I have a friend who says, “My camera eats first.” Well, unfortunately, I’m not quite as good at documenting my meals or company at fancy restaurants but I have had two delicious dining out experiences lately.
Last week, I went out to 7 Adams with two colleagues. We had some funds to spend for “team-building.” One of the women is known for stellar restaurant recommendations and she picked another winner. The restaurant features a tasting menu, with some set appetizers and a few choices for the mains. We started off with himachi, followed by a broccoli dish (above). For my pasta main, I picked a fancy ravioli/tortellini hybrid (a carmelle!) that was amazing. For the meat, I selected the black cod, followed by an apple tart for dessert. The meal was spectacular. I’m actually heading back soon on a double date with SMS and two friends of ours.
On Saturday, SMS and I used his birthday gift card to eat at Ethyl’s Fancy. We took the train, and I was about to miss the stop since I thought it was off of California Ave (mid-Palo Alto) rather than University. But we made it and had a nice date night. We split several “morsels” that included oysters, greens, milk bread, and miso marinated cucumbers. We split the mains of halibut and porkbelly. The food was excellent and we will definitely be back! SMS noted that when it first opened, the food was a lot more experimental in its combos. Now, it still seems innovative but I think it would appeal to a wider range of palates.
While planning for the trip, a common theme seemed to be that reservations at restaurants were highly recommended. And honestly, it’s so easy to do in the age of the internet and excellent translation, that why not?
In Rotterdam, I read about De Matroos en het Meisje and thought it sounded absolutely delicious. It also seemed to be reasonable in its portion-sizes and since we could pick 4 or 5 courses, it sounded perfect since appetites can be unpredictable while traveling!
SMS and I picked the four course option. I picked the wine pairing, which is available by full and half glasses. I picked the full glass pairing since I am a lush planned on sharing with SMS.
Our first taste was an amusé bouche, which was a tomato tartlet with a special oil. Afterwards, the server came and poured the first wine. I was afraid I had ate the food before the pairing. Never fear! They were very focused on pouring the wine before the pairing.
The actual first course was a grilled corn on Jerusalem artichoke purée with corn ice cream. Delicious! The waiter said how he and the staff thought that savory ice cream was the new culinary trend. In his words, what yuzu was a few years ago.
The second course was a fennel, sea leaf, crunchy zest, and flavored thin dressing that was wonderful. The pairing was with a young Spanish wine from a winery outside Madrid that is owned by a young couple. When I asked if the wines were from places where the chef knew people, the waitress shrugged and said, “No, it’s what the distributor tells us.”
The main course was absolutely delicious: morel mushrooms, delicate mackerel, turnips, artichoke purée, and “gravy from young cow.” It was paired with Sabia and overall, I think this was my favorite course! The corn may be tied.
The dessert was a smooth, liquid-y marangue on top of more ice cream and some crunchy crumbles. It wasn’t the most beautiful looking thing on the plate, but it was tasty.
Dinner was on the sidewalk next to a large square where people were walking, kids were playing games, and other restaurants had tables set up. It felt so neighborly that it was a lovely feeling to carry through a meal. The four course option was also nice to have a meal that was large, but manageable. I definitely recommend this restaurant in Rotterdam!
In the course of my Amsterdam research, I came across de Kas restaurant. It is a highly regarded restaurant within a greenhouse that serves lunch and dinner. Perfect! We prefer to have a larger lunch than dinner and it really sounded like a cool place with delicious food.
Our reservation was at 1215 on our last day in Amsterdam. SMS was very concerned about being on time because he had picked up my phone when they called to confirm the reservation and he said they sounded very stern. Don’t worry, I wanted to be on time too! We took two trams across town to get there. It is outside the tourist center and took about half an hour, but it didn’t feel long at all. Our stop was just across the pedestrian bridge that led into the park and right in front of De Kas.
The hostess was quite nice and efficient. We were seated along the periphery of the room in a great location. I looked into the restaurant and SMS looked through the glass to the outside. He let me know of any and all cute dogs passing by. We also saw a heron grab a crab in the marshy pond outside the restaurant.
We were seated and met our waiter, who seemed like a nice young man (how to sound old lady without even trying). He had just come back from a seven week vacation and said he was a little rusty, but he seemed great to us!
We started off with “snacks,” which was a delicious bread course, olive oil (neutral, not v peppery), and a tapioca crisp served with a celeriac root emulsion.
Next, we ordered oysters that were so good! Medium sized, meaty, and pretty neutral. Not overly briny and definitely not buttery like East Coast US oysters. We both went with the vinaigrette with shallots. There was an oyster/beef tartare option that is probably amazing. It was tempting to try that spin on surf & turf, but we stayed with a reliable basic.
After snacks, we had a few bites of different amuse boche. These included radishes in a poppy seed crumble, a gazpacho of green herbs, and tempura squash. All were wonderful.
We started with our first course, a sliced tomato, basil, fennel, and strawberry stack with olive oil and a gochugaru pepper oil. It was nice, but the tomatoes were on the good side, rather than super delicious. This is a super minor point since the flavors were really cool. I’m going to try and play up the sweet in tomatoes in a future dish since I so often focus on the savory. But the strawberries in this dish were super cool.
Next we had a lemongrass foam, pea, plum and fennel stack that was a wonderful mix of textures and taste.
Our main course was an amazing mackerel dish with more foam. Oh my gosh, it was like eating the freshest fish with a taste of the ocean. Not too salty, but so savory and so good! This was really an exceptional dish!
It is possible to order 3 or 4 courses at lunch. This translates into lunch +/- dessert. SMS and I decided to go for it. We were so into the place, plus the dishes hadn’t been too large. Dessert was a super indulgent blackberry, chocolate brownie/cake, and super rich chocolate gelato. It was so good.
But then it kept going! There were two complimentary desserts, which we definitely hadn’t realized. The first was a canelé with red berries, followed by a “flower” sorbet that was exquisite. SMS was a huge fan- we’re still talking about it!
After we finished, we ditched. Jk, we paid like civilized humans and then toured the greenhouse & gardens. Oh, and in case you’re wondering since it was a hot day, the restaurant part of the greenhouse is temperature-controlled and was delightful. The AC is kept a little higher than it would be in many American places, but it’s very comfortable.
After our short walk, we headed back to our hotel to pick up our bags and head to Leiden. Lunch was really a delightful treat and a fun way to experience a culinary feast.
I decided I wanted to go to Healdsburg for my birthday after a too-short day trip there a couple of months ago. When planning our Healdsburg vacation, SMS sent me a text saying, “Hey, if you haven’t made plans, check out Singlethread.” Well, I did. I wondered who had hacked into my husband’s phone since the luxury level of the place is sky-high with a price tag to match but after reading about the Japanese influenced American hospitality, I was hooked. I booked a single night room-dinner reservation for 1 April, Birthday Eve!
The entire experience was amazing. I’ve linked to an article that goes into exhaustive detail about the restaurant and inn. We were lucky enough to be upgraded to the suite since no one had booked it for that night. Yay, so lucky! The room was absolutely gorgeous and filled with incredible amenities. The spirit behind the inn is from Japanese: omotenashi, the “spirit of selfless hospitality, anticipating needs without having to be asked” per Kyle Connaughton. I got this quote from the article as we weren’t quite at the level of hangin’ with Kyle for the evening.
Some of my favorite highlights of the room include the gorgeous, minimalist design; the subdue color palate, heavy on the gray; the in-room wine and Pliny the Elder beer, which allowed us to have a true NorCal drinking experience; the homemade ice cream; the homemade candy bar; the super-deep bath with a huge scoop of bath salts; the Aesop toiletries; and the Toto toilet!
After lounging about the room and trying to maintain the delicate balance of snacking without ruining our appetites for dinner, we headed to the roof around 5:30. They weren’t staffed to have all the diners start their experience up there but we were allowed since we were hotel guests. Again, the weather was gorgeous and SMS and I wandered around the rooftop, mobile gardens.
At 6, we headed down to dinner. We had a welcome drink from Brent via the “culinary window” that allows arriving guests to see into the kitchen. Then we were seated in this nice corner table with a wrap-around wall bench which means we both got to sit on the bench rather than one bench, one chair.
The food was, surprise, amazing! The meal starts with an incredibly elaborate appetizer course, which I think would be called Sakizuke/Zensai in Japanese. A beautiful multi-leveled stone platter is covered in moss and seasonal flowers. Set upon and within the moss are several small appetizer dishes (1-3 bites) on assorted ceramic dishes. On the menu, this is identified by the unifying theme of “Early Spring in Sonoma.” The dishes included a cauliflower panna cota, a shot-size chawanmushi (savory egg custard), a light miso soup, rice, baby barracuda, pickled veggies, greens in miso dressing, steamed and marinated kohlrabi, a perfect scallop, unagi (eel) on greens. It was an over-abundance of perfectly crafted, delicious distillations of culinary delights! Keep in mind, this is just the first course and I’m fairly certain I missed a dish or two!
[In fact, the next day, our breakfast waitress mentioned that during a recent fund-raiser with several visiting Japanese chefs, the chefs commented that the first course seemed the most “American” because of the quantity of dishes. Whether that’s a compliment or complaint, I found the first course to be fantastic!]
I kid you not when I say that every dish was amazing. The diner doesn’t actually get the menu until the very end so the composition and number of courses were a surprise. I didn’t take many pictures after the first course because I just wanted to savor the sensory experience unadultured, rather than through my phone.
The yellowtail was delicious with brûlée miso. Umami was definitely a feature of most dishes. The Dungeness crab dish was similar to a deconstructed crab bisque, which is still a completely inadequate explanation. It was an explosion of savory, rich crab…hmmm, I feel like my descriptions are just getting worse and worse. I’ll work on it. Trust me when I say it was awesome, rather than conjuring up an outtake from SpongeBob.
The king salmon was an exquisite cut of salmon with a fattiness similar to the best cut of toro. Of course, it tasted like salmon but it was so rich! The poached fois gras was so delicious, I didn’t even feel badly about eating it. Ok, maybe a little bit.
I don’t remember the black cod quite as well, but keep in mind that we are several courses in combined with an excellent wine pairing. But don’t worry, my memory isn’t completely faded because the lamb dish made quite an impression. The saddle cut had perfect marbled lamb. I am running out of superlatives and this dish definitely deserved one!
The Sonoma grains was good, but we were running out of steam. We ate most, but not all of it as it was rather hearty and dessert was coming! The sherbet was a nice palate cleanser and the pecan ice cream was perfect. The ice cream was my favorite although we did enjoy the one bite dessert finishers to finish the meal.
On the menu photo above, you’ll notice that the wine pairings are listed. SMS had ordered the non-alcoholic pairing so he had that on his menu. We each drank most of our individual pairing but usually shared a sip or two with each other. SMS’ pairing had some fairly experimental drinks meant to complement the dishes such as a dashi-based and whey-based drink for two of the courses. It was very cool but both SMS and I thought the pairing would be exclusively mocktail-focused.
The whole experience was exquisite. I felt so happy and lucky to be with SMS in such a perfect environment with an exceptional menu. It was definitely extravagant but so incredibly memorable. Thanks for the find, SMS!!!
Two nights before our amazing dinner, while wandering the Gion District along the banks of the Shirakawa River, SMS spotted the scene below across the water…
The restaurant looked awesome and instantly, we all knew we wanted to eat there. We found the front entrance and tried to get in but it is reservation-only. Saddened but not defeated, we trudged away to the lamb shop to plot our next step. Ok, ok, that sounds much more nefarious than it was. I had grabbed a business card at the restaurant, which was exclusively in Kanji. I emailed it to the caretaker of our Machiya and asked him to make a reservation. Voila! We were in!
The restaurant was Takuna, a restaurant specializing in an amazing sushi and vegetable heavy meal presented in multiple courses. The chef:diner ratio was about 1:1. There were a few chefs who spoke passable English and their information greatly enhanced our experience.
The happy dining crew, before we’ve even started to feast!
The chefs took our picture before we even started our meal, which was nice since they were busy prepping! The menus in front of us had the Kanji to an old Kyoto drinking song on it. Although she’s not in the picture, the woman to Rip’s right was a lovely Japanese woman out celebrating with her husband. They were first-time grandparents and they were out celebrating even though on a day-to-day basis, the woman explained, “We go like this! *makes repetitive fist bumping gestures* Always fighting!” She was really great in describing some of the courses that were a little harder to figure out. It also made the dining experience a little more communal in feeling.
Linda took pictures of all the courses while I took furious notes.
1. Plate of assorted bite-size treats: roasted ginan (gingko nuts), tofu, a gelatin mixed greens cube, pickled onions and the world’s most perfect potato chip
2. Amazingly delicious sashimi with Shoyu foam. It was awesome! Soy sauce foam, so light on the fish. Delectable!
3. Broth-based soup with mushrooms and white fish. It was in a larger, almost tea-pot like container and the broth was poured out into a tiny cup
4. Sawara (Spanish Mackerel) with daikon
5. Steamed vegetables
6. Tempura- lotus, pepper, fish
7. Sushi with a vinegar sauce that shredded ginger was stirred into (Demonstrated by Rip’s dining partner)
8.Tofu wrapped unagi in a miso-broth soup
9. Iribancha (smoked tea), rice, dark miso soup and pickles
10. Dessert plate: Apple slice, Persimmon slice, squash ice cream (YUM! For real), cake and kochi
[Two women next to me ordered the other set and seemed to have more sashimi, a small fish speared on a small wooden skewer and cooked whole, and a shabu-shabu course]
At the end of the meal we saw the sagi, or lonely bird sitting outside the window. It was hard to tell if it was hungrily looking in or down at the water. Probably in.
Reading the list above, some of the descriptions are very basic but the dishes were spectacular. The vegetables were delicious and able to stand on their own as courses. The fish was perfectly cooked. The sawara was cooked on little skewers on a charcoal grill right in front of us, impeccably timed to correspond with our being ready for the next course. Yum, yum!
There were two set courses to choose from and we chose the less expensive option. It wasn’t inexpensive, just less expensive but we thought it was worth every penny. Not only was the food exquisite, but the two hour production that we got to watch as we ate the results was really incredible to observe.