Fog Blog SF

Where to this weekend in San Francisco?

NY restaurants and the Hotel Giraffe

Upland

Photo by Liz Clayman

We went to Manhattan and enjoyed excellent California cuisine! Upland, named after the SoCal town where chef Justin Smillie was raised, is owned by Stephen Starr, the man responsible for  Morimoto and Buddakan in New York and Serpico in Philadelphia.

Upon our arrival at the Hotel Giraffe, a restaurant across the street caught my eye and I made a mental note to look up reviews. That evening, at a cocktail party to celebrate Kevin and Jenna’s wedding, the bride told us about Upland. It is her new favorite restaurant and happens to be the one right across the street from our hotel, so of course we had to try it.

The place was hopping when we walked in late and without a reservation. The hostess told us it could be up to an hour’s wait, but when we asked, she said she would be happy to text us when our table was ready. Perfect. We went back to our hotel room and had enough time to change into jeans and sit down for few minutes before the text arrived.

Upland, as I had noticed earlier from across the street, is a pretty restaurant, well-lit and open, “ a big restaurant where the set dressing feels like an event but doesn’t compete with the food,” according to Pete Wells in his 2015 NY Times article.

All the food we ordered, and didn’t order, was delicious. Each table gets a mini loaf of fresh baked bread and butter. Of course, this elicited a reaction of “Oh no, we couldn’t!” from us, but we enjoyed every crumb.

Yuzu kosho

The Crispy Duck Wings with lemon, olive oil yuzu koshu was probably the highlight of the meal for us. The lemon, olive oil, yuzu koshu sauce was so good that I dipped the pizza crust into the sauce, so as not to waste a drop. While researching for this post, I found a Bon Appetite article with great information on yuzu koshu. “Yuzu kosho is a pasty Japanese condiment made from fresh chiles (most often green or red Thai or bird’s eye chiles) then fermented with salt along with zest and juice from yuzu, a tart and fragrant citrus fruit that grows in East Asia. The trifecta of chiles, citrus, and salt come together in a powerful and distinctive flavor that enlivens a dish—anything from sashimi to braised short ribs and cookies—instantly.” Just yesterday I went to Japantown and bought a bottle. Message me if you want to know what I end up doing with it.

The duck was followed by the waiter’s suggested Japanese cauliflower with creme fraiche and roasted garlic, a fresh take on a common dish these days. The Japanese variety has a much longer stem and looks different than the cauliflower we’re used to! We actually asked to make sure that we got the right dish. We would definitely order this again, but what vegetable wouldn’t be wonderful with creme fraiche and roasted garlic?

Photo by Liz Clayman

The finale was a sausage and kale pizza, which was just as good as any gourmet pizza we’ve had in the last five years.

Thanks Jenna for sharing your new favorite with us. Upland is definitely high on our go-to list now as well.

Upland: 345 Park Ave South, New York. Dinner Monday to Saturday 5pm – 11pm and Sunday 5pm – 10pm, Lunch Monday to Friday 11:30am – 3pm, Brunch Saturday and Sunday 10am – 2:45pm. Reservations available on their website or OpenTable.com.

Le Coucou

Another great recommendation from the Fugaro family, this time from les parents Jill and Steve. Merci!

Le Coucou had a sister restaurant in Paris, but it had a different name and a different menu. “The chef, Daniel Rose, runs a restaurant in Paris called Spring, but he’s from Chicago. He has said that his old-guard French menu is meant in part as a homage to Lutèce, a restaurant in Manhattan that he never visited. (It closed 12 years ago.) In other words, a chef who knows a lot about what actual French people are eating in 2016 has decided to summon a long-closed Manhattan restaurant that gave many Americans their ideas about French cuisine in the last four decades of the 20th century.” (Pete Wells, NY Times) Unfortunately we can’t travel to Paris and compare the two ourselves, because Spring has closed it’s doors since the article was published.

The same article describes the lovely decor at Le Coucou, “To the right of the front door is an intimate, soft-focus cocktail alcove that doubles as a waiting area. . . The space opens up as you enter the dining room, with chandeliers that look like concentric rings of votive candles suspended above the white tablecloths, each of which is set with a single white taper.”

Lunch here is a two-course prix fixe meal with choices. Ken’s choices were the Tomate Antiboise and the Tartare de boeuf. In translation, he had a tomato stuffed with tuna, olives and herbs and raw beef. For tartare fans, you know that the meat has to be of the highest quality and cut, and this beef was. Ken loved every bite. I had the autumn salad with O’Banon goat cheese and a honey vinaigrette, followed by the bourgignon with escargot. Both the salad and meat were excellently prepared and presented. Then, because dining at Le Coucou felt like a special occasion, we uncharacteristically ordered dessert. We were probably also influenced by the chocolate mousse pie with salted caramel ice cream on the menu.

How many ways can I say “delicious”? The food was excellent, but this is a restaurant where it is about the whole experience, the decor as much as the food. Lunching at Le Coucou is a fine dining experience. Ken was wearing a dress shirt and jeans, but felt a bit underdressed. Quite a few men at Le Coucou had jackets draped on the back of their chairs. Or maybe Ken felt underdressed because the staff is so well dressed. There is a Daily Beast article that named Le Coucou as one restaurant where the wait staff is dressed better than the guests are.

Reservations are hard, but not impossible, to come by at this new restaurant, popular with New Yorkers and tourists alike. I counted back 30 days from the date we wanted and put a note on my calendar. From there it wasn’t difficult, and I was easily able to get a reservation for lunch, unlike trying to get a reservation at Nopa which requires setting an alarm for midnight. The bit of a splurge was well worth the effort, because being in the Big Apple is special occasion enough, isn’t it?

Le Coucou: 138 Lafayette, New York. Breakfast Monday to Friday 7am – 10:30am and Saturday to Sunday 7am – 10am, Lunch Monday to Friday 11:30am – 2pm and Saturday to Sunday 11am – 2pm, Dinner Monday to Saturday 5pm – 11pm and Sunday 5pm – 10pm. Reservations available on OpenTable.com for parties up to 6 people. Contact the restaurant directly via email for bigger parties.

Danji

Photo by Matt Dutile

Danji was not fine dining, but was a delicious, modern hipster food experience. If Danji was in SF, and it would fit in easily, we would go there a lot. Years ago, while walking by on our way to the theatre, I noticed this tiny, packed restaurant, and we’ve been trying to get there ever since.

As always when we are in NY, we weren’t starving but ordered more than we needed just so we could try as many dishes as possible. Thankfully, most of the menu is made up of small-plates, which gave us a chance to enjoy quite a few of the Japanese Izakaya-style dishes with Korean ingredients, our favorite way of eating out these days.

Photo by Grace Chung

The Spicy Yellowtail Sashimi and the Tofu with Ginger Scallion Dressing were both delectable, but whatever the crispy little pieces of garnish were, they threw the dishes over the top. You know something is good when it is worth your time and effort to use chopsticks, trying to pick up tiny threadlike remnants of something yummy. The ‘k.f.c’ Korean fire chicken wings are what San Tung wings used to be, freshly fried, crispy and spicy. (If you don’t know what San Tung wings are, ask anyone who has lived in San Franciscan for more than a few years.) Our last dish, the Soy-Poached Black Cod with Spicy Daikon was the perfect foil to the small plates, delicate and flavorful. Smartly, Danji serves this larger dish with rice to help us enjoy the savory sauce.

The next time you’re looking for a restaurant near the theatre district and if you love the new Japanese/Korean fusion cuisine as much as we do, go online well ahead of time and make a reservation at Danji. You’ll be so cool and your tastebuds will dance all the way back to Times Square.

Danji: 346 W 52nd Street, New York. Monday to Thursday 5pm – midnight, Friday to Saturday 5pm to 1am, Sunday 5pm – 11pm. For dinner service, kitchen does last call 1 hour prior to closing. Reservations available on OpenTable.com.

Hotel Giraffe

Thanks Ellen for the recommendation. This is a great little boutique hotel in midtown Manhattan, across Madison Square Park from Eataly. You know that feeling of expectation you have when you open a hotel room door for first time, right after you’ve checked in? Our 7th-floor room was very chic and well-appointed, but looked a bit small and dark. However, once we opened the doors to the Juliet balcony, it was charming. The floor-to-ceiling French doors made all the difference, allowing for light and air when opened. Funnily enough, I’m not sure they were double-paned, because there was a lot of street noise at night, but then again, we were in Manhattan. The noise was not a big deal for a girl who lived right on a cable car line when growing up, and Ken can sleep through most anything.

Besides the balconies and the chic decor, the wait staff at the breakfast and happy hour is what make this hotel a cut above. The actual breakfast fare is not special and consists of boxed cereals, hard cooked eggs and bagels. (If you are looking for a fuller breakfast, there is a Sarabeth’s around the corner.) However, this hotel has a great coffee machine which is always available to guests. Those of you who know Ken will understand how much this is worth to us. During breakfast, there are lovely people to help with the drinks, but the coffee machine is self-operated the rest of the time. The happy hour fare is fairly basic as well, but again the service takes it to the next level.

Hotel Giraffe: 365 Park Ave South at 26th, New York.

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