BURLINGAME — On a recent visit to sample the culinary talents of Chef Herb Ng at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco Airport hotel in Burlingame, the “oohs and ahs” circulated around the table as we diners tasted the chef’s creative fare.
The point of the meal was very simple: to illustrate the idea that airport hotel food can, indeed, be quite good.
And good it was – in fact, I’d say great!
Of all the plates we tasted, my favorite was Ng’s Pan Seared Chilean Sea Bass, prepared with fresh-water rock shrimp, black forbidden rice and shellfish veloute.
This dish was everything I’ve always expected of sea bass, but especially its prized silken texture, which Ng’s careful hand made sure was there to appreciate.
In a later interview with Ng, the chef explained what went into his work on this particular dish:
“You know, a lot of times people tend to lose their focus and try to do too much. I always like to let the product speak for itself.”
Ng went on to stress that, for cooking the sea bass, “it was probably the most basic cooking technique: don’t overcook it, you don’t have to do much to it.”
“At the end of the day,” he said, “it’s really about knowing your product, getting it as fresh as possible, and let the product speak for itself.”
Of course, there are certain foods which require more time, he said, like short ribs, for example. But when simplicity is called for, simplicity is what you should aim for.
Ng, who has been at the Hyatt in Burlingame for almost five years, brings a rich background to his work. He graduated from the culinary arts program at San Francisco City College and has spent the better part of his career working in hotel industry cuisine, including Marriott.
Ng admitted that there is a “stigma” to hotel banquet food but, he said, “we try our best to always try and put that restaurant spin into all the catering that we do here. ” One thing that attracted Ng to Hyatt, he pointed out, “is their focus on food.”
The complete special sampling menu included these other dishes: A plated starter of sliced duck breast with caramelized butternut squash, toasted couscous and port wine gastrique.
Family-style main dishes included arugula, frisee salad with bosc pear, candied walnut, Point Reyes blue heirloom tomatoes, Hass avocado, creamy burrata cheese, basil oil, basil reduction, cider-brined organic chicken breast stuffed with forest mushrooms, brown rice, sun-dried cranberry dressing, herb-crusted beef tenderloin, scallop baby potatoes, sautéed spinach, red onion marmalade, pan-seared Chilean sea bass and, for dessert, chocolate mousse with roasted banana.
The next morning, I sampled the hotel’s Sunday Champagne Jazz Brunch, held under the spectacular atrium. There was so much variety to sample – from eggs and pancakes to Chinese – that I just didn’t know where to start!
The hotel also features a more informal menu at its Knuckles Historical Sports Bar, where one can watch the latest game on wide-screen TVs, but be prepared to put up with some of the noise you normally will find in a sports bar.
My room at the hotel was well-appointed and comfortable and looked out at the giant atrium.
If you go: The hotel is south of San Francisco, off Highway 101. More information is available at 650-347-1234 or http://sanfranciscoairport.hyatt.com.
George Medovoy covers travel at www.postcardsforyou.com.
*Story originally featured in The Daily Republic