On Zalto, Cutipol, and Local Ceramics

I am a sucker for Zalto glassware. I love the mouthfeel of sipping out of an ultra thin glass (Shotoku Glass Co makes my favourite home drinkware). I’m also a sucker for the beautiful lines and weight balance of Cutipol flatware, particularly the Moon (and sometimes Goa) line. I love when restaurants showcase rustic ceramics from local makers. While not a sure sign that dinner will be fabulous, these non-food expressions suggest a certain mindset of the restauranteur that typically bode well for the food. Recent dinners at two restaurants checked all those boxes. What’s not to like?

Somni - Los Angeles, CA

At Somni, very little is not to like.

The decour is bright, clean, modern with whimsical accents. While everything is definitely beautiful and comfortable, this is not the place to go if you’re looking to gaze lovingly into your dining partner’s eyes across a sea of white table cloth. A 10-seater chef’s table surrounds an open plating kitchen (and further opens into the main cooking kitchen). Each course is presented by the kitchen staff with one member explaining the dish. They want your undivided attention and may interrupt your conversation flow. Food takes center stage here, and I love it.

And it was incredible. Tasty and delightful without gimmicks. Chef Aitor Zabala says it best: “Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity”. No el Bulli spherification, foam only appeared once. Spoiler Alert. Some personal favourites. Chicken liver mousse on schmaltz cracklin, margherita pizza with a tomato meringue crust, croissant made from potato slices, dry aged steak tartare on a crispy shiso leaf tempura, smoked langoustine (LOVE), black truffle brioche, coconuty dungeness crab, and the damn highlight of the evening - grilled turbot wing with housemade teriyaki. The fish was so meaty we ate it like a rack of ribs. When it came to desserts, YJR said it best (damn boy can be poignant some times)...that he really appreciates the strong finish, “so often, dessert is treated as an after thought”. There were multiple dessert courses that were all delicious (I never feel this way, mostly because things are usually too sweet), but I remember the exploding matcha donut the best. (The staff is always helpful to remind you when things needed to be eaten in one bite. We did see a negroni that was encased in a strawberry run all over the counter a few seats down.)

The beverage pairing situation was something I rarely encounter. There were 20 some odd bites / dishes in the meal, but only 6 pairings. When the drinks are that delicious AND you have no idea how to pace yourself, it’s easy to get to the bottom of the glass before the pairing is over. What did they do about this? Pour you more. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ *Cue martini Bun* I find this to be far preferable to most other formats of wine pairings. It makes for a better, more relaxed experience. For one, not needing to taste a gajillion different wines (often which 75%+ are whites, blergh) means less palate fatigue. For another, the restaurant doesn’t appear stingy (arguably though, they’re pulling less bottles off the shelf, but they do have to pair each glass with a wider range of flavors and textures). The wines themselves were playful, but also delicious. Too often, restaurants err on one side or the other. I mean, I can only drink so much white wine with “notes of cement” or vin jaune. I’m also not here to drink a generically delicious Napa cab. We were actually able to finish most of our wines...which never happens for me. Less wastage YAY.

Service is on point. The entire kitchen staff interacted with all the guests (apparently, they were all given speech and performance training before opening). We had great banter with everyone - arguing SF vs LA food scene with chef Aitor (to be clear, we were for LA), discussing the mandarin dessert at Saison with chef Luca (apparently the ice cream uses a marshmallow base!!), and getting restaurant recs on where else to eat during our visit. No one was above picking up a dropped napkin. Chef was there to welcome (read: guide) me back in from using the hotel restrooms. Attentive without being stifling. While there were a few minor details that could be improved, I think the personable and charming service here definitely elevated the whole experience. Solid 2 Michelin star service.

The meal wasn’t perfect - there were a few lowlights for me (the icy cold avocado(?) cocktail starter, the green juice in the fish egg dish far outpowered the delicate roes, the caviar on bone marrow dish was too salty to taste any nuance), but they didn’t take away from an amazing dining experience. YJR said this was my best pick of tasting menu yet (at least in the US. Etxebarri and Tokyo are very very special). For me, this is definitely a top 3 American restaurant experience (Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare and Alinea were also fantastic).

SingleThread Restaurant - Healdsburg, CA

At SingleThread, it turns out, the single most important thing about a restaurant is not to like…the food.

I really want to like SingleThread Restaurant. I really do. I can’t imagine anything better than eating a fabulous dinner, tipsy off a wine pairing, rolling upstairs into a beautiful Japanese-inspired inn room, and finishing a weekend getaway with a delectable Japanese breakfast spread the next morning. I wish I could recommend the restaurant along with the inn to all my bougie-ass friends looking to spoil themselves rotten. Alas…

On the surface, everything is exactly right up my alley. Japanese Californian cuisine. Lots of seafood. Tasteful, Japanese-inspired decor with lots of dark wood. Aesop soap, check. Zalto wine glasses, check. Cutipol cutlery, check. Local maker ceramics, check. All of that tickle my fancy. So what’s wrong with it? It’s. Just. Not. Tasty. None of the other stuff matters if the food isn’t delicious. The execution was technically precise, but I rarely wanted to take another bite during my meal (save for the guinea fowl dish and the petit fours). The flavours were uninteresting, and honestly, kind of bland. To me, this is a shell of a three-Michelin-star restaurant that doesn’t embody the true spirit of a restaurant “worth a special trip for”, which, at the end of the day, is about phenomenal food.

Actually, I had decided to give SingleThread Restaurant another try. I first visited in March 2017, when they had first opened. Everyone (minus one pair of friends, M+O, bless them) loves this place. Chefs, food critics, bloggers, friends, co-workers. Everyone thinks SingleThread is the shit. I didn’t get it. Still don’t. I don’t think my palate or preferences are singular. After all, I love plenty of places that the same people also love.

If beautiful hardware won’t improve the software experience for you when you dine, skip SingleThread.

SingleThread Inn


If you have the money and are looking for a luxury getaway to spoil yourself and/or a loved one near the Bay Area, blow it at the SingleThread Inn. It’s a fantastic, well-rounded experience with a hefty price tag to match.

The Review

The entrance experience is decidedly…mediocre. In the confirmation email, I was instructed to park in a back parking lot, then exit on to the street, round the corner of the building, and enter the non-descript main entrance. From there, though, I was enveloped in cozy dark wood and slate, cut off from the rest of the world. (No, really, cell service is shit in the SingleThread building) There’s no “check-in” process, you’re simply taken straight to your room, given a quick tour, and left to enjoy. On the table was a delicious little welcome bite from the pastry department

The entire space is tastefully and beautifully decorated. A sort of Japanese-influenced, low-key Californian luxury. The lounge, titled “The Study”, is cozy and wonderfully decorated with a beautiful chesterfield sofa, mid-century modern furniture, and lots of floral arrangements. In the hall right outside my room was this beautiful drawer stocked with Cutipol flatware for the rooms.

Close attention to detail and understated luxury all around. Mega soft Matouk bath towels and bed linens, RH alpaca throw on the bed, Japanese slippers, Cutipol cutlery, Zalto wine glasses, MMclay ceramics, Ratio Eight pour-over marchine, Fellow kettle, Aesop bath products, Toto toilet. The spare toilet paper roll is wrapped in linen. The soaking tub is surprisingly ergonomic and comfortable.

Everything is included. As luxury lodging should be. If I’m paying that much money for a room, I should not be reminded of how much you’re ripping me off for a bag of chips or some booze.

  • Breakfast for 2 is included in the room rate.

  • The mini bar — wine, beer, soft drinks, snacks, ice cream (ICE CREAM!), coffee, and tea is “with their compliments”.

  • Short but mighty room service menu of shigoku oysters, and charcuterie + cheese plate is “with their compliments”.

The ice cream with salted caramel comes in a ceramic jar. The wine — 2013 Dry Creek Valley Syrah — was really good. And, of course, everything tastes better sipped out of a Zalto wine glass.

Breakfast is ordered the night before from a few different sets (Sonoma, English, Japanese) with a la carte add ons, all included save for the alcoholic mimosa. Below is the Japanese set with add on scone, smoothie, fresh squeezed OJ, and cappuccino. Pretty sure the donabe of rice and the other of homemade silken tofu were meant to be shared, but when you travel solo … ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Breakfast for one. Excessive much?

Breakfast for one. Excessive much?

Is the SingleThread Inn perfect? No.

When paying this much, I want optionality. I would have preferred to sleep in complete darkness. The lack of blackout curtains and the fact that the curtains didn’t close fully let in street light. The light on the fancy light switches were very bright. Sound proofing was not 100% — can hear walking in the hall. To nitpick, the thread count on the fancy sheets was too high. While running my legs against them felt like bliss, I found them to be not breathable and too warm to sleep in.

But I can say that SingleThread Inn is maybe one of my favourite and most exceptional hotel experiences to date. They create an experience that takes away anything that might stop you from relaxing and enjoying.

Sushi Masuda


Delicious and consistent Edo-mae sushi served in a slightly sterile environment with a “Tokyo 2 Michelin star sushi” price tag. Recommend for an excellent traditional sushi omakase experience in the Jiro school (especially since it’s not terribly difficult to make a reservation at). Skip if you’ve experienced anything of similar caliber and style.

The Review

The food is good. Strong vinegar shari (as to be expected from the Jiro school) with good texture, excellent neta, and yummy otsumami. The whole experience is delicious and consistent. Not a single bad piece. Incomparable and so much better than anything you can get in San Francisco, but it is not mindblowingly good like Jiro (maybe my sushi palette is spoiled?).

The environment is not as uptight as at, say, Jiro, but service and overall ambience was pretty sterile compared to other counters I have eaten at (e.g., Sho Saito, Yoshitake).

It is pricey - we paid ¥70,000 total for two people at lunch with drinks. This is expensive compared to many sushi-ya’s and other Tokyo fine dining genres at lunch. However, this is also inexpensive compared to omakase in the US, especially for what you’re getting. Your call.

The Story

YJR and I visited Sushi Masuda on our July 2018 Tokyo trip. We had a lunch reservation made through our hotel. Upon arriving, we were seated at the far right of the empty bar with beverage menus. I ordered a carafe of the seasonal sake (smooth and delicious) while YJR ordered a ume liqueur with soda. Because of course he orders the girliest drink, of course. Mocking aside, it was delicious. A few courses into our otsumami, another party of two joined us. The four of us at the bar were served by Masuda-san himself, while the sous chef served the private room. The progression of the meal was very standard Edo-mae style sushi, ending on tamago. No fruits and no offers for extra pieces. Not a terrible thing considering how stuffed we were at that point (there were a lot of otsumami courses).

Masuda-san is pretty quiet, but did deliver each piece telling us the Japanese and English name of each. Towards the end, we chatted a bit with Masuda-san and the sous chef. I mentioned that I had visited previously and we had talked about the Mission burrito in San Francisco. The sous chef was very gracious and acknowledged like he remembered. Whether he did or not, we will never know. Oh, the Japanese and their social tendency to give grace and avoid awkwardness.

The Ramblings

Sushi Masuda earned its second Michelin star shortly after I last visited in November 2016. Conceptually, I understand what Michelin stars are supposed to signify. Per the Michelin Guide,

Three stars signify "exceptional cuisine that is worth a special journey"
Two stars mean "excellent cooking that is worth a detour", and
One star signifies "very good in quality, cuisine prepared to a high standard that is worth the stop."

Honestly, I don’t think it’s a very practical or applicable system across geographies, cultures, or culinary genres. The guide was maybe never meant to be used for comparisons in this way, but as soon as you assign a rating, comparisons will invariably happen. How are you to compare your overall experience at a sushi-ya in Tokyo versus one in New York? How are you to compare your overall experience at a sushi-ya versus a Japanese-French fine dining establishment in Tokyo? I believe the answer is you cannot. Anyhow, more on this in a later post…

A few untouched Pixel phone photos below.

Abalone in its liver sauce.

Abalone in its liver sauce.

Chutoro, my favourite cut of tuna. Rich and fatty, but still maintained structure and distinct flavour.

Chutoro, my favourite cut of tuna. Rich and fatty, but still maintained structure and distinct flavour.

Kuruma ebi. Dare I say I enjoyed this “smaller” serving more than the larger serving I had at Jiro.

Kuruma ebi. Dare I say I enjoyed this “smaller” serving more than the larger serving I had at Jiro.

Tamago, my favourite sushi dessert.

Tamago, my favourite sushi dessert.

Jerry’s pretty sake cup. I got a matching pink one instead. Hmmm.

Jerry’s pretty sake cup. I got a matching pink one instead. Hmmm.