Tuesday, May 26

Stayin' Local for the Holiday Weekend

After the fog moved my outdoor garden brunch with friends indoors, I was happy to bookend my day with the splash of garden colors in the mural adorning a space that is so refreshingly different from the ubiquitous wood table, wood chair, concrete floor uniform of SF eateries of late. Midi is fresh on the scene (just over two months) and welcome breath of fresh air. The interior feels urban and un-San Francisco, which made it feel like I was dining in a different city. The room is intimate, comfortable and sophisticated -- like the Galleria Park Hotel decor that surrounds it, but different.

The oval plates (including the wee bread plate) are a refreshing change, and the crisp lines of the stemware and comfortable, contemporary cutlery are just right. I love the individual wine carafe -- lets me linger over my one glass.

The bright, clean flavors are just my taste. I had the jumbo asparagus salad with paper-thin breakfast radishes and a perfectly delicate sauce gribiche. It was absolutely delicious -- and asparagus is not an easy sell for me. It's been at least a couple of years now, but after sorting, peeling, blanching and roasting 45 lb of asparagus for a tv spot, I never thought I'd want to eat it again.

To Chef Michelle Mah, I say a big huge, 'Thank you!' for combining a tangy watercress, raddish and picked onion salad with bleu cheese butter topped grilled hangar steak. Fantastic! And if you're a die-hard who has to have frites with your steak, you can order 'em on the side.

Oh yeah! Don't miss the caramel slurried, silky-smooth, chocolate pot de crème garnished with a quenelle of whipped crème fraîche. I happen to know one of the servers who confided she loves watching people go into a savor zone and shut out their dining companions. Chocolate isn't what I typically order for dessert but my dining companion does. I must say, it was a memorable treat and worth a special trip.

Martini Anyone?

The next day I headed north to escape the frigid wind and fog, and found a bit of sunny poolside heaven up in Calistoga. At the end of the day, I sunk into a chair on the garden-surrounded patio of Martini House in St. Helena to enjoy the last vestiges of the day's sunshine and warmth. I decided on the mushroom and spring vegetable tasting menu, which proved to be a terrific choice.

We started off with a ramp and green garlic vichyssoise, with sauteed morels, marinated potatoes and pickled ramps. The colors were beautiful and the little fried bits of green garlic add just the right crunchy texture.

Then came the saffron gnocchi with violet artichokes and olive oil braised King Trumpets in a mushroom glaze and crispy persillade.

The portobello 'steak and frite' with pan roasted fiddle head ferns and red wine butter sauce was a clever, fun and tasty play on the classic.

Even the dessert course was made using dried Candy Cap mushrooms which were steeped in cream to impart their maple syrup aroma. Two nights in a row, I found myself thoroughly enjoying desserts that wouldn't necessarily be my first choice (note to self). This particular bread pudding was light enough to finish the meal. I do love maple and who can argue with currants and a maple sugar anglaise.

I have to admit that though I was really looking forward to dinner at Martini House, I was somewhat skeptical, fearing it'd gone the way of so many wine country restaurants whose menus have become stale and uninspired. I was happy to experience Chef Todd Humphries still keeping it fresh, delicious and lovely. It was the perfect end to a perfect day.


  1. Hi Katie,

    I am thoroughly enjoying your blog. I look forward to the next installment of wonderful food descriptions and photos! Janine

  2. Wow the fiddlehead fern dish looks too beautiful to eat. I've never been to martini house. Your photos have convinced me to put it on my list of places to go.

  3. i'm not a big mushroom fan but i am intrigued...

  4. can't wait to try this!!

  5. Having dined at both, I agree with your assessment. Midi is a refreshing new restaurant in the financial district, and martini house is better than expected - though I'd steer away from eating in the dining room - it's a bit of a Pat Kuleto over-designed disaster. But the patio is perfect.