Monday, September 27, 2004

Yom Kippur - September 24

Lemon Thyme Chicken
Quinoa Stuffed Peppers
Apple Cake

Happy Anniversary Ruth Ann and Matt! Nino and I had a quick dinner with Ruth Ann and Matt at their house before heading to services. Matt made yummy matzoh ball soup and I made broiled chicken thighs marinated in lemon juice, honey and thyme. (Marinate for 2 hours and then broil 5 minutes per side). I also made Quinoa Stuffed Peppers, cooked quinoa sauteed with celery, carrots, pumpkin seeds, onions and spices and spooned into halved peppers covered in tomato sauce. This recipe comes from the Whole Foods Recipe Cookbook and was very tasty.

For dessert I made apple cake from Second Helpings, which was moist and yummy, and then off to services we went.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Best of Boston: September 16-18

Lala Rokh

Rosh Hashannah in Boston: I took the train to Boston and arrived in time to join David and Erin and their friends Jen and Scott for a huge Rosh Hashannah feast for night #2. Everyone pitched in - David may turkey and meat balls (ancient family recipe), matzoh balls to have in our chicken soup and potato kugel. Scott roasted an incredible chicken, Jen made noodle kugel and asparagus and Erin made honey cake. It's never a real Jewish meal unless there is too much food! It was nice to spend some time on the holidays with them.

Lala Rokh - Boston: David and Erin put their heads together to figure out where to go for dinner on my only other night in Boston knowing it had to be flog-worthy. I also told them it had to be reasonably priced limiting some of their suggestions like Craigie Street Bistrot. Whether it was the pressure to choose a floggable restaurant or just luck, we ended up at an incredible Persian restaurant in Beacon Hill. Winner of several awards since opening in 1995, Lala Rokh served delicious food in a white tablecloth romantic setting (a romantic table for three please!).

The food was outstanding. Warm bread was served with hummus made from chickpeas and lentils laden with a smoky flavor and lots of garlic (maybe roasted garlic?). We ordered the Mirza Ghasemi appetizer, a smoky blend of roasted eggplant, tomatoes, egg and saffron. Each of the main dishes were notable. I ordered the chicken kebabs - lemon and saffron marinated chicken breasts with rice and roasted potatoes. The chicken was so tender, juicy and flavorful. Erin ordered grilled salmon with a pesto, feta sauce which she enjoyed. She did say she was happy she had ordered the sauce on the side; perhaps it was too rich atop the perfectly grilled salmon. This dish came with roasted saffron potatoes. David ordered the slow cooked lamb with basmati rice - very aromatic tender pieces of lamb that melted in your mouth. Lala Rokh had 6 or so chutneys to choose from called Torshi which complement the main meal used as a dipping sauce or like we did, on top of rice. We ordered the mango tamarind chutney - a perfect accompaniment to our dishes and delicious.

There was a little mix up when we ordered our wine but the wait staff apologized. We had a chardonnay from Burgundy, much less oaky than Californian chardonnay that helped us wash down every delicious morsel.

This restaurant was tops and reasonably priced. We paid about $33 without tip per person, including wine with no dessert. Highly recommended.

Friday, September 17, 2004

New York Minutes - September 12-16

Minamoto Kitchoan
Mercer Kitchen
Time Warner Center

I was in New York this past week for the SpeechTek conference. While days and some nights were taken up with conference activities, there was definitely time for some culinary adventure. With New York being a culinary mecca, I could have spent a month here (not to mention hundreds of dollars) and so I was only able to catch a glimmer of the scene. Here are some highlights:

Zen Palate - Union Square: Nino wrote up this restaurant when he was there - a cafe like restaurant serving vegetarian fare. I had the vegetarian cabbage rolls stuffed with carrot and soy, with moo shu rice rolls and brown rice - very fresh, comfort food.

Breakfast: I can't get over how many deli like restaurants there are in New York. On every block, at least in Times Square, you'll find multiple bakery/deli/food bar restaurants that serve sandwiches and prepared foods for breakfast and lunch. Always busy, there are salad bars, and sushi bars, and hot items for extremely reasonable prices. I ducked into one of these each morning to grab my tea and breakfast. Most mornings I ordered an egg on toasted english muffin ($1.25) and pondered the business case for establishments such as these. How much food do you need to prepare and sell to make money running a place like this? How many people do you need to employ to prepare piles of prepared foods?

Minamoto Kitchoan - Rockefeller Center: This high end Japanese confectionary shop is steps away from Rockefeller Center. Rebecca introduced it to me last year when in New York and I walked over 2 separate days to get a little something sweet. Most of what they sell are gift boxes of individually wrapped mochi, Japanese pound cakes filled with red bean jam and other well made pastries and sweets. While these are probably good, it's the fresh mochi that is mouth watering. Red bean paste wrapped in the freshest softest mochi or soy bean flour, all natural and incredibly delicious.

Kwik Meal - Midtown: Go Canada! Canada was playing Finland in the World Cup Hockey finals. After drinks and appetizers at the conference I went to ESPN Zone in Times Square; there was no way I was going to miss the game. The bar was equipped With 6 small screens and 2 gargantuan screens, one with the hockey game and the other showing the Yankees with the sound booming from the the hockey game. The score was tied at 1 when I arrived and I asked a guy with canada shirt who had scored. We got to talking and it turns out he was there for the conference as well. As I looked around I realized that the bar was filled with Canadians including a honeymooning couple directly off the plane from Vancouver, some Vermonters including the owner of Jay Peak, also rooting for Canada and even a couple of Finns here and there. I was starving after the first period and needed something quick to eat, but not ESPN Zone food.

If ever a city could serve gourmet food from street carts, New York wins. Yes, there are your hot dog, roasted nuts and pretzel carts but these are alongside the morning fruit and roll carts, and the schwarma, grilled meat, knish, and falafel carts. I remember seeing a Kwik Meal cart on the corner of 6th (Avenue of the Americas) and 45th decorated with awards and reviews from a multitude of sources including Gourmet magazine. I read the little blurb about Rahman, the owner and found that he was in fact Canadian and went to cooking school in Toronto. He suggested the lamb and chicken grilled meat over rice with salad, a heaping plate of incredibly flavorful meat with fresh rice and shredded cabbage with some yogurt tahini sauce on the side, all for $7!!! I ate fast but not without wondering if this was perhaps the best meal of my stay in New York; the second period had surely started.

I watched the rest of the game with my new Canadian pals. The cheers when Canada scored and the jeers when the Finns did echoed in the bar. In the last few moments of the game when the score was 3-2 for Canada, we held our breaths. With the hockey lockout looming, a win for Canada would remind us of the Canadian Pride associated with the game, even if the NHL players may not play all season. The period ended and the bar went crazy. I saw the Finns behind me crying as the bar erupted into "Oh Canada".

Florent - Meatpacking District: Happy Jewish New Year! David Binder and I met at his apartment and walked to the Meatpacking District for dinner. Large warehouses with chic new facades line the streets converted into hip new restaurants and clubs. We attempted to get a seat at Pastis, a French brasserie obviously popular even on a rainy Wednesday night. We decided not to wait the hour to get a table and David gave me the choice of going to the Spice Market, Jean-Georges Vongerichten's chi chi la la asian fusian restaurant. While the restaurant has received rave reviews, we decided on Florent instead opting for a French diner instead of the more upscale restaurant. Florent was indeed a diner with counter stools on one side of room, and wooden tables on the other with stark white walls and bright lights. David's friend Brigitte who I met last year, was working and we had fun sitting at the counter and catching up with her. After ordering a glass of the house pinot, and settling in, we both ordered the steak frites - thin cut salted french fries with a delicious steak in a mushroom red wine sauce and steamed green beans.

Dinner was fun and while I wasn't with immediate family to celebrate Rosh Hashannah it was nice to spend some time with David. We toasted each other for a happy and healthy new year. Jewish New Year is a significant holiday for me. I often find that this is the new year where I spend the time to reflect on the past year and define resolutions for the coming year. It always seems more appropriate than the December 31st holiday; Rosh Hashannah being in September after the summer with the change of seasons and the start of the school year. Besides a resolution to keep up and enhance the flog and seek out new culinary adventures, there are other resolutions that will hopefully bring about some change in the coming year.

Time Warner Center: This new center, already a culinary mecca in New York, is still opening stores and restaurants in Columbus Circle, the south west corner of Central Park. Much has already been written about the mecca given that some world reknowned chefs have opened hig profile restaurants in this upscale, modern "mall". I had to check it out. The entire bottom floor is dedicated to what I think is the largest Whole Foods store to date. An immense portion of the store is taken up with prepared foods and food bars and aisles upon aisles of Whole Foods regular fare, large cheese, seafood and meat counters and about 25 checkout counters. Impressive.

I also had to wander up to the fourth floor of the mall where these new restaurants are now located. Per Se is one of the restaurants on the fourth floor, Thomas Keller's now recently awarded 4 star restaurant by the New York Times, an award that is not earned or received lightly. Masa and V (Jean-Georges' steakhouse) also adorn the stark hallway of this upper floor of the mall. The floor was deserted save for the hostess and doorman for the restaurants guarding these 15 feet opulent doors where people can wait months for a reservation, if they are so lucky. These restaurants seem a little inaccessible to me, however, it does make me want to find a way to get to French Laundry, Thomas Keller's four star restaurant in Napa.

Mercer Kitchen - Soho: I met Rebecca, Carol Bleyle and Lisa for lunch here before heading to New York. The service and staff's snobby New York attitude balanced out all other New Yorkers I had come into contact with during my stay who were incredibly friendly and helpful. Lunch was good - a roasted chicken sandwich on grain bread with lettuces, heirloom tomatoes and avocado though the attitude left a bad taste in my mouth.
Afterword: Who knew? After writing this I found out that Jean Georges owns this restaurant!! I need to find out more about him and his restaurant empire.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Barney's - September 10

Friday night = date night!!!

We walked the 2 miles up 24th past Castro to go to Barney's. The walk and fresh air gave us time to catch up and work up an appetite. Remember when we went to Taylor's Refresher and Nino made a fuss about the burgers? Well I guess I see why. We each ordered burgers - me medium and Nino medium rare. I had mine with sauteed mushrooms and Nino had the Baja burger with avocado, cheese, bacon and salsa. The burgers were hefty sizes of meat, cooked to exactly how we each ordered them. They were tasty and meaty and not greasy or skimpy. Loaded with the fixins - lettuce, pickle, red onion, tomato and ketchup - they were delicious. And filling. We were happy to walk back home and digest on the way.

Barney's is a locally owned chain. The one on Cedar in Berkeley, which is our where we get our regular Berkeley fix, has a nicer interior and better service. But this one is in walking distance.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Chez Nous - September 4

Another Top 100 restaurant in SF - Chez Nous on Fillmore!

We met Ken there before heading to the movies. This restaurant is cozy and warm - has about 40 seats and an open kitchen. The menu is small meditteranean plates though our heavier dishes were certainly large enough for personal entrees. We shared the following dishes:
Tuna tartare
Grilled calamari atop green salad
Borek - filled philo dough
Duck breast with yam puree
Grilled rib eye steak with polenta
Green beans

Panic set in just a few seconds after ordering when I saw the table next to us being served quite hefty plates of food. I'm quite particular about ordering too much or too little food when sharing small plates, or ordering family style - often it is so hard to judge just how much to order. Going to restaurants with a group of people and sharing plates can stress me out. Anyhow, with just the three of us it wasn't a big deal.

The meal turned out perfect. The server just kept bringing out dish after dish, starting with the more appetizer like plates with just a few minutes in between. Before you know it we had devoured the tuna and borek - the tuna was a heaping sashimi ball with sesame chips and quite competent. The salad quickly followed and I thought that the grilled calamari was excellent - tender, juicy pieces that were not chewy as calamari tends to be. Next came the duck and steak which were the best dishes of the night. I've only recently begun eating duck, and these were neatly sliced pieces of duck breast. As Nino said to me afterwards - "I'm glad you've come over to the dark side". I corrected him "um, don't you mean the duck side?". The yam puree was incredible - pureed yams which tasted like no artificial sweetner had been added and no cream either. The steak was also excellent - perfectly grilled to medium rare and tasty.

I'm glad we tried a new restaurant. This didn't edge out any of the Nino and Karen top 5 resturants but it was a pleasant and delicious experience.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Farmer's Market - September 4

I arrived at the Ferry Building before most people this morning. The market opens at 8am and at 7:30am, when the sun was shining and the city was still cool and quiet, I found the CUESA booth where I would be volunteering for a few hours. CUESA is the Center for Urban Education for Sustainable Agriculture and is the organization reponsible for bringing the farmers at the market together with the public. Their mandate is to create a forum where people can learn about food and agriculture, especially sustainable farming and its importance.

I decided to volunteer a few hours of my time, a couple of times a month to see what's it all about, to learn as much as I can, to meet people and maybe be able to hobknob with some well known chefs. Booth duty is not very glamourous but I did get to meet some really nice people and I stole away to see the chef's demonstration (Annie Sommerville of Greens). Booth duty involves validating parking, answering questions, selling water, aprons, t-shirts and bags. I also did my own shopping when I was done - fresh buffalo mozarella, baguette, basil, peaches, figs, early girl and heirloom tomatoes.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Darda Seafood - September 1

I can't believe it's September!

I met Arik for dinner in Milpitas tonight. He often works the late shift 2pm-10pm so we meet for dinner and he goes back to work. Neither of us seem to be too familiar with restaurants in Milpitas so we went to Darda Seafood, an Islamic Chinese restaurant, based on a recommendation from a friend.

The comany was great but the food just so-so. I guess we didn't order the right things and what we did end up ordering was quite greasy. Folks at other tables had heaping bowls of soup, and plates of yummy looking mu-shu. We ordered the shrimp rolls, beef with green onions and home made chow mein. Each dish was ok, not the boldest flavors, and all together was a little too much grease for me. This kind of goes back to the same issues I was having at the Bodega Bay festival with fried foods. For some reason I just feel gross when eating so much grease. Is it that I'm getting old? How did my diet diverge from that of so many North Americans who can eat so much crap? I think I'll save my ranting for when I write a review of Fast Food Nation .....

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Turkey Burgers - August 31

Turkey Burgers

Now that Nino is back in school, you can expect less dining out and more dining in. Tuesday night's dinner was a new turkey burger recipe from Epicurious. Our yummy turkey burger recipe that we always make (with oats and tomatoes) just won't hold up on the grill so I looked for a recipe geared towards the grill and these were great. The Worchestire gives the burgers a real meaty taste, and the tabasco and chili powder some kick. The marinade is folded into the ground meat and then used for basting on the grill and pouring over the burgs in the bun. Load it up with avocado and some ketchup and you can't go wrong. I served this with boiled artichokes and some salad.