the UCLA campus, and conveniently enough, only about 3 miles away from where I live.  So, it was only natural since we enjoyed their food in San Francisco that we wanted to try out their Los Angeles location to see how it matched up.

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Located right in the heart of the college-town of Westwood, in fact, right on the main drag of Westwood Blvd which leads right onto the campus of UCLA, Ike’s Place now occupies the spot vacated by another sandwich shop, Subway.  Considering the large number of UCLA students that come from the Bay Area, where Ike’s Place is well known, it isn’t a surprise that Ike chose Westwood to open up the first Los Angeles store of his hugely-popular sandwich shop.

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When you step inside the small store, you’re greeted with a nice open kitchen.  This set up is quite different from the Ike’s Place in San Francisco my husband and I visited where the kitchen was cut off completely from the eyes of the customer.  There are huge display boards that list out just a small sampling of the many, many varieties of different sandwiches Ike’s Place offers.  Once you place your order, you can watch your sandwich being made, or you can take a seat at one of the small tables in an outdoor patio.  And actual seating area, again, very different from the Ike’s Place in San Francisco that featured no seating – indoor or outdoor – to speak of.

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As many of the sandwiches at Ike’s Place in San Francisco are named after famous San Francisco personalities, many of the sandwiches at the Westwood location are named after famous Hollywood names or characters.  My husband and I knew that we wanted to try a different sandwich from the ones we ordered in San Francisco, just so we could get a better sample of what Ike’s Place sandwiches were all about.  That was our whole objective when we walked into Ike’s Place Westwood for the first time.

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I ended up ordering the Harrison Barnes – a sandwich also available in the Bay Area – as it’s named after a professional basketball player for the Golden State Warriors.  The Harrison Barnes comes with fried chicken, marinara and provolone cheese, all of which I requested on Dutch Crunch bread with lettuce, but no potatoes.  I also requested the addition of better battered onion rings with my sandwich.  First impression, the sandwich was really tasty.  The combination of the nutty cheese, the friend chicken, the sweet onion rings and the tangy marinara sauce was perfect.  It was almost like having a chicken parmesan sandwich.  However, I’m not a fan of soggy bread, and since I took the sandwich to go, with the amount of marinara sauce on the sandwich, it did cause the bread to become a bit soggy, which I didn’t love.  Also, the Dutch Crunch bread the sandwich was built on was good, but not nearly as crunchy as the bread was in San Francisco.  I’m not sure if this was because the bread just wasn’t heated through the toaster enough or if the bread itself just wasn’t as good.  But this is a sandwich I would definitely order again, just because these are the exact combination of flavors I really like.

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My husband chose a sandwich called the Hella Fat Bastard.  Probably by its name you can guess that is also a San Francisco-created sandwich.  After all, that’s the big joke that Southern Californian’s can tell when someone is from Northern California because they say “hella” all the time, something Southern Californian’s would never say.  It’s an inside joke for those of us who live in the Golden State.  The Hella Fat Bastard is made with ham, bacon, mozzarella sticks, extra dirty sauce and American cheese, all of which my husband asked for on Dutch Crunch bread.  My husband’s impressions of the sandwich itself was that this was overall a better sandwich than the one he had at Ike’s Place San Francisco, however, the Dutch Crunch bread was not nearly as good and the mozzarella sticks were also not as good.  For the bread, it just didn’t have the crunch that we experienced at the Ike’s Place in San Francisco, and since the bread really makes the sandwich, it was a bit of a letdown to have bread in Westwood that just wasn’t as good.  My husband also felt that the mozzarella sticks in Westwood were a lot more rubbery and again, just didn’t have the crunch that you’d expect mozzarella sticks to have.  However, having said all that, the sandwich itself had a better overall taste and therefore was a better sandwich than the one he had in San Francisco.  So, six of one, half dozen of the other.

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We’ve enjoyed Ike’s Place Westwood enough that we’ve actually been back to the store for more sandwiches since this particular visit.  Our nitpicky complaints aside, we obviously like the store and their large variety of sandwiches enough that we went back for more.  Ike’s Place’s wide variety of sandwiches just can’t be beat, especially with the quality, fresh ingredients they use in their sandwiches.  Of course, the dirty sauce that comes on each sandwich is also pretty spectacular.  This is a nice change, and an upgrade, from the traditional sub store.  Ike’s Place serves up good, delicious, and incredibly filling sandwiches with tastes and variety to please everyone.

Hakkasan San Francisco

May 14, 2015

When planning our quick San Francisco getaway, my husband and I realized that we would need to do a little pre-planning since we were to be in San Francisco on New Year’s Day, which meant that a lot of the usual places might be closed or booked, and then on a Friday night.  Of course, in a city like San Francisco, you can’t just expect to waltz into a restaurant on a Friday night and not expect to wait an hour or so for a table, unless you have a reservation in advance.  So, my husband had to come up with a plan for a restaurant for our last night in San Francisco.  When I was looking at a map of the area surrounding our hotel, I threw out a couple of suggestions for my husband, but none of them really appealed to both of us.  All of a sudden, I noticed the name of a restaurant that was located a block from our hotel.  I recognized the name because I knew that a branch of this London-based restaurant, lounge and nightclub chain opened a few years ago to much fanfare and celebrity patronage here in Beverly Hills.  What I didn’t know was that they had a location in San Francisco.  After checking the website and the menu, my husband decided that we should give the San Francisco branch a try and see what it was that everyone was raving about.

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The Michelin-starred restaurant, lounge and nightclub brand known as Hakkasan was started in London in 2001.  Under the direction of Executive Head Chef Tong Chee Hwee and expansion under the guidance of Michelin-starred International Executive Chef Ho Chee Boon, Hakkansan’s menu reflects contemporary Chinese cuisine which combines traditional Chinese techniques with fresh local ingredients which combine together to bring forth classic Cantonese creations.  From that first location in London, Hakkasan has expanded to include locations in Las Vegas, Mumbai, Abu Dhabi, Doha, New York, Miami, Shanghai and San Francisco among others.

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The San Francisco opened in November of 2012 in the iconic One Kearny building in the heart of the Financial District of San Francisco, only a few short blocks from Union Square.  With interior design originally created by a renowned interior decorator, the design of the restaurants reflects their philosophy of vibrant, intriguing and inviting.  Anchored by a unique V-shaped bar as the restaurant’s centerpiece, the restaurant is stunning with intimate blue lighting, modern Chinese decorations and contemporary hand-blown glass pendant lighting, Hakkasan San Francisco is indeed intriguing and inviting.

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To celebrate the New Year, my husband and I decided we’d go all out and get the full Hakkasan experience.  That starts with some drinks to toast with.  After looking over the cocktail menu, I was pleased to see that they actually offered a variety of non-alcoholic creations.  I ended up ordering the Virgin Hakka.  Made with lychee juice, coconut cream, lime juice and passion fruit and finished off with an actual lychee fruit, this drink was fantastic.  In fact, it may be the best non-alcoholic drink I’ve ever tasted.  It was definitely refreshing, and a little sweet, but also a little tangy and 100% fruity.  The sweetness came from the lychee juice and the tanginess came from the passion fruit.  With a little twist of lime juice to add a bit of citrus flavor and the creaminess and smoothness of the coconut cream to add some complex flavor, this drink felt fizzy, even though it wasn’t, and was completely thirst-quenching.  I seriously considered ordering another round of the Virgin Hakka, which is something I’ve never done with any other drink.  It really was fantastic.

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My husband had to agree on superb quality of the drinks that were being served by the bar.  Ever since enjoying an Old Fashioned at the Portland City Grill, he’s obviously decided that this is his new go-to drink.  As soon as my husband saw the Rum Old Fashioned on the cocktail menu, he knew he had order one.  At Hakkasan, their Rum Old Fashioned is made with Ron Zacapa 23 yr, Graham’s 20 yr Tawny port syrup, orange peel and Angostura bitters.  One sip of his drink and my husband was awed by how good it was.  With the addition of the orange peel into the drink along with a cherry, he could really taste the orange flavor, which he really liked.  The drink was made with good, high-quality liquor which my husband said was quite tasty.  My husband also enjoyed the fact that Hakkasan didn’t skimp on the amount of liquor used in the drink, so not only was the drink made with high-quality liquor, there was quite a bit of it too, so it wasn’t watered down or diluted.  My husband has had a lot of drinks in his life, and he definitely ranks the Rum Old Fashioned as one of the best mixed drinks he’s ever had.  This was a promising start and a peek into what was to come for the rest of our meal.

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We decided to start off our meal with two different appetizers.  The first was the jasmine tea smoked pork spare ribs.  The dish consisted of 2 large pork spare ribs which had some sort of sweet, sticky glaze on them.  The ribs were smoked to the point of being fall off the bone tender.  As you can see, they only provided a butter knife to us, but even that wasn’t necessary as all the meat just feel right off the bone with the use of a fork.  One bite and the first thing I could taste was the jasmine tea smoke.  The ribs had a sweet flavor with the essence of tea-flavored smoke lingering over the entire dish.  For this much subtle tea flavor to infuse into the smoking process, the ribs must have been smoked low and slow for a long time.  The meat was so tender and flavorful.  This was a much larger appetizer than I had expected and really was large enough to be an entrée rather than just an appetizer.

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As we were at a famous Chinese restaurant, my husband really wanted to try the Hakka steamed dim sum platter which came with a little bit of everything and was perfect for 2 people to share.  The dim sum platter, served in a traditional bamboo steamer consisted of 2 pieces of 4 different types of dim sum to provide just a little bit of a hint, a sample really, of the dim sum Hakkasan offered.  The different dim sum dumplings consisted of scallop shumai with tobiko egg caviar, har gow, Chinese chive dumpling and black pepper duck dumpling served along side some soy sauce and two different kinds of chili oil dipping sauces.  Har gow has always been my favorite dim sum dish and the one I always ask for when I go out for dim sum.  Commonly thought to be the quintessential dim sum dish, this shrimp dumpling is so supposed to be a one-bite wonder consisting of shrimp inside a thin, translucent wrapper that traditionally is pleated 7 or more times.  This har gow was tasty, with perfectly cooked shrimp and a well steamed wrapper that wasn’t too sticky and too thick, as it can sometimes be.  The scallop shumai with the tobiko egg caviar was sweet and flavorful and well prepared.  It may have been my favorite of the 4 different types of dumplings we were served.  The Chinese chive dumpling, which was vegetarian, was my least favorite of the dumplings with a creamy, liquidy texture that I didn’t love.  The black pepper duck dumpling was good, stuffed with duck meat, which my husband loved.  However, the black pepper flavor was so strong in the dumpling that it really gave the dumpling some spice and heat to it, and mind you I love black pepper and I was still reaching for my drink to defuse some of the spice in the pepper.

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To enjoy with our entree selections for the evening, we ordered the egg and scallion fried rice.  After all, I am Asian and we tend to have rice with every meal.  The egg and scallion fried rice sounded so good, and yet so simple.  My husband isn’t the biggest fan of steamed white rice, so this was our compromise to order a simple fried rice.  The yellow color of the rice comes from the egg and it’s lightly flavored with nothing more than some sliced scallions for a slight onion flavor.  I like that with just two simple ingredients, Hakkasan created a delightful, and light, fried rice without the need of adding all sorts of additives I see often in fried rice at Asian restaurants – diced bell peppers, peas, carrots, etc. – all of which are unnecessary to create something that is pleasing.

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While my husband was eyeing the Peking duck, we knew that would be too much duck for just the two of us to enjoy.  Our waitress had indicated that the Peking duck would be appropriate for about 4 guests to share.  Instead, we chose the Pipa duck.  Pipa duck is duck meat with crispy skin, topped with homemade hoisin sauce and pickled ginger.  This was actually the perfect size entree for my husband and I to share.  The duck was fantastic.  I’m not the world’s biggest fan of duck, but I thought this duck was out of this world.  The skin of the duck was crispy and oily and exactly what you look for when you serve duck with its crispy skin.  The duck meat was tender and incredibly flavorful.  The homemade hoisin sauce that was served alongside the Pipa duck was fantastic, slightly sweet and a great compliment to cut through the fatty duck meat.  This was definitely one of the best duck dishes I’ve ever enjoyed and my husband thought the same.

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For a beef entree, I chose the stir-fry black pepper beef ribeye with merlot.  After having had the very peppery black pepper dumpling in the dim sum sampler, I was hoping that I hadn’t made a mistake in ordering the black pepper beef dish.  It turns out, I didn’t make a bad decision as the black pepper stir fried with the beef ribeye, merlot, roasted garlic and onions was incredible.  The black pepper added to the flavor of the beef, but wasn’t so overpowering to give it too much heat.  The roasted garlic cloves was a nice touch as it added a bit of sweetness to counterbalance the pungent garlic flavor.  And of course, onions and beef go well together in a stir fry.  The beef ribeye was incredibly tender and flavorful.  This is exactly the type of dish I had in mind when I ordered it, so Hakkasan didn’t disappoint.

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Since we ordered a duck dish and a beef dish, we figured we should order a seafood dish.  The dish my husband chose was the roasted silver cod with champagne and Chinese honey sauce.  I was a bit concerned about the champagne, but my husband told me not to worry about it since it would be like cooking with wine sauce, all the alcohol gets burned off.  I noticed that every other table sitting around us also ordered the roasted silver cod, so it must have been quite the popular dish.  The fish filet was much larger than I had anticipated it being, and it looked so delectable.  A nice golden brown roast on the filet and full of white, flaky meat.  The fish itself was perfectly cooked, flaky, delicious and tender.  However, the champagne and Chinese honey sauce was just a bit too much for me.  The champagne flavor was clear as day in the sauce that covered the entire fish filet that after awhile, I couldn’t take it anymore.  My husband thought that the fish and the champagne sauce were fantastic, so I let him finish off the dish.  This has nothing to do with the restaurant as they delivered exactly what they advertised, it’s more my personal preference for not enjoy the champagne flavor of the sauce.  But if any of the other tables around us were any indication, this roasted silver cod dish was off the charts.

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Normally, I’m not the biggest fan of ordering after dinner drinks, but one drink I have a hard time resisting is iced coffee.  So as soon as I saw iced coffee on the after dinner drinks menu, I had to order it.  I’ve never had iced coffee delivered to me in this particular way before, and it made me wonder why iced coffee isn’t served like this more often.  I was given a cup of ice brewed coffee and then 2 small saucers to go with one, one with creamer and one with liquid sugar.  I love the idea that they provided the sweetener in the form of liquid sugar instead of sugar packets or some other form of sweetener.  I’ve never seen liquid sugar before with iced coffee, and to me, it just makes sense.  In this way, you can control what goes into your iced coffee and you can adjust it to your tastes.

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For dessert, my husband ordered the kalamansi chocolate ganache.  Neither my husband nor I knew what kalamansi was, but the description of the dessert itself sounded so interesting, my husband wanted to give it a try.  According to the menu, the dessert was served with a eucalyptus sorbet and cocoa nibs.  I think it was the eucalyptus sorbet that really caught my husband’s attention.  It turns out that kalamansi is a hybrid ornamental fruit tree that is a mix of a mandarin orange and a kumquat.  First off, the presentation of the dessert was amazing.  Beautifully pulled sugar was decoration on a plate with a chocolate ganache rectangular, candy-bar shaped dessert with a light green and dark chocolate tint.  Sitting on a bed of coca nibs was a canal of eucalyptus sorbet.  The desert looked like a true pice of art.  My husband thought that the ganache was fantastic, a bit tangy and sweet at the same time, but not too bitter.  The tangy flavor comes from the kalamansi mixed into the chocolate ganache.  The blown sugar decoration added some sweetness, but also was a beautiful accompaniment to the dessert.  And the eucalyptus sorbet was fantastic, the taste was great, but subtle and really paired well with the cocoa nibs and the more decadent chocolate ganache.  The dessert was not only beautiful to look at, but was delicious to devour as well.

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I chose the banana pearl pudding with green tea matcha chiffon, caramelized pecans and smoked caramel ice cream for my dessert.  I had no idea what in the world green tea matcha chiffon was, or how smoked caramel ice cream would taste, but I didn’t care as all I saw was banana pearl pudding.  While I thought my husband’s dessert was a work of art, my dessert was truly the most unique dessert I’ve ever seen.  Served in a small glass bowl which contained caramelized pecans, a canal of caramel ice cream sitting atop a bed of pearl pudding and surrounded by what looked like small miniature green bushes – which was the green tea matcha chiffon – and caramelized banana slices, the entire bowl as topped with a caramelized sugar crust which sealed the top of the glass bowl.  The way it was explained to me is that smoke is pumped into the glass bowl before it is sealed with this caramelized torched sugar crust which seals the smoke inside.  The idea is to use a spoon to crack the sugar crust.  The longer you let the smoke settle in the glass bowl without breaking the crust, the more the smoke flavor will be imparted onto the items inside the glass bowl.

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I told my husband to do the honors and use the spoon to crack open the sugar crust on the glass bowl.  Once the sugar crust was broken, you could literally see, and smell, the smoke wafting up and out of the glass bowl.  It was the neatest thing I’ve ever seen with dessert before.  I was so excited to give this dessert a try, if it tasted half as good as its unique presentation, I was going to love this dish.  First off, you could definitely taste the hickory smoke on everything inside the glass bowl.  The caramel ice cream had a nice smoky flavor which really worked well.  The pearl pudding on the bottom of the bowl had such good flavor and worked really well with the smoky, caramelized banana.  The green tea matcha chiffon was different and unique.  It was more like fluffy chunks of green tea sponge cake that had such subtle flavoring to them.  And then the caramelized pecans were a great unexpected bonus adding a unique texture and crunch to the dessert.  This was truly the most unique dessert I’ve ever seen with a taste that was so unique and different, but yet delicious and fit with the modern Asian flavors that Hakkasan is known for.

Dining at Hakkasan San Francisco was our little Happy New Year treat to ourselves.  A nice, extravagant way for us to celebrate the last great year and look forward to all the amazing things to come in this new year.  And the reputation of the restaurant definitely lived up to its hype.  The atmosphere was fantastic, intimate, private and inviting, the service was superb, and the food was delectable.  My husband and I weren’t quite sure what to expect when we made a reservation to dine at Hakkasan, but whatever we were expecting was blown out of the water by what we actually experienced.  It’s always a treat when such a well-known restaurant exceeds even the expectations you have for it.  The dishes were inventive, creative, but yet with a familiar Asian flair.  And I’ve never been so impressed with desserts in my life.  If you’re looking for a nice, elegant dining experience in the heart of the Financial District of San Francisco, Hakkasan would easily make the top of my list.

Bi-Rite Creamery

May 11, 2015

In 2013, my husband and I made plans for a weekend getaway trip to San Francisco and Vancouver over the 4 days of the Thanksgiving weekend.  Once our plans were finalized, I remember sitting down and making plans for what we would do during our short time in both cities.  One of the items on my “to do” list in San Francisco was an ice creamery that’s very well known in the City by the Bay because, of course, I’m the world’s biggest lover of ice cream and can never turn down a chance to taste small batch, locally made ice cream in various cities that I visit, regardless of the weather outside or the time of year.  Unfortunately, that particular trip to San Francisco, we were only in the city for 24 hours, most of which was Thanksgiving Day, so that pretty much meant that a trip to this ice creamery was going to be out of the question.  Fast forward 14 months later to a quick New Year’s weekend getaway to San Francisco, and this time around, with 3 days in the city, I told my husband that finding a way to get to this ice creamery was now a “must” on our agenda.

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Bi-Rite Creamery, opened in the Mission District of San Francisco, in 2006 across the street from Bi-Rite Market, part of the Bi-Rite Family of Businesses begun in 1940, was the brainchild of two, local pastry chefs who started making baked goods for the market in 2002 out of a rented kitchen.  Eventually, when space across the street from Bi-Rite Market became available, it was gobbled up and the idea came about to create a Bi-Rite business offering something to the neighborhood that it didn’t previously have, and that was an ice cream shop with small batch, hand made ice cream made from scratch on a daily basis using organic and locally sourced ingredients in the most sustainable way possible, all the while creating bold, unique and creative flavors.

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Opened in 2006, Bi-Rite Creamery has created a name for itself by becoming the first ice cream shop in San Francisco to only use Straus Family Creamery organic dairy for all of the milk and cream for their ice cream and soft serve.  From only 45 miles away, Straus Family Creamery is the first certified organic dairy farm west of the Mississippi.  The ice cream created at Bi-Rite Creamery generally does not contain more than 5 ingredients total, and everything that goes into the ice cream is generally made in house at the bakery next door to the ice cream shop.  So the brownies, the graham crackers, the snickerdoodle, the almond toffee, and the peanut brittle, just to name a few, are made from scratch, in house before being added into the ice cream.  Hand made, locally sourced, organic, fresh from farm to table, all contributes to the amazing ice cream that is served scoop by scoop and cone by cone at this unique ice creamery. Often times, in front of this small storefront, you can find locals and tourists alike lined up down the block waiting to sample some of this terrific ice cream.

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In addition to hand scooped ice creams, popsicles, soft serve and sundaes that you can get at Bi-Rite Creamery, you can also take home a piece of Bi-Rite with you.  The Creamery offers a freezer full of hand packed ice cream quarts, including some of their most popular flavors, as well as ice cream sandwiches and ice cream cakes.  Additionally, you can also pick up packages of Bi-Rites famous baked goods, ice cream toppings, and some products that come from the local farms and businesses whose items are featured in Bi-Rite’s unique ice creams.

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Due to the fact that the ice cream is made small batch and seasonally, there’s constantly a rotating list of available flavors from day to day inside the creamery based upon what’s available from the local farms or what’s been baked inside the bakery.  When you step into the store, you’re greeted with an ice cream case that displays all of the available flavors of the day with the glass casing being hand written with a description of each and every flavor.  On the day we visited Bi-Rite Creamery, the flavors we had to choose from included a mix of every day available flavors and a couple of holiday seasonal flavors reflecting the winter Christmas and New Year’s holidays.  The salted caramel was labeled as their most popular flavor.  The creme brûlée was the winner of their 2010 ice cream contest.  Holiday flavors included pumpkin, candy cane with Seely mint oil, and egg nog.  Mint chip ice cream with Seely mint oil was also being served.  Coffee toffee with Ritual coffee and housemade almond toffee could be had as well, with Ritual Coffee Roasters being located only a few blocks away.  If you wanted something that was non-dairy, you could order the apple cranberry sorbet.  There was also Bi-Rite’s original flavor of Ricanelas made with cinnamon and snickerdoodles.  How about earl grey for some tea in ice cream form?  Coconut chocolate was also an option.  Brown sugar with ginger caramel swirl sounds good to me.  How about malted vanilla with peanut brittle and chocolate flakes?  And what about cookies & cream with organic Newman O’s?  I’m not sure you could go wrong with any flavor.

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After looking over our choices for ice cream, my husband and I each decided to order an ice cream sundae.  My husband went for something called the Dainty Gentleman which was made with three scoops of honey lavender ice cream, hot fudge, blood orange olive oil and a touch of Maldon sea salt.  It was the blood orange olive oil that really caught my husband’s eye.  At that point, he didn’t care what else was even in the sundae.  And he wasn’t disappointed.  The honey lavender ice cream was made with organic dried lavender and nearby Bobby Winston’s Sonoma honey.  But it wasn’t even the ice cream that my husband could taste that put this sundae into the realm of amazing.  It was solely the blood orange olive oil.  One spoonful of the sundae and my husband was mouthing “wow!” and telling me that I had to try his sundae.  And I must agree, the olive oil was outstanding.  The blood orange giving it a great citrus and tangy flavor without being too sweet, and the olive oil giving it a creamy smooth mouth feel.  The combination of the blood orange with the chocolate hot fudge and the touch of sea salt just made for a perfect spoonful of ice cream.  My husband wasn’t as in love with the honey lavender ice cream itself as he felt like the ice cream at Salt & Straw in Portland, which we just enjoyed the week before, was actually better ice cream as it was denser and creamier.  But, it’s the toppings on this particular sundae, rather than ice cream itself, that put this sundae into the realm of out-of-this-world amazing for my husband, and I have to agree.  My husband is so enamored with the blood orange olive oil that he wants to figure out how to get his hands on a bottle of it.

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For my sundae, I chose the Afternoon Snack.  This particular sundae is made with roasted banana ice cream, housemade graham crackers, caramel sauce and whipped cream.  The roasted banana ice cream with fudge swirl is made by roasting organic bananas with brown sugar until they are tender and caramelized, and the care with which this ice cream is created can be tasted.  This was the most amazing banana ice cream I’ve ever tasted.  I could have just had a gallon of this ice cream and been satisfied.  There were even bits of the actual roasted fruit mixed into the ice cream, which I loved.  The chocolate fudge swirl was the perfect amount to enhance the sweetness of the ice cream, but without taking away from the banana flavor.  The housemade graham crackers on this sundae are what really made me fall in love with the concoction.  These graham crackers were out of this world, crunchy, thick and with great flavor.  It was more like a graham cookie rather than a thin cracker that you’re apt to think of and it worked so well in this combination with the ice cream and the whipped cream.  The whipped cream was thick and full and obviously homemade with just a slight hint of sweetness to it.  I thought that perhaps the sundae could have done with either a little less caramel sauce, or really without the caramel at all since the caramel sauce was so thick and gooey, texture and flavor-wise it took a little bit away from the sundae to try to have to dig your spoon through the caramel sauce.  But overall, this may have been the most perfect combination of ice cream flavors in a sundae that I’ve ever had.

I was beyond excited to finally make it to Bi-Rite Creamery on this trip to San Francisco.  I’ve been wanting to go there for so long after reading about their wonderful ice cream and seeing pictures of it from some of my friends who live in the Bay Area.  And now that I’ve had my chance, Bi-Rite Creamery did not disappoint at all.  In fact, it exceeded all expectations.  This was, for me, probably the most perfect bowl of ice cream I’ve ever had.  It’s probably a good thing I don’t live in San Francisco because I could imagine myself making a trek out to Bi-Rite Creamery as often as possible.  As it is, Bi-Rite is already on my list of places I must return to each and every time I visit San Francisco.  I think Bi-Rite Creamery is truly the San Francisco treat not to be missed.

 

 

Ike’s Place – San Francisco

May 6, 2015

The trip that my husband and I took to San Francisco over New Year’s kind of came about at the last minute.  We hadn’t planned on going anywhere for New Year’s, especially since we had long planned to go to Portland over Christmas.  But when a rather affordable opportunity presented itself to hit up the City by the Bay for a few days of R&R right before the beginning of a very busy stretch at work for my husband, we decided to take it.  I had casually mentioned to a co-worker of mine that I would be up in San Francisco for a few days and that I was looking for some good places to eat while I was in town.  Seeing as she had recently graduated from UC Berkeley, just across the Bay, I figured she might have some familiarity with the city that I didn’t have.  Sure enough, I talked about the fact that I wanted to make a stop at Bi-Rite Creamery on this trip to San Francisco as it had been on my list of places to try for a while, when she mentioned the name of a popular sandwich shop in the same neighborhood that she thought I might be interested in.  She talked about how this place was really well known, so much so that there is often a line out the door and down the block to get your hands on a sandwich.  She mentioned that she’d actually eaten there and really enjoyed the sandwiches, but warned me that they were rather large, and that was part of their appeal for most people.  As soon as she mentioned sandwich shop, I knew I’d be able to convince my husband to give it a try because all we were looking for was a nice casual place for lunch – nothing fancy or outrageous as we were already going to have enough of that during the rest of our trip in San Francisco.

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Ike’s Place is the name of the sandwich shop.  Named after the owner, Ike Shehadeh, Ike’s Place opened its doors in the Bay Area in 2007 on Halloween Day.  Today, the sandwich shop has grown so popular that there are 11 total stores in the Bay Area, one in Los Angeles and 2 more in Arizona.  With bread that’s baked to order, including their famous “Ike’s Dirty Secret Sauce” that is baked into every loaf as well as spread onto every loaf after it comes out of the toaster, Ike’s wide variety of sandwiches, customizable the way you want it, have become legendary.

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We were lucky that the day we arrived to Ike’s Place in the Mission District, it was still early, and therefore there was no line.  Yet.  However, by the time we left the store with our order in hand, there were at least 3-5 other parties in the store ordering and waiting for their food.  This is the type of place where you come in, place your order, your sandwiches are made fresh and bagged up for you, and you’re sent on your way to enjoy your meal.  There are no tables or indoor or outdoor seating here.  So we took our brown bag of sandwiches and headed over to the nearby Mission Dolores Park with its fantastic views out towards San Francisco and the Bay.

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To go with our sandwiches, my husband wanted to try one of Ike’s Place’s own branded soda’s, the cinnamon toast soda.  Personally, I didn’t think that sounded that great as a drink.  Sure, it’s might be a fine cereal, but cinnamon in my soda, or any drink for that matter, doesn’t seem like it would taste appealing.  And in the end, my husband agreed as he only drink about a quarter of the bottle before he couldn’t stand it any more.  I gave it a bit of a sip, and sure enough, the taste of the drink wasn’t very appealing at all.  It didn’t really taste like cinnamon toast, or cinnamon anything, I’m actually not sure what it tasted like, other than it didn’t taste like anything good.

One of the things that Ike’s Place is known for are sandwiches with unique and unusual names.  In their San Francisco stores, many of the sandwiches are named after famous San Francisco sports stars such as the Matt Cain, the Madison Bumgarner, or the Ronnie Lott.  Other sandwiches are named after famous celebrities or characters, such as the Jessica Rabbit, the Heath Ledger, or the Little Mermaid.

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For my sandwich, I ordered what was called the Damon Bruce.  The sandwich is made with beer battered onion rings, provolone cheese, steak sauce and thinly sliced ribeye.  Most sandwiches also come with lettuce and tomato, if you want it, and of course Ike’s famous dirty sauce.  You also get a choice of bread for the sandwich: Dutch crunch, French, SF sourdough, and whole wheat. And finally, unless you request differently, every sandwich is made hot by running through a toaster to toast the bread and melt the cheese.  As advertised, the sandwiches are huge.  As hungry as I might have been, that sandwich was too big for me.  The taste was great though.  The sliced ribeye with the steak sauce and the onion rings was a good combination.  However, it’s really Ike’s dirty sauce that adds that extra oomph to the sandwich and gives it a bit of added tangy flavor.  It happened to be a bit of a chilly afternoon at Mission Dolores Park when we sat down to eat our sandwiches, and I was grateful that the sandwiches were made hot as it really hit the spot.  And the bread, that amazing Dutch crunch bread was fantastic.

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My husband ordered a sandwich called Change.  The Change is made with bbq sauce, beer battered onion rings, Gouda cheese and thinly sliced ribeye.  To make his sandwich even better, my husband wanted to add mozzarella sticks.  Unfortunately, after ordering the sandwich, it turns out that the last of the beer battered onion rings were being used in my sandwich, the Damon Bruce.  Oops!  So my husband had to forgo the onion rings in his sandwich, but at least the mozzarella sticks made up for it.  He also opted to have his sandwich made on the Dutch Crunch bread, though he wanted his sandwich without all of the standard additions of lettuce and tomato.  Without the tomato and the lettuce, his sandwich looked paltry compared to mine that felt like it was bursting at the seams.  I don’t know if my husband was hungrier than I was, or he enjoyed his sandwich more than I did, but he polished off his whole sandwich before I was even halfway done with mine.  However, when I asked him what he thought of Ike’s his comment was, “a sandwich is a sandwich,” which he still contends today.  However, he did say that he thought that the Dutch Crunch bread was “awesome – really good.”  I think we both agreed that the bread makes the sandwich.

While Ike’s Place may not have completely blown my husband and I out of the water, we weren’t exactly looking for a 5-star meal that day for lunch.  My coworker’s recommendation of a hearty sandwich shop within blocks of my ultimate destination and close by to the beautiful Mission Dolores Park was exactly what we were seeking.  I recently read that Mission Dolores Park was named one of the top 10 spots in the world to enjoy a picnic, and that’s what we did that day.  Ike’s Place sandwiches in hand, we headed to Mission Dolores Park and enjoyed ourselves a picnic lunch with fabulous views of San Francisco.  In that respect, Ike’s Place hit the spot perfectly.

Butterfly Restaurant: Revisited

May 1, 2015

On Thanksgiving Day 2013, my husband and I found ourselves in San Francisco for 24 hours.  This was just a part of a quick holiday weekend getaway that subsequently included 2 nights in Vancouver.  Since we knew we would be in San Francisco on a holiday evening, it was important to us to find a restaurant that would be open for Thanksgiving dinner.  In the end, we dined at Butterfly Restaurant at Pier 33 on The Embarcadero.  I wrote about our amazing experience at Butterfly in early 2014.  While the dinner was a set menu, which we were trying to avoid, my husband and I agreed that it was the best Thanksgiving dinner we’d ever had.  While the dinner included the traditional Thanksgiving fixings of turkey and stuffing and everything in between, everything on the menu that night was prepared with an Asian flair which made it both unique and spectacular.  About a week before New Year’s 2015, my husband found out that he’d have a long weekend as his office was going to be closed starting New Year’s Day.  It turns out that shortly before that, I also found out that my office was going to be operating on the same schedule.  With that in mind, my husband did some research and asked me if I might be interested in flying up to San Francisco for 48 hours over the New Year’s holiday as a bit of a quick getaway.  After we finalized our plans, we started talking about what we wanted to do during our quick 48 hours in the Bay Area, and one thing we both agreed on was that we both wanted to go back to Butterfly Restaurant and dine there again on a night where we could try their regular menu, not their special holiday menu, and see if the restaurant was as good as we both remembered it to be.

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We ended up making reservations for the evening of New Year’s Day, and while New Year’s was still technically a holiday, the restaurant was serving up their full menu, which is exactly what we wanted.  The great thing we’ve discovered about Butterfly is that since it’s located in a very touristy part of town along The Embarcadero Waterfront and just south of Fisherman’s Wharf, the restaurant is pretty much open for all holidays, which as a tourist is an important fact.  Since we knew we’d be in the Fisherman’s Wharf area on the evening of New Year’s Day, it was just a hop and a skip to make our way down the waterfront for dinner at Butterfly.  Luckily, New Year’s Day evening turned out to be a low-key affair at the restaurant rather than being packed to the gills, so we really had an opportunity to enjoy the restaurant, the atmosphere and the food.

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We started off the night with a couple of drinks.  My husband fondly remembered the last time we were at Butterfly when he ordered a bottle of Anchor Steam, a locally brewed beer.  Celebrating a return trip to San Francisco, my husband decided local brewed beer was in order again and decided to enjoy his meal with an ice cold Anchor Steam.  I settled on a concoction called the strawberry sprits.  Made with local Lucero Farms strawberries, fresh lemon, and soda, the drink was fizzy with a subtle sweetness from the fresh strawberries.  The lemon added a refreshing tanginess to the drink to offset the soda and the sweetness.  I found the drink to be light and refreshing and quite palate cleansing as well.  I don’t understand why more restuarants don’t offer a wider selection of non-alcoholic mocktails.

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We start our New Year’s meal with 2 appetizers.  The first is the kalua pork and butter lettuce cups.  Delicious kalua pork topped with pepper brunoise and scallions is served along side a small saucer of hoisin bbq sauce with toasted cashews and crispy, cold butter lettuce.  The idea is to make a lettuce cup.  Take a leaf of the butter lettuce, fill it with spoonfuls of the kalua pork, and top it with some of the hoisin bbq sauce, roll it up so the ingredients stay inside the lettuce leaf and enjoy.  First off, the kalua pork was tender, extremely moist, and incredibly flavorful.  There’s an art to making good kalua pork that doesn’t come out too salty, but yet is full of flavor, and this hits all those notes.  The bbq hoisin sauce is a good, sweet compliment to the rich pork.  And the butter lettuce is a great vessel for this dish as it’s crisp, fresh, and has a bit of a sweet taste itself to compliment the rich pork.  The idea of lettuce cups is such a fun,  interactive one that wastes nothing as you have to eat every portion of the dish and the creativity of using the lettuce leaf as a serving vessel is terrific.  I’ve never seen kalua pork used in a lettuce cup before, and thought this was fun, and different, and definitely an Asian fusion flair that I associate with Butterfly Restaurant.

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Our second appetizer was a dish that my husband insisted that we order.  Though, he didn’t really have to convince me of it because I had already been eyeing it on the menu.  Wok seared Shanghai garlic noodles with minced scallions, toasted garlic and the addition of shrimp was out-of-this-world fantastic.  In fact, after one bite, my husband was in love.  By the time we finished the dish, my husband said that this particular dish was approaching “best thing I ever ate” status.  Afterwards, my husband said that he wishes he would have just ordered this dish on his own without having to share with me because it was so good he didn’t want to share, it was so good he could have eaten 2 bowls on his own.  Even now, months later, he still talks about how amazing this dish is.  I might not have been as vocal about my love for this dish, but believe me, this dish was incredibly memorable.  The addition of shrimp to the dish was perfect as the shrimp were perfectly cooked, of a very good size, and plentiful.  The flavor that hits your senses first is the garlic, and we all know that my husband and I are huge garlic lovers.  The toasted garlic gives the dish a beautiful aroma, nice flavor, and terrific texture since it’s not just sautéed garlic, but toasted crispy garlic.  The noodles were perfectly cooked, and every flavor of the dish came together so perfectly in the wok with a little bit of a golden brown and lightly crispy feel it just made you want to gobble up the whole dish.  This is one of those dishes you always remember, the flavor, the feel, the texture, everything about it was just so perfect it’s hard to describe.

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Continuing on his love for duck, my husband ordered the roasted Peking duck for his meal.  The dish was not your typical Peking duck with the crispy skin and the steamed buns, but rather a showcase of Peking duck two ways.  First off, there is a seared duck breast cooked to a perfect medium rare and sliced, served alongside hoisin sauce.  The second way is duck leg confit crepes with Brooks Farms sunflower sprouts.  The crepes looked like large, overstuffed raviolis on the plate and at first I had forgotten what they were supposed to be.  My husband said that the crepes were perfectly cooked with an eggy batter to make it more savory.  The inside of the crepe was stuffed with duck leg confit that my husband said was very tasty.  To me, it looked like it was jam packed with duck leg meat.  But the real star of the dish was the seared duck breast.  When the waiter recommended medium rare for the duck breast, my husband agreed, and the chef seared it to a perfect medium rare.  My husband thought that the duck breast was incredibly tender and within minutes, he had cleared his plate.  Clearly, he was more than satisfied with his meal.

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I decided to go with a seafood dish for my entrée.  Sesame crusted ahi tuna served with a shrimp and scallop stuffed onion ring, soy and pepper brunoise, celery root coulis and Four Sisters purslane sounded delectable to me.  The waiter had told me that the ahi tuna would be served rare on the inside and seared in a sesame crust on the outside, all of which I found to be perfectly fine.  If you’re going to order ahi tuna, you may as well enjoy it the way the chef recommends.  First off, I’d never had purslane before, long considered a weed, it’s actually a very healthy, and edible green, which to me reminded me of microgreens, just of a larger size.  The shrimp and scallop stuffed onion ring was exactly as it’s described, a very crispy, and well fried onion ring laid out on the plate and stuffed in the middle with a mixture of sautéed shrimp and scallops and the celery root coulis.  The celery root was terrific as it was quite reminiscent of mashed potatoes that I found quite tasty.  The sautéed shrimp and scallops were quite plentiful, and their sweet flavor was a good compliment to the lightly flavored celery root coulis.  Combining everything with the slightly salty soy and pepper brunoise created a great balance of flavors with the salty, sweet, and bland coming together.  Finally the sesame crusted ahi tuna was perfectly prepared.  The tuna was incredibly fresh, and tender and soft like running your fork through soft butter.  The sesame crust on the outside gave the tuna a nice nutty flavor.  This dish was truly an Asian fusion dish with flavors such as ahi tuna and soy and sesame coming together with items such as celery root coulis and onion rings.  This was, hands down, one of the best tuna dishes I’ve ever enjoyed.

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My husband and I must have been hungry, though it’s no wonder since we essentially hadn’t eaten anything all day.  When we were presented with the dessert menu, it wasn’t a question of what we would order, but more so a question of who would order what.  I even went so far as desiring a nice after dinner drink as well, and when I saw that the restaurant offered chilled Vietnamese coffee, I couldn’t resist.  Iced coffee has always been a great weakness of mine and whether it be Thai iced coffee or Vietnamese iced coffee, I’ve often not been able to turn it down.  That hint of sweetness that hits you from the use of condensed milk is the kicker for me, combined with the incredibly fragrant and aromatic Vietnamese style of brewing coffee, it’s a perfect pair.

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For dessert, my husband opted to order the banana bread pudding.  Served a la mode with Mitchell’s macapuno ice cream and a banana brûlée on the side, the dessert looked mouthwatering.  I had to steal one of the bruleed banana slices, I couldn’t help myself.  Banana-anything, especially when it comes to dessert is another weakness of mine.  The wonderful flavor of the torched sugar atop the ripe banana slices was incredible.  The banana bread pudding itself was sweet and bready.  You could definitely taste the subtle flavors of banana in the bread pudding which was baked to perfection, cooked through, but with a bit of moisture and custard texture to it.  Mitchell’s ice cream is a local San Francisco creamery with unique and interesting ice cream flavors that they make with 16% butterfat.  Their macapuno ice cream is sweet, meaty coconut meat imported from the Philippines.  This rich, coconut ice cream was a perfect compliment to the banana bread pudding.  You could taste the sweet coconut immediately and the ice cream was smooth, creamy and delicious.  Being bread pudding, this was a filling dessert, and I loved how every element of the dessert could stand on its own, but coming together as three different components, it made perfect sense and tasted incredible.

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I also chose a banana dessert from the menu.  My choice was the banana lumpia rolls served with warm bananas foster and topped with coconut ice cream and fresh sliced strawberries.  I’ve had different versions of banana lumpia rolls, or banana egg rolls before.  You take slices of banana, wrap it up in wonton wrappers or egg roll wrappers and deep fry it to a nice golden brown.  Slice the rolls up on a bias and you have a terrific, and flavorful banana lumpia roll.  The outside of the roll is flaky and crispy and is a perfect pairing with the hot, sweet ripe banana slices inside.  However, at Butterfly, the banana lumpia rolls with a scoop of warm bananas foster ladled over the top of the hot lumpia rolls took this dessert to another dimension.  The bananas foster was incredible, sweet, tasty, filled with bananas and cinnamon and incredibly delicious.  It was like putting 2 amazing banana desserts together and combining them into one out-of-this-world banana dessert.  I felt like I’d died an gone to banana heaven.  Top the whole thing with some sweet coconut ice cream and some tangy fresh strawberry slices, and I’m not sure you could ever concoct a more delicious banana desert.  This definitely ranks up there as one of the best desserts I’ve ever put in my mouth.

When my husband and I put together this quick getaway trip to San Francisco, we both immediately agreed that we wanted to go back to Butterfly Restaurant again.  After our experience at the restaurant on Thanksgiving evening in 2013 when we both had an amazing time and a wonderful meal, we wanted to go back and experience what the restaurant had to offer with their regular menu rather than their special Thanksgiving menu.  When we walked out of the restaurant after dinner this time around, we were full, satisfied, and both incredibly glad we had decided to go back to Butterfly.  Located on the Embarcadero, the restaurant is in an incredibly location with a beautiful view out to San Francisco Bay, a beautifully designed and understated interior design, and Asian fusion food that is out of this world.  Every dish we ordered and enjoyed built was better than the previous dish, almost like a crescendo building up to a spectacular grand finale with desserts that I couldn’t stop shoveling into my mouth.  I have no doubt that the next time my husband and I head to the Bay Area again, Butterfly Restaurant will make our list of places we have to dine at.