I Say Frittata, You Say Frittata While Getting my Rocc’s Off in San Francisco

Before heading up to Napa, I decided to scratch another triple D off the list by heading to Rocco’s Cafe on Folsom Street.  It is a classic Italian cafe offering  typical fare from pastas to Italian sandwiches. The timing wasn’t right for dinner so a breakfast visit was the next best thing.

The decor was old school Italian diner.  There is an open kitchen and more pictures than selfies in my daughter’s instagram account hanging on the wall. It has a friendly feel complete with happy cooks and equally pleasant waitstaff.  There is a certain magic about a true rundown/rustic Italian cafe and Rocco’s had the right semblance.

As much as I was tempted to go with the Grilled Homemade Polenta topped with Cheese & Marinara Sauce w/ Eggs any style with Italian Sausage,  I figured the mushroom, onion, basil, & parmesan cheese frittata ($11.95)  was authentic enough for an Italian cafe without the need to paralyze myself.  Now, the word frittata is up for interpretation. By definition, it means fried but there are all sorts of interpretations. Most of them fall somewhere on the spectrum between an omelette and a crust less quiche but usually dictate that some element of the filling is cooked within the egg.  Rocco’s offering was closer to an omelette and not quite what I expected.  Nonetheless, it had good flavour and seasoning and more than abundant fillings/toppings.  The potatoes had a slight off taste I just couldn’t identify but overall they were decent.

Mushroom, Onion and Parmesan Frittata with Potatoes and toast (not shown) $11.95
Mushroom, Onion and Parmesan Frittata with Potatoes and toast (not shown) $11.95

On the way to the subway I was craving an Americano so a quick google search told me Wicked Grounds was just around the corner.  Don’t get me wrong, I could have hit a number of other coffee houses on the way but I was intrigued at the thought of sneaking in behind the closed curtains to experience a fetish cafe in the early morning. I didn’t expect much at 830 am but there were a few customers and some very nice, courteous staff along with plenty of cuffs, paddles and other paraphernalia for sale. Most alarming to my virgin eyes was the option to have a drink served in a dog bowl for those who chose to be subservient on that particular day.  I was tempted to order a decaf and a paddle to go but I stuck with the former along with a granola bar which promised to be more awesome than a cat riding a unicorn.  It wasn’t and I left humming Chris Issak.

It wasn't
It wasn’t because a cat riding a unicorn is pretty awesome

My Take

I suppose there are worse things to do than search for a good breakfast and an amerciano  from a fetish cafe in one of the most liberal cities in the world.  What’s even better is when you get a decent breakfast and knock another DDD and getting a coffee from the same place I’d buy a blow up doll..screw you Walmart.  In the end, regardless of where  the frittata fell on the spectrum, it was a decent plate and the Wicked Grounds coffee was good even if I was able to get my Rocc’s off again.

Click to add a blog post for Rocco's Cafe on Zomato

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Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives: I Met a Hottie at Dottie’s

I must confess that I didn’t do a lot of research prior to showing up at Dottie’s true blue cafe . Knowing it was a triple D and within walking distance of my hotel in San Francisco, I took a quick look at the menu and thought it was a typical breakfast/lunch cafe known for corn bread and jalapeno jelly.  My first hint that I had misjudged things is when I showed up at 9:15 on Thursday and there was a line.  I figured what the hell, I stood in line at State Bird Provisions the night before for 45 minutes with great results, so a short wait for breakfast in another odd neighbourhood couldn’t be that bad, even among the numerous schizophrenic homeless people who walked by looking to teach me a life lesson.   Since I was single, I managed to skip in front of 4 or 5 waiting couples and get a seat along the rail in less than 10 minutes. I felt pretty lucky having secured a second spot with a kitchen view in 2 days.

Rail view of kitchen
Rail view of kitchen

Shorty after, the seat became me became vacant and a woman I recognized from the line outside was seated beside me.  It was clear she was a regular when half the restaurant said hi to her when she sat down.  We quickly engaged in a conversation and I was able to get the following facts out of her:

  • The busy cook was the owner. He didn’t look like a Dottie.
  • The only time you can avoid a line is if you come during the week before 9 am.  If you come on it weekend, count on it being a day trip.
  • The old style brick walls at Dottie’s are somewhat unique to San Francisco and were not damaged during the 1989 earthquake.  I guess the three little pigs fable did have some scientific merit.
  • Dottie’s is known for it’s excellent baked goods (see sign below).  I was told that a gentleman comes in every morning and makes them in-house.  She pointed to a counter beside the kitchen where one could get any of the delightful treats to go.

The menu is large, especially when you consider the fact there is a blackboard full of daily specials including specialty sandwiches, frittatas, omelettes, french toast etc.  With all the temptation, I stuck to my general triple D philosophy which inlcudes trying their signature item/dish coupled with something I really like.  In this case, it was the louisiana hot link wth eggs served any style showcasing the grilled chili-cheddar corn bread and homefries with the jalapeno jelly of course.

It is very easy to destroy corn bread  and this was probably the best I’ve had including restaurants in Tennessee.  The jalapeno jelly was food crack (just to clarify..this was the hottie I met at Dottie’s and the not the aforementioned regular who was sweet but not my type).  Even the homefries rivaled some of the nest I’ve had.  They were tender and seasoned beautifully as also gave me a reason to use more jalapeno jelly.  The sausage was middle of the pack but didn’t impair my enjoyment of the dish as a whole. Some of the best breakfasts I’ve had have been from recommendations of Guy Fieri. Dottie’s is right up there with the likes of Lucky’s cafe in Cleveland and Honey’s Sit and Eat in Philadelphia.

Louisiana Hot Link with eggs any style $9.50
Louisiana Hot Link with eggs any style $9.50 served with chili-cheddar corn bread and jalapeno jelly

Following such a delicious breakfast, my eyes averted to the baked goods.  I already knew a jar of jelly was coming home with me so I supplemented it with a coconut chocolate chip muffin ($3) and a Dottie’s peanut butter bar($5) as a snack for the hotel room later. They were neatly wrapped in foil grandma-style which made me think of Dottie since it’s such a grandma name.  When taking pictures of these beasts, I put a fork beside them just  to demonstrate just how big they were.  Tastewise, they were delicious. The muffin was moist and abundent with coconut and the tasty base of the bar was covered in  with marshmallows and just the right amount of buttescotch chips.  I was thinking of inviting the whole floor over since I would have had enough for all of them.

Dottie's Chipotle Pepper Jelly $9
Dottie’s Chipotle Pepper Jelly $9..a buck an ounce…cheaper than crack.
Coconut Chocolate Muffin $3
Coconut Chocolate Muffin $3
Peanut Butter bar $5
Dottie’s Peanut Butter bar $5

My Take

I think the foundation of a successful breakfast/lunch spot is to offer a normal menu and jazz it up with either a signature item/dish, amazing baked goods  and/or a day to day menu highlighting whimsical ideas by the chef based on available ingredients.  Dottie’s does all three.  The corn bread and jelly was phemonemal, the baked goods sublime and the board was “chalked” full of inventive dishes. San Francsicans love their lines, but they also love their food. The service was as friendly as the diners who frequent the place. The vibe was busy, fun and friendly. Based on past breakfast expereinces, I was convinced I would name my next pet Lucky or Honey but after eating here I may need to put the name Dottie in the mix as well.

Food: 5/5 Guyz

Service: 4/5 Guyz

Vibe: 4.5/5 Guyz

Total: 13.5/15 Guyz

For a complete list of my favorite diners, drive-ins and dives, please click this link:

https://fareeatales.com/2012/12/22/diners-drives-ins-and-divesthe-list/
Dottie's True Blue Cafe on Urbanspoon

Review:Montreal:Park Restaurant

One thing that gives me a headache is trying to figure out what to do for brunch.  Usually, it a combination of overpriced breakfast foods in the midst of foodies who are worse than dinner ones (they may in fact be the same except the dinner foodie is drunk and somewhat pleasant whereas the brunch one is hungover and even more miserable).  Add the fact I was in Montreal and my head was going to explode.  So, I did an online search and stumbled across a really good blog which does a stellar job focusing on the most important meal of the day:

http://www.montrealbreakfastreview.com/

After scrolling through numerous and well written posts, I stumbled across Park which met all my criteria:

1.  They..gasp!…take brunch reservations.

2. It’s located in Westmount, a neighborhood outside of the downtown core which meant an opportunity to explore an alternate part of the city.

3. There’s more on the menu than bacon and eggs priced $5 higher than they are any other day of the week. In fact, they serve more of an asian-inspired lunch than a standard brunch.

So, we grabbed a cab and took the trek up to this funky neighbourhood.  It’s oddly set-up in what appears to be a bit of a rundown office building although there are rather expensive pieces of art hanging on the walls of the lobby.  I have no idea what Park was before, but I suspect it was some kind of sit down cafe which served Bunn coffee, bagels and greasy breakfast plates. It has been overhauled with a nice bar, decent decor and blackboards boasting cocktails and menu specials.

At the time we were seated, it was pretty empty but was full by noon.  It was a diverse crowd including a table of elderly people enjoying every bite of their eggs to foodie couples snapping pics the same I was. I was intrigued by the numerous cocktails on the blackboard filled with asian flavours such as yuzu.  When I inquired, however, I was told cocktails weren’t available at brunch and I was left to drink a mediocre $12 mimosa.

We ordered three very unorthodox brunch items which complied with both my whimsical tastes and my dining partner’s like for fresh, healthy flavours (what’s with that?); bibimbap ($13), Jap Chae ($13) and the deconstructed salad for two ($19).   All three dishes had a delicate complexity to them with flavours that burst with freshness and balance. The visual appeal was spectacular.   The grains in the bibimbap and noodles in the Jap Chae were done to perfection.  The deconstructed salad  was like having a personal assistant deliver the freshest ingredients from a whole foods setup on a plate in front of you without having to deal with the Lululemon wearing moms and indecisive salad bar champions. It had no less than 20 ingredients (lettuce, vegetables, pickled items such as kimchi  etc.)  as well as three delicious homemade dressings spiked with Asian flavours such as yuzu and miso. For $19 it could have had a few more protein options,vegetarian or otherwise.

Bibimbap $13
Bibimbap $13
Jap Chae $13
Jap Chae $13
Deconstructed Salad for Two ($19)
Deconstructed Salad for Two ($19)

My Take

This is not your typical brunch. Coming here and nestling in knarly and fashionable environments reaches noble and nouveau dimensions only superseded by the prettiness of the food. The combination of the fresh ingredients and bold flavours busts open the notion that the only cure for a hangover is grease.  I’d knock my next day pain upside the head with a dose of this stuff any day but would leave out the $12 mimosa. Otherwise, the next question I would ask when coming to Park is “what’s for dinner?”

Park Restaurant on Urbanspoon

“Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town” and they “Do the Evolution” of the Diner

I tend to hit my fair share of diners in my travels. In the past few years there has been a resurgence of the old diner concept with new establishments popping up in even some of the chic metropolitan areas of big cities (places like The Little Goat in Chicago and Rose and Sons in Toronto).  Although the “evolution” of new school diners have grasped onto some of the concepts of their ancestors (such as vinyl booths and counter seating), nothing can replace some aspects that make the old school diner what it is.

Here are a few observations I have made about diners:

1. Ninety-percent of old school diners are either named after a person or some kind of geographical entity or location. In Sudbury, I grew up going to Gloria’s restaurant.  The Countryview diner in Chatham inspired me to write this blog.  There’s the Lakeview in Toronto, the Southside restaurant in London and the Elgin Street diner in Ottawa.  The fact that there is there is no view of a river at the Riverview or that  Alice’s is owned by some dude named Paul  seems a moot point in the diner culture.

2. Much like you can count on any Chinese restaurant to have either a cocktail menu or a horoscope written on  their disposable menus (which eventually will be laden with bright red sweet and sour sauce), diners slap down the generic bilingual Welcome/Bienvenue mats which quickly get soaked with egg grease or globs of strawberry jam.  The table is also adorned with a carousel of prepackaged peanut butter, strawberry jams and orange marmalade (which in fact may be the same marmalade that has been there since 1984), hard butter packets and creamers which  not only lighten the less than stellar coffee but serve as building blocks for bored 6 year olds who eventually shove one or two in their mouths and pop them much to the chagrin of the accompanying family members.

4. As much as the show “Two Broke Girls” annoys the hell out of me, it’s a fair depiction of the old school diner.  The blackboard is reserved for the soup of the day plus/minus today’s special which tends to be a classic comfort dish.  My personal favorite is the “hot hamburg” (the “er” on the end of hamburger is entirely optional for some reason) in which  a hamburger patty in placed between two slices of white bread and laden with rich gravy and served with frozen crinkle cut fries and “homemade” slaw. The special also comes with soup or juice as a side.  I’ve always been intrigued by how the provision of a 3 oz shot glass of juice even compares to a steaming bowl of “homemade” soup. The same show also depicts the reality that the minimum age to work behind the cash in a diner is 70 (perhaps this was the inspiration for Pearl Jam’s “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town)”.  This person is clearly the quarterback of the organization despite the fact they take ten minutes to enter the price of each of the hand written orders into the Casio cash register and verify with the waitress that I indeed ordered the addition of grilled onions on my homefries for $0.45.  The process is interrupted two or three times when the cashier engages in a conversation with the three of four regulars about the size of Mabel’s homegrown pumpkin or the fact that toilet paper is on sale at the local grocery store.

5. Rice pudding and jello are mandatory desserts in any old school diner.  Furthermore, the pudding must be topped with an amount of cinnamon equal to a Rob Ford stash and the red or green jello must be cut into squares with architecture I.M. Pei would envy.

6. Small town diners ultimately have a dichotomy of staff.  On one side is the surly old woman who could tell you the number of pieces of gum stuck under table twelve, the amount of force you hit to hit the chugging ice machine with to keep it fully functional and the name of every regular who has walked in since the sixties.  On the other is the 17 year old “friend of the family” waitress whose angst is evident in the nose piercing (which later becomes the focal point of conversations at the counter when she’s not there).  This angst is partially rooted in the slight reality that she, like her coworker, may never leave the tight web of a small town and be forced to marry some guy named Billy and have a stag and doe the whole town will attend.

In the end, I adore diners.  They scream Canadiana in the same fashion as snowbanks and poutine.  Whether they have stayed the same for 50 years, evolved over time (including replacing old staff with hipsters with an equally surly attitude) or recently opened with adherence to an old school philosophy (like Mae’s in Detroit), they are a fundamental component of the food service structure and deserve respect. I think of the numerous food network shows in which the celebrity chefs cite the perfect fried egg as the pinnacle of culinary expertise yet it’s second nature to many of the seasoned veterans who grace the grills of diners across the country.

Review:Toronto:Corktown:Gilead Cafe

I have been trying to get to one of the evening events at Gilead for a while and finally had the chance back in June. It was one of the Friday night wine bars that are periodically run throughout the year,

I was a bit surprised by both the location and the decor at 4 Gilead in Corktown. It’s certainly not your typical wine bar environment, probably because it’s mainly only open for breakfast and lunch.   That said, you can’t judge a place by it’s decor, so I forked up ready to indulge on the Jamie Kennedy inspired menu.

After the decor, my second surprise were the clientele. I was easily the youngest patron in the place, maybe because it was 6 pm.  I felt like I was at an early bird dinner.  Even later, however, there was not the crowd I would have expected for an almost underground  one night wine bar experience. Well, except maybe for one jackass who showed up with his date and demanded the door be shut despite the fact it was 35 degrees and subsequently complained about every one of the  6 or 8 drinks he had in a span of an hour.

It only made sense to start with the featured drink, a Fragolina cocktail (wine, strawberry beer and a bit of lime) for $7.  It was very average.  The featured wines were a couple of Ontario red and whites for $7 a glass.

As I was waiting for a colleague, I ordered the poutine with braised beef and cheddar.  The fries were great.  The gravy was a bit salty which ended up being a theme for the evening.  The beef was tender, the cheese was scarce.  In the end, it was decent but not great.

Braised Beef Poutine $9
Braised Beef Poutine $9

I have an issue paying for bread but I was interested in the highly touted red fife sour dough, so I ordered some with two vegetarian dips for $5.   I think they were beet and some kind of hummus.   It was also served with a side of a spice mix which was not explained to me.  Not clear on the intent of this mix, I used liberally on a piece of bread only to find out it was 90% salt.  When I brought this up with the waitress, she scoffed and pointed out “It’s a french thing” and “it should be used sparingly ” on top of the butter.  After pointing out there was no butter at the table, I was told I shouldn’t have got it anyway since it’s only served with lunch.

On the heels of asparagus season, I wasn’t surprised to see it on the menu, simply served with a honey vinaigrette. For $7, it was too simple..9 boiled pieces painted with a mediocre dressing.  I found the green salad with sorrel dressing a bit better (it had a few radishes and sorrel thrown in)  for $7  but the dressing looked and tasted similar to the one used on the asparagus. The beet salad with lentils and feta looked great on the menu but once again has a taste profile not much different than the others.

Asparagus with Honey-Mustard Vinaigrette  $7
Asparagus with Honey-Mustard Vinaigrette $7
Green Salad with Sorrel Vinaigrette $7
Green Salad with Sorrel Vinaigrette $7
Beet salad with lentils and Feta $9
Beet salad with lentils and Feta $9

I was excited to try the pristine poached halibut with curried lobster sauce.  Once again it was a disappointment.  The halibut has the consistency of that piece of poached egg white that escapes and floats to the top of the pan.  It was rather bland and seasoned with large chunks of salt scattered among the bottom of the filet.  The lobster curry and bitter greens made the dish salvageable. At least if wasn’t ridiculously priced at $16.

Pristine Poached Halibut with Lobster Curry $16
Pristine Poached Halibut with Lobster Curry $16

I’m not really a flourless chocolate cake fan but decided to try it since it was served with a rhubarb reduction and cardamom ice cream, two flavours I happen to love in a dessert. I thought it was well done, especially if you incorporated the sweet ice cream, the bitter sweet cake and the sour reduction all in one bite.

Flourless chocolate cake $9
Flourless chocolate cake $9

My Take

I was excited to experience this drop-in wine bar, especially with an attractive online menu that featured a nice array of fresh and creative foods developed by one of Toronto’s iconic chefs.  Instead, I was treated to an experience that felt like a dinner at an old age home.  Each of the three veggie dishes  tasted almost exactly the same, the fish was overdone and salt was the predominant seasoning (don’t you know us old people can’t have too much salt).  I felt I was treated a bit like a nursing home resident as well, especially after being scolded about my shallow knowledge regarding  the use of salted herbs on butterless bread in much the same way one would after stepping off the property without permission. Maybe it’s better at breakfast or lunch but mention the word hip at this place during dinner  and most would immediately think it’s a high risk area for a fracture.

Gilead Cafe on Urbanspoon

Review:Vancouver:DDD:Tomahawk BBQ:Part 2

The first time I went to Tomahawk I ventured for the chief Skookum burger and previously blogged about the experience (https://fareeatales.com/2013/05/14/dddvancouvertomahawk-bbq/).  The second time around I was there for breakfast.  Tomahawk is the perfect place if you have a go hard or go home attitude. As a result, I had to go for the mixed grill.  The name is a bit deceiving.  It sounds innocent enough but perhaps “Sasquatch’s feast” of “Lumberjack’s Labour” would be more appropriate.

Here’s the menu description:

Nine generous slices of Yukon style bacon,

two country fresh eggs, fried or scrambled,

two slices of Klondike toast,

ORGANIC hamburger patty,

aged cheddar cheese,

wiener,

onions

fresh sautéed mushrooms.

What the menu doesn’t mention is the fact that it’s served on a bed of home fries which presumably could be made from a whole 10lb bag of potatoes.

I left the fork on the picture below to put the size of the plate into perspective. It’s the size of a hubcap. The highlight is the bacon.  I’m not even sure if yukon-style bacon is an official term outside the confines of Tomahawk.  It is almost a cross between ham and bacon and unlike scrawny slabs of  overcooked side bacon. nine slices are enough to cover the entire plate.  It was cooked perfectly.  The potatoes  are far from the highlight of the dish but add a nice base for the rest of the plate.

Tomahawk mixed grill $18
Tomahawk mixed grill $18

I made my best effort to complete the plate but fell a bit short, meaning I only needed a 9km jog around Stanley Park later in the day.

My attempt at the mixed grill
My attempt at the mixed grill

My Take

The An $18 breakfast is a bit steep but not far from the $12-15 offerings by most Vancouver and Toronto breakfast joints.  In a fashion similar  the great cakes at Jethro’s, it could easily feed a family of four.  It’s a funny concept… a village worth of bacon and potatoes combined with among many things, a single piece of cheese and a few sliced onions.  I wonder if the cartoony, Where’s Waldo placemat has some Di Vinci code which reveals the correct way to eat the mixed grill.  Or maybe you should just eat it Yukon-style..whatever that means.