Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Cesar in Berkeley

A friend was in town visiting for one night only. A 7:10 pm arrival at the Oakland airport meant a quick pick up (gotta love the Park and Call at OAK) and then off to find some dinner. I figured we'd head over to the Gourmet Ghetto in Berkeley for surely there would be some place that would entice us, and that could seat us without a reservation. The Gourmet Ghetto, around Cedar and Shattuck in the northern part of Berekley, is home to such restaurants as Chez Panisse, Cesar, Cafe de la Paz, two Thai restaurants (I prefer Dara Thai over Cha-Am), Gregoire and Barney's for gourmet hamburgers. After looking at a couple of menus, and politely being told at Chez Panisse Cafe that they couldn't seat us, we headed to Cesar right next door for Spanish Tapas and drinks.

I've gotten a little tired of small plate joints , having recently eaten from the small plate menus at Cha Cha Cha and Tallula in San Francisco, but Cesar was fresh and exciting. We sat at the bar, and got caught up, with a Bandol Rose in hand. We ordered 4 dishes, mostly on the recommendation of the bartender. The braised monkfish with fennel was excellent, and we soaked up the juice with fresh bread. We ordered the green and yellow bean salad with a mustard dressing, light and refreshing. The patatas bravas, chunks of potatoes piled high with tomato aioli were deliciously spiced, and the salt cod, a little too salty perhaps, rounded out the meal. With just a little room for something sweet we shared the Mel i Mato - fresh ricotta salada, Frog Hollow peaches and almonds, drizzled with honey.

Cesar definitely earns it's spot in the Gourmet Ghetto, and reminds me that small plates can leave you a satisfied, and satiated, foodie.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Oh Brother!

Yes, I'm still alive. Family and friends have been extremely vocal letting me know that I've let them down by not keeping up lately. It's not that I haven't had any culinary adventures as of late, rather the new job is keeping me busy. In a good way. The ability to blog at work is now non-existent and the desire to sit in front of a computer in the evening has diminished. Let's see if we can strike a good balance.....

A recent culinary adventure took me to Brothers Korean Restaurant, an authentic Korean BBQ restaurant on Geary Street. We arrived on a Wednesday night around 7:30pm, the doorway crowded with groups waiting for a table. The restaurant has 10 or 12 long tables with barbecue grills in the middle to cook up a meatfest right there at the table. There are 5 or so other tables
in the middle room sans barbecue grills that are often empty while the crowd waits for the do-it-yourself opportunity. We waited an hour for a barbecue table, all the while the sweet, smoky barbecue scents soaked into our hair, our clothes, and teased our stomachs.

We already knew what we wanted when we sat down having read the menu and spoken to the regulars waiting with us. We ordered the marinated beef and shrimp for the grill, and a noodle dish. It took no time at all for the beef and shrimp to come, and the server started our first round by putting some on our smoking grill. The meats come with 8 or 10 sides of different kimchees - pickled cabbage, fish cakes, cucumbers, other vegetables, seaweed, butter lettuce. The marinated beef and kimchees were outstanding, while the shrimp were a little dry and took a little longer to cook on the grill. Beer in hand, we finished off most of the beef, kimchees, and noodles with smiles on our faces and stomachs full. In calculating the cost of our dinner, I had to include the load of laundry that was needed to rid my clothes of the soaked in Korean bbq smells. If you go, go hungry but be prepared to wait and be sure it's close to laundry day.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Double Zuni

Last Friday we met friends for dinner at Zuni Cafe, one of San Francisco's most well known, and well loved institutions, which has held a place on our top 5 restaurants in San Francisco since our first introduction. On that first visit, Zuni was like a new friend, exciting and full of surprises and at the same time familiar, an instant bond formed. Our visit on Friday was a date with that friend now part of our close community - perhaps with less surprises but familiar and comfortable, reliable and dependable.

We started with some Kumamoto and Fanny Bay oysters which were both delicious though the Fanny Bays easily won the table over. That made the Canadians at the table proud - Fanny Bays are from BC.

Nino had the roast duck on polenta; a tender juicy duck leg with creamy polenta. While the duck was good, he wasn't overly impressed with the preparation. I had the whole wheat spaghetti with yellowfin tuna, pinenuts and olive oil - a comfort dish with no surprises; it warmed and settled my stomach as intended. Should we have ordered the roast chicken with bread salad, Zuni's signature dish that had originally gotten us hooked?

I couldn't stop thinking about the roast chicken and bread salad over the weekend. I pulled out the Zuni Cafe Cookbook and read and reread the 4 pages of instructions. I could do this, I thought, it isn't that hard. Sure you could, said my nasty inner voice, but what are the odds it will turn out. Aha, a challenge!

I followed the instruction to a tee, salting the chicken for over 24 hours, roasting the chicken at very high heat in my All Clad 10 inch skillet, broiling and oiling bread with currants, pine nuts, scallions and garlic. It was definitely a feast and it was incredible. The chicken was juicy and moist, with crispy skin outside and tender perfectly cooked white and dark meat. The bread salad was as good as at Zuni, deliciously seasoned chunks of bread topped with a spoonful of pan juices thrown in right at the end. And most of all, those four pages of instructions was as if Judy Rodgers was in my kitchen and we were cooking this together.

Ah yes, the reliable, dependable friend.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Marvelous Marseille

I was invited to a wonderful event this week at the California Culinary Academy. Two young chefs from Marseille, Lionel Levy and Dominique Ferard, with host Daniel Young, educated, demonstrated and teased the audience with stories and recipes from Marseille. The demonstrations and then dinner focused on the use of citrus in "la nouvelle cuisine Marseillaise". Young, author of Made in Marseille: Food and Flavors from France's Mediterranean Seaport, walked us through some of the history of the region and proceeded to test the group's knowledge of citrus by having us guess the smells of 7 different blotters dipped in different citrus essence. From grapefruit to clementine, and lime to bergamot, our senses were aroused with each smell, as were our appetites.

The chefs did two incredibly delicious demonstrations. The first was a fish crumble, inspired by fruit crumbles, or crisps. Lionel Levy used created a seabass ceviche with ginger and garlic, and lime, lemon and orange zest, and topped it with a crumble made with cream, ginger, brown sugar and garlic. It was served in slightly oversized shot glasses, and was one of the most delicious things I have ever tasted. There's a recipe in Young's book - "Crumble de Saumon", upon which this was based. The second demonstration was crab, citrus and zucchini filled spring rolls served with citrus butter sauce - another incredible blend of flavors.

Dinner was to follow soon after, and the group mingled and drank wines from Provence while we waited. The event had been sponsored in part by the Marseille Chamber of Commerce, and guests were mostly in the tourist industry focusing on France - a sales representative for Air France, chateaux owners, tour operators and tour guides, and specialized tours such as organized cooking trips. These included companies such as The International Kitchen , French Escapades, and Art du Voyage.

I now have a copy of Daniel Young's book, and though I've had just a quick chance to skim through it, it looks marvelous complete with history of the region, of la cuisine marseillaise, including a whole chapter on bouillabaisse, bringing the smells and tastes of Marseille to my home.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Hawaiian Goodies

We came home from Hawaii with a stack of culinary goodies. We’re not coffee drinkers but that didn’t stop us from lugging home pounds of the stuff. It’s always nice to have some in the house to offer guests and the l00% Kona coffee certainly makes great gifts.

After I had returned home, Nino made a trip to the local honey producer and picked up some pint size tubs of local regular honey and lilikoi honey. These creamy honeys are delicious on toast, in tea, and just about anywhere. On Sunday night we made delicious honey-glazed salmon – sprinkle salt and pepper on salmon fillets, cover with honey or in our case lilikoi honey, and bake at 350degrees for about 12 minutes or until done.

For Christmas I received some Hoji Cha tea, and bought some jasmine pearl tea, all from Tiger Mama which is a division of Dragon Mama store in Hilo. These two organic green teas are delightful - the jasmine pearl being large loose rolled leaves that when steeped produce such a clean green tea flavor, and the Hoji Cha which are roasted buds providing a nutty and delicious taste.

Hawaiian rock salt lives in a little koa bowl on Jan's dining room table and we used it at almost every meal when we were there. These big orange gems are packed with a fresh salty zing. We brought some home with us, filled a beautiful clay bowl and have some at our table now too. When I saw the recipe for pan fried chicken in the SF Chronicle's Food and Wine newsletter I immediately thought to try the recipe with Hawaiian rock salt. Tara Duggan's recipe follows with braised winter greens. Both the greens and the chicken were delicious and such a quick and easy weeknight meal:

2 garlic cloves
1 bunch Swiss chard or other winter greens
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
2 to 3 tablespoons pure olive oil
1/2 cup low-salt chicken broth
4 skinless boneless chicken half-breasts (4 to 5 ounces each)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar

INSTRUCTIONS: Mince the garlic. Cut off the stalks of the greens, then chop the leaves width-wise into 1-inch ribbons.

Heat the extra virgin olive oil in a medium skillet (preferably nonstick) over low heat. Add the garlic and saute for a few minutes. Add the greens and increase the heat to medium. Stir until incorporated and the greens start to wilt. Add the broth and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook until the greens are tender, about 10 minutes.

Remove the tenderloin (the thin muscle loosely attached to the breast), from each half-breast and set aside for another use. Season each breast liberally with salt and pepper.
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons oil and heat until almost smoking. Carefully add 2 of the half-breasts. Season with salt and pepper. Saute until browned and the inside has no trace of pink but is still juicy, about 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 minutes per side. Remove with a slotted spoon to a warm plate and repeat with remaining half-breasts. Stir the vinegar into the greens, and adjust the seasoning.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Tough Decisions

There we were, surrounded by some really great interesting folks with similar interests, when we realized the dilemma we had gotten ourselves into. We went to meet Alder from Vinography at Bacar to help him celebrate his blog's first birthday. We were having a great time - Alder and Ruth were welcoming and great to talk to, we met Keica and Matthew who turns out works where I just started, Jen from Life Begins @ 30 , Meriko from Gastronome and Jeanne from World on a Plate . It was approaching 7pm and while the chatter, and appetizers, and Bacar's wine bible were screaming for more attention, we remembered the live dungeness crab sitting in our refrigerator. If we didn't head home to cook him now, we'd be in hot water. I would have love to stayed to meet the rest of the gang but duty called.

The event was a great idea and I hope the Bay Area bloggers, or even the Bernal bloggers, can meet up more often.

It was great to hear that some folks read my blog. I decided then and there that I needed to change the name from Karen's Food Log or K-flog as it started out. I've been mulling over names for months never able to chose one that really works for me. Being in a room of bloggers, I wanted to be proud of my blog but found that I couldn't get passed my boring title. What do you think of "Plat Du Jour"? Stay tuned!!

Ah yes, and the crab was delicious. We steamed the little guy in our bamboo steamer over the wok for about 12 minutes. With just a little bit of lemon and butter, this guy was moist and tender... just perfect. The easy side salad, warm olive bread and persimmon mango vodka drinks Nino whipped up rounded out the evening beautifully!

Friday, January 14, 2005

Merriman's and More

Details of my full blown Hawaiian culinary adventure is long overdue. The start of the new year brought with it the start of a new job at Tellme. In an attempt to adapt to my job, my regularly scheduled blogging hours have dwindled.

But here it is, some of the very best the Big Island had to offer, counted down from delicious to pure joy:

10: Given that it was holiday time, there was no lack of sweets around. Some of the homemade highlights included chocolate stuffed figs (more than one fig could keep you awake for days), cranberry pistachio biscottis, double chocolate cookies from an industrial recipe that yielded 100 cookies (and they still didn't last long), italian rice cake with cherry peach compote, and Mathilda fruit cake (yes, an edible fruit cake)!

9. For Christmas dinner we roasted prime rib. This was my first attempt at prime rib, and while it didn't come out as good as say, Cruts' or Amy's, the thing to note was that it was local Hawaiian grass fed beef - leaner and tastier than other beefs.

8. Can't go to Hawaii without mentioning the macadamia nuts. We were treated by Whitey to some of the island's infamous handmade chocolate covered mac nuts and coffee beans. YUM!

7. There's always at least one outing to Cafe Pesto when we are visiting the Big Island, usually at lunch time when we need to get out of the sun at the beach. Big fresh salads and sandwiches there are always a hit. I had a green salad topped with a tender piece of ono, which is the wahoo fish. Ono also means delicious, and it was!!

6. Like butta! The avocados on the island are the very large, light skinned avocados, possibly the Bacon variety. They take quite a long time to ripen partly because when you buy them from the store they were probably just picked. When they do ripen, you are in for a treat - creamy, soft and delicious, just like butter!

5. Jan and John's place, where we stayed, has lilikoi growing all along the fence. Lilikoi are known here as passion fruit. Jan takes the juice of ripe lilikoi and freezes it in ice cube trays to be able to then grab some lilikoi juice for morning smoothies. Lilikoi's have an orangey flesh inside with many seeds, sweet with hints of lemon sour flavors. One of the cooking/baking projects when we were there was a lilikoi cheesecake!

4. No monkeying around - the bananas on the island are incredible. The apple bananas are my favorite - small bananas that have a sweetness like apples, and whose texture is firmer than regular bananas. Jan and John have 2 banana trees that didn't produce ripe fruit while we were there but we did have frozen home grown bananas from the freezer in our morning smoothies.

3. We had papayas with lime almost every morning for breakfast - locally grown juicy papaya with fresh lime juice. If you've never had these flavors together I strongly recommend it.

2. The ahi, in every shape and flavor, is always my favorite food. Ranging from $8.99 to $11.99 at the supermarkets or fish stores you can get ahi poke in different "flavors" - shoyu poke (big chunks of ahi with shoyu and seaweed), sesame poke, or sometimes as many as 5 other flavors. Poke and poi are staples for us when we go Hawaii. If we don't finish the daily poke, we fry it up the next day for breakfast or lunch. When we want something just a little lighter, we'll buy a slab of ahi at the store, bound to be some of the freshest ever, and have some ahi sashimi on rice.

1. Merriman's for New Years was incredible. We started with a salad of fresh hearts of palm simmered in coconut milk with sweet Maui onions and greens. Every bite was tender and sweet. I ordered the panko and kefir lime crusted scallops - soft, tender and delicious. Nino had the fish of the night which was a specially prepared onaga which was also excellent - so tasty and moist. Absolutely every morsel was incredible, service was wonderful and the ingredients so fresh. Basically, Peter Merriman is the Alice Waters of the Big Island, using the freshest ingredients from the locals.