Over the past few weeks we’ve examined all sorts of spring produce, from rhubarb to strawberries to artichokes to asparagus and beyond. You haven’t heard much in the way of ramps over here since the West Coast doesn’t have them. We aren’t so, um, rampant about ramps if you will, like in the Midwest or East Coast. It’s asparagus all day, every day out here. But, we do need green spring vegetable variety.
This time of year, everybody loves fava beans. Yes, fava beans have a slightly negative connotation from the famous Anthony Hopkins quote in “The Silence of the Lambs.” After a few fava bean dishes, you’ll quickly get over the need to pair fava beans with a Chianti.
Last week, I truly enjoyed a fresh, bright red quinoa salad at Forage in Silver Lake, the epicenter of fresh, bright quinoa salads in Los Angeles. The quinoa mingled with chickpeas (not seasonal), artichokes (very Spring), and yes, no shortage of shelled fava beans (very Spring).
The salad reminded me of how fava beans deserve the same fervent fan base that asparagus has. If you’ve ever been to Germany this time of year, you’ll know what I mean. Literally every single meal incorporates the precious white asparagus for three weeks in May.
What I love about fava beans is that they are softer than edamame beans, with a wonderful nutty meets sweet flavor that isn’t far off from an Oloroso Sherry.
In the aftermath of the tragic tornado yesterday in Moore, Oklahoma and Oklahoma City, Eater National has put together an ongoing list of restaurants nationwide who are conducting fundraisers or donating proceeds from meals to help the victims of this disaster. Please take a look to see if a restaurant or shop near you is participating in these relief efforts. Our hearts today all go out to those affected by the tornado in Oklahoma.
The folks at Pop Chart Lab have the poster for all cocktail aficionados: 49 illustrated recipes of the most legendary television and film cocktails. Don Draper’s Old Fashioned. Carrie Bradshaw’s Cosmopolitan. James Bond’s Vesper Martini.
What will I try first? Why of course, Roger O. Thornhill’s Gibson from “North by Northwest.” Who knows what will happen afterwards with the suspense of Hitchcock cocktails…
A few weeks ago at dusk standing amongst the seals sprawled out on in the La Jolla Cove sand, I could’ve sworn I finally saw the elusive green flash emerge from the sea as the sun set into the Pacific horizon.
Or, it could’ve been because of an earlier extensive beer tasting of two dozen beers served on draught at Green Flash’s tap room inside their San Diego brewery not far from an assortment of other breweries (AleSmith, Ballast Point…) just north of the Miramar Naval Air Station.
It’s hard to say who is necessarily the most “famous” or “highly-regarded” of the over three dozen nano and micro breweries across San Diego County. You’re dealing with worldwide heavy-hitters ranging from Stone to Ballast Point to AleSmith to the more obscure, but critically adored IPA pioneering Alpine.
Green Flash is right up there at the top. If 20 plus beers sampled tells you anything, they certainly know how to diversify. Yet like what your Merril Lynch adviser would tell you, it’s good to have variety, but you still must maintain a high level of quality. From a Double Stout powered by a hefty amount of Serrano chile to world class Double IPAs and Imperial IPAs, there is no doubting Green Flash’s prominence as one of the most accomplished craft breweries in the country, not just the county.
Vitaly Paley is an immensely gifted chef with a cooking vision from many different viewpoints. His training comes from high-end kitchens of France and New York in the 1980’s and 1990’s, while he has helped pioneer the hyper-local focused Pacific Northwest regional cuisine since moving across the country to Portland, Oregon, opening his now iconic Paley’s Place.
Over dinner at the charming Victorian in the city’s Northwest Alphabet District, you certainly get a sense of the classical background with textbook veal osso bucco, a consummate egg yolk crowned steak tartare, and a unique new meets old classic French tripleheader combining the not familiar together escargots, bone marrow, and sauce Bordélaise. On the other 2013 hipper side, Paley makes a burger that every new gastropub aspires to replicate, and he gladly brings elements of the local forests and fields into a spring pickled green strawberry salad with crispy sweetbreads, and a confit of local spring vegetables joining the halibut a la plancha on a white bean purée accented by a piquillo pepper coulis.
That’s not haute cuisine. That’s Paley’s cuisine.
What about scallops with a blood orange gastrique? It’s not necessarily envelope-pushing or a clear-cut haute cuisine or Pacific Northwest standard. Instead, think of this as a unique adaptation of duck à l’orange, evolved in many directions.
To fall in love with Sardinia’s cuisine, all you need to experience is a few bites of Massimiliano Conti’s spaghetti with bottarga and spicy olive oil. It doesn’t sound complicated and it isn’t. It doesn’t seem at first to be much more than a lighter sun-splashed, seafaring version of spaghetti and meatballs. But, my goodness the intensity of every dimension put together on this plate by Conti. I’ve heard stories of diners booking tickets to Sardinia the next day because of eye-opening dinners at the incredibly humble La Ciccia. I’m guessing a few of those diners officially announced those vacation plans immediately after encountering the spaghetti.
Conti makes all of his pasta in house at La Ciccia, his and his wife Lorella Degan’s ode to their home island. The spaghetti in the signature dish achieves that golden al dente texture, relaxed, flexible, with some bite to it. Most cooks would say it needs another minute of boiling. To Conti and chefs back at home, that extra minute turns high caliber flour and water into mush. If you want porridge or polenta, that’s a different story.
For correct al dente pasta, there must be a slight crunchy note. That allows you to actually taste and feel the pasta. It’s a participatory experience.
Then the spaghetti gets twirled atop a pool of chile- fortified olive oil, as seductive as an extra hour on a Mediterranean beach. You think the spaghetti is coated in a generous dusting of cinnamon or paprika, but really that rust-colored topping is the key ingredient to Sardinian cooking: bottarga.Continue reading “Restaurants: La Ciccia, San Francisco”
Finally on this Mother’s Day, a cocktail Mom would certainly enjoy, where two of her spirit-driven favorites, the Manhattan and the Vieux Carré intersect along San Francisco’s Embarcadero.
That would be the “Cocktail a la Louisiane” from Erik Adkins epic Bourbon and American Whiskey stocked bar at Charles Phan’s (The Slanted Door) sparkling month old New Orleans- inspired boîte, Hard Water. In Pier 5 along the Bay waterfront, just off the Ferry Building, you can’t help but immediately get in a Bourbon- ready mood after staring for a moment at the hypnotizing massive Wall of Whiskey, the backdrop for the horseshoe-shaped bar. Table seating is really counter-seating along the perimeter, with some seats affording Bay views. Olle Lundberg’s masterpiece strikes you as an atelier, warm yet austere from a mixture of glass, dark wood, leather, and oak components.
Elements of the Vieux Carré come into play with plenty of Benedictine stirred with Whiskey, in this case Rittenhouse 100 Rye. Carpano Antica sweet vermouth adds the Manhattan dimension, softening the often over-bearing Benedictine. Peychaud’s Bitters and Duplais Absinthe round out this spirit-forward offering that is remarkably smooth. It was actually shockingly smooth. Handsomely served up in a chilled coupe with a marinated Maraschino cherry resting at the bottom, this is a classic example of a simple, not complex drink, with no hint of seasonality, that is absolutely pitch-perfect. Continue reading “Cocktail of the Week: Cocktail a la Louisiane, Hard Water, San Francisco”
And now on this Mother’s Day, we’ll wrap up our look at the memorable bites of spring for dessert.
Expectations were thru the roof when I learned that Essence’s owner Eugenia Theodosopoulos once worked at Paris’ renowned Lenôtre and a Phoenix restaurants writer dared me to say that these macarons weren’t superior to those at Ladurée or Pierre Hermé. I won’t say they’re better…or worse. They are world class macarons, balancing the delicate, graceful cookie, with the right proportion of magnificent confiture, cream, or chocolate fillings. My favorite was a lovely raspberry-rose, but don’t leave without a salted caramel or the intriguing strawberries and cream. All the macarons could have been from the legendary Hermé, though none of the flavors matched the fireworks of the master’s vanilla-olive oil. Essence’s croissants, pain au chocolats, and éclairs would be the class of Paris as well.
I’ve never been a fan of popsicles or any of their frozen treats on a stick colleagues ever since my youth summer sports camp days where every afternoon concluded with various “Bazooka Pops” and “Fudgsicles” that never tasted of anything but brain-freeze. I’ve had Mexican paletas before. They were acceptable. That was before Paletas Betty. Betty Alatorre de Hong’s paletas are free of chalky ice and actually smooth, almost moist for a frozen object. The flavors are distinct– Mexican Chocolate with several punches worth of cinnamon or the sublime refreshing mango spiced with earthy chilies. The best part? You can eat these paletas completely without the last few bites falling off the stick like with inferior versions. The popsicle has grown up.Continue reading “Bites of Spring: And For Dessert…”
Continuing on a look at the memorable bites from the first half of spring, we hit the road outside Northern California.
At a restaurant with a more tenacious PR staff seeking flashy menu descriptions, this would probably be known as “Beets Five Ways” or “Textures of Beets.” Who knew that beets thrive in Kauai’s soil? Josselin is an expert with fish. Now he shows a delicate, modern touch with the rugged beet. Beet and goat cheese fill spherical ravioli dough. There are slices of vibrant purple beets and thin wafers of sweet light beets with rosy centers. The sponge in the center acts as the bread pudding- esque crouton and all is crowned by a beautiful touch of color with the yellow flowers.
Josselin’s one holdover from his old A Pacific Café days in Kapa’a when he ruled Kauai’s restaurant scene. Textbook ruby rare ahi tuna, tender as can be, are flash fried in a sturdy and not overbearing tempura battered. The spicy beurre blanc doesn’t feel dated. It reminds you why we all loved fusion cuisine back in the 90’s.
It’s been a while since we took some time to sit back, relax, and reflect on some of the most noteworthy bites at restaurants and home. Back in the old days, we used to be on the ball each week showing the highlight dishes. Well, let’s say that travel, work, and projects interfered. Besides, everyone always prefers reading 2,000 word articles instead of just glancing at photos of food preparations. Or is that just me?
As we head into the middle of May, let’s look back at some very memorable bites of the first half of spring in three installments: here in the San Francisco Bay Area, travels, and desserts. I know my Mom enjoyed many of these tastes firsthand. I hope all the wonderful Moms out there can enjoy these creations via photos. Cheers to the chefs out there for their artistry behind these dishes. And to Moms everywhere, Happy Mother’s Day!
I never had venison in my three weeks visiting Scandinavia last summer, though I did enjoy reindeer once in Helsinki. Robert Sundell’s saddle of venison is the brilliant high point of a meal at Plaj, the chef’s merging of his home Scandinavia’s cuisines with Californian ingredients and ideas. The venison is as tender as the finest filet mignon, lifted even higher from the just sweet enough juniper sauce and the stellar accompaniments. The gratin is creamy cholesterol overkill. Plaj the restaurant is strangely stiff (very different than the New Nordic restaurants across the pond), inside a hotel behind the Civic Center. Make sure to get a housemade aquavit to drink and you’ll be a believer in Swedish meatballs after Sundell’s rendition.Continue reading “Bites of the Spring: San Francisco Bay Area”