Reality Bites at Orson

A menu to a kill

With all my recent posts raving about all the good eats I’ve had, you’re probably wondering if I’ve had a bad meal or if I’m one of those people who is happy eating anything.  I’m definitely not and I definitely had some less than stellar meals.  It’s just more fun writing about the good ones!

Unfortunately, this is going to be about one of the more disappointing noms I’ve experienced.  While in San Fransisco for Foodbuzz Fest, Kat of Kat’s 9 Lives invited me and Princess Gourmet to brunch with her at Orson, Chef Elizabeth Faulkner’s restaurant.  You may recognize Chef Faulkner if you’ve watched any of those cake challenges on Food Network.  I always thought she was solely a pastry chef but she does have an actual restaurant besides her Citizen Cake bakery.

I didn’t do any research on Orson as this was sort of a last minute deal so I didn’t know what to expect.  I had heard from Kat that she heard it was a great brunch and given Chef Faulkner’s performances on Food Network, I was expecting something that was at least good and satisfying.  Sadly, reality and my expectations didn’t hit it off and decided to part ways.

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Foodbuzz Festival Day 1: Street Food Fare

Foodbuzz Festival was quite a lot of “firsts” for me.  First time flying to SFO alone.  First time taking the BART.  First time attending a food blogger convention…

After checking in to the Sir Francis Drake Hotel (or the Beefeater hotel as I liked to think of it due to the attendant in front dressed like the guy on the Beefeater vodka bottle), I went downstairs to check in to the Fest and pick up my badge.  I also got a swag bag.  Snack items, recipe cards and kitchen tools including a giant knife called “The Devil” and “will cut thru anything” scissors…this was the mother of all swag bags!  Yeah, I definitely was going to have to check in my bag on my return flight.

My's full of cupcakes!

The beer's watching me...

The first night, the welcome reception, was spent in a warehouse at Fort Mason (my first visit to the site).  Outside was a food truck event that I was told occurred every Friday.  This looked very much like the food truck festivals in LA minus the admission fee and the super longs lines.  There were quite a few trucks present…  Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to explore.

When I entered the warehouse, the food vendors were still setting up shop.  There was a huge mini-cupcake display spelling out Foodbuzz from Mission Minis.  Further in the space was Spencer on the Go!  I remember them as the “French” food truck on Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race.  I was especially curious about how their food would taste.

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Many many months ago, a high school friend and I went up to the Bay Area to visit another friend.  Naturally, many of our outings involved eating.  One of our excursions involved a stop at Crepevine for brunch.

Menu board at Crepevine

Located on Church St., this restaurant is a cute little eatery that boasts a huge menu of breakfast and lunch items such as omelettes, scrambles, pasta, sandwiches and, of course, crepes of the sweet and savory varieties.

When we arrived in the late morning, there was already quite a crowd inside.  All the outdoor tables were occupied as well.  Luckily, a large party was just leaving so we snagged their tables. Ordering was a bit confusing as we were given menus by a guy who seemed to be filling in the rolls of host, waiter and bus-boy but it took him a while to come back around to take orders.  There was a guy behind a register so I’m guessing we could also just go up to him and place our orders as well.

Crepevine - New Orleans Benedict

Perusing the menu, I decided on the New Orleans Benedict – crabcakes on an English muffin with poached eggs and spicy Cajun hollandaise ($9.50).  I know, I know…I’m at a place called Crepevine and I don’t order crepes?  I just wasn’t in the mood for them and honestly, I’m a huge fan of benedicts.  The crabcrakes were calling to me!

These were de-li-cious.  The English muffin was perfectly toasted; the eggs nicely poached with a requisite runny yolk.  The crabcakes were decent.  I don’t think they were freshly made but they tasted good, especially with the Cajun hollandaise.  It had a little kick but not a lot for me.  I would have like a little more heat.  The house potatoes were nothing special to write home about…the normal diced fried potatoes you can find at places serving breakfast.

Crepevine - Spicy cornbread with jalapeno jelly

Closeup of cornbread

Listed on the menu under “Sides” was a spicy cornbread with jalapeño jelly ($3.95).  I couldn’t pass this up so I ordered it.  I was expecting a normal sized muffin, not two toasted slices the size of Texas!   This could easily be split between two people.  The cornbread was crispy on the outside, moist on the inside.  As far as cornbread goes, this was one of the better ones I’ve had.  The toasting really gave it some character.  You can see in the close up the pieces of chopped peppers they mix into the batter to give it a supposed spicyness.  Once again, I found a lack of heat.  The jalapeño jelly was nice and gave it a little bit of the extra kick I was looking for.  Unfortunately, I was stuffed from my eggs benedict so I couldn’t finish it all.

Everyone ordered different things so here are some photos…

Crepevine - La Suisse French Toast

One of Crepevine's sweet crepes

Crepevine - Huevos Rancheros scramble

Looks yummy doesn’t it?

For the amount of food and the taste and quality, the prices are decent, almost borderline bargain.  There’s really no host so seating was a little confusing.  And during peak hours, large groups will be hard-pressed to find seating together.  Also, the service was a bit spotty but this place didn’t quite seem like a full-fledged sit-down restaurant.

The Catty Critic gives Crepevine 4 NOMs.

216 Church St
San Francisco, CA 94114
(415) 431-4646
Crepevine on Urbanspoon

Eating our way thru the Bay…area that is.

Last weekend, Dan and I went up to San Fransisco to attend the wedding of one of my good friends from high school. Lovely lovely…(^_^)…interesting even what with the fire alarms going off (not during the ceremony, thankfully)! There’s something surreal about being at a Chinese style reception and hearing the mostly-Asian crowd singing “Livin’ on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi at the top of their lungs.

Since this is a review blog…food review from our weekend!!! I have to apologize that I don’t have pictures of the actual food save 1 item. We did have a camera but we just were so caught up in seeing old friends and having fun that we never really broke out the camera. =/ Instead, you’ll have to make do with the pictures I found on the intarwebs.

Chili's - Chipotle Bleu Cheese Bacon Burger

Chili’s at the LAX Airport – Chipotle Bleu Cheese Bacon Burger:

What a huge burger! The chipotle added a nice subtle kick. The bleu cheese was quite potent and sometimes overpowered the burger depending on how much was in the bite. The burger patty was moist. The bacon was thick and crispy. A fantastic burger that satiated my hungry tummy. Oh and yummy crisp fries that weren’t all air. This is a 4 1/2 NOM burger.

After check-in at the beautiful Hotel Sofitel San Francisco Bay, Dan and I paid a visit to their bar. Their specialty drinks were a bit unusual, using freshly made juices and organic herbs like basil. They had an avocado martini which I did not try. Instead, I opted to go with the dark n’ stormy – fresh ginger soda and rum. Supposedly, it’s a common drink in the Caribbean. Tasty, especially if you are fan of ginger. I also tried a mango drink that I liked even better as all I could taste was the mango. Dangerous! I just wish I could remember what went into it…bitters, I think.

For breakfast, we met up with some friends at the restaurant at the hotel, Bay 223. I had the cinnamon butter french toast with a side of applewood smoked bacon ($18). Dan opted for the steak and eggs ($22). My french toast was good but I wish it had more cinnamon on it as I could barely taste it. The bacon, on the hand, was perfect – cooked to a nice crisp. I tried a bite of Dan’s steak. I prefer my meat to be cooked medium rare/medium so his well-done steak was cooked too well for me but it was still moist and tender. We had unlimited refills on orange juice and coffee was delivered in a french press. The service was impeccable. We never had to ask for anything. Though the food was good, I found the prices to be expensive for what we got.  (3 1/2 NOMs)

After the ceremony, a group of us hung out at the bar again. We ordered some fried calamari and the Mediterranean platter (hummus, tzatziki and an olive tapenade with pita bread) to nosh on while we killed time till the reception. The calamari was disappointing as the pieces were tiny and half the basket seemed to be batter flakes. The platter, however, was not. The tzatziki was not your typical kind; instead of yogurt, they used cottage cheese as the base. It was nice as it added a good texture. The olive tapenade was excellent, if you like olives. The hummus was thick and fresh; it still had a little bit of a grainy texture from the beans and a strong garlic flavor. (3 NOMs)

The reception was at Zen Peninsula, a Chinese family restaurant in Millbrae. In case some of you aren’t familiar with Chinese weddings, it’s basically one giant food fest. You are seated at a large table with a lazy susan and the waiters bring dish after dish after dish after…well, you get the idea.

Anyways, when we got there, my first impression of the place was that it was bright and clean inside. There were the usual fish tanks, nicely stocked with lobsters, prawns and various fish. They had set up an open bar in the back across from the tanks. On the other side of the room was an appetizer station dishing out vegetable egg rolls and these little buns with bbq pork…not char siu bao (steamed) but baked/fried. The egg rolls were perfectly fried – crispy and not oily. I liked the buns more – moist filling and the bun was almost cake-pastry like.

On to the entreés:
Now, not everything looked like this (the chicken wasn’t a whole one) and there weren’t as many walnuts on the shrimp dish plate. But yes, this is what we got.

Barbeque platter with suckling pig - There was a nice arrangement of various parts of the pig, thinly sliced on the plate with a side of jellyfish. On the sides were pieces of pork belly and some other part I’m not familiar with but had before. In the middle was a section of pork with the skin still on, perfectly fried to a crisp. It was all tasty and none of the meat was dry. I enjoyed the jellyfish, something I don’t get to have often. It looks a bit unappetizing (Dan described it as looking like snot), but don’t let it deter you from trying it. The texture is similar to soft cartilage and the flavor light.

Stir-fried calamari and scallops over greens - The scallops were cooked perfectly and seemed fresh – buttery texture and no fishy flavor. I don’t recall trying the calamari since I had calamari earlier. The greens were sugar snap peas. Cooked lightly, they were still crunchy which was a nice contrast to the buttery scallops.

Honey walnut prawns – This dish comprises of prawn tails cooked in a light mayo sauce and garnished with honey covered walnuts. This is a great dish to order as it’s not too exotic for those with a less adventurous palette. I am not a big fan of mayo and sometimes restaurants will be heavy-handed. In this case, the cooks were not; there was enough sauce to coat the prawns but no more than that.

Braised shark’s fin soup with shredded chicken – I had never had shark fin soup before so this was a treat. I was a little disconcerted as it’s well known, the inhumane way some fishermen harvest shark fins. But since it was served, I went ahead and tried it. The soup was thick, like syrup.  The flavor was rich, like a meaty broth that overcame the flavor of the shredded chicken pieces. As for the shark fin itself…um…I’m not sure if it is like tofu and takes on other flavors or if it was masked.

Braised sliced abalone and shitake mushroom – I am not sure if I’ve ever had abalone before. This dish comprised of a large whole shitake mushroom and a thin slice of abalone. The abalone, like other shellfish, when cooked correctly, had a buttery texture though it had a stronger flavor than scallops. As a lover of mushrooms, I thoroughly enjoyed the shitake.

Stir-fried lobster with ginger and scallion – I’m not sure what they mean by stir-fried because this dish didn’t look like what I thought. I was expecting pieces of lobster meat with chunks of ginger and scallion. Instead, whole lobsters segmented into manageable pieces showed up, heads included. Dan thought this dish was too fishy but I thought it was fine. The lobster was a little overcooked as the piece I had bordered on rubbery.

Green tea chicken – This dish involved part of a roasted chicken, skin and bone included, cleaved into segments. Moist with a nice crispy skin, I’m not sure where the green tea came in. It’s a common dish you’ll find at restaurants like this, popular among the patrons.

Honey smoke sea bass – By this point, I was full so i don’t know if that influenced my opinion of this dish. I took one bite and deemed it too fish-flavored for my liking. Given my penchant for preferring sushi as my method of consuming fish, any slight bit of fishy flavor ruins dishes like this for me.

Stir-fried E-fu noodle – A simple dish, egg-noodles stir-fried. The noodles were good, not rubbery but not undercooked either and they had a nice flavor.

Yang Chow fried rice – I was stuffed silly by the time this dish came around. Sad as it looked really appetizing. Fluffy rice fried with shrimp, minced bbq pork, and vegetables, the few bites I managed to take were delicious. I wish I could have taken this back to the hotel for a midnight snack.

Dual wedding dessert – This involved a red bean-filled pastry, a puff pastry, and wedding cupcakes (the couple went with cupcakes instead of cake). All were delicious. The cupcake I tried was the most memorable. Rich chocolate with a coffee frosting, this was moist and delectable.

Red bean dessert soup – I opted out of trying this as if I ate anymore, I would be ill.

I give this wedding feast 4 NOMs.  As for everything else about the wedding, this Catty Critic had a ton of fun and is overjoyed for the newlyweds. Hope they have a 5 NOM life together!

The next morning we headed into the city to meet up with some other friends. We rendezvoused at Pier 39 and had lunch at Eagle Cafe. I had a bite of the crab cake appetizer which was very good. The crab tasted fresh; it was nicely fried and had a rich flavor even without sauce. I ordered their famous crab salad sandwich with garlic fries. Dan went for the fried shrimp with garlic fries. Since there was a mix up (our waitress was a bit lost or overwhelmed or something), I noshed on his fries while I waited for my lunch to arrive. A lot of times, garlic fries means fries with some garlic powder. These fries had minced garlic. The fries themselves were shoestring style so they were a little too thin; steak fries would have been a better choice of cut, especially to scoop up those yummy pieces of garlic. When my food arrived, the sandwich was quite huge. The crab salad was delicious. Like the crab cake, there was fresh crab and great flavor. It wasn’t too wet which signaled to me that this wasn’t prepared too early and left to sit out. The ratio of filling to bread was great and fresh romaine and tomatoes were included.  Eagle Cafe gets 3 1/2 NOMs.

Well, that concludes the culinary aspect of our trip!

I’ve got some other reviews to catch up. We watched “No Country for Old Men” last night and are watching “The Dark Knight” on Friday (in IMAX!!) so I’ll have to post reviews for those. And I have yet to see “Hellboy 2″; we are hoping to do so sometime this weekend.

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