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Hog & Rocks, San Francisco CA

black point oyster shell

black point oyster shell

August 5 this year is National Oyster Day, so we ditched our original dinner plans and went out to San Francisco for Hog & Rocks, a poppin’ joint with a broad variety of oysters and pork dishes.  Instead of picking a few entrees, we decided to try multiple appetizer-like plates, so that we could sample as many hogs, rocks, and other treats as possible.  Considering it was National Oyster Day today, we were surprised when we arrived around 6 pm, still within Happy Hour, and few tables were taken.  By the time we left, though, the place was packed and bustling.

smoker's delight & prosecco

smoker’s delight & prosecco

Nearly half of the menu covers beverages, so we had to try at least one specialty cocktail.  Zach enjoyed sipping a glass of prosecco, while August was immediately drawn to the “Smoker’s Delight,” a delicious take on an Old Fashioned.  Laphroaig single malt scotch, aged ten years, plus Tempus Fugit creme de cacao and bitters, equaled liquid warmth.

oysters!

oysters!

Ah, the reason we came.  The Happy Hour oysters are only $1 each; at that price it was hard to pass up a dozen.  There were six other oysters available, so we got one of each including Black Point, Beausoleil, and Kusshi, among others.  Savor the variety and try them with a squirt of lemon, a spoon of of mignonette, or two drops of the chef and his brother’s Youks hot sauce.

bbq oysters

bbq oysters

Ordering the BBQ oysters will get you a plate of three large, succulent, warm oysters with a dash of mild cocktail sauce.  The verdant sauce was an herb butter, which added creaminess and an earthy taste to an otherwise maritime bite.  August’s eyes lit up for an “OMG” moment when she had her first one, declaring that it may be her new favorite oyster style.

deviled eggs

deviled eggs

Also in a trio came decadent deviled eggs.  What set these apart from the standard potluck deviled eggs were the hunks of smoky, salty country ham and fried oysters.  The filling was supremely rich and creamy with a very gentle spiciness – the spice was more flavor than heat.  Bridging together the two ingredients of the restaurant’s name, the oyster/ham juxtaposition nestled on each egg worked well, both in texture and flavor.  The crisp and crunchy oyster had a cornmeal crust, offsetting the smooth egg.  In Zach’s words, these deviled eggs were “the best hands down ever.”

summer pickles

summer pickles

Not many people realize that “pickle” refers to a process, not a particular food.  We’ve become accustomed in American English to referring to pickled cucumbers as pickles themselves, but we forget that any vegetable can be pickled.  Here we had an assortment with fresh garlic, beet, fennel, carrot, Romano bean, chard, and classic bread and butter pickle.  Zach has never been a fan of bread and butter pickles, but he really enjoyed these – they were sweet but not grotesquely so, as he often finds them to be.

ham tasting plate

ham tasting plate

Hardcore ham hounds cannot pass up this spread.  A sampling of three fine hams from across the globe were each paired with their own special garnish.  Suryanno ham from Virginia (top right) came with thin slices of juicy melon; salty and sweet can’t get much better than ham and melon, especially if the ham is lightly smoky and melts in your mouth.  Spanish jamón serrano (bottom right) got a sprinkling of candied almonds, inedible for Zach but a delight for August.  It had a similar mouthfeel as the Suryanno but was not as smoky.  Prosciutto from Italy was topped with house-made ricotta cheese, and like truly artisan ricotta, the cheese was flavorless.  All that ricotta should do is provide a creamy cloud-like texture, and this one did its job just right, highlighting the least smoky and most tender of these three little pigs.

kennebec fries with egg yolk glaze

kennebec fries with egg yolk glaze

It’s not easy to bring a vegetarian here, we imagine.  Even the fries come either spiced or with an egg yolk glaze.  We went for the glaze, which evenly coated the hand-cut fries.  Crispy, fresh, and steamy, a dip of ketchup was all that was needed to make these pretty tempting.

pimento cheese and firebrand pretzel

pimento cheese and firebrand pretzel

Hog & Rocks prides itself on sourcing locally and supporting neighbors whenever possible, so Firebrand of Oakland provides the delicious pretzels for this appetizer.  It was very soft and chewy, but substantial enough to support gobs of rich pimento cheese.  Its flavor was that of a basic mild cheddar, but with a sweet pimento pepper essence.  The cheese was smooth, creamy, and plentiful – there was more cheese than we could smear on the pretzel, so we tried it on the fries, as well (and it’s not bad).

bone marrow

bone marrow

A beef bone was split and prepared with pickled blackberry, pearl onion, and fresh dill.  Buttery toast points were hard enough for us to spread the marrow like it itself was butter.  The tangy pickled blackberries and pearl onions contributed a layer of flavor that made the marrow more sumptuous that it already is by nature.  After eating this, there’s no need for lip balm for a week.

trotter tots

trotter tots

The plate that we agreed was the most impressive was the Trotter Tots.  Their texture and flavor were identical to tater tots and pork cracklins, as if they were engineered by Jeff Goldblum.  Shredded pork, smoky and salty, was mixed with tender, fluffy potatoes, then formed into balls to be fried and served on a juniper-pine aioli.  We have some inspiration now for something to do for a future football party, like the Big Game (coincidentally August and Zach’s anniversary) or next year’s Superbowl.  These hogtied potato bites are sure to disappear fast at an event like that.

A full bar and a few TVs mean this is a good place to catch a sports match, but it is equally ideal for a nice date night; we saw many people here tonight for both reasons.  Even with all that we sampled, there was so much more on the menu that we’d like to give a chance to.  You can bet that we will be back, for dinner again or maybe for a weekend brunch.  We’re curious to see what a Hog & Rocks morning meal would be like.

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Bouchon Bistro, Yountville CA

Our possessions are mostly packed because we’re moving this week.  This kept us from traveling to see family that lives a ways away, and we had nothing with which to cook at home for ourselves for an Easter meal.  Zach did research to find any place open that had something different to offer, and Bouchon Bistro in Yountville promised a meal well worth the drive.

1/2 dozen huîtres (oysters)

1/2 dozen huîtres (oysters)

Bouchon Bistro is known for having some of the freshest seafood.  We shared three Chefs Creek and three Cortes Island oysters; both were salty, briny, and sweet, and the Chefs Creek were smaller in size but slightly sweeter.  They were served with a traditional cocktail sauce and a sweet vinegar mignonette.

soupe à l'oignon

soupe à l’oignon

This onion soup was very sweet as it traditionally should be – not overly salted like the typical American style.  Zach believes they use a housemade stock instead of a beef base or bullion cubes.  The onions were tender and abundant, but don’t get scared!  They were deliciously caramelized.  Despite having a good amount of strong Swiss cheese, it wasn’t greasy.  The thyme was a nice addition.

macaroni au gratin

macaroni au gratin

It would seem that mac and cheese is a very popular side dish nowadays.  We’re seeing it in a number of restaurants.  Here, the blend of white and yellow cheeses over perfectly cooked pasta was rich and playful with so many flavors.  There was definitely Gruyere, but even Zach the supertaster couldn’t get past that because the cheeses were so well balanced and blended.  And August always likes a cute ramekin.

croque madame

croque madame

A grilled ham and cheese sandwich on brioche bread with a fried egg, Mornay sauce, and a mound of well salted fries was Zach’s entree.  The bread was buttery and crispy, the ham smoky, the cheese plentiful, and the sauce very rich and creamy.  The fries almost had Zach fooled – crispy and tender, he thought they were cut in house, but we learned they are in fact frozen.  One of August’s pet peeves is french fry texture and temperature and so many restaurants mess up one or the other, therefore she has essentially given up on them.  However, she sneaked a few of these towards the end of the meal and confessed they were even good cold.

truite amandine

truite amandine

August’s plate was as tasty as it was pretty.  Trout is currently on the sustainable seafood list, and this pan-roasted fish from Idaho was super tender and buttery.  The green beans, or rather haricots verts, are a French variety that is a bit longer and thinner than the American ones we’re used to seeing.  They were verdantly sweet and given great texture by the toasted almonds.  The beurre noissete brown butter sauce added to the rich simplicity of the meal.

Hostess Erica was warm and friendly when we arrived, and Chris, our server, was wonderfully attentive and knowledgeable.  We met manager Krzysztof Pawlik, who runs a great front of the house.  Chef Michael Sandoval took time to step out of his busy kitchen and greet us, and it was a very appreciated gesture and a pleasure to meet him.  We thoroughly enjoyed the entire experience, and we’re looking forward to dining here again (as well as at the parent restaurant French Laundry [wink]).

The Brass Door, San Ramon CA

Steak was on Zach’s brain tonight, but we were out of town and not near anywhere familiar.  We found ourselves around San Ramon, so we looked up steak houses and The Brass Door came up immediately.  We called to make sure there would be a table for us, and it’s a good thing we did because the place is very popular.

oysters rockefeller

oysters rockefeller

Oysters here are available on the half shell as well as Rockefeller style, with béchamel sauce, spinach, and cheese.  We recommend trying these; make sure to squeeze some lemon and add a little bit of the horseradish, but just a little because it is fresh.

scallop trio

scallop trio

Well, we got a bonus scallop somehow, so our trio turned into a quartet.  Three were seared and served with lemon butter, and the fourth crispy on a small smear of mashed potatoes.  The sauce was amazing – savory, buttery, lemony, a perfect complement to the scallops and the vegetables.  The scallops were sizable and cooked well.

california salad

california salad

We each added on a salad because we felt we needed some roughage.  August had the California salad with field greens, craisins, glazed walnuts, blue cheese crumbles, and balsamic vinaigrette.  The flavor mix and ratio of the ingredients was appropriately balanced.

caesar salad

caesar salad

We knew one of us would get a Caesar because it’s a favorite.  The romaine was very fresh and crisp, and the dressing wasn’t too acidic or bitter like some restaurants make it.

veal liver

veal liver

The first meat August had as a baby was liver, so she’s always been fond of it.  Tonight she had hormone-free veal liver with bacon, onions, and mashed potatoes.  She asked for the meat to be cooked medium, and was happy that it came out neither overdone nor underdone.  The onions were sweet and plentiful, and the bacon was crispy and salty to balance out the dish.

gourmet cut prime rib

gourmet cut prime rib

Billed as 16 oz. with the bone in, Zach wanted the gourmet cut prime rib for two reasons: a better picture, and to bring a big hunk with the bone back to the dog.  It is served with au jus, creamed spinach, and typically a baked potato but Zach swapped that out for house-made potatoes au gratin.  He ordered the meat medium, and it came out unequivocally medium.  It was very mild in seasoning, so if you’re sensitive to salt and/or spices, this might be good for you.  The creamed spinach was really creamy and had a hint of nutmeg, the same as what was used for the oysters Rockefeller.  The potatoes au gratin were cheesy and light in texture, and definitely had that house-made je ne sais quoi.

If you’re looking for a long-standing establishment that leans towards house-made fare, this is a good place for it.  To plan for an anniversary or birthday, you would want to make reservations well in advance as the following is strong and you wouldn’t want to wait for a table for your special event.