San Francisco’s Gamine Delivers Classic French in the Language of Love on Union

Imagining a stroll through the streets of northern Europe, I took a leisurely walk past beautiful Victorian architecture and sidewalk cafes as I made my way to San Francisco’s Union Street District last week. It was Tuesday evening, and the sun was setting on Valentine’s Day. Ah, yes. The streets busied with couples in love making their way to the many restaurants along my path, and that’s when I spotted Gamine. A petite French bistrot just 30 feet or so off the corner of Fillmore and Union streets, its red building aglow through its windows caused me to do a double-take when it caught my eye.

file5
Corner of Fillmore and Union Street, San Francisco

Passing a florist tending to the dozen people awaiting fresh bouquets, I made my way to a little table outside of Gamine. Walking through the small doorway of the restaurant to stake a claim I was greeted by a server with a thick French accent who let me know the table was free. Although after I quickly sat down I noticed a couple dining close by so I asked the server to move my table to offer them a bit of privacy—after all it was Valentine’s evening and I was simply there for dinner. A business trip had brought me to San Francisco.

It was the perfect table and just after 6:00 pm, so the sun was setting. As I settled into my chair and the slightly chilly 60-degree weather I watched the line across the street at the Bud Shop grow. A couple doors down from the florist was a Sur La Table housewares store where a cooking class filled with love birds was just getting started. Tonight San Francisco is a city of love but I could very well be in Paris, I thought to myself as my French server was walking out to take my order. Just five minutes after I had arrived to the restaurant it had started to take a 45-minute wait for tables, and I knew how lucky I was to get one of only two outside.

Gamine french bistrot san francisco
Gamine French Bistrot | San Francisco

As I sipped on a glass of Sauvignon Blanc I listened in to my surroundings, and it was then I noticed that I couldn’t make out the English language over the laughter, chatter, and clanking of glasses through the restaurant’s open windows. This made the experience feel all the more like Paris. What’s more, Gamine’s two servers that night quickly brought out glasses of wine to those who ordered, and they wished everyone good health. A sincere santé, which to me is truly a sound of Paris. I overhead a business man comment that the service was great, and yes, I agreed to myself it was.

I thanked the waiter with an enthusiastic merci as he brought out a piping hot dish of Escargots à la Bourguignonne, snails in garlic butter and herbs. It was easy to savor every bit of it with a complementary French baguette. Butter was served with the baguette, but I preferred to use it to soak up the delicious herbs and butter in my dish, a treat was that très bien indeed. I thought to myself as I ate how much I need to take the time one day to properly learn more French. After all, my paternal grandmother was fluent and although I was too young to remember her speak, French was a language that I enjoyed practicing even with the few conversational phrases I knew.

french cuisine san francisco gamine
Escargots à la Bourguignonne (Snails in Garlic Herb Butter) | Gamine, San Francisco

When it came time to order my entrée, I asked the server to tell me about one of the Valentine’s Day specials, Coq au Vin, chicken cooked in red wine. Yes, of course I’d had my share of the dish in Paris—so traditional that it’s almost a stereotype of French cuisine. The other special was steamed mussels, also popular in France as well as Belgium, but I wanted to know what made Coq au Vin at Gamine special.

I learned that the chef marinated fresh rooster in a red wine reduction for several hours; perhaps it was six, but nonetheless that sounded thoughtful enough to me. When I asked if the roasted potatoes from the regular menu were a better complement than the Fettuccine noodles coupled with the dish, he enthusiastically assured me that the pasta was the better selection. Flat noodles are commonly paired with Coq au Vin.

After I put in my order, I continued to people watch. I love to create narratives for the people I see. Inside I noticed a man and woman being seated with their young daughter. Probably about ten years old she wore a curled pink and white ribbon in her hair that was also braided for the holiday. I noticed her mother and father appeared quiet regal in their own festive black and red coats as they sat down to dine. I thought how sweet it was that they chose to eat together on a day when couples usually dined alone.

The Coq au Vin soon arrived tableside, a generous plate of buttered fettucine noodles cooked al dente and garnished with parsley next to a few whole champignons de Paris (common mushrooms), sweet pearl onions, two thighs and a leg of chicken in lovely dark reduction of natural juices and red wine. In fact, the chicken was moist and flavorful in a sauce that wasn’t too salty as the dish can often be. The sweetness of onions was so delicious that I almost wished for a plate of them instead against the savory flavor of the rest of the dish. It was all very good.

french food in san francisco
Coq au Vin (Rooster in Wine) | Gamine, San Francisco

As I ate, I noticed the little details that indeed made Gamine seem so charming. The restaurant is named after the French term for a mischievous young woman, and it’s a bit quirky. It’s known as a lively neighborhood spot featuring classic, flavorful dishes of rustic France all made in an open and warm kitchen and served by a welcoming staff.

Lively music and electric characters are features of its relaxed atmosphere. A couple to-go orders made their way past my table and a golden retriever playfully neared my table as its owners stood awaiting their own meals. A woman walking by commented to her companion how much she loved the place because it looked like France—personifying all of France in this little eatery called Gamine.

Gamine is an intimate restaurant that, as quaint as it was, couldn’t have had more than 10 tables inside to go along with a few chairs at the bar, I thought. With the sound of silverware and glasses clanking inside, I saw the tables were close yet every diner was so engaged in their own space and conversation that they didn’t even seem to notice.

Yes, I could see the charm of Gamine as I peered inside, and also as I watched people standing outside happily drinking their wine while waiting on tables to open. I even noticed the little French mailbox on the door as my server came to check on me. Gamine, you are quite charming.

file6

After dinner, I was kindly assured to take my time for coffee or dessert—in other words, this is what I most love about authentic European dining. You aren’t rushed to clear the table even on Valentine’s Day, and can give your own cue for the check.  It was now 7:30 pm, however, and I was getting tired given the two-hour time difference from Austin. For ten minutes more though I sat and watched the evening fade into night before making my way back to my hotel, bidding the day of American love goodnight and Adieu.

11 Japanese Kaiten Sushi Destinations Making Heads Spin Near You

Recently, I learned that Kaiten style sushi – think: the automated sushi-train – was created in the 1950’s. Immediately, I recalled a conveyor-belt sushi restaurant Wasabi in Northern Virginia’s Tysons Corner Mall when we were living nearby. It was a first-floor fixture right under the escalator—so that as my feet moved up, my eyes moved side-to-side as I watched the dizzying, captivating and beautiful belt in motion!

Kaiten style sushi (aka, Kaiten-zushi), known for its low cost but satisfying (and fun!) fish-fare, is served off the moving belt and is usually available ‘all-you-can-eat’ for a set fee, or the color or type of plate determines the price. Want to give it a try locally? There are several other US sushi bars and restaurants offering a similarly authentic Japanese Kaiten sushi experience in NYC, Miami, Houston, Austin, and San Francisco.

Here are some ideas for enjoying Kaiten style sushi near you.

NEW YORK CITY

East Japanese Restaurant
366 3rd Avenue
New York, NY 10016
212.889.2326
Website

Kido Sushi
90-15 Queens Blvd.
Queens Center Mall
Elmhurst, NY 11373
718.271.3688
Website

WASHINGTON DC

Wasabi
Tysons Corner Center
1961 Chain Bridge Rd.
McLean, VA 22102
703.388.0646
Website
@SushiByWasabi

Matuba Japanese Restaurant
4918 Cordell Avenue
Bethesda, MD
301.652.7449
Website
@MatubaSushi

MIAMI

Katana Japanese Restaurant
920 71st Street
Miami Beach, FL 33141
305.864.0037
Website

Blue Ginger
15791 Sheridan Street
Southwest Ranches, FL 33331
954.680.9998
Website

HOUSTON

Sushi Choo Choo
1675 S. Voss Road
Houston, TX 77063
713.783.1368
Website                                 

Sushi Sakura Express
1014 Wirt Road
Houston, TX 77055
713.263.7552
Website

AUSTIN

Korean Garden
6519 N. Lamar Blvd.
Austin, TX 78752
512.302.3149
Website                                         

          

SAN FRANCISCO

Katana Japanese Restaurant
920 71st Street
Miami Beach, FL 33141
305.864.0037
Website

Blue Ginger
15791 Sheridan Street
Southwest Ranches, FL 33331
954.680.9998
Website

Go out and try this fun sushi soon. In the meantime, be inspired by the Kaiten sushi eye candy that Erika Owen features in her article which highlights successful Japanese restaurant Muten Kuraszushi in Tokyo. 

P.s., the image is courtesy of rakratchada torsap at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Six 2017 International Film Festivals You Gotta Catch in America

Spring and Fall brings with it several international film festivals in America, especially in metropolitan and culturally diverse cities like New York, Washington DC, Miami, Houston, Austin, and San Francisco. During these international film festivals, goers will be treated to the best in cinema from more than 80 countries in some cases. These festivals offer a glimpses into the cultures, life experiences, and visual artistry of people from around the world.

Below is a list of upcoming international film festivals that you don’t want to miss if you like- or are curious about international cinema. If you love to travel or are curious about the way of life of people from around the world, you’re bound to find so many ways to live vicariously through the beautiful and compelling stories in these international movies.

New York City, NY

New York City International Film Festival, April 3-7, 2017

Known nationally, as well as internationally, the two-week long New York City International Film Festival (INYFF) brings world cinema to NYC from filmmakers around the globe. You’ll find movie showcases with artistic merit and scope from several countries and regions, including two days reserved for films from Latin American countries and China. For more information on tickets, the awards night, and schedule, visit the NYC International Film Festival site.

Houston, TX

Houston WorldFest, April 21 – 30, 2017

Houston’s International film festival, WorldFest Houston, is happening as I write. At WorldFest this year, you can catch more than 50 feature films and 100 short film premiers, at the City’s AMC Studio 30 Dunvale Theaters. The film festival emphasizes American and international independent feature films and features an annual spotlight on an individual country and it’s films–this year it’s China. For tickets, schedule of films and more information, click here.

cinema by caixa de luz, on Flickr
cinema” (CC BY 2.0) by  caixa de luz 

Miami, FL

GEMS Festival of Miami International Film Festival, March 3-12, 2017

The city of Miami’s International Film Festival took place March 4-13, 2016, but international film enthusiasts can catch the GEMS Festival in the Fall. Among its goals, the mission of the Miami International Film Festival has been to bridge cultural understanding through film. The four day film event, GEMS, will be held at MDC’s Tower Theatre Miami, and is slated to feature a specially curated program of new international movies, las joyas de la corona (the crown jewels) as it says, ahead of the Spring festival in 2017. For tickets, schedule and more information, visit the Miami Film festival site.

San Francisco, CA

San Francisco International Film Festival, April 5 – 19, 2017

This is longest running film festival in the Americas, and features a wonderful showcase of over 150 films. It’s rooted in an appreciation of film as both art and agent of social change for world citizens in the Bay area, and treats festival goers to narratives, action and animated shorts, as well as documentaries and more from over 80 countries. More than 70,000 people attend this international film festival each year. For more information, tickets, and film guide visit the San Francisco International Film Festival site here.

seeing is believing at sunset : castro, by torbakhopper, on Flickr
Castro Theatre where San Francisco International Film Festival is held “seeing is believing at sunset : castro,” (CC BY 2.0) by  torbakhopper 

Austin, TX

Austin Film Festival, October 26 – November 2, 2017

The Austin Film Festival (AFF) takes place in mid-October, and will feature 8 nights of international, short and feature films. Festival goers will enjoy over 150 regional, national and world premieres and advanced screening, from Hollywood to wonderful independent cinema, in the form of narratives, animations, documentaries and more.  For badges, passes and more information, visit the Austin Film Festival site.

Washington, DC

Washington DC International Shorts, December 9, 2017

Washington DC International Shorts is a year round film festival that collects and then screens selected movies at the end of each season. You can explore world cultures through comedy, drama, and animations collected, and then watch them when the festival launches in December. For more information on tickets and schedule of events, visit the festival here.

(Feature photo: “AMC Theaters” (CC BY 2.0) by  pasa47).

Bitchin’ Baklava Bakery’s Soul of Egypt in the Heart of San Francisco

If you’ve ever returned stateside to find yourself perusing the goods of every local bakery for Egyptian baklava, San Francisco’s Bitchin’ Baklava has your fix for the warm and flaky taste of golden goodness you thought you left thousands of miles away. Located in a brightly colored storefront in the Outer Richmond neighborhood on Balboa Street, Chef Sausan Al-Masri continues the celebration of Egyptian life, food and culture through her line of authentic baklava for international foodies in the bay area.

Family-owned and operated, the shop’s Chef Sausan cares that “every piece looks undeniably homemade, just as if it had come out of an Egyptian mother’s oven.” Known for its aroma of just-baked ingredients, the shop’s baklava is layered with crunchy rows of phyllo dough, a bouquet of spices, butter, and nuts that conjure up scents from the streets of Cairo, she says. “With every crunchy sound it’s easy to picture oneself sitting at one of Egypt’s sidewalk cafes or corner bakeries while savoring every bite,” she continued. Surely, every passersby is likely infectiously treated to the sounds of ‘mmm, mmmm’ from every unapologetic and content bite.

bitchin baklava egyptian food san francisco
Image credit: Bitchin Baklava

In the 1980’s Chef Sausan started Bitchin’ Baklava after learning to make the pastry from her Middle Eastern friend, and introduced it commercially only after perfecting it for her local restaurant customers, where it was picked up by Marin County’s Whole Foods Market soon after. Although, “after a few years, I stopped distribution to take care of some personal affairs but kept it on the menu [for bulk orders],” she said. In 2012, after the encouragement of close friends and persuasion from loyal customers, Chef Sausan started an online shop for the unique offerings of Bitchin’ Baklava.

Rightly invoking the senses through an authentic slice of Egypt, Bitchin’ Baklava comes out fresh from the ovens of its sister shop, Al-Masri Egyptian Restaurant as it ordered, not through a major processing and distribution plant like some other American baklava makers. Chef Sausan credits the bakery’s recipe of “fresh ingredients using made-from-scratch syrups, Grade A butter, and careful attention to flavor and appearance,” for its authentic taste.

bitchin baklava san francisco egyptian food
Image credit: Bitchin’ Baklava

While baklava (or baklawa) is a common treat throughout the Mediterranean, what makes Bitchin’ Baklava different and unique is inherent in the culture of Egypt itself—a result that is influenced by the cultures of the entire Middle East. Online, Chef Sausan wanted her baklava to carry on that uniqueness—her Egyptian baklava is available with different and innovative fillers such as dried or candied fruits, exotic nuts, chocolate chips, and other alluring and unusual ingredients including bacon and mincemeat.

While many have probably tried baklava at least once, “Before Bitchin’ Baklava, much of the available baklava offered looked and tasted moderately the same,” she explained, “Bitchin’ Baklava strives to change all of that through the traditionally crunchy and crispy baklava experience, but with enough sweetness and flavor in each unique bite to want more.”

She credits the unique qualities of her signature products to be distinguished by features that have gotten the attention of locals—such as her use of turbonado sugar sprinkles and innovative nut ingredients in addition to the classic walnut and pistachio. From nuts including almonds, macadamia, Brazilian, filberts, cashews, and peanuts, to candied flavors such as ginger and dried fruits, as well as seeds including sunflowers, pumpkin, sesame, and much more she is innovating through every bite.

“Not a single baklava was left on the tray…” one review said of the party platters, while another found the shop through Google and left a review noting it’s intrigue with the shop’s name. When asked about the name, Chef Sausan said “I wanted [it] to stand out and be remembered, so I had to think of a unique and catchy name.” She explained. “I went through several possibilities, like ‘Benevolent Baklava, Beautiful Baklava, Bountiful Baklava,’ but those names didn’t have that certain ‘remember me’ ring, but then, driving through the park one day the word Bitchin’ popped into my mind.”  She raced home and said she was relieved and elated to find that no one had claimed the domain name, and so Bitchin’ Baklava was born.