Friday, January 30, 2009

Cliff House Gets Real with New Chef

Remember the Velveteen Rabbit? The plush toy that only became real after it had become shabby from years of being loved?

Well, the Cliff House is kindof like the Velveteen Rabbit.

After years of being loved as a beautiful, historic tourist trap with a shabby rep among foodies, now that local celeb chef George Morrone is in the kitchen, it's finally a "real restaurant"  -- to quote a fellow food nerd who dined there recently.


I agree! Last night my friend Mary and I had a pretty fabu time cabbing it out to the dark western shore of San Francisco for a glammy-casual spate of fine dining and cocktails by the sea.

A 2004 renovation added the enormous, 1980s-meets-neoclassical space housing Sutro's, the main dining venue of the facility.

24-foot floor-to-ceiling windows make it a no-brainer spot for brunch or a sunset extravagance, but will diners flock there after dark?

After a delish cocktail of Bombay Sapphire and elderflower liqueur at Sutro Bar -- which occupies one wall of the giant, open space -- we settled in for a rather refined meal that, from the first bite of the silky foie gras amuse bouche, showed that a chef of great experience and skill was running the show. No heavy-handed, clunky tourist fare here.

From forking into "George's Original Ahi Tuna Tartare" (the standout: spicy, delicate, voluptuous!), mixed tableside, through delicately textured Dungeness crab cakes with charred jalepeno, into succulent, paper-thin ravioli stuffed with Maine lobster and mascarpone, we were truly delighted by the food.

Sure, there are a couple of problems. The wine list, though friendly and California-focused, really lacks in the Old World department. Meaning, zero. I'm a big fan of the rustic values rolling out of European and South American wineries, I guess, and it's hard to find such lean, mean wines -- especially whites -- on a Cali-centric wine list like this one. It's kindof a plodder, this list. But to be fair, I haven't spent two hours poring over it, and I don't know everything. Still, I can tell you that wine geeks aren't going to flip their lids over the selection. That said, I was happy to settle into an organic, biodynamic 2006 Patianna sauvignon blanc from Mendocino: fresh, light, and lovely.

We had a funny moment with a rather thick-cut (but so, so, so melt-in-your-mouth) venison carpaccio. Its huckleberry garnish left pools of red liquid on the plate, leading us to mistakenly balk at the "blood" on our plate. (Oh, silly rabbits, us.) It was delicious and lovely to eat, but truly alarming to look at. I worry that more middle-of-the-road diners might be genuinely turned off by the unintentional(?) trompe l'oeil.

We also balked at an overage of fines herbes encrusting our otherwise DELICIOUS Painted Hills tournedos of beef, but when Chef Morrone popped by our table last night, I got up the courage to ask him about it. He was frank and positively unruffled, noting something to the effect of, "I've got some new guys back there, you know? It's a process."

Did I mention the service yet? It was excellent. After recently experiencing some fairly inept high-end service at a union-run hotel restaurant, I steeled myself for subpar service. Good news: these folks know what they're doing, and they obviously give a care. Props to maitre d' John Kirk, who's been with the property for eight years and runs the ship with grace and ease. Loved that guy!

Perhaps it's like Chef Morrone noted last night when I asked him how he's liking the move from past city center kitchens (Fish & Farm, Redwood Park, and Fifth Floor): "I can't stay stressed out at work, really, when I get to look at the ocean all day. It's pretty fantastic."

Give it a whirl, foodies! It's expensive, but to be able to dine on food that is ultra-refined (if not groundbreaking) on such a historic, gorgeous piece of real estate is a true pleasure unique to San Francisco. What a beautiful town we live in.


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Super Bowl Bacon Explosion! BBQ Bacon Sausage Roll

Are you kidding me? Woven bacon wrapped around sausage filled with crispy bacon and BBQ sauce? OMG. Bacon Explosion. Thanks to Reyhan for cluing me in to this internet phenomenon!

See the photo essay and recipe here:


Image courtesy of

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Underground 21-Course Keller/Achatz Menu This Weekend!

This weekend, an NYC underground restaurant swings through SF to present a 21-course menu originally penned by Thomas Keller (The French Laundry, Yountville) and Grant Achatz (Alinea, Chicago). HOT!

I came across A Razor, A Shiny Knife in a New York Times piece on underground restaurants last year; it's a super-ambitious project in which attendees typically help assemble the meal -- but it's no ordinary meal. We're talking molecular gastronomy, tip-to-tail butchering, that sort of thing -- high-end, brainy, brawny stuff.

Have at it!!

Breaking Bread and Boundaries 
A Perspective on Two Modern Culinary Minds
Good day,
I hope you all have had a happy new year, with all sorts of eventful nonsense, with all sorts of delightful consequences.  I am going to start off this year in lock step of where we left of last year; burning the candle at both ends with all efforts bent on trying to learn and recreate these multicourse meals from Thomas Keller and Grant Achatz.
I invite you to the final two presentations of these 21 course meals in both Chicago and San Francisco. After our event in New York, that we consider to be a rousing success we have secured beautiful locations in both Chicago and San Francisco in our quest to follow these amazing chefs across the county.
Dates for events:
Thursday, January 22nd, Preparation Demonstration (no eating just cooking)
Friday, January 23rd, Event
Saturday, January 24th, Event
San Francisco:
Thursday, January 29th, Preparation Demonstration (no eating just cooking)
Friday, January 30th, Event
Saturday, January 31st, Event
Below is the menu for both event, a vague description of the wine selection (as we are still talking with vineyards and what have you) some links to information about the events if you are not familiar, some photos from people who have been to the dinners and just some articles to try and put the whole event in perspective as we find it hard to explain the scope properly.
The official press release for the dinners: Mentor/Protégé Dinner

This is a lovely review of our December event by Time Out NY with great photos and an interview from Grant Achatz, where he does a great job of explaining the severity of what we are trying to accomplish.
This is a course by course photo journal of the meal that was served at Alinea; the same that we will be serving which is below (minus the bread, sorry).
Josh Ozersky from The Feedbag made this a video in our work space before the New York event while we were trying to work out some of the kinks in making a $1500 meal possible at $300.  
This is a series of posts by Pete Wells from the NY Times on his experience at Per Se for the first of their meal on November 11th:
What you get for $1500.00 – A summary of the dinner
What is tobacco doing on the blackberries – A look into some of the dishes on the menu
Deploying Dinner – A looking into the service of this incredible meal
Gael Greene’s insight into the meal with amazing photography: The Truffle Economy Heats Up
The chef’s their restaurants and new cook books.
Grant Achatz – Alinea Cookbook - Alinea
In our usual style, we will be opening the kitchen to our guests so that they may participate in the creation of their meal. In this case, in addition to the demonstrations and lessons that will be given the day of the event, we will also be offering an additional demonstration during the preparation schedule that precedes the dinners.
Details for the events:
$300 a person, Friday or Saturday for the 1-day 21 course event, 6 hour demonstration
$125 a person, Thursday, 6-12 hour preparation demonstration, into the wee hours of the night
Demonstrations, lessons and location are purposefully withheld and will only be sent to guests the Wednesday before the event.  
CORNET OF SALMON – black sesame tuile, red onion crème fraîche
PRAWN – yuba, miso, orange
WHITE STURGEON CAVIAR – Lemon verbena gelée, cauliflower
BLIS CHAR ROE – coconut, coriander, vanilla fragrance
HOT POTATO-COLD POTATO – black truffle, chive, butter
BLACK TRUFFLE EXPLOSION – romaine, parmesan
HEN EGG CUSTARD – ragoût of black winter truffles
JACOBSEN’S FARM MUSQUÉE DE PROVENCE SOUP – sea urchin sabayon, black truffle purée
IBÉRICO HAM – acorn, compressed apple, celery, endive, honey
WILD STRIPED BASS – chamomile, shellfish, ginger
JAPANESE GREENUP ABALONE – yuzu, tapioca, seaweed, matsutake mushroom broth
ELYSIAN FIELDS FARM LAMB – fennel, pernod, coffee aroma
SNAKE RIVE FARMS ‘CALOTTE DE BOEUF GRILLÉE” – brisket and cabbage dumplings, horseradish pudding, sour cherries
CHESTNUT – quince, chocolate, baked potato
BACON – butterscotch, apple, thyme
CONCORD GRAPE – yogurt, mint, long pepper
TRANSPARENCY of raspberry, rose petals
DIANE ST. CLAIR’S BUTTERMILK SHERBET – roasted pecan crumble, whiskey sour coulis
SPICE CAKE – persimmon, rum, Ohio honeycomb
CHOCOLATE S’MORES – graham cracker ‘crunch,’ chocolate ‘crémeux,’ creamy “fluff” toasted marshmallow, chocolate emulsion
SWEET POTATO – bourbon, brown sugar, smoldering cinnamon
Wines: These varietals will also be paired with each event
Hermitage Blanc
Cabernet Sauvignon
Menu written by Thomas Keller and Grant Achatz; executed with Daniel Castaño, Mark Low, Thomas Helmick, Akiko Moorman, Brian Sullivan, Mayur Subbarao, Andrew Rosenberg and host of amazing friends and special guest chefs.
RSVP to me with any dietary restrictions. Seats will be allocated on a first come basis and will only be confirmed by complete payment.
If you have any questions about the education topics that we will be going over or dishes we will be serving please feel free to contact me.
If you would like to tell people about these events or invite anyone specifically, please forward this message along to them and have them RSVP to me directly. If you were forwarded this email and would like to receive future emails from A Razor, A Shiny Knife, please sign up at the site below.
I thank you all and look forward to cooking with you.
"Like building cathedrals: each generation works off the last one, both in its advances and its errors."
 - David Foster Wallace.


A Razor, Shiny Knife
If you would like to see photos and menus from prior events or to sign up for this mailing list, even though you shouldn't be receiving this if you were not on the mailing list, check out:
Some photos for your enjoyment
Thomas Keller
Grant Achatz
Hot Potato / Cold Potato
Sweet potato
Salmon Cornet
Baby Sardine
Oyster and Pearls
Foie Gras
Bacon and Apple
Licorice Cake
More on this roving restaurant: