Thursday, December 20, 2007

Great Chritmas gift Idea

As you may have noticed it is the holidays and that traditionally means a time for giving(and recieving). I have traveled to India and Asia and have seen the result of not having enough food or what some people like to call starving(no laughing matter). As a food blogger i spend a lot of time talking about gluttony, and sometimes we forget that there are people out there who don't have the luxury of choosing a black or a white truffle. So for the holidays this year I think we should all think about a great charity; chez pim and "The Menu for Hope".

It's goal is to help cure hunger around the world, there website can give you a better idea of what they are about; http://www.chezpim.com/blogs/

Besides helping all the people in need, they have really done a great job collecting prizes that people actually want. Here are some of my favorites;

EU31: A personal tour of elBulli kitchen laboratory at the new Alícia Institute, from Chez Pim

EU01: Edible Paris custom food itinerary from Rosa Jackson

UW37: Chris Cosentino (of The Next Iron Chef and Incanto) will take you to lunch on delectable bits at his favorite secret offal restaurant in San Francisco, plus a Lips and Assholes t-shirt from Offal Good (You gotta support San Francisco !!)

EU04: Paris Market Tour and Lunch for Two from umami

UC26: Moto - chef for a day from Moveable Feast *new

AP30: An eating tour of Bangkok with Austin Bush, Thai food expert and Lonely Planet writer plus a copy of the latest edition of Lonely Planet Bangkok Guide (valued at US$200) from Gut Feelings *new

EU40: Lunch for two at the Michelin 3 star l'Arpège in Paris courtesy of Alain Passard, via Chez Pim *new

UE18: A Fully Loaded Bookshelf of Cookbooks (Minus the Shelf) from Serious Eats

UW41: A full year's subscription to Gastronomica, can be shipped anywhere in the world *new

UW32: Very special package of English Afternoon Tea from June Taylor and Sam Breach at Becks and Posh (gotta support one of my favorite blogger, not to mention the great conversations you will have)

UC14: 8 oz. hand-crafted pancetta from Seriously Good

EU13: A big box of Swiss chocolates from just Hungry

AP07: A bag of the world's hottest chillies, homegrown in Nagaland, India from Rambling Spoon

UW36: 100 gift voucher to spend at The Fatted Calf's new Napa store from Becks and Posh( Come on San Francisco, you know you like the fatted calf)

UC28: Hot Doug's celebrity sausage from Moveable Feast *new (I'm a hot dog lover)

WB09: Make Custom Wine at Sonoma Grapemasters from Segue Cellars

UK07: Bottle of whisky from A Wee Bit of Cooking

UC27: A bottle of real Absinthe from Moveable Feast *new

AP23: 1 bottle of 18-year-old Chivas Regal Scotch Whisky Gold Signature (valued at US$95) from Gut Feelings *new
AP24: 12 bottles of 42 Below Vodka (valued at 12,000 baht) from Gut Feelings *new
AP25: 6 bottles of 42 Below Seven Tiki Rum (valued at 6000 baht) from Gut Feelings *new (free booze is always good)

The tickets are $10 and there are a ton of great prizes. So give the tickets as gifts or just get yourself some and hope for the best. Good luck and Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


House rubbed rack of lamb with cardamom golden beet puree’, walnut shitake dirty rice and garnished with roasted rutabaga and celery.

I made this awesome dish last night. The lamb’s flavor was like a cross between bacon and sausage and the light tart beets really brightened up the flavor of the rice. I think you can leave off the rutabagas and the celery but I like the freshness the celery brings and the rutabagas, well hey, how often do you eat a rutabaga. I had the rice left over from the night before; I cooked it in a rice cooker with some dried seaweed I got from Rainbow grocery. If I were to do it again I would just make a sort of risotto instead of the “dirty rice”. The lamb is Australian lamb I got from Costco for 9.99 a lbs (the rack cost me $12 and change), the rutabagas. The beets and celery are all form the farmers market. I get most of my herbs and salts from Rainbow grocery.

If had to do it again I would boil a russet potato and mashed it with the beets to give them a silkier texture. I also would have added cream to the beets as apposed to whole milk. If my wife weren’t starving I would have thrown the rack under the broiler for 30 seconds per side to crisp up the outside. And last but not least I would have roasted the Veggies in a separate pan, they got a little greasy, but for the sake of fewer dishes, roasting in one pan turned out ok.

This dish serves two hungry people or three not so hungry people. Either way you will have roast veggies and beet purée left over. You can also save the beet boiling liquid and reduce it down farther and make a great vinegar syrup witch you can use for strawberries, over vanilla ice cream or as a sauce for steak, pork or lamb.

I really apologize but I don’t cook using measurements. If I had to guess I would say a pinch is half a tablespoon and a dash is a tablespoon. You are just going to have to make this dish yours and change the flavors to your liking.


For the spice rub
Pinch of fennel seeds. Crushed in a mortar or spice grinder.
Pinch of ground Mace
Big pinch of Hickory salt
Pinch of smoky salt
A sprinkle of garlic salt
A small pinch of hot paprika
Three small squirts of ketchup

Beet puree’
Four medium golden beats quartered
Water to cover beets and then some more
Three cloves of peeled garlic
Five cardamom pods
Half an onion quartered
A pinch of Chinese five spice
5 good dashes of Chinese black vinegar*
2 dashes of cider vinegar
1 bay leave
Salt and pepper

Rice
Jasmine or Basmati rice **
Dried seaweed
Dried shitake mushrooms
Two cloves of garlic
Walnut oil
Butter
Chicken broth
Diced Shallot
Diced sage
Salt and pepper

Roast veggies
Three Rutabagas quarter inch sliced
2 ribs celery cut into one-inch slices
Half onion sliced thin
Salt, pepper and olive oil

Lamb
Rack of lamb cleaned up and frenched.


For the lamb

∑ Heat oven to 450
∑ Mix all herbs, salt and ketchup in bowel to form a dry paste
∑ Spread paste all over lamb and let sit until room tempter is reached.

For beet puree’
∑ Add all vinegars to pot
∑ Slightly crush cardamom pods and add to vinegar
∑ Add the rest of ingredients
∑ Add beets
∑ Add water to cover beets and then a little more
∑ Bring to boil

For rice
∑ Put rice and appropriate amount of water for rice in a rice cooker
∑ Add dried seaweed
∑ Cook until done

Put lamb, bone up on a rack, and then place in a baking dish. Spread the rutabaga and the celery around the bottom of the dish. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and olive oil. Place in 450-degree oven for 12-18 minutes or when a thermometer place in the lamb reads 145 degrees for rare.

Cook beets until a paring knife can be easily slid into it. Remove solids from pan and discard cardamom pod and bay leaf. Blend the solids in a food processor, add about and 1/8th cup of cooking liquid, more if you want it tangy. Add a little less than a tablespoon of butter and two dashes of milk; blend in a food processor until smooth. Add more butter or milk if you want it creamier

Heat some of the butter and some of the walnut oil in a saucepan, add diced shallot, cook until clear, about thirty seconds. Add crushed garlic and cook thirty more seconds. Add dried mushrooms to butter. Remove rice from rice cooker and add to shallot, garlic, and mushroom mixture, add small amount of chicken broth. Briefly mix and then cover to keep warm.

Remove lamb from oven and let stand, tented with tin foil for five minutes.
Turn oven to broil and return celery and rutabagas to the broiler and cook until edges brown.

Meanwhile place a large tablespoon full of beet puree’ on plate and spread out on plate.

Add diced sage to rice and stir in. Place a large spoonful of rice in center of the beet circle.

Remove veggies form broiler and place in circle on top of beet puree’, outside of the rice.

Cut the rack of lamb between the rib bones creating lamb chops. Place three chops on the plate in a circle

Garnish with parsley or a dash of paprika or some sliced chive.

I am not a pro recipe writer so I hope this made some sense. Like I said there are things I would do differently if I didn’t have left over rice and fresh mushrooms. I would have made this with fresh mushrooms and a proper rice dish but hey, I didn’t want to waist the rice.

*If Chinese black is unavailable use balsamic and cider. Just use less balsamic.

**I like jasmine rice but I had basmati on hand. If I were making risotto I would use aborio.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Where I eat.

Everyone thinks there restaurants are the best. The truth of the matter is that 90% of the time people eat around their houses or near their work. Another good rule is that everyone thinks there restaurants are the best. I am no exception to this rule, whenever any asks me for recommendations I usually steer them to restaurants near my house (in the Castro) or where I hang out (mission). I usually eat at places I can walk to or place I am already familiar with. I have friends that are always eating out at new restaurants but for the time being I have been doing a ton of cooking at home, there for I have not been eating out that much. It is odd, I like new things but when it comes to eating I seem to be drawn towards cravings rather than trying new things. This is not to say that I don't eat at new restaurants but it seems like most of the time I go back to old favorites or places highly recommended. So here is a list of some of the places I like to eat and a few places I am yet to try but come highly recommended by close friends that I trust. They range from cheap and easy places to high-end eateries meant for special occasions.

Like I said most people don't travel to far from home to eat, So I live in the Castro, work in the mission and my wife works near Fillmore st. So most of my eating happens near those places. I am sure there are good places in other neighborhoods like the Marina and Polk ST. I just haven't found any worth mentioning.

DISCLAMER- this is not a “best of” list, these are just places I like. I don't need to justify why I eat there, I just do.

In no particular order;

Sunflower (both)- Vietnamese- There are two restaurants that share one kitchen. The food is clean and fresh and very cheap. I like the vermicelli with imperial roles and BBQ pork (like 6.95). My wife likes the Pho, shaken beef and lemon grass tofu. They also have one of the best lunch deals in town. (Mission)

2223-California cuisine- this is a good solid restaurant. Not revolutionary cuisine but it does recipes that you are familiar with, really well. Recently they have had some ups and downs, but it is still one of my go to restaurants. Great drinks and atmosphere. (Market, Castro)

China First-Chinese-This is great Chinese food. A lot of there specials are written in Chinese so I feel like I am missing out. This place is so cheap and has that authentic Chinese atmosphere. Great for large groups. Not classy but really good food. This and Tong Kiang are the only reason I go to the Richmond for food. (Richmond)

Tong Kiang- dim sum-Clean, white person (and Asian) person Dim sum. This restaurant is great for Dim sum, the regular food is O.K, but their dim sum is the reason to go. Other Dim Sum places have a better selection, but for some reason this place just does it right. No matter how many people you have in your party it will cost you between $20-$22 a person including tip. (Richmond)

Café Macaroni- Italian-I ate here for the first time about two weeks ago. I thought it was good solid Italian food. My chicken was over cooked but the sauce it came with was really fresh and tasted great. It is owned by a father daughter team and with real Italians in the kitchen, you can’t complain about authenticity. They also own the one across the street (temporarily closed). I haven’t found great Italian food in S.F, so this will have to do. (North Beach)

St. Frances soda fountan-Indi-rock diner-. The service is good, the food is O.K and a little pricy for a diner, but it seems that all diners in this town are pricy. You will wait for a table if you come here for brunch on the weekends and during peak lunch hours during the week. If you’re lucky you may see the Mythbuster team in here. Worth checking out. My brother swears by the burger. I eat the Reuben. Salad dressings leave a lot to be desired. (24th ST mission)

RNM-California Cuisine- I hear this place good, very highly recommended. Check it out. (Lower Haight)

Firefly- California Cuisine- This is a staple restaurant for a date or dinner with the parents. It is cozy and has a great warm atmosphere. All the food is great; I have never had a bad meal there. Sometimes they have prix-fix menu that is also a very good deal. (Noe Valley)

Hog island (farm and ferry building)-Oysters plus food- If you like oysters just go. You will leave the ferry building hungry but damn those oysters are good. The farm is a great way to spend the day but call first and reservations. (Embarcadero, Marshal)

Manora Thai- Thai food-Great lunch special never been there for dinner. Good food. (SOMA)

Osha- Thai food- great food, smaller portions but the food is really good.

Old Jerusalem- Middle eastern- best Middle Eastern food I have eaten in S.F. Atmosphere is O.K but the food makes up for it. I mean this is the real deal; I’m talking about that lightweight “truly Med” stuff. The portions are perfect for eating family style. (Mission near Caesar Chaves)

Zeitgeist- Grill food-Great burgers, I am sick of the home fries. The burgers are the only thing worth getting and they only come well done, but for some reason they taste great. (Mission)

Vallarta Taqueria-Taqueria- I think this is some of the best Mexican around, this is the real deal. A lot of Hispanic people eat here which to me is a good sign. The other day I was in for lunch and saw them boiling an entire Cow’ head it was a sight to be seen. Great tacos!
(24th ST, Mission)

Na'an and anything (chutney, curry and so on)-Indian- I have eaten at the one in the inner sunset and the on down town and the one in north beach. I can’t tell any of them apart even though the names are different. Most of them are good. The one in North beach is the best. They skimp a little on the meat but the sauce is very good. (All over the city)

Chow (park chow)- comfort food- Food is B-, but there is something for everyone. If you can’t make up your mind, go to Chow, you’ll leave satisfied. That’s all I’m going to say. (Church and market and inner sunset)

Blue- comfort food-good food, great portions, but needs better décor. Try the mac n'cheese. (Castro)

Boulevard- I still think this one of the best restaurants in San Francisco. I have eaten at almost all of the high-end restaurants in town and this one still holds up. They went through a spell about two years ago of putting two or three small entrée’s on a plate, like short ribs and monkfish on one plate. They just didn’t gel with each other. I have never had a bad meal there.

This isn’t a complete list of all the places I eat but it is a good start. If you ever find yourself in any of these neighborhoods, I highly recommend checking them out.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Home made pate'

Growing up, i hated liver of all sorts. I hated the way it's smell filled the house and got on everything. I couldn't understand why anyone in their right mind would eat it. It's texture was slippery and biological and just gross. Now, i was not one of those kids who only ate hot dogs and mac'n cheese, quite the contrary. My father has always been a great cook and to this day is probably the best home chef I know. My parents were hippies who owned a tour company. So from a very young age, I ate all sorts of food, from Indian curries to organic brussel sprouts (yes, a kid eating brussel sprouts). Throughout the years, liver has always been on my short list of dislikes. Now, this list doesn't include all livers. Maybe I just have good taste or i was blessed with no conscience, or maybe it was years of Iron Chief (Japan), but i have always liked foie gras. (Calves's liver I am still working on) About 9 years ago something shifted, I was in Saul's Delicatessen (http://www.saulsdeli.com/) in Berkeley and for some odd reason had a hankering for liverwurst. So I ordered one up and my life has never been the same. I eat liver all the time and if it is on the menu in any form, I order it. I don't know where it started but it seems that Jewish people love chicken liver (gross generalization, but I am yet to find one that doesn't like them). This being said, I am part Jewish and my Jewish God-Father gave me the basis for my chicken liver recipe, so I have to give some props where props are due. Anyway, I took his recipe and read up on some others from the Joy of Cooking and some fancy restaurant cookbooks as well (Chez Panisse or Boulevard, I can't remember). Somewhere between the authentic and the classy I came up with a great recipe for chicken liver pate. I also have to add that this whole recipe cost me about three dollars (watch out $10 challenge) and I highly, highly recommend using organic chicken livers. It cuts down on the "yuk" factor of eating innards.

Recipe:
Feel free to omit the apples if you want but i think it balances out the earthiness of the liver. I also just re-read an article in Sauveur magazine that excluded apples and included tomato paste, anchovy paste and capers. That's a recipe from Florence.
I also like to serve pate on brioche or toasted, but still moist bread. I am not a huge fan of the baked to hell crostini. And for god's sake, put out more bread than you think people will need. Don't make people pile on pate, so gauche.

Salt and pepper 1 lb of organic chicken livers.

Heat 12 inch pan to high heat.

Add small amount of oil (I use olive oil), just enough to cover bottom of pan.

Add livers and brown on all sides and cook til small amount of pink remains in center. This may be done in two batches in order to prevent steaming. You can also break up livers with wooden spoon to check centers for doneness. DON'T OVER COOK.

While livers are cooking, dice about 1/4 cup of shallots and a 1/4 cup of yellow onion.

Cube half a sweet apple. If apple isn't sweet use more.

Remove livers and place in food processor.

Add onions to pan and scrape brown bits from pan until onions are translucent and just beginning to brown.

Add shallots and apples, cook until apples soften and shallots are clear.

Add a tablespoon of sherry and 3 tablespoons of apple brandy or apple liqeur. For all you "appletini" drinkers, don't use Puckers or any crap like that. Use real apple liquer. You can often find it in Russian or Eastern European markets. Deglaze pan and scrape up brown bits.

You can set the whole pan on fire and burn off the alcohol if you want (Be careful, I accept no responsibility if you lose and eyebrow).

Add the solids and a small amount of liquid to the food processor with the liver and turn on (30 seconds).

While mixer is running, add chunks of cold butter to mixer in small amounts (this adds to texture, and amount is totally based on personal preference).

Check consistency and taste. Add left over liquid to thin out pate and season with salt and fine ground pepper.

Continue blending until mixture is smooth. If it gets two watery add small amount of Pate' back to pan and heat up stirring constantly, do not let brown.

Make this dish your own, change it, add things to it, and try new flavors . It is so easy and will impress guests, especially the fire part.

good luck.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Rice is nice

I have traveled through many Asian countries. I have eaten many cuisines, each one of them more exotic then the last. The only thing that links the wonderfully spicy Dahl in India to the delicate fish of Japan is… rice. This is not to say that all rice is created equally. There is a myriad of rice varieties all over the world Black rice in Bali, Red rice in Thailand, Jasmine rice in Japan, and good old brown rice, here in hippie America. Now what connects all this rice from all over the world? The rice cooker. Now I normally wouldn’t make grand generalizations (that’s a lie I do it all the time, but for the sake of sounding sensitive I will down play this fact) but it seems like everyone in Asia has a rice cooker, and what can I say that over 2 billion people can’t be wrong. In Asia with the exception of the very hard up, I have never seen anyone cook rice in a pot on a stove.

I bought my rice cooker years ago and the damn thing won’t die. I left it on top of my toaster oven and melted the legs off and it still works great, am I a little concerned the house may burn down, but hey you have to live dangerously and it’s not the rice cooker’s fault. I have a small rice cooker which can feed 3-4 hungry people max. For bigger parties I have a 30 cup rice cooker and that thing will feed an army. But for just me and my wife the small one works great.

What I love about it is the ease with which it works. I mean you put in rice and water (different rices need different amounts of water) push a button and walk away. When you come back you have perfectly cooked rice, no stirring or tricks or guessing and no burnt bottom. Sorry that got a little infomercial there for a second, but I really can’t stress enough how great the cooker is. I have to be honest I don’t even really know how to make rice without a cooker. I have tried a ton of different ways but not one has produced the same effect every time as rice cooker does.

I have started to branch out with my rice cooker. I now make steel cut oatmeal in the morning, I set it up with I cup of oats and double water and a little butter hit the button then take a shower. When I get out breakfast is ready. I also made a great cheating risotto in it. I added rice and a little less chicken stock than the recipe called for, I also added some fresh herbs and a little parmasean cheese. When the button popped everything came out great. I then buttered the bottom of a pan add some garlic and let that brown for thirty seconds, then I added the risotto and began adding chicken stock and white wine until the rice was just cooked through then I added a little more fresh herbs and parmesan cheese, seasoned with salt and pepper and done. It didn’t really cut down on time but it sure did cut down on the ease of the recipe.

I have also cooked a paella gumbo sort of thing in the rice cooker. But that recipe will have to wait till next time.

I have no idea how the rice cooker knows but it knows a whole hell of a lot of more about cooking rice than I do. It has a non-stick surface which makes cleaning easy but even better than that it has never screwed up a pot of rice. Unlike me who has screwed up more than my fare share of rice so I figure why not let this thing do it every time.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Grill top paella/gumbo sort of thing

It was labor day last Monday, and what better way to celebrate working than having a BBQ and cooking all day. Even though this is still work I think I can let it slide. I also don't BBQ like everyone else. First, let me say that i don't own a BBQ, I do however own one hell of a smoker, I also own my own grill grate, don't ask. Second, Just like every other man, I think I am one hell of a BBQ/griller. But not like every other man, I actually know how to grill. I have read books and burned my fare share of stuff. I understand the fire, I know how to build one, I know how to maintain one and I know how to cook over one. Building a fire in a group can be one of the most frustrating experiences a person can ever have. Fire techniques are like Ass holes, everyone has one. An let me tell you everyone likes to share there technique weather or not asked for.

So on this day my friend Bill built and maintained the fire,and he did a fine job. He did get his fair share of abuse but the fire stayed hot and everything did get cooked. On this day I undertook something a little brave for the grill. I undertook a Paella/Gumbo sort of thing. It all started in a snobby super market on the way to Hog Island Oysters(where we had the BBQ). I wanted to cook something that stayed with the seafood theme of oysters, but would feed a lot of people. So i grabbed some shell-on-shrimp next I made my way down and got some Calibres sausage(I don't know if this is a real sausage or just a name the store came up with). I picked some up some pre-made Spanish rice from the Deli counter. Next I wanted canned tomatoes and clam juice but they where both way to pricey for me to buy in this boutique super market. So I settled on a large can of Manhattan clam chowder. i figured the tomato-fish base would have to substitute. A friend grabbed a large red pepper and some beer and that was that or so I thought. As I continued the 1.5 hour drive up to Hog Island I had a hunch that no one brought charcoal so we made one more quick stop in Point Reyes station. I ran into the small store and gave it a once over and to my surprise they a few extra things I needed... and It was cheap! I got three chicken legs and thighs for just over $2.00 an onion and a box of Zateran's crab boil all this and a bag of charcoal for under 8 dollars.

Skip ahead two hours and the Grill is on and ready to go. I diced up the onion and read pepper and put it in a disposable chaffing dish and that dish went on the grill. I also but the sausages on the grill to Firm up a little so I could slice them later. I let that cook for a while until the onions just began to brown then I threw the sausages and a little Pacifico beer in the pan and covered it. Meanwhile I put the chicken legs and thighs on the grill, skin side down, and let them cook for a while. After flipping them a couple of times I pulled them off and along with the Grab boil spice and the Manhattan clam chowder added the chicken to the chaffing dish. I let that come to a boil then added the sausage , a pound of shrimp and then covered the whole thing with the rice a few slices of lemon and some sprigs of parsley I let the whole thing cook until the shrimp was just done. I pulled the dish off and shredded the chicken into the dish.

I have to say I thought I was going home with pounds of this stuff. Everyone was full and the weather was getting bad, but much to my surprise the entire thing got eaten. It was such a mish-mash of stuff thrown into a pot I was actually surprised it turned out well. But hey i guess you can't go to wrong with grilling on a bay, in the sun, on labor day.

BLUE better than CHOW

BLUE better than CHOW

I ate Blue last night and was pleasantly surprised. See, i live around the corner from it's Market st. location and walk by all the time. The monochromatic blue decor never enticed me in. It wasn't until a co-worker of my wife recommended it did i decide to eat there. It was late and we where hungry and wanted something easy. We got to the restaurant around 8:45 and to our surprise it was packed. The restaurant was warm but even packed with people the restaurant's cold feel didn't beat off the wind and fog. The waiters are friendly but to a point of annoyance. At first glance the menu is simple and at second glance it remains so, As long as you are in the mood for comfort food you are in the right place. A citrus salad with fennel and Orange caught our eye to start. Then the waiter walked buy with a bubbling hot crusty over sized ramekin filled with mack n' cheese. At this point I new this was not going to be a low calorie night. So i went for the gold and ordered meatloaf with gravy and two Amstel lights. The conversation was good but the tables where a little close together so both our neighbors conversations where also enthralling. As the food began to arrive we realized that we made the right choices. The salad was dressed nicely but it could have used a boast in the fennel department. The mac n' cheese came out and was everything i hoped it would be (but it needed salt). I am a purist when it comes to mac n' cheese and this one is strait out of the book. It was tangy, cheesy and velvety smooth, It really hit the spot. But I think my heart would've stopped if i ate the whole bowl, but hey, I haven't heard of the mac' n cheese diet yet. The meatloaf was equally classical but I think they use a lot of pork in there meat blend. which makes for a lighter loaf but doesn't produce that beefy(yea beefy) flavor that you want from meat loaf. The sides of mashed potatoes and garlic carrots where also done well. it is nice to see that they didn't go lame on the sides the portions where big and the flavor was good... not great but really good. I went there with no real expectation and was pleasantly surprised to find a restaurant that does comfort food well and at a good price. Chow was my go to place for that but I feel like the quality of chow's ingredients has become a little mas produced for my taste. I look forward to Blue for an upcoming breakfast i have a feeling there Monte Cristo could be enough to stop my heart for good.

The Tragedy of Restaurant Rot

The Tragedy of Restaurant Rot

How do you explain the demise of a favorite eatery? I’m not talking about when the cook gets busted on 3 counts of possession, (1 count for cocaine and 2 counts un-pasteurized, smuggled goat cheeses), or when things finally come to a head between the Salvadoran dish man and the Guatemalan grill cook (Oh I tell ya, more kitchen fires get started over futbol scores and papusa fillings than you might guess). I’m not even talking about when entrance is shuddered and the last breath escapes from the swinging door of your local diner.

I’m not talking about restaurant death at all, that would be easy to explain. Most restaurants don’t make it, it’s the thing that keeps us all in day jobs. I’m talking cancer here, that slow ugly rendering of a formerly great restaurant into a suddenly sub-par placeholder on the block.

This is the seriously malevolent shit because you can’t spot it coming. You don’t eat there for a couple or six months and next thing you know the tuna melt has sweet pickles in it. A lot of the time, there’s nothing to indicate the change at all. The menu stays the same, the look doesn’t change, there’s no overt indication of a change in ownership and the cook is still that crazy bastard with the ponytail. But still, you can tell that the joint now sucks. It has succumbed to restaurant tragedy, it’s going down and it’s the worst when you’re the first to notice it.

This happened to me last night. I went into an old favorite cheap Indian joint, actually a relatively new offshoot of an old favorite, but still a place I have frequented, thrilled by three things:

1. I love cheap, dirty San Francisco Pakistani/Indian food (Naan and Chutney, Naan and Curry, Naan and Sense, etc.) and this was one of my favorites, though I hadn’t been in 3 months.

2. I have to make an effort to get to this place for several reasons. It’s kind of far from my house but this time I was lucky enough to be in the area for work, and in the evening, no less! I usually have to settle for lunch even though the dinners are much better since they are not serving the 5-dollar buffet lunch crowd. I have a waifish girlfriend with a New England palette, in other words she often negs it when we do have the opportunity to go for dinner: too dirty, too spicy, too much gee, and not worth the trip across town. Can you believe that shit? It’s not as if we didn’t drive 2 hours to eat at the French Laundry (that’s right, I’ve been, bow down) or fly to Paris for the weekend to celebrate my birthday at Robuchon (curtsy please)!

3. The most important thing is that I was alone. You never get to eat Indian food alone because it makes no sense to do so. You need a variety of dishes to satisfy an Indian craving but any one dish will fill a plate so you have to eat in groups. But I had cash in my pocket and gluttony on my mind. There would be no witnesses when I ordered three dishes all for myself and you have to take my word with no proof that I didn’t order 5. The best part was, I hadn’t eaten all day, so I was ready.

So I ordered chicken tikka masala, that most American of Indian foods, palak panneer and keema naan with a side of onion biryani. I’m not going to bother with describing the pathetic flavors or my reaction, you probably saw the aftermath of the fire on your local news and that image of me spitting spinach at the restaurant’s owner, as the cops hauled me in, was not at all flattering.

But it really made me realize something. This is the fate of almost all restaurants. It is, really. All you can do is hope the quality lasts long enough for the food to become dated. What the hell happens to a place when it mysteriously goes sucktastic? Now I’ve had my share of restaurant jobs in the front and back of the house, and maybe I was working when this phenomenon occurred, but I don’t know what causes it.

So today, when I get back from lunch, I’m going to call my buddy Rob Guarino in New York and ask him. He owns and manages several restaurants and has been in the business for 10 years. But the best thing about G is that he’s a food phreak too. When the New York Times reviewed one of his places, they called him “movie star good looking Robert Guarino.” And he is, but he’s a New York Italian guy who married a Chicago Jew so you know he’s gonna eat well and get fat. Bless karmic justice. I’m thinking he’s got some answers, not because he’s worked at restaurants that have failed (it’s okay, it happens to everyone sometimes, Rob) but because he currently has one that’s been great for a long time through several chefs and changes in style and menu. It’s called Marseille and it’s fantastic. It’s on 9th avenue at 44th street, go there and be happy and be sure to tell them I sent you so that I can feel like a part of the place even though I live across the country. Anyway, when I get back from lunch I’m calling him.

I’m going to lunch now, Boars Head sandwiches from the DeLano market around the corner, more on that later). Bye, wait for me to get back (see next sentence). Okay I’m back. I’ll call Rob now…

For the first time ever, I can’t get through to Rob at the restaurant. Maybe he doesn’t want to risk cursing the restaurant by discussing the inevitable future. That leaves me with a terrible alternative. I have to ask my idiot brother Vadan. He has theories about everything. Hold on, I’ll ask.

Here’s what that guy thinks and I hate to say it, but he’s defeated the question of this entire entry by making the answer seem so obvious that now I’m the idiot. Hooray, I just wasted a whole hour to report that the phenomena that I’m resenting is nothing more than the failure of inspiration and the loss of passion that results when good work becomes a job. I hate to think of chefs having jobs, but it does make sense. In the end, food is art that we consume in a moment after its birth. It has to have more passion behind it than any creative expression besides whistling. They are both only good when you really mean it.

“Ring, ring!” That’s my text imitation of my cell phone playing the voice of Julia Child saying, “First you take the chicken…”

“Ring, ring!”

It’s Rob. Please let him contradict my brother. Let there be mystery once more in this question of restaurant rot.

I just got off the phone with Rob and here’s what that guy says.

There are 5 big causes for a show dog getting the mange…What the hell was that? Crazy escapee from someone’s George Bush blog. What I meant to say was there are 5 major reasons that good restaurant to falls apart. I’ll call ‘em Robert’s Rules


1. People leave. Rob saying that made me realize, you never really know who’s anchoring a city kitchen. The staffs are large and the departure of a sous chef, while unannounced, may actually be a greater tragedy than a change in ownership or the death of the coke-snorting, cheese smuggling chef.

2. Things slow down. Restaurants have a rhythm and people need activity to keep their skills sharp. If things are slow and business is inconsistent, the edge can go and very frequently coincide with better talent that was drawn to the excitement of the “new hot gig in town” leaving for the newer hotter gig in town. Jesus, does that make restaurants the new club scene? We’ll discuss that another time.

3. Profit doesn’t happen. A restaurant can be open a long time on the anticipation of profit. Tired owners may try to make do with less cooks or tighter control of kitchen inventories, simpler recipes resulting again in a duller kitchen.

4. Profit happens. This one pisses me off. Things get good and the bosses start taking more vacations. They spend less time in the kitchen and on the floor and they don’t replace those roles well and things become unfocused. Booooooo! C’mon, with great power comes responsibility. My dollars, over the years, have paid for your damn vacations! Make sure my needs are met before you go off snorting coke in the Riviera and forget to smuggle my damn un-pasteurized cheese!

5. But of course the one that counts is none of these. The one that counts is the ridiculously obvious one that Vadan already told me about and the one that Rob actually mentioned fist: Passion. To quote Rob, “so much of it is love that if you get a little tired of it it’s kinda hard keep the fires burning.” And yes it is just like a marriage; maybe that’s why so many good eateries close after seven years. The spark goes. But still, how the hell do you stop loving chicken tikka masala, you cold-hearted bastards?! Fortunately the same passion does not die in the art of eating.

Oh well, eat well and when the place you love gets restaurant rot, euthanize that sucker.

Eat the World! -sirr a.k.a. Mr. Eat

westfield food coart

westfield food coart

I went to the movies the other night(I saw Harry Potter, If you liked the other movies you will like this one)and I popped in to the Westfield food. I am not talking about the Crappy old one near Nordstrom that is full of the mall food atrocities like Panda express and Sabaro, I mean the international smorgasbord that is below Bloomingdales on the other side. Even though people in this town prefer boutique shops and avoid malls at all cost the food court in the mall attracts all kid of people and is one of the smartest things I have ever seen a mall do. First I have to say that eating around union square usually sucks. I can't think of one casual restaurant that I like down there. Sure there is Farralon(which i don't like), Kuleto's, and Postrio(I only had dessert there, it was just OK) but I don't always want to spend a fortune, sometimes I just want a good casual dinner that won't break the bank. Evidently I am not alone in this feeling as the food court at the Westfield is Packed. Now don't get me wrong the food at most of the stalls is not great(b minus at best) but for the price you can't beat it, You can walk away from the counter usually for under 10 bucks. Everyone has there place that they like to eat but me i like Coriander Thai food. The curries are good and the peppercorn pork is better than average. The eye catching range of fried chicken and fish all has a very similar look and taste to them. I would skip them, not worth the calories. I am not alone in the praise of Coriander as there is usually a line. I have also eaten Eaten at Sorabol Korean BBQ as i guess the tradition in Korean food goes the condiments where much better than the actual food. The spicy chicken was good but the noodles where lack luster. In terms of the other restaurants in the good food court here is a quick run down;


Andale Mexican Restaurant - I will never eat here as there is spectacular Mexican food in this town and this isn't even close

Asqew Grill - We all have eaten at the other ones- this is place is boring at best

Beard Papa Sweets Cafe - On looks alone this place has intrigued me for months I finally ate there. Let's just say it's like an attractive woman with a bad laugh the dream is better than the reality. The cream puffs where soft and the chocolate not dark enough for me.

Bistro Burger - never ate there

Buckhorn Grill - when i eat there I feel like a person who thinks Applebees is a great Friday night restaurant

Cocola Bakery-never ate there

Jamba Juice- does this place need a review

Melt Gelato & Crepe Cafe- Gelato looks good, can you go wrong. I hate crepes!

Mr Hana- this place has large rice bowls with fresh fish on top worth a try

Out The Door (Slanted door outpost)- I am not a huge fan of the Slanted door I think it puts atmosphere before food and i think this place does the same thing. It also is really pricey for eating in a mall food court

Pasta Moto- It's pasta with can sauce

Rubio's Baja Grill-Never ate there

San Francisco Soup Company- soup looks like it cam from Safeway

Steak Escape-never ate there


I think the Westfield food court is a great place for dinner and a movie on Tuesday night. It is fast and not everyone has to eat the same kind of food. There are certain places to skip but all in all there is not much better food for block around. I would also like to push some of the hi-end restaurants inside the mall it's self. I have heard very good things about The Lark creek steak house.

Here is a link to the list of food in the mall

http://westfield.com/sanfrancisco/dining/index.html

camping

Camping

Heading up to the Yuba river. This is one of my favorite places on earth. We head up to a spot about half an hour outside of Nevada City. When I say camping I mean we pull up a car and pull out a ton of food and hang out around a fire pit. The real reason we go up there is the river.But that you just have to see for yourself. Ok the real reason we go up there is to drink and hang out, which I guess we can do any where but for some reason this place just makes things taste better.

Some people say i am a little bit of a control freak. It seems that it manifests it's self mostly when dealing with food and large groups of people. Well this weekend it is only a group of ten but non the less i ended shopping any way. In the past i have gone a little over board with food. (but in my defence some people didn't show up) I also wanted every body to be happy and have plenty of choices. So this time I made a real effort to not go crazy. I just have to throw this out there, I am a COSTCO lover. So I was in COSTCO and saw the Adel's sausage counter, I gave them a taste for the first time. I have to be honest they weren't that good. They needed a lot more salt and they weren't over flowing with flavor. I then tried Sausage by Amy. I tried the chicken with Gouda cheese. These things were awesome. They where full of flavor sweet and savory and could be eaten on there own or with all kinds of condiments. Any way that takes care of the first night. The second night is going to be steaks. i picked up 6 organic New York strip steaks. These things look great. Any way I did them in a marinade of;
Citrus olive oil
Thai red chili past
Giridelli coco powder
and a little teriyaki sauce.

I think they will grill up real nice. I kinda wish i put in some ground coriander though.
I hope people like the grub. If not we are miles from the nearest store so... screw'em.

Haven't been shopping in weeks

Haven't been shopping in weeks

Well it's summer time and my schedule has been crazy. My parents where here for a 4th of July family reunion, my wife's birthday was in the middle of the month and all in all i have not had time to go shopping. On an up note i have come up with some great things to "cook".

I'm not proud of this dish but it is great back up for when your fresh ingredients run thin.

Tuna and Rice

My brother taught me this one. It may have manifested it's self in his collage days. I was skeptical at first but now I crave it all the time. This is a great adaptable recipe. My version is definitely skewed toward the Japanese flavors, it is like a big bowl of spicy tuna role. The other great thing is you can't screw it up, the whole thing is based on personal taste.

1 can of chunk tuna( i like it in water)
1 cup rice(I like jasmine rice)
2 table spoons mayonnaise(there is only one mayo, Hellman's)
2 to 3 teaspoons rice vinegar
half table spoon Dashi(dry Benito flakes. I get the ones that come in small pellets, it looks like mustard seed)
2 teaspoons Sriracha hot sauce
a full sheet of dried seaweed toasted and crumbled into small pieces.
1 table spoon black sesame seeds
pepper to taste

Bonuses:
1 small tomato diced
a quarter cucumber diced
half an avocado diced

cook rice how ever you do it.
i do it in a rice cooker with a ratio of 1 cup rice to 1.5 cups water(this is for Japanese rice)

remove rice and add all ingredients except tuna and mix thoroughly. I find that i usually have to add extra vinegar at the end to get the right tang.at the end add the tuna and mix in.

This recipe is not rocket science or gourmet but you will see once you get it the way you like it you will eat it once a week. I sometimes serve with a bunch of salad on top. when your alone just try it i bet you'll like it.

SOMA shopping triangle

SOMA shopping triangle

As most San Franciscan's I am annoyed with my shopping options. My local gig is the Safeway at Church and Market. If you have ever been there it is one of the most depressing places i have ever shopped. Besides the lackluster grocery section and the non-existent butcher counter the worst part are the crazies that you have to wait for to count out 45 cents in change for there pack of Little Debbie's. I don't need to rail on Safeway in this blog, anyone who shops there or has ever set foot in one knows the downfall of Safeway. I am here to shine some light on the SOMA shopping triangle, well it is more of a diagonal line. Recently I have been using three stores to fill all my shopping needs. I start at Rainbow Grocery, the place just makes me feel healthy. I pick up a lot organic fruits and vegetables along with supplements, bulk maple syrup and peanut butter. I then move on to Traders Joe's for bottle drinks sauces, snack foods and juice, oh and pre-made pizza dough. I finish of the shopping spree at Whole Foods. You just can't beat there meat(hehehe beat there meat) and fish counter. If you go and buy what ever is on sale you won't break the bank. They often have very good deals on whole chickens and lamb.

I can't keep up this schedule every week but I try to make this trip once a month. I actually really like doing it alone and just wondering through the isles and see what is out there. But I may be a weirdo who really likes to go food shopping(when I am not rushed).

There are plenty of other great places out there to shop. I really like Falleties, it is really an enjoyable place to shop. I also love going through china town for odd items and an adventure. But I still haven't found the one place that houses good food, with a good selection at a good price. I hate the east bay but Berkeley bowl is tempting.(this is my favorite place to shop in the bay area.

SHE ATE F**KING DESERT!

SHE ATE F**KING DESERT!

I've been around vegetarians all my life, what can I say, I have hippie parents. Me I'm a meat eater. It's not the only thing i eat and I definitely don't need it every day but some good animal flesh really keeps me going. Now, i have no problems with vegetarians, in this day and age everyone knows one and most restaurants can accommodate them. The people i do have a problem with are vegans. First off, let me just say that I have only met one vegan who didn't make a big deal about it. This person brought food everywhere they went and never tried to make everyone else feel guilty for eating meat.This person is also the only true vegan I have ever met, only grains and fruit before noon with vegetables and protein added in the afternoon. I mean this person wouldn't even eat honey. They have also been on this diet for more than 15 years, Bravo!
Now let's deal with the rest of you so called vegans. My most recent interaction with vegans has come in the form of boy friends and girlfriends of friends of mine. Which means that if i want to eat with my friends we have to accommodate a vegan. This wouldn't bother me so much if they didn't make such a big f**king deal about it all the f**king time. It was always about them. And man don't ever try to eat spontaneously with a vegan. All quick food has had some sort of animal product near it or on it or in it. Eating with a vegan is a lesson in the hypocritical. I mean do you really think that the Boca Burger you ordered "Zeitgeist" really had no contact with the 40 burgers or 20 grilled cheeses on the stove. I mean as a meat eater I don't even think the cook washes his hands after he touches raw meat. I mean let's be realistic is the essence of cow really going to destroy the moral frame work of society, no!
The only thing I hate worse than vegans, is fake vegans! My friend dated this girl(lets call her M) she claimed to be a vegan. M would not eat any animal products. She would impose her will when ever she wanted to eat and was generally angry at everyone who did eat animal products. There was just one huge problem with M's vegan-ism; SHE ATE F**KING DESERT! lemon meringue pie, ice cream, brownies,chocolate cake, if it had sager in it she would eat it. She declared herself a desert-atarian. Well you know what, you can't have your cake and eat it to. This is the problem with most vegans. For what ever reason they choose to pass on some of the best things life has to offer like hot dogs, great cheese, and yes foie gras, but then they always have this one rule "if i pass In-n-Out burger on a Tuesday I'm aloud to eat it." Well sure your aloud to eat it and when I'm out with my friend and we want some dinner I'm aloud to say were going to "Tommy's Joint".

I guess all I am saying is, if you self impose all these rules on yourself then be happy about it. Vegans always seem so angry at everyone else for not taking them seriously, well you know what if you had some conviction people would be impressed, otherwise your just an angry person who has a sweet tooth.

Why now.

Why now.

I am a traveler. My father loved cooking and ever since I can remember I have been eating. I used to be proud that i could eat two medium pizzas by myself. Now I'm proud when i don't order desert. I began noticing cooking when i was in high school and would come home starving(because my father loved to cook we had no snack food)I would open the fridge and yell "we never have anything to eat". Little by little i began to use the items we had around our kitchen. I remember trying to cook chicken and kept adding fresh lemon juice trying to make a sauce, not realizing that a sauce had other components other than lemon I just kept adding lemon after lemon(4 in total). It was terrible. I made the basic culinary mistakes early in life, now i take culinary chances (my wife would still call them mistakes, But without me she would eat scrambled eggs for dinner every night, she makes great eggs).

I Love fine dining and a good valued meal. I still have an appetite of a growing 12 year old boy, so I hate to leave a meal hungry. I also hate being over charged for something I can get someplace else cheaper and better i.e. expensive Mexican food. I will always order foie gras when it's on a menu and am on a never ending quest to find great buffalo wings on the West Coast.

I realized a few years back that my hobby is food. This is the reason I started this blog, I realized that most of my conversations where about food, where to eat it, how to cook it, or how I love it. I think there is no reason to be subtle with food if it's bad it can be fixed but if no one ever says it's anything than no one will ever fix it.

My wife tells me "opinions can't be wrong", well I have read a lot of opinions online and I normally wouldn't disagree with my wife but hey not all of us can live on eggs alone.