Saturday, September 22, 2007

Ice Cream Social

Last night, I got carried away. While most of my work friends piled onto a chartered bus to go down South to see Arcade Fire in concert ("why aren't you going?" was the common refrain that day), I hopped onto my own bus over to the lower Haight to attend my dear friend AB's ice cream social birthday party. Here she is fixing drinks while discussing the mating habits of seals (really—stuff she learned on her weekend away at Costanoa).
But back to the subject at hand: the ice cream social. AB had run around town, picking up all manner of toppings and accoutrement, from wafer cigars and cups to marshmallow creme, rainbow jimmies and chocolate sauce. And the ice cream? Only the best: a rainbow of colors and flavors from Bi-Rite Creamery and Mitchell's Ice Cream. I'd been looking forward to this event all week long. As such, I had a game plan coming in. Well, kinda. I made sure to eat a light meal so I could get at least two rounds in at AB's. And after surveying the flavors, I decided to start out savory—as savory as you can get with ice cream (!)—and then finish out sweet and citrusy.
My first course: small scoops of salted caramel, kahlua mocha cream, butter pecan, cookies 'n cream in a wafer cup, topped with rainbow sprinkles, chopped nuts and a small drizzle of mocha fudge sauce. The second course: mango jasmine, strawberry basil and purple yam (which tasted simply like a buttery vanilla). It was a wild night to be sure; Arcade Fire, eat your heart out.
And before, after and in between, I squeezed in a couple of pomegranate cosmos and chocolate choco chip cookies and chased them down with a lot of great stories. (The one about the sprinting archer and seal murder and the other about the 12-point buck and BMW will certainly get retold by me and others—they were that good.)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Nopa: So Fresh and So Clean

I finally made it to Nopa the other day ... after years of hearing various friends rattle on and on about the wonders of the place. I certainly had every reason to believe the food was good after having dropped in for some super-creative and delicious cocktails with said friends now and again. Of course, great beverages do not always mean great food. But, in this case, it did. The crispy flatbread (this one with paper-thin slices of summer squash and a generous sprinkling of pinenuts) was fantabulous—loaded with the season's bounty. It was gone in 2 minutes, maybe 3. Clean flavors, fresh ingredients, generous portions ... these are a few of my favorite things.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

North Beach Crab Shack

OK, so it's really called the North Beach Lobster Shack, but when I saw crab on the menu, I didn't hesitate. And neither did my friend—the shredded texture of crab is so much more appealing than the springy flesh of lobster. I loves the crab. And a couple of fistfuls of the tasty stuff came out dressed in a little green-onion studded mayo, tucked into a buttery toasted bun with sides of so-so (read: dry and crumbly) potato salad, better (more moist and flavorful) cole slaw, pickles and ruffled potato chips. No, this ain't fat farm fare. But it's worth the calorie overload every once in a while. And, if I'm having a "fat" day, I figure i can order it naked—sans mayo ... mmm, yeah, not likely. Mayo is my friend.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Take Two at Osha Thai

JG's other half, who doesn't like Thai, was on a biz trip last week, so while the cat was away, the mice came out to play: We scurried over to Osha Thai in my nabe and noshed on some (mostly) tasty bites. The two of us got there so early, we had the whole place to ourselves. A good thing too since the last time I'd been, Osha was stuffed to the gills, and the awful racket was almost too much to bear.

Here then was the line-up for the evening:

My fave: tender prawns that were crisped in a light batter, served with generous helpings of chopped ripe mango, red onion, red bell pepper and peanuts and a yummy tangy-sweet sauce.

Called "Volcanic Beef," this small tower of tender grilled steak cubes and chopped bell peppers was flavored with basil and lots of black pepper, doused in a "lava" sauce (aka sweet meaty jus) and topped with a few onion rings deep-fried in a sweet batter (coulda done without the rings .. "are there onions in there?" asked JG, so heavy was the batter).

The zucchinis tucked under the salmon were probably the stars of this resto special; grilled just 'til they were crisp-tender and swimming in a sweet coconut and pomegranate sauce that looked like turkey gravy until you took a taste. Of course, i couldn't detect any pomegranate—a sprinkling of the jewel-toned seeds would've made this a visually more appealing dish. Still, it was a tasty sauce and helped make up (albeit only a teensy bit) for the over-cooked, dried-out salmon. Medium-rare, with the emphasis on rare, is the way I like it.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Claude's Croque

The girl & the fig's croque triggered memories of another really good version, the one at Cafe Claude. This here's a croque madame (the fried egg makes it feminine)—a simpler sammy compared to the figgy one, but toothsome none the same. I've been going to this little bistro for years now, and it always manages to kick out really good food. This past visit, I ordered the goat cheese, pesto and tomato tartine (below) plunked on a bed of arugula and drizzled with a piquant balsamic reduction. The poofy pastry in combination with the creamy soft dairy and tender tomatoes was perfection, and the vinegar and pesto lifted the dish from the ordinary to supercalifragilisticexpiali-scrumptious.

On a sunny day, sitting outside on Claude Lane is an excellent midday treat and a welcome respite from the 9 to 5. A couple of martinis make it even better, so say T and P.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

The Girl & The Fig

A day trip to Sonoma was in order as I hadn't yet been since my move back to SF almost a year ago. After a bit of wine-tasting at one of my fave small wineries, Gundlach Bundschu, which after six generations is still family-owned, my mom, dad and I stopped at the girl & the fig for a midday repast that was overall pretty good. Here's how it rated:

7.5 for the grilled fig salad consisting of a dense pile of arugula, toasted pecans, "Laura Chenel" chevre, pancetta with a fig and port vinaigrette. The ripe figs were squishy and soft, the goat cheese super luscious and creamy; both contrasted nicely against the crunch of the pecans and crisp, peppery leaves. Only downside: the saltiness of the pancetta cubes, all huddled at the bottom of the plate, was a bit much for my taste.

6 for the open-faced roast pork loin tartine with an apple and apricot chutney (probably the best thing on the plate) sitting on a slice of grilled country bread and accompanied by a red potato salad. Even though it was the prettiest of all the entrees, it fell short of my mom's expectations. She much prefers soft bread to hard, and the grilled bread definitely fell in the latter of the two categories, so much so that she had to saw quite energetically to cut through the crisped exterior. As well, she'd hoped for a hot sammy, and the pork slices, though good, were cold to the touch. And the salad, dressed in an herbed vinaigrette, was not terribly flavorful. (I left the sample she put on my plate almost untouched, and I typically love potato salad.)

8.5 for the croque monsieur made with Niman Ranch jambon and “St George” cheese accompanied by some of the best sweet 'n tangy pickles I've had in recent memory. The brioche bread had been skillfully grilled so that the crispy exterior housed a buttery buoyant interior. The vinegary pickles proved a perfect foil to the richness of the croques. I was quite happy with my order and would probably have been ecstatic except for the fact that I kinda wished I'd gotten my dad's dish.

9 for the top sirloin burger served up in a dutch crunch bun and smothered in cheddar and grilled onions with a generous tumble of matchstick fries by its side. The moist, crumbly patty was well seasoned; the bread soft and fluffy. Slathered with a zesty garlic mayonnaise and a generous splatter of ketchup, the girl & the fig burger is just about the best rendition I've tasted so far this side of the Colorado. Judging from the way he laid waste to his dish, my dad thought so too.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Summer Cocktails

Cantina's got some great original cocktails, perfect for the summer (Indian, in our case) time.

What you see here:

- a blackberry and Cabernet caipirinha made of Mae de Ouro cachaca, fresh OJ, lime, Driscoll Farm blackberries, crushed ice and Three Thieves Cabernet.

- a classic margarita of Arête tequila blanco, lime, limoncello and agave néctar.

- the pink thing? i can't remember; it was custom made by the proprietor himself, mixology master Duggan McDonnell, and all I can say was that it was deliciously refreshing.

Thumbs up as well on the five-spice margarita, pisco punch and pomegranate manhattan, the last composing of Woodford Reserve "Cantina barrel" bourbon, pomegranate molasses, cynar and Casablanca bitters. Lip-smackingly good.