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Toque of San Francisco October 2006
“Almost Famous Chef Competition”
and San Francisco Fine Dining
By Carol & Joe Davis Dining Detectives

S. Pellegrino recently held their 2006 5th Annual “Almost Famous Chef Competition” Northern California Regional finals at The California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. S. Pellegrino, known for their sparkling natural mineral water, created the competition, which includes over 20 culinary schools across the US, and Canada to foster mentoring and communication between established celebrity chefs, top culinary students and the media. The winner of each of ten regional competitions will advance to the National Finals, which will be held October 27-30, 2006 at The CIA at Greystone in the Napa Valley. The finalists compete for the opportunity to win the $10,000 cash prize and a job with a nationally recognized chef for one year along and a media tour.

The “Almost Famous Chef Competition” Winner  Sakiko Tani

The student competitors in San Francisco were Cindy Hong, Jessica Jackson, Jenny Kim,
  Ronald Lagasca, Rene Luna, and Sakiko Tani

The student competitors in San Francisco were Cindy Hong, Jessica Jackson, Jenny Kim, Ronald Lagasca, Rene Luna, and Sakiko Tani. Each student, who was chosen for their culinary skills, creativity, presentation, personality and ability to perform under pressure, had two hours to prepare their signature dish for the judges. As we watched them in the kitchen, we could see that they all appeared to be well prepared and not nervous at all. Each student presented their signature dish to the judges and answered questions about their ingredients, preparation and presentation.

The celebrity judges were six highly respected Bay Area Chefs and three Media Representatives who tasted each dish, voted and ultimately determined the winner at the end of the day’s competition.  They included Bruce Hill of Bix, Robert Price of Buckeye Roadhouse, Jonathan Leiva of Jack Falstaff, Greg Cole of Cole Chop House, Ken Frank of La Toque, Scott Howard of Scott Howard, Dan Clark of California Food and Wine, Stephen Oliver of Nob Hill Gazette and Carolyn Cozad of Safeway.

Winning Dish - Shiso Crusted Lamb Chop with truffle oil

The judges who tasted each dish and determined the winner included Bruce Hill of Bix, Robert Price of Buckeye Roadhouse, Jonathan Leiva of Jack Falstaff, Greg Cole of Cole Chop House , Ken Frank of La Toque, Carolyn Corzad of Safeway , Scott Howard of Scott Howard , Stephen Oliver of Nob Hill Gazette and Dan Clark of California Food and Wine

The winner, who will now move on to the Finals, was Sakiko Tani from The California Culinary Academy who created a fabulous Shiso Crusted Lamb Chop with truffle oil infused with fresh yellow corn polenta, lamb staffed cipollini onion, shaved summer squashes, cranberry sauce and gastrique with shiso oil. She was all smiles as she accepted her trophy. Her goals are to gain valuable experience working with a celebrity chef and to eventually open a California Cuisine restaurant in Japan.

Scott Howard

Executive Chef/ Owner Scott Howard

We felt comfortable right away as we entered Scott Howard on Jackson Street in San Francisco. Executive Chef/ Owner Scott Howard has created a serene environment, which is sleek and contemporary with a warm touch of color provided by a large distinctive floral arrangement centered in the dining room. We especially liked the flow of the room that allowed for privacy. We started out our dining experience with a Grey Goose Martini that got us on the right track immediately. Things only got better as we had Scott’s signature soup, Carrot Broth with Chervil sabayon and black truffle oil. It was outstanding. Next came the entrées…

Short Ribs
Apricot Soufflé

The Maine Scallops were prepared with golden raisin and caper sauce, potato puree, almonds and herb salad. This was an exquisite dish which reminded us of the way scallops are supposed to taste. The Short Ribs were cooked for over 50 hours and then seared to perfection. They we served with Orzo ‘Mac & Cheese’, beech mushrooms and gremolata. The Entrees were delicious and all generous portions.  The desserts are also over the top. We especially loved the Apricot Soufflé, which had a lavender crusted center. It was definitely one of the best desserts we have had all year. Scott Howard creates a much-needed dining experience using the best of the natural flavors of fresh ingredients while being reasonably priced. It’s great to have a high quality downtown San Francisco restaurant, where you feel like you are dining on the quality of cuisine you deserve and can afford to come back to on a regular basis.

Scott Howard
500 Jackson Street
San Francisco, CA 94133


Café Maritime

Café Maritime 
Executive Chef Edward Martinez

Café Maritime is a seafood restaurant that opened on Lombard Street in The Marina in 2004. They recently hired a new Executive Chef Edward Martinez who brings over fifteen years of local experience including working with Bix’s Bruce Hill. The atmosphere at Café Maritime is authentic San Francisco. The menu includes a Raw Shellfish Bar with fresh oysters, clams and even Vodka oyster shooters. Even though it is mostly Seafood; steaks or burgers are available as well. We couldn’t resist getting started with the Specialty Cocktails.

Oysters Eduardo

Coconut Cream Pie

The White Out which is made with Citron Vodka, Cointreau, white cranberry juice and fresh lime juice was too tasty. We did have a second one but stopped there as we had a feeling that three White Outs would equal one Black Out! Definitely start out your dining experience with the Oysters Eduardo, which is Chef Eduardo’s version of Oysters Rockefeller. They were fresh oysters cooked with bacon, Swiss chard and parmesan and were better than any we had ever tasted. The Crab and Shrimp Fitters are also a must as they were light, flavorful and exceptional! The honey mustard dipping sauce was a perfect compliment. We suggest that you have the fresh fish of the day which on our visit was Swordfish. Save room for the Coconut Cream Pie. It has a super light crust and fabulous coconut flavor. It is owner, Mark Mitcheltree’s mother’s own family recipe. Café Maritime has great fresh seafood, a full bar and is open 7 days a week with late night dining until 1:00 AM. 

Café Maritime
2417 Lombard St.
San Francisco, Ca. 94123

Le Charm French Bistro

Fig Salad


Le Charm has been pleasing both locals and tourists with fabulous cuisine for more than 12 years. Chef/ Co Owner Alain Delangle who is originally from Paris, France creates some of the best French cuisine in San Francisco. The restaurant recently did a major remodel to the interior with the help of restaurant designer Michael Brennan giving it a warm and inviting feeling. For starters you must have their signature Sautéed Chicken Liver Salad.  We love Chicken Livers and it was served warm and it was fabulous! You can also tell how good a French bistro is by way they prepare Mussels. Here they lived up to our expectations, they were perfectly cooked and the broth of wine, butter and garlic was fabulous. The entrée that we loved was the Filet of Beef Rossini topped with Foie Gras and Truffle Oil. It was “melt in you mouth” tender. A better cut of beef is hard to find. Save room for Dessert as they serve too many excellent choices. Their Apple Tart Tatin is luscious but also have the Baba au Rum with whipped cream and rum soaked dried fruits. We also loved the Rhubarb and Strawberry Lavender Mousse Parfait! An espresso and port made for a perfect finish. We see why Le Charm has been successful for so many years…it is charming!

Le Charm French Bistro
315 Fifth Street
San Francisco, CA. 94107


Seared Duck Foie Gras

Honey Roasted Peaches

We recently dined in the Mission at a new restaurant called Senses, which recently opened this summer. It has a modern sleek look including a Wine Bar and a communal table. We also loved the abstract Art paintings by Raymond Difley.  The cuisine is California French small plates. We enjoyed the Lobster and Mint Tabbouleh which has an excellent sauce and texture. The Black Mission Figs carpaccio with buffalo mozzarella and reduction of port vinaigrette was unique and delicious. For an appetizer you must have the Seared Duck Foie Gras with fig marmalade which was excellent. The Croustillant of White Sea Bass with mushrooms, ginger coriander infusion and the Chicken Breast stuffed with truffle confit in a cream of endive sauce were both terrificentrees! A glass of Bonny Doone Chenin Blanc pairs perfectly. Save room for dessert as the Honey Roasted Peaches in rosemary tuile with vanilla parfait and blackberry coulis was absolutely lovely.

1152 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110


Executive Chef Terry Lynch
Seared Foie Gras “Sandwich

We experienced stylish dining at Sparrow on Nob Hill across from Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. Executive Chef Terry Lynch’s cuisine is a unique mix of French and Japanese/Asian Cuisine. We loved the ambiance and décor which features votive candles on the tables. The exhibition kitchen allows you to see the preparation. Sparrow has an extensive wine list. We were unsure about what wine to choose, so we relied on our knowledgeable server who helped us find a new favorite Sauvignon Blanc, 2005 Kim Crawford from Marlborough, New Zealand. You must have the Seared Foie Gras “Sandwich”. It is prepared with a banana and chive cream and Thai Chile jam and is so delicate that it melts in your mouth. It is perfect combinations as the flavors are both subtle and bold yet don’t compete. This was definitely one of the best Foie Gras dishes we’ve ever tasted. The Sautéed and poached Skate Wing was a great entrée. It was prepared with Tamarind Gastrique, Chile’d potatoes and wok fried spinach. For dessert have the Black Peppercorn Ice Cream and figs which is delicious with it’s caramelized rosemary skewered strawberries, port syrup and cocoa wafer.

1177 California Street
San Francisco, CA. 94108

Montclair Bistro
Chef-Owner Henry Vortiede’s  and Andrew Perilli-Minetti

Pepper Crusted filet of Wild King Salmon

We were happy to attend one of the Montclair Bistro’s monthly Monday night Wine Maker Dinners. It featured the wines of Mario Perilli-Minetti Winery. We enjoyed Executive Chef-Owner Henry Vortiede’s Four Course Dinner with Wine Pairing which was prepared with the wines as an ingredient. Andrew Perilli-Minetti was there and told us that his family’s wines are French in style, crisp, high acid and fruit forward with no oak and are produced from Rutherford and Napa grapes. We loved the Roasted Asparagus summer greens, heirloom tomatoes and truffled Chardonnay vinaigrette. The 2005 Mario Perilli-Minetti 2005 Chardonnay paired perfectly. The Brown Butter Veal Sweetbreads were prepared with seared peaches and a cabernet glaze with delicious caramelized onions and paired well with the 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon. The Entrée was absolutely fabulous. It was a Pepper Crusted filet of Wild King Salmon with giant peppercorns; pinot scented mustard, greens, smoked corn and pinot reduction. This was complimented perfectly by the 2004 Mario Perilli-Minetti Sonoma Pinot Noir. Dessert was the perfect finish. The Triple Chocolate Mousse Bon Bon with toasted black walnuts was a treat. We relaxed at the end of this sumptuous meal with the 2002 Mario Perilli-Minetti Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon which worked well instead of a port. These monthly Wine Maker Dinners feature delicious cuisine and are intimate and educational.

Montclair Bistro
6118 Medau Place
Montclair Village, Ca 94611

Ora Restaurant
Calamari Kung Pao
Sake Cocktail           Panna Cotta

Mill Valley has a new chic Pan Asian restaurant called Ora. Executive Chef John Van Nguyen creates some fabulous dishes that are sure to please. We had to try their signature Sake Cocktails. Indulge yourself with a Kung Fu Punch, Blushing Geisha or the Mint Monsoon. The menu has many unique dishes to choose from. We enjoyed the Chinese Sweat Bread and Calamari Kung Pao for starters. The Jumbo Shrimp and BBQ Unagi Spring Rolls are also delicious. We loved the Spicy Coconut Curry Bisque which is topped with Dungeness crab meat. The Pan Roasted Day Boat Scallops are also delicious. The dessert that we enjoyed was a Red Raspberry Rose Water Panna Cotta which was a great finish. We enjoyed the lively friendly fun atmosphere and the great ambiance. The food was so refreshing that we felt better than when we came in.

Ora Restaurant
24 Sunnyside Avenue
Mill Valley, CA 94941


Executive Chef/ Owner Fabio Flagiello & Owner Marco Palmieri

Harry’s Bar Carpaccio


Partners Marco Palmieri and Chef Fabio Flagiello who are both originally from Trieste Italy have created a fabulous new destination restaurant in Petaluma. The cuisine features modern interpretations of Mediterranean, French, Italian, Californian and Spanish dishes that Chef Fabio learned as he lived and worked in these places around the world. The restaurant has an upbeat and fun atmosphere. For starters you must have the delicious Ahi Tuna Tartar with mango petals, Mizuna lettuce and Hoisin white balsamic reduction. We loved the thicker than normal Harry’s Bar Carpaccio. It was fabulous tasting beef tenderloin, Parmigiano, capers and extra virgin olive oil. An excellent entrée is the Pan Roasted Alaskan Halibut, lobster bisque, grilled Portobello and asparagus. The wine list is extensive and features some excellent and reasonable Tuscan and California wines. For dessert have the Pistachio Crème Brule or the Chocolate “Bomb”.


154 Petaluma Boulevard North
Petaluma, Ca 94952

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Until we eat again…….."


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