A Week of Eating Out, And In, In Manhattan and Brooklyn

Food and New York just go together. New Yorkers clearly love to eat. On some Manhattan blocks, every single storefront is a restaurant. As cold weather always stimulates my appetite, you can be sure I did my share of eating. So, I feel I’d be remiss if I didn’t share with you a little bit of what happened food-wise during my week in the big city.

P1080929There are not as many hip and welcoming coffee-shop type cafés in Manhattan as one might think. One that I found and liked quite a bit is Think Coffee, 248 Mercer St., between 3rd and 4th Streets. They have four other locations in the Village and one in Seoul, Korea. Starbucks is present, of course, but for a chain coffee place, I found The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf stores to be less crowded and more comfortable. One place I stumbled upon and wanted to try for lunch was The Clinton Street Baking Company and Restaurant, 4 Clinton St. near East Houston, on the Lower East Side. However, at 2:30 on a Wednesday afternoon the waiting line seemed long, so I decided to pass. I hope to make it back to this popular spot some day because it looked like it would be really good.

P1080761P1080766One of the relative new-comers to the Manhattan museum scene, is the Neue Gallerie, Fifth Avenue at 86th St., which specializes in showing art and design from Germany and Austria. I was amazed by a show of  early  20th Century German posters. The museum’s popular restaurant, Café Sabarsky, offers a Viennese menu and ambiance in a space with views of  Central Park. Photos above: My friend Mary Morgan samples the excellent beet borscht, and lunchtime in the café.

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Where to Eat: New Vegan, Macrobiotic Cafe Opens in Berkeley

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It’s too soon to give a detailed review, but I know all of you who live in or visit the Bay Area will want to know about the Green Earth Cafe and Bakery in Berkeley.  Open just a few weeks, proprietors Barbara Johnston-Brown  and Ciren Zhuoga and their staff offer a welcoming menu of organic, vegan, macrobiotic dishes. I tried the Green Earth special plate of the day (pictured above), which also comes in a smaller version in a bowl. It included a veggie stir fry with seitan (or was that tofu?), baked sweet potato and apple, fried polenta sticks, rice with kamut, and pickles. Everything on the plate was prepared with a delicate hand, and completely delicious.  Even though I live twenty miles away,  I hope to pop in frequently to check on progress. I worked ten years in the restaurant business and know very well how tough and competitive it is.  So, to Barbara and Ciren I say: I wish you well, you’ve got a good start and I hope you can take it the rest of the way to long-term success.

Details: Green Earth Cafe and Bakery, 2124 Center Street Berkeley, CA 94704 (one block from downtown Berkeley BART). 510-981-8404 /Hours: Light breakfast 8:30-11 a.m. / Lunch: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. / Dinner: 5:30-9:30 p.m. / Saturday Brunch: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Closed Sunday (as with most new businesses, it’s good to call ahead, as hours can change).

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Barbara Johnston-Brown (pictured) and Ciren Zhuoga are proprietors of the new Green Earth Cafe and Bakery in Berkeley (more photos after the jump).

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Restaurants: Will Iron Chef Morimoto Be A Winner In Downtown Napa?

Sushi and salad chefs at work during the lunch rush.

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, you’ve probably noticed that our food and especially our restaurants are more and more influenced by what we see on TV and view on line. Celebrity chefs are everywhere: starring in TV shows, writing cookbooks, opening restaurants, blogging, shilling lines of prepared food. While the whole media circus aspect of the food business doesn’t interest me much, I admit I was curious when I heard that Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto was opening a flagship restaurant just a few miles up the road in Napa.  I promised myself that I would check it out, and planned to until I looked at the menu where appetizers at dinner run from $15-20, and entrees begin at $23 and top out at $80 for an Australian wagyu beef steak. For $110 you’ll get an omakase tasting menu. A little rich for my blood. However, I noticed that at lunch you can now order a four-part set menu for $25. That I could do, and so with my friends Bob and Frank, I entered the world of superstar chefdom… (more after the jump)

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The $25 set lunch menu. Clockwise from top left: vegetable tempura, miso soup (or salad), 5 or 6 pieces of sushi, a protein-based entree (tofu, fish, chicken beef or pork).

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Travel: A Sunny Thanksgiving at Auberge du Soliel in the Napa Valley

The view from our table at Auberge du Soliel, looking southwest across the Napa Valley.

I hope your Thanksgiving is turning out to be as memorable as mine. A combination of made-to-order weather,  peaceful wine country setting, wonderful food and great friends made for a nearly-perfect day. As you know, I’m a bit fussy (sometimes even cranky) about what I eat. While I have strong vegan/vegetarian leanings, I am open to eating widely–if the food is of exceptional quality. I’m a rice and veggies kind of guy, but on special occasions I like to drop my guard, have a glass of wine and just enjoy. All of which brings me to Auberge du Soliel, an inn and restaurant perched on a hill with an expansive view of the Napa Valley. In a relaxed mood today at Auberge, and because it was Thanksgiving after all, I couldn’t resist the Willie Bird turkey. Accompanied by an intense oyster stuffing, mashed potatoes and cranberry “jus,” it was a contemporary, but satisfying take on Thanksgiving (I can’t help but be amused at the trendy menu use of the word “jus”–it is French for juice, as in jus d’orange, [orange juice], but more and more in the U.S. it seems to mean any kind of light sauce). For me, the meal began with wild shrimp, went on to an arugula and radicchio salad, and ended with a pumpkin custard which tasted very much like a light pumpkin pie. Having worked in a number of restaurant kitchens, I appreciate the demanding work which goes on behind the scenes, and I salute everyone who cooks on a holiday so that others may enjoy.

I suppose I should end on a serious note, perhaps with a reminder that Thanksgiving isn’t only about food, but is about experiencing gratitude for life and the abundance many of us take for granted. However, I’m not going there.  As readers of MacroChef, I’m pretty sure you’ve already done that, that and so much more.  But do stay out of the stores tomorrow, and thanks for reading MacroChef as we move into our second year! Happy Thanksgiving!

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I think it's tacky to interrupt a meal to take photos, but I did snap a quick pic of the dessert which we all ordered: pumpkin custard with ginger molasses cake, candied pepitas, and chantilly cream. (More photos after the jump...)

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Where to Eat: My List of Really Good and Surprisingly Affordable San Francisco Restaurants

Sea vegetable salad (left), horenso ohistashi (right) at Umi, a small, charming Japanese restaurant on Potrero Hill

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I have to confess that I eat out, probably more than is good for me, and certainly more than my modest budget rationally can afford. But, you know what, I enjoy it, so I’ll no doubt continue! Partly it’s that I spent ten years working in restaurants and that I still find the business fascinating. And partly it’s that I’m curious to explore new tastes, new techniques and new cuisines. In twenty two years of living in San Francisco, I developed a repertoire of modest places where one gets very good food at fair prices. Just for the fun of it, I’d like to share with you some of my San Francisco haunts where I return often, even though I no longer live around the corner.

My little list consists of places where you’ll always get fresh, interesting, well-priced food. They are clean and pleasant, and they offer good options for vegetarians. Please keep in mind that restaurants can change over night, so before you go, it might be wise to check on line or call ahead to confirm menus and hours. (Click on the restaurant’s name to go to its web site). And so, organized by neighborhood, here’s my list…

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The Best of Organic Dining in the East Bay

Imperial Tea Court, Berkeley

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MIKLANE JANNER PICKS HER FAVORITE MODERATELY-PRICED RESTAURANTS IN OAKLAND/BERKELEY/ALBANY

New blog contributor Miklane Janner has been living and searching out great places to eat organically in the East Bay for years. This list is a baker’s dozen of her favorites.  Vegans, vegetarians and omnivores alike will find a lot to please them on her list.

Millennium’s Chef Opens Vegetarian Cafe and Wine Bar

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When a chef as well known as Millennium’s Eric Tucker is involved in a new restaurant, that’s news.  Macrochef visited Encuentro, his new venture in Oakland’s Warehouse District, just south of Jack London Square.  We liked what we saw, and what we tasted.  More Photos and a review here. See Eric Tucker in a New York Times slide show of  San Francisco vegetarian restaurants here.