A16 – San Francisco, CA


A16
2355 Chestnut Street
San Francisco, CA
(415) 771-2216

Whenever I am in a city with great pizza, I make sure to eat as much of it as I can while I am there.  San Francisco has a great pizza scene and I managed to eat at Pizzeria Delfina and A16 on this trip. (I note that Foodosophy member almatonne recently covered Pizzeria Delfina here.)

The pizza here is a thing of beauty – leopard-spotted from the intense heat of their wood fired oven. I had the baby octopus and clam pizza tonight. The crust was near perfect (though not quite as perfect as the crust at Pizzeria Delfina) and the toppings were well seasoned and well balanced.

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Toro Bravo – Portland, OR


Toro Bravo
120 NE Russell St
Portland, OR
(503) 281-4464

Recently, I had the pleasure of spending some quality eating time in Portland. I have been to this city many times before as I have relatives who live there. I often go down to visit, but my eating is usually limited to one or two restaurants. This visit was different…I was on a mission to survey one of the most exciting cities in the continent to eat.

Toro Bravo has been on my list for a long time. It is the kind of restaurant that I wish we had here in Vancouver. It has an  farm-to-table ethos that is coupled with approachability and accessibility…a combination that is non-existent here in Vancouver. It was devoid of the typical pretensions and other baggage that I am used to experiencing at similar restaurants in my home city. It really felt like a neighbourhood restaurant – full of families with their children dining on communal tables.

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La Gloria – Bellingham, WA


La Gloria
4140 Meridian Street
Bellingham, WA
(360) 733-9102

I love to eat at ethnic hole-in-the-wall restaurants. These little joints plug away making tasty food oblivious to the ongoing debates about culinary authenticity and ethnicity. This insulation from such gastronomic banter is what makes good holes-in-the-wall so endearing and finding them such a satisfying experience. One such place is the humble La Gloria – part restaurant and part grocery store – located just south of the 49th parallel in Bellingham WA.

It is no secret that Vancouver has dearth of decent Mexican food. It is an issue of demographics and immigration patterns, of course. We just do not have the population of Mexican immigrants to support many authentic Mexican restaurants. La Gloria serves some of the tastiest and most authentic Mexican food within a day’s drive of Vancouver.

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Pizzeria Delfina – San Francisco, CA


Pizzeria Delfina – two locations
3611 18th St, San Francisco, CA.  (415) 437-6800
2406 California St, San Francisco, CA.  (415) 440-1189

[Note: Foodosopher’s previous post on Pizzeria Delfina here]

The San Francisco Bay Area is usually considered one of the top cities in the country to eat pizza.  Of the many well-regarded pizza places (A16, Piccolo, Pizzaiolo, Tony’s, Pizzetta 211, Dopo, et al.) Pizzeria Delfina is considered amongst the best, with a style that is typically described as Napoletana-inspired.

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La Posta Vecchia – Santa Cruz, CA


La Posta Vecchia
538 Seabright Ave.
Santa Cruz, CA 95062
(831) 457-2782

California has a long tradition of Italian immigration beginning in the 19th century.  Although New York is probably more closely associated with this wave of newcomers, in the mid-1800s California had the most Italian immigrants of any state.  In Santa Cruz and elsewhere along the coast, northern Italians quickly became very prominent in the fishing industry.  They also played important roles in developing California’s vegetable, fruit and wine industries.

Even today, one can see the imprint of this immigration (e.g. Del Monte foods, Ghirardelli chocolates).  Perhaps this explains this state’s strong ties to Italian cuisine – indeed, California cuisine in my mind is primarily rooted in Italian sensibilities with French, other European and some Asian techniques and ingredients thrown in for good measure.  Despite this, it’s only been in the last decade or so that authentic regional Italian food has been widely available.

Russian River Brewing Company – Santa Rosa, CA


Russian River Brewing Company
725 4th Street
Santa Rosa, CA 95404
707-545-2337

A few years ago, I unwittingly developed a taste for American IPAs.  From years back I enjoyed the IPA from Bridgeport, the rather enjoyable brew pub in Portland, OR whose killer app is the aroma from its non-stop pizza ovens combined with a variety of decent beers.  But for whatever reason, a couple of years ago, I went from occasionally enjoying an IPA to suddenly finding it to be my favorite style of beer – well, provided it’s a west coast IPA, which I find to be cleaner, more focused and stylish than its Pacific-removed brethren.   The recent evolution of IPA (as the story goes) took a step forward when Vinnie Cilurzo, then at Blind Pig in San Diego, jacked up the regular IPA with even more hops, and balanced the extra bitterness with more sweetness from malt, which inevitably led to more alcohol. And thus the double IPA was born.  <Cue the manna from heaven sound effect.>   Now Mr. Cilurzo is co-owner (with his wife) of the Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa, CA, smack in the middle of California’s touristsorry, wine – country.

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Lucky Strike – Portland, OR


Lucky Strike
3862 Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard
Portland, OR 97214
(503) 206-8292

I’ve always been more than a bit suspicious of Chinese restaurants whose appearance doesn’t scream “Chinese,” – meaning the divey dumpling joint with specials written on the walls only in Chinese characters or the slightly-tacky upscale Cantonese seafood palace/aquarium – as if compromise in decor suggests similar in the kitchen.  Lucky Strike is a Sichuan restaurant with an unfortunate name and a decor which screams “Portland” despite the Chinese theme. Portland oozes hip from seemingly every pore, and no number of dragons is sufficient as camoflage.  Countering my normal skepticism were a number of strong reports of real Sichuan food.

Balance is certainly one of the hallmarks of great food no matter what price point or region.  Cantonese food seems to balance the sublest flavors like a game of Jenga in a windstorm – the smallest wrong move and the whole thing comes tumbling down. Sichuan food balances flavor Jenga blocks the size of entire buildings, with flavors almost bigger in scale than appropriate for humans. It’s no wonder that some Sichuanese (apocryphally?) wonder why all other cuisines taste so bland.  Two of the key flavors are ma, usually translated as “numbing” but to me has a strong hint of “tingling” as well, and la or spicy/hot. The former comes from huajiao or Sichuan peppercorn (among a whole list of names).

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