Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Casa Fox

I took my boyfriend to New York for the first time last month. One of the many wonders of that city that I wanted him to experience firsthand was the amazing restaurant scene. I never cease to be surprised by the number of great eateries that just seem to pop up all over that town.

Imagine how pleased I was then, when, on our first night, sour lemons turned into a delicious New York lemon meringue pie. Nik and I missed our reservation to a Cuban joint that probably wasn't worth the cash anyway. So we wandered through the Lower East Side - and stumbled into a homey-looking Latin food restaurant.

The roaring fire, ranch decor and worn wooden tables - diners were eating family style, sharing space - welcomed us in from the cold. A Casa Fox, the quaint sign outside pronounced. The place was so new it didn't have a liquor license, so we picked up a bottle of rioja to match the Central American flavors of the restaurant.

It was another golden New York find. The restaurant serves delicious American takes on Nicaraguan (and other Central American) comfort foods. And it has a story - it's modeled on the home foods of chef Melissa Fox's mother's and grandmother's recipes. Try the empanadas - all of them. The fillings are delicious, a modern twist on these regional classics - like roasted duck, or chorizo and queso. If you fall in love with them as I did, apparently you can buy them in the frozen food sections of some NYC grocery stores. Or, if you're more in the mood for small bites, get a smattering of the appetizers. I highly recommend the cheese sticks with membrillo. Fried queso fresco with a mouth-wateringly yum quince paste sauce. Trust me, they're better than mozarella sticks!

The place is reasonably priced too. An entire meal for three - and we definitely overate - set us back less than $35 a person.

A Casa Fox
173 Orchard Street
New York

Monday, December 22, 2008

Cool Cup of Coffee

There are a ton of coffee joints around San Francisco, but one part of town where I find it consistently hard to find a decent cafe to work in is SOMA. Not a particularly quaint part of town, and most of the time folks spend here is in an office.

But still, there are those odd moments - when I'm waiting for the boyfriend to finish at work, or when I really need a break from the office environs - when a nice coffee spot would be nice. If you've got any recommendations, let me know.

I have found something that will do in the meantime - the new Blue Bottle cafe in the old US Mint complex. It's most worth the visit because it has those funky, expensive glass coffee makers. The small cafe is also cozy and has a nice vibe to it. There isn't a lot of space to sit, just a few long tall tables and a handfull of bar stools. But I got a fair bit of work done there and enjoyed it.

And when you're finished there, just walk across the complex to Chez Papa for a delicious glass of French wine!

Blue Bottle Cafe
66 Mint St
(between Jessie St & Mission St)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Scary Fish & Chips

Waterbar, a swanky new resto-bar in SF, has a lot of things going for it. It's got a killer location, right along the water by the Bay Bridge, a cool interior design that includes columns made of real fish aquariums, and it offers a decent raw bar.

That said, one thing on the menu I wouldn't recommend to anyone, save thrill seekers and wierd food lovers, is the fish and chips. You'd think the dish were benign and simple enough - just fry some white fish and make french fries. But somehow, in its attempt to dress up a perfectly perfect classic, the Waterbar kitchen went horribly awry. I think the photo below says it all.

It's simply the ugliest dish I think I've ever seen.

399 The Embarcadero South
San Francisco

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A Good Pint

With the election at hand and a likely Obama victory, I'm glad to be back in the US. But from time to time, there are moments of my life in England that I miss and grow nostalgic about. Especially the pubs.

There just isn't anything quite like them in the US. Sure, we have our biker bars and sports bars and dive bars. But there are no cute country manor houses with beer crusted tables and hefty pint glasses. No corner pubs where families gather to start drinking at 10am. No menus sporting curry and rice, bangers and mash, or ploughman's lunch - bar food that sticks to your ribs and arteries.

So imagine my surprise when on a drive out of Muir Woods, as we came round a particularly curvy bend in the road, my friend Siddhi insisted that we stop at Pelican Inn. The quaint joint was tucked away where the North Bay hills meet Muir Beach. And on that stop we found ourselves in a little piece of England, transplanted. The house was rustic and white with brown beams, flowers and gardens outside - and inside the narrow corridors and criss-crossing staircases made it feel ancient.

Hidden below was a perfect pub, replete with ancient wooden sidings, random hunt-related decor and a draft bar manned by friendly bartenders with local ales on tap. And the bar food was perfect - hefty cut chips (ie french fries), bangers and mash, beet and goast cheese salad.

The only reminder that I was in Northern California? Most of the produce was supplied from Green Gulch Farm & Zen Center, which happens to be just up the road.

Pelican Inn
10 Pacific Way
Muir Beach 94965

Friday, October 17, 2008

Weird Fruit

What's neon pink and lime green, leathery with tentacles all over?

A fruit - and a rather tasty one at that.

Last time I was at the Civic Center Farmer's Market in San Francisco, my boyfriend convinced me to purchase a rather bizarre looking fruit. It looked just as described - and got stranger still when we cut it open. In its core, the dragon fruit has a translucent white flesh dotted with tiny black seeds. Its like litchy, but not really. Almost like a kiwi, but not really. Actually, I can't really relate it to any other fruit I've had before.

What I can say, though, is that it's really delicious. The flesh is tender and has a light, almost perfumed taste to it. It's not overpoweringly sweet or tart. It's delicate, like a litchie mixed with a kiwi and a rambutan. A tropical smoothie in one strange package!

And it's big enough to fill you up. Dragon fruit are about the size of a large fist - although the one's I saw in Kona a week later were more like melons! The best way to enjoy them is to cut your dragon fruit in half and eat the flesh with a spoon. Then throw the peels away - a self-contained and beautiful dessert.

These tasty tropical treats will cost you though - when you can find them, they're usually $4 or more a pound. Even in Hawaii, where they grew like nuts.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Yummy Ya Mo!

You know those perfect hole in the wall finds that make you feel like you're a real local somewhere? Yeah, well - I've got a new one. And as precious as these finds are, I'm going to be nice and share it with you.

Vegetarians rejoice, there are options aplenty here for you. And if you're on a budget, even better - a hearty meal for two here will set you back $20 at most. That includes a luxurious coconut juice (served in a green coconut!) too. Can't promise you an umbrella tho.

So what is this gem of an SF restaurant? It's called Ya Mo Thai Kitchen, and it's tucked away just off of Mission on 18th street. It's tiny - be prepared to take a seat at a small counter just opposite the stove and kitchen line. You'll get an up close and personal view of dinner being made.

The name suggests thai food, but don't expect your typical green curry and pad thai here. I think the place actually has more Burmese influence, and the fare ranges from fried samosas to unusual curried meats to deliciously simply fresh rolls.

My friend Siddhi, who gets total credit for introducing me to the place, swears by their cold spicy noodles. Be sure to order their tea leaf salad too - it's fragrant, earthy sour and crunchy all at once. And it's less than $5.

My absolute favorite part of Ya Mo? Every time I go, it's entirely woman run - and these women look like they're having a blast. They chit chat, yell, laugh - and every now and then, things on the stove go ablaze!

Ya Mo Thai Kitchen
3406 18th Street

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Fall Favorite: Ferry Building Farmers Market

The Ferry Building Farmers Market usually offers a mixed (canvas tote) bag. Sometimes, like in the spring and summer, it's run amok with tourists reveling in "Northern California lifestyle" and organic goods. When they bring their screaming kids with them, it's even worse. The experience isn't a fun one - there are just too many people and you begin to wonder if it's worth paying the market's inflated prices. $5 for a bunch of strawberries in May? Really? No thanks, I'll buy them in Chinatown for $2.

But then there are the quieter seasons, when it's just locals who show up and the end of summer harvests begin to come in, that the market reveals its charms and the experience is pretty awesome. The ferry building market in the fall makes me feel like a kid in a candy store (not like the brat above, though). The colors and flavors are really something - it's as though all the activity, sun and energy of the summer has concentrated in produce that's ripe, delicious and visually appealing.

Colorful heirloom and other specialty tomatoes are wrapping up their season. Juicy peaches and plums the size of your full hand sit in huge piles, waiting to be taken home and eaten. Even the carrots show up in a fun array of shapes and colors. . .

It's still a bit too pricey to do all of your grocery shopping there, but there is a great selection of local produce and foodstuffs. And you're supporting local producers. Think of it as your charitable - and tasty - deed for the weekend. So, if you live in or near SF and you haven't been to the farmers market yet, try to make it there this fall. It's well worth the trip - and waking up before noon on a Saturday!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Dave Makes Yummy Pizza

My boyfriend has brought many wonderful things into my life. Superpoke!, a domain name, and Dave's pizza are three particular additions that come to mind. The first two aren't edible. So I'll tell you a bit about the third.

Dave makes delicious pizza. He makes it at home, it's fast and fairly foolproof, it's rectangular instead of round, and the best part is that you can mix and match whatever toppings you want.

We had a particularly delicious version of his quick-rise, quick-bake pizzas last weekend. It starred an unusual little Japanese mushroom, maitake. It's also called Hen of the Woods but that just sound strange. It doesn't really taste like chicken - although it is a bit woody. On a crispy, slightly risen pizza dough and with Gruyere, it's really delicious.

The recipe below is Dave's, and you can read more about his pizza - and other food-related escapades - on his own site. The only two things I'd note in this recipe:
1. Take care and bake the pizza on a silpat baking sheet. Don't use a metal baking tray if you can help it - it can make the dough come out soft or even soggy if you're not careful.
2. If you don't have a fancy stand dough mixer, use your hands and combine the ingredients in the same order listed below. Lightly knead the dough together, watch this for technique. Make sure your yeast is well dissolved and gets evenly distributed when you add it!

You won't get to enjoy it with Dave and Annika's hilarious company, but at least you'll get to nom some tasty pizza. . .

Dave's Maitake and Gruyere Pizza


1 lb. maitake mushrooms

1 large leek, thinly sliced

1 cup aged Gruyere cheese

1 clove garlic

2 cups bread flour

1 package active dry yeast

3/4 cup warm water

2 tsp. sugar

1 tsp. salt

2 tsp olive oil + extra


Dissolve 1 tsp. sugar in warm water. Add yeast; allow to bloom, 2-3 minutes.

In a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment place flour, salt, remaining sugar, and olive oil. Set mixer to low and allow dry ingredients to combine before adding bloomed yeast. Add slowly until the dough forms into a ball. Punch dough down into a flat disc; cover and allow to rise for 15-20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Slice mushrooms, garlic, and leek and sautee in a cast iron skillet until softly wilted. Stretch the pizza dough into a rectangle enough to fill a 9×13″ Silpat sheet. Cover with sauteed vegetables and grated Gruyere; bake directly on the Silpat (i.e., not in a baking sheet) for 7-10 minutes or until crust is crispy. Allow to cool for 2-5 minutes and serve.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Wierdest Food Experience: Zanzibar

I've done a lot of entries on some of my favorite food experiences over the last year or so. I eat and enjoy a lot of food. Rarely, there's a genuinely bad food experience too.

But I haven't shared my weirdest food moment. From my annals of memorable eats, alongside memories of beautiful ambiance and delicious flavors, what's enthralled me at the same time that it's turned my tummy a touch queasy? Bizarre and fascinating - but not quite gross?

The title goes to the open air seafood market in Stone Town, Zanzibar. Here, in one of the prettiest little spots on earth, is also one of the strangest food experiences I've had.

The festivities run almost every night during the week in a little city square. Right next to here, the island's dhows dock after early mornings at sea, where local fishermen pull up nets full of sea goodies. And at night, when some goods have been sold to local restaurants and prepared as meals at home, the remaining are curried, grilled, smoked or served raw to locals and tourists alike.

The ambiance at the market is heady. It's pitch black, the sky is full of stars, and all around the market are little kerosene and electric lamps emitting a faint golden glow onto rough wooden tables. People are everywhere, pushing and shuffling through the spaces between tables. Swahili, French, English, Italian, Arabic fly around. Some tables carry crafts and souvenirs for the foreigners. But others, the majority really, are laden with more fish, prawns, squid, crabs, octopus tentacles and fried foods than you can imagine. In the distorting light of the lanterns, it can look like the table tops are alive with creatures from the sea.

It made my stomach churn at first. Bargaining with wiry fishermen over sea carcasses, so close to where the things were just alive and swimming. But once I got past it and ordered my first bite - the sea food here is really fresh and delectable!

How does it work? You walk around and bargain with each vendor for what you'd like. And given that you probably won't speak Swahili, just accept the fact that you're going to pay double what the Zanzibari next to you will. But at least you can probably afford it. A grilled octopus tentacle, with fresh sea salt, chili powder and lime will set you back about $4. Try the fish fritters too - they're deep fried and delicious. And seasoned with some of the island's famous spices. . .

Take some strategic advice: go to the stalls near the water, with the most traffic. The guys towards the back have slow turnover and you may end up with a squid skewer leftover from the day before. Don't rush to buy everything the first time you see it either. Mosey, meander among the tables and see what you like. And if you can deal with watching an octopus get pulled from a bucket and chopped up just behind the grill - order right on the spot to guarantee the freshest piece!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Sushi Spot: Okoze

Sushi is a sacred thing in SF.

Most of my friends are fanatics for it, and they have their preferences. City natives tend to claim their favorite spots, the secret sushi joint that concocts delicious rolls and offers something new. There is certainly no shortage of restaurants to choose from, from the high-end and hard to access Kiss Sushi to hole in the wall places near the wharves.

I'm putting my own stake in the ground and proclaiming that my favorite raw fish fix comes from Okoze Sushi
in Russian Hill.

Try to get a seat at the sushi bar if you've got a small party and want some entertainment. The sushi chefs behind the bar move fast, and are fun to watch. They may bring out a live fish or two though, so be forewarned. But at least you'll know your sushi's fresh!

Have a glass of the house plum wine when you get there too - it's delicious. Their scallop rolls - spicy and not - are really tasty and usually involve two types of scallop (sea and bay). in Russian Hill. Ok, so it's only a 5 minute walk from my apartment. It's further - and better - than Sushi Groove, which is only 3 minutes. I love most things about the place, from the friendly, neighborly service, to the delicious rolls to the ambiance of this Japanese nook. The toro is rich and delicious, melts on your tongue. And order the rainbow roll too to get a good survey of the fish on order.

When you're finished, make sure to stop at Swenson's down Hyde Street for dessert!

1207 Union Street (at Hyde)
San Francisco, CA 94109

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


I was out with my friend Emily this weekend and we ended up at Amelie, catching up on old times with some quality wines and company. It was one of those spontaneous discourse sessions - the kind you'll want to remember if you get old. The evening's nostalgia inspired more than just one blog entry.

I've been there before and its actually one of my favorite wine spots in SF. The wine selection is good, and they don't over-do the California thing. You'll find plenty of vino from Europe on the list. Don't miss the Gewurtzraminer - a bit fizzy and not too sweet, definitely delicious. And the menu is pretty sweet - try some of the goat cheese and honey crostini with your glass.

You'll also find plenty of boys from Europe behind the bar. Did I mention that one of the selling points it the charming, sweet and metro attractive wait staff?

Amelie's definitely got ambiance going for it. Its a bit more upscale and high energy than Hidden Vines or Bar Johnny, and gets so busy during happy hour that its standing room only. But you won't mind - pretty people fill the place up and you may meet someone new and exciting! Just one warning - the bathroom door doesn't lock.

1754 Polk Street @ Washington
San Francisco

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Uganda Highlights: The Rolex

Matoke never grew on me while I was in Uganda. I defer to a colleague's description - no matter how often I tried it, or what sauces it came with, it still tasted like "musty socks." I know this may be a hard thing to hear for any Ugandan, for whom the yellow mush is comfort food.

But there's another Ugandan specialty that is worth writing home about: the rolex. No, it's not a fancy watch. The local name for "rolled eggs," it's street food, made of eggs scrambled with random veggies, lots of grease, and rolled into a chapati. Some claim it originated just 8 years ago at Makerere University, but it's a national dish by now; we found it all the way in the southwest reaches of Uganda.

I had it 3 or 4 times while I was in Uganda last month, and each time it hit the spot in the way that a bacon cheeseburger or rava dosa usually only can for me. Maybe it's because we were starving, sweaty and tired after being "in the field" when we ate these. Maybe it was the special seasoning of Ugandan dust and old pan grease that drips out the end of the chapati on that last bite.

Whatever the reason, it's a pretty special thing.
David will tell you that himself.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Gravalax, Uganda style ?

I can't say I know much about Scandinavian cooking, but I'm generally a fan of gravalax. With its light dill, coriander and sugary-brined flavors, it's got more to entertain tastebuds than your average lox. Seafood "cooked" without heat seems to be a favorite of mine (check out the earlier post on ceviche). Anyway, since salmon seems to be easy to find this summer, I experimented with a few online recipes a few weeks ago with some success.

It helped that the latest Saveur was an issue dedicated to the art of gravalax. With pictures that tantalizing, it was hard not to try making the stuff at home!

It was an amusing coincidence, then, when just a week later, I found myself halfway around the world in the heart of Africa - Kampala, Uganda to be exact - and gravlax appeared on the dinner menu! With a Ugandan twist, mind you - this wasn't your Scandinavian grandma's brined fish. Actually, the appetizer was a crocodile gravalax. I can't say it was delicious, but it was definitely. . . interesting. Chewy and a bit like chicken, with a funky aftertaste. Maybe that was a bit of Nile flavoring?

Props to the chefs at Emin Pasha's Fez restaurant (in Kampala) for putting such an audacious 'fusion' dish on their menu. And proving that refined culinary adventures can be had in even the far reaches of the world. . .

Friday, June 13, 2008

A French Fry Tour of SF

French fries are amazing. Simple, diverse, sinfully fried, and incredibly unhealthy these little golden bites are high up on my list of comfort foods. I've got two french fry havens you really must try here in San Francisco. And it's not an obvious list - so don't expect to read about Frijtz!

The first I found unexpectedly at my neighborhood bar, Bar Johnny. They're these delightlfully crispy garlic truffle fries. I like my fries cut thin and crispy, and these really are. Plus they have this awesome mushroomy taste and smell. Just don't plan on making out with anyone after you eat a bowl (most likely two) of them. You can find me here on a random weeknight, gossiping with girlfriends, sipping a spicy shiraz, and chowing on these.

The second dish of french fries is a twist on a North African flavor profile which I love - smoked chillis and harissa. Tucked into the side dish listing at Nua on some lucky weekend evenings, these harissa fries are awesome. They're also cut thin and fried crip, Belgian style - but they're also sprinkled in a smokey-sweet paprika and come served up with a harissa aioli that makes my mouth want to sing. In deference to Nua's windows, I resisted the urge! But these fries are worth a repeat visit.

Just remember to go for a long run after you eat all of these. . .

Bar Johnny
2209 Polk St
San Francisco
(415) 268-0140

550 Green St
San Francisco
(415) 433-4000

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

DC Highlight: Palena Cafe

I lived in DC a few years ago and still remember how hard it was to find good restaurants. There were decent places, but the real gems were few and far between - and generally really pricey. Restaurant Week rarely generated much to look forward to. But I discovered a few cool places on a recent trip. Maybe I wasn't originally looking in the right places, or maybe it's a testament to how the city's changing. Either way, I thought I'd share one of the dining highlights of my visit.

Tucked into the Cleveland Park netherlands of DC, Palena Cafe is worth a trip up the metro and towards the Zoo. Go for dinner with friends, dress low key and brace yourself for simple and tasty classic fare. The Cafe doesn't take reservations, unlike the slightly more upscale dining room in the back. It's helped change opinions about the DC dining scene.

But the menu is worth a wait - ordinaries like burgers and pasta or roast chicken take on a slightly magical taste with help from the little elves back in the kitchen. Make sure you order the fries - and expect to relish the crispy, if a touch unhealthy, bites. The place even has an "only-in-DC" story - owners Frank Ruta and Anne Amernick met while cooking in the White House.

Palena Cafe's specialties are its burger and roast chicken. It's elegant and refined, but casual - sneakers and jeans are welcome in the environs of leather stuffed bar stools and real silverware Beware that the chicken takes 45 minutes and plan to sample the worthwhile appetizers while you wait. Wait staff service was not a highlight of our experience, but that might be because we're spoiled here in San Francisco. The prices are also reasonable - most plates are within the $10-15 range. So sample as much as you can!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Indo Snack Attack: Roomali

I have a new favorite sandwich shop. It's not what you think - no mouth watering kosher deli, not an italian hogie joint. It's actually Indian. I know, I'm still a bit surprised at that too. Roomali specializes in wraps of Indian flavor, rolled into - you guessed it - a roomali roti. They're scrumptious. Too bad the NYT's Julia Moskin missed this jewel among sandwich shops.

The only drawback? It's nestled in midtown New York, all the way across the country.

Roomali rotis, fyi, are a special type of roti that's large and super thin, almost like a handkerchief. Roomali makes theirs a bit thicker, just a touch thicker and chewier - and certainly more flavorful - than a burrito tortilla. For you brave folk, you can try to make these at home using this recipe, but half the secret's in your roti throwing technique - you may need this instructional video too.

But the real magic here is in Roomali's sandwich fillings. They're unusual - egg and reshmi kebab, chicken tandoori, chickpeas and potatoes, super spicey paneer. So many to choose from! I recommend the kebab, and the chili paneer ones. Each is accompanied by the crunch of raw onions and tomatoes. And some flaming cilantro sauce coupled with cooling raita too. A veritable Indian meal rolled into one. Not to mention, the menu is vegetarian friendly.

A wrap will set you back about $4, and theyre small enough that you'll want 2. Feeling really nostalgic for India? Get a glass of chai with it too. . . and you can practic your Hindi in Roomali's Curry Hill neighborhood too!

97 Lexington Ave
New York, NY 10016
(212) 679-8900

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

NY vs SF Round 2: Spice Shops?

This round isn't terribly fair. My favorite spice store in the whole wide world is in midtown Manhattan. It's called Kalustyan's and its the stuff of culinary fairytales. Jars of every type of dried fruit or nut you can think of - Turkish Almonds, Tamari Almonds, California almonds, guava, kiwi, Medjool dates. The list goes on. And then rows upon rows of any oil you could desire to cook with, all the Indian and Middle Eastern spice or lentil or grain you could ask for. Jars of Indian pickles, enough to make Salman Rushdie happy. Arcane japanese chili threads on your recipe list? Kalustyans has them.

And that's just downstairs. Upstairs has another entire floor of delights. There are cooking vessels from various corners of the world - copper kadais and clay tajines. Hookahs if you need one. And an array of dried teas so vast, any Englishman would feel right at home (they have over 180 varieties).

The deli upstairs at Kalustyans is pretty special too. You'll get some middle eastern and Armenian specialties, like Mujhadarra, a curried lentil dish, delicious falafel and mouth-watering dolmades. Eat there and eat often - for just $7, you'll get enough food to keep yourself fed for days!

I haven't found anything that can come close to comparing in San Francisco. Any of you Bay Area buffs out there know of something I've missed??

123 Lexington Ave
New York, NY 10016

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

NY vs. SF Round 1: Pizza

New York versus San Francisco. It’s a contentious, polarizing debate. Two different cities, opposite sides of the country, totally distinct vibes. I have a love affair with both. In the realm of food especially. New York has a vast array of restaurants and a meld of world cuisines. You can find just about anything there at any hour. San Francisco fare is fresh, cutting edge, healthy – although there’s less of it and perhaps less selection. And while I love my SF taquerias, I definitely still miss my New York pizzerias.

But all is not lost! You don’t have to give up beautiful weather, Tahoe and a (more) gorgeous city for perfect pizza. Where to go in SF to quench that craving for a piping, crispy, mouth-watering pie? Pizzeria Delfina, near Dolores Park in the Mission, is a nice place to start.

The lines, especially on weekends, are annoying. But the fare is worth it (if you’re waiting less than an hour at least. Nothing except Mama’s is worth waiting longer than that). Delfina’s magic lies mainly in the dough. It’s slightly crispy, delightfully chewy and doesn’t get soggy under the weight of tomato sauce and chunky topics. Most of Delfina’s pies also showcase a delicious tomato sauce as a base, which is tangy and rich.

The Salsiccia pizza is a classic – pork sausage with fennel, cheesy mozzarella, pan tossed red bell peppers to add a bit of crunch. Worth getting an extra pie to take home for the next day’s hangover. I was less a fan of the clam pizza – too fishy tasting for my taste. It was like having a piece of a salty lagoon on a pizza pie, if you’re into that. One of the Delfina special pie that day, Speck Pie, was a white pizza that offered an unusual combination of flavors – spring garlic, leeks and harder Italian cheeses with some prosciutto on top. Check out the menu for other cool topping combos.

So, while I fully plan on enjoying a slice or two of New York style heaven during my visit to the Big Apple this weekend, Delfina should be a nice surrogate for the rest of you staying back in Baghdad by the Bay. . . Just don't park in this dude's garage.

Pizzeria Delfina
3611 18th Street
San Francisco

(photo credit: Nik)

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Culinary Improv Pt. II: Meat Rubs & Special Sauce

I'm in this phase of cooking on weeknights. I find catharsis and relaxation after a long work day in the kitchen. It's also an opportunity to be creative that work may not provide. That said, it's got to be a fairly fast cooking process because I get bored and tired easily. Dinner at 10pm? Might as well order my favorite neighborhood takeout!

Finding recipes to follow was a good start, but I find that often these took significantly longer than the prep time indicated. So time to get serious and learn some basic cooking techniques. The following recipe is an amalgam of what I've learned about pairing flavors, cooking pork - and making interesting sauces.

I'm curious as to whether this bears replication. I've only made it once but if any of you venture it and it comes out alright, let me know! We may have a bonafide recipe on our hands . . .

(Thanks to my personal photographer for the pic)

So heres the story behind the flavors. Pork chops and apple sauce is one of my favorite comfort foods. So I know that apples and pork go well together. But to keep the sauce from getting too sweet, I wanted something tangy to cut it. Like dijon mustard. And to give it an extra kick and sophistication, a mysterious element, I thought it'd be fun to add some bourbon to the mix. And since I'm Indian and you can never have too much masala, some old cinnamon-clove-ginger-chilli masala sounded like a nice addition ;o) May not make total sense, but that was basically my thought process (BTW Gray Kunz's book on the Elements of Taste is a good starting point with pretty pics for learning this)

The recipe itself? Well, it involved pork as you might have guessed. . .

1/2 lb pork tenderloin
2 tbsn mustard
1 tbsn crushed bay leaves
1.5 tbsn fennel
salt & pepper to season
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1 tbspn butter (melted)

1 medium shallot
1 tbsn butter
1.5 red apples finely diced
1 tbsn dijon mustard
2 tbsn bourbon
4 cloves
1 tspn cinnamon
2 tspn diced ginger
1 tspn crushed red pepper
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
salt to taste

1. Preheat oven to 470F
2. Wash and trim the pork. Season with salt and pepper. Mix bay leaves, fennel, mustard in a small bowl. Rub onto pork, coating evenly on all sides. Leave in fridge for at least an hour if you can.
3. In a hot cast iron pan with a drizzle of olive oil, sear the meat for about 2 minutes on each side.
4. Place in oven, still in pan, for 10-15minutes until meat is just short of done.
5. As meat cooks, in a separate saucepan over medium heat, melt butter and add diced shallots.
6. Add apples and ginger, cook for 2 minutes. Add mustard, cloves, cinnamon, red pepper.
7. After 1 minute, add bourbon. Then add stock and bring to a boil.
8. Reduce heat to low and simmer, letting sauce slow cook and reduce to desired thickness. Allow to cool slightly and add salt to taste.
9. When pork is almost - but not quite - finished, removed cast iron pan from oven with mitts. In a flat plate, rolls bread crumbs with melted butter. Using tongs, transfer pork and coat in bread crumbs evenly, turning repeatedly.
10. Return pork to cast iron pan and place back in oven. Continue baking until finished and panko has turned golden and crispy (another 5 mins or less).
11. Allow meat to cool a few minutes. Slice into medallions and serve with sauce poured on top!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Culinary Improv & Cream Sauces

Learning to "wing it" when you cook is an important skill. Not only can it cut down cooking time, but when done properly, it also requires you to master the finer principles of cooking - pairing flavors, learning basic culinary techniques, thinking creatively about food. I'm not very good at it myself but I'm learning. Rarely does the resulting product warrant praise, so I want to share one of my few improv victories - a tasty cream sauce with artichokes and lemon pepper.

The inspiration for this concoction? 45 minutes to make a meal, a bag of penne in the cupboard, and two lemons about to spoil in my fridge. Nothing especially poetic. Let's also toss in the fact that it's citrus season and I'm generally a fan of making food with seasonal relevance. And that sauces, I've discovered, are quick and easy and can make a boring meal delicious and elegant. They're a fast way to jazz up frozen meats or pasta into a meal worth eating at a proper table with a glass of wine.

So on to this delicious cream sauce. I can't claim it's healthy, but it's pretty tasty. The recipe is below. But first, a few of my observations on sauce making technique. For one, shallots and butter and maybe a touch of garlic or other bulby flavors (like onions or leeks) are a good starting point to just about any sauce. Especially if you're making one with cream, where the flavors are often pretty light and delicate, this first step can add a nice depth of flavor. Next, simmering your cream is important but don't let it simmer for two long or you can seriously over-thicken your sauce. I actually like to cut my cream with low fat milk, which helps make the sauce thinner.

2 tbspn butter
1/4 pint heavy cream
1/4 pint low fat milk
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
3 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 can artichokes, drained and diced
2 tbspn thyme, finely chopped
1 tbspn sage, finely chopped
lemon zest from 1 large lemon
1-2 tbspn capers
5 tbspn grated parmesan cheese
2 tbspn crushed black pepper
salt to taste

1. Melt butter over medium heat, add shallots and brown. 1 minute later, add garlic.
2. Add cream and milk and raise to a simmer, stirring constantly
3. Add diced artichokes, sage and thyme, and pepper
4. After 1-2 minutes, add lemon zest
5. Continue simmering for 6-7 minutes, stirring often so sauce does not stick and burn
4. Add capers and parmesan cheese. Reduce heat.
5. Continue simmering until sauce reaches your desired thickness.
6. Salt to taste and serve over pasta, chicken breasts, etc.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Go to Wine Country, Try the Eggs Benedict. . .

NorCal's wine country has more redeeming features than fabulous wine and The French Laundry. I actually figured this out back in October but am somehow just getting around to sharing the news. Sorry for the slight delay. . .

My last visit to wine country involved an overzealous friend and a 6:45am wakeup call. Since we'd gotten up at such a atrociously early time, and few wineries are open to serve wine for breakfast, we decided to hit up the best meal of the day in Napa. A quick blackberry search (boy did that make us feel baller) for "Eggs Benedict" and "Napa" revealed one Alexis Baking Company (ABC) & Cafe.

There was something magical about the breakfast that that fateful search led us to. . .

Maybe it was the absurdly beautiful scenery of Napa vines in fall colors. Those reds, oranges and yellows, perfectly trellised and glittering with some strange silver threads (to scare birds?) were poetic enough to trump a New England color change.

Or maybe it was the prospect of the awesome wines we would go on to taste that afternoon (Grgich Hills and Stags Leap, among others were highlights - perhaps to be discussed in a future post). And there would be many.

But one way or the other, that breakfast at ABC Cafe is still one of the best ones I remember having since moving out here. In truth, the credit probably goes to Alexis and her kitchen staff directly. The eggs benedict was amazing - please do try it if you can. The portions are huge, so beware that you can probably order one dish for two people. The eggs are huge and poached to perfection. The bacon was just crisped and not too greasy. And the hollandaise was flavorful - touches of dill and paprika were well paired. As a seasonal complement, with the harvest just ended, we had some juicy wine grapes as a garnish on our plates too.

You'll have to take a little detour to find this place - it's nestled on Third Street in sleepy downtown Napa. But especially if you can beat the lines that begin to form outside by 10am (as we were leaving), eggs benedict fans will find it well worth the search.

Alexis Baking Company & Cafe
1517 Third Street
Downtown Napa

(Btw, photo credit for each of these gorgeous shots goes to my photographer friend Tushar!)

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Magical Murugan

I was in Chennai recently for work. After a long day of meetings, my mind was exhausted from talking and listening - and I was craving some good old South Indian comfort food. Luckily, Chennai is just the right city for such a craving. An economist of repute, with whom we met that day, recommended a little coffee shop called Murugan Idli Shop.

The unassuming little cafe, tucked into a corner store front on North Usman Road (although there are 4 other locations in town), isn't much to look at. But the joint has been around for over 15 years. It's humble in trappings - but for visitors to South India looking for some 'authentic' local flavor, that may make it all the more appealing. Chennai residents certainly think so, as I'm told that all the local branches are packed during lunch time and on the weekends.

Murugan specializes in South Indian snack foods - idlis (steamed rice cakes with various flavors), uttapam (a flatbread cooking on the griddle, made from slightly soured batter), vadas (fried lentil cakes), tamarind rice, yogurt rice - and these delicious chutneys that accompany each dish. The food is served piping hot, freshly cooked, entirely vegetarian. And it is so, so tasty. Mom, you may not like to hear it, but their idlis are actually better than yours.

One of my favorite parts of Murugan? Everything is served on banana leaves. Not only do you get the authentic South Indian dining experience, but you also get the gratification of knowing you're being environmentally friendly! To further add to the shop's authenticity - you'll be washing your hands pre and post meal at the communal wash basin with the best of them, and you're lucky if your waiter speaks any English. But the fare here is so delicious, Murugan is a great opportunity and incentive to learn a little bit of Tamil -
"innumonu , dhayavu saidhu" (one more please!).

Murugan Idli Shop
46/13 North Usman Road, T.Nagar
Tamil Nadu

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

GlobalGlutton Gets Tech Savvy

I am the least techy person I know. I thought getting a blog up and running was impressive enough, given my relative ignorance of IT-related things.

Which is why it's a huge feat that I've managed to get a unique domain name for this blog. So to all my avid fans, revel in the fact that you can now just type into your browsers and enjoy my culinary musings. Blogger, I love you but your blog addresses are just too complicated.

Of course, I won't claim sole credit for the accomplishment. Special thanks to my high fiving code monkey for helping make this happen.

Monday, February 11, 2008

From Karnataka with Love: Mysore Pak

Karnataka is home to many amazing Indian phenomena: Bangalore's hi tech revolution, ancient buildings, the Mysore maharajas - perhaps most notably, Mysore Pak. This amazing Carnatic dessert is delectable - sweet, buttery and rich. Like an Indian shortbread, but better. Just don't pay too much attention to what goes inside. . .

That said, the best Mysore Pak in the country, I will venture, is not in Karnataka. It's made in a sweet shop in Chennai called Sri Krishna Sweets. It's utterly amazing, worth the trip out of state for a taste. And if you're only in Chennai for a short while, as I was - don't worry. Sri Krishna now has a stall in the domestic airport where you can buy a quarter kilo of this great stuff for just 50 INR (about $1.50).

Because the recipe is fairly simple, the quality of ingredients that you use is critical. Mysore pak's main element is besan flour - a fine chick pea flour that you're likely to find only in an Indian grocery store. Also, do not cut back on the amount of ghee used in here. No substituting with apple sauce or margerine or Crisco - just pure, unadulterated clarified butter. As much as your arteries may cringe when you're making this dish, just keep in mind that serving sizes are meant to be tiny - bite size. So enjoy it in moderation!

Here's a recipe that I've borrowed and modified from Mahanandi:
1 cup Bengal Gram (sift and aerate to remove lumps)
1 1/2 cups Sugar
1 cup Ghee (at room temperature)
1/2 cup Water
2 pods cardamom (crushed)

1. In a big sturdy pot, take one cup of water, add sugar and bring them to boil till the sugar syrup reaches one string consistency. Reduce the heat.
2. Now pour the ghee and besan flour in a steady stream into the sugar syrup while stirring. Stir constantly!
Cook till the mixture becomes slightly frothy, thickens and the ghee begins to leave the sides of the pan.
4. Add in the cardamom powder.
5. Spread out on a greased pan immediately. Even and level out with a spatula. When firm, but still warm, cut the mysore pak into squares or diamond shapes.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Best Drink Ever

India is home to the best non-alcoholic beverage ever. Fresh lime soda, or nimbu-pani, is light, refreshing, delicious - and quintessentially Indian. It's even got a historical legacy - K.T. Acharya, author of the A Historical Dictionary of Indian Food, claims that it was ""the supreme quencher of colonial thirst" in India. Forget those brand name sodas or mango juice - fresh lime was here first. It's easy to make, tasty - and it continues to be the everyday beverage of choice.

One sip and you can understand why. The drink is a peculiar blend of tart and luscious, sweet and salty - and if you get it with soda, fizzy and smooth. Don't be fooled by the simple title either - there's a great deal of choice in how one orders a fresh lime. Are you a salty or sweet drinker - do you dare to mix both? Or are you such a devoted drinker that you can handle it with sulfuric black salt or chili powder? Would you take it with soda or straight water? And of course, ice or no ice? I'm a "soda, salty sweet with black salt please, no-ice" fresh lime connoisseur myself.

Fresh lime virgins may liken the drink to American lemonade - but the metaphor doesn't do this beverage justice. Lemonade is overpoweringly sweet and invokes images of Grandma's front porch and a plate of country cookies. The fresh lime is subtle and sophisticated - teasing your tastebuds. And in pairings, it's remarkably versatile. You can take it alone as a non-alcoholic aperitif in an elegant high glass, or straight out of a plastic disposable as you eat idli off of a banana leaf.

One thing's for sure - while the drink has been around a long time on the subcontinent, I've never seen it served up elsewhere. I think it's time for a little culinary exportation. . . For anyone interested, here's a recipe:

2 tbsp. simple syrup (made by first boiling together equal parts sugar and water,
then letting it cool)
1 1⁄2 tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice (persian limes work best)
3⁄4 cup soda water
1/2 tbsp. salt
Lime slice

1. Fill a glass with ice cubes, then add simple syrup and lime juice. Add soda water and salt. Stir well, then serve garnished with a lime slice, if you like.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


Mumbai natives will hardly find this review surprising. They've been fans of Indigo for years. But since I visit the place every time I'm in town, I wanted to get it up on here too.

Full of pretty people and tasty food, the restaurant offers Western fare with a creative twist. Located in Colaba, one of Mumbai's most happening neighborhoods, Indigo gives you a taste for how India's changing - and why this is a metropolitan city in its own right. Dining in this city is hardly just about avoiding Delhi belly - you can have a fabulous meal and experience too.

The ambiance alone is worth the trip - the restaurant remains a hang out for the city's young metropolitan crowd. Uber chic is the theme du jour. Every day. Expect to see everyone from supermodels to investment bankers there on a weekend evening. Admittedly, that might sound like typical New York - but the fact that that crowd's gathered in Mumbai, half a world away, makes it slightly more unusual than you'd expect. And the decor is beautiful - cool whites and brown, unusua
l flowers accentuate a modern aesthetic.

And if you're there after dinner, the joint turns into a fabulous cocktail bar. You can rub elbows with Mumbai's beautiful people - with a seasonal cocktail to boot.

Food here is awesome, and the menu's full of great international fusion dishes. For lunch I was spoiled with a chestnut and pumpkin pasta, covered in nut pesto and sauteed squash. Eating out in Mumbai rarely involves actual Indian food - and with choices like some of those on Indigo's menu, I understand why. If you're there while the beet and coconut soup is on the menu, try it; may sound weird but it's delicious. And, after traveling halfway around the world, I still found a pastry chef who's skills are worthy of a gold star - Suresh Kumar, thank you for your creative and yummy cappuccino souffle!

4 Mandlik House
Colaba, Mumbai

Saturday, January 19, 2008

First Worst Meal in SF

I had my first worst meal in San Francisco last week. It was so off-putting that it's taken me a week to blog about it. (That and a little trip to India that's kept me busy, but we'll get to that).

The most disappointing aspect of this meal, though, was the high expectations I had going into it - Thrillist featured the place as its hot new restaurant recommendation for the week. Thrillist overhyped;
Sangha underdelivered.

Nothing about the place, which blends Scandinavian interior design with Latin and Japanese fusion food, was great. Thrillist promises "strength in synergy," but instead diners get a chilly dining room that looks unfinished, and tasteless (or at worst, bad tasting altogether) food. The chefs may need to revisit their menu.

We tried every single specialty roll on the menu but couldn't find a single one that was worth the trip back out to Glen Park for a second serving. Even the self-proclaimed "Ecstasy" roll, which combines maguro and binchi, was disappointingly bland - and it was the best of the lot. My vegetarian friend had the worst luck - her best roll was a meager combo of rice and diced fruits. Mango, cucumber and rice do not an enticing fusion meal make! The spider roll was a disaster entirely. The seaweed wrap on the outside had such a strong fishy taste, we couldn't finish more than two pieces for fear that the softshell crab inside the roll had spoiled.

That said, it's interesting to see Sangha get such positive reviews on Yelp - maybe we just had a particulary bad experience. But even if that's true, it's not a good sign that this brand new restaurant, just 4 weeks post-opening, is struggling to capture the gastronomical hearts of diners. More likely than not, Sangha's popularity is due more to the dearth of Japanese dining options in Glen Park.

The highlight of our meal at Sangha, if I had to pick anything? The fact that Gialina's is just down the street, and you and your date can order one of their divine nutella and marscapone dessert pizzas to wash out Sangha's sad flavors.

678 Chenery Street
(between Carrie St & Diamond St)

Monday, January 14, 2008

Sweet Spot

I am not a chocolate lover. Those words may strike some of you as sacrilegious, but it's the truth. The good news, though, is that the fact that I'm featuring a chocolate shop means it's damn delicious.

This isn't some mass-manufactured, individually-wrapped and nationally shipped Ghirardelli either. The name's XOX Truffles, and their little truffle bites are divine.

Tucked into a little Fisherman's Wharf - North Beach store front at 754 Colombus Avenue, you'd be lucky to accidentally stumble across this place - although that's how I somehow found it. The yellow sign in the window read "rated one of the 7 best chocolates in North America," and my inner foodie was intrigued.

XOX specializes in little, bite-size chocolate truffles that come in 27 flavors. Truffles, the sophisticated pinnacle of chocolate making, have been mastered by chocolatier John Marc Gorce. For the traditionalists, the classic amaretto and dark chocolate ones are well suited. Not too sweet, these chocolates are smooth and buttery, a dreamy consistency. But they don't pack the overwhelming sweetness that turns me off of Godiva or Ghirardelli's versions. For the more adventurous, the Early Grey, Red Wine and a l'Orange are worth trying. The flavors are subtle and complement And at 75 cents a bite, you can sample as many as you like.

I may become a chocoholic yet. Let me try the other 22 flavors and then get back to you on that. . .

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

These Ain't Your Mama's Eggs

I may be the last person in SF to discover how amazing Sunday brunch at Foreign Cinema really is, but at least I'm blogging about it.

Foreign Cinema has the best brunch I've had since New York. Better than my typical lazy Sunday Chinese ordering-in. Even better than Universal Cafe. For those of you too lazy to leave your neighborhood on the weekend, this is worth the trip. And for those of you lucky enough to live in the Mission, it's worth fighting you all for a table every Sunday.

Actually, that one of the surprising parts about my visit. Sunday afternoon at 12:30, and we didn't have to wait in line at all for a table for four. Maybe that day was an anomaly. The space is really pretty - a converted cinema space (and they still do foreign film showings, go figure) with high ceilings, wide open spances, an industrial-chic look. And a pretty little patio in the middle for those craving unadulterated SF sun. This is where the pretty people hang.

The Bloody Marys at Foreign Cinema are delightful. Just spicy enough, they're mini works of art. And if you don't like yours with celery, don't worry - there's also an olive, pickled onion and caperberry for you to nibble on.

Try not to get too drunk before eating though, or you'll spoil the best part. The brunch fare at FC is amazing. I kept stealing bites from my friends' baguette French toast. The bread was seriously warm and thick and buttery soft. It was like eating bready creme brulee with a touch of powdered sugar and fruit! I've always through brioche made the best French toast, but this dish singlehandedly changed my mind.

Still, one of my greatest tests for a restaurant menu is whether it can reinvent a classic. And this place certainly has - one bite of their 'scrambled eggs' made that quite clear. These ain't your mama's eggs. They were fluffy and light, with a touch of crumbled goats cheese and lots of this picante green mole sauce. And they topped a crispy fried tortilla, laced with a touch of red mole sauce and refried beans. So good! And quite pretty, too.

Foreign Cinema -
2534 Mission St.