Sunday, April 22, 2007

Sugar Rush

I dropped into Kara's Cupcakes this weekend. What's not to love? The cupcakes are cute, the store's packaging and pink interior are precious. But I just gotta say: NY's Sugar Sweet Sunshine still reigns supreme—its mini cakes are moister, cakier, just plain better; and the buttercream frosting is fluffy and light. Note the brown color of Kara's chocolate and vanilla cake on the right. Yup, overcooked and a bit dry on top. Not awful, not bad, but nowhere near the perfection that is Sugar Sweet Sunshine. I dumped half the chocolate frosting—dense, cloying and super sweet, if I'd scarfed it all down, I'm sure I'd have fallen to the floor twitching and jerking from insulin overload. OK, I'm being a bit of a drama queen. Kara's is good (but Sunshine is ...)

Crab Is King

My dear friends threw a big birthday party for their little poppet today (isn't she sweet?), and for the occasion, mama and papa provided a huge spread of goodies including a medley of cheeses, sweet stuffed peppers, nuts, breads, dips and plenty o' booze (the good kind) to keep the adult kids happy. But the biggest treat was the crab.

Alaskan king crab and lots of it swimming in a lovely curry sauce. I had second helpings of the tender fleshy legs ... who wouldn't, right? Served up on a bed of rice and washed down with an ice cold beer (ok, two), the crabs (and the company) made this the perfect Sunday afternoon.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Garden Salad

... is so not a part of the New York food lexicon (except for maybe Bread's in Nolita). It's something I missed (a whole heck of a lot) while I was out there—a super-fresh, supah-fly, crazy delicious salad packed with all the goodies, that is. Well, I got a real welcome home when I opened my to-go box from Boxed Foods Company. Have a look-see:

For the fairly modest price of $8, the grilled chicken salad comes packed with organic greens, roasted red peppers, grilled onions, chunks of tomato, Granny Smith apple slivers, gobs of Laura Chenel's goat cheese and a partridge in a pear tree. OK, maybe not the bird, but when I picked the box up off the counter, it sure felt like a carcass had been tucked away in there. Needless to say, my lunch mate had serious box envy; mine was bigger than his.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Just the other day ...

I fell in love with Universal Cafe. I've known about it for what seems like ever, but I'd just never made it out to this little eatery in the fuzzy area between the Mission and Potrero. So, on a whim, I decided now was the time to give Universal a go. Of course, it helped that we'd found parking just in front and that you could see just how inviting the cafe was—a wide open kitchen couched by a long bar, high ceilings with a clean, modern feel—through the glass storefront. Couple that with my craving for a glass of red wine and thoughts of sushi (the original plan for dinner) suffered a quick death: Good red wine trumps sushi almost every time.

Super fresh, seasonal and really quite simple, the dishes we ordered stood up, demanding we take notice. And we did. The grilled shrimp, cooked and seasoned just right, came out on a bed of al dente, mildly flavored chickpeas with kalamata olives peppering the app. A little lemon, a lot of olive oil and a drizzle of creme fraiche added just the right amount of zing and zag to create contrast and ultimately balance in the dish.

You can't have red wine without some serious meat, so I went for the Niman Ranch braised pork sitting atop a generous helping of herbacious spaetzle along with some wild greens. The pork was DeeRishous ... falling apart with just a flick of the fork. The bitterness of the greens cut through the richness of the pork and contrasted nicely with the easy-going flavor of the pasta.

But it was the wild mushroom homemade pasta in a creamy pancetta-flecked sauce that bowled us over. It's probably the best pasta I've ever had, said my dinner partner. And how. Munching on a trumpet mushroom and then some maitake and then still more on oyster mushrooms, I quickly filed through my memory of previous pasta feeds. Nope. Save for a bolognese and tagliatelle dish at Supper in the East Village, I've got to say this is the best.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Comfort me with ...

the spaghetti and meatballs at Park Chow. It hits the spot every time (and I've been going for maybe 6 years now ... save for my 3 year absence while in NY). And even though the place does a good job with a bunch of other dishes, as soon as I walk in, all other potentials fly out the window. I know exactly what I'm getting: a small caesar to start and then the chunky monkey of a meatball, plopped on top of a mess of noodles (no the pasta's not homemade, but I don't expect that of a simple neighborhood establishment). Better than mama used to make (the meatballs, that is). Love the crumbly texture, the subtle eye-talian seasoning. And them there's bacon in the sauce. This is the small order.
You get two lovely crumbly balls o' meat when you go for the entree. My South African friend likes it this way: with a pile of fries on top. ("I'm hungry," he said.) Heck. Who am I to argue?

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Good—make that Great—Friday. Olé!

For the first time ever, I got the afternoon off for Good Friday, and in celebration my coworking cohorts and I a-hopped, skipped and a-jumped over to Puerto Alegre in the Mission where we sucked down copious amounts of citrusy-sweet (in a good way) margaritas and noshed on spicy (jalapenos and onions galore), chunky guacamole and chips. What a perfect pairing.

The topper was the super meat burrito my mate sitting beside me got handed. Jaw-dropping to say the least. At least a foot long and packed with all the goodies: tender beef, beans, rice, guac, salsa, cheese and more ... doused in a super tasty sauce with lotsa sour cream. It's one of the best burritos I've ever tasted (and I've probably had a few hundred growing up here in SF)—the moist interior was well seasoned, with all of the ingredients pulling together in perfect harmony. After this visit, I'm gonna have to say that, pound for pound, Puerto Alegre's tortilla torpedo now outranks the almost-puny-in-comparison burritos at my usual go-to fave: Pancho Villa.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

A good bread basket ...

does not a great meal make. Though it sure made me think my impending meal at the Presidio's barn of a wine bar-cum-global/eclectic tapas restaurant Pres a Vi could be a tasty one.

Well, the seared foie gras and dayboat scallop with rhubarb wasn't bad, though it was a tad underseasoned and barely lukewarm. Hmmmm ....

The next 2 small plates, duck buns and rock shrimp 'n avocado lumpia, didn't do much to dazzle either. The soft, springy buns and shredded duck dressed in hoisin were pleasant enough, but the lumpia was a tad overseasoned and again only lukewarm. Truth be told, the deep-fried avocado rolls at the Cheesecake Factory are 10 times better (crispier, zestier ... just plain yummier). As far as I could tell, there was nothing really pinoy about this plate; and mind you, I grew up with my mom—the deep-frying diva—making mad lumpia (she having learned how to make them from her filipina friends).

The paella was salty and kinda mushy, the shrimp a bit fishy. It was nothing like the dish I'd fallen in love with 3 times over: once in Nice, France; a second time in Monterey, CA; and a third over a home-cooked meal in Berkeley. We tried a few other things, the worst being a cold, undercooked slab of fat, otherwise known as the pork belly (love pork belly, but that was some clammy, chewy, hard fat ... completely inedible); and the best being a humble crabcake, which was loose and crumbly, almost all crab, and well seasoned to boot.

All in all, it was a toss-up. The kitchen is huge, the place fairly new. Maybe they'll get it down in a year. Not sure I'll want to go back even then. Plenty of SF restos that are already getting it right.