Monday, May 30, 2011

Irresistible San Francisco
I was in San Francisco last week for work, so I squeezed my taste adventures in where I could. I admit, I was completely overwhelmed by the recommendations that were flung at me prior to my visit - there is just so much there to explore. Here are a few of my most palate pleasing moments in SF:

1. Lunch at Pizzeria Delfina with an old friend. We shared two pizzas, the Amatriciana (guanciale, tomato and pecorino), and a white broccoli raab pizza with lemon, olives and a peppers. The bitterness of the the latter was a perfect foil for the richness of the former. A simple endive salad, a glass of rose and a table on the sidewalk in the sunshine made this a perfect meal.

2. Great San Francisco restaurants require a wait. So we put our names on the list at Delphina and went for an appetizer at Tartine. My friend knows me well - she suggested the passionfruit coconut cake, which was out of this world. Fluffy, tart cake (the tartness is key), passionfruit cream in between the layers, and thick shredded coconut on the outside. Magnificent.

3. Hapa Ramen (pictured below). I had breakfast at about 9 a.m. one day at the Ferry Building, but when the farmers market opened up at 10, I saw one of the fruit vendors slurping a paper bowl of ramen. I knew exactly where it came from. "How is it?" I asked him. "Amazing," he said between bites. Thus, I had my second breakfast. This ramen had a thick pork broth, asparagus, kombu squares, snap peas (all perfectly cooked), and a succulent, savory slice of pork from a local farm. So glad I opted to stuff myself with that.

4. The banh mi that I've been searching for for years. It's all about the herb/pickle to meat ratio, I'm telling you. And the two Vietnamese ladies behind the counter at Saigon Sandwich (Larkin and Eddy in the Tenderloin) have it perfectly formulated. Cha Lua, "pork special," is the way to go there (photo below).

5. Muralhas de Monção Vinho Verde at Ferry Building Wine Merchant. This wine recommendation proved to me that this place has an excellent wine selection when I was looking for something to bring to a friend's house for a casual taco dinner. Far more complex than any vinho verde I've had, this wine had good body, nice acidity as well as aromatics and an effervescence that pleased and surprised my friends who'd never tried the varietal. The best thing about this wine shop? They have a wine bar as well, so you can taste a wine that they have by the glass (like this one) before you buy the bottle. An impressive wine buying experience.

6. The parmesan shortbread with fennel and sea salt to go with my New Orleans style iced coffee at Blue Bottle Coffee at Mint Plaza.

The photo at the top is of a bacon/cheddar/egg muffin from the Tell Tale Preserve Company at the Ferry Building Farmers Market. I didn't try it, though I would have if I had any stomach room available between breakfast and the ramen. I couldn't resist a photo.
Oh, San Francisco. Your year-round produce, ocean shore, cypress air and sunny skies charmed me once again. I spent most of my free time during my stay in the city at the Ferry Building, lucky enough to catch one of the weekly farmers markets held there. The building itself offers so much for the visually and viscerally hungry, and even more so on market day. I ate apricots and marveled over ripe heirloom tomatoes of all colors.

"San Francisco always cheers me, for there is such an array of produce in the markets. There is no longer a great central market...There is one especially good one on Market Street where the quality and variety of merchandise are beyond belief... The vegetable section is equal to the fish and meat departments, and I will not enumerate the beautiful specimens to be found there, but a selection of them was provided for a special food demonstration I did in San Francisco last year. They were so handsome and so photogenic I have been grateful ever since to the gentleman in charge of the vegetables." - James Beard, from "Delights and Prejudices," c. 1964

Yesterday in Portland, I joined Robert Reynolds on a free walk that he led in honor of his late friend James Beard's birthday. He read passages from his book, "Delights and Prejudices" along the way, following Yamhill Street from Pioneer Courthouse Square to the waterfront, where formerly existed the grand Yamhill public market. This was where James Beard followed his mother as she shopped for the hotel that she once owned, and he developed his legendary palate. In "Delights and Prejudices," Beard laments the fall of the public market after the introduction of the supermarket in America, writing of them as an institution gone by. We are so fortunate that markets like the Ferry Building, Chelsea Market and Pike Place Market have revived this culinary tradition during our time. Work is being done to build a James Beard Public Market in Portland, and I hope that those decades-long plans eventually come to fruition.

"Nowhere in America does one see finer vegetables than on the West Coast, in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Portland," James Beard.
Morel mushrooms at the Hollywood Farmers Market in Portland. The photo at the top is of the sunset from Alcatraz.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

A family and its dumplings. My family has its dumplings. More on that later. For now, a bit from the making of the movie "Oxhide II."

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Springtime at Castagna in Portland, Oregon:

A sunchoke "chip" with yogurt inside

Green almonds, flowers and almond milk

Scallops with licorice

Bison tartare with "seeds and stems"

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Food poetry.
Spotted on a recent run through my Portland neighborhood, Irvington.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Miang Kham

I pulled this book off my shelf tonight to read before bed, and as you can imagine from the above photo, it did the opposite of lull me to sleep. No, delving into "Pacific and Southeast Asian Cooking" from Time Life's 1970s "Foods of the World" series only made me hungry. I love reading their observations on Hawaiian food at the time (describing the melting pot through a mainlander's eyes), but was engaged in the section on Indonesia. The combination of coconut, ginger, shrimp paste and peanuts in gado-gado salad has me craving something like it. The peanuts, and the color of this dish made me think of miang kham, my favorite Thai snack. The version served at the Whiskey Soda Lounge is my favorite, because of its tartness and fire from chopped chilis. You can see what that looks like here. Stop drooling. Right?

Miang kham is composed of a combination of chopped dried shrimp, ginger, shallots, Thai chilis, peanuts, coconut and limes (with the peel on - that's the key, I think), wrapped into a betel leaf (sometimes with a sweet sauce). The recipe for the Whiskey Soda version can be found here. Those are served atop the leaf, and when you eat it, you pick up the thing, wrap it in a bundle and pop the whole thing in your mouth. When I went to Thailand, I was intent on trying other versions. Sometimes they're served wrapped for you (like a little purse), and sold on skewers. Here's a few photos of that (obviously I'm not the first to be obsessed with this dish). At a market in Bangkok, I came across the woman below, who sold a deconstructed version. the ingredients were placed separately in a bag to take on the go. It was a lot sweeter than I prefer, but still tasty and definitely one of the coolest bagged snack foods I've ever seen.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Pink Drinks

Pink drinks make me happy. Of course there's rosé, and even more lovely, sparkling rosé, but when a cocktail arrives before me blushing with a rosy hue, I am downright delighted. The refresher pictured above is "El Diablo" at Natural Selection, a combination of tequila, cassis and ginger beer. I've written before of my affection for the "Pink Pepper" at Yakuza, which uses pink peppercorns to spark up the flavor of grapefruit. At Prasad, my favorite juice bar in the Pearl, they serve a mixture called "Beulah Land," blending grapefruit, apple, celery and mint, that arrives pretty in pink. The cocktail below was a brilliant spring concoction at Castagna, simply called "Rhubarb," made with Appleton white rum, rhubarb and eggwhites. One of my dining companions ordered that last night, while I couldn't resist their tangelo gin and tonic. Castagna's short list of culinary coctkails matches the inventiveness of their menu, definitely one return to for further exploration. Unfortunately, they're only served in the dining room, not the café, just one more element that makes the dining experience there so special.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Cutest little coffee shop in Portland: Oui Presse. Homemade pistachio cake with buttercream, magazine racks stocked with fashion, food and foreign publications, Parisian decor and an owner who was both working the counter and making play-dough for her son's class at the same time. Need I say more?