Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Tacos and Tecate

I needed a timeout from life today, so I went down the street to the nearest Mexican restaurant, Las Olas, and ordered fish tacos and a tecate.  Las Olas is not amazing, but the nice thing about San Diego is that even the less-amazing Mexican restaurants usually have some redeeming qualities.  In this case, the salsa and the privacy were both compelling reasons to take a seat in the inner courtyard and enjoy my timeout.

While I sat, I got some amazing advice from my cousin Cindy, who said that tacos always taste better with more tecate.  Cindy, this one's for you!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Boeuf Bourguignon

There is a certain synchronicity involved in feeling compelled to blog about Julia Child's Boeuf Bourguignon.  After all, cooking Julia's boeuf recipe and then blogging about it changed the course of Julie Powell's life... what could it do for mine?  

It had been a while since I read her book and I had not yet seen the movie when I decided to attempt the dish.  Really, I was convinced to give it a go by a food newsletter I receive over email, describing boeuf bourguignon as the perfect comforting meal for a rainy day.  I have lately been obsessed with trying to master kitchen classics ... the perfect loaf of bread, a homemade chicken stock, a roasted chicken.  Boeuf Bourguignon struck me as another such classic for the repertoire and thus struck my fancy.

I stopped at the grocery store on my way home yesterday afternoon, and assembled the ingredients for the afternoon's adventures.  After an hour and a half of prep time in the kitchen, I had successfully fried lardons (after learning what they were), browned 3 lbs of beef, begun a sauce in the drippings, and transferred the whole stew into the stove to quietly develop for 3 hours.  Before I sat down to wait it out, I invited a couple of girl friends over to help me eat and evaluate. 

From the couch, as my boeuf started filling the kitchen with its promises, I turned on Julie & Julia and watched another food-obsessed writer attempt to find the good life via food.


Friday night I ate at Bar Crudo on Divisadero... an homage to raw seafood with a small assortment of hot plates for those needing comfort on a rainy night.  It was rainy, and I did need comfort, so I will skip straight to the chowder.  We split a bowl of seafood chowder, whose delightfully tender mussels, shrimp, squid, and chunks of white fish lingered in a creamy bacony broth.  Though I enjoyed the nuances of the different seafood in every bite, I think I would have preferred a chowder with only those mussels!

Though the chowder was a treat, the highlight for me was the crudo.  Arctic char, with a horseradish cream, wasabi tobiko, and a sprig of dill... just enough dimension with the texture and heat but the char itself was the star.  Nicely done, Bar Crudo.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving is my very favorite time of year.  I love to celebrate this holiday focused around family and togetherness.  I look forward to Thanksgiving Thursday for the quality time I get to spend with my parents and brother, for the amazing meal that forces us all to pause and be thankful for the many blessings we have in our lives, and let's be honest, for the opportunity to watch a little football besides.

This year my family is heading down to San Diego to spend the holiday with my grandmother, because she is no longer interested in making the long drive up the coast, even with a chauffeur as entertaining as my brother.  I have been practically counting down the days until my flight leaves.

This year I have an additional reason to be thankful. I was invited to a new friend's house for a pre-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving dinner last night.  Jill prepared an unbelievable spread for twelve people, and aside from providing a perfectly executed holiday meal, from the roasted turkey to sweet potatoes without marshmallows (another reason to be thankful!) to the sausage stuffing and gravy, she hosted us in the most warm and welcoming environment that to me truly epitomizes the essence of Thanksgiving.  While I certainly helped myself to seconds, what I really hope for more of is some additional time with these great new friends.

This year I am giving thanks for every moment I get to spend with my father, mother, brother, and grandmother.  I am giving thanks for the many wonderful friends, new and old, that I am fortunate enough to have in my life.  Thank you all for laughter, smiles, and love; Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Sol Food

I have been obsessed with Puerto Rican food since my college days, especially the sweet flavor of pan-fried, overripe plantains known as maduros. A bite of maduro with saffron rice, stewed beans, and even a chunk of buttery avocado is pretty much a perfect bite in my mind.

I was totally surprised when Gidget took me to Sol Food, a Puerto Rican outpost in San Rafael, for lunch last Saturday. She was eager to try a place she had heard lauded by friends and coworkers, and as we were headed up to Santa Rosa for the Ursuline High School polenta feed fundraiser (this is a topic of its own!), we stopped for a late lunch to quiet our grumbling tummies.

She was excited to see if the place lived up to the hype; I was excited to finally sate my Puerto Rican food cravings.

I haven't had truly legit Puerto Rican food since my days in Cambridge. I would trek even on snowy days out behind Central Square to Izzy's, a family-run, diner-style, hidden-corner establishment and order a plate of bistec encebollado, or sometimes even roasted pork. Regardless of the protein on the plate, I most looked forward to the pile of yellow rice and beans and especially the maduros that I would ration so there was enough for every bite. There was something totally disjointed about eating food that evoked the tropics when bundled for a nor'easter. Then again, maybe I enjoyed the extra element of escapism... food for the soul.

Anyways, I was thrilled to try a Puerto Rican place a little closer to home. We lined up out the door, even at 2pm, and ordered lunch from a laminated menu on our way in. Despite the options, including camarones in a tomato sauce, I opted for the vegetarian plate, partly as a test of the basics, partly as the most direct response to my cravings.

Let me just cut to the chase and say that I asked to return for lunch the following day. I might find myself in San Rafael a little more often. Bring on the maduros! Sol Food, food for the soul!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner

I was really slow on the uptake here. People have been talking about Limon for years, celebrating their consistently excellent rotisserie chicken. You may have picked up from previous posts that, while I enjoy an occasional chicken dish, I am not passionate about poultry. I can count on one hand (well, 2 fingers of that hand, really) the places that create chicken dishes that I will not only sample but frequently order, actually praise and sometimes even fantasize about. (OK, if you must know ... Zuni Cafe's brined roast chicken over cranberry bread salad, and Front Porch's fried chicken, no superfluous adjectives necessary.)

Rachel generously offered to take me out to a birthday dinner and when the day came, we considered a bunch of options and landed on Limon as the perfect match to an otherwise lackluster, damp, dreary day. On such a day, what could be better than a crispy piece of rotisserie chicken and a cocktail or two to match?

We ordered a half chicken, which came with a garlicky aioli and a creamy cilantro dipping sauce. The chicken wore a salty skin but was incredibly moist and perfectly cooked throughout. We also sampled the ceviche mixto, a well balanced mix of halibut, shrimp, and calamari cured by a healthy amount of lime juice. Yuca, sweet potato fries, and a side of tacu tacu (fried pillows of beans and rice) rounded out our side selection. When eating Peruvian food, I always insist on yuca frita as a special treat characteristic of the cuisine... even better when dipped in a little of the salsas we had for our chicken.

The ambience was boisterous and the server was helpful with our wine selections, guiding us toward an earthy South American selection. I enjoyed the evening out but next time will swing by for take out and enjoy my chicken in the Twin Peaks fog. Thank you, Rachel, for a great birthday treat! Winner winner, chicken dinner!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Tamale Lady

Yesterday was my first day back at work after a long weekend in the Puget Sound, and I really needed a pick-me-up, so I was particularly looking forward to catching up with an old friend over drinks at the Homestead.

For those who haven't been, the Homestead is a mellow saloon style bar on 19th and Folsom that caters to a pretty wide clientele. I cozied up next to the piano with a Guinness but could just have easily been drinking a Manhattan (and might have been, were it not a Tuesday night) ... I hear they make a mean one.
Anyways, the conversation, the ambience, and the company were all just right. But the night got even better when the Tamale Lady wheeled in her goods! I was hungry, had not eaten dinner, and was planning for the Guinness to be the meal it is chalked up to be. Instead I ordered a $4 bundle of porky delight.

She served me a chubby tamale in the equivalent of a corn husk bowl ... with a fork I scooped out fluffy masa, a savory pork filling, and the tangy salsa she had added before serving. I think I finished the whole thing before my friend even finished his sentence.

Can someone get me a bumper sticker? I am a FAN.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sunday lunch at Nopalito

I have been thinking about trying Nopalito for some time. The thought usually occurs when I am picking up ingredients at Falletti's for a home cooked dinner , and thus far I have been disciplined enough to stick with the dinner plans and save Nopalito for another time.

When Gidge asked this morning if I was interested in lunch, we tried for a few minutes to think of something tasty and cheap that we hadn't tried before, and fortunately Nopalito came to mind. Sustainable, organic, Mexican, and cheap ... I like this place already!

We strolled in around 12:30 in soccer attire (I in my Spain jacket and Gidge rocking a Soccer Insight warmup) and easily found seats on a bench alongside the window. After some discussion we decided to share three plates. I love to share plates, especially at a new place, because you get to try more, but in this case there was one clear favorite... the Quesadilla Roja con Chicharron.

The crispy tortilla exterior was made from house made masa and colored a deep brick red from the ancho chile. Inside the fatty flavor of crispy pork belly is mellowed by Jack cheese, with the tang of onion, cilantro, and a mild guajillo chile salsa. Each bite had a light crunch but a rich, full flavor. I am glad we split it because a whole one would have left me prone on the couch for the rest of the afternoon!

I am looking forward to trying Nopalito sometime for dinner to see how they do with pozole, one of my favorite Mexican dishes for the winter. In the meantime, I am going to shop at Falletti's and make my own pozole sometime soon. Come over for dinner!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Sunday Funday Brazen Head

After a full day of outdoor festivities - starting with an early morning round of golf with my brother at the Olympic Club, an afternoon of roofdecks and Blue Angels, and an evening celebrating a close friend's birthday (Happy Birthday, Liv!) - I forced myself to wind down the Sunday Funday and started the trek home. I thought 9pm was a more than respectable time to head home, put my feet up, enjoy a glass of wine, and mentally prepare myself for the week to come.

At least, that was the plan until Kelsey, Lapi, and I popped into Brazen Head for a glass of wine... a few minutes later, wine and a late dinner.

Brazen Head is a Cow Hollow establishment, serving food until 1am in a dark and cozy corner hideaway. Unsigned, they rely on local know-how and cater to the neighborhood with their BH Neighbor Card, only available to those who live within a block's radius of the restaurant.
The bar was full and the atmosphere boisterous, despite the hour. In terms of menu, the strategy is simple; they cling to classics and they execute. Caesar, French onion soup, filet (grass fed!), scampi. There is no reinvention here but if you want to swap your chicken marsala for veal and your piccata vice versa, go ahead and ask... the servers will work it out. You can split a variety of dishes two or three ways (we did). They are clearly looking for repeat customers.

Brazen Head won me over with its straightforwardness and vivacity. My strategy is simple as well; I adore my friends and love my food, and am always looking for the perfect place to combine the two. Who is up for another Sunday Funday at the Head?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Taste of NYC

With girl friends and shopping bags in tow, I wasted no time in New York heading to my favorite late lunch destination: Balthazar. I have a feeling we looked like a Sex and the City brunch, times 3.5 tables, plus one token male. Actually, I have a feeling we sounded like that, too.

To me, a visit to Balthazar is a restorative experience that makes me pause and appreciate the simple joys of life. Every time I visit the city, I make a point of a Balthazar stop ... for a steaming bowl of French onion soup on a rainy day, or for moules frites when I feel like working my way through a luxuriously long meal, bite by bite. Sometimes I will wander inside and write over a glass of Chateauneuf du Pape (I cannot tell a lie; I wish I were writing now over a glass of CdP).

On this particular day, my Olympic Club soccer team had arrived via redeye in the early morning and after a shopping excursion through SoHo, stopped for a late lunch and wine at Balthazar. Well, some prioritized the lunch and some prioritized the wine! We refueled over a couple bottles of rose, a calamari and shrimp ceviche, and a roasted beet salad (with roasted beets, haricots verts, and wedges of fourme d'Ambert, is anyone actually capable of choosing differently?).

We cooled off after a day of late summer New York heat. Our tired feet took a break before the last shopping push. We shared purchases, laughs, bites of salad, and now we share memories of an afternoon together at my favorite New York sanctuary.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Oh, Porchetta...

The San Francisco Farmers' Market at the Ferry Building is a haven for foodies. For those that cook as well as those that don't, the market is filled with special ingredients and tempting treats.

In my recent quest to buy locally and sustainably produced food, I have frequented the Farmers' Market for my fruits and vegetables. Though the produce is pricier than what I would find in grocery or super stores, I love the idea of supporting local farms and farmers and think it is a small way to give back to my community.

On a more personal note, I truly think the upcharge is a small price to pay for a consistently amazing Saturday morning experience. In my (reusable) shopping bag I bring home items that thrill me for the morning and sustain me for the week. A summer filled with stone fruit has tantalized my taste buds; a kitchen filled with aromatic herbs and fresh cut flowers has delighted my senses.

Of late, though, I have most looked forward to combining my shopping trips with a little breakfast.

After fueling up with a cup of Blue Bottle coffee, I try to sample something different every time. I have lined up for Primavera chilaquiles, a hearty Prather Ranch breakfast sandwich, and the Hayes Street Grill salmon BLT. (I will admit the perfectly grilled salmon, crispy slabs of Hobbs bacon, and dollop of tartar sauce on Acme toast has swayed me more than once.)

Despite that, I have never paused long before the Roli Roti truck. I always thought the long line of people were waiting for rotisserie chicken.... chicken that looked and smelled amazing, but chicken nonetheless. Somehow I had missed the reverential whispers of the famed porchetta sandwich.

Saturday's thunderstorms worked in my favor, and as I passed by the Roli Roti truck, without a daunting queue of pork-loving patrons in front, I was able to pause and watch a sandwich being made. I am a sandwich loving girl ... and this one stopped me in my tracks.

The gifted sandwich man began with two long slices of toasted Acme bread, oven crisped to a lovely golden brown. In the move that stole my heart (and my palate), he sopped each side of bread in the pool of meaty juices forming from slab of herb filled porchetta. He expertly layered porchetta slices with crispy bits of pork belly and deeply caramelized onions, topping the creation with peppery greens and a touch of aromatic rosemary sea salt. Smitten, I exchanged $8.50 for a plate filled with bliss.

I have a date next Saturday with this sandwich. I can't wait to try it again. And, it combines some of the best of what the Farmers' Market has to offer: Acme bread, peppery greens, and aromatic rosemary salt. I'm not saying you could make it at home ... but wouldn't it be fun to try?