poor scientist. will blog 4 food.

the culinary adventures of a self-described foodie


Birthday Love

As much as I love cooking meals at home with TC, it’s also nice to go out every now and then to a nice restaurant. Birthdays definitely call for a bit of celebration and indulgence, so a few weeks ago, I took TC to Greens in San Francisco for his birthday. Why Greens? First, being that it’s in Fort Mason, the dining room has a gorgeous view of the San Francisco Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Marin Headlands. Second, it’s one of the oldest higher-end vegetarian restaurants in the city, if not the country. Third (and related to #2), it sources all of its produce from local farmers and vendors, whom we like to support. Finally, a friend had given a strong recommendation, saying that Greens was one of his favorites. So, reservations were made and off we went!

We arrived 30 minutes early, but there was plenty of seating in the waiting area where we could also order drinks. We sat down next to a man in fishnets, high boots, no pants (that we could see), and an Under Armour mock turtleneck under a long blazer. Only in San Francisco!! Unfortunately, I didn’t get a picture, but trust me when I say it was a sight to behold.

The view of the dining room at Greens, from the waiting area.

I ordered a glass of prosecco (it was a celebration, after all) and TC opted for the raspberry mojito, which was sweet (but not too sweet) and potent.

Contemplating the menu over drinks.

We were seated promptly at 7:30, our reservation time. Fresh bread, toasted almonds, and water were brought to our table almost instantly. After our server introduced herself, I informed her that it was TC’s birthday. She gave him a quick glance and asked, “Don’t I know you…?” Well, as fate would have it, our server E dated one of TC’s good friends almost 10 years ago. After catching up a little, she took our orders and remained friendly, yet professional, for the remainder of the evening.

We had heard great things about the appetizers, so we ordered three. Yes, we’re pigs.
Roasted wild mushrooms with olive oil, salt, thyme, and sage. This was my favorite out of the appetizers.

Mmmm, wild mushrooms.

Sampler: Italian butter beans with pickled red onions, meyer lemon, and tarragon; spring pea and radish salad with arugula and mint; grilled artichoke with lemon oil; three beet salad; grilled herb slab; fromage blanc; olives. The butter beans were amazing, and I enjoyed the beets and cheese too. The artichokes were disappointing.

I still have dreams about those butter beans.

Artisan cheese plate. Nothing to write home about. Even TC wasn’t a huge fan.

Meh. Kinda dry, crumbly, and tasteless.

Oh yeah, did I mention the view?

Sunset over the Marin Headlands.

The birthday boy!


Not sure what look I’m going for here…

OK, on to the main course! TC ordered the butternut squash and sweet potato gratin, with poblano chilies, green onions, smoked cheddar, fromage blanc custard, and cilantro. It was served with tomatillo sauce, cashew cream, grilled polenta, and chard and kale with pumpkin seeds. If you go to Yelp, this dish is very polarizing; people either love it or hate it. TC absolutely fell in the former category. In fact, I think he’d eat this every day if he had the choice. It was very tasty — just the right blend of spices and textures.

Butternut squash and sweet potato gratin with polenta, kale, and chard.

I ordered the farro risotto with wild mushrooms, spring peas, fava leaves, leeks, green garlic, and shaved Pantaleo (cheese). It was good, but definitely not as tasty as TC’s gratin.

Farro risotto with wild mushrooms and peas.

What’s a birthday celebration without dessert? I ordered the chocolate torte with salted caramel ice cream and cocoa nibs. I loved the combination of flavors and textures. I also got a cup of decaf coffee, which was the most excellent coffee I’ve had in a long, long time. To me, it was how coffee should taste, if that makes any sense. Anyway, I’m sure it was like $5 or $6 (I didn’t look at the check before throwing down my credit card), but it was worth it.

I’m a sucker for chocolate cake.

TC triumphed again with the ordering. (Luck of the birthday boy?) He got the butterscotch pot de creme with pecan brittle and chantilly cream. It was amazing and I don’t even like butterscotch! Very creamy and rich, but without going overboard.

Our server E surprised us with two complimentary glasses of sauterne, in honor of TC’s birthday. So sweet! (Literally and figuratively.) All in all, we both had a great time at Greens. The atmosphere and service were great, and the food was wonderful. Even though the dining room was quite crowded, noise and neighboring conversations were never bothersome. I’d definitely go back again.

Happy birthday TC! xoxo


Umami Burger = Japanese for Best Burger EVER?!

Picture it:
It’s a few days after Christmas in Los Angeles. Despite the date on the calendar, it’s a beautiful 70 degrees with the sun beaming through cloudless skies. TC and I are sitting at the end of the Santa Monica Pier, after gridlock traffic prevented us from accomplishing Plan A: The Getty Museum. This was turning out to be a nice consolation prize though, and a game of Skee-ball and air hockey definitely helped to cheer us up.

As the street musician armed with a keyboard and an amp belts out old, cheesy love songs, I turn to my Yelp app to research lunch possibilities. A familiar name comes up: Umami Burger. One of us remembers, “Hey, isn’t that the place that ZF recommended?” A few days earlier, ZF, who had graciously agreed to let us stay at his apartment during our L.A. trip, gave us a list of recommended restaurants and bars. Indeed, Yelp backed up his recommendation: this Umami Burger place was quite popular, with an average of 4+ stars and over 970 votes.

To avoid the lunch rush, we take a long walk around Santa Monica and finally head to Umami Burger around 2:30pm. Even with the large picnic tables outside, the place is packed. The wait isn’t horrible though, maybe 20-30 minutes. About 5 minutes into our wait, TC gets up to ask the host about getting our orders to go. Miraculously, two seats open up for us outside. Score!

we have arrived.

We are starving, but our hunger is reigned in by the prices. Starting at $10, these burgers aren’t cheap, and they don’t come with fries either. But whatevs. We’re on vacation, let’s splurge a little. I order the truffle burger, which features house-made truffle cheese and truffle glaze. TC gets the Kombu #1 meal, which includes a Umami burger (hamburger patty with shiitake mushroom, caramelized onions, roasted tomato, parmesan crisp, umami ketchup), thin fries, and a bottle of Singha.

Maybe it’s because we’re starving, or maybe because we had no idea what to expect, but this experience is easily one of the most pleasurable meals I’ve ever had. I’m two bites into my luxurious, truffle oil-soaked burger when I hear TC look lovingly at his burger and say, “I never want it to end.”

Amen, TC, amen.

Because sharing is caring, we each eat half of our burgers and then trade. While we like the Umami, we agree that the truffle is superior. Every bite is just so unbelievably awesome… it’s hard to put it into words.

The Umami burger

The truffle burger: pure deliciousness.

After we finish our burgers, TC considers ordering one more but we decide to save some room for dinner, which is only a few hours away. We seriously think about coming back for another meal before we leave L.A., but then we find out that they just opened a Umami Burger in San Francisco. Hooray!

So, less than a week later, we’re visiting with EF at her mom’s place in SF, which just happens to be a 5-minute walk from Umami Burger. What a happy coincidence! We convince EF that it’s a great idea to go there for dinner (it wasn’t that hard really).  The three of us shared the truffle burger, the green bird (turkey burger), and the oxtail, which was the special that day. I have to admit — the truffle burger wasn’t as good the second time around. It might be because TC and I had hyped it up too much in our minds, or perhaps it’s because the Santa Monica location is superior to the SF location. Regardless, it was still pretty darn spectacular and way better than any burger I’ve ever eaten. The turkey burger was surprisingly flavorful in a meaty way (a good thing). I don’t remember much about the oxtail. I think it was kinda salty? Maybe TC and EF have a better recollection of it.

My advice: go, but keep your expectations in check. Oh yeah — the fries and the umami ketchup are great too!

(About the title: I know that umami means the 5th taste in Japanese, but that just didn’t sound as good, OK?)



Holiday Indulgence at Aziza

When I first started working at my new job (the company shall be called XYZ, henceforth), my boss, knowing about my love of food, piqued my interest by telling me about the fancy XYZ holiday dinners of years past. As it turns out, he’s quite a foodie himself, and picking a venue for our annual holiday party gives him an excuse to sample the area’s finest before deciding on the winner.

This year, the venue was Aziza, a restaurant with its roots in Moroccan cuisine but using Californian ingredients. Moroc-Cali, if you will. I was excited just at the fact that it had a Michelin star; I’ve never been to a restaurant with a Michelin star before. My pre-dining research on Yelp told me that the tasting menu was the most popular item, but I was still unsure of what to order. Luckily, we were going to be served a family style meal, with 3 starters, 1 mid-course dish, 3 main course entrees, and 3 desserts.

Before sitting down, we were offered pre-dinner cocktails. I went for the sangria (not pictured) and TC ordered a handmade cilantro vodka cocktail. Mine was good but his was delicious.

A pre-dinner drink. How civilized.

Next up: our starters. I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

Spreads with grilled flatbread. From left to right: chickpea, yogurt-dill, piquillo-almond.

Beets with persimmon, celery, and charred yogurt.

Chicken wings with kohlrabi, apple, and cabbage.

The chicken wings were my favorite; too bad they were tiny, bite-sized pieces. I could’ve had a whole tub full of these things. They were perfectly seasoned and cooked to perfection. The spreads were super delicious too. I especially liked the flat bread and the chickpea spread, though the yogurt dill was a crowd favorite. The beets were underwhelming, though the presentation was quite lovely.

Next, we had a mid-course dish of duck confit basteeya. OMG. This was the best thing EVER.

Duck confit basteeya with raisins and almonds. This photo sucks and does not convey how awesome this dish was.

A basteeya (or pastilla), is a Moroccan meat pie, traditionally filled with squab or chicken. The outside is made of a crepe-thin phylo-like dough. It was amazing, and definitely the best thing we had all evening. It’s no wonder that the basteeya is the Moroccan national dish (at least, according to Wikipedia).

Well, that was a hard act to follow, but we managed to move forward. The main entrees were:

Branzino (white flaky fish) with celery, chanterelles, and kumquat.

Chicken with date, cipollini, and nettle soubric (the dark diamond shaped things).

Lamb shank with barley, cherry, and saffron.

The fish was good, and again, well-spiced. The chicken was a very interesting presentation, and the nettle soubrics were one of the strangest things I’ve ever eaten. Texture-wise, it was like a dense foam. The lamb was fall-off-the-bone tender. I liked it, even though I’m not usually a big fan of lamb. I especially liked the cherries in with the barley. To be honest, if I had ordered the fish or chicken as my main entrée, I would’ve been disappointed. The lamb was definitely the stand-out amongst the entrees, in terms of taste and portion size.

Finally, the desserts!

Mint Bavarian, with hibiscus, lime foam, and pistachio.

Walnut tart with black sesame ice cream (in an unfortunate shape) and cranberry.

Chocolate mousse with pumpkin ganache, kumquat, and hazelnut cake.

I’ll start with the chocolate mousse. Maybe my expectations were too high, and/or maybe this dish was too complicated, but I thought it was pretty disappointing. I think it would’ve been better with either the pumpkin ganache OR the hazelnut cake, but not both. It was pretty though! As was the walnut tart, which I thought was probably the most beautiful dessert I’d ever seen. The black sesame ice cream was slightly lacking in both taste and presentation (who decided on that shape anyway?!). Finally, the mint Bavarian was the surprise favorite for me. It was a panna cotta-like dessert with a refreshing, mint flavor.

To top it all off, my boss bought several bottles of wine from Rosenblum to go with our meal, and sent each of us home with a box of Godiva chocolates. I went home feeling very full of both food and gratitude.

I loved this family style eating because we got to sample a bunch of everything. Now I know that if/when I go back to Aziza, I’ll order a handmade cocktail, 2 orders of chicken wings, and one basteeya and I’ll be a very happy girl.