Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Happy Birthday, Mon Père!

Turning 70 is HUGE, especially for us Koreans. Lots of K-peeps will throw big banquets, orchestrate family reunions and the like. Though we considered following suit and kowtowing to tradition (really for a New York minute ... reunions are so not my thing), in the end, we decided to make it a nuclear family kind of party. So last weekend, my sister and I flew out to AZ to usher in dad's "new" year at a ritzy steakhouse called Mastro's in well-to-do Scottsdale. Now, just to preface, when we were growing up, dad ever and always chose a fancy steakhouse for special events such as birthdays or graduations. So, it only seemed right that we do the same for him.

My big sis did the research, made the rezzies and even picked up the bill (woohoo). A good thing too cuz with champagne to start, chopped salads as apps, huge hunks of meat for our mains (veal porterhouse for pops, bone-in filets for mom and sis, rack of lamb for me), plus a few sides (the creamed corn, insanely rich and delicious, was hands down our fave) and of course a bottle of Grgich Hills' 2004 Zinfandel that was big, luscious and perfectly spiced, our dinner cost more than a few pretty pennies.

The best part of the meal was the finale. As we pored over the dessert menu, picking first one and then another option, out came a HUGE platter of decadent delights lit up with candles that had my dad grinning from ear to ear. We sang happy birthday with great gusto and then dug into the key lime pie, brown sugar cake a la mode and chocolate mousse cake ...

Holy mother of pearl. No amount of coffee could bring my busting belly under control. I was stuffed for hours after the meal. And I woke up with a terrible food hangover. But heck, it's now more than 24 hours later, and I'm feeling worlds better. All worth it for dad's epic day.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

SF vs. Land o' the Strip Malls

My folks are in town from Arizona, and I thought, wouldn't it be a nice treat to take them to CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen for dinner so that they could enjoy some premium wine and lovingly prepared food showcasing locally grown, seasonal ingredients? After all, the 'rentals spent almost 40 years in SF and my dad had been complaining about the lack of variety and quality of restaurants in and around their cookie-cutter desert town. And no wonder: All they've had over the past 4 years since their move is strip mall upon strip mall and chain resto upon chain resto (Olive Garden and Applebee's are two of my mom's new faves). But alas, mom's first response when the plates arrived was, "The fish is so small. They're charging a lot for very little." I looked hopefully at my dad, who'd done a lot of dining out during his days in the SF corporate world; surely, he'd have some understanding of dining on a finer level than that of China Buffet and Outback Steakhouse, two other AZ stand-bys. No such thing. "What? They don't serve any bread here? Isn't this an Italian place?" he grumbled ... My hopes were dashed—mom and dad have gone over to the dark side: They love mediocre, mass-produced food and lots of it. Heaping platefuls are best. Taste and seasonality be damned. *Sigh* ... Oh well, I tried. And I sure did love my food, even if they didn't (though they did both eat their plates—duck meatballs and bluenose sea bass—clean). The house-made sweet corn and ricotta ravioli with heirloom zucchini and cherry tomatoes looked like a summer garden and tasted like one too: fresh bursts of flavor, a pillowy soft and creamy texture, all helped along with sips of a crisp Gruner Veltliner (which my dad said tasted exactly like his Australian Chardonnay ... oy). And then for dessert: an oozing sweet-tart raspberry crisp with vanilla ice cream. CAV wine bar is still on my favorites list.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Bloody Fantastic

You can probably tell by the utter look of exuberance on C's face that the bloody Mary set in front of her was bloody fantastic. Sometimes, a spicy bloody with all the works (celery, olives and pickled pearl onions) hits the spot at the mid-day mark, especially when the work is piled high, the boss is bitching and your friends are happy to support your drink habit (we all ordered one too).

Thank you, Johnny Foley. You're a lifesaver.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Blue Cheese Choco What?

Went to the Chocolate Salon, a crazy packed chocolate fair, last weekend at Fort Mason that brought out dozens of chocolatiers ranging from the biggies like Trader Joe's (!?) and the SF Chocolate Factory to the smaller, artisanal chocolatiers like Amano Artisan Chocolate and one of my faves, Lillie Belle Farms Artisan Chocolates, which had a smokey blue cheese truffle that was the perfect antidote to having way too much sweet sweet chocolate in a concentrated period of time. All that chocolate was like a shot of heroin to the arm; I was reeling. Fortunately, Lillie Belle plus a few sips here and there of wine, and yes a little quality time on the couch after, had me recovered by dinner time.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Creative Comerç 24

Plumpjack's Parmesan foam and fig sorbet amuse bouche may be so 2001 (get one of my NYC cook friends started on the subject of foam, and you'll never hear the end of how overdone and over the hill it is now in 2007), but I've had so little of it (probably for the aforementioned reasons) that I dug it at Plumpjack, and I really went for it in Barcelona at Comerç 24 by one of Ferran Adrià's very own disciples, Carles Abellan. After all, when in Rome ... So, indulge me in a little walk down memory lane. It was only last year that I enjoyed the 7-course tasting, plus dessert tasting, at Comerç—a wonderful respite from the tapas (delicious though they were) I'd been having day in and day out for a week traveling with my sister, who was and has always been my ever-willing foodie partner in crime.

1st course.
Bottom, left to right: rice chips with nori dust, whipped aioli, home-made potato chips.
Top, left to right: macadamia nuts in gold dust, deep-fried cauliflower with raspberry sauce, anchovy-stuffed olives.

Half of the 4th course (other half was a cod brandade in a teacup with truffle oil, etc.).
Potato foam on top of egg foam drizzled with truffle oil

Bottom: creme brulee, fruit coulis/shake.
Top: strawberry-flavored white chocolate mousse; chocolate mousse with a toastette, sea salt and olive oil (a traditional Barcelonan kid's snack).

Friday, July 13, 2007

Stuffed II

OK, so my dinner companion at Plumpjack wasn't at all stuffed. But she wasn't complaining either.

Her app: cannelloni of big eye tuna with slivers of radish and mortared shiso with sesame and white soy. Say what?

Her main: roasted Petaluma chicken breast (so tender and moist, i thought it might be pork loin for a split second there) with caramelized sunchoke cream, Romano beans and Indonesian long pepper.

She ate both her plates clean and helped me polish off the apricot tarte tatin. Pays to be a personal trainer, I guess! No matter. I've now got fuel stores aplenty to kick ass and take names at my double workout manana morn.


I am stuffed. This is why:

The amuse bouche: a cannelle of fig sorbet plopped on a bed of Parmesan foam and given a drizzle of olive oil and honey. Took me right back to my visit to the creative Comerç 24 in Barcelona.
Rating: 8.5

Warm, crispy quail with black Mission fig and artichoke salad dressed in an aged sherry vinaigrette.
Rating: 8

Roast squab breast with caramelized endive and baby turnips served on a bed of crushed English peas, sauced with a bacon jus flavored with date.
Rating: 8.25

Apricot tarte tatin with African spices, a flaky pastry and dollop of delicious ice cream.
Rating: 8.5

Note: I'm a hard grader even when soused (no, I'm not under the influence, just stuffed to the gills and sleepy from all of that deliciously rich food and wine).

Note 2: We were lucky enough to partake of celebrated chef James Syhabout's 2nd-to-last supper at Plumpjack Cafe. He's going back to Manresa after tomorrow ... the food was pretty and pretty special, bursting with farm-fresh goodness; we may just have to make the sojourn out to Los Gatos to see what's up his sleeve working once again for chef David Kinch.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

The Urge to Eat

Fringale, which has been around for a dozen-plus years, is often overlooked by SF foodies obsessed with staying on top of the new restaurant scene. So, it's usually a good bet that even on the busiest of going-out nights, you can get in to the modest Basque bistro with only a few minutes' notice. One recent Thursday night, after attending a happy hour party in Soma, six of us decided on the spur of the moment to have dinner in the area. After striking out at Salt House, Town Hall and COCO 500, we were accepted at Fringale, ushered to a table and served a lovely meal ranging from rack of lamb to grilled scallops and seafood Basquaise. Quiet, consistent and unassuming. Most definitely a great in-your-back-pocket kind of place.

The scallops: grilled to opaque perfection, bacon wrapped and drizzled with that most wondrously aromatic of things, truffle oil.

The seafood Basquaise: very flavorful, though a touch cooler than desired. Still a lovely dish.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Joy to the World II

We chose the strawberry souffle (over the white peach or chocolate—they're all orgasmic) for dessert at Cafe Jacqueline.

Two-and-a-half-hours and thousands of calories later, we rolled out of the North Beach eatery with major belly bloat and beatific smiles stretched across our faces.

Joy to the World

My sister and I visited Cafe Jacqueline where the most wondrously airy savory and sweet souffles are de rigueur and have been for close to three decades. I've been more than a half dozen times over the past decade, and without fail, I feel like a kid at Christmas whenever I get that towering souffle plunked down in front of me. Last night was no exception.

The main attraction: corn, ginger, garlic and gruyere souffle.

How very French: getting served by our waiter.

We savored every bite.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Salad (and Crostata) Days

Used to be I'd think of lunch as a throwaway meal—sure, a girl's gotta eat, but time and again, I'd find myself disappointed with the ho-hum, same-old sammy, salad or soup offerings to be had in the few-block radius near my 9-to-6 (ok, 7) job. Then along came Split Pea Seduction, which has turned the meaning of lunch on its head—at least for me—with fresh, fun and seasonal salads like the apricot, goat cheese, toasted pinenuts and frisee combo (pictured above) and their ever-so-addictive savory crostatas, all made fresh daily and with oodles of love by Jersey Tomatoes caterers Sarah Ellison-Pinkin and Christian Noto. I've only been a few times so far, mostly because Split Pea is a tad further afield (at 6th and Minna) than the 101 other options closer to my office, but it is SO worth the trek. The crostata I had yesterday was the sweet white corn, early girl tomato and house pork sausage (yes, it was pure ambrosia). The one you see here is another scrumptilicious sweet corn variation. It's probably a good thing Split Pea isn't so close; I'd likely become a permanent fixture—an ever-growing blob of fat parked in a corner, shoveling up crostatas along with generous helpings of their homey cakes, cookies and muffins. Now that I think about, it doesn't sound so bad. Nope, not bad at all.

Monday, July 2, 2007


Jamba Juice ain't got nothin' on Arlequin's super luscious fruit smoothie, which is so thick, you've gotta shovel it up with a spoon or stir madly for several minutes to break the chunky monkey down enough to get through a straw. Right here's the blueberry, but the strawberry is also delovely. Arlequin's frosty beverages are kinda like the ones I used to pick up at Juicy Lucy in the East Village. Just a few ingredients thrown together in a blender and voila! A smoothie that's simply divine.