Thursday, July 31, 2008

Organic Vegetable Garden Planted at SF City Hall

Seriously, this is one of the best things I've ever seen happen in San Francisco:
An organic vegetable garden planted in public space. Fabulous!!

About the Victory Garden
I had heard about it, but was excited to find a bit on Eater SF today. Thank you, Eater SF. You're cool.

Here's the AP story, full of photos and deets like the garden's provenance (conceived and paid for by the upcoming foodie juggernaut, Slow Food Nation '08), as well as history: a similar garden was planted during World War II to offset produce shortages.

The Good and the Fugly
I was a Matt Gonzalez supporter back in the day, but I've warmed up to Mayor Newsom over time. The gay marriage thing ruled, and so does this quote from the AP article:

"If people want to eat out of the garden, and they need to eat a piece of lettuce, that's fine with me," he said. "It's good, organic food. That's the least of my concerns."

But then I found Steven T. Jones' noteworthy piece in the SF Bay Guardian, which calls out the fact that the garden will be ripped up after a few months. Jones also links to a piece on the sad removal of a guerrilla community garden last year at Fulton and Stanyan.

Oh greenwashing.

At least it's green.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Party at Thee Parkside, Burgers at Chez Maman

Last weekend's Mission Indie Mart took it over the top at Thee Parkside.

A huge crowd of hip young things spilled out from the bar and outdoor patio and into the street (despite foggy weather)...
 drink bloody marias and eat corn dogs... stenciling in action... for girlfriend gifts...

...score gifts for self...

...and browse repurposed and original stuff like handmade leggings by folks like fame-bound local designers Please Dress Up.

Indie-Mart organizer (and co-owner of Still Life boutique on Divisadero) Kelly Malone did a fabulous job as usual, balancing professionalism with beer-fueled rockerdom like no one else.

A couple of hot babes from the esteemed Cowboys and Angels salon crew, stylists Katie Casey and Sarah Northrup know where to go for the goods...

...and the goodies...

My friends Danielle and Jason and I waited forever at the Parkside's kitchen window to order burgers and pulled pork sandwiches off the menu...

...but they were too slammed. Our friends had already waited a half hour to get their corn dogs, so we pulled anchor and floated up Potrero Hill to the counter at Chez Maman.

They do a good (albeit skinny) burger here, with perfect aioli and melted onions on fresh grilled ciabatta. The thin burger thing was a shock, actually -- I watched as the chef smacked pre-flattened, wax-papered patties onto the grill -- they couldn't have been more than a centimeter thick. I recall a thicker burger on a visit a year or so ago...wha'appen?

I was a little dismayed at first to see that my salmon burger was not only remarkably thin (and not a burger at all but a fillet), but also pan sautéed instead of grilled. However, the first bite set me at ease -- it was delish!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Breast Milk: 10x More Glutamate Than Cow's Milk

The Glamorous Life
Monday was rough: foodie hero worship, spiny lobster, Georgia shrimp, and wine at the Umami Symposium in the Hyatt Regency with serious luminaries.

Who? Oh, only legendary food writers Harold McGee and Patricia Unterman, as well as chefs Thomas Keller of the French Laundry, Hiro Sone of Ame and Terra, and Staffan Terje of Perbacco. Life is hard.

Spent the morning interviewing one of my food writer heroes, Harold McGee:

He authored On Food and Cooking, the o.g. food science bible, and writes a New York Times column ("The Curious Cook") when he's not fielding inquiries from TV producers about doing his own show. Interview to be posted within the week, but suffice to say that he speaks beautifully, enjoys David Sedaris, is loyal to his pals at Incanto and Coi, grows his own capers, and loves the Alemany Farmers Market.

Hobnob City
Shared both avid interest and a bit of eye-rolling during a not-nearly-nerdy-enough panel discussion on Umami with my food writer colleague, Amy Sherman of Cooking with Amy, who authors excellent restaurant reviews for us at SF Station. Over pre-show lump crabcakes, she introduced me to Lisa Schiffman, founder of Tuttifoodie, and I ran into Scott Hocker of San Francisco Magazine.

Lunch is Served
After the panel, the crowd of a few hundred dined on umami-rich courses prepared by the wildly talented chefs Kunio Tokuoka of Kyoto Kitcho (holy cats, this guy is good), Hiro Sone of Ame and Terra (wow), and Thomas Keller of the French Laundry (snooze -- see below).

Big Guns
I had the gigantic pleasure of dining next to The Examiner's Patty Unterman, the primogenitor of contemporary SF food coverage and owner of Hayes Street Grill. She's a pistol. She taught me all about making dashi broth and didn't hesitate to show either delight or disdain for the various parts of our meal.

Smokin' Perbacco
Also at our table: Staffan Terje, head chef at the insanely popular, Milan-chic downtown restaurant Perbacco, which has consistently been in Opentable's Top 3 most-booked restaurants since it opened. He and Unterman had a fascinating discussion about bonito, bottarga, and dashi, and I was fascinated to hear that he sometimes boils down the gelatin-rich skin of a tuna and uses it as a light thickener, when olive oil is going to be too strongly flavored. Using the whole fish -- love it.

Sonoma Secrets
Rounding out the table: Justin Wangler, exec chef up at Kendall Jackson (who's from Asheville, NC it turns out!), and pastry chef Ryan Pollnow, who noted that much of the produce for their private events and wine club dinners comes from the winery's four-acre farm and from its tomato patch further north, which produces 200 different varieties of heirloom tomatoes, if I'm recalling correctly. They're doing an heirloom tomato festival Sept. 5 + 6, so look out for that.

Laundry Loser
Keller totally phoned this one in -- his main course of lamb and fennel cooked sous vide tasted lifeless and potted, like airplane food -- a shocker considering the life-altering meal I had at the Laundry in 2007.

Funny enough, Unterman informed me that this now-trendy, 1960s boil-in-bag technique was famously co-opted by chef Joel Robuchon and scientist Bruno Goussault for the French TGV train dining program in the 70s.

A Light Meal -- Literally
Tokuoka's 5-part starter, on the other hand, was magical, served by an army of waiters only after all of the lights in the huge ballroom had been turned off.

On each diner's plate, a translucent sheet of daikon radish was wrapped around a votive candle, illuminating tasty bits that brought to mind the creativity and skill you find at haute spots like Jean Georges the Laundry.

The standout? A creamy egg yolk, slow-cooked at a low 145 °F for 30 minutes (boiling point is 212 °F), then served atop smoked chicken whipped cream with a sprig of pepper leaf. Brills!

A bite of spiny lobster with dashi jelly and toasted rice was so savory and fabulous I had to draw it out by cutting it into tiny pieces.

Summer Style
I was so stoked on the food and conversation at this point that when Hiro Sone's middle course came out (under regular lighting), I completely forgot to photograph the bright, lovely plate of poached Georgia shrimp, high-season watermelon, fresh tomato, and lightly pungent dressing of anchovy-based fish sauce and cilantro oil.

Indeed, fish sauce is one of the original sources of umami in cooking; Romans were using it in a form called garum 2,000 years ago. Worcestershire sauce is just fermented anchovies with bells and whistles, and as most folks know, pad thai gets its magic from fish sauce.

Got Breast Milk?
Fun fact: human breast milk has 10 times more glutamate than cow's milk!

Humans love glutamate, which is "the most common amino acid we eat," according to Umami Symposium panelist and taste scientist Gary Beauchamp, who added, "Perhaps people have evolved to prefer it." Glutamate is the element indicative of umami, identifiable through a savoriness -- a fullness of food that increases with ripening and fermentation. Umami-rich foods range from shellfish to vine-ripened tomatoes to green tea, aged steaks and cured fish. The more umami you eat, the more you crave it.

The reigning theory is that breast milk is rich in the amino acid that indicates umami, so that babies are even more drawn to feeding than they'd be without it, thus increasing their chances for survival -- in a Darwinian sense.

McGee told a story about how he and Vogue writer Jeffrey Steingarten did an experiment: they dry-aged a number of steaks and tried them after two weeks, four weeks, six weeks, and eight weeks of aging. Normal dry aging runs about three weeks -- that's what you find in most restaurants. Once they hit the six to eight week mark, each bite of steak not only produced incredibly bold flavor, but also caused each of them to salivate uncontrollably for an extended period. Umami in action. Crazytown.

Not surprisingly, the symposium was sponsored by the Japanese Ajinomoto Corporation, which patented MSG (chemically isolated glutamate) in 1909. Never heard of Ajinomoto? It's the same thing as Accent, my friends.

photos: TB
graphic: Hayes Street Grill

Monday, July 21, 2008

River Rat Lunch Time at Della Fattoria in Petaluma

After a weekend of rafts, ducks, and late night hot-tubbing on the Russian River for my friend Megara's bachelorette party (that's her, looking like the picture of summer on the deck), my ladies and I weren't about to make the drive back to SF without procuring a fancy bakery lunch.

So we rubbed a couple of brain cells together and came up with the esteemed, as-yet-unexplored Della Fattoria in Petaluma.

The first time I heard about Della Fattoria Bakery and Cafe, actually, was on a Russian River day picnic a couple of years ago. My pals Christopher and Sarah Vandendriessche, who run the excellent White Rock Vineyards in Napa, had brought breads from Della Fattoria along with a legendary arugula, and cherry tomato salad they'd made from their garden with some melty, CA-made burrata.

They were going on and on about how great this place was, and ever since, I have heard nothing but good things about it.

I am happy to report that Della Fattoria is good stuff. Solid roasted chicken salad sandwich, studded with almonds. Nice butter lettuce salad, lightly dressed in blue with my favorite tiny things, pine nuts. And a couple of outdoor tables!

Good coffee; no drip. I'll admit, I kindof prefer drip, although drinking an Americano feels fancy -- and I love feeling fancy. The pastries we tried (ham and havarti croissant, chocolate croissant, eclair, glazed palmier, croissant) ranged from fabulously rich and flaky to a little stiff (respectively), so I might not make a detour for those.

But it's a lovely, civilized place, on a lovely block of downtown Petaluma's main drag (Petaluma Blvd. North), next to a lovely little park complete with a fountain and baby gingers running around. The perfect loc for a transition from country mouse to town mouse!

photos: TB

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Happy Birthday to Avedano's Holly Park Market!

To celebrate their one-year anniversary, the women of Avedano's specialty grocery and butcher shop are throwing a little party:

Sunday, July 20th from 1pm to 4pm
Avedano's Holly Park Market
235 Cortland Ave in Bernal Heights

Hamburgers, homemade sausages and pulled pork sandwiches will be cooked up by owners Tia Harrison (in-house butcher and Executive Chef and Co-Owner of Sociale in Presidio Heights), Melanie Eisemann (procurer of hard-to-find goods and fellow at Sociale), and Angela Wilson (front of house and #s). It's a great local business, and though they're not carrying that rad morel and leek jack cheese anymore, they have an aged pecorino wrapped in olive leaves that sounds pretty delightful!

photo: Avedano's

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Magnolia's New Menu as Pleasing as its New Look

Magnolia Brewpub (on Haight @ Masonic in San Francisco) has transformed: the former hippied-up hangout for post-collegiates and professors has dolled up a bit, upgraded its menu, raised its prices a skosh (causing a few grumbles among the neighborhomies), and changed its name to Magnolia Gastropub and Brewery.

The colorful mural's been replaced by a few coats of gold paint, and a posh, vintage English pub feel has been achieved with antique mirrors, dark wainscoting, and Brit-chic white tiling in the bathroom hall.

Don't fret; the super-nice owners are still grateful -- there's a leeeetle cubby holding a B&W photo of Jer above the menu chalkboard, which lists the cheeses, salumi, and sausages of the moment.

I was particularly stoked about the seafood sausage, for which I've been searching for the last 6 months. Despite being deep fried (overkill, guys!), it was delish, with little chunks of Laughing Bird shrimp. Though my side of greens wasn't all that, my other side dish of grilled eggplant was tasty to the extreme and topped with a bright, basil-y herb relish that went perfectly with my precious snausage-a-la-Cousteau.

Summer melon salad with speck, arugula, and one-inch balls of fried soft cheese: winner. Heidrun sparkling mead by the glass: winner. Grilled sardines: winner.

The fries were expert, and a gift from the chef of Scotch eggs (this version being quail eggs wrapped in pork sausage, breaded, and deep fried) fulfilled an entry on my lifelong food to-eat list!

Scotch Eggs.

photo: Chotda

Next test: the burger. It'd better be good, considering chef Brandon Jew got his start at Zuni, home of one of the best burgs in the land!

For the info-starved, check the Magnolia blog.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Meatpaper/Gastronomica Party 7/20/08 at Perbacco

This should be a cool event; the folks behind Meatpaper are great, and both publications fall comfortably along the brainy/whimsical continuum. Plus, Perbacco is chic to the max.

From Meatpaper Magazine HQ:

Meatpaper and Gastronomica, two independent-minded magazines exploring the intersections of food and culture, invite you to celebrate the publication of their summer issues with a lively evening of artistic food and food-centric art at Perbacco Restaurant in downtown San Francisco. This event will feature tastings from local chefs, as well as cocktails, an art exhibition, and live music.

Sunday, July 20th
6pm to 9pm

Perbacco Restaurant
230 California Street
San Francisco, CA 94111
tel: 415-955-0663

$25 per person, may be purchased online via credit card or PayPal.
A limited number of tickets will be sold at the door.

Chef Staffan Terje
Chef Leif Hedendal
Chef Chris Kronner
Chef Scott Youkilis
The Fatted Calf
Prather Ranch Meat Co.
Verge Syrah
La Fee Absinthe
Rhum Clement
Bluecoat Gin
Trumer Pils
and more

Charlie Grosso


Natural Meats in the Deep Mish!

It's an auspicious event when a small, independently owned meat market opens up in a city colonized by big-box retailers. But when a natural meat market with organic produce and insanely low prices opens up two blocks from my house -- in a zone of the deep Mission with no boutique groceries nearby -- it's cause for celebration.

Timed perfectly with my acquisition of a free gas grill off of Craigslist, Alhambra Halal Meat Company opened up in late June 2008 on a nice little block of 24th Street near Folsom, a few doors down from the original Philz One-Cup-at-a-Time coffee shop.

Between old standbys like El Delfin & La Palma, and new-ish greats like the St. Francis, Sugarlump Coffee and Triple Base Gallery, 24th is looking good.

All of the beef, lamb, chicken, and goat at Alhambra are raised on vegetarian feed -- without hormones or antibiotics -- on Halal farms in California, Colorado, and Oregon. Similar to Jewish Kosher status, Muslim Halal means humane and sanitary slaughter, and no pork.

For such standards of quality, the prices are more than newsworthy: $5.99/lb. for lamb chops, $3.99/lb. for housemade Merguez sausage, $8.50/lb. for ribeye steaks, $3.99/lb. for boneless, skinless chicken breasts, and so on. Bonkers!

Fabulous lamb chops, which then hit the grill an hour after purchase and turned out gorgeous.

Chops are cut to order, reducing exposed surface area during storage and resulting in fresher meat.

The housemade Merguez lamb sausage is made fresh daily; it's mildly spicy and really lovely.

Organic produce. Boo-ya.

The guys who run the place couldn't be nicer; they really add to the community spirit that has been building in the neighborhood since the cops chased out the crack dealers five years ago or so.

And they have an olive bar!

So far, all of the lamb chops, Merguez, and chicken I've grilled from Alhambra have rocked. Can't wait to go back!

photos: TB

Friday, July 11, 2008

TK and Harold McGee Talk Umami Live in SF 7/21/08

Here's your chance to hang out with Thomas Keller and Harold McGee:

Umami Symposium: New Frontiers of Taste
discussion and multi-course lunch
Monday, July 21 2008 (tix avail til 7/16)
11:30 a.m. - 4:30pm
Hyatt Regency in San Francisco

Umami is the stuff that makes MSG so irresistible and is created when you dry-age a steak, let a tomato ripen on the sill, ferment soybeans, or age a cheese -- it's that deep, dark, caramelized flavor in a grilled burger that makes you want to eat a horse even when you're hung over.

The Umami Information Center presents New Frontiers of Taste, a symposium commemorating the discovery of "the fifth taste"100 years ago in Tokyo, Japan.
photo: TB

The menu: seared Japanese spiny lobster, ginger-poached Georgia shrimp and watermelon salad and Salle d'Agneau: lamb sous vide.

Big guns in effect: Chefs Thomas Keller of French Laundry, Hiro Sone of Terra and Ame and Kunio Tokuoka of Kyoto Kitcho in Japan.


Kathy Sykes, Ph.D. (professor of sciences and society, University of Bristol)
Gary Beauchamp, Ph.D. (director, Monell Chemical Senses Center)
John Prescott, Ph.D. (associate professor of psychology, The University of Newcastle)
Kunio Tokuoka (executive chef, Kyoto Kitcho)
Tim Hanni (master of wine and wine educator)


Harold McGee, Ph.D. (food writer and molecular gastronomist)

You know, the one who wrote THE seminal food science text for chefs: On Food and Cooking - The Science and Lore of the Kitchen.

Tickets available at for $100 (or $50 for students with valid student I.D.).

It's not cheap, but the foodie starf*cker in you will thank you in the morning.

How to Grill Fresh Monterey Baby Squid

Finding Squidward
Recently, I found a huge tray of freshly caught, local Monterey baby squid at Sun Fat, my favorite value seafood market on Mission @ 23rd. Ever since my first plate of it at Delfina, I've been a sucker for grilled calamari. Time to get schooled!

photo: Echoman

Glorious Sun Fat Seafood Market

Clean and bright, it always has a few varieties of wild-caught local fish -- from huge, wild sea scallops to thick, translucent hunks of monkfish, the staff is friendly, and the prices are the lowest I've found in the city.

Sun Fat is a well-known foodie secret; I continue to run into friends who heart this place too, like my friend George, who grew up in Mill Valley and tells me that Sun Fat has been well-loved by regulars for over 20 years!

Advice From a Pro
My friend Jason Berthold just wrapped up a solid stint as one of the two sous chefs at The French Laundry, and he's put the most recent vintage of his Courier label syrah and sauvignon blanc in bottle.

Next he'll be running the kitchen at RN74, the Michael Mina/Rajat Parr wine bar going into the Millennium Tower in SOMA in April 2009 or so; food writers all over town have already started clamoring for the assignment from their respective editors, who -- like me -- can't help but add to the buzz.

Before his next gig gets crazy, he's got a free moment here and there to advise bro's on things like cleaning and grilling calamari.

Cleaning Your New Squid Friends

It's easy, though not for the squeamish. It takes maybe a half hour to clean about a pound of squid, but the glory is worth it. Sun Fat doesn't always have the local squid, unfortunately; they offer pre-cleaned squid daily, but it's flown in from China -- not the fresh choice, nor the sustainable one.

Select the smallest squid at the market, with bodies 3-4 inches long not counting the head and tentacles; they're the most tender. Basically, you want to use the tentacles and the body casing, and you want to get rid of the head, eyes, guts, and clear plastic-y quill.
1. (Optional) Rub off the mottled, purpley skin under running water. Or, like Isa Restaurant, leave the skin on, which, it turns out, is no less delicious!
2. Gingerly tug the head off of the body, and with it you will pull out most of the guts. Careful, if you rupture the ink sac, you'll have extra rinsing to do.
3. Cut off the tentacles at their base just above the eyes, and make a little arc with your paring knife so that you avoid including the tiny poky part that juts from the head into the center of the tentacle base. Throw the head and guts away.
4. Pull out the clear, plastic-y quill, which is attached to the side of the body interior. It might break, so reach in with your finger to get out the whole quill; you can also snip off the very tail end of the calamari and grab the rest of the quill from there.
5. Stick your finger inside the body casing to make sure all gunk is removed. Try not to gag.
Rinse, repeat.

The Key to Texture: Salting Early!
Jason told me that the key to a tender, delectable texture is removing as much moisture from the squid as you can before cooking, so that it caramelizes instead of steaming. Salt pulls the water out. Plus, as Judy Rodgers notes in her Zuni Cafe cookbook, salting early and often yields a more moist, flavorful piece of meat, fish, or poultry across the board. So true.

Pat the squid dry, then lay out each one on a few layers of toweling. Sprinkle a liberal pinch of salt onto both sides of each squid (as if you were salting popcorn for a salt lover), then roll them all up within the toweling so that both sides of each squid are facing dry fabric/paper. Wrap tightly in plastic.

Throw your squid/salt/towel/plastic roll in the fridge for a few hours (even 30 minutes of salting will help!), preferably sandwiched between ice packs to slow the inevitable growth of bacteria that begins the moment a sea creature is fished from its watery home.

Time to Grill!
Toss the squid in olive oil, fresh ground pepper, and a tiny bit more salt, then throw it on a super-hot grill. (Preheat a gas grill for at least 15 minutes.) No grill? The top rack of your oven's broiler should do.

It cooks within a minute or three, and it's a real b*tch to keep up with flipping all of the squid on your own, so if you can get a friend with an extra pair of tongs in on this, go for it.

If you grill the tentacles in little tong-sized masses, then you don't end up losing too much through the grill grates.

Presentation's a Snap
Just slice the bodies into rings, then sprinkle the rings and tentacles liberally with a mess of fresh lemon juice and chopped fresh parsley. Serve on a big plate and make your friends use their fingers. I know it's unspeakably pretentious, but somehow it really does taste better that way!


Thursday, July 10, 2008

Cracking Open The Yum Diary

I Love a Good Shrimp
My dinner last Tuesday night: just-caught wild Carolina shrimp, caramelized on the griddle at The Wreck of the Richard and Charlene. It's a seafood house hidden behind a screened porch on the shrimp docks 15 minutes from Charleston, South Carolina, where I was visiting family and racking up plenty of time in the warm Atlantic.

San Francisco: A Magical Place for Food
I love a good Carolina shrimp, and I adore a West Coast prawn, just so they're both sustainably caught. Since fresh, amazing seafood is one of the best things about living here beneath the Golden Gate, showing off my most favorite shrimp dish in the world seems a fitting enough way to begin my new foodie blog for SF Station, the San Francisco city guide where I've served as the Food Editor for the last nine years.

We publish one fresh, feature-length San Francisco restaurant review per week (based on anonymous visits by our excellent food writing staff), but we're beefing up our editorial coverage of food and beverage news, events, and the like.

Tipping my sunhat to the excellent local food reporters at the Tablehopper, Eater SF, and the Chronicle's Inside Scoop (as well as DailyCandy, Cooking with Amy, and spot-on newcomers like UrbanDaddy and Thrillist), I'll use this blog to publish local hospitality industry news, foodie events, updates on previously reviewed restaurants, previews of new and notable spots, recipes and techniques, advice from chefs, and good time recaps.

Up next: How to clean and grill a mess of fresh Monterey calamari, per my chef friend Jason Berthold -- recently sous chef at French Laundry, and now the man in charge at Michael Mina's and Rajat Parr's wine kitchen, RN74: possibly the most hotly anticipated SF opening of 2009. Yumma.


Oh, and The Rum Diary is an early, easy-reading Hunter S. Thompson novel set in 1960s Puerto Rico. I wrote my 10th grade term paper on Hunter S. Thompson, and I recently spent a fabulous week in PR, so there you go.

p.s. I widened the post area within my blog template using this good advice.

photo: TB