Thursday, December 30, 2010

Blue Plate gives me the warm fuzzies

My go-to meal at Blue Plate always includes an order of the gloriously decadent macaroni and drunken goat cheese and the huge hunka hunk o burnin' love, aka crumbly best-rendition-ever meatloaf with buttery mashed potatoes sitting in a pool of gravy with a pile of crisp-tender blue lake green beans on top.

American Grilled Cheese Is Alright

Heck, The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen is better than alright. Yah, it's a bit pricey and if you order a whole grilled sando, you're asking for a gutbomb-food-coma-combo. But I can see why AGC's owner is the 7-time grilled cheese invitational champ. Her stuff is stick-to-your-ribs savory and just plain old good.

What you see above is the Mushroom Gruyère on levain bread, which comes slathered with thyme butter and additionally packed with fontina, roasted gold potatoes (the mushrooms are also roasted), melted leeks and caramelized onions. I haven't been in a while, but think it's about time to get back over there for the half sando/salad special. That's about all the AGC I can handle in one sitting. And how.

Tsunami's Shonen Knife

I've only been to Tsunami Mission Bay a couple of times, but on both visits, enjoyed some really fresh sushi/sashimi for pretty reasonable prices. This here's the Shonen Knife bento lunch box. Not only does it please the eye, with the jewel-toned raw fish artfully fanned across the plate, but the palate as well.

Note to self: more Tsunami in 2011.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Crab Season Is On

... which means it's time to head to the Outer Sunset to Thanh Long, though of course you can get whole crab at several other venues in and around SF. Nevertheless, Thanh Long's roasted crab coated in fresh cracked black pepper and other "secret" Vietnamese spices and sluiced in generous amounts of warm melted better is still my first pick when it comes to this comely crustacean.

... along with a hefty helping of the ever-so-garlicky garlic noodles—we're pretty sure it's got both fresh and powdered cloves kicking up the heat in there.

Washed down with copious amounts of wine and beer, our Thanh Long crabs were everything we'd hoped for and more.

Yay crab!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Tyler's Ultimate Lasagna

It's been a blustery, wet and cold past few days (OK, weeks) here in SF. Exactly the kind of weather that calls for something heartwarming and belly-busting like this ultimate lasagna bolognese recipe, created by comfort food king himself, Tyler Florence. (Have you seen how fat he's become since coming out West?)

Anyway, I've made this baked pasta twice before and backed off on the amount of meat Tyler asks for—4 pounds?! Whoa, Nellie. I think 2.5 will do just fine—and the creation still hits the jackpot in terms of rich, creamy, fatty taste sensation and satisfaction.

Rather than puree the holy trinity of onion, celery and carrot, I cut 'em up into a fine dice. What can I say—I find chopping veg therapeutic; it's part of the fun in cooking (though I've got to admit my hand-me-down Cuisinart was busted. That said, I like a little texture in my sauce). I also doubled the amount of basil and Italian parsley than the recipe includes. And I browned the meat and veg separately (though using the same Dutch oven), to make sure to build good flavor in both.

After layering the casseroles (and frankly, I don't know how Tyler does all of the prep, cooking and assembling all within an hour and a half—maybe he's got sous chefs to help him out; I certainly don't!), I threw 'em in a 350-degree oven for one hour, et voilà! Massive amounts of what's become my fave lasagna recipe. I served hefty helpings along with a peppery arugula, cherry tomato and shaved Parmesan salad to four eager friends. Despite their big appetites and doggie bags sent home with a few, I had plenty left over to freeze for future "fast-food" dinners. Yay!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

In Season: Shellfish

Aquatic Culture's Chef John Myers gave a demo on shellfish this past weekend at CUESA, and my, did his preso knock our socks off. Look at the size of the Pacific oysters (pictured just above) in the cornucopia of frutti di mare that also came studded with the more standard-sized kusshis, miyagis, kumamotos, crawfish and more.

mmm ... crawdads

the ginormo, 10-plus-year-old, barnacle-encrusted Pacific oyster ...

... shucked. No, you can't slurp these suckers down in one go. What you can do, said chef Myers, is grill 'em over a medium heat, then cut 'em up before serving. Hmmm, think I'll stick to their smaller brethen instead.

Salty Pig Parts by Fra'Mani

Fra'Mani salumi are absolutely fabulous. The fragrant black truffle (my fave), piccante (hard, dry chorizo seasoned with pimenton de la Vera), soppressata (moister and flavored with clove) ... they all add that extra something special to any party platter.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Perfect Snack: Fried Pig Skins

"Bacon is the new black," writes Ryan Farr on his 4505 Meats website. Hmmm ... as far as I'm concerned, neither bacon nor any other pig product has ever been passé. All I can say is that, as soon as his chicharrones—airy puffs of deep-fried pig skins, seasoned with sea salt, cane sugar and chiles—came out of the zip-locked bag, I was all over 'em. And a good thing too, as chicharrones start to go stale as soon as they come up for air. Fried pig skins are the perfect accompaniment for any alcoholic beverage.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Hot Peppers at Skool

I've been to Japanese-inspired, seafood-centric Skool twice now in the past 2 weeks and shared the plate of blistered shisito peppers, crowned in dried bonito flakes. Love them peppers—for their sharp, slightly bittersweet flavor and crunchy-firm texture, but damn if this season's bounty isn't full of a lot more stingers than usual.

"What, isn't it one out of 10 that's hot?" said one pal when we ordered a plate of these peppers at Sebo a month or so ago. "Yep," I agreed. "That sounds about right." Turned out it was more like 4 in 10 that were packin' some serious heat.

The same thing happened at Greens a few weeks back—lots more hot peppers, with a few set-your-mouth-on-fire grenades. In fact, our server at Skool confirmed what I'd already figured out: This year's shisitos are spicier than normal.

So, you'd think I'd learn my lesson and just stay away. Nah. Them peppers are just too tasty to pass up.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Turkey-n-Trimmings-palooza 2010

I love Thanksgiving.

Why? Because I get to spend all day cooking up a half a dozen dishes that I've spent a fair amount of time researching to go with the fat juicy bird that sits in the spotlight on this big day. I take this holiday seriously. And I also have a lot of fun.

This year's line-up comprised:

- wild rice dressing with figs, dried cranberries and Andouille sausage
- Parker House rolls, my 2nd try at this herbacious, buttery bread
- mac and cheese topped with caramelized onions and crumbled goat cheese
- Brussels sprouts, sausage and toasted pecans sauteed in butter and maple syrup
- cranberry relish with fresh-squeezed orange juice
- sweet potato pie

As usual, I made way too much. But what can I say. I've learned from the best—my mom always made enough food to feed an army. Hard to step it back on Thanksgiving, when "feasting," "food coma" and "pigging out" are the operative words.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Bibimbap Hits the Spot

... no matter where you are.

I inhaled this splendiferous sizzling stone pot full of Korean delights—kalbi (beef short ribs), sauteed and pickled vegetables, white rice, with a fried egg and generous squirt of hot chili paste on top—in Seattle. My preggy friend AS (Korean-American like me), whom I was visiting, said she'd been having some serious K-spice cravings. I was more than happy to oblige her.

I think back to my childhood and teen years, when my folks used to scoff at my sister for always and ever ordering bibimbap when we went out for Korean. As they explained it, bibimbap (which means "mixed rice") is nothing special—it's something you'd have at home, throwing all of your leftovers together into a bowl with your rice. But my sister was unswerving—she knew what she liked. And what she liked was bibimbap. Well, hats off to my sister ... for sticking to her guns ... and having good taste.

The Best Ice Cream

... is the kind that's home-made.

Last summer, AS and I took the short ferry ride from Mukilteo to celebrate the 4th with MN and her fam on Whidbey Island, WA. Part of the festivities included making ice cream the old-fashioned way: with a hand-crank, ice-cream maker MN's bro had picked up on the cheap at some vintage store way back when.

We each took turns at the crank.

And in less than 30 minutes ...

The fruit puree, heavy cream and sugar had tranformed into the most luscious, creamy strawberry ice cream.

After a few hours in the freezer, it was ready to be served up.

A good thing I don't have an ice-cream maker at home—I'd be havin' a scoop daily. Since this was a special occasion, I helped myself to two. DeRishous.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Cheers to Beerworks

Six-month-old Mill Valley Beerworks Brewery and Beer Cafe has a mighty nice vibe (the clientele comprises the outdoorsy Nor-Cal type, so no surprise here), not to mention a really big range of Belgian, Bavarian and home brews. JA and I gobbled up the springy-fresh, home-made pretzel (I wanted another but restrained myself) and followed it with a lovely little cheese and olive platter. Oh yah, and of course we washed it all down with some quality beer. After trying a couple (one being a pumpkin ale that was a flavor bomb of spice), I opted for the easygoing kölsch, while JA favored the hefeweisen. All in all, well worth the trip to the North Bay.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Mate ... not for the faint of heart

Mate (pronounced ma-tay) is hard to drink ... unless you're an Argentine who's grown up drinking the extremely bitter brew on your mama's knee. Our guide Girardo said he and all the locals drink this stuff daily, from hollowed-out calabash gourds, through metal straws, and in very large quantities. They love it, he told us. It's refreshing, soothing, a great digestive. He added that it's even said to be an appetite suppressant ... hmmm, is that why the meat-loving Argentine's are so lean?

Fortunately, Girardo took pity on us and sweetened our yerba mate while it steeped in hot water with a generous dose of sugar. While the other gals were only able to take a small sip before passing the mate back, I was finally able to drink some of it down ... and actually almost enjoy it. Almost. But not quite. Mate is definitely an acquired taste. Kinda like cilantro, or black licorice, or the stinkiest blue cheese. It evokes a strong reaction—often negative in the beginning, but with repeated exposures, I'm sure you'd grow to like it. Really.

Me: actually drinking the mate
JA: faking it (it was the only way she could take the pic without grimacing)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Where's the Beef?

In Buenos Aires, Argentina ... naturally. And some tasty pork too. We had a really lively meal of smoky, fork-tender pork rib brisket and rib-eye—along with some ginormous veggie sides and a peppery, zesty Malbec—at Minga in Palermo Soho.

I inhaled this medium-rare hunk o' beefy goodness, sitting out on the verandah of Victoria Ocampo's house in Tigre. I kept telling myself there was no way I was gonna finish this steak, but I did—the richly flavored meat was so tender and juicy, it was almost as if each piece melted in my mouth ... like magic.

When we spent the day out on a 150-some-odd acre estancia (aka ranch) near San Antonio de Areco, we partook in multiple rounds of Argentinean BBQ comprising a wide range of grilled meats—chorizo and blood sausage, ribs, tenderloin and a whole roasted chicken. Yes, there were sides, but it was all about the meat.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Je t'aime Oui Oui

... especially the pear tatin that came late to our table, but only because Oui Oui (in Palermo Soho, BA) had run out of its first batch and was baking off another. We were happy to wait another 15 minutes after polishing off our asparagus soup and veggie lasagne for this super-warm, uber-luscious fruity dessert. I love Oui Oui's prix fixe lunch—for its very nice price (35 pesos, or ~$9, wine included) and wonderfully bright flavors.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Awesome Pasta in Buenos Aires

The homemade pasta is absolutely delicious in Buenos Aires. And no wonder, considering the heavy Italian influence on the population there. At one point in recent history, Italians even outnumbered Spaniards settling in this sprawling city.

JA and I had a wonderful medley of roasted pumpkin, portobello mushroom and spinach stuffed into layers of lasagne with a creamy bechamel sauce and a crispy parmesan crust at Oui Oui.

One toasty afternoon at Amici Miei in San Telmo, I enjoyed a lovely handmade squid ink pasta in a spicy tomato sauce served with shrimp, calamari, scallops and mussels all cooked to perfection.

And at Sobrera in Palermo Soho, I devoured a honkin' plateful of airy potato dumplings (aka gnochhi) with bolognese sauce ... on two different occasions.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Bloodies et al at Hundred Acres

So, the brunch at Hundred Acres was pretty OK (the glazed buttermilk cake doughnuts with milk chocolate dipping sauce plus a particularly refreshing grapefruit-vodka cooler were the highlights). But what a great idea to have a shucked oyster sitting atop a spicy bloody Mary (the other came with a skewered hot pepper).

I'd order this every time if I saw it on the menu. Sadly, I've yet to find it anywhere in SF ... but as with all things New York, such goodies are bound to make it sooner or later to the left coast.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Adding to Cart: The Meatball Shop

It's always fun getting together with my pals from the Martha (as in Stewart) days, especially since we always find something good to eat. This time, we hit relative newcomer The Meatball Shop in the Lower East Side, and we chowed down on what was to become my 2nd fave meal during my 9-day visit to NYC.

Undeterred by the frosty hostess who told us the wait for a table would be an hour and a half, we 3 gave her our name and number, then strolled next door to sip on some vino. Lo and behold, she rang us up not 20 minutes later. We knocked back our drinks, popped on over and sat at the long farm table inside (after giving up our seats outside—gusty winds were not conducive to relaxed noshing).

The place was noisy, the people around us boisterous. But no matter. The music floating through the resto was the best of the '80s—it was as if we were in the middle of a John Hughes flick. Pretty in Pink, anyone? And our bright, no-nonsense waitress showed us the ropes with the big mix-and-match menu of all kinds of meatballs—from beef to veggie and that night's special, lamb—with varying sauces—like tomato and parmesan cream—not to mention sides and so on and so forth.

Along with a side of mashed potatoes for the table, I ordered the uber-savory meatball smash: 2 pork balls smashed between fluffy brioche buns, oozing zesty spicy meat sauce and melted mozzarella cheese, served with a side of arugula salad.

Holy meatballs, were they delicious, well-seasoned with a really nice, crumbly texture. The Meatball Shop has most certainly made my short list of places to go whenever I visit NYC.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

A Walk Down Butter Lane

Butter Lane's cuppers will definitely do in a pinch when Sugar Sweet Sunshine is just a few blocks too far to schlep to for a post-dinner splurge. This here's the yummy salted caramel frosting on mini choco cake.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Ode to Ippudo

The poem is in the picture (actually, it's in the bowl): tsuke ramen, Ippudo's summer special of cold noodles and salty, hot pork broth to dip 'em into. Mmmmmm.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Loverly Locanda Verde

My fave meal during my recent NY stay was at Tribeca hotspot Locanda Verde (and I'm not just saying that because MK's the sous chef ... heyyyyyy girl). My dining mate, a hedon/glutton in her own right, was also super thrilled with the dazzling array of deliciously delightful dishes that came our way. That said, I think I'll leave it to the pictures to tell the story ...

Just above: two kinds of crostini—sweet corn with smoked shiitake and prosciutto (in front) and creamy bacalao (aka salted cod, in back).

Home-made, al dente orecchiette with crumbly, home-made duck sausage, crisp-tender broccoli rabe and piave, a nutty cow's milk cheese.

More home-made pasta: Trofie with fresh basil pesto, toasted pine nuts, green beans, gaeta olives and plenty of parmigiano-reggiano.

The fire-roasted rosemary, garlic chicken is meant for two, but I gotta say an entire chicken with a pile of roasted veg will feed four folks easily. It's also the most succulent roast chicken I've ever had the pleasure of devouring.

We made heavy inroads into all of the above along with a fresh arugula salad with black mission figs, shavings of asiago cheese and American speck. By the end, we were thinking we could maybe work in one dessert ... And of course MK sent out 4. Holy cow.

Pastry Chef Karen DeMasco has won awards for her creations. Suffice it to say we were in heaven. What we inhaled: peach and blackberry crostada with peach swirl gelato; sweet corn budino with blueberry sorbetto and caramel popcorn; chocolate-pistachio tart with raspberries and pistachio gelato; and the la fantasia di fragola with fior di latte gelato, strawberry-prosecco sorbetto, sbrisolona (aka crumbly cake) with a white balsamic meringue.