28 Mar 2009 07:13 am

For authentic Vietnamese cuisine in a romantic and picturesque setting, there is nothing quite like San Francisco’s The Slanted Door.  Located at the foot of Market Street with stunning views of San Francisco Bay, this outstanding restaurant pairs traditional recipes with locally farmed ingredients, producing Vietnamese  dishes with a decidedly Northern California flair. 


Executive Chef Charles Phan opened the original Slanted Door in San Francisco’s Mission District in 1995.  The restaurant moved to its more upscale current location in One Ferry Building in 2004.  Yet despite its elegant setting, The Slanted Door maintains a feeling of warmth and neighborhood hospitality.  Service is highly personal and attentive, with servers willing to take time to answer questions, make suggestions, and offer accompaniments from The Slanted Door’s extensive array of wines and teas. 

The Slanted Door uses ecologically farmed meat, game and poultry, and organically grown local produce to produce such delicacies as its famous Shaking Beef, made with cubed filet mignon and topped with watercress and red onions, and served with a lime dipping sauce.  Our dining companion, a sushi connoisseur, ordered from the raw bar and reports that The Slanted Door serves some of the freshest and most artfully prepared sushi he has tasted.  He was especially taken with the Kona Kampachi, which is served with English cucumber, mint and Thai chili.  The cool mint offsets the piquant Thai chili and together they form a perfect complement to the succulent Kampachi.


The Caramelized Tiger Prawns, prepared with garlic, onions and chili sauce, were another favorite, and no meal at The Slanted Door would be complete without its delicious baby bok choy with shiitake mushrooms.

The Slanted Door boasts an extensive wine list with an emphasis on German Rieslings, whose sweetness pairs surprisingly well with the piquancy of Vietnamese cuisine.  There is also an extraordinary tea menu, including blossoming teas that bloom into beautiful arrangements of tea flowers as they steep in the glass. 

The Slanted Door is located at One Ferry Building #3.  Reservations are a must.  Both the restaurant and the bar are packed in the evenings, when the sparkling lights of the Bay Bridge seem to shimmer and the view is at its most stunning.  Hungry shoppers from the nearby Embarcadero Center make this a busy lunch spot as well.  Lunch and dinner are served seven days a week, and the restaurant is open until 10 P.M.  every night.

Bon Appétit,

Rob Lubin

22 Mar 2009 06:44 pm

In Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare famously asks, “What’s in a name?” Well, if you’re talking about beef, the answer is easy: Everything.


“That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” writes the famed playwright. Had he been talking about steak, however — especially the Japanese variety — he might have changed his mind.

 Sure, what we call Kobe beef by any other name would probably taste just as sweet, but without the word Kobe we wouldn’t know how to order it. Kobe beef on a menu would sound just like any other variety of beef — and Kobe beef is not just like any other variety of beef.

 For that reason, we’ve got a beef with Japanese beef. Well, not with the beef — we love the beef — but rather with the American words for describing it.

 On a typical American restaurant menu, you’ll likely see two words used interchangeably to describe Japanese-style beef: Kobe and Wagyu. While both are delicious, they’re not necessarily the same thing — and it’s time to set the record straight for carnivorous, Kobe-craving foodies everywhere.

 Before you can understand what Kobe beef is, you’ve got to understand what Wagyu beef is, which is beef — generally — from Japanese cows. In fact, the term Wagyu simply means Japanese (Wa) cattle (gyu). For that reason, several other, non-Kobe  varieties of beef can also be called Wagyu.

 Of course, Japanese cows aren’t identical to American cows. Although they may look the same to the untrained eye, their insides really are different.  Raised over several centuries on different terrain and eating a different diet than American cows, Japanese cattle produce beef that’s uniquely marbled with fat, which makes Wagyu beef especially flavorful, tender and juicy.

 So, what’s Kobe, then? Well, there are actually four major breeds of Japanese cow, or Wagyu. Kobe — a black-haired variety — happens to be just one of them. All Kobe beef is therefore Wagyu, but not all Wagyu beef is Kobe.

 Just like authentic Champagne must come from the Champagne region of France, authentic Kobe beef must come from Hyogo Prefecture, Japan. Champagne from anywhere else is just sparkling wine, connoisseurs insist, and Kobe beef from anywhere else is just “Kobe-style” beef, or Tajimi-ushi - which refers to the type of black-haired cattle raised for both Kobe and Kobe-style beef.

 The reason is more than just semantics. It’s historical, too, as volumes have been written about the history of cattle in Japan, where eating four-legged animals was once outlawed due to the nation’s Buddhist belief system.

 Eating beef became popular — and legal — again during the Meiji Restoration (1867-1912), when Emperor Meiji attempted to bring more Western influence into Japan. By the mid-20th century, Kobe beef had become popular as a prized but rare delicacy in Japan, which lacks a lot of land for grazing animals. Kobe must therefore be raised in very limited numbers and under very specialized conditions.

 Which leads us to what really separates authentic Japanese Kobe from other varieties of Wagyu, including the American version: To this day, black Kobe cows often have their own little homes and are fed a carefully guarded diet that almost certainly includes barley, wheat, corn and — eventually — beer. Some purveyors even massage their cows with Sake based on the belief that a soft, gentle coat produces a finer, more delicate meat. Because of how they’re fed and cared for, true Kobe beef in Japan can therefore fetch up to $400 per pound.

 Here in the United States, true Kobe beef is very hard to come by. When you see it on a U.S. restaurant menu, therefore, you’ll most likely be eating a Kobe-style (a.k.a. Wagyu or Tajima) steak, instead. While it’s no less delicious — and no less expensive, at between $50 and over $150 per pound — it’s worth knowing the difference, in case you ever get the chance to taste the real deal.

 Whether you’re eating real Kobe or American Tajima, be sure that your meat’s prepared properly. No matter how you usually prefer your steak, marbled meat like Kobe is best served rare or medium rare, which preserves the flavors of the tender meat tucked in between those thick marbled layers of melted fat. Kobe-style beef differs so much from even the finest prime cuts in the United States that it’s almost always best to have it prepared by a chef with expert knowledge of this Japanese delicacy.

 What’s in a name, Shakespeare? If your steak costs more than your monthly car payment, the answer is, “a lot!”

15 Mar 2009 04:04 pm

Some people take home fruits and vegetables and make salsa on the kitchen counter.  This weekend  I took home fruits and vegetables that I think are secretly dancing the Salsa on my kitchen counter.  Sunday I went to the Lincoln Road Farmers’ Market in South Beach, a town so hot that even the produce seems to dance to a sexy Latin rhythm. 


March is a perfect time to visit South Beach.  This Sunday the temperature hit 80 degrees, and with a gentle breeze off the Atlantic it was  a perfect beach day.  Still, not everyone was at the beach.  The Lincoln Road Farmers’ Market was in full swing, and vendors had planted themselves all along the pedestrian only boulevard, to sell exotic fruits and vegetables, flowers, honey, and even a few local crafts. 

This time of year the market is brimming with winter vegetables from Florida farms.  Temple oranges and honey tangerines from the Indian River are at their peak right now, and so are the lusciously rich strawberries grown in and around Plant City.   Fresh cut herbs are always available at the Market.  In summer I often find locally grown lychees, pink guava, avocado, dragon fruit and mangoes.

By the way, if you have never tried dragon fruit, it’s a real treat.  The skin is bright pink and green and looks great on the kitchen counter or the dining room table.  To eat it, cut it in half and spoon the fruit out of the center like ice cream.  It’s just slightly sweet and outrageously juicy.  

Morning is the best time to go to the Lincoln Road Farmers’ Market, before the temperature starts to climb and the beach beckons.  After brunch at one of the many fine restaurants in the area, a stroll through the Farmers’ Market is the perfect opportunity to plan the evening’s meal. 


The Lincoln Road Farmers’ Market takes place every Sunday from 9 am to 7 pm.

 Bon Appetite,

Rob Lubin

09 Mar 2009 07:10 pm

Lovers of fine dining have a new hot spot in Fort Lauderdale to add to their list of favorites.  da Campo Osteria by Todd English has it all - a warm and inviting dining room, an elegant setting overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway, and an outstanding menu featuring authentic regional Italian cuisine.


Todd English is of course the celebrity chef who changed fine dining in Boston forever when he opened Olives in 1989.  His creative reach now spreads from coast to coast and in between, with Olives restaurants in Boston, New York, Las Vegas, Aspen, Washington, D.C. and Biloxi, as well as the just opened Beso in Los Angeles.  

da Campo opened in Fort Lauderdale in November 2008.  The menu features an array of dishes inspired by the fresh flavors of Tuscany, like Bread Stick Pork Milanese with Olive Caper Relish, Wild Snapper Marsala, and Filet Mignon with Celery Root Polenta, Wild Mushrooms and Gorgonzola.  This week was my first visit to da Campo, and I had to try the Butternut Squash Agnolotti, one of the restaurant’s signature dishes. It was amazing, rich and delicate, the butternut squash mixed with parmesan cheese and just a hint of sweetness from bits of almond biscotti.  The Agnolotti provided a smooth finish to the crunchy sweetness of the Beets with Pistachio appetizer.  For a little dining room theatre, da Campo also offers fresh mozzarella pulled table side and served with a wide choice of complements like pickled hot pepperoncini, prosciutto di parma, fig balsamico, olive tapenade and honey spiced walnuts.   And true theatre buffs will also want to request the “tasting table,” a dining bar with a front row view into the open kitchen.

Unfortunately diners at the “tasting table” have their back to the fabulous view of the Intracoastal Waterway, so if you need to keep an eye out on your yacht to make sure the deckhands don’t drink all your prosecco, you might be better off at a regular table.  Luckily most tables have a view of both the kitchen and the Waterway, so you can watch your filet roasting in one direction and your crew marinating in the other.  Yes, you really can have it all!

da Campo Osteria is located in the Il Lugano Luxury Suites Hotel on 3333 Northeast 32nd Avenue in Fort Lauderdale.  Be sure to book ahead of time, especially on weekends, when the small dining room is usually filled to capacity all night.  The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.  The view is fabulous all day long, but peak time is sunset, when the western sky turns purple and pink and the entire dining room seems to glow in the twilight.


Bon appétit

Rob Lubin

08 Mar 2009 02:49 pm

If you’ve ever taken a road trip through the Midwest, where miles upon miles of cornfields stretch east from Kansas and Nebraska on through Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, you know that from the car, all corn looks the same. The corn in cornfields looks so similar, in fact, that it dizzies the eye, like one of those Magic Eye posters that were popular in the 1990s. No wonder they call corn maize; like a maze, it would be pretty easy to get lost in a sea of Kansas corn!


While all corn looks the same when you’re driving through Iowa on Interstate 80, the truth is: It isn’t. In fact, there are dozens of varieties of corn worldwide, including five main types — pop corn, which is also known as Indian corn; flint corn, which is a larger type of pop corn; flour corn, which is used to make corn flour and corn meal; dent corn, which is the quintessential yellow corn with which we’re all so familiar; and sweet corn, which has smaller, sweeter kernels than the dent variety.

Whatever corn you put on your plate, one thing’s for sure: It’s not the same corn on which your ancestors noshed. Just ask the history books. While there are many myths surrounding corn and the American dinner plate, popular history suggests that Powhatan’s daughter, Pocahontas, helped John Smith and the colonists grow corn successfully in Jamestown around 1608. Other stories, meanwhile, bring corn to the table at the harvest feast of 1621, in which the pilgrims at Plymouth finally reaped the rewards of Squantos’ advice to fertilize their fields with fish.

While both myths contain a “kernel” of truth, the reality is that we don’t really know when, exactly, corn became American settlers’ favorite food. What we do know with some certainty, however, is that corn was first cultivated over 5,000 years ago in areas of Mexico and Central America, and that it wasn’t until the discovery of the New World that it made its way to Europe.

That means that if you ever come across the term “corn” in English literature predating the voyage of Christopher Columbus, it’s probably not the same kind that now flourishes in the Midwest. In fact, it’s probably something far less appetizing, because the word “corn” was not actually a prescient reference to corn on the cob. Instead, in England - and in the works of Chaucer and Shakespeare - “corn” was once a generic term for any type of grain or wheat. Gruel, anyone?

Still, the British were on to something, as the corn that indigenous Americans shared with European settlers did, ironically, grow originally as a type of grass - like wheat - that was cultivated over thousands of years into the domestic vegetable we grill today.

Speaking of grilling, it’s almost corn season here in the United States. Of the five varieties we previously mentioned, two of the most common kinds of corn are sweet corn - with small, sugary kernels — and yellow corn - with larger, more buttery kernels. While only the yellow type gives you Vitamin A, both types give you protein, fiber and Vitamin C, and therefore make for a delicious and nutritious hot-off-the-grill treat.

While you can get frozen corn throughout the year, the freshest corn is available during corn season from May through September, which also happens to be grilling season! If you’re lucky enough to get un-husked corn, try grilling it just like that, with the husk on. Just be sure that the corn is fresh. Fresh corn recently picked has tight and pure green husks without any brown edges. The corn silk should be a medium brown to yellow color and look fresh to the eye without any significant dryness. Also good to know: if there are larger kernels near the ends of the cob, that’s a sign of a corn past its prime.

Fresh corn, picked and cooked the same day, is the absolute best. A way to preserve its freshness if you plan to serve it within two or three days is to husk the corn, gently remove the silk from the surface, roll the ear in a plain paper towel and dampen it with water, then place the ears in a sealed clear food storage baggie for storage in the refrigerator. The results are an amazingly fresh tasting ear.

If it’s still too cold for grilling where you live, try cooking the corn by placing it in a large pot of boiling water with a pinch of sugar for three to eight minutes, depending on the size of the ear and its kernels. Slather it with butter, salt and pepper, and enjoy an early taste of summer!

07 Mar 2009 07:05 pm

Botero Steak at Steve Wynn’s newest, The Encore, with chef Mark LoRusso who formerly sheparded the acclaimed Tableau at the Wynn now in charge of the kitchen. The Encore, 3131. Las Vegas Blvd. South, Las Vegas, NV. 702 248 3463


Theo’s featuring Italian cuisine with chef Theo Schoenegger of the four star Los Angeles Patina will feature refined Italian cuisine with an emphasis on seasonal produce. The Encore, 3131 Las Vegas Blvd. South, Las Vegas, NV. 702 248 3463.

Marc Poidevin who was The Wynn’s executive chef will now be in charge of the kitchen at Switch where the dining space and lighting provides a unique entertainment environment. The Encore, 3131 Las Vegas Blvd. South, Las Vegas, NV. 702 248 3463.

Wazuzu a wide ranging casual Asian bistro has opened at the Wynn Encore with L.A.’s well known chef Jet Tita offering a variety of many Southeast Asian cuisines. The Encore, 3131 Las Vegas Blvd. South, Las Vegas, NV. 702 248 3463.

Society Café Encore featuring Chef Kim Canteenwalla will be open seven days for breakfast, lunch and dinner and late night snacks at the recently opened Steve Wynn’s Encore for classic American fare with interesting modern touches. The Encore, 3131 Las Vegas Blvd. South, Las Vegas, NV. 702 248 3463.


04 Mar 2009 05:30 am

My favorite foodie friend and fine dining companion is a fan of Union Square Café’s Chicken Tortelloni and Winter Greens in Brodo di Pollo.   She tells me the soup is hearty and delicious, with a unique dumpling that adds just the right amount of texture and flavor.    Last week, ever the foodie trouper, she bundled herself into a cab, cold and all, and headed downtown for a steaming hot bowl.  It worked.  Within just a few days her coughing, sneezing and sniffling were all gone and she was back to her old reservation-dialing self.  

Question: What do New York’s Union Square Café, leading research scientists, and your grandmother all have in common?

 Answer:  They all think you should come in out of the cold for a hearty bowl of chicken soup.  

Cold and flu season is here, and now more than ever it’s important to do what it takes to stay healthy and maintain your immune system.  For some,  that might mean heading to the doctor to get jabbed in the bicep with the flu shot du jour.  But serious food lovers know that a piping hot bowl of delicious chicken soup makes for a far better first course.   

Ever mindful of the health and well being of New York’s foodie establishment, Union Square Café and the six other top Manhattan restaurants of the Union Square Hospitality Group are each offering a unique and imaginative take on grandmother’s age old cure for the common cold.  And each time you order a delicious bowl of chicken soup through March 31, 2009 at any of their restaurants the Union Square Hospitality Group will donate $2 to City Harvest and help feed New York’s Hungry.




Believe it or not there is real science to all this.  Researchers have found that chicken soup helps stop the movement of neutrophils, white blood cells that are released in great numbers by viral infections.  I’ll spare you the details, which involve a lot of icky cold stuff and really long scientific words, but suffice it to say that chicken soup has been proven to make you feel better when you have a cold.  If you think a cold is just another excuse for fine dining, then that’s all you really need to know.   

Bon Appétit

Rob Lubin

P.S. Click on “comments” below, and let me know your favorite restaurant destination for a delicious bowl of chicken soup.  




Travels In Taste is a website devoted to gourmet food. We want to provide you, the diner, with the most comprehensive and objective information on the Web about the world's most talked-about dining experiences so that you can make your informed decisions.
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