KQED Food Blog: Bay Area Bites: Getting Half Mooned at Rogue Chefs
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Thursday, June 01, 2006
Getting Half Mooned at Rogue Chefs

With the closing of Devil's Slide and the crawling bumper-to-bumper traffic on 92*, what could possibly drag me down to Half Moon Bay in the middle of the working week? Well, if not for my first look at the impossibly picturesque town with atmospheric mists slinking in, then for the food at Rogue Chefs. And if not for the fabulous food at Rogue Chefs, then for the opportunity to hear Don The Rogue Chefs Wine Guy describe a glass of Burrell School Chardonnay thusly: "Take a California Chardonnay, see, and just PUMP some steroids into it!" Syrah snarfs are not pretty. They're also sorta painful -- like a nasal wine enema.

Eating at Rogue Chefs is like eating at home. If your home comes equipped with a kick-ass chef. Like many Bay Area Chefs, Kevin Koebel is all about the "farm to fork" credo. Influenced by growing up on Canadian working farms, Kevin supports and respects local farms and he works hard to maintain a direct connection between it and his ever-changing Asian-European-American menu. That's all well and good and definitely admirable, but what I enjoyed most about this particular dinner was the interaction between Kevin and his patrons. Should we start calling it, "from cook to customer"? Maybe it will catch on.

It's ridiculously easy to find good food, fabulous food, even food that could romance the pants off you after the first bite in the Bay Area. What is harder to find is a total dining experience that matches said good food. I'm sure I'm not the only one to have a close-to-perfect meal compromised by bad service or cold and impersonal treatment. In these gastronomically competitive days, chefs and restauranteurs should be looking to satisfy both stomach and heart.

To kickstart my experience, my normally shy self chose to sit at the beautiful "Chef's Table" (a long bar constructed from a single stunning piece of environmentally-ecstatic Brazilian Ipê wood), where I watched Kevin lovingly massage a piece of black cod. He felt for bones and sliced out a divot of flesh to remove the majority of them. For me, sitting at the chef's table was like being back in culinary school -- I was watching, learning, and drooling. I even felt the urge to grab a knife and jump right in. But I controlled myself.

The Chef's Table is also the place to experience the intimate interplay between Kevin and his customers. Without any preamble he calls out to the cozy dining room behind me, "So you say medium-rare, does that mean...?" "Close to walking," the customer nods. "Great," Kevin responds and -- get this -- goes over to personally turn the guy's meat. It's like being at a friend's barbeque.

Rogue Chefs' homey comfort is even more apparent when I realized the other cooks and workers were calling him "Kevin" instead of that often power-tripping, scraping-and-bowing title of "Chef!" Hey, when Harold insisted all the former Top Chefs call him "Harold" while helping him with his finale service, I knew he was destined to win. From time to time, other diners looked around at other people's plates and asked Kevin what they were having. Without missing a beat while tossing pasta and sauce, Kevin answered easily and happily. You feel warm, welcome, and completely part of the entire experience.

Not to get all Mr. Rogers on you, but when I walked away from Rogue Chefs, my heart and stomach were overflowing with good food and good feelings. Here's a taste of what I sampled that night.

The Ubiquitous Seared Ahi Tuna Beautifully Reimagined: The ruby tuna is coated in tumeric, saffron, cinnamon, sugar, and salt and served with caramelized onions, caramelized grapefruit, and wasabi. The pairing of the spices with the thin slices of caramelized grapefruit is what really spanked my psyche in this dish. That's a good thing.

Pounded pork loin wrapped in nori and prosciutto and curled around asparagus with a salad of jicama, arugula, orange, beet, and ginger. It's sushi for porkivores.

Penne with Fennel-Molasses Sausage: This is precisely the sort of dish I crave on cold winter nights (or cold San Francisco Summer nights) and it didn't disappoint.

Broiled eggplant stuffed with Harley Farms chèvre and served with Meyer lemon chard. Leaving the skin on helped maintain the structural integrity of the eggplant and the added texture was delectable.

Warm Cherries and Chard: Local Berta chard, sundried Rainier cherries, are robed in mascarpone. When I eat chard, it always falls into the "It's good for me, so I have to choke it down" family. I put it in soup to improve texture and remove bitterness. This chard didn't need that. Kevin's chardy secret? Cooked directly after being yanked out of the dirt.

This meal was comped.

Rogue Chefs Restaurant
730 Main Street
Half Moon Bay, CA 94019

Tel: 650.712.2000

Wednesday-Thursday: 5:30pm-9:00pm (dinner)
Friday-Saturday: 5:30pm-9:30pm (dinner)

Saturday: 11:30am-2:00pm (lunch)
Sunday: 11:00am-2:30pm (brunch)

*Honestly? The traffic isn't really that bad and, let's face it, if you have to sit in traffic wouldn't you rather be surrounded by cool, green forest-y splendor than be on ugly 101? Me too.


Anonymous Tana said...

Beautiful post. I've got to visit those guys.

6/01/2006 12:13 PM


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