food porn


Izz, Cal and I made sweet potato biscuits this AM using tubers from our farm box. A total success, except that all three of us and the floor were covered with flour. The dough is really sticky so definitely use a heavily floured surface or a baking cloth.

Today’s SF Chronicle reports that state authorities are warning local bars that they cannot serve artisan infused liquors. Certainly, there’s a place for health regulation of on-site alcohol sales. But infused liquors are based on, yes, alcohol, and alcohol kills germs. That’s what’s kept me healthy ever since turning 21. So the health risks from a limoncello, or rosemary infused rye, or whatever they are serving at Bourbon and Branch or Starbelly this week, are nil. There’s an analogy to be drawn between the state rectification laws and the work I do with programmers and coders. Laws that were written to resolve a certain set of problems are being used to hinder creativity not connected to those social ills. For whatever reason, we aren’t seeing the kind of forbearance from enforcement that one would hope for in order to allow innovation to proceed. So we probably have to change the laws. In the meanwhile, in solidarity with the bartender community, I’m making up some homemade limon- and grapefruitcello in my kitchen pantry. Photos below.

LemonsGrapefruitsZested lemonsInfusing

I baked some wheat bread:

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I used a super simple recipe from Elle magazine about a year ago. The crumb was really dense, probably because my yeast was old. But the flavor was right and the crust was nice and crisp, interior relatively moist. So I made another one yesterday, and will move on to white bread with healthy yeast for next weekend. I can’t find the recipe on the web, but I will keep searching and post when I discover it.

While in Paris last week, I took a cooking class with Marie-Blanche and I was the only student that day.  We were making chicken with a raspberry vinegar sauce and butchering the chicken.  It didn’t look like our chickens.  It was scrawny and had black scales showing where feet had been chopped off at the shins.  Somehow they hide that part from us in the U.S.  Inside the bird were the extras, and she was lecturing me: this is the gizzard, this is the liver, this is the heart.  “I do not know if you are a heart eater,” she said.  Not sure what was “cool” I told her that I had eaten hearts before, but it wasn’t something I found particularly enjoyable.  “Here in France, we do not eat the heart.  We are too sentimental.  Perhaps he has loved another chicken with this heart?”

This is an excerpt from an email I wrote to the friends we went with to Michael Mina, recommending other restaurants in the City and beyond.

The place I like the best right now is Myth. I think the food is consistently fantastic, the place looks nice and the sommalier is talented.
Lots of people agree, so it can be hard to get a reservation at a reasonable hour. Open Table is a good website for seeing what’s available reservation-wise.

I think Gary Danko is excellent. The food is really good, and the cheese cart is amazing. Its up near Ghiradelli Square. The service can be a little stiff, but the dining room is warm.

Also yummy, but more prim, is The Dining Room at the Ritz Carlton. They have a champagne cart, as I was telling Wakiko, and that won me over. The food is dramatic and delicious. A bit expensive, tho, even for what it is.
Some pictures.

There’s a lot of other good places in the city that are less fancy. Delfina in the Mission, Universal Cafe near Potrero area and Thang Long (garlic crab place) in the Avenues are all favorites. I also adore Ti Couz, a Breton crepe place that’s really special, on 16th Street in the Mission. Also fun for crabbing is to go to Half Moon Bay and buy crabs and boil them up yourselves. We should think about doing that over here sometime, if they are still in season.

In New York, we went to WD50, a “molecular gastronomy” place. Photos. The cocktails are handcrafted, too. This is a trend, and we have a gourmet cocktail place in SF now, too. Its Bourbon and Branch, in the Tenderloin. You can’t go without a reservation, but they aren’t hard to secure. The drinks are good, but the best thing about the place is its never too crowded or loud.

Also in NY, we had a great experience at Tides, on the Lower East side. The restaurant is tiny, and the ceiling is decorated with those wooden picks you get when you buy a lobster roll on Cape Cod. The service is attentive and the people are clearly into making dining there a good experience. The wine list is small but varied and the food is good. Another place I really like in NY is Payard. The food is fantastic. I’ve been there twice by myself and both times had a lovely meal. You have to get dessert. I always get chocolate.

The past week, Brad and I have had a series of unforgettable meals, which I will now proceed to blog about under the heading “Food Porn”.

Let me start with last night’s dinner, brought to us by our new friends Patrick Kane and Yukari Kane. We were in Ikebukuro touristing Otome Road. Ikebukuro, which was described to me as something of a quiet Tokyo backwater popular with what we in New Jersey and in San Francisco would call the “bridge and tunnel crowd”, is nothing like that. It’s not a skyscraper filled Shinjuku, but it still has more the manga shops, puri-cura, pachinko, Tokyu Hands and Tobu department stores than you could tourist in a year. It also has one of three branches of Sakana Takewaka, a “live kill” restaurant, which was where the Kane’s had made a reservation for the four of us. I’ve posted photos and descriptions of the meal here on flickr.

This was the menu:

First course: Asparagus halves served over a white asparagus mousse with ika sauce.

Second course: crab, snail, eel nigiri, lime rind stuffed with something spicy and fishy

Third course: Hirame sashimi

Fourth course: Ika sashimi, with two sauces, a soy with a raw quail egg in it, or a vinegar/chive option.

Fifth course: “ekimono”, which was crab and braided sardine with a mignonette garnish, olives, pine nuts, edamame and fried tortilla chips.

At this point, the tail and bones of the hirame and the head and body of the ika came back to us fried and served with lemon.

Sixth course: Inadvertent path to Hell. See the photo for the reason why.

Seventh course: Buckwheat soba with shredded wakame, served in a crystal bowl on ice. On the side are chopped chives, wasabi and finely sliced onions.

Eighth Course: Dessert

Brad and I are safely arrived and settled in Tokyo. Every time I’ve considered blogging this week, I’ve thought that instead I would wait until after the next interesting thing we did. But finally, I must blog, because the sashimi we had last night deserves it.

Yuko, a friend through Stanford and a lawyer here in Tokyo, took us to a traditional Japanese style restaurant in the Roppongi area. It was not kaiseki, Yuko explained, because kaiseki has rules and this restaurant was only following the rules about 80%. Still, it was elaborate and fancy, as the pictures show.

The dinner was fixed price, whatever the chef made. First course was a small pyramid of green beans in sesame. The beans, the waiter informed us, were grown in the garden of the owner’s mother. Next was two rounds of saba-like nigiri. Yuko said the fish was called aji. Then we had a porridge, pictured here. The jelly was kind of cool and the miso pudding was a bit grainy so it was an interesting feel, and very refreshing.

Most fantastic was the sashimi. I’ve added notes explaining the plate to the photo. Finally, we had a grilled fish, which was simple and fresh. A plum/red wine jelly finished the meal. We also had three glasses of sake, shared among us. Price: 44500 yen, or about US$400. Gug!

Afterwards, we went to the Absolut Ice Bar Tokyo. This is a bar made entirely of ice from a Swedish river. Even the glasses from which you drink your beautiful multicolored cocktails are made entirely of ice. My pictures do not do it justice. Also, it’s really, really cold in there. I love this kind of thing. Lots of energy creating a gimmick solely to amuse me. That’s why I love Las Vegas, too.

I promised more on the state secrets doctrine. I’ve decided to write my next Wired News column on the issue raised in the EFF’s ATT case and the ACLU’s Detroit case. That will appear here and on Wired News on Wednesday, June 21st. Judge Walker will hold a hearing on the issue in the United States District Court in San Francisco on Friday, June 23rd at 9:30A, so this column will be a good way to get up to speed on what might happen during that hearing.

Meanwhile, here’s a phonecam picture of a great looking dish Brad and I ordered at Spices II! in the Richmond district last night. Its scallop with a snow of fried garlic (and two kinds of chili peppers).

Dateline: China Eastern flight between Shanghai and Beijing, August 12, 2005:

First, readers should note that I am posting this from YOUR FUTURE! We are 15 hours ahead, and have already lived through your era. So to you, we offer this tip: You won�t be able to eat two orders of the xiao long bao. Just get one.

On the topic of xiao long bao (little dragon buns, aka the steamed pork dumplings they serve with vinegar instead of soy), in this installment I discuss Shanghainese food, particularly what we ate, where, and whether or not it was good. This meditation will also dovetail with the theme that the guidebook is not as wise as one would wish.

Jump ahead to review of:
Lao Tan
M on the Bund
Strange Place near Peace Hotel
Dumpling House on Maoming
1221 Shanghainese restaurant

Monday night, we had dinner with Michael and Zoe. Michael is a friend of a guy who plays on Brad�s journalist softball team, The Muckrakers. We met at a restaurant called Lao Tan which serves Guizhou food. Lao Tan is located at 42 Xing Fu Lu, 2F, a part of Shanghai far from where we were staying, at the Westin. Guizhou is a province of China even further from the Westin.

The cab dropped us at a storefront where two men were sitting on a pile of sheetrock and residents were walking home dragging 15 foot long wheelbarges stacked with chairs. I figured we were in the right place because a woman standing at the door was wearing a costume with bells, and I�d managed to glean from the Internet that the restaurant was serving food characteristic of an ethnic minority. As in the U.S., an ethnic restaurant often requires the waitstaff to be attired in some kind of costume. (Later in our trip, at the Shanghai Museum, we saw these costumes on display.)

Zoe grew up in a province near Guizhou, so she is an expert in the food, which is noted for spiciness. M advised that we just get whatever Z ordered, subject to whatever dietary limitations we might have. �Is there anything you don�t eat?� he asked. �No, really, anything?�

Fortunately, we failed to mention either snails or baby octopi, because what followed was without question the best food we had in Shanghai. Unfortunately, we were so happy I failed to photograph any of it. First we had some kind of weird root, which looked like insect legs and tasted like ginger and bamboo. The second cold dish was soba noodles in a spicy sauce. It was a lot like something you can get at the delicious Spices II in the Richmond District of San Francisco. M & Z know the owner of this restaurant, and he ferments his own wine out of a kind of Chinese �plum�. So we ordered a little carafe of that, to drink out of tiny white cups. (Tip: When a place serves an alcoholic beverage in tiny cups, there is a reason. Too bad I�m not writing this from Brad�s future.) We had pieces of fish with scallions and garlic, a dish of soft, fluffy tofu puffs atop a chili hash, smoky pork rice, baby octopus with red and green papers, and sea snail in a brown hot pepper sauce. We also had some smoky pork laden rice and some kinds of vegetables. It was unbelievably fantastic. [The place is also known for its hot pot, and we saw people enjoying a particularly red one. If you are ever in Shanghai, you should definitely go to this place. The menu has no English, but you can point at what other people are having.]

By the time dinner was over, we�d discussed Michael�s interest in Shanghai literature, and his new job as arts editor for a French magazine. Zoe, curator at a modern art museum, told us where the best galleries to see contemporary Shanghai art are located. And Brad, Brad was totally sauced. He�d had a few Qing Tao�s and a couple of shots of that plum wine, plus a couple strong Chinese cigarettes, and was over the edge. Nonetheless, he staggered with us across the street to a local bar that had beds for couches (just like S.F.) and had another drink. There, Zoe told us what Chinese people think of the Iraq war, and assured us that people in China don�t tip. Michael assured me that its okay to pay more than you might otherwise have to just because you don�t feel like bargaining. We left happy and grateful to them both.

La Tan spoiled me for Shanghai food, and I often found myself wishing for Zoe�s advice and guidance during the rest of our trap. Still, there were other culinary highlights, made sweeter by the fact that we were figuring stuff out on our own.

On Tuesday, we went for lunch to this strange place near the Peace Hotel that caters to Chinese tourists. The first thing on the menu was �dog with paste�. I wondered whether they had actual dogs back there that they were going to kill, so we didn�t order it. We did get the dumpling filled with crab roe, which you eat with a straw, and a sweet stew of eel and garlic. Tuesday night, we were supposed to go to the highly recommended 1221, but we got stuck without a cab near the Shanghai Center beautiful view of Pudong New Area from the fifth floor of the building.

The restaurant is entirely populated with Americans and other English speakers, particularly people entertaining as part of business, as you might expect. The prices are San Francisco level, and the book says that the menu is �Mediterranean-influenced� so that screens out a lot of people. But it may also be that locals know the food isn�t worth the price. For an appetizer, Brad and I shared the asparagus, which was probably about US$8. It was five or six thin spears, in anchovy butter, with a poached egg and shaved pecorino on top. It was pretty good, but you can�t go wrong with anchovy butter. The pecorino was mild and the egg added little. Then I what the menu described as �our salt roasted lamb� and Brad had the duck with scallops wrapped in bacon. Both the duck and the lamb were stringy, in the way overdone duck confit often is. The lamb had the virtue of being salty, and the duck of being fatty. That�s all I can say. Mine came with spinach, which was unremarkable, and with home fries. Brad liked his duck, which had a crispy glazed skin. His scallops however, were overdone and the bacon was chewy. About 2/3 through our meal, a party of 8, which included some unknown famous person came, and our waitress totally abandoned us to the ministrations of a nice young man who was perfectly fine, but wore a name tag emblazoned with the word �Trainee�. Not confidence inspiring.

Whatever my critique of the food, the dessert was great. We ordered the chocolate cake, which came with the only chocolate ice cream I�ve ever liked. I also got a glass of the cold orange Muscat, which I greatly enjoyed. After, we went out on the balcony to hear businessmen from Alabama flirt with whatever women were available and to watch the boats go by. The bill came to about US$100. (We each had one substantial and powerful cocktail, also, included in that price.)

On our last night we went to 1221, which was promised as a favorite of locals and expats alike. Its located down a little alleyway, behind some other stores, in a modern space that�s cleanly designed and looks really nice. The menu is in perfect English, reasonably priced, and, unlike the snooty M on the Bund, they serve affordable wine and wine by the glass. (Tip: When the nicest restaurant in town refuses to serve Chinese wine, there might be a reason. Too bad I�m not writing this from my own future.)

Though it may be snobby, my problem with 1221 is the same problem I have with Eric�s or Alice�s or Eliza�s or any of those American Chinese places we have in S.F. Its American. Where�s the snails? Where�s the pork tendon or the duck tongue? I might very well want to order something easy and mainstream, but if I�m in China, I want the option to get something out of the ordinary, or to make a mistake. I ordered a glass (and later another) of Dragon Seal white wine. We had hot and sour soup, which initially I poo poo�ed out of snobbishness but later begrudgingly admitted was good. We also ordered shredded pork with bamboo shoot. The shoots and meat were in some kind of black sauce. From the flavor, I could tell it was made with the kind of pork that is a specialty in Zhouzhuang (Wushan pork) but which we didn�t order when we were there because it looked like a red shellacked ham hock and the smell in the heat was gross. I was really glad we got that so that I would know what it was. We also ordered sweet pea with bread stick, which was like a lot of deep fried croutons with a few peas and onions. It was yummy, greasy, not a vegetable. We tried to order the Lion�s Head meatballs, but they were out. So we got the xiao long bao, which came four to an order and were salty and pretty good. Brad particularly liked how they are full of liquid when you bite into them. (The fact that they were four to an order was the precursor to today�s error of getting two orders at the dumpling place on Maoming. There, its 12 to an order.) Finally, we ordered a steamed fish

By the time we were done, I was surprisingly tired. I had wanted to go out to some bars on Maoming, but we both decided to call it a night, as we had plans to wake up early and catch the Jade Buddha Temple on our way out of town. I fell asleep/passed out on the cab ride home, then fell asleep for good 5 minutes later in the hotel room. I think that Dragon�s Seal wine poisoned me! But what doesn�t kill me only makes me stronger, and I plant to have another bout with it tonight.

Again, everyone there was white, except for two tables of Chinese, both sets American. If I were walking by a Chinese restaurant at home and saw this many white people in it, I probably would not go in. Still, I must admit the food was perfectly fine and the restaurant was nice. And they had that powerful wine!

We arrived in Beijing this evening and promptly went to the food stalls near our hotel. More on that tomorrow, and more links to photos in this section, including more hats (!!!) as I organize them.