Archive for the ‘Restaurant’ Category

TBD and AQ: Two Restaurants, One Memorable Dining Experience

by Nikki Lincoln

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Courtesy of Thrillist.com

When I signed on to write for this blog, one of the things I was really excited to write about was food and frankly, I haven’t really written too much about it at all. However, this week I had such a crazy dining experience that I decided it was time to take a break from your irregularly scheduled programming and tell you a story about a recent dining experience (there is wine too though, of course).

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One of my favorite parts about living in San Francisco are all of the new restaurants that are constantly popping up around the city. Food has been around as long as people have so it never ceases to amaze me that chefs and restaurateurs are constantly thinking of new concepts for dining experiences. When my friend, Shannon, sent me this article about a new restaurant called TBD opening near my apartment, I was once again amazed and excited to try it out.

20131113_201536The two of us had originally planned to go to the rock climbing gym before dinner so our reservation was pretty late. However, those plans fell through and we decided to show up early to see if we could get a table early or at least get started on some drinks. Our table wasn’t ready early but after browsing through the wine list, Shannon spotted a wine called “The Chocolate Block” and wanted to get it based on name alone. As it turns out, this was one of my favorite wines from South Africa and we decided to just get a bottle and start enjoying it while we waited. We talked about other restaurants we should visit, including TBD’s neighbor (with the same owner) AQ. The wine is a Syrah, Grenache, Cabernet, Cinsault, Viognier blend from the Western Cape as has an amazingly fruit forward nose with delicate black fruit flavor. It is a really enjoyable blend and I would like to pick up a few bottles of it for the house.

The restaurant seated us exactly on time and we quickly knew what we wanted to get after perusing the menu while we waited. Neither of us eat any gluten and Shannon is lactose intolerate. The restaurant had actually called ahead to check for any dietary restrictions or allergies and after we ordered, they checked to see if the dishes were all ok. It was a really appreciated extra touch that can make a big difference in a dining experience. We’ve both become really good at sifting through menus for things that are ok but a lot of times there are unlisted ingredients and it was helpful to have the restaurant checking as well.

Our first dish was a grilled lettuce and duck prosciutto salad. It was incredible and we both loved how the char on the lettuce tasted. As our second dish, a plate of thinly sliced cured ham, appeared, Shannon began to notice it was a bit smoky in the restaurant. With an open kitchen format, it was easy to see the chefs clamoring around the grill. She noted that maybe the hood was broken and we went back to our ham. As two people who love cured meats (I’m a bit worried at the moment because I only have two packages of bacon at home at the moment), this was an amazing treat. There was a great level of saltiness and the texture ranged from chewy to crispy. It was amazing.

Our third dish, a scallop and persimmon ceviche, was dropped at our table when the manager came by and asked if we could step outside while they tried to restart the hood (“I knew it”). We could take our wine with us and they would let us know when it was clear. We grabbed our classes and headed outside with both of us thinking that we should have at least tried a bite of our ceviche before getting up.

It was pretty clear to see that we would not be going back into the restaurant. The servers brought us out our ceviche and the rest of our wine. They also gave out some pumpkin spice soft serve and some sort of cake. They let us know that whatever we were able to enjoy would be comped and the manager gave out his card and said that we could contact him directly for future reservations and he would handle it directly. Then, he came around and said they may be able to accommodate some people next door at AQ.

We headed over there with our wine and were able to be seated rather quickly. We ordered a dish to share and an entree for each of us. Shannon got a quail and sweetbreads dish and I got a lamb with pomegranate. They were both amazing and afterwards, the servers brought around the only gluten free dessert they had. Everything here ended up being comped as well and so we left a nice tip and headed home.

Courtesy of SFGate.com

I don’t think there is anything I appreciate more than great customer service. TBD and AQ delivered this and so much more. Eating out is about good food but it’s also about stepping out of your own kitchen and getting treated well. Sometimes things happen that are out of anyone’s control and in this case, I couldn’t imagine it being handled any better than how TBD and AQ handled it. Everyone was polite and accommodating. That goes both ways. The restaurant couldn’t help what happened, we didn’t need to make it worse by being difficult customers. All in all, it ended up being a great night with great food, and a fun little story.

Great New Restaurant & Wine Bar opens in Healdsburg – Affronti

When Palette Art Café in Healdsburg closed before I could even try it, I was bummed. So, I was glad last week to learn via Facebook that a new wine bar and restaurant had opened in the same space – Affronti.

You don’t believe Social Media helps small businesses?  Think again.  If it hadn’t been for the post about Affronti by the “What’s Happening Healdsburg” Group ( it may have been months before I found it. I decided to check it out Friday night after flying back from Portland on business.  Since it would be late and I’d be hungry, cooking would not be on the agenda that night.

It’s in a good location in Healdsburg in that it’s only a block from the square, and right as you come into town.  Although, it’s hidden mid-building, so signage, visibility, and word of mouth are going to be important for success. They have a website, and a Facebook fan sight just started. Initial buzz has been good.

Affronti dining roomI really like the layout of the place. Outside, there is a big courtyard (great in summer, and could be used as spillover in warmer nights, with heat lamps).  The inside space is warm, open, and inviting. The bar is comfortable. There is also a section with cozy couches for hanging out with cocktails. If this place takes off, it will need more space like this….Healdsburg desperately needs more places where you can lounge on a comfy couch with a cocktail.

The server was prompt, courteous, knowledgeable, and attentive throughout the evening – as soon as a plate was done, or a glass empty, he was there intuitively to serve.

I really like the wine menu.

Huge kudos for offering mostly, but not all, local wines.  And yet finding interesting varietals and blends to pour, instead of the standard tired list of Pinot, Chard, Zin etc. zzzzz.

These included a Roussanne/Marsanne from Arrowwood, Fiano from Seghesio, Grenache Noir from Unti, to name a few – Bravo. Their unique wine cocktail list looked great too with creative libations made from wine, and sake, like the Alexander’s cup – viognier, ginger beer, cucumber, and strawberry.Affronti bar

Chef-Owner, Jude Affronti, has quite the pedigree of experience, and doesn’t disappoint.

The menu offers something for all appetites. The ‘bits and bites’ are great single serving nibbles. I highly recommend the flakey tartines. The spinach salad was big and well done with nice chunks of savory bacon. Soup of the day was a creamy leek and parsley that was delicious and not too heavy. The only dish that didn’t float my boat was the rillettte slow cooked duck small plate. Besides the bits and bites, and the single small plates, the menu at that time had four choices for dinner-sized plates as well. Included was a local fish ‘en papiote’ that sounded tempting.  The menu on their website as of time of this article only had a fraction of what the printed menu had, so don’t let that dissuade you.  There were also some tasty look desert choices – the chocolate terrine has my name on it for next time.

Affronti loungey areaTheir description via the website: “Affronti brings a unique “mix and match” menu format to the downtown restaurant scene; allowing diners to experience a wide range of sophisticated, yet accessible tastes without breaking the bank. From the colorful eye appeal of bar bites and small plates to the intriguing combinations of flavors and textures found in ”something bigger to share” selection, Mediterranean cooking influences fuse with local ingredients to reflect both the bounty and heritage of Sonoma County.”

I’d have to concur with this – reasonable prices, quality food, good ambience, creative cocktails and wine selections – finally! They have “social hour’ specials 4-6:30 pm, Jazz brunch on Sundays, and live Music Thursday nights.  This is my new hangout of choice – check it out, support it, so great venues like this stay in business. (p.s. check out my other new favorite in Windsor – Vine Tastings – I plan to review their great new menu next week.)  235 Healdsburg Ave, #105, Healdsburg.

Cheers!

Sunday Brunch at Corks Restaurant, at Russian River Vineyards

It was a Sunday morning after a few too many cocktails. After a hike to try and shake it off, my out of town visitors and I were starving and wanted late (1pm!) breakfast combined with some sightseeing. To capture both, I chose Corks, which I have driven by many times, but have never stopped. I have also noticed their various fixed price events and have not yet attended. Plus, they had wine tasting, so we could kill 3 birds at once.

I made an Opentable reservation, and headed over. They have both inside and outside seating….so we sat outside to take advantage of a perfect mid 80s day. The patio has decent views, and is more casual than inside. The staff is super attentive and friendly. We were never forgotten, and things came out promptly.

Yummy cranberry scones were brought right away, and I promptly inhaled mine.
corks
The wine list offers many of their own varietals, reasonably priced, as well as some good Russian River choices nearby, such as Woodenhead and Carol Shelton. While others ordered mimosas, I went for the undiluted bubbles. Given that the Non Vintage Brut was $5, I wasn’t expecting much. It was better used in a mimosa, big lazy bubbles, and also served too warm. It was pretty much the only downside of the experience, and a minor one at that.

The eggs Benedict selection was ordered all around, both veggie and regular. Each version was very good, served with potatoes and bell peppers. I forgot to ask for the hollandaise sauce on the side, but it wasn’t overpowering. The Canadian bacon was yummy, tender enough to cut with a fork, and not overly salty.

It was a simple breakfast: prompt, tasty and hit the spot. And, again, the service was excellent.

After brunch, we made a quick stop at the wine tasting bar. I was really just looking for the higher end Pinot, but that wasn’t being tasted. They had a varied list of varietals, mostly in the $20 range….I just wasn’t in the mood, nor was my palette, for slogging through lower end stuff. So, I just tried their 2007 Pinot, and moved on.

The tasting fee is a reasonable $5, and I believe waived with purchase.
I didn’t inquire if the wine tasting area is dog friendly. Given that it’s inside the restaurant, I doubt it.

I will come back for a dinner event, and try the rest of the wines…it would be a good way to warm up for dinner. Corkage, I believe, is a reasonable $15. (Sunday night they had bbq and a live music special.)

For you tourists cruising through this part of town, it’s a worthwhile stop for a bite, (and casual wine tasting) especially given that restaurants aren’t abundant. For us locals, the prix fixe offerings seem worth checking out, will come back and review again.

About Corks:
Corks features a complete luncheon menu, including vegetarian dishes, from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Saturdays and 10:30 a.m to 2:30 pm on Sundays. A full dinner menu is served Thursday through Saturday, from 5:00 to 9:00 p.m., with an additional four-course, prix fixe option. The menu changes weekly to capture the very best of the seasonal produce from local purveyors.

On Monday night, Corks’ offers Pasta King Night, featuring the fine fare of Sonoma County’s ever-popular Art Ibleto. Enjoy a selection of Art’s Italian specialties, served buffet-style from 5 to 8 pm, for $12 per person, $6.00 for children under the age of 10.

On Wednesday night and Sunday afternoon, diners can enjoy a midweek treat with JB’s Barbecue, showcasing barbecued tri-tip & chicken, caesar salad, baked beans, corn on the cob and a selection of all-you-can-eat pasta. Served from 5 to 8 pm for $15 per person, $10 for children under the age of 10.

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