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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Dining Notes: Masa's

I'm going to go out on a limb here and make a prediction:   Masa's, under the stewardship of Executive Chef Gregory Short, will be the next restaurant to be elevated to four-star status by The San Francisco Chronicle's lead food critic Michael Bauer.   And if it isn't, well Bauer should get his taste buds checked.

One of the most memorable dinners that I've enjoyed during the past six months was on Valentine's Day at Masa's, and I was frankly unprepared for just how good that meal would turn out to be.   Sure, Bauer had given the restaurant a 3.5-star rating back in August of 2005, and I had certainly been hearing some buzz about Short and his kitchen.   But I had interpreted that to mean that Masa's was merely on the rise, not that it was already offering a dining experience on par with other 4-star restaurants in town.   Boy, was I wrong.
Masa's: At A Glance
ChefGregory Short
Pastry ChefKeith Jeanminette
Address648 Bush St.
San Francisco, CA 94108
Restaurant Website

The pre-set six-course menu served by the restaurant that night had numerous standout items, including Golden Chanterelle Mushrooms with Perigord Truffles and Pear Puree, Maine Lobster with Heirloom Beets, Wild Striped Bass with Carrot Puree and Short Rib Ravioli, and Roasted Loin of Milk-Fed Veal.   Equally important, the other items on the menu were all excellent as well, and the service was polished and professional -- making for a thoroughly enjoyable experience.   I was so impressed, in fact, that I felt compelled to return for another dinner at the restaurant a mere six weeks later.   And once again, we were treated to a wonderful tasting menu that included Sea Urchin Custard with Yuzu Butter and Chili, Miso Lobster with Sticky Rice, and Seared Foie Gras with Melted Spring Onions and Brioche.

In some sense, the fact that Masa's is performing at such a high level should not be a surprise.   Gregory Short has an impressive background, including a degree from the Culinary Institute of America and seven years' worth of experience -- several of them as Sous Chef -- at The French Laundry.   Similarly, Masa's has had a long and rich history of attracting top-tier talent to head up its kitchen, from founder and opening chef Masataka Kobayashi, to Julian Serrano, to Ron Siegel.   Combine a talented rising star like Short with a restaurant that's well-acquainted with excellence, and the result is almost preordained.

So, how well does Masa's really measure up against the Bay Area's four-star restaurants?   To answer that question thoroughly, I would probably want to explore Short's menu a bit further.   But even at this juncture, I can comfortably say that the food at Masa's surpasses that served at Chez Panisse and La Folie, while the service is better than that found at Chez Panisse, La Folie, Manresa, and Fleur de Lys.   In light of this, you can see why I believe that Masa's deserves to join the others in a four-star rating.

So, if you get the chance, check out Masa's -- I think that you'll be very pleased!

Friday, June 23, 2006

Dining Notes: An Introduction

Over the course of the past several months, I've had several interesting dining experiences -- many of which I'd like to write about here.   The only problem is that if I were to try to draft a full review for every restaurant that I've visited, I would probably be writing until the end of the year -- and I still wouldn't be done.   And so I've come up with a simple solution, a new category of posts that I will call "Dining Notes."

The basic idea behind these posts is to provide me with a forum in which to relate some quick thoughts, initial impressions, or summary assessments about a restaurant -- without having to wait until I have enough data, and time, to generate a full-blown review.   Some Dining Notes may cover a single restaurant, while others may provide a brief overview of several establishments at once.   The bottom line, however, is that this new category will hopefully enable me to catch up on my backlog more quickly, while also giving me an avenue to post thoughts more frequently going forward.   So, stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Cooking Class With Hiro Sone & Lissa Doumani

Every six months I receive a catalog of classes from the "Cooking School" at Draeger's Supermarket, and my first order of business is always the same:   search the index of chef-instructors to see if anybody of note will be teaching a session.   When I flipped through the current catalog back in March, the one thing that immediately caught my eye was a class being led by Hiro Sone and Lissa Doumani.   Sone and Doumani, of course, are the husband and wife team who -- having owned and operated Terra restaurant in St. Helena for nearly 18 years -- splashed into the San Francisco market last November with their latest venture Ame.

The class that Sone and Doumani will be teaching -- entitled "A Taste of Ame" -- will be held at Draeger's San Mateo location on Thursday, June 22 at 6:30 p.m.   The cost is $75 per person, for which attendees will get to watch Sone and Doumani demonstrate the preparation of four dishes from Ame's menu:
  • Ceviche in Watermelon Radish with Bird's Eye Chili, Cilantro and Yuzu
  • Tuna Tartare on Egg Salad with Tobiko Caviar
  • Crudo of California Halibut with Lemon, Sea Salt and Leccino Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Chawan Mushi Custard with Sea Urchin and Mitsuba
Attendees will also receive -- at no extra charge -- samples of the dishes prepared, up to two glasses of wine, and copies of the recipes for all four items.   You can register for the class by calling 650.685.3704, or by using the online registration form.

It's been a while since I last attended a Draeger's cooking class, but I've always found them to be a fun way to spend an evening.   It's true that the samples provided during the class are typically insufficient to constitute a full meal, and one could probably enjoy a complete dinner at Ame for around $75 per person.   Still, the class provides a rare opportunity to interact with the chefs as they prepare and discuss their dishes, and the recipes that are distributed are definitely an added benefit.   So, please check it out if you are so inclined!

Monday, June 19, 2006

When Life Gets In The Way Of Blogging...

When I started this blog in mid-2005, I found myself in the fortunate situation of facing a temporary lull in my normally hectic work schedule.   This allowed me to do the necessary legwork to get the site up and running, to put together detailed and sometimes lengthy pieces, and to post regularly and frequently.   As the summer turned into fall, my work obligations started to heat up and my personal time began to dwindle.   Still, I managed to keep posting.

And then came the new year.   Now, I've been working as an attorney since 1993, and none of those thirteen years could fairly be characterized as a walk in the park.   But I have never experienced anything like the intensity of the storm that hit in January and that continued, unabated, until this past week.   Three of my cases all exploded at once, drowning me in an ocean of work and all but eliminating my free time.   Indeed, the circumstances were so dire, that I found myself on pace to log more hours at work this year than at any other time in my professional career, and by a longshot at that.

The culmination of this insanity was set to be happening right now, with a major hearing in one case scheduled for Thursday of last week and a full-blown trial in another case slated for the entirety of this week.   But last Tuesday, without warning, we suddenly received word that Thursday's hearing was being vacated by the court and reset for early July.   And before we had even fully processed this unexpected development, we received word from our other client that the case set for trial had settled -- after four long years of hard-fought litigation, and a three-week trial that was held last year.   And so it was that the overbearing demands of two roaring cases that had been crashing down upon me one day had completely vanished a mere 24 hours later, leaving me with an opportunity, at long last, to take a breath.

That said, I'm not yet out of the woods.   I still have two cases that remain relatively active, so it will remain difficult for me to post lengthy pieces that take days upon days to compose.   But rather than prolonging my self-imposed exile from the blog any further, I'm going to start putting up shorter posts that will at least enable me to convey some of the outstanding food and restaurant experiences that I've had over the past several months.   And once things settle down at work, I will return to longer pieces -- including some restaurant reviews that are now long overdue.