Saturday, June 30, 2007
Imagine my excitement when the waitress at Absinthe slid this hunk a-hunk o' burning love towards me. I do love me a good burger, and before I'd left for NY, Absinthe's held top honors in my book. (Schiller's is my Big Apple fave—perfect for a hangover.) Of course, the menu had been updated while I was gone. No longer do they have the caramelized mushrooms as an option. But no matter, I was thrilled to see a spicy onion and gorgonzola combination had taken its place and ordered it along with a side of fries tout suite.
Unfortunately, looks can be deceiving. Oh sure, the tangled mess of onions were lovely, though not as spicy as I'd like. And they sure as heck didn't make up for the Niman Ranch patty, which was so underseasoned, I wondered if they'd even put any salt in it at all. On top of the blah-ness of the beef was the unwieldy herb bun; it was so dense, I had to chuck the top half and eat the damn thing like an open-faced sandwich—so not what I'm looking for when I'm jonesing for a burger that i can scoop up with both paws and mow down sans use of silverware. What a let-down. Oh well, at least the fries were munch-worthy as ever. I alternated back and forth between aioli and mustard then ketchup and malt vinegar and back again.
Next time I hit Absinthe for brunch, I think I'll go with what JC had: delightfully fluffy pain de mie French toast with orange-ricotta filling, fresh berries compote and maple syrup. In the mean time, I'm back on the hunt for the best burger that SF has to offer.
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Just a little somethin' my friend brought over for a dinner party I threw at my house: Tres leches cake from Delessio. Most were daunted by its rich decadence (after all, it's been soaked in three kinds of milk: evaporated, condensed and cream), but not I. Since the theme of my party was tacos and tequilas, I had a feeling when I asked my friend J to bring something sweet, this is what he'd deliver. Happily, I guessed right. Most folks insisted on a wimpy little slice but I went big as did J and we savored every bite. Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.
Sunday, June 24, 2007
I didn't bother taking any pics of the parade of small plates that streamed out of Terzo's kitchen last night. Instead, I thought it more appropos to snap a photo of my dear friend so that you can see how happy we were with the fabulous food we inhaled, huddled on high stools scooted up close to the Mediterranean resto's bar. The three of us helped ourselves to wines by the glass as we proceeded to work our way through the following outstanding dishes:
- Thick, lumpy hummus drizzled with olive oil and served with housemade fluffy puffs of pita sprinkled with za'atar
- A huge pile of the most addictive crispety-crunchety deep-fried onions
- The most delicious golden and jewel-red beets, perfectly cooked and well-seasoned wth tahini, sumac, coriander and Morroccan olive oil
- Mozzarella di Bufala on bruschetta with Umbrian black truffle and olive oil (I savored every bite)
- Potato gnocchi with Niman Ranch ragu and reggiano (a tiny tad overseasoned but not disastrously so)
- Heirloom tomatoes (they're in season, hooray) with feta, dill and Umbrian olive oil
- A scrumptious slab of grilled sea bass with garbanzos and charmoula
and for dessert:
- A silky smooth and not-too-sweet ricotta cheesecake with nectarine compote and whipped cream
The barkeeps were extra gracious and attentive, the interior ever-so-inviting. It was easily the best dinner experience I've had in SF since my trip to Universal Cafe way back when.
Saturday, June 23, 2007
Yummmmmm. I polished off that little cake in less than 90 seconds flat. And I raved about it for a good hour after. Thank you, Chive Catering. It was most certainly a great ending to the night.
Saturday, June 16, 2007
Under the lid: Goan shrimp curry with eggplant
In the wok: chickpea curry with fresh dill leaves
The enormous spread also included Marathi yellow fried rice, basmati rice, fried green beef, chicken in cashew nut sauce and cucumber salad with crushed peanuts.
My plate: A little bit (OK, a lot) of everything ... variety, after all, is the spice of life. Damn were the Goan shrimp curry and chickpeas smokin' hot. If I had to choose one, I'd have to say the oh-so-tender chicken in cashew sauce was my fave. We finished off with a lovely custard-like dessert made of yogurt, green cardamom, sugar, pistachios and saffron along with copious amounts of green cardamom tea. Note to self: wear a muu muu—to accommodate the ever-expanding belly—when cooking AND eating Ruta's food.
The mise en place (meaning: everything in its place) was already prepped for us. All we had to do was a little cutting, chopping and grinding.
... and stuffing. Looks like Little Shop of Horrors, right?
Now into a hot skillet with hot oil.
Ruta takes charge.
After the frying, then 20-30 minutes of braising and voila! the finished product.
It was a feast to be remembered, and super easy to prepare. Time for a dinner party, Indian-style.
Thursday, June 14, 2007
We were also duly impressed with the soft and drapey hanky pesto pasta, which had just the right amount of seasoning and moisture (lots) in the sauce. The only (tiny) fly in the ointment was that the hostesses had failed to warn us that it was BYOB; it was left to our waitress to suggest (only after we'd ordered and then asked for the wine list) we go to nearby Bi-Rite and pick up a bottle. Farina's only been opened a week with as yet no liquor license in sight. I'm happy to bring my own bottle of vino, but it would be better to know sooner than later, so that one of us doesn't have to hump out to the store while the other sits waiting with the appetizer already hitting (and wilting on—i kid, i kid) the table.
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
We helped ourselves to one of these refreshing beverages in the shadowy library at the back of speakeasy Bourbon & Branch. I was glad to be able to check out the Tenderloin bar without having to go through the rigamarole of calling the unlisted number to make reservations and secure the password to get in the front door. Because we were guests at this special happy hour hosted by Tales of the Cocktail, we waltzed right through the door. I guess I'd go back again to see what it's like sans privileges, but it'll take some prodding to make it happen.
Sunday, June 10, 2007
I'd already had variations of a bunch of things, like the fatty tea sandwiches (now pork-filled, but duck when I was still living in NYC); crispy pork and watermelon pickle salad (cubes of crisped pork belly and fresh watermelon when I knew it once); meaty and messy chili Dungeness crab; and braised short rib pendang nestled on a bed of coconut rice. So on this visit, we decided to try a few new things:
The green mango salad (not pictured) started things off on the right foot. Fresh, super spicy and perfectly complemented with cilantro, thai bird chilies, basil, peanuts, garlic and lime juice.
The Shrimp Sambal complete with bibb lettuce, charred scallions, toasted coconut, cilantro and peanuts looked mighty purty, but didn't knock our socks off. The flavors just didn't pull together. Go figure.
The saucy, salty Lo Si Fun comprising fat rice noodles, Chinese sausage, shiitake and other veg was a bit overpowering. Loved the sausage and the poached egg on top, but coulda done with a bit less potency in the (too) salty sauce.
Turns out tried and true was what won the day. The Nasi Lemak was as delicious as I'd remembered it. A falling-off-the-bone curry chicken leg and slow poached egg come served on a fluffy heap of coconut rice and framed by upwards of 10 pickled and fresh sides. I like to refer to it as the Malaysian version of Bi-Bim-Bop. This is it pre-mixed. Post-mixed, it's absolutely divine.
Friday, June 8, 2007
No. 718 Pan Fried Bean Curd (of the silken variety) with Soy Sauce was the best dish in the house at Congee Village in the LES. At least it was when I went with a posse of friends, all sporting big appetites after a long(ish) night of drinking. After walking by Barrio Chino and then Little Giant and noting the crowds waiting to get seated at both venues, I scoured my memory for a spot that could take 9 hungry folk without any restaurant pull or reservations. Cantonese hot spot Congee Village, of course. And we were in luck: As soon as we walked in, we were ushered to a huge round table, one of two on a dais, complete with lazy susan and the requisite bottles of chili oil, Chinese mustard and soy sauce. We plowed through a passel of MSG-laden (read: flavorful) and filling dishes including shrimp and vermicelli noodles, beef with veg, 2 kinds of congee (savory porridge, one with seafood, the other with abalone and chicken), another tofu dish, General Tso's chicken ... The damage? A whopping 13 bucks each. Good times.
Sunday, June 3, 2007
Saturday, June 2, 2007
My California (and other) friends agree: There's just no place like it. No Cal-Mex burritos served here. Rather, this is a taco and tequila bar dishing up authentic Mexico City-style eats—this according to my Gourmet editor friend who spent years in that very town, part of it running a cooking school. In fact, she's the one who introduced me to Barrio.
I had been dreaming of the to-die-for chile en nogada (a poblano chile stuffed with spicy shredded pork drizzled with a walnut-cream sauce and studded with diced apple and pomegranate seeds). I've probably had it at least a dozen times, almost never straying from its siren call. Yes, it's THAT good. So, I was dead-set on ordering it this time 'round. But to my great dismay, it was nowhere on the lunch menu. Ah well, c'est la vie. All thoughts of the chile flew out the window when the dishes including the guac and chips, sopesitos, chile rellenos, quesadillas and shrimp tacos hit the table. None of the 4 of us could shut up about how spicy, delicate, fragrant (fill in the blank with ecstatic superlative) the food was—except for when we were stuffing our faces. Washed down with some delightfully coco-minty coconut mojitos, the meal more than exceeded my expectations. Wowza.
You better believe I made a beeline to Sugar Sweet Sunshine Bakery on my first full day back in the Big Apple since my move to the left coast 8 months ago. My three girlfriends, whom I'd just broken bread with at Barrio Chino (more on that later), escorted me to the homey little LES storefront—think yellow flowered wallpaper and brightly colored vintage sofas and chairs—so that I could satisfy my (sugar) sweet (sunshine) tooth. The Bob, red velvet, lemon, pumpkin, ooey gooey and coconut ... I've pretty much sampled all of the cupcakes as well as a few different (and enormous, I might add) slices of cake. But I'm a sucker for the Sunshine cupcake: a super moist and springy yellow cake with just the right amount of pastel-colored vanilla buttercream frosting on top. In a word: heaven.