On a recent trip to San Francisco, Tsar Nicoulai's Graphic Designer, Xenia Maximow, and I snuck away for a late lunch at Leo's Oyster Bar on Sacramento Street. We channeled the parking gods to score us a spot nearby and strolled the rest of the way. I grew up thirty minutes away and spent summers taking the train in just to aimlessly walk these streets. In the shade it was freezing, in the sun it was hot. I teased my blazer like a school girl crush, pulling it on and off, unable to decide if I really wanted it or not. That's weather in Northern California.
The tall, golden striped doors of Leo's shimmered in the sunshine. Hidden behind them waited a different world separate from the one outside. A different place. A different time. Suddenly we weren't in San Francisco, but Hawaii - or Havana, I've heard people say. In the 50s or 60s. Bearded bartenders making hip cocktails bring the past and the present trends together. Bungalow is the word that pops up for me and Xenia as we try to place the ambiance. Printed palm leaves spread across the walls and live greens hang from the ceiling, stretching themselves to welcome us in. Flutters of gold detail whisper hello.
It's the feel of the mid-century modern place that sets it apart from the rest of the seafood joints saturating San Francisco according to Chef de Cuisine Riley Harris. He sits with us around our green lacquered table surrounded by bamboo bistro chairs to chat with us for a bit about Leo's and the magic that happens here. "It's like Mad Men," he says. Perhaps the Tikki Bar episode if there was one.
Lunch has already slowed down, but you can still feel the buzz. Harris tells us it's the dinner rush that's most exciting. It sounds like the team here is close and enjoys getting lost in the hustle together. They are friends outside of work too. I'm instantly envious and want to be a part of it, holding back from asking for some kind of application or an invitation to hang out with them. Instead, we ask about Harris and his background.
Harris grew up in Virginia. He spent time in Paris and the South of France cooking in esteemed establishments like Passard's L'Arpege. He's worked with Mina Group and at Daniel Patterson's Coi to name a few. He also helped open Leo's sister restaurant, Petite Marlowe, a wine bar and oysterette. I'm not that old (I tell myself) and I must have at least 5 years on him so I find his long list of culinary accomplishments and connections impressive. His outstretched hand reveals a tattoo. I admire the fork and spoon on his forearm. It's a tribute to the first chef he ever worked with, who gifted him the silverware and recently passed away.
We're curious if Leo's chooses other sustainable seafood for their menu in addition to Tsar Nicoulai. Harris says despite not always being able to be hyper-seasonal, he makes an effort in choosing fish from the Bay Area when he can or other places not too far away. His choices that come from longer distances are usually at least upheld to sustainable practices. He also enjoys making dishes that celebrate less utilized fish. "I want to have these products in the future," he adds, which is why he supports sustainable sources.
After our chat we get to the main reason we came to Leo's. To sample some of their dishes featuring Tsar Nicoulai Caviar. To start, Harris sent out two bites. A beet blini with creme fraiche and caviar slicked with some truffle oil make a classic more modern - once again bringing the past into the present in true Leo's style. Along side the blini was smoked tuna dip playfully wrapped in a togarashi cracker, topped with roe and chive blossoms. This tiny bite has some serious flavor.
Before our salads arrived, we asked to also try the Salmon Tartare with salmon roe and capers in pastry. A hefty and fresh starter marrying delicate fish with grainy mustard and herbs that give way to a satisfying pop of roe. To finish, we enjoyed the Tea Leaf Salad with Ahi Tuna Carpaccio and the Leo's Louie topped with a combination of King Crab and Rock Shrimp. The later two dishes were fresh, light, but filling and a perfect end to a delicious lunch.
I often daydream of going back in time and here at Leo's it feels like you can. Except you get to take the current trends of fun pairings and daring chefs and bearded bartenders with you. Which is kind of the best of both worlds.
To make a reservation at Leo's call 415-872-9982 or click here.
Leo's Oyster Bar
568 Sacramento St
San Francisco, CA 94111
I mentioned last year
how breakfast in bed, or just breakfast in quiet, is a perfect Mother's Day gift for a mom. My daughter asks almost every day for pancakes. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, that's what she wants. And I can't blame her. I think a nice, filling and fun breakfast is what I want for Mother's Day too.
A friend of mine sent me the recipe for Dorie Greenspan's Smoked Salmon Waffles
and I thought this would be a perfect place for a garnish of Tsar Nicoulai Caviar. It's also a fabulous dish for a mom to savor (in peace) on her special day.
The last time I used our waffle iron was to make my husband a waffle breakfast in bed a zillion years ago. I was happy to dust it off again for this. I hope we continue to use it some more (hint, hint - like for a Mother's Day Breakfast in Bed, perhaps).
I left out the scallions in the recipe, but basically you mix up a delicious sauce with lemon juice, dill, capers, sour cream, salt and pepper. The waffle batter is savory including dill, red onions, and chopped smoked salmon. It's easy for a dad to make with the kids, but impressive enough to feel extravagant and special. Especially since it's topped with more salmon and caviar!
Sometimes potatoes and blini can get boring, so having something cheerful and whimsical to top with caviar is fun.
I used our Reserve Caviar
for this, but almost any will work. In fact, our gift sets
are on sale now for Mother's Day (until May 15th), so you could present Mom with a few and let her decide. Use code 4MOM when you shop online for 20% off any of the sets.
Life is a beautiful, important journey and each one starts with a mom. So cheers to all of the moms out there - present, past and future.
Now, go hug or call your mom if you can.
I've spent my entire life on one coast or the other (with some random places in between) so my access to delicious seafood has always been pretty substantial. Despite both sides knowing how to do seafood right, there are a few sea creatures that I associate with one side as opposed to the other. I think lobster in Maine can't be beat. And clam strips from a shack at any beach in Cape Cod are transformative. I can never eat a clam strip anywhere else. It just isn't worth the energy, honestly.
But crab and dishes like cioppino are so San Francisco to me. When I hear the word cioppino I imagine the Wharf or the Ferry Building. I can see the crumbs from the toasted bread and the white linen napkin about to get splashed with tomato-y broth.
Making this crab melt gave me a quick trip back to the Bay without actually having to fly anywhere. Except I didn't use sourdough bread as suggested for the Beet and Saffron Infused Whitefish Roe Traditional Signature Bite. There are many "California" and "San Francisco" things about me, but loving sourdough isn't one of them. Crazy, I know.
Instead I used a ciabatta type roll that I cut in half. I found good quality canned crab at a local fish market (make sure you talk to your fish monger about your best options) and mixed it with some finely chopped red onion, parsley, dill, salt, pepper, some lemon juice and seafood seasoning similar to Old Bay. I used about 4oz of crab. I stirred in some mayonnaise (my favorite is Just Mayo), and scooped the crab salad on top of the bread. I topped the crab with some slices of Gruyere cheese and stuck it under the broiler until the cheese melted. Once I pulled it out I topped with Tsar Nicoulai Beet and Saffron Roe and some dill.
Beet and dill is a natural pairing to me (must be the Russian) and they garnish the delicate but flavorful crab salad so perfectly. The crunchy non-sourdough bread pulls the whole thing together. You might think the cheese with the roe could be odd but they play off each other very well. Plus melted cheese more often than not is a fabulous idea.
If you don't feel like heading to the Wharf for a crab sandwich, make this simple and delicious one at home. Just don't forget the Beet and Saffron Infused Whitefish Roe. If you must, go ahead and use sourdough bread.
PS: There is still time to take advantage of our Spring promotion! Use code easter17 at checkout for 20% off your order. This promotion is valid online only through April 14th, 2017.
So it's been a couple months already since the start of the year and this is the time I really start to dwindle on all the grand plans I had on New Year's Eve. If you haven't bailed, that's great. But if you're like me, Bon Appetit's January issue has actually given us an out!
They call it Healthyish. Where we can be conscientious of what we put in our mouths without going crazy or living off bird seeds and blended cucumbers. A trendier name for the basic concept of "everything in moderation". This is something I was pretty much doing anyway, but now I could let myself feel accomplished about it and give it a fun hashtag.
One of their healthyish recipes is a guide to putting together a poke bowl. Yum. A perfect and less traditional way to serve some of our caviar. I'll use their outlined steps to show you how I constructed this masterpiece.
1. Choose a base
I went with Japanese Soba noodles and cooked 4 ounces of them as per the package then tossed them in some toasted sesame oil. I think rice would have been delicious as well. This is basically a Hawaiian/Asian burrito bowl, after all.
2. Choose a protein
We have a green grocer nearby with a little fish market in the back. They had some nice sushi-grade tuna and I picked up just under a pound. I made sure to ask the fishmonger if he would eat it raw himself before making my final decision. If you can't find fish you are comfortable eating raw, you can always use cooked salmon, shrimp or tofu as a protein. As always, make sure to ask the right questions and seek out the best seafood options available.
3. Choose a dressing
I found some ponzu dressing at the store and went with that. I cut the fish into 1/2" pieces and diced an avocado (I only ended up using about 1/4 pound of the fish). I put the avocado and tuna into a bowl. I added grated ginger with a few very thin slices of jalapeno and then tossed in some of the ponzu dressing and set it aside.
4. Add the fun stuff
The possibilities are pretty endless. I went with a bunch of stuff. First, the avocado I already mentioned. I also quickly sauteed some sliced shiitake mushroom and pickled some radishes. I thinly sliced scallions on a bias and let the strips soak in some cold water to curl, then drained them and let them dry. I wanted some dried seaweed so I grabbed some pieces from one of those seaweed snack things and crushed them. I grabbed some sesame seeds as well. And then of course the main topper - Tsar Nicoulai Gold Pearl Salmon Roe.
The noodles went into a bowl, topped with the tuna/avocado combo, I fanned out the radishes all pretty and made a cute little pile of mushrooms. The salmon roe was next, followed by a sprinkling of scallions, sesame seeds and crushed seaweed snacks. This dish looks and seems complicated, but it's not. The salmon roe was the perfect "fun stuff" garnish to this bowl of awesome.
I felt like a pro making this dish. And I'm happy to embrace the healthyish lifestyle with it. My friend and I were just discussing cutting out sugar and wheat. Then immediately in the same conversation we made plans to bake little lark buns for the kids using sugar and wheat. But I can change that to whole wheat and honey for the #healthyish win.
I've already mentioned my trip to Europe with my childhood friends during winter break in college. It was the time I shamefully avoided eating about a million oysters for lack of knowing any better. On that same trip, after we all said our goodbyes, I spent an extra night in Paris at my friend's uncle's apartment before continuing on to another location on my own. I think I went and had dinner somewhere (I wasn't a self-proclaimed foodie back then), but while hanging out in the evening the uncle invited me to join him for a feast of fingerling potatoes.
In comparison to his apartment, he was a big guy and his even bigger personality overflowed his tiny kitchen as we took turns pulling potatoes out of a large pot. He would slice his in half and slather it with butter while chatting with me about potatoes and life. I was in a country with fabulous food and fancy restaurants and this experience was more authentic. More real. I mean, on top of it all, out the window the Eiffel Tower sparkled against a dark sky flecked with little stars. It was an impressionist's painting come to life. The end credits to a subtitled movie.
I could eat buttered boiled potatoes all day every day, but this time I decided to make our Reserve Caviar Classic Signature Bite. I roasted my fingerling potatoes and topped them with a spoonful of sour cream, a hefty dollop of Tsar Nicoulai Reserve Caviar and a sprinkling of chives.
There's no real recipe here. After halving the potatoes, I simply tossed them in a little bit of olive oil with salt and roasted them at 400 degrees until they were fork tender. Once they cooled I added all the toppings.
As its category suggests, this is a classic pairing of flavors and components. The caviar delivers its well-known pop against the soft sour cream and potato; the creaminess giving way to the brininess allowing the caviar to shine through.
My favorite brand of sour cream to use is the European-style Wallaby. I can eat it right off the spoon, and my finger, when putting together this dish.
Pick up some Reserve Caviar by clicking here.Tickets to Paris unfortunately not included.