After having pneumonia in 2011, I don’t get sick too often. So imagine my surprise when I got a tingle in my throat earlier in the week, which escalated to a fever the next night (during a coding exam no less – which I aced!), and then full blown coughs, 102°F fever, and aches the next day. Hi Flu, it’s been a while.
Luckily, flus for me tend to go hard for a day or two and fizzle out. This one was no different – I currently have major congestion and occasional coughs left. I’ll take that over aches, fatigue, chills, and fever any day. Hopefully I’ll be back to 100% by my wedding this weekend!
During the worst of it, I had dinner plans at a new restaurant, Hiroshi in Los Altos. This wasn’t just any dinner, this was a semi-secret wagyu dinner with a private dining room concept – one seating a day, for a party of eight. There was minimal information about the restaurant online, and I only heard about it from a chef friend of Mr. A’s. The thought of missing this dinner was beyond tragic, so I eeked out the small amount of energy I had and stuck to plan. Whether I was being responsible to my fellow non-sick diners is another matter…
When I entered the dining room, I knew I made the right choice. From the stunning dining table made from an 800-year-old Japanese keyaki tree to the hand cut crystal collection, it was clear that this would be a fine dining experience. Chef Hiroshi Kimura came from Kobe, Japan, home to the finest kobe strain of wagyu.
In contrast to my recap of the most memorable dishes this year, it was surprisingly easy to pick my top three favorite restaurant experiences. 2016 was a weak year for new restaurants in the Bay Area, so the standouts were established, proven destinations. Excellent food was just the baseline, and what made them my favorite is a combination of uniqueness and personal significance.
Let’s get right to it!
Number Three – Benu, San Francisco, California
This was our second visit to Benu, two-and-a-half years after our first. The meal was actually the backup birthday dinner for Mr. A. My first pick, SingleThread Farms in Healdsburg, kept encountering opening delays. Luckily, I had the foresight to reserve a backup 60 days in advance!
I knew this would be a standout surprise dinner. We are big fans of Chef Corey Lee, and our first Benu meal was one of our favorite meals to date. Their xiao long bao (XLB) soup dumplings are literally perfection – the thinnest skin, millimeters from bursting, and the most amazing, rich broth center.
The first time we had the foie gras pork XLB, and the second meal was lobster coral XLB. I preferred the first, but both were leagues better than any other XLB I’ve experienced.
#13 lobster coral xiao long bao – Benu, SF, Oct 2016
It seems like 2016 was a tough year for most people, including myself. World news and politics aside, it was stormy in my own life at times. But I now find myself at the end of another year, reflecting on the many positive moments. One of my favorite memories was sitting on a pebble beach near Hualien, Taiwan, watching my fiancé and my dad walk along the water and collect pebbles.
2016 was also full of delicious food experiences, both new and old. I visited Japan for my first time and had not one, but three kaiseki meals in Kyoto. I highly recommend experiencing Kyoto kaiseki at least once, but definitely not three back-to-back like I did. My belief about Japanese portions being small? Definitely not true with kaiseki.
To send off 2016, here were the most memorable dishes of my year:
Most Adventurous Dish: Seared Raw Chicken – Ichimatsu (市松), Osaka, Japan
I had a grand total of one birthday party as a kid and it was a joint celebration months ahead of my actual birthday. I’m also not one to expect extravagant gestures. Having said that, it does feel nice to be spoiled once in a while. My birthday this year was all that and more, thanks to my amazing partner!
I was whisked away to Chicago, and the itinerary was a complete surprise. Once in Chicago, I guessed that one of the meals would be Grace, 42 Grams, or the legendary Alinea. Well lucky me, it was Alinea!
Alinea recently transformed their dining experience with a new menu and interior decor. I wasn’t able to visit pre-renovation, so I can’t compare, but the new “2.0” menu was ridiculously delightful. They excel at incorporating all senses, and the performance aspect was far above my other 3-Michelin star experiences. The food itself was also very good and in my top three.
We had the upstairs Salon menu, which was the shortest of the menu options. With 11 complex courses, I left thoroughly satisfied. I can only imagine what the Gallery or Kitchen Table menus must be like. A future trip for sure!
While planning my first ever trip to Japan, I knew I had to stay in a traditional ryokan inn. Ryokans are a good way to experience Japanese hospitality. Common elements include traditional tatami mat rooms, yukata garb (pictured above), and communal baths. Most ryokans include an elaborate multi-course dinner in the kaiseki style, as well as breakfast, with both meals served in your room.
Kyoto was the ideal city for this experience as they are known for their upscale ryokans and the ultimate in kaiseki ryori cuisine. We stayed in Arashiyama, a scenic town 20 minutes outside of central Kyoto. Ryokans usually have limited capacity, so I booked months in advance. Ryotei Rangetsu was well reviewed and offered online booking through English travel sites, making the process straightforward.
The first Bay Area location of Din Tai Fung (DTF!) opened in Santa Clara last week and lines were so astronomically bad, that DTF decided to implement their first ever reservation system. And now someone is selling reservations on craigslist for $50. Seriously?!
While I appreciate the quality and consistency of their product, I haven’t been blown away by their dumplings. And I’m not convinced their product is worth a three hour wait. Before I get ahead of myself, here’s some background:
Din Tai Fung makes Taiwanese xiao long bao aka XLB aka “soup dumplings.” XLB originated in Shanghai and traditionally featured thicker skin with little soup. This evolved into what is technically called xiao long tang bao (tang meaning soup in Mandarin). This thinner skin and juicier version is the one we commonly see served now and what Din Tai Fung popularized.
My first XLB experience was at Joe’s Shanghai in NYC in my tweens. That was a while ago, and my memory isn’t perfect, but I still remember how juicy the XLB were. Joe’s version is not as petite or refined as DTF’s, but they are generous with the soup filling and that’s what stuck with me after all these years.Continue reading “Journey to the Original Din Tai Fung”→
Last month, I visited LA for a weekend (mega) food tour. I believe that was the most volume of food I’ve ever eaten in a 48 hour period. It was certainly a bit painful but worth it. All six meals I ate were memorable, but the Chef’s table dinner at Providence was of another caliber. Through the elevated ingredients, technique, and service, Chef Michael Cimarusti and team delivered a harmonious seafood fine dining experience.
Providence’s private Chef’s table is one of best setups I’ve seen. You are in an enclosed room, facing a glass wall that gives you a full view of the kitchen. It’s a cool bubble to dine in, though you can’t interact with the kitchen staff.