Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Grilled Salmon - August 30

Glazed Grilled Salmon

First day of school for Nino! I think we are both a little devastated that the summer is over but what can we do. Just 16 weeks to Christmas vacation!!!

I grilled delicious salmon using a recipe from epicurious. The recipe was so easy, and very tasty. I used Dijon mustard and actually poured in the rice vinegar to the entire marinade. We realized that it incorporated sweet (brown sugar), spicy (mustard), salty (soy) and sour (rice vinegar). Served it with lemon couscous and grilled asparagus.

Also bought some Fritz Chardonnay (Dutton Ranch 2001) - the one we really liked at Bodega Bay. It's currently on sale at Beverages&More, marked down from $25 to $13 because they are changing their label.

Baked Falafel - August 29

Made a batch of Baked Falafel Balls, a recipe from the Whole Foods Market Cookbook. Basically, these are chickpea and bulghur balls mixed with spices, garlic and onion, formed into balls, sprayed with olive oil and baked instead of fried. They came out golden brown, crunchy on the outside but a little dry on the inside. I used the small food processor when I really should have used the big one and so I think the consistency perhaps wasn't as it should be. ( I had to do 2 batches in the small processor). They definitely needed some tahini to go with them; I used salad dressing in my pita falafel sandwich instead.

Would try again to see if consistency was better.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Bodega Bay - August 28

Today was a big day for us - our fifth annual pilgrimage to the Bodega Bay Seafood Art and Wine Festival. The weather could not have been any better - hot and sunny inland, warm and sunny at the coast.... and best of all, no fog! It's finally summer in San Francisco!!

Somehow over the years, this festival, held at a ranch overlooking the coast, grew into an embodiment of our religion - fresh air with beautiful views, laid back, delicious food, great wine and some culture all combined. The past 2 years, it's also been a day of reflection signaling the end of summer and return to school.

Unfortunately, the novelty seems to have worn off and we were quite disappointed this year. Firstly, there was a huge line to get in perhaps because of the great weather (best it's been in all the years we've gone) which meant food lines were long too. While we did have some good wines (Fritz Chardonnay and a cabernet from Jakob Gerhardt who is the wine broker we deal with), the art was not inspiring or very interesting and the food was ok.

We started lunch with the festival's Key Lime Calamari. The calamari is in a key lime batter and deep fried to perfection - not chewy or greasy at all - but perfectly soft and tender. I'm having a harder and harder time eating deep fried foods and while this was good I wasn't as excited as the first time I ate it. Nino, on the other hand said "For fried calamari, this shit is da bomb". I think he liked it.

Next, we had fish tacos - battered cod, deep fried and then served on warm tortillas with cabbage and "special" sauce. These were really good but didn't fill me up; I would have gotten something else to eat but the lines were long at the booths I would have wanted something from, and all the other booths had different variations on the deep fried theme.

As the disappointment set in, we decided to leave and salvage the rest of the day. We headed to "our spot" on the Russian River for a swim and some hanging out on the beach before heading back.

Stay tuned for next year's pilgrimage. Will we go back only to be disappointed again? Do we have our own little Festival? Do we just invite everyone over for wine tasting and steamed crabs? Only time will tell....

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Portland: Brunch at Bijou - August 22

Woke up to more rain this morning, but at least we had our Sunday New York Times with us. We had bought it the night before at Powells on the way home.

Taking our time, we walked over to Bijou, cafe recommened for brunch by our Frommer's Guide. We had to wait a few minutes for a table but seeing the line of people waiting made me think that we must have chosen a good spot to eat. The diner-like restaurant was all hustle bustle with an open kitchen, big baskets of muffins and huge plates of food being delivered to patrons. The Bette's of Portland perhaps?

We ordered tea, and I ordered the Tofu Scramble from the specialty list on the menu, and Nino ordered the Brioche French Toast. We happily read our paper and sipped tea while we waited. As expected, my breakfast was huge! Scrambled tofu in olive oil with parsley was heaped on the plate, served with potatoes and a fig and spice muffin. The tofu was good, the texture a little mealy but the parsley gave it some freshness. The potatoes were good - not greasy, and served with what tasted like an organic or local ketchup. Nino's French Toast was perfectly done and tasted great with fresh blueberry jam. I saved the fig, spice muffin for later due to lack of stomach real estate at the time. When I did have room, it was delicious.

A great place for brunch in Portland!

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Portland: Night on the town - August 21

750 ml

We arrived in Portland, Oregon this afternoon after 3 nights of camping in Crater Lake and Hood River. Portland has much to offer and we tried to see (and eat) as much as possible with the time we had and given the weather; it started raining Saturday evening and rained much of Sunday. We toured the Japanese gardens, Chinese gardens, Halprin Fountains, walked through downtown, the Pearl District and the Northwest District. Also managed to spend hours between Powell's Main Store, Technical Store and Store for Cooks and Gardeners. We did do a little bit of shopping; we couldn't pass up the fact that Oregon has no sales tax!!

Our first stop on the way to dinner was a chic, but very laid back wine bar in the Pearl. 750 ml had leather lounging chairs, booths with red velvet and an industrial feel to it. We sat at the bar and conversed with the bartender and some other Portlanders while sipping a glass of Oregon Pinot Noir. The food looked tempting, including the truffle-scented pomme frites but we decided to move on and see more instead of eating there.

We had heard that Bluehour was a great restaurant and ended up there mostly because we could run from 750ml. We were also looking for some local Oregon fare and this was recommended. By this time the rain was really coming down and we didn't have an umbrella. As it turns out, our meal was incredible!

We didn't have a reservation but were seated in the bar/lounge at a 2 person table where both the bar and full menu are served. The bar area was quite large able to handle people there for happy hour drinks or full dinners. The restaurant and bar were seperated by long black curtains in a high ceiling industrial setting.

Nino ordered a Ginger Caipirinha, a very tart cocktail made with Brazilian cachaça, soda, ginger syrup and sugar and I had a glass of Pinot Blanc. For starters we shared the Heirloom Tomato salad heaped with homemade fresh mozzarella that melts in your mouth. Nino ordered the Sturgeon which was a little tough but neither of us really knew what sturgeon's texture should be. It was very tasty however and we assumed it was cooked correctly. I ordered the Grilled Free Range Chicken which topped Slow Club and Zuni. First the presentation was gorgeous - the chicken was cut in beautiful slices, with the legs bones neatly arranged, and spread out like a fan atop the potatoes. The chicken was served on sauteed radicchio - bitter salad "greens" sauteed to perfection. Here's why the chicken kicked butt: the meat was perfectly juicy and moist with amazing grilled flavor but was not salty at all! This means no brining, yet packed full of moisture and taste! I was impressed.

For dessert we couldn't pass up the panna cotta, a full heavy cream version but 3 things made it outstanding: 1) served with figs 2) served with blackberries 3) served atop a crisp ginger snap which paired excellently with the sweetness.

We had a wonderful leisurely and tasty dinner and as luck would have it, the rain had stopped when we were done.

Geranium - August 17

Gavin is in town and we decide to walk to a neighborhood restaurant for dinner. In February we had gone to Liberty Cafe with him so it was time to try something new. Geranium, a new vegetarian restaurant on Cortland in Bernal Heights got decent reviews in the Chronicle and it was time to check it out ourselves.

Crisp, clean decor, with wooden tables and an open kitchen awaited us. The menu was small, perhaps just 5 main courses to choose from. We started with the wontons and then I had the All American "eat" loaf - a huge plate of bean and lentil meat loaf with garlic mashed potatoes and onion gravy. Texture was good, as was the taste but very nutty and so by halfway through I was done. It was a huge portion. Nino was extremely pleased with his lasagna - spinach, tomatoes and ricotta in a white sauce. (Mains were $11-$15)

Dessert was incredible - a vegan peach and berry cake with berry compote.

The review in the Chronicle mentioned the service as lacking polish which I would agree with. We were asked 4-5 times if everything was ok - a little much. I also heard the server tell the next table about daily specials that we were not privy to.

All in all, the dishes we had were really good but the small menu may hold me back from visiting more often.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Hummus and Eggless Egg Salad

A few people (Erin and Ken) have asked for my Hummus recipe recently. Ken shared in some on the way to Yosemite as a picnic dinner to cut down on time. I have a few different recipes that I've tried and they are all easy and tasty. For picnic dinner that same night I tried a tofu spread recipe that was pretty good. In Montreal, you can get pints of tofu spreads at the local grocery made by Fontaine Sante and packages of Vegepate, two things that I can'tseem to find in California which I find somewhat bizarre.

Plain Hummus
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 cloves minced garlic
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp sesame oil

- puree in food processor with hand mixer
- add water and/or more lemon juice for desired consistency

Spicy Hummus
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
3 tbsp each water and lemon juice
2 cloves minced garlic
1 tbsp sesame oil or 2 tbsp tahini or 2 tbsp peanut butter
1 1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp cayenne or hot sauce
3 tbsp chopped fresh parsley or cilantro (optional)

- puree in food processor (everything except parsley/cilantro)
- if too thick add water until desired consistency
- mix with cilantro

Eggless Egg Salad (Tofu spread)
- recipe from the Mori Nu Tofu website

Chicago: Night on the town - August 13th

Sushi Samba
Sugar: A Dessert Bar

After the meeting was done on Friday, I moved to downtown Chicago to spend the night and check out the town since I had never been there before. Lori was in town, her last weekend before moving to Melbourne (but we'll visit her there!!). I met her and her friends Ian and Jill for drinks, dinner and dessert. We met at Bin36 which seems to be a chain of wine bars in the area (there was one in Lincolnshire!). It was a hip rather retro place with lots of space and what looked like a mix of an after work crowd and tourists. The wine list was extensive and they also offered tastings, glasses and flights of wine. We ordered a bottle of Pinot and sat around and caught up.

We moved on to our dinner spot - a japanese brazilian fusion restaurant called Sushi Samba. The place was a little too chi-chi hip for me - loud music, pretty people, hanging beads everywhere, glass doors and purple lights in the bathroom so you have no idea which is the men's and women's not to mention the bathroom attendants to open the door to your stall, and then turn on the faucet, dispense soap for you and give you a towel when you wash your hands. I'm surprised they didn't offer to wipe my ... never mind. All in all, probably over the top, trying too hard.

We ordered an assortment of dishes to share - not necessarily what I would have ordered if I was alone but some overlap. We started with Tuna Tataki and Samba Tapas. I was expecting Tuna Tataki a la Ebisu but it was basically 4 pieces of seared tuna with salad. It was ok but nothing special. The Samba Tapas were 4 small plates - queso fresca, fennel anchovy salad, stuffed chili and nori tempura. All were ok, but I think they were trying to hard with the flavors and nothing really stood out.

We ordered sushi rolls and nigiri. The soft shell crab was good, and the spicy tuna was decent. I also enjoyed my salmon and japanese snapper nigiri but they weren't over the top. I did enjoy my unfiltered sake though (thanks to Remco for introducing me to it!).

We saved room for dessert and headed to Sugar: A Dessert Bar (and not like the dessert bar at Dairy Queen or anything). Cool concept but also a little too chi-chi hip for me. Lori even said that on some days they have a cover charge. Anyhow, this was a loud, retro, chic bar playing techno music and serving dessert alcohol, mixed drinks and dessert for $13-$18 dollars a head. I didn't order a drink but ended up with one after we waited forever for dessert and the waitress told us that there was a mix up and our order was never placed. I had tasted Lori's drink and ordered one - a Muscato D'Asti - sweet dessert bubbly, one of the highlights of the evening. I ordered the Tequila Mockingbird which was a kaffir lime pudding cake, not too sweet at all and very tangy, definitely could taste the kaffir limes served with tequila sorbet (way too strong) and salty meringue sticks. Pretty good but not worth $13. I tasted Ian's panna cotta which was excellent and Lori's orange souffle which was really good.

I had a fun night - I got to see a handful of Chicago eating venues and while the Sushi Samba and Sugar were a little over the top, the experience and hanging out with friends in Chicago (a great city) was worth it!

New York, New York - August 12

Dean and Deluca
Whole Foods at Time Warner Center
Zen Palate

Here is Nino's report from New York City:

After 17 hours of traveling (most of it in a plane going nowhere), I arrived in New York City last night to stay with my friend Ben. Though I'll try not to bore you to tears, there are culinary capers to describe, they are entwined their architectural setting.

Dean and Deluca's @ The Rockefeller Center. A rumination on the architecture, the statuary theme of the buildings is that of titans: Atlas, Prometheus, etc. It's ironic that the Rockefellers would want themselves represented as the Elder Gods, the Gods deposed by Zeus and the other Olympians... Yet the Rockefeller Dynasty, built on oil, has endured. Consider the lords of the present day - KBR, Chevron, Enron, the Bush family, the Saudi's. After more than 100 years, we are still ruled by oil. The titans endure and prosper.

The food? A turkey club sandwich was okay, but nothing special. Where's the avocado?? ;-)

Whole Foods Grocery @ The AOL Time Warner building: Beautiful new twin towers on the Columbus Circle at the SW corner of Central Park. Between the towers is an arcade of shi-shi shops, and in the basement, a gigantic Whole Foods. Descend the escalators and you are fed into the produce and grocery section; complete your shopping, and you have to pass through "the gauntlet" on your way to the checkers (35 stations in all). The Gauntlet consists of counter after counter of prepared foods: indian, sushi, chinese, pizza, chocolate, desserts, salads, etc... Assuming you succumb, once you've purchased your food, there's a seating area with long bars, and a wall of glass that cycles through all the colors of the rainbow (it's very gradual - about 45 mins/cycle). Oh yeah, would you like a Jamba-juice with that?My one piece of sushi was excellently prepared. Thumbs up. (Sorry for the small sample size, I didn't have the appetite for a full meal.)

Zen Palate @ East 16th off Union Square: The restaurant was fresh, hip, and had excellent seating outside in the warm, muggy, New York night. Vegetarian fare, with reasonably sized plates, yummy appetizers, and tasty desserts... and CHEAP! I was in heaven. I had an Artichoke/meat substitute stirfry with Basil Mu-shu rolls, Taro Spring Rolls, and a Key Lime pie. I would recommend all of them; although Ben wasn't so impressed with the artichoke dish. We walked out for just over $30.

Chicago: Bob Chinn's Crabhouse - August 12

I'm in Chicago - ok, well Lincolnshire for 2 days for busines, which is 30 miles outside Chicago. Paul and Jeff (Vocent colleagues) are here too and we go for dinner on Thursday night after a full day of meetings.

Bob Chinn's is a well known 650 seat crab house restaurant that herds people in and out. They get their crab flown in daily with dailly receipts of shipments on the wall. There was a line when we go there but found out they served their full menu at the bar so we grabbed a table there. I ordered a Belgian White Beer (can't remember the name) which was really tasty. Since crab is their specialty - crab is what we got, all different kinds. The menu though was incredibly extensive, from fish done seven ways (grouper was fish of the day) to lobster, steak, salmon, surf'n turf and SO much more.

Oh, I forgot to mention that we warned we would smell like garlic for days after eating there. Sure enough, these hot rolls slathered with garlic and butter showed up at our table and were quickly devoured. We orded tiny blue crab claws as a started, served cold with dipping sauce and quite tasty. I order the stone crab claws, Paul allowed the Alaskan King Crab claws and Jeff orded the Kona Crab with shrimp. We did a bit of a taste test, having never had the opportunity to taste so many different types of crab in one sitting. They were all good, though I think Paul's were the sweetest, mine were the crabbiest (kind stringy) and Jeff's were sweet with a really different texture. I had never heard of Kona Crab before (need to check this out next time in Kona!) Everything was delicious - I ordered potatoes (with tons of garlic) and we ordered steamed asparagus for the table.

We were stuffed after the crab fest which was unfortunate because the dessert menu was extensive and only then did the waitress tell us they bake everything on site daily in their bakehouse. All the more reason to ask for the dessert menu before ordering a main! All in all, a fun delicious place for dinner!

Taylor's Automatic Refresher - August 9

Nino and I met Jen Beckman at the wine bar at the Ferry Plaza after work. We hadn't seen Jen in a while and it was nice to catch up before school starts again. I'll have to ask Nino the name of the wine he had because it was the best of the few we tasted; it was a New Moon Shiraz or something like that.

Jen went off to meet friends for dinner and we wanted something quick so we could make it to REI before it closed. Ruth Ann had said that she was not impressed with Taylor's Automatic Refresher, the burger place is famous in Napa and recently opened in the Ferry Building, but we had to give a try ourselves. Taylor's decor is like an old diner, bright whites and reds and retro. We both had burgers and shared a serving of sweet potato fries. The burgers came with lettuce, tomato ("wilted" and "stingy" I think was what Nino said about them) and "special sauce". I though the burger was pretty tasty, though it was a bit weller done that it should have been given the sign on the wall that their burgers are served "pink". Nino wasn't impressed with the taste nor the serving size. I called him a Barney's snob and figured we have to go to Barney's in the next little while and do a taste comparison. (We'll also have to try Zuni's burgers but that's another story.)

The sweet potato fries were delicious - not greasy, and powdered with chili spice mixing sweet and spicy once again. Taylor's gets bonus points in my book - they have vinegar for their fries!!! FOr you Americans out there, did you know that fast food places in Canada offer packets of vinegar with your fries? Fries should be eaten with vinegar and ketchup but it seems to me that few people know that in the US!

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Camping Chicken August 7

Grilled chicken
Banana boats

Nino and I went camping with Ken for the weekend to Yosemite. We stayed in Crane Flats campground and hiked North Dome (10 miles) on Saturday and checked out Glacier Point and did a short walk to McGurk Meadon (2 miles) on Sunday. We also swam in Tenaya Lake on Saturday and the river in Yosemite Valley on Sunday.

For dinner Saturday night I had marinated chicken thighs before leaving the house. This marinade is amazing and good for chicken (marinate 24 hours) and tri-tip (marinate 48 hours or more) .

Marinade: Put chicken or beef in large ziploc. Pour beer into ziploc (I use budweiser and use between a half a can and a full can depending on how much I'm marinating). Pour in Yoshida's Gourmet Grilling sauce so it completely covers meat. Add 2-6 cloves garlic. For chicken adding ginger will give it nice flavor too.

The chicken turned out great on the grill over the open fire. We also had enough for leftovers, and it tasted great in sandwiches the next day. We also grilled corn in the husks, red peppers and portobellos that I had brushed some olive oil salad dressing with. All so tasty!

For dessert, we had s'mores with Scharfenberger chocolate and Ken's specialty - banana boats. Peel back one piece of banana skin, cut out a piece of banana and fill with chocolate and marshmallows. Replace banana and then skin, wrap in tin foil and then put on grill or fire for 10 minutes or so. The chocolate and marshmallows melt, and it's almost like a banana sundae without the ice cream. Yum!

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Blue Plate August 4

Sea scallops

Jonathan and his friend Jen were visiting from Hawaii and we needed to find a restaurant for dinner. When we asked Jen and Jonathan if they had any mainland cravings Jen said MASHED POTATOES!!! So the hunt began.... OK, it wasn't so hard to find a restaurant serving mashed potatoes (but we also wanted to stay pretty local).

The first restaurant that came to mind was Liberty Cafe. Since they change their menu daily, Nino called and primed the hostess with "There may seem like a really weird question but ..." before asking if they were serving mashed potatoes that evening. No luck. Next on the list was Blue Plate, just down the hill from us and a restaurant we've been wanting to try for a long time. I found one of their old menus on the web and yeah, they had mashed potatoes. I wasn't surprised - from what I had heard, the restaurant served comfort food like meatloaf and go tasty cooking.

The restaurant is bigger than it looks on the outside, and even has a garden for seating, cool deor and not too loud. We started with Jambon Serrano with figs, Roasted Shrimp with lemon verbena and lemon cucumbers, and White Nectarine Salad with hazelnuts. All the appetizers were very tasty. I really enjoyed the shrimp with the strong lemon verbena flavors. I think Nino was hoping for grilled nectarines on the salad though they were just cut up raw nectarines.

As a main course, both Jen and Jonathan ordered the meatloaf and mashed potatoes. The meatloaf was incredibly tasty - smoky, meaty flavor that must have had bacon in it. Nino had his standard roast chicken (again his was to measure restaurant success) which was very tasty yet overdone. It came with Walla Walla onions and corn fritters - both tasty. I ordered the scallops with homemade linguine with tomatoes and pancetta. This dish was excellent - the homemade pasta stuck together a little but the scallops were done just right and eaten with the pasta and a sweet sauce (not exactly sure what it was), the flavors were incredible. We ordered a side of kale with chili flakes and garlic which was also exceptional. No room for dessert.

Blue Plate gets a high rating in my book. Definitely serving good, tasty comfort food. I would choose this over say Last Supper Club (same genre of restaurant but seemed to have a better selection on the menu), though Slow Club has'em both beat (but Blue Plate comes close). In this restaurant, however, you pay a little more than Last Supper Club, maybe $2 per main.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Jerk Chicken Skewers July 31

BBQ Jerk Chicken Skewers with peaches
Papaya Salsa
Zucchini Bread

Charles, Jennifer and the kids came over for dinner on Saturday night. It's always great to see them and spend some time with their kids!

We marinated Jerk Chicken for 24 hours using a recipe I found on the web. Matt was the inspiration for this dish; we had something similar when we were down in Menlo Park for a BBQ. We used Jalapeno peppers instead of Scotch Bonnet, which gave the chicken mild spice. If we made this again I would use Scotch Bonnet for more spice. We used chicken thighs and let this sit for 24 hours. It was then skewered with yellow, green and red peppers, red onion, and peaches (need to be not very ripe and hard)! The chicken was tender and tasty, grilled red onions are always so good, and the peaches were the hit of the night - soft, warm and sweet!

For side dishes, we served green salad and a Sweet Potato Polenta that had some chipotle kick to it. The polenta dish took quite some time to make (and I sliced my thumb and nail pretty bad when peeling the potatoes) but it did turn out quite good. Homemade Papaya Salsa rounded out the flavors, offering some sweet relief for the chipotle kick.

Papaya Salsa
1 large very very ripe papaya
lemon juice (lots, and to taste)
serrano peppers (to taste)
1/4 cup olive oil

Let the salsa marinate for at least 1/2 hour for the lemon juice to interact with the peppers.

Sunday afternoon I made a quick Zucchini Bread that is pretty much fat free. This was super easy to make - and the bread was pretty good - quite dense but still moist and tasty. The bread has a strong nutmeg/cloves taste; after 1 or 2 pieces I couldn't eat anymore. Next time maybe less spice and add nuts. I'm sure chocolate would do well in here too.