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.