Thursday, April 30, 2009

Old standby Absinthe is back on the list


Now that's a good cheese plate. At Absinthe, you get big hunks of fromage each paired with a specific special something—the blue with jellied kumquats, goat with rose petal jam, and a sheep-goat-cow combo with olives—all accompanied by toasty warm slices of walnut raisin bread.

We really didn't need to follow up with the French onion soup since the portions were so generous (unlike the puny pieces that COCO500 puts out on its cheese plate), but we were glad we did when we started spooning it into our mouths ... the soup was so intensely flavored of sweet onion, beef broth and wine, not to mention the salty tang of gruyere. Absinthe makes the best French onion soup—at least, it's the best I've ever had.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Paella Party

The first time I had paella was at a friend's house in Berkeley way back when I was getting ready to go on a backpacking trip around Europe—my first ever. She had been the year before and discovered this wondrous rice and seafood dish during her travels to Spain.

The second time I had paella was on that backpacking trip. My sister and I—just 21 and 20 years of age—were in the seaside town of Nice, France, and partook of the most magical night filled with fine food (an enormous pan of fragrant saffron- and garlic-infused paella bursting with mussels, chorizo, chicken, calamari, shrimp, peas, peppers and onions), copious amounts of red wine, great company and later, some groovy jazz at a little nightclub not far away.

Since then, I've always held paellas to a very high standard. Some have met the mark, others not so much. Today's paella on the grill was absolutely divine. IM, a native of Barcelona, is a skilled cook—her potato tortas are to-die-for—and her food always leaves you feeling happy and sated.

Whenever the sous chefs I worked for cooked up something amazing for family meal, we'd ask them what was in it that made it so good. "Love," they'd say with a grin. "No, c'mon. Really. What's in it?" we'd say with a roll of our eyes. "Love," they'd keep on saying.

Well, there you have it. IM's paella is the same. It's made with love, and that's why it's so damn good. For real for real ...

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Some Like It Hot

On another of the incredibly hot days in SF—the thermometer read 95 just outside J&J's French doors—we celebrated the rare warmth (OK, insane heat) with a Champagne brunch with ingredients picked up from the nearby farmer's market and at Delessio. Yes, just the act of eating reduced us into sweaty betties, but heck, how often do you get San Francisco days that turn into warm nights? Almost never. So, I'll take it. Any time.

Nothing like steak n' eggs, baybeeeeee.

Giddy for Gorditas

On the hottest day of the year, CC brought a buttload of yummy gorditas (or "little fat ones") for a picnic in the park. Made of masa harina (aka corn flour), the thick tortillas come packed with tasty fillings ranging from marinated ground beef and cactus or beans and cheese to CC's fave: green chiles and chicharron (pork rind).

Accompanied by a dice of mangoes and pineapples, these baked treats made me rethink lunch as the throwaway meal of the day.

Of course, it—along with the summery weather—made going back to work a very hard thing to do ...

Friday, April 24, 2009

Lolo for Little Bites

We 3 (that's PM above) went to Guadalajaran/Mexican-meets-Turkish tapas joint Lolo in the Mission last week looking for a change of pace, and found exactly what we were looking for. Not your usual fare, Lolo puts out plates bursting with flavors. If you could find fault with anything, you might say that in some cases the spices seem to war with each other—and it's true, not everything was a homerun. But frankly, Lolo is like a refreshing blast of cold air when you've been cooped up inside a stuffy, stale-smelling room that's been putting you to sleep ... That said, I was more than happy to accommodate Lolo's rainbow of flavors, colors and textures. Bring it!

My #1 pick: panko-encrusted, spice-dusted, flash-fried shrimp topped with a tropical relish, wrapped in jicama with a chipotle aioli (which we asked for on the side since MN hates mayo—say it isn't so.). A lot going on here, bien sur, but man, did it make my tastebuds stand up and sing.

My second fave: shrimp and scallop sopes with a side of slightly underseasoned but crispy apple slaw. It worked out well, because the soft sopes were pumped full of seasoning and spices. Any more on this dish would've really put us over the edge.

Duck confit tacos ... simple and delicious. And actually, a welcome contrast in its spare quality compared to the parade of spices strutting their stuff on the dishes preceding it.

Ho-hum huitlacoche (aka "corn smut" that's mushroom-like in flavor) and ricotta-stuffed gyoza with roasted pepper, tomato, squash blossom sauce. The sauce had a ton more flavor than the bland, mealy potstickers.

Though the gyoza were a miss, we got another dish that we loved: the chunky and herbaceous pan-fried zucchini cakes stuffed with pine nuts, goat and feta cheese and drizzled with a mint aioli.

The only real damper to the meal was an out-of-order waiter who—when PM asked for a glass of water after the dinner and tip had been paid (and a very nice tip at that)—rudely reminded us that it was a Friday night and he needed us to give up the table sooner than later (read: Get out now). What an ass. On our way out, I counted exactly one other 3-top waiting outside and seating for 6 still available ... so if push came to shove, they could just as easily have broken that table up and given it to them.

Nothing like snotty waitstaff to keep you away from a restaurant, no matter how good ...

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Beretta Does It Again

It was almost exactly a year ago when I first tried Beretta on the recommendation of my Urban Daddy editor friend, and the Mission cocktail bar and eatery is still going strong. In fact, Mr. H and I hit Beretta for an early supper on a Monday night and by the time we left—just a hair past 8 pm—the place was packed.

And I can see why. Our dinner was pretty darn delightful. It comprised:
- the lovely, lilting Lonsdale cocktail, made of gin, apple, lemon, basil and honey
- crisp-tender spears of grilled asparagus (yay, they're in season now) with a lightly tangy, lemony egg crumble
- generously portioned and well-seasoned, Tuscan-style chicken liver paté scooped on two crostini
- a dish of mussels pugliese (basically, a bed of mussels baked with grated pecorino and bread crumbs)
- a super crisp Neapolitan-style pizza topped with hot salami, coppa, zesty tomato sauce, pecorino and diavolicchio (peperoncinos, aka "little devil" chilies)
- a spicy and inexpensive red wine suggested by our server and whose name escapes me

Beretta most definitely makes my top 5 fave list.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

B's BBQ ... Food for the Soul

These are my leftovers from a recent trip to B's BBQ: super-saucy and smokey pork ribs, Texas cole slaw, baked beans and corn bread ... I pretty much inhaled it in about 3 minutes flat. Them's some good BBQ ... for real though hey ... I went with a posse that also partook of the hot links and the brisket—both were scrumptiddlyumptious.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

A Tasty Twist at Clock Bar

When I extolled the virtues of the giganto home-made pretzel at Monk's Kettle to SS, she heartily agreed with me, but then insisted I should also add the diminutive but equally as divine pretzel knot at Michael Mina's Clock Bar in the Westin St. Francis to my braided dough repertoire.

So off we went for a lovely nightcap comprising the award-winning Snap, a 12-dollar cocktail made of canton ginger liqueur, Hennessey, fresh lime, pineapple, St. Elizabeth all spice dram served up with a dusting of fresh nutmeg.

The crispy-on-the-outside, pillowy-soft-on-the-inside pretzel, accompanied by a dollop of spicy boccalone mustard, comes from Esther's German Bakery in Mountain View and cost us a mere 5 bucks as did the trio of tasty dips: spicy hummus, chunky aubergine and zesty olive-walnut, compliments of Marin Gourmet in San Rafael.

All of the snacks at Clock Bar are locally sourced and cost only a fraction of what the liquid libations scoring the hefty liquor list (it's 14 pages) have been priced at. So you can nibble to your heart's content while sipping (very) slowly on your 1—OK, maybe 2—beverages for the night.