Monday, April 23, 2007

Late to the Party

I know, the blog thing is supposed to be about catching the story the nanosecond it happens. I'm a little slow, it turns out. But two very worthy men had some very noteworthy news -- very happy for one, and very sad for the other -- in the last couple weeks, and I wanted to mention them both here:

- Jonathan Gold, the food writer for the LA Weekly, won a Pulitzer prize. He's the first food writer to do so, and I can think of few others so deserving. I once called him the mayor of my tummy, and I think many Angelenos would agree. He elevates food journalism with every review: from the eateries he chooses to highlight -- be they grimy taquerias or haute cuisine establishments, to the way his reviews are about everything -- current events, every fascinating meal he's ever had, the very latest pop culture -- and to how he puts it all together -- his articles glide seamlessly from description to analogy to editorial.

- Kurt Vonnegut, everyone's favorite wacky, political, satirical, wonderful American novelist, died. If you've read Cat's Cradle or Breakfast of Champions, or if even they just made you read Harrison Bergeron back in junior high, you get it. If not, get your hands on one of his books and catch up.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Bay Area Roundup: San Francisco

I was lucky enough to spend an extended weekend in the Bay area. The trip's activities consisted primarily of:
- eating
- drinking
- walking (thank God!)
- rolling (katamari, that is. have you seen this amazingness?)

Ah, good times indeed. My travels took me to Oakland, Berkeley, San Rafael (with a special field trip to the Skywalker Ranch), and of course, the windy city itself (San Francisco, not Chicago. But it was really windy. Reeeally windy.). This, for the most part, was not a taco-stand, hole-in-the-wall trip. We went large. I did pretty well. Which means I have much to share and recommend.

I'll just cover San Francisco in this post, because there is just so much and I'm feeling a little overwhelmed, and save the rest for a subsequent post.

But, my first recommendation spans all areas of the Bay, and is not food-related. Its name is Fernando and Greg. They are the morning show on the area's dance station, and among gossip, cattiness, and raunch, they manage to fit in social commentary as well, helping the medicine go down with a spoonful of glitter.

On to the foods.

Delfina. Finally made it to the restaurant where a friend's brother, Matt Gandin, is the sous-chef, and wow, what a treat. The ambiance: casual, hip, local (to the Mission). The food: seasonal Italian, with the menu changing daily. Everything was delicious, from the light, fresh gravlax with radishes, fennel, and cucumbers, to the ridiculously decadent bread salad (a simple side exalted a lot!), to the homemade bucatini with fava beans and guanciale, to the roast duck with farro and kumquats, to the rhubarb crostata, to ... (I could go on and on. Really, everything we ate was delicious.). 3621 18th St. between Dolores and Guerrero.

Tartine Bakery. Down the block from Delfina is the classic local cafe, elevated. Subtle Parisy decor, tattooed hipsters behind the counter and espresso bar, not to mention at the tables, but true to its NorCal sensibilities, after you've scarfed down fresh berry bread pudding, gorgeous pastries, renowned croques monsieur, or impossibly flaky croissants, you bus your own table, straight to the kitchen. 600 Guerrero St. at 18th.

Canteen. So a guy works as a chef at a well-thought-of restaurant in town. But all he really wants to do is open a diner. It's tiny -- only about 4 booths and a few counter spots. The decor is modern, funky, and sparse, as is the service -- when we were there for breakfast, a single sprightly woman played hostess, busboy, and waitress. Salmon omelet was nice; corned beef hash was huge chunks of beef and potatoes under poached eggs. 817 Sutter St. at Jones.

Magnolia Pub. Although the focus at this thoughtful brewpub is on the beers brewed in the basement, the food is not an afterthought -- pretty much everything we tried was fresh and tasty, from the hottest wings ever, to salmon cakes, onion rings, and pressed sandwiches. Magnolia is keenly aware of the Haight's history, and pays subtle and tactful homage to the area's Dead- and Phish-head sensibilities in the bustling eatery's decor. 1398 Haight Street at Masonic.

Ferry Building. This place is kind of a dream world for food people. It's pretty much a long stretch of shop after shop of gourmet goodies -- olive oils, dainty baked goods, exotic mushrooms (have you ever heard of a lion's mane mushroom? or a pink oyster? wowee), chocolates, cheeses (from the Cowgirl Creamery), and on and on. Then outside is a fantastic farmers' market -- produce, yes, but also sausages, fresh Hog Island oysters, and more. All right on the waterfront. On the Embarcadero at Market.

Rose's Cafe. This place should be the local hang, but the prices seem prohibitive to being a regular. But then, in the ritzy Cow Hollow neighborhood in the Marina, it works. For Sunday brunch, sit at one of the sidewalk tables, enjoy the prime peoplewatching and perfect Paris cafe ambiance (authentic unhurried service included), and try the chicken-tarragon sausage with polenta and poached eggs. Also it should be noted that this is the same Rose as Rose Pistola in North Beach -- an awesome Italian restaurant with fantastic casual ambiance, and a chocolate cake that once brought tears to the eyes of my fellow diner. 2298 Union at Steiner.

Mauna Loa. Quintessentially what a dive bar should be. On a row of mostly post-frat bars, this place was friendly (perhaps it helped that I came with a regular) and posturing-free. There are games in the back (pool, basketball, etc.) if you're into that kind of thing, and Kirk, the proprietor, knows everything there is to know about the city, so you'll come out of the bar with two new tips that will make your life easier each time you go there. 3009 Fillmore St. at Union.

Phew, I'm full!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

What is this tag business you speak of?

So evidently in this blogging world, there's this thing you can do called tagging. Not like in the grafitti way, it's kind of like the blog version of a chain letter (yes, in the sense that it's annoying). Someone comes up with a 'clever' survey, puts answers to the survey in a post, then at the end of the post, 'tags' a bunch of other people who are now obliged to drop everything and answer the survey on their own blogs. Whatever.

Now, having gotten the humbuggery out of the way, I was tagged by my sister, and while in general I do find these things kind of annoying, hers was actually quite amusing, so I'm compelled to respond in turn.

The idea with this one is this: You Wikipedia your date of birth (no year), and it gives you a list of all the cool stuff that happened on that date in history. Then you list list 3 events, 2 important birthdays, 1 death and 1 holiday that occurred on that day. According to Torreh, mine are supposed to all be food-related, but we'll see what we can do there. Here we go...

1960 - The Sudanese Republic is renamed Mali after the withdrawal of Senegal from the Mali Federation. Okay, this is not exactly food-related, but is a good segue to a book plug. You, yes you, should read What is the What, by Dave Eggers. An amazing personal account of the life of Valentino Achak Deng -- one of the "Lost Boys" of Sudan. Really. Read it.

1965 - The Indo-Pakistani War of 1965 between India and Pakistan over Kashmir ends after the UN calls for a cease-fire. If I had not been so lazy about writing up Al Noor, the Pakistani deliciousness I experienced in Lawndale a few weeks back, there would be a post to it here. In time. For now though, here's what Yelp has to say about it.

1943 - Toni Basil, American singer. Without her, not only would we not have 'Oh Mickey you're so fine, you're so fine you blow my mind hey Mickey!' but we also would not have "Oh Ricky you're so fine, you're so fine you blow my mind hey Ricky!" And of course, the food-relatedness is obvious.

1958 - Joan Jett, American musician. Lead singer, of course, of the Blackhearts. While I was in the bay area this weekend, my friend Dan showed me video of the cobra dinner he and his boys ate in Vietnam. The heart wasn't exactly black, but they ate it.

1927 - Tommy Lasorda, baseball manager. That man is definitely food-related.

1989 - Irving Berlin, American songwriter (b. 1888). I can't really relate him to food. He's pretty rad though.

1977 - Yom Kippur. This is not from Wikipedia, but rather from my own pitiable past. So, I was born on Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement. As if this were not guilt enough to be born into, my mother actually fasted on the day she gave birth to me! How can I possibly live up to that kind of saintliness?

So here's the taggy part. I tag the following two people, but I'm mostly over it. You are not obligated to do this business.
1: Virginia
2: Annie (maybe the guilt will get you to post)

Monday, April 09, 2007

The Perfect Lunch Costs Four Dollars

Next Sunday, this is what you do. You go to the Hollywood Farmers' Market. You get the radishes, 3 colors in one bunch, pick up some of the skinniest asparagus I've ever seen, you gaze in amazement at the crosnes -- maybe they're a vegetable, maybe they're an obese albino potato bug -- and of course you stop to sample a bit of avocado dressed with sea salt and lemon juice. You may stop at the Yummy Yummy Cheese lady, or snag a loaf of delicious Moroccan olive bread.

But all this fooding makes you hungry. So. You go to the stand selling Thai food, and order 2 sticks of chicken satay. Substantial things, freshly grilled, with a tiny mound of prettily cut cucumbers and a dab of peanut sauce. Two dollars. Then, order coconut balls. But the thing is, they sell then in groups of five. And that's just too many. However, if you ask nicely, they will give you two for one dollar. Perfect. Top it off with a bottle of water, and you're good to go.

Sit up against the building across from the Thai stand. Tap your toe as the stand next door, selling jazz records, serenades with you with vintage Etta James, while the guy eating next to you sings along. Really, what more can you ask for?

Chocolaty Decadence, Without the Pesky Leavening

Any adorable kid who's celebrating his fourth birthday deserves a delicious chocolaty birthday cake. But what happens when this sweet smiley kid's birthday falls right in the middle of Passover? Well, have you had passover cakes before? They tend to be dry, dense, and dominated by the flavor of soggy matzah and sugar. Not so good. Yet, my nephew needed something special this year -- after all, his potty training is finally settling in (that's right friends, our boy is a super pooper), and as his new big boy haircut demonstrates, this has been a pretty big year for him.

So, this year for his birthday, I made a fabulous and decadent flourless chocolate torte. The texture was rich and custardy and the flavor was loved by the kids as well as the adults -- a cup of strong coffee added depth, and the end result was not too sweet.

The original recipe is a little hard-to-read, so being the giver that I am, I have done some edits and will provide a clearer version of the recipe here. It's definitely good enough to eat throughout the year. But, it should be noted that it's an extremely indulgent dessert: a dozen egg yolks, 2 sticks of butter. So, serve it in thin slivers -- you can't really eat much more of it anyway.

Chocolate Espresso Torte

Note that if you are worried about keeping kosher, and you are eating this with a meat meal, you should use margarine, not butter. Of course it's more delicious with butter, and even more delicious with European-style butter, like Plugra. And for non-Passover preparation, feel free to dust your pan with flour, and garnish with powdered sugar. (I could go into the details of why some do not eat powdered sugar during Passover but the "logic" is so convoluted I won't even get into it. If you really wanna know, email me.)

1 cup butter or margarine
1 c sugar (heaping)
1 c brewed espresso or strong coffee
16 oz semisweet chocolate
6 eggs
6 egg yolks
matzah meal or matzah cake meal, to dust pan

Preheat oven to 325F. Cut a circle of wax paper to fit the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan. Grease springform pan. Place wax paper circle on bottom of pan. Grease wax paper and dust with matzah meal; set aside.

Place butter, sugar, and epresso in the top of a double boiler on a medium simmer, and heat until sugar dissolves and butter is melted, stirring occasionally. Be sure when stirring to scrape sugar off the bottom of the bowl and mix well with the espresso and butter. Pour hot liquid over chocolate and stir until smoothly incorporated; set aside. Beat eggs and yolks until frothy. Add egg mixture to chocolate mixture and stir to combine. Pour batter into pan.

Bake for one hour. When done, edges should crack and harden slightly. Remove from oven and cool; cover and chill.

When you remove this cake from the oven it looks like it is not set; and it isn't. It must go in the refrigerator for at least twelve hours, or the freezer for at least 4 hours (then placed in the refrigerator after that if not served immediately).

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

pinkberry is infiltrating my hood

i just walked over to the farmers' market (the third and fairfax one, which i like to think of as my farmers' market (that it no longer has much to do with farmers notwithstanding)), and next to singapore's banana leaf, where a very friendly produce man used to talk to me in spanish, was a giant white ad with big pastelly bubbles and a big la times endorsement, in nonthreatening sans-serif typeface -- natch, for that deliciously tangy fluff. that's right friends, pinkberry is coming to the farmers' market. i like pinkberry, but i feel a little weird about this. like, although i'm all about going back to basics and being able to identify yogurt as yogurt and not as a vaguely chocolate tasting chemical cocktail blasted with air, i've managed to steer clear of the giant pink fadmonster that has taken over los angeles in the past year. and now it's decided to plop itself, for all intents and purpose, in my backyard.

i harbor some romantic thoughts about the farmers' market. i know, it's got its starbucks, its johnny rockets, and now a coffee bean to boot, but still, it's mostly local establishments, lots of mom-and-pops, and what may be the oldest pizza in the city. once someone at work, new to los angeles, said in passing, "i really like the food court at the grove." it made me so sad. this place predates the grove by over seventy years, and despite a cheesy old-timey gas station straight out of main street, usa, tends to have a good sense of its own history. throwing in a pinkberry, with all its light-as-air vibes, just throws things off to me.

having said all that, i complained about the grove when they first built it (and still do!), but manage to go to barnes and noble, the movie theater, the apple store, anthropologie, more than i care to admit. dancing fountains and all, the place sucks you in. i'm sure the same will occur with pinkberry. i mean, real yogurt and fresh fruit. how long can my grinchiness hold out?