Sunday, December 18, 2011

Camino & World Champion Latte Artist at The Proxy Project

The report on the last 20 hours of food prowling.
Latte art by Hiroshi Sawada. Baked goods in background from Sandbox Bakery and Black Jet Bakery.
  • 7:00pm Friday - It started Friday night at Oakland's Camino, which is easily among the best restaurants I have been to in years. Communal tables, open-flame cooking, unpretentious service, first-rate Californian cuisine. More at the end of this post.
  • 10:00am Saturday - Ferry Building farmers' market for beans and eggs at Primavera's booth.  Then, a visit to the Farmhouse Culture stand, where I tried three kinds of sauerkraut: horseradish leek, apple fennel, and garlic dill pickle.  I took back a container filled with the first.  The salty-tartness and crunch of the sauerkraut pairs superbly with roasted beets!   

  • 11:00am Saturday - Ritual Coffee at the The Proxy Project to see Hiroshi Sawada, THE master of latte art--the man who literally wrote the book on the subject.  He is also featured in this NY Times article from yesterday about Tokyo coffee.  
Hiroshi-san creating one of his ephemeral masterpieces.
As soon as I arrived at Ritual on this sun-drenched Saturday I began to envy everyone living in Hayes Valley (all the tail-wagging dogs and toddlers included).  Why? On the other side of Ritual is liquid nitrogen fueled Smitten Ice Cream; in front of it are two fashionable food trucks; and a stone's throw away are Blue Bottle, Absinthe, Miette, and probably many other awesome places that I would rather not know about. 

As I said, the day was bathing in sunshine and mildness for a winter day.

Smitten Ice Cream just upon opening. The Santa hat tells you it's December.
Attention carnivores!
Wha??  "Brighter Faster" is what the Proxy Project landmark says. Below is Casey's pizza truck,
This is why I sing "I left My Heart in San Francisco."


More on Camino

Here is what three of us ordered (verbatim from the menu). My favorites are asterisked.
  • Avocado, orange and rutabaga salad with pomegranate and walnuts *
  • Wood oven-baked local oysters with absinthe, breadcrumbs and carrot salad
  • Wood oven-roasted chanterelle mushrooms with pounded wild nettles and grilled flatbread
  • Half a Dungeness crab grilled in the fireplace with radicchio salad and aioli*
  • Grilled local ling cod, rockfish and artichokes with new onions, Yukon Gold potatoes and chile broth*
  • For dessert: persimmon pudding (tasted like a milder version of pumpkin pie).  
Every dish had a "WOW!" factor. This means that every time I took a bite of a new dish, I interupted the table conversation or chewing silence to repeat (yet again that night), "Wow! That is good!"  Camino uses fireplaces and wood ovens rather than stoves to cook its food.  Also unlike the majority of kitchens, theirs is not made of stainless steel or plastic, but stone. The resulting look and feel of Camino is warmth--chestnuts-on-an-open fire lighting. (This is truer the closer you are to the kitchen, which we were.)

This gorgeous hearthy kitchen is also an open kitchen.   The colorful mis en place preens for onlookers.   Last week's Good Food show featured an interview with the chef, Russ Moore, a/k/a the "Gentle Griller." His kitchen is decidedly anti-macho--he said it himself! Here's to you Chef Russ!

My trip to Camino should have taken 45 minutes from Palo Alto, where I was coming from.  Instead, it took two dreadful hours, much of which was spent muttering obscenities, along with: I should have left earlier. Why am I doing this? I should have stayed home tonight!  Nothing like a good Friday evening traffic jam to soothe your nerves following an intense day at work.

But when I sat down and took my first taste of the avocado, orange and rutabaga salad,  all cares went POOF!  

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Find: "C" is for Cozy, Chocolate and Chuao

This is what winters are made for:
Venezuelan hot chocolate
I discovered "Winter" this weekend at the Whole Foods in Palo Alto.  But I first discovered Chuao brand at Coupa Café.  Their addicting hot chocolate is made from the same stuff.

Spicy Maya
Now, the difference between Winter and Spicy Maya are two supremely cozy ingredients:  nutmeg and ginger.

Follow the directions and you will get a cup spanking with flavor.  I actually prefer it milder so I double the amount of milk.  Oh does it "arouse your senses."  I took one sip and there appeared a grin on my face, a brick fireplace in my kitchen, and chestnuts crackling over it...

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Dangerous Find: Cloud-like Cheesecake

Airy and light with a mousse-like consistency, it is nothing at all like your typical-American, brick-like version. 
Sweet, whipped, creamy fluff topped with coarse graham cracker crumb topping.

So soft, it comes with fishing line for serving. 
An SF Chronicle food writer describes this cheesecake as a cloud.  
That's true.

The friend of mine, who tipped me off to this place described this cheesecake as deliciously satisfying dessert, even after having eaten so much that you are wheezing.

That's true too.

Right now, the cheesecakes are also available with a pumpkin topping. Zanze's, located in the residential neighborhood of Balboa Terrace, makes only cheesecakes.  These cakes make elegant gifts that will make people happy. 

More on Zanze's with prices and bios in a review from SF Weekly.

Zanze's Cheesecake 
2405 Ocean Avenue  
San Francisco,CA 94127-2606
(415) 334-2264

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Simple Pleasures in Oakland

Three reasons why I am crazy for Temescal:
1. Breakfast at Pizzaiolo.
Doughnut hole and morning bun at Pizzaiolo. 
These deadly delights, along with Blue Bottle cappuccino mend all.  (OMG--the morning bun.)

So far, I have every reason to believe that the Pizzaiolo folks really mean it with their hearts.
2. Bakesale Betty's, on the corner.  
At 10:00 AM on a recent Saturday, this place was preparing for the lunchtime invasion of customers   who line up for their fried chicken sandwich.
Fried chicken sandwiches  on tap at Bakeale Betty's.
 I wasn't quite in the mood at 10-in-the-morning so I bought cookies instead: oatmeal raisin and molasses. 
Oatmeal raisin cookie with bits of walnuts.
These are extremely recommended for those who love a soft cookie.  They are pliable in your hands, like a firm dough.  This was especially true of the molasses' cookie.  I found the sweetness of both cookies, and the spiciness of the molasses cookie, to be very pleasant.
Molasses cookie. (Not all of it made it to the photo shoot.)
The service here on this day was as sweet as the cookies. Makes me really want to come back. Very, very soon.

3. La Calaca Loca (no website available at this writing).
La Calaca Loca--is that a kick to say or what. It's the stylish-looking Mexican place on the other side of Pizzaiolo. I haven't been there yet, but it is on my list, especially as I love a Mexican breakfast and this place is open from 9am on weekends. There is a nice outdoor patio in the back, says my knowledgeable foodie insider friend. 

There are plenty more social, political,  cultural and sun-drenched reasons to love this irresistible section of if one needed any more reasons.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Eleven Madison Park: Cloud Nine

Even the coffee is extraordinary here.
Even at the finest New York City restaurants, coffee service is a relative after-thought that is hardly given the kind of attention granted to its entrees, desserts or cocktails.  Not so at the highly decorated Eleven Madison Park. This elegant restaurant, on the edge of verdant Madison Square Park, was recently minted with three Michelin stars. Moreover, it has won every James Beard award that it is eligible for, along with maximum starred-ratings from the New York Times and Forbes. Its coffee program, featuring the highest-end beans and siphon brewing, was started by James Betz, a bartender at the restaurant who enjoys brewing coffee at home.  (His uncle is Ken Nye of the New York coffee institution that is Ninth Street Espresso, but that’s strictly an aside.)
Siphon in the day.  Even more gorgeous at night.
It hardly takes a meal at this restaurant to see how attentive the staff is to details.  As soon as you walk in, you are cordially greeted, and taken in by the towering ceiling, cream colored roses, and linen covered tables.  This is a restaurant where every one of your servers—and there are several—are able to answer any questions you may have about where, exactly, the food is coming from and how it is prepared. If you show a particular interest in say the cakes of butter served with your bread, you will be presented with information about the farm it came from on a hand-written note on cardstock stationary.  If you step away from the table, you will find it in even nicer condition than you left it, with your napkin neatly folded, crumbs swept away.  The staff manages to accomplish all this without being a trace overbearing. And the food?  Almost too beautiful to eat, it is exceptionally delicious.
Jim explained his motivations to pitch the idea of a coffee program to the restaurant’s management.  “The pinnacle of coffee could only be found at coffee shops,” he said.  “I wanted to bring that kind of quality here. I thought it was possible, at a place like this, to do even more than what is done at a specialty coffee shop.”  On the first night of Eleven Madison Park’s coffee program, there were so many orders for siphon and Chemex (their other brewing offering) that Jim was on the phone to his supplier asking for all the specialized equipment he could possibly send over—pronto!
While Jim continues to manage the program, Eleven Madison Park has a barista on staff who, like Jim, the restaurant captains and sommeliers, has completed 14-16 hours of training in siphon brewing at the Intelligentsia lab across town.
So now an exquisite gastronomical experience at one of the most coveted restaurants in Manhattan can be finished off with some of the best java on the planet.

By the way, if I ever have the privilege of eating here again, I will never, ever take stealth photos  again.  It was like sacrilege.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Momofuku Noodlebar

Momofuku Noodlebar
163 1st Avenue
New York, NY 10003

(212) 500-0831

If I lived in Manhattan, I would be a regular at this place.

I was so jealous when the twenty-something guy next to us told us that he comes several times a week to eat here. We were inquiring about his bowl of stocky rice noodles, which we couldn't find on the menu.  (Note: the food is ten times better looking and far less yellow than these photos suggest.)

What I love about Momofuku Ssam Bar, where I went last year and this place--Momofuku Noodlebar, is how understated they are. Both are situated in Lower East Side neighborhoods that don't often make tourists' lists.  Maybe it's because there is too much graffiti around or not enough glitter.  In any case, both restaurants are quite easy to walk past without noticing. Yet, the food is out of this world. 

Sitting at the bar at Momofuku Noodlebar, I felt very much at home, even though I had never been there before. It was so casual in a swanky New Yorker kind of way.  The pierced servers were in t-shirts and jeans--the most casually dressed people in the restaurant.  Yet they knew everything about the food they were serving as evidenced by their ability to make specific recommendations and have personal favorites for every section on the menu.   There was one server with glasses who looked more like a computer geek than a singer in garage band, but he knew his menu too, and was very pleasant.
During the trip, I also checked out the Momofuku Milk Bar, in Midtown.  Having flipped for Momofuku Ssam bar last year, I was embracing everything David Chang and was so taken by these milk bars.  But I am done with them now. The sweets are made from corn syrup and PHOs which I avoid, if I know they are in there.  The sweets are also cloyingly sweet for me. But, I do have to go back once more at least to try Crack Pie.
Famous pork bellydumplings
Very possibly I would run from the restaurants if I knew what the ingredients of those sauces and dressings were.  But Momofuku doesn't list ingredients, and I will happily suspend my puritan ways for experiences like the kind it offers.
Heirloom tomato salad
Well, as long as David Chang's empire in Manhattan continues to grow, there will be more trips I will have to make to the Big Apple. 

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Return of the Blog...maybe

A major reason why I have been absent:
From my favorite, Kara's Cupcakes
Not so much chocolate cupcakes but baseball. Following baseball closely is at least a part-time job!  Especially when there are so many injuries and (therefore) rookie-replacements to keep track of! But now that the Giants have been killed off for the season, there will be more blog-time...I think.  There's certainly tons to blog about, including WTF CoffeeMomofuku Noodle Bar, EatalyEleven Madison Park, and RBC Coffee...

Sunday, August 14, 2011


One part Catalan, one part Californian. 100% delicious.
At last my sardine cravings have been satisfied at a place that will bring back memories of Barcelona for anyone who has been there.
Wood Oven Roasted Montery Sarine and Avacado Toast (with onions atop)
I have been crazy about fresh sardines since I sampled them on toast at Fort Mason several years ago at one of those local/sustainable/organic SF food festivals. They were plump and meaty with a spunky, just-caught flavor.  
Jamon Iberico de Bellota
Since then I have discovered that it is hard to find fresh sardines in the US! But then Michael Bauer's article came to the rescue a few weeks ago with a list of restaurants serving them up around here. La Ciaccia was booked so we went to Contigo, a Catalan-Californian style place in Noe Valley.
Little Gem Salad (with beets and slices of toasted garlic)
Three of us went, lingering there for three hours over delicious wines (Corvo for me, a dry red and a white for my discriminating, superbly food-literate companions), plates of sardines, beet salad, black rice (with hefty chunks of octopus) and salmon over a summer corn salad.  We finished off the feast with plates of peach cake with basil gelato, and plum tart with almond-cardamom gelato. 
Local King Salmon Baked on a Fig Leaf. (The salmon was a bit more orange than it should be, but it was tasty, especially with the sweet corn salad.)
Calamas a la Planxa
EVERYTHING was fabulous.

Contigo's atmosphere is also lovely with the open kitchen, bar, wood-paneled dining room, and bright semi-outdoor area in the back, where we were seated. Along the wall  of the outdoorish dining room is a garden of chard, peppers, onions strawberries and squash. 

A warm peach cake with caramel, tangy peach sauce and almond gelato (and crushed almonds)
The only wrinkle about the place was the service, which was a little frosty.  Our server appeared to be stressed and not inviting of questions. Maybe a bad night for her.  Towards the end of the meal, she threw stares at our table, intimating, without actually telling us so, that the table was needed for another party.  Alas, this is not Europe where lingering is permitted, and Contigo is popular. But the cooks up front seemed relaxed and friendly even though the place was bulging at the seams with activity.

I definitely recommend this oasis of food and atmosphere. Another perk:  it is invisible to tourists in the middle of August!   

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Strawberries, Tomatoes and Pink Flowers (Nadeshiko)

We have had such unseasonably cool weather this week, including sprinkles on some parts of the Peninsula, that it's hard to believe it's mid-July...until you go to the farmers' market.
These strawberries smell good enough to wear, as perfume.  I think Lucero Farms, where I got them, should bottle them and call it eau de toilette. These berries were the size of cherry tomatoes but very sweet, and packed with flavor...and so fragrant (it bears repeating).   A size comparison:
Petite size.
Bigger is not always (and sometimes never is) better, of course.  Case in point: the diminutive winners of the women's World Cup, a/k/a nadeshiko.
The women's team has been compared to Barça, also small, but of course, extraordinary.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Eating for Education

Last Saturday, I hung out with Samin Nosrat who organized Bakesale for Japan in April.  
Samin at the bar at Tartine Bakery.
To find out what's next on the plate of this dynamic but down-to-earth culinary mover-and-shaker, check out my blog post at KCRW's Good Food Blog.  

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Breaking Bread with Tartine

I have declared my love for Tartine in the past. I shall do so yet again.
White bread with raisins.  But far more interesting than it sounds. 
Their pastries are so otherworldly that it is difficult to look beyond them.

But today, I tried their bread.

It is super crusty on the outside, tender and chewy on the inside. Did I say super crusty? I'll say it again:  It is SUPER CRUSTY.  Tis tasty enough to eat plain, but smeared with butter, it becomes an addictive drug.  By the way, you need your teeth to eat it, it is so chewy. 
Country white bread. Huge. Heavy.  Thrown, it doubles as a weapon.
Store-brand sandwich bread tastes like cardboard in comparison. Even bread from restaurants  seems suddenly sub par.

Chad Robertson is Tartine co-founder and master bread maker. He wrote the book.  

Looking for Barcelona in San Francisco

Since returning from my trip to Barcelona, I have been anxiously sniffing for signs of Catalan life in the Bay Area. I may have found it at B44, in the financial district in San Francisco.
Piquillo peppers stuffed with Dungeness crab
B44 is located in the middle of a tiny strip off Pine Street that is lined with other European bistros (eg Plouf, Cafe Bastille) with indistinguishable store fronts.

Mine was a quick dinner on a Saturday in mid-June to scope the place, see how authentic it was compared to my Catalan experience, and see how it might fare as a place to catch next season's Barcelona (Barça) football games.
Escalivada:  Grilled red peppers, yellow peppers, eggplant, and onion.
There was a TV at the end of the bar broadcasting a Mexican soccer game.  Check. I liked the warm glow of the place, and the high ceilings. Check. The tables outside on the narrow strip make the place look very European.  Check. And the food wasn't bad (check) though the only thing I could compare was the Catalan toast. B44's was made with sandwich bread and arrived cold. In Barcelona, it was served on much thicker, crustier bread...and  was warm. I was put off by the chilled toast.  But I had no problem finishing it. 

I had come for the grilled sardines but my waiter, Brad Pitt, asked the chef and the chef said they were out of season so I ordered the piquillo peppers stuffed with crab.  I have tasted fresher, meatier crab, but it was still pretty good.  
Catalan toast, after one piece was eaten.
Unfortunately, it didn't occur to me until after I paid the check that my cordial server, who looked like a very long-haired Brad Pitt (with blonder hair) might be Catalan. He spoke excellent English and was blond so I assumed he was American.  In my American accent, I asked him if the place broadcast Barça games.  "Barça?" he asked rolling his r:  Barrrrrgh-sa

With that, he game himself away. Had I known, I would have been interrogating him throughout the meal. 

I forget that some Catalans are not dark.  I know this.  I just...forget.  

In any case, B44 is on my list as a possible resource for Catalan life 6,000 miles away.  I have a list of Spanish eateries I want to try, but hardly any of them are Catalan which makes it less of a priority.  Next food adventure will probably be French since I am digging brunch right now and there are plenty of French restaurants  that are open during brunch hour on the weekends.  

Sunday, June 19, 2011

I Wanna go Back to B * Star

Last Sunday, Jane and I had brunch at B* Star, (no this is not a math problem) a few blocks from mothership, Burma Superstar (BS).
Lentil Ragu with two paoched eggs and whole wheat toast. Savory and filling.  East Indian-inspired.
She and I agree that B*Star is more sophisticated than BS.  B*Star's cozy interior is hipper, and its menu, while fusion, includes some of BS's most popular dishes, like the Samusa Soup and the Tea Leaf Salad, which is a bonus for those of us who enjoy both.  
Azuki Almond Banana French Toast - delicious, sweet..and rich.  
I LOVE B*Star's brunch menu. Endearingly, it reflects San Francisco's heavily Asian and Latino-American population. You will find items like jook, huevos rancheros, eggs benedict, ochazuke, pancakes, and hybrid dishes like the ones featured in the photos here.  But the thing is, it ain't just a cutesy menu: the food is really good!
Divergent textures abound in this chunky soup with a kick.
B*Star is potentially a superstar in my book. To find out, I'm returning for more East-West comfort food...and Strawberry Nutella French Toast.

Deconstructing Calafia's Veggie Burger

This is the California-esque, rainbow-colored Vegetable Soy Lentil Quinoa Burger from Calafia in Palo Alto. If it reads like a mouthful, that's because it is. In fact, it is laboriously more than a mouthful.
Stacked between the halved and dense multigrain bun (speckled with pumpkin seeds and other bird seeds) were:  a thick layer of guacamole, the veggie burger (the yellow slab in the center made from soy, green lentils, quinoa, and brown rice) and beet relish.  

The burger came with pickles, mayo, house ketchup and Dijon mustard.

I must say, this was a weird combination. I usually slather ketchup on my veggie burgers (assuming they are mimicking meat) but ketchup didn't work on this one.  Because the burger was so big, I ended up eating it the way I eat Oreos, which is by taking it apart and eating the layers separately.  However,  I did try to get the flavor of the burger as a whole by stuffing my mouth a few times.   

Each component of the burger was quite tasty on its own.  But together they seemed random, as if someone had come up with a list of stereotypically "Californian" ingredients (eg healthy/nutty/macrobiotic) and attempted to make a dish out of them. Unfortunately here, that person didn't think enough about how those ingredients would go together.   

The ketchup was fresh (making my bottled ketchup seem dull a flavorless) and would be delightful with scrambled eggs or meatloaf. The beet relish would be great on a hotdog with mustard. The guacamole delicious with chips. The burger would go well, I think with a more conventional, softer--even commercial--burger bun. 

Bottom line: for the Vegetable Soy Lentil Quinoa Burger to be memorable, its components need to split up and get together with other ingredients. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Ubuntu: Uber-refined Vegetarian Mecca

If marriages were between people and restaurants, I would be wildly pursuing Ubuntu. Ubuntu is not only ultra cool, but good for me too.

As a person Ubuntu would be a soft-spoken intellectual whose uniform was jeans and a black t-shirt...and a beanie in the winter.   He'd be one of those few dudes in yoga class who is also interested in cooking, whose hair shags below his ears.  Read: a caricature of a Northern California dude.

The Last Supper of my divine 48-hour Napa Valley trip was appropriately at Ubuntu.

I was last here 15 months ago, right before the chef changed. I thought it was awesome. (Click here for the review.) The place continues to be otherworldly.  Ubuntu chefs are masters of combining flavors and making their productions look like artists' canvases.
Slow roasted chioggia beets (yes, those fleshy tuna colored chunks)
As faint silhouettes of yoginis darted around in the yoga studio above (visible from the restaurant), I enjoyed beets that looked like sashimi, opaque paperthin leaves, and  broccoli, which was unsuspectingly bursting with flavor. 
"Warm foccacia with truffled pecorino from Florence and apricot/almond agrodolce"
While the beets were gorgeous and tasty, the foccacia, delicately tangy and sweet, was extraordinary.  We ordered it with the optional poached egg.  I could talk about this dish for a while, except I would keep repeating the same adjectives: incredible, amazing, delicious...

Ubuntu also sells t-shirts and garb, which I would never wear. But how I look forward to another date with the restaurant. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

St. Helena's Olive Oil Company

Products that say "I've been to Napa Valley!"
Extra virgin olive oil from 
Just north of Yountville on the St. Helena highway is the St. Helena Olive Oil Company.  I was told by a friendly young sales clerk that a) their products are sold no where else (except their two Napa stores) and that b) their olive oil is organic and sourced from local olives.  This was music to my ears. But if their olive oil is truly organic, it is not obvious from neither their website nor their signage in the store.
Salts (edible ones; bath salts also available)
I was willing to take this clerk's word for it. Especially since I made the trip out there, and I was impressed with the looks of the place, which is worth a visit if you like extra virgin olive oil, vinegars, honey, gourmet salts, and bath products (soaps, lotions, bath salts).  They also have items such as butternut squash pasta sauce, pesto, blended herbs, and examples of recipes combining vinegar and oil.  

Salt of the earth
They have quite a variety and all their products are hospitably laid out for easy and clean sampling.
Vinegar bar
At this writing a 375ml bottle of extra virgin lemon olive oil costs $24.