Friday, November 30, 2012

DIY: Pear Crostata

Just a little something I made last weekend.

Subbing pears in place of rhubarb and raspberries, I made a crostata compliments of Locanda Verde's Karen DeMasco. This is my second go 'round with this slammin' recipe. My first successful attempt featured peaches and raspberries ... mmmmm.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Offal Good at Incanto

It's not just offal that's good at Incanto, but it's certainly what chef Chris Cosentino is known for, having showcased a variety of organ meats on his way to winning the most recent cycle of Top Chef Masters. That said, it's clear he's still pushing himself and the boundaries to create inventive and harmonious flavor combinations. When we decided to forego our 7:45 reservations last week so that we could fill our empty bellies an hour and a half earlier (Incanto was fully booked for the evening), we got to sit at the bar—and enjoy hearing Cosentino himself regaling a few VIP diners perched beside us with the intricate details behind the new dishes dotting the Fall menu.

Here are (most of) the treats that came our way:

An Incanto special: the most unctuous lamb liver pate set off nicely by a generous embellishment of piquant pepperoncini and shreddings of minty, sweet basil.

Another special: Creamy sea urchin carrying the barest hint of the ocean, partnered with thin shavings of melt-like-buttah lardo, a tiny helping of tangy pesto and crunchy, sharp radish. All of it piled atop a toasted and slightly bitter piece of brown bread. I savored every bite.

Spaghettini tossed with Sardinian cured tuna heart, egg yolk, chili flakes (this dish had a nice kick to it) and a big handful of fresh, grassy parsley. We got a half order, which was plenty—partly because the tuna heart curled our tongues, it was so salty. But we didn't mind. It was right for the amount we had. And we paired it with another primi: the handkerchief pasta and rustic pork ragu topped with a big ol' duck egg (not pictured, but ever so delightful).

Rounding out the meal was the bollito misto, which made its debut that very night. The broth had been enriched with bone marrow, flavored with star anise and strained through hay. Pork belly, bone marrow, lamb tongue, lamb thigh and shoulder, along with some lovely veg filled the enticing bowl. We were told to throw in the cilantro and other garnishes before digging in, but to save the pickled and fresh radish as a palate cleanser post-meal. We were more than happy to oblige.

A truly inspired dish, and overall a wonderful experience at Incanto.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Bibimbap: Korean Comfort Food

There's nothing terribly remarkable about Miyabi Sushi near Fisherman's Wharf, except for this: the bibimbap with spicy pork that comes out sizzling hot, the rice all crispety crunchety, in an oven-heated stone pot.

The bibimbap comes chock full of veggies, both pickled and fresh. And with a generous dousing of kochujang, the Korean version of Sriracha, it's all about comfort and goodness.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Post-Camping Pig-Out at Shanghai Dumpling King

Something about spending time in the great outdoors really works up a big appetite. So on our way back from an overnight camping trip in Marin, we decided to make a detour to Shanghai Dumpling King in the outer Richmond to load up on the ethereal soup dumplings plus a couple other fave dishes.

A worthy detour indeed. Piping hot and juicy with the most perfect, near-transparent skins, these dainty little soldiers disappeared down our gullets in no time at all.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Straw Does Grits Right

When AB suggested we meet at new-kid-on-the-Hayes-Valley-block Straw, I was more than happy to oblige. At the very least, the carnival-themed eatery would surely provide us with a modicum of amusement and hopefully some tasty bites as well.

Having scored what we thought was the best seat in the house—the metal canopy in the corner (a 2-seater salvaged from some amusement park from god know's where), we scanned Straw's brunch menu dotted with dishes adorned with festive names such as the Hanky Panky (Belgian waffle with fried egg, hickory smoked bacon and cheddar potato croquettes) and Wilber's Revival (pork hash with sauteed onion and sweet potato, a fried egg, grits, fried onions and bechamel).

Though the Hanky Panky was nicethe highlight being the molten, oozing cheddar potato croquettes lightly breaded in panko, it was Wilber's Revival that knocked our socks off. We loved the uber creamy consistency of the buttery grits (I'd just had a disappointingly leaden and lumpy version at The Corner StoreOK, the flavor was good, but the texture was all wrong). We also loved the generous mountain of well-seasoned pork and the crispety-crunchety fried onion strings. My only tiny criticism: The egg was medium-hard ... I was hoping to have all that sunshiney goodness spill out when I cut into it.

Oh well, I'll still go back ... and next time, I'll try the cheesy grits with linguisa and prawns in Cajun butter sauce on Straw's dinner menu.

P.S. We were wrong about the metal canopy 2-seater. It has the most incredible reverb—so much so that at times I could hear the 2 boisterous bros sitting 20 feet away better than I could AB who was sitting right beside me.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Welcome Nopalito

PH and I enjoyed a leisurely lunch at newly opened Nopalito in the Inner Sunset. The blustery grey day could do nothing to dampen our spirits as we celebrated PH's birthday with the bright flavors of lime, cilantro and tomatillo in the scrummy ceviche appetizer, not to mention the other well-made Mexican dishes we ordered today.

The ceviche: tender morsels of marinated fish and squiggles of calamari tossed in lime, tomatillo, jalapeño and cilantro with a generous fan of avocado on top and a pile of tortilla chips by its side.

The chicken enchiladas came doused in a richly satisfying sauce of chiles, chocolate and nuts topped with a tangle of onions and a crumble of queso fresco, plus a mound of refried pinquito beans.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Best Find This Month: El Sur's Empanadas

I've gotta say, I've had some really fancy food, Korean BBQ, tacos off a food truck, you name it, this past month, but what I'm most excited about is discovering El Sur at the pre-party to the SF Street Food Festival put on by La Cocina. Thank you, AB, for getting me in as your plus-one. I'm much obliged. Especially since we got to enjoy El Sur's heavenly Parisien empanadas.

The pretty round pastry pockets, which sport the most perfect buttery, flaky exterior, boasted a beautifully moist interior comprising chopped Prosciutto and country ham swimming in a melting pot of five cheeses and spiked with the sharp bite of scallions and chives.

The chef Marianne Depres' Cordon Bleu and French Laundry training clearly shines through.

Besides the Parisien, she's got a few other empanadas on her menu, including a traditional beef version and a chicken one as well. Though I didn't get to try those, I hope to soon.

Bonus points for the enchanting vintage Citroen van, which carries El Sur's precious cargo. I'll be sure to seek it out when I finally get over to SOMA Streatfood Park or Off the Grid.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Me love you long time, Locavore

To celebrate JA's birthday, I decided we should take a trip back to Locavore—after all, our first visit last year to the cozy Bernal Heights eatery had left such a good impression.

What we found was a brand new line-up tailored against the season's bounty and an enthusiastic server who steered us through the menu with great aplomb.

I inhaled the insanely sweet and juicy cherry and heirloom tomato salad with mellow pickled red onion, grassy cilantro leaves, fresh cucumber rounds and crunchy home-made chicharon in about 90 seconds flat.

Since I'm a sucker for the savory-sweet combo, I pounced on the pork osso buco, which was an especially honkin' big portion, said our server (woohoo), and came on a bed of honeyed apple sauce, with a healthy helping of grilled broccoli rabe and scallions.


Friday, August 24, 2012

In Season: Stone Fruit

Peaches and plums are in their prime this month, so what better way to showcase these sweet, juicy fruits than in a crumble.

Give me a crisp, crumble, betty, buckle or plain old piece of pie served with a dollop of vanilla ice cream any day of the week. I'll take that over chocolate every time.

This particular recipe comes out of Food and Wine and calls for both tahini and black sesame seeds. I had regular roasted sesame seeds so opted to use that instead, throwing in a healthy couple of tablespoons into the crumble. The substitution worked just fine and added a really nice almost-savory dimension to the dessert.

A pound of plums plus a pound-and-a-half of peaches, and what you've got is a whole heckuvalot of summery goodness that you can scoop out and then promptly smother with some really good ice cream or a large helping of whipped cream.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Authentic Balinese at Bumbu Bali

Another trip to Bumbu Bali in Tanjung Benoa after a four-year hiatus, and it's still just as good as I remember. I won't say much since what I wrote before still holds, except that there's love in this food. And it's all about the grill: the satays are amazeballs as is the chicken in roasted coconut sauce.

Needless to say, we didn't go hungry. Bumbu Bali likes to load its trays with a ton of bells and whistles to the point where you're rolling out the door, and almost regretting ordering all of the food you've gobbled up. Almost ... but not quite.

Lunch by the Sea at La Lucciola

When I read that beachside bistro La Lucciola in Seminyak, Bali, had amazing views of the ocean from its second floor, I decided this would be the perfect place for a mid-day repast. And indeed it was.
 Not only did the view take our breath away (see below), but the food—"a creative fusion of international fare with an accent on seafood," according to Lonely Planet—was some of the best we had on holiday.

The tuna crudo with its drizzle of basil oil and generous garland of sharp watercress, licorice-y fennel and sweet-and-sour pomelo tasted faintly of the sea and melted like butter in our mouths.

The blush-toned baby chicken was so tender and moist, it fell away with just a little push of the butter knife. The French green beans were sauteed to a lovely crisp-tender and perfectly complemented the chick as well as the creamy richness of the pillowy bed of polenta sitting in its savory pool of jus, all of which came draped in a vibrant pesto sauce.

My tangy and garlicky seafood risotto came chock full of the tenderest calamari, octopus and local fish. Creamy and smoothwith just the right amount of liquid, the risotto was a winner. La Lucciola's cooks clearly know what they're doing.

We couldn't leave without getting in a bit of dessert, especially when La Lucciola was pushing a luscious coconut tart topped with coconut ice cream and fresh chunks of mango. Wow.

Oh yes, this was the view we enjoyed. So while we devoured La Lucciola's amazing food, we also ate up the awesome spectacle of Seminyak beach stretching out before us. Love Bali.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Best in Class: Bulgari

Bulgari's pina colada was by far the best pineapple-coconutty beverage I had the great fortune of ordering while in Bali. Thank you, AB, for suggesting we drop in for a drink. 

Though an overnight stay was mos def too rich for our blood, a late afternoon refreshment (just one) did work within our budget. And the killer views were certainly worth the $13 per drink price tag.

The "world famous" pina colada at Poppies Restaurant in Kuta, Bali, gets an honorable mentionfor the coconut carved in the shape of a barong (aka lion's head) that the frothy fruity drink came served in, not to mention the extremely modest fee.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Numero Uno: El Tonayense Tacos

I'm seriously over the moon when the El Tonayense truck cruises on over to the Wharf and decides to park right next to the office. It's a rare occasion indeed; it's only happened twice in the past 6 months. But when it does, you better be sure I'm making a beeline for the black-and-gold roach coach, and I make sure to get out there well before noon (read: before the huge line forms and snakes down the street).

Why am I thrilled with El Tonayense? Well, for a mere $2 each, you can get tacos generously filled with well-seasoned, moist and flavorful grilled meat—I'm partial to the al pastor (spit-grilled pork), though the chicken's also deelish. All of 'em come with a smattering of onions and cilantro, along with a dousing of zesty hot sauce. I asked for spicy pickles on the side, and they piled 'em on. A most excellent and inexpensive noonday meal.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Newsflash: Ramen Has Arrived at Ken Ken

... and in San Francisco, in general. You can get a piping hot bowl of porky goodness (yes, I'm partial to the pig) chock full of bouncy, springy home-made Japanese noodles in a number of neighborhoods in the city: the Inner Sunset, Inner Rich and the Mission, which Ken Ken Ramen calls home. It's something I've been waiting for—and lamenting the lack of—since I moved back from NYC (at the end of '06), where good ramen can be had in nearly every neighborhood from Hell's Kitchen on down.  Oh sure, San Mateo had and still has some great ramen eateries, Himawari among them. But SF sadly came up short ... until now.

Ken Ken Ramen had been on my list of places to try, ever since I'd read the pop-up had found a permanent residence in the Mission about 7 months ago. As we dropped in on a Wednesday, we took advantage of that night's special: the tonkatsu ramen, touted as "the king of broths ... a milky porky wonder." Ahhh, yes, it certainly is. Filled with braised pork, nori, pickled ginger, a soft-boiled egg, and scallions, it ranks right up there as one of my fave kinds of comfort food.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Doing it Up at Burritt Room and Tavern

I managed to catch the tail end of Dine About Town, squeezing in a visit to Charlie Palmer's newish Burritt Room & Tavern just a stone's throw from Union Square. Where many SF restaurants seem half-hearted about their participation in the two-week period where a set lunch and/or dinner menu are offered at a fixed price, Burritt Room & Tavern does it up right. JL and I happily browsed the selections for each of the three dinner courses, and this is what I chose:

Sweet corn chowder screaming of summer with a tiny crown of roasted fingerling potatoes, crispy bacon, sweet sorrel leaves, plus a drizzle of truffle honey.

Marinated strip steak grilled to a gorgeous medium rare accompanied by a mound of creamy potato puree, tangy piquillo pepper coulis, shallot confit, bone marrow butter and sauteed spinach. I practically licked the plate clean; it was that good.

Wild strawberry soup surrounding a soft cube of Greek yogurt panna cotta, sprinkled with a bit of hazelnut brittle and a tiny drizzle of honey balsamic glaze.

Burritt Room & Tavern is a keeper.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A Hankering for Shanghai Dumpling King

I decided to give Shanghai Dumpling King another go, and turns out, the 2nd time round was better than the 1st. The soup dumplings seemed fresher, juicier and springier. And the pork chives were delicious as usual. So, we went back a 3rd time and inhaled another load of dumplings, along with the Shanghai-style stir-fried noodles and the braised string beans. Mmmm ... tasty.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Snackalicious at Two Sisters Bar and Books

Thanks to AB for introducing me to relative newcomer Two Sisters Bar and Books, a cozy little wine bar with ever so tasty snacks that's taken over the old Frjtz location in Hayes Valley.

According to the website, "Two Sisters Bar and Books was born on a train, as my sister and I traveled between Krakow and Warsaw. It was inspired by: an English language bookstore in Krakow; a quintessential coffeehouse in Vienna; a neighborhood bar in Paris; the young, urban, restaurant scene in Brooklyn; and our Northern California roots."

I like it. A lot.

The luscious deviled eggs had a nice pop with its accompaniment of lemon zest, cream, fried capers and black truffle. We liked them so much, we ordered another round.

I was also super happy with the“bar” mac n’ cheese which came bathed in an uber creamy and zesty mustard/ale/cheddar sauce and then topped with a whole lot of crispy salty pretzel bits. A definite go-to for when I'm hanging out or browsing the shops in my fave SF neighborhood.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Yummy Yummy is ... yes ... Yummy

Yummy Yummy Vietnamese Restaurant saved our Friday night when a bunch of us met up in the Inner Sunset to get down and dig in at next-door neighbor San Tung. But as we started poring over San Tung's menu and salivating with talk of the dry fried chicken wings, black bean noodles and the dry sautéed string beans, the lights went out. In the entire restaurant. Doh. We were SOL.

Temporarily, that is. Because, after ditching the defunct San Tung and walking around to a couple of other eateries, we finally landed at Yummy Yummy, which puts out an insanely addictive garlicky-chile basted whole crab, not to mention some really wicked good bowls of piping hot pho and bun.

My go-to bowl is #3—the pho tai, or beef noodle soup with rare steak.

But this night I decided I wanted to turn up the heat and chose #9—the bun bo hue, or spicy beef and pork noodle soup.  

#9 looks a lot spicier than it is, though the heat did keep building as I slurped on my noodles and guzzled down the succulent and savory chile-laden broth. No matter. A frosty mug of Tiger beer helped cool things down. 

Love Yummy Yummy. 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Sunday Supper at Southpaw BBQ

It's a real shame I couldn't stomach the protein at Southpaw BBQ and Southern Cooking. Not because it wasn't any good, but because I'd picked up an awful bug a few days prior that had me sticking to a measly diet of rice, bread and more bread, and pretty much nothing else for days.

Fortunately, by the time we got to Southpaw, I was able to handle a bit of veg, so ordered up a green salad along with the super fresh and available-for-a-limited-time-only grilled ramps (aka wild leeks or spring onions) accompanied by a dollop of grits, pickled veg, and ... sigh ... more bread.
Of course, I couldn't help but sneak a tiny taste off of JP's plate, piled high as it was with big hunky pieces of sauce-laden, smoked and pulled pork shoulder. Unfortunately, the hush puppies were a bit leaden and doughy, though the vinegar-braised collard greens were mighty fine. DP wanted more of a ham hock flavor, but I was happy with its bright tangy profile. Definitely plan to go back when stomach is back in working order to judge for myself whether the ribs rank up there with my own rendition.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Razzle Dazzle at Ragazza

It's been way too long since my first and only visit to Western Addition pizza place Ragazza. And of course I'm underplaying its worth by simply calling it a pizza place. Sister to Glen Park's Gialina (which several food enthusiasts—especially in the way of Italian pie—swear puts out the best pizza in town), Ragazza indeed rivals some of the best dough slingers and pie purveyors in SF.

And it's not just its Neapolitan-style chewy-crisp thin-crust 'zas that will rock your world. Ragazza's big and beautiful all-that-is-good-with-the-world-that-is-California-local-and-seasonal salads like the wild arugula tossed with big hunks of roasted beets, fresh fennel, gobs of Cypress Grove goat cheese and crunchy pistachios will make converts of anyone who may doubt the merits of fresh veg.

We were in the mood for more fresh veg, so easily settled on the savory roasted cauliflower with sweet red onion, fava leaves, fresh thyme and smoked mozzarella.

And because our eyes were bigger than our stomachs, we went ahead and ordered the uber rich local asparagus with preserved lemon, leeks, green garlic and creamy ricotta pie. Honestly, it's impossible to exhibit any self-control when the splendiferous odors of crisping dough and roasting veg come wafting from the open kitchen into the airy dining room. And why try? Ragazza is well worth the splurge.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

I Like Mission Pie

"Mission Pie is a corner cafe, bakery and neighborhood gathering place."  It's also got a way with pie—and well it should considering its name. This here's the frangipane pear pie a la mode with the pear-rhubarb bringing up the rear. A mighty fine crumbly crust houses a luscious, fruit-laden interior, making these the perfect option for anyone with a sweet-tooth hankering.
Yay pie.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Farm to Table at Jole

Thank you, AB, for suggesting Calistoga gem Jole—celebrating my birthday with a parade of (mostly) delicious dishes showcasing California's best made it an especially memorable meal.

The tuna crudo—with its fragrantly addictive orange bergamot dressing—proved to be the highlight of our visit to Jole. 

Though the gnocchi with broccoli rabe had great flavor, its texture left a little to be desired. "I want pillowy. It's more like memory foam," said JP of the somewhat dense and durable potato pasta. Indeed, he was spot-on with his description.

The halibut was cooked to a perfect medium rare and sat atop a wondrously umami-esque mushroom jus, accompanied by a creamy pea risotto.
Ah, the seared foie gras. Time is a-ticking in California—it's soon to be outlawed, so we took the opportunity to order this hefty portion sitting atop caramelized onions and served with panko-crusted piquillo peppers. My half was divine: perfectly seared and almost melting like a hot stick of butter. But the very core of JP's portion was hard as a rock—turning his stomach to the fatty, rich hunk of liver.
Fortunately, the uber tender lamb chops accompanied by a crispy pile of smashed potatoes and grassy-bitter spears of asparagus redeemed Jole in JP's eyes.

A lovely cheese plate for dessert, and we rolled out of Jole pleased as punch, replete and ready to jump into the geyser-heated mineral pool back at Indian Springs.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Chairman's Porky Pig

Mmmm .... pork. The Chairman's Coca-Cola braised pork with savoy cabbage and pickled mustard seeds on a steamed bun is my number one go-to whenever this awesome food truck happens to be in the neighborhood. Which unfortunately isn't often enough.

Sluice it with Sriracha, and it's the perfect midday pick-me-up, guaranteed to fuel you for the rest of the day. And then some.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Peruvian Paella at Mochica

My Barcelonan friend IM declared there's no such thing as Peruvian paella, and she should know as she's quite the accomplished cook and made probably one of the best versions of this classic Spanish rice and seafood dish I've ever had.

But I figured I'd give Mochica's seafood paella a try, especially as my other dining mate AM assured me the food at this SOMA establishment was super tasty.

Indeed, AM was right. My dish was deliciouschock full of fresh clams, mussels, calamari, shrimp and fish, perfectly cooked to a moist-tender done-ness and well flavored with saffron, paprika, parsley and garlic. IM was also right. This was more like a seafood risotto than a paellaI was missing the crunch from crisped-up rice scraped from the bottom of the skillet.

Nonetheless, I still enjoyed my meal, and the lively company as well.