Bar Cesar

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Whoever thought up the idea of tapas must have been a genius, because I can’t think of much else better than to sit around and munch on small plates, be they antipasti, meze or tapas.

Bar Cesar has only been around for a couple of years, and in that short time it’s become a popular place to grab brunch or dinner. The vibe is warm, the service is friendly and if you have enough beers, you might be able to convince yourself you’re really in Barcelona instead of the Bay Area. I like to visit the Piedmont location, but there is one in Berkeley too.

The first time I visited Bar Ceasar, my dining partner and I each chose two dishes to share.

Fuet (dry-cured garlic sausage)

I chose the fuet, a dry-cured garlic sausage that tastes like salami, only better. I can’t recall the name of the pickled peppers that it’s served with, but if someone knows, tell me so I can locate a bottle or three for my own cooking.

Mushrooms al ajillo

I also picked the mushrooms al ajillo, which wasn’t as garlicy as I was expecting, but good nonetheless.

White bean and garlic soup

We also chose the white bean and garlic soup. Internet, this is one of the most glorious soups I have ever tasted. And I don’t even like soup all that much. I can’t wait to try and replicate this at home.

Salt cod and potato cazuela

The salt cod and potato cazuela was our least favorite of the dishes. It was good, but with all the strong, garlicy flavors in our other choices, the cazuela didn’t taste nearly as flavorful.

Cesar sundae

We split a Cesar sundae for dessert: chocolate cinnamon ice cream, chocolate sauce, almonds and churros. The ice cream was super creamy and the churros were freshly-baked and still warm.

Cafe Americano

I like my coffee strong, and Bar Cesar’s cafe Americano was among the richest I’ve had.

Bar Cesar remains one of my favorite restaurants and part of the fun in going back is that their menu is always changing. Which reminds me, I’m due for another visit soon.

Sahn Maru

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I love Korean food. I mean, I really love it. I could probably eat banchan every day and never get sick of it. I crave bulgogi at least once a week and the same goes for bibim naengmyon.

So it was with great excitement that I tried out Sahn Maru in Oakland a few months ago with a group. I usually go to Jong Ga House or Koryo but had heard good things about Sahn Maru too. Unable to decide on what to eat, I went for their “special dinner A” menu item consisting of bulgogi, darkgui, jap chae, na mul and soft tofu jigae, served alongside little plates of banchan.

Bulgogi, barbecue chicken, jap chae and kim chi tofu soup

The jigae and banchan hit the spot but the rest of the dishes were a little too bland and too sweet, even. The jap chae especially seemed heavy on the sugar. My dissapointment was made up by Sahn Maru’s service though, which is incredibly friendly and warm. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that the portions are generous too.

I’ll probably be back at Sahn Maru soon to try their other dishes. After all, it’s Korean food, and you can never have too much of that.

Mirepoix

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Several months ago, my family and I visited Mirepoix in Windsor to celebrate my sister’s birthday. I was looking forward to trying it out, especially since I used to drive past the restaurant every day when I worked in Sonoma County’s wine country.

The interior is small, cozy and warm, evoking the French countryside feel that I imagine they’re going for. The food is rustic and very French in its generous use of butter on just about everything.

We started with the frisee salad with poached egg and duck liver, which was delicious. The pickled onions provided the perfect contrast to the fried and battered liver.

Frisee salad with poached egg and duck liver

We also shared a plate of the braised mussels in white wine and garlic broth. The mussels were tiny but the broth was comforting and full of flavor. 

Braised mussels in white wine and garlic broth

This is where things started to go wrong. I must have had a Tony Bourdain moment or something, because the next thing I knew, I was ordering the braised sweetbreads with frites. I guess I thought that because I love offal in general, I’d love sweetbreads too. It turns out I’m incorrect. Maybe sweetbreads need to be prepared a certain way to be palatable, but you know something is wrong when the table next to you is whispering “she ordered the sweetbreads!” in horror.

Braised sweetbreads with frites

My sister was luckier. She took the safe route and ordered the tempura steak sandwich, which was rich and crispy. My dad ordered the hanger steak and my mom ordered the lamb. All of us had too-greasy frites doused in too much salt.

Tempura steak sandwich with frites

In retrospect, I don’t know whether to blame my dissapointment at Mirepoix on my own overly-adventurous entree choice or on the restaurant itself. The dishes seemed hit or miss, so I’m inclined to give it another try someday.

La Boulange

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If you’ve ever been to the Bay Area, chances are you’ve had something baked by the Bay Bread group. Their range of sweet and savory loaves are scattered throughout San Francisco’s best restaurants and shops, and the Bay Bread group has their own mini-chain of bakery-cafes as well: La Boulange.

My cousin, sister and I shared coffee and sweets at La Boulange at Fillmore in San Francisco on a rainy afternoon, and the place was packed. I tried my first macarons here, which were almost too pretty to eat.

Passionfruit-Mango and Pistachio macarons

I enjoyed the pistachio-flavored one better than the passion-fruit mango, not only because it was more traditional, but because it was less overwhelmingly sweet.

La Boulange also has a selection of soups, salads and sandwiches, but I prefer their breads. Their canelés are also delicious, but I love canelés in general so perhaps I’m biased.

Everyone says the best macarons are in France, but I forgot to try them in Paris. And until I have another chance, La Boulange’s will keep me satisfied.