Friday, March 30, 2007

Bun No. 28

Now's probably not a good time to be blogging about food since my sadly empty gut is gurgling like mad, but since I'm waiting for my friend to go chow down on dinner, I guess I'll suck it up just long enough to say: Damn if the bun no. 28 at Pho Express ain't a gorgeous treat of bouncy rice noodles crowned by a heap of perfectly seasoned grilled pork and 2 crispety-crunchety imperial rolls (stuffed full of pork, grated carrot, bean sprouts, noodles and garlic). Doused with a generous amount of fish sauce, the dish transports me to the seventh level of heaven (is there such a thing? god help me, I do believe when I've got no. 28 in front of me). Having been to Vietnam, albeit many years ago, I've got to say this rendition ranks right up there with the best of 'em.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Dinner of Champions

Champions of the carb variety, that is: garlic fries with lotsa ketchup plus a pint of lager at Johnny Foley's (beer firmly attached to hand and therefore not pictured). ... They're magically delicious.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The votes are in

Chez Maman wins.
Here's how it all broke down at tonight's Franco-feast:

Grilled salmon with fennel confit, eggplant caviar and tapenade:
2 ooh-la-las

Ricotta ravioli with roquefort, pine nuts and basil:

3 ooh-la-las

Grilled rack of lamb with ratatouille and French fries:

4 ooh-la-las

Grilled pork chop with apple cider mustard sauce and Brussels sprouts:

6 ... dare I say, 7 ooh-la-las (and there were only 4 of us).

Guess who had the oinker? ME. Ha. I win! But that said, we were all pretty well sated by the end of the meal ... sharing a bottle of Bordeaux certainly helped, but kudos to the kitchen for a job well done. And the icing on the cake? A specially "signed" (albeit misspelled?) berry and creme fraiche crepe. Vive la France!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Next time I'll get the schnitzel

Germans are serious about breakfast; memories of Bavarian buffets packed to the gills with cold cuts, cheese, breads, eggs and more have stuck with me since my last proper visit to Deutschland in 2000. So I guess I shouldn't have been so surprised to see how large a spread Suppenkuche serves for brunch—schnitzel, sausage, bacon and eggs galore. Since I'd had a fat burger and fries at 11:00 the night before, I thought I'd take the high road and order up the muesli, yogurt and fruit concoction. My b'fast mate followed my meat-less lead, choosing the emperor's pancakes with apple and plum compote (yup, that's them pictured below).

Sitting at one of Suppe's communal farm tables, we happily tucked into our carb-laden dishes surrounded by the mellow chatter of a hip/Euro-esque crowd enjoying a really warm day (few and far between) in SF. I'm thinkin', it can't really get any better than this ... although next time, schnitzel is set to play the starring role.

Thursday, March 22, 2007


Dinner—a Korean BBQ kinda dinner—just isn't complete without a whole lotta ssam. I had to ask for it the last time I was stuffing my face with spicy pork bulgogi and sundubu jjigae—in mid-stuff of maybe my third bite, I realized something was wrong, terribly wrong. Where's the leafy lettuce and the dwenjang (soybean paste), for crying out loud? These are integral to being able to create a proper Korean burrito of rice, grilled meat and maybe a bit o' pickled this or that. Look at how dark the dwenjang is in this pic. My folks and aunt all gave the nod of approval for its authentic appearance and taste. I can take it or leave it, but this time, I took ... slapping gobs of the fermented stuff into my wraps. Makes me think about Ssam Bar in New York; too bad that idea didn't "take" too well. It's still around, but has now expanded its menu beyond ssam and its Berkshire pork buns to appease the finicky East Villagers (of which I was one, not so long ago ...).

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Yum Yum Fish

Look at what these little brown packets had inside 'em: tender, flakey Chilean sea bass sweetened with a pat of butter, sun-dried tomatoes, and sauteed fennel and leeks. Each fillet also got a generous squirt of lemon, white wine and olive oil. Served on a fluffy bed of rice and some gingery-garlicky stalks of asparagus, these fleshy fish entrees were beyond heavenly.

Of course, since it was the first time my friend had ever made this dish, she was less than satisfied. She'd hoped to taste more lemon and anise, she said.

Ah well, you're always your own worst critic. The lemon zest sprinkled over the asparagus more than made up for and complimented the sea bass. And frankly, I'm glad I couldn't taste any kind of licorice: Anise is just not my thing, although having had to use it in restaurant cooking, I don't hate it as much as I used to.

All in all, what a great meal. Imitation is the greatest form of flattery, and you better believe I'm adding this to my repertoire ... hmmm, already planning my next dinner party.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Pizza Pie

Before I moved back to SF and was planning a weekend trip to the city by the bay after a year and a half away, a friend told me we should hit newly opened Little Star because folks were saying its deep-dish pizza kicked Zachary's ass. No way, I said. There is just no way. Zach's has always had a special place in my heart (and belly); gobbling up the heavenly chicken deep dish (made with hunks of baked chicken breast, mushrooms, and a zesty basil, garlic, tomato sauce with mozzarella cheese) on a monthly basis for 4 years will do that to you. Needless to say, I was more than prepared to expose Little Star for the poser that it was.

Half a dozen visits later, I can happily admit I was wrong. The SF pizzeria is insanely good. Last week, the Little Star (spinach with ricotta and feta, mushrooms, onions and garlic) was my preferred pie of choice, but the classic and vegetarian are equally as good. Couple that with a good bottle of red and there's no way the warm fuzzies won't knock you on your ass (in a good way, of course).

Sunday, March 11, 2007

They were so good ...

... that we hoovered our burgers before I could get off a shot. Ha. And I had my camera all ready to do it, too. But damn if those Grubstake burgers aren't deeeRISHous. Especially after you've been out on the town (the place stays open til 4 in the morning). I inhaled the Gold Rush, smothered in blue cheese and topped with healthy helpings of red onion, tomato and lettuce.

I've been driving by this railroad car-cum-restaurant since I was a wee child and never made it in until now. I suck. But now that it's firmly on the map for me, I'll beeline it to this homey diner if and whenever I'm gettin' the grumblins for a juicy burger married beautifully with a heaping side o' homemade fries.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Cockadoodle Doo

Last week I decided to try my hand at coq au vin off a recipe I'd been considering for some time from a past issue of Cook's Illustrated. Even though the mag had simplified this pretty labor-intensive production, I still felt frenzied and frazzled trying to chat with my hovering friends and work on putting together what I hoped would be a tasty dish.

Well, two hours and two-plus pounds of chicken later, I finally got to ladling the red wine-infused meat, mushrooms and onions on a bed of yukon gold mashies.

Success. The robust stew (bacon and butter included, yum) was met with raves all 'round. Of course, I had no appetite by the time we sat down to dinner, but no matter: My bowl was snatched up and emptied tout suite. What are friends for, right?

Monday, March 5, 2007

Spice of Life

I've always thought the mark of a really good Korean restaurant could be measured by the number of lovely little side dishes (aka pan chan) accompanying the meal; it certainly bodes well when you're served upwards of 12 to 15 pan chan, covering all the bases of sweet, savory, umami and more. Well, the ones pictured here were super dee-lish, all of them made with love by the proprietress and her crew at Chuhgajib in Glendale, Arizona.

Of the kimchi, oi kimchi, manul jjong, kong namul and more, ggakdugi's hands down my fave. These spicy pickled nuggets of daikon radish add a tongue-tingling kick and crunch to any meal, whether it's Korean bbq or a bowl of spaghetti. Spaghetti, you say? Sure, why not? I grew up in a household where kimchi went with everything, whether it was mac and cheese, meatloaf or bulgogi on the table. We even stuck kimchi in our sandwiches (ok, not all the time). It's really not so different from the folks who hit all their food with a generous dousing of hot sauce (did I mention my dad does that too?) Spicy, gooooood.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Et VoilĂ ! Foie Gras

I used to hate liver; my mom once tried to sneak it into a savory Korean-style pancake, which she served to us as a snack when I was a kid. As soon as the iron-y and chewy (read: overcooked) organ hit my tongue, I knew. This is liver, I said to my mom as I hastily spit the stuff out. She said, No, it's not. But I knew.

So, I stayed away from offal of all kinds for years. It wasn't until a couple of decades later that my appreciation for the stuff began to grow. It finally took hold during my short stint at a 3-star restaurant when seared foie gras and foie gras torchon became part of my cooking repetoire (loved the seared stuff, though I can't say that I was a fan of the torchon).

That said, CAV wine bar's foie gras torchon is exceptional. Creamy, buttery, with a lovely rosey hue, the fatty liver is perfectly complemented with a dice of honey-infused quince. I went again last night with a couple friends to get some more of the mouth-watering dish, and it was just as amazing as I'd remembered. We also opted for the cheese sampler that came out fully loaded with all manner of nuts, fruit and honey. And of course, a spicy malbec and velvety tempranillo were the perfect accompaniments to my meal.