Thursday, February 26, 2009

The girl and the burger

In an effort to really take advantage of this fair state, Daniel and I headed up to Sonoma County last weekend and partook of some of the fine culinary bounty that wine country has to offer.

By far the jewel in this excursion was the burger that had me closing my eyes and sighing in delight at The Girl and the Fig. This bistro, whose motto is "Country Food with a French Passion," is a cozy little place just off Sonoma's main square. You can eat in the bar or during the day in the garden, but as it was evening and a little chilly out, after a half hour wait, we were seated in the main room, at a table that was a bit too exposed to the hustle and bustle of the servers for my taste. But boy did the food make up for this feeling of chaos.

This being wine country, we asked the waitress to point us in the direction of a dry local white and then we dug into the menu. There was much that caught our atteniton, but after some deliberation, I chose the salad of the season to start off with because it featured watermelon radishes, which is my new favorite crunchy vegeatable. Seriously, if you haven't tried one of these, rush out and grab one. They're bigger and less bitter than other radishes, and when you cut into them they are beautiful -red marbled, sometimes with a hint of green. The pickled red onion added that perfect tang that I'm wild about and the whole things was served over a mix of dark greens. Simple, but very nice.

Daniel, ever the cheesehead, started off with the cheese and fruit plate, "three selections of cheese, seasonal fruit, house-made fig cake and baguette." Although he had the option to choose his own cheeses from a detailed list, he described to the waitress his proclivity toward the sharp and mildly stinky and let her work her magic. What he ended up with was pretty special (he generously let me sample each.) First laguiole, a hard French cheese of cow's milk. It was salty and slightly nutty, and was really fantastic when paired with the apple chutney that accompanied the plate. My second favorite was the fleur de maquis, a soft French sheep's milk cheese that was covered in wild herbs. It was buttery soft, but its intense richness was cut with an almost lemony quality. Really, really nice. The third was an organic Italian goat's milk number, fleur de capra. It was sweet and subtle and was complemented nicely by the pear slices. Not my cheese style of choice, but very good nonetheless.

For our main courses, Daniel was tempted by the grilled cheese with tomato confit, but not wanting to over indulge, he prudently chose the open faced olive oil poached tuna sandwich, topped with hard boiled egg and served with creme fraiche potato salad. His sandwich was subtle, but really, really good. And that potato salad. Oooh boy...

My main course, however, was RIDICULOUSLY good. The aforementioned burger was top sirloin with grilled onions served on a dutch crunch roll. I opted out of any topping it with cheese, but I took advantage of the dijon and the ketchup (and housemade pickles!), and I bit into heaven. The medium rare burger was a juicy masterpiece. The roll was the best version I've had yet of this ubiquitous California specialty. Perfect bread to burger ration. Perfect crunch. Perfectly perfect. It was served with matchstick frites, but honestly, who wants to bother filling up with such nonesense when one has a burger like this? Sigh. I wish I were eating it right now.

On a side note, earlier in the evening, we went to Meritage Martini bar, where I sampled the "Drunken Angry Hog" a Bloody Mary style drink served in a martini glass, made up of absolut peppar vodka, spicy mary float, with a fresh hog island oyster floating in it. Being a sucker for savory cocktails, I was tempted. The verdict: it was a little weird.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Dining Six Feet Under (in the figurative sense)

A couple of weeks ago, Daniel and I finally partook of one of San Francisco's semi-underground dinners. It wasn't deep, deep underground in the core or even the mantle, but still, it was below the surface, perhaps in the earth's crust - or more precisely in the Outer Mission at a million fishes, an arts collective. It was a vegetarian dinner, featuring local produce, prepared by Leif Hedendal (who has cooked in Barcelona and at Greens in SF). The event served as a fundraiser for a documentary In Search of Good Food, a look at the history of local/organic food in the Bay Area.

We arrived to the BYOB event bottle in hand and were greeted by the welcoming sounds of Klezmer and a tray of hors d'oeuvres.

The first was housemade purple potato crisps with celeriac-horseradish-brown butter puree.

These were absolutely delicious. The potato crisps perfectly crispy and salty and the celeriac-horseradish combo a fantastic textural complement to the crunch of the crisp. I wouldn't have minded a bit more bite to the horseradish, but I am also the girl who likes a ratio of 3 to 1 in favor of horseradish in my Hillel sandwich, so I may not be the best judge of such things.

The other little bite being passed around was a Chiogga beet crostini with Andante chevre, Bolinas stinging nettle, walnut. While I was thrilled by the incorporation of the non-stinging stinging nettle, this one didn't leave much of an impression, and so while others at our communal table used their whily ways to snag an ilicit second helping of this, I reserved my underhanded efforts to secure a second (and third) potato crisp. (I mean really, who can eat just one crisp?)

When we were all seated, it came time for the real eating to begin, and our first course was a Borlotti bean soup with farm greens, served with a big chunk of hearty bread for dipping purposes. In my humble opinion, you can't go wrong with bean soup, and the bread had a delightfully crunchy crust and a perfectly chewey center.

Next up - golden nugget pumpkin with roasted shallots, tahini cauliflower, baby golden turnips. This was really the star of the evening. It's only flaw was that I wanted more of it. The pumkin itself was moist and well-seasoned, with just the perfect balance of stringiness that you want when you spoon into a punpkin. The tahini cauliflower was to die for. I'm not usually a huge tahini fan, but it was in no way overpowering and it was almost caramelized atop the just browned cauliflower. Heavenly. The turnips? Also quite nice, although quite difficult to eat because the hosts, perhaps not trusting the rowdy crowd, hadn't given us knives for the meal...

Salad course - Star route baby lettuces, chicories, cresses, cara cara and blood orange, olio nuovo. As Daniel noted, this was like a salad that I would make at home, what with the combination of slightly bitter greens and sweet blood oranges. I like it at home, I liked it there. I like salad everywhere.

Finally, for dessert - an olive oil marmalade cake with an orange glaze. When this was served, we overheard the server mentioning to a friend at our table that the ingredients for this cake had been foraged. Based on the description of the cake itself, I had trouble guessing what elements exactly had been foraged. The olive oil? The marmalade? Maybe the oranges had been stolen renegade style from someone's citrus farm? We may never know, but it sure tasted nice in that hearty Italian olive oil dessert style, where you think, mmm, this is good, and wouldn't it taste better with some nice butter thrown in? Just kidding. I really liked it and gobbled the whole thing down cold.

All in all, a really lovely evening out. Or should I say evening underground...

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Fast Food - Tangerine

When Daniel returned late from NYC last Saturday night, we decided that we deserved a proper Sunday brunch to celebrate his arrival. So the next morning, we got up and facing the cold San Francisco drizzle, headed down Sanchez to Tangerine. We'd spotted it when we were first looking at the neighborhood and were struck by the large number of dinner specials (the free dessert, free cocktail, please come and eat here variety). I couldn't help thinking that it didn't seem like a place with a lotta legs. That was before we happened by the restaurant one day during the brunch hours and saw the long line outside. When it comes to food where's there's a line, there's usually some good eating to be had, so we added it to the list of places to try.

We waited for about 20 minutes for our table in the crowded dining room. Daniel went for something truly special - a fried egg, macaroni and cheese, corn pancake. We spotted another patron consuming it happily, and it looked amazing.

Daniel cut into it and out poured the liquid yolk, drenching the mac and cheese corny concoction...

Daniel found it pretty thrilling and gobbled the whole thing. I have to admit, I found it a little flavorless. The cheese lacked any real sharpness and the whole thing needed some kind of tang to balance all the carb and eggy density.

I didn't find my dish to be particularly thrilling either. On the recommendation of the waitress, I got the Mexican omelet - filled with shrimp, spinach, and mozarrella (I got it w/o cheese) and topped with salsa and avocado. Again, the flavor balance was a little off. The salsa was without much spice and there wasn't enough of it to offer any real acidity. Granted I got it as an egg white omelet, so it did have that going against it...

Plusses of the meal - the breakfast potatoes were delicious (though a bit greasy) and the whole wheat toast and jam plate was really tasty and perfectly toasted. The waitstaff was incredibly friendly and attentitive.

But worth a wait in the rain? Maybe not so much. This tangerine is not quite ripe. (sorry, i'm tired.)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Fast Food - Udupi Palace

It's been a busy few weeks, so I'm behind, but I have loads of pix/meals to discuss, so here begins an attempt at catching up.

A few weeks ago, Daniel and I, feeling mildly jealous of Eric and Ariel's recent trip to India, decided to take a little trip to the subcontinent ourselves, by way of Valencia. We hit up Udupi Palace, a southern Indian joint, specializing in dosa and uthappam. Given the experience I had the summer between junior and senior years of college, I don't often eat South Indian food because it brings up lingering feelings of rage. Don't know that story? Oh, I was fired from a fusion South Indian restaurant in New York because the owner thought I had been stealing from the register. I am many things, but a thief, not so much...

Anyway, in spite of these persisting feelings, I do love the dosas and was excited to give Udupi a try. We started with the idli (the rice patties pictured above) as an app, and were particularly thrilled with the sambar that accompanied them. It was warm and flavorful and lovely both as a dip for the glutionous idli and on its own eaten as a soup. For our main courses, we ended up going the uthappam direction - Daniel being Daniel went for the one with the word "Spicy" in the name (he was pleased, but not thrilled) and I went for the tomato omelette (described as an uthappam made of chick pea flour with tomato and spices.) It came with more sambar (awesome) and coconut chutney (sweet and thick and rich). I LOVED it and despite its large size, I ate the whole thing. And then I got the stomach ache that comes with copious amounts of chickpeas and lentils. Luckily, Daniel was in the same situation. We were quite a pair...

Thursday, February 5, 2009

We Want Food - Kasha and veggie burgers!

So as is often the case when Daniel is out of town, I fall into a pattern of repetitive eating.

The theme of this week -kasha and veggie burgers! All mixed up!

When you think about it, in spite of its roots in the shtetl, kasha is basically a health food - with all the fibrous goodness that whole grains have to offer. When combined with a MorningStar veggie pattie, it's a meal deserving of some sort of gold medal of virtue.

Here's the recipe (mainly based on the recipe for plain kasha on the back of the Wolff's box:
-bring 2 cups of chicken broth to a boil
-meanwhile, lightly whisk one egg white, pour in one cup dry kasha to coat
-in a sauce pan, sautee up the kasha until it separates (about three minutes)
-add the boiling broth, cover tightly and reduce heat to low until kasha absorbs the liquid (about 7 minutes or so)
-meanwhile, grill up the veggie burger (I used my lovely grill pan)
-cut it up and add it to the kasha (add whatever sauce you like - I've been enjoying Chinese brown sauce)

(today for a change, I cut up some onions and some deli turkey, sauteed that and threw it into the kasha, I'm having it for lunch, so we'll wait and see how it is...)