The Elegance of Hiro Sone – My Favorite Chef

Chef Hiro Sone makes a tartine of foie gras stuffed morels

Recently, while sipping a Van Gogh’s Revenge—a cocktail of Bols Aged Genever, Cointreau, Yellow Chartreuse and Angostura bitters served neat in a bucket glass, the Cute Gardener and I had a conversation about our favorite chefs. We were sitting in Ame in the San Francisco St. Regis eating the most elegant food of my life and I knew hands down that Chef Hiro Sone was my man.

What criteria make a great chef in my eyes? There are the obvious things required for stellar food like the ability to coax great taste, layer flavors, mingle interesting textures and create gorgeous presentations on the plate. But the dishes that become truly memorable for me are the ones which are seemingly simple yet excruciatingly complex. They emit an air of elegance that reflects a chef’s voice and passion in an unerringly consistent fashion. Hire Sone has all of the above.

I first tried his food at the St. Helena restaurant Terra where I encountered an apple basteeya that made my mouth cry, topping off dish after exquisite dish where creativity abounded. Ame was no different, our choices veering towards the sublimely Japanese offerings that included bites of delicate fish in poignant broth; droplets of yuzu on tender vegetables, an ethereal chawan mushi custard, soft fried oysters swimming in earthy dashi and beignets black pepper infused crème fraiche for dessert.

I will let the following photographs of the dishes speak for themselves.

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Broiled Sake Marinated Alaskan Black Bod and Shrimp Dumplings in Shiso Broth

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Grilled Maine Lobster Tail, Hokkaido Scallops and Cuttlefish on Risotto Nero with Sauce Americaine and Yuzu Kosho Aioli

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“Kaisen” Sashimi Salad with Japanese Cucumber, Hijiki, Tobiko Caviar and Yuzu Soy Vinaigrette

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Tempura of Miyagi Oysters in Dashi Broth with Wakame Seaweed, Grated Daikon and Trout Roe

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“Chawan-Mushi” Japanese Savory Custard with Lobster, Sea Urchin, Shiitake and Mitsuba Sauce

Meat Fest at Cockscomb

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Duck Liver Croque En Bouche with Strawberry Gastrigue

I have been a fan of Chris Cosentino for a little under a decade now. Ever since discovering his big congenial personality and passion for all things meat on the now defunct show Chef vs. City, on which he would run around with Chef Aaron Sanchez to reveal the zany culinary seams of cities across the US, I have been hankering to try one of his meals. Sure, I have been to Boccalone, his salami emporium in San Francisco’s Ferry Building for a cone of cured meats and enjoyed a cup of crispy pig ears before his PIGG disappeared from Los Angeles’ Umamicatessen. But I wanted a proper sit down dinner, not just some convenience pork parts.

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Beef Heart Tartare with Grilled Bread and Greens

This is why Incanto was on my travel list for years—his Italian restaurant in San Francisco, which had an Instagram account I drooled over nightly featuring butchered delights and creativity surrounding meat that was unparalleled. Think homemade fettuccine with duck hearts and behind the scenes glimpses of hanging intestines and gleaming silver tables full of liver cornucopias and raw meat pies pre-oven. I loved the idea that the high end crowd sitting in the dining room, slurping up fancy wine and enjoying the fruits of the chef’s efforts had no idea of the real carnival happening behind the swishing door between them and the kitchen. It was as if Chris had found a place to play and was finally doing the things he loved the most.

Unfortunately Incanto closed before I had the chance to dine there. A new place in Noe Valley called Porcellino (or, piglet) opened where Chris served casual food like sandwiches and pastas to the neighborhood community and I wondered what was up. No more meat extravaganza? No more Top Chef style over the top dishes? No more photos of giant boar heads awaiting a steam bath to retrieve their glistening gelatinous innards?

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Cornish Game Hen Tetrazzini with Fried Fideos, Mushrooms and Cream Sauce

Luckily, the intrepid Cute Gardener who does things like keep his eyes on the whereabouts of my favorite chefs for me learned that Chris had opened a new restaurant in SF’s SOMA district called Cockscomb and earlier this month we visited after a couple days of grueling hikes at Lassen Peak and Mount Shasta ready for reward in the form of a meat extravaganza.

What we found was a bustling joint marrying the best things about Cosentino: a casual, friendly down to earth attitude, no nonsense yet interesting food and ultra unctuous meat parts. The Chef himself manned the floor mingling with guests, throwing orders at cooks and servers across the bar, and glancing at cutting board platters of roving pin steaks as if he were finally at home in a place that fit.

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Zampini of pork and fennel sausage, fried oysters, corn, tomato and shishito peppers

Although he clearly has it in him, I am not sure if Chris is a high-falutin elegant restaurant type of guy at heart or a fame seeking, celebrity chef although his gregariousness fits naturally in the limelight. I think he may have finally found his groove with Cockscomb.

I just hope his current patronage of hipsters and tech industry, disposable income young uns have the kinds of adventurous palates that will allow Chris to incorporate some of his more daring offal offerings (the kind his first wave of fans are known to follow him for) onto his menu in the long run.

Five-Star Chocolate Morning

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A five-star rating is hard to come by from me. Schooled by the Cute Gardener’s basic Yelp guidelines as well as my own for doling out boos or praise on Netflix, I tend to distribute a lot of average threes. If I really like something it will get a four. So when I attribute five stars to a restaurant or foodie place, there has to be something special about it that goes beyond the norm. Here are the top ten reasons why Dandelion Chocolate, where we spent part of a misty grey recent morn, hits this note for me.

1. The half chocolate shop – half drink and dessert place is located on Valencia Street smack dab in the Mission District in San Francisco (which happens to be my favorite street in my favorite neighborhood of my favorite city in the US).

2. The entire interior is rich with wood the color of roasted cacao beans.

3. There are only a few bars of chocolate for sale and sample shards in dishes to try before you buy, which denotes a jaunty air of confidence.

4. You can rattle a giant pod filled with cacao beans, or buy one to take home.

5. You can purchase a copy of David Lebovitz’s latest pastry porn book My Paris Kitchen.

6. You can order a spicy café mocha sprinkled with chocolate shavings and soft homemade marshmallows. You can also order a decadent cup of European drinking chocolate.

7. You can eat various baked goods made from the signature chocolate. Our brownie tasting platter was delicious—these guys know how to make proper, dense and ultra-chocolaty bites.

8. You can see the chocolatiers (who sign the wrappers on the bars they make) working behind the scenes, going about their business in a room full of shiny machines.

9. The small-batch, harvest-specific chocolate bars are dark – all above 60%. They are made with only two ingredients – chocolate and sugar, which eliminates the waxiness of bras with cocoa butter.

10. The place is named after my favorite liver-cleansing weed.