Friday, December 30, 2011

Dungeness Season

It's Dungeness crab season in the Bay Area!

If you're tired if the same old crab cakes, try the House Special Chili Crab at Z&Y Restaurant in Chinatown.

I'll warn your tastebuds: it's pretty spicy. But it's also pretty awesome crab!

655 Jackson St

Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry (almost) Christmas

A San Francisco-style Christmas, from my home to yours ! 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Great SF bites: Mission Cheese

The California Gold grilled cheese at Mission Cheese is amazing.

Various melted flavorful cheeses with fig preserve and prosciutto sandwiched between two thick slabs of De La Fattoria Levain.

So good I couldnt save any for the picture.

Get a nice glass of red to go with - their Periscope Mashup or CTZN Zin are delicious accompaniments. And hang with the pretty Mission people for a few hours.

Mission cheese
736 Valencia St

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Desserts with a view

The secret to great macarons?

1) Measure your ingredients with a scale, not cup measures

2) A convection oven

3) Baking in a kitchen with splendid views!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Bay Area wine lovers, I have a secret. . . shhhhh. . .

Drink great small production wines. Chill in a secret live/work space. Support local wine makers. Impress your friends. Meet Christy!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Living MacTavish

My friend Susan throws amazing house parties.

Those lucky enough to be invited are always delighted by her whimsical, classy and real (read: elegant but unpretentious) style. Everything from her constantly-changing menu of home-cooked multi-course fare to the finer details like cocktail labels made out of vintage tie-on tags. Not to mention her equally enticing mix of friends. She's like Martha Stewart, but way more hip/sophisticated/fab - and less prone to insider trading.

The thing I admire most is that Susan makes it all look effortless. Whether connecting friends from different parts of her life, making oyster shucking look sexy, or whipping up a salt cod brandade using whatever she has on hand, she's a natural at hosting and connecting interesting people. It's no surprise she runs the 'best' PR firm in town.

The good news? You too can aspire to replicate parts of Susan's wonderful style - just check out Living MacTavish. Add it to your blog list - for awesome recipes, trendy style tips, cute home decor and hosting ideas, and really hilarious commentary on what WASPs would - or wouldn't - do.

Monday, August 1, 2011

I Made the Cover of Bon Appetit

The cover of this month's Bon Appetit has the MOST delicious looking pie on it.

I'm often skeptical of the recipes provided in these cooking magazines. They often require a lot more massaging and a few attempts to get right.  This can be particularly true for those recipes involving more intricate dishes.  And this pie looks particularly intricate - it has an italian meringue topping, on top of a home made lime curd with wine-soaked blackberries and made-from-scratch crust.

But, I'm happy to report that I followed the recipe nearly to the letter with very delightful results.  See for yourself!

So go ahead and try this recipe yourselves at home.

The only modifications that I would recommend is perhaps use one fewer yolk in the lime curd if you prefer your curd on the more-sweet-less-eggy side.

Monday, July 18, 2011

I Have Met My Match and its Name is Chocolate Cake

I have been experimenting with chocolate cake recipes for years.  Years. And I don't even like chocolate.  And yet somehow, creating the perfectly rich, dense and moist flour-based chocolate cake continues to elude me.  I have gone everywhere from Food TV to the Joy of Cooking to secret family recipes. Nothing seems to result in a perfect chocolate morsel. Each attempt has resulted in cakes that are close in taste but lacking in appearance, or beautiful to look at but desperately disappointing at first bite.

And so after 6 months of not baking, I regathered my courage and attempted to conquer the chocolate challenge once and for all.  I was armed with a highly rated online recipe, and a very cool new Nordicware mini bundt pan that my friend Melissa got me for my birthday.  The recipe had everything going for it - an unusual aromatic spice to add depth (cardamom), dried fruit to balance the rich chocolate, and three types of chocolate (cocoa, semisweet pieces, and dark pieces).  I tried friendly tips - mixing the cocoa with hot water first to create a paste, soaking the currants in brandy and hot water, greek yogurt and milk to ensure moistness and density, coating the baking pans with flour and butter to ensure the molds made perfect little cakes.

The result was aesthetically pleasing.  The cakes emerged perfectly, no strange sticking or deformities. . . I overconfidently posted to Facebook about my succes. And yet, at first bite. . .the little buggers were so disappointingly dry!  Chocolate cake and I are officially over.  This is one baking challenge that I just can't manage to crack. . .

But I am very open to suggestions.  Have tips? A fool proof recipe?  Please share !

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Get Your SF Pastry Fix

I'm a big, big fan of Tartine Bakery & Cafe in SF.  Nothing novel in this admission - I'm sure I'm not the only person in this city who dreams of those fluffy, buttery croissants or the weekend gougeres that come out of Elisabeth Prueitt's bakery. That said, it's become a veritable nightmare to try and enjoy this spot on weekends, or really at any sane morning hour.  There are throngs of people hanging all over it, lines out the door and down the block, and it's not inconceivable that when you make it to the counter, they're out of the best items.

And so, at long last, I am happy to report that there is a worthwhile pastry alternative in San Francisco.  You can in fact get your pastry fix on without enduring a gauntlet of long lines and crowds. This spot may not have the charm of a french style patisserie, but it offers a more distinctly San Francisco vibe.  It's called Pinkie's Bakery and you absolutely must indulge in their baked goods.  All of them.

The deceptively simple website, slightly sketchy location and somewhat spartan decor at this joint - it's wholesale, a "hipster" bakery if there ever was one - belie a dense menu of rich, buttery, wholesome pastries that will soothe your soul while filling your tummy.

My favorite was their lemon huckleberry poundcake. The gingersnap sammy cookies are also divine. And I'm told their made to order cakes are pretty special too.  Consider one for your next birthday celebration.

And if you need something savory to wash down these baked treasures, here's a double snap - Pinkie's shares a space with Citizen's Band, one of SF's best new brunch spots.  But that's a post for another time . . .

Pinkie's Bakery
1196 Folsom Street
San Francisco, CA 94103

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Guess Where Dinner Was. . .

Behold, a picture of dinner on a recent business trip.  Observe the lovely presentation . . . and the overwhelming number of dishes. Our meal probably kept an entire kitchen full of dishwashers employed.

There are some obvious signs that this was in an Asiatic location. But props if you can name the exact local. . .

Mystery Spot
Somewhere Asiatic

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Pick Cyrus

Move over, Thomas Keller. On a recent overly decadent weekend, Zack and I tried the French Laundry and Cyrus on back to back nights. The French Laundry left very very many things to be desired. Cyrus was a knockout wonderful experience.

This wasn't my first time at Keller's famed Yountville joint. But it will certainly be my last. We arrived for a 7:30pm Saturday evening seating. The restaurant was packed. They have added more table tops than when I was last here, cramming every possible bit of the floor's surface area with a $300 revenue-generating seat. In the center of the room sat a large party. . . with a crying infant. I didn't realize fine dining now comes with a high chair and the soothing sound effects of a screaming child.

And in the back cove, while we picked at the smattering of foraged wild weeds on our measly starter platers, a private party was treated to special deluxe dishes like an entire roast pheasant. Of course, the regular diner can't order this because it's not on the "no-substitution" tasting menu. If you thought you were special because you managed to survive the gauntlet of getting a reservation at TFL - be warned, there's an entirely new hierarchy of ostentation surrounding what you get to eat when you arrive.

Travel over the mountains and into Healdsburg, in the more-understated Sonoma County, however, and you'll be delighted with the best of the fine dining experiences to be found in Wine Country. Cyrus, nestled in the Les Mars Hotel, is lovely. It is fine food at its best, every bite was delectable and delightfully presented. The service and ambiance are elegant but understated. You feel as though you're in Northern California, where casual and polished come together in the best ways possible. And it's all very accessible - would-be diners can make reservations easily over OpenTable rather than wrestling with endlessly busy phone lines, a cold hostess, or elite cardmember concierge services.

I can opine more on specific dishes later, but suffice to say it was all really good. And so tastefully sincere and fresh - none of the ridiculous pomp of bitty foraged weeds and flowers or micro-portions. For now, let's let the main point stand: next time you're planning on a splurge in Northern California's wine regions, pick the local favorite over the staid and dated option. Cyrus is the way to go.

29 North Street
Healdsburg, CA 95448

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Best Dessert in Russian Hill

I've raved about Frascati in Russian Hill before. Everything, from its location on romantic tree and cable-car trimmed Hyde Street, to its consistently mouthwatering dishes (ohhh that brined pork chop. . . ), to its romantic neighborhood-spot vibe, are special.

But let's highlight one particularly scrumptious feature: the superstar on Frascati's dessert list. They call it the "Warm Black and White Chocolate Bread Pudding." It's warm and cozy, sweet and gooey in all the right ways.

We treated ourselves to it again last week when Zack's mom was in town. As the spoon licking and satisfied sighing around the table verified, this dessert is incredible. The fluffy, buttery chocolate bread base is nicely paired with a delicate hazelnut ice cream. Only, the scoop is mountainous and has loads of chocolate and caramel syrup. That takes this dessert from simple comfort food into the realm of over-the-top extravagance that'll remind you of the best cake-and-ice cream combos from your childhood. The only thing missing was sprinkles. . .

Frascati is already my No. 1 recommendation for a special occasion dinner in SF. The bread pudding only underscores the superlative. Don't forget to order it. . . or if you're lucky enough to live in the neighborhood (like I am!), it's worth stopping in just for the dessert.

1901 Hyde Street
San Francisco

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

To forage or. . . NOT to forage

Some dear friends of mine took me on my first food foraging adventure event just before Christmas. You can imagine my excitement - here in Northern California, the epicenter of the local food movement, finding and harvesting your own food is practically the core of culinary truth.

The mission was to harvest large California golden chanterelles - bright precious gems that grow slowly, appearing in the winter months at the foot of oak groves situated at a precise altitude in Northern California. We were searching for the Queen of the Forest, mycological treasure. Visions of idyllic strolls through forest meadows and the rush of finding pristine bundles of golden mushrooms filled my head.

And so we ventured East, over the Bay Bridge and into the far lands past Berkeley. To a San Francisco city girl, we were in lush green hinterlands that further added to the mystique of our purpose. "There be dragons" (or at least, great wild harvests) the signs may as well have said. And we arrived at our destination, which shall remain nameless to preserve this secret mushroom spot for those who so kindly shared it with us that day. Suffice to say, no beaten path can lead you there.

The reality, I must say, was something else entirely. Mushrooms, it turns out, grow in some of the least convenient habitats possible. There were indeed lush green meadows and beautiful live oak tree groves. But to get to them required wading through mud pits and rifling through musty detritus and slimy earth. At points, the paths we chose were so harrowing our shoes, already caked in mud, slipped down treacherous ravines and river beds, threatening to dump us and what few mushrooms we had gathered 30 feet below.

And yet on our group pushed, ever motivated by the prospect of finding a bundle of golden eggs (or mushrooms, as it were). And when you finally spot those deep yellow-orange ears, sprouting from the ground between an age-old oak tree's roots, it's like a drug-induced high. Adrenaline pumps, you dash over and cut them from the ground before others can reach them. And when you find one, there are generally more in the area. Remember that childhood excitement over treasure hunts? It's the same feeling, for adults.

I'm glad I had the experience. But I must admit, there is still something less than glorious about hauling 7 lbs of fungus home only to remove another 2 lbs of caked dirt and decay before you can eat them. There may be an earthworm or small lizard or two, too. And because you can't wash these mushrooms - they become too water logged - prepare yourself for a bit of unpleasant silt in the cooked product. Yuck. Still, if you enjoy mushrooms - rejoice. With the giant haul you'll likely bring home, you'll be eating mushrooms for days. And days.

I'll say the un-sayable: wild harvesting was a great experience. But I would far prefer getting served perfectly cleaned, beautifully prepared chanterelles on a restaurant plate any day. The process of locating, cleaning and cooking this rather dirt-ridden produce is a turn-off. If this makes me a less hardcore foodie, that's fine. They can keep the dirt and earthworms.

Two hours after coming home with our loot, Zack and I stepped into Bi Rite Market and saw a beautiful, pristine bunch of Golden Chanterelles. Selling price: $35/lb. Our day's mushroom haul was worth $250 to someone . . .

So enjoy the trekking and mushroom hunting - but selling your hard-won treasures may be a better post-harvesting option!