Monday, December 18, 2006

The Vino-Seal

Over the past few years, several types of stoppers have emerged as alternatives to the traditional wine cork. Many of us are familiar with synthetic corks, which are becoming fairly commonplace, as well as screwtop enclosures, often associated with the cheap wine from our college days. (Night Train, anyone?)

The January 2007 issue of Bon Appetit has a short article on the Vino-Seal, a glass stopper with a sealing o-ring. This innovative stopper, created by the German subsidiary of Alcoa, forms a very tight seal with the bottle, preventing cork taint and oxidation. It is very easy to open, without requiring a separate opener, and reseals very nicely. Several different U.S. wine producers are using the Vino-Seal, including Whitehall Lane in Napa and Sineann Winery in Oregon. I first encountered this award-winning gadget during one of my trips to Europe, where it is known as the Vino-Lok. I still have several bottles of wine from Weingut Heitlinger in my wine rack sealed with the Vino-Lok.

It seems that the Vino-Seal has not been as widely adopted as other types of stoppers due to the cost of the stopper itself as well as the labor costs in manually sealing the bottles. However, if these cost issues can be resolved, I think that we might see more and more wineries using the Vino-Seal in the future.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Champagne Wishes and Caviar Dreams

With my crazy work schedule as of late, it's been difficult to find a lot of time and energy to post. However, with my current project coming to a conclusion (and work winding down in general due to the holidays), I should hopefully have more time to share my random food thoughts.

Yesterday, my girlfriend and I took a cooking class at Hawthorne Lane, a charming restaurant in the SoMA district of San Francisco serving up modern California cuisine. Hawthorne Lane opens its doors on Saturday mornings once or twice a month for these classes, which are taught by David Gingrass, chef and proprietor of the restaurant, and executive chef Bridget Batson. My sweetie and I were drawn to this particular class by the over-the-top menu that was featured. Appropriately named "Champagne Wishes and Caviar Dreams", the meal featured two appetizers: steamed Dungeness crab custards and bluefin o-toro tuna tartare with osetra caviar. The main entree was a dish of Kobe beef loin on a bed of mashed potatoes with wild mushrooms and a cabernet glaze. Finally, dessert was a dark chocolate orbit cake with Grand Marnier ice cream.

The description for the classes says that they are "hands-on, educational, and just plain frolicking fun." Our class yesterday turned out to be one of the least hands-on cooking classes that I've ever taken. In fact, other than the five minutes that my girlfriend and I and another couple spent on some prep work for the appetizers, no other participants in the class touched the food until it hit the table. Despite a small bit of disappointment with the lack of hands-on work, we definitely had a frolicking fun experience. It was probably just as well that we didn't do any slicing or sauteing as we weren't in really any condition to perform those activities due to the copious amounts of alcohol that were being served throughout the day. Our first sense that this might be a free-flowing alcohol event started right after we walked in the door and were greeted with a champagne and pear sorbet cocktail with gold leaf. We (and most of the other participants I suspect) had a couple of these yummy drinks before we even made it back to the kitchen. Once we had made it back to the kitchen, new flutes were passed around and the champagne kept flowing. The meal was paired with a couple of different champagnes from Charles Heidsieck, including a 1985 vintage, and a nice Napa merlot. We sat next to the marketing representative from Charles Heidsieck, who shared some of her experiences with food and wine, while the wait staff did stellar job at making sure our glasses were not empty for very long. I suspect that there weren't too many participants at this event who had fewer than a half-dozen drinks. We were certainly happy that we didn't drive to this class. Everyone at the event, including David and the rest of the crew and the other class participants, was really nice. We met a nice couple, Marcus and Patricia, who are fellow SF foodies like us, and with whom we hope to share some further culinary adventures around the Bay Area.

As it turns out, not only was this the last class of the year for Hawthorne Lane, it was the last class, period. After serving Christmas eve dinner, David will be closing down Hawthorne Lane, renovating the interior for a couple of weeks, and reopening as Two, the second restaurant in the 22 Hawthorne Street space. The menu will completely change, as David will take a more hands-on approach in his culinary collaboration with Brigitte. The menu will become simpler, featuring ingredient-focused appetizers, pizzas, and various grilled, roasted and braised items. Their dessert menu will also become more rustic. I am looking forward to sampling the charcuterie items that will be added to the menu. One thing to note is that their current signature tuna tartare appetizer will still be available upon request, even though it will no longer be on the menu. Most of the people involved with Hawthorne Lane will return to Two, and the Saturday morning cooking program will continue. Though we are disappointed that we will no longer be able to experience their PB & J foie gras sandwich, we are looking forward to the birth of the new restaurant.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Math + Baking = Pie-cosahedron

If you are one of those can't-get-enough-of-geometry baking types out there, you should check out a potential weekend project.

I like math and all, and cooking as well, but I can't see myself actually taking the time to make something like that...

Incidentally, I'm editing this post as I cruise over the North Atlantic, thanks to Wi-Fi broadband service provided by Connexion by Boeing on my Lufthansa flight. Unfortunately, due to their inability to recoup the operating costs, Boeing has decided to discontinue this service by the end of the year, so I may not have many more opportunities (for a while, at any rate) to post from 35000 feet in the air.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Mmmm... Bacon...

Keeping in line with our Thanksgiving theme, a fellow member of the Good Eats Message Board pointed out this video clip that shows us non-Texans a new way to enjoy bacon.

I bet that it would taste good with ranch dressing.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Pre-Thanksgiving Gluttony

Just in off the wire: In a show of pre-Thanksgiving eating prowess, Patrick Bertoletti put away 4.8 pounds of turkey in 12 minutes, beating Sonya "Black Widow" Thomas. Bertoletti, ranked #3 in the world by the International Federation of Competitive Eating, upset defending champion Thomas, who was disqualified in the waning moments of the competition held at Artie Deli in Manhattan.

I wonder how much gravy he needed to pack away all that turkey.

Pizza Crepe Taco Pancake Chili Bag

As we embark on our annual day of turkey overload and general gluttony, I saw an article on MSNBC which reminded me of a hilarious commercial spoof that I saw on SNL. The TV spot, which you can view for yourself on YouTube, features a cross-cultural concoction sure to satisfy even the biggest appetite.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Point of Etiquette

My old friend PhDoug recently posted an email that both of us received during our grad school days. The message brought to our attention somethings (sic) that need to be celebrated and some tension to be released. Amoung (sic) the things to be celebrated were all the B-days in september (sic). Since it was ALMOST the semester's first payday, we knew we had to celebrate that and the September B-days, as well as release our negative vibes with an all-out party at the OUTBACK Steakhouse, our place of choice the previous year.

This email gave us some really helpful hints, points of ettiquette (sic) if you will, so that we could enjoy our upcoming dining experience, such as how we impoverished grad students should choose our entree, so that we had enough money left over for any alchoholic (sic) drinks that we might wish to order, as well as desert (sic) if we are tempted. It was good to know that the price was varriable (sic) based on what we ordered. Also, since the Outback is a nice place - not real fancy, but better than what we usually ate at during the semester, the message gave us some guidelines on tipping, which were definitely welcome as it was three days before our pay day. When it comes to the bill, we didn't want to embarash (sic) ourselves by counting pennies. (In the past, we had grad students who were very penny pinching. The Outback is not that type of place.)

As an added plus, our host set up a system of rides to celebrate our stylish occassion (sic), so that we wouldn't have to get there by bus. He also picked up some B-day cards for all those who were coming that we could all sign. What a swell guy!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Where can I get the best fried chicken?

Last night, my girlfriend and I made a return trip to The Front Porch for dinner. Both of us were pretty hungry and in the mood for fried chicken, so we split a bucket between the two of us (yes, there were tons of leftovers), accompanied by sides of grits porridge with scallions and chili oil and caramelized brussels sprouts. The sides were very good; the grits had a nice consistency and packed a surprising amount of heat and the sprouts were unlike any that I had eaten previously - very sweet with absolutely no hint of bitterness. However, the fried chicken was the highlight of the meal. Fried to a deep brown color, the chicken was juicy and coated with a crunchy and flavorful cornmeal crust - very delicious!

Our meal made us wonder: which Bay Area restaurant has the best fried chicken? Is it Front Porch or its sibling, BlueJay Cafe? Or, perhaps it is Farmer Brown, with its organic ingredients. Could it be Powell's Place, which has been serving up its fried chicken to San Francisco for almost 35 years, or is the East Bay's Lois the Pie Queen? A lot of people on Chowhound seem to like Hard Knox Cafe, but then again, a couple of people mentioned Popeye's.

What do you think? Where do you go when you are craving fried chicken?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Clacking eggs

One of the birthday gifts that my sweetie gave me this year was a Clack Egg Cracker. For those of you unfamiliar with this marvel of German engineering, the Clack is used to cut the top off your hard (or soft) cooked eggs. You place the stainless steel cap on the top of your egg and drop the 70 gram ball down the 16 centimeter shaft. Then 0.181 seconds later, the ball, having attained a velocity of 1.77 meters per second, hits the egg shell with 0.6867 newtons of force, leaving a perfect crack around the top without damaging the rest of the egg.

With this gadget, it becomes relatively easy to make Arpège eggs, the dish created by Alain Passard for his Parisian L'Arpège Restaurant. The cleverly engineered concoction consists of a seasoned egg yolk, coddled its shell and combined with a mixture of crème fraîche, sherry vinegar, chives, and maple syrup. It is a surprisingly delightful dish that I first sampled at David Kinch's Manresa Restaurant. Last weekend, I tried my hand at making some Arpège eggs. Here are the results:

Egg yolks in shell seasoned with fleur de sel and ground white pepper with chives:


Coddling the eggs:


Voilà!

Q: Is a burrito a sandwich?

A: No, at least according to Judge Jeffrey Locke, who ruled that a burrito is not a sandwich.

"A sandwich is not commonly understood to include burritos, tacos, and quesadillas, which are typically made with a single tortilla and stuffed with a choice filling of meat, rice, and beans."

I'm glad that he cleared that up.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Checking out China

Sorry about the long hiatus - I was away on a two week adventure with my mom and sister through the country of my ancestors: China. Our trip took us to multiple cities, starting in Beijing, moving on to Xi'an, Guilin, Guangzhou, and finally to Hong Kong before returning to the States. The trip was very interesting, though also extremely tiring; I spent most of the last week resting and adjusting to the sixteen hour time change.

We decided to take a guided tour of the country, which would ensure that we didn't have to worry about the language barrier, since none of us are fluent in Mandarin. There are definitely other advantages to going with a tour group as well. For example, we had all of our hotel accommodations and travel arrangements taken care of for us by the tour agency. We also didn't need to worry about tickets to any of the sites, nor about the transportation to and from the attractions; all of that was taken care of by either the tour agency or the local guide. The people in our tour group were pretty nice and we ended up making a lot of new friends. Of course, there are disadvantages as well. For example, our schedule was crammed full of events each and every day. (Anyone enjoy 6:30am wake-up calls every morning during your vacation?) With a large number of people in our tour group, we attracted the attention of the ubiquitous street vendors, who were teeming at every tourist attraction, but we were able to fend them off, though on a few occasions, I had to use a little physical interdiction.

All of our meals were included with the tour package. However, that was definitely a negative aspect of our tour package rather than a positive one. Other than the breakfasts, which were for the most part Western-style and somewhat palatable, most of the meals that were included in our tour package were pretty horrible, especially the ones in Beijing. For some reason, we were constantly being served Americanized food, or at least their take on American food. For example, we had French fries and deep fried fish four separate times during our stay in Beijing. Perhaps they figured that we Americans wouldn't like the authentic local food. However, nearly everyone in our tour group was either ethnically Chinese or travelling with someone who is ethnically Chinese, and all of us were looking forward to authentic food. Sadly, this was not to be. Instead, we ended up having tasteless soups and bland vegetables with mystery meat. For some reason, I was designated as our groups' food tester, which I didn't really mind too much. I figured that I had my Hep A shot before I embarking on this trip as well as a full prescription of Cipro, so I was good to go. What was especially disappointing was that the tour package touted a 'special' meal in every city that would highlight the local cuisine. Most of these 'special' meals were no better than the others, especially what passed for Peking duck in Beijing. It made me long for some nice yummy food from Panda Express.

On the positive side, we did see a lot of the major tourist attractions in the cities we visited, which was very cool. In Beijing, we visited the Temple of Heaven, Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and the Summer Palace - all on our first full day in Beijing! (Now you know why we were so tired by the end of the trip - each day was just jam packed with things to do.) We also visited the Ming Tombs in Beijing. Of course, no visit to Beijing would be complete without a trip to the Great Wall of China. We noted, with some amusement, that along with the various trinket shops at the Great Wall, you can enjoy a latte at the Starbucks Coffee located right next to the Badaling entrance. In Xi'an, we visited the famous Terra Cotta warriors of the first Qin emperor, as well as the City Wall (built during the Ming Dynasty) and the Great Mosque.

Next, we went to Guilin, where we enjoyed a relaxing four hour boat tour down the Li River, where we enjoyed some spectacular views. The river and nearby mountains provide for some of the most picturesque scenery in all of China. We also toured the famous Reed-Flute Rock caves and visited Elephant-Trunk hill, which resembles an elephant drinking water from a lake. From Guilin, we hopped on a short flight to nearby Guangzhou. Our trip to Guangzhou left something to be desired. First, our guide was not there to greet us at the airport (due to some apparent scheduling mixup), so we waited at the airport for a couple of hours before she arrived. We also happened to visit the city on the very last day of a major trade convention so we could not get into our original hotel. Instead, we ended up staying at some sketchy motel somewhere in the sticks. Good thing that we were only there for less than a day. Of course, this only left us an opportunity to do a quick driving tour of the city, but that was plenty for all of us, as we were exhausted from all of the travelling. To top it all off, on our way to the train station for the trip to Hong Kong, we were given a proproganda-laden speech from our tour guide. Needless to say, we were all very happy to be heading off to Hong Kong.

Normally, the tour ends in Hong Kong, but we arranged to stay for an extra few days on our own. My mom still has a few distant cousins and some friends in the area, so we were treated to some mighty nice hospitality while we were there. We also had some pretty awesome food in Hong Kong, which was in sharp contrast to the rest of the trip. One of the restaurants that we visited was the Tai Woo Restaurant in the heart of Kowloon. This Cantonese-style restaurant served up some very tasty seafood plates, including some delicious crab and shrimp dishes, and an award-winning sesame chicken entree (which was nothing like the sesame chicken you get here in the US). The appetizer platter, with jellyfish and various cuts of smoked and barbequed meats, was spectacular, easily better than any of the food that we had in the PRC and definitely a nice birthday treat for me. It was so good, we ended going back for a return visit a couple of days later. Unfortunately, my mom caught some sort of stomach bug during our second day in Hong Kong as was completely laid out for the next couple of days and ended up eating Cipro like Tic-Tacs. The medicine definitely worked its magic and my mom was able to join me and my sister and a host of our newfound friends and family for another nice dinner during my last evening in Hong Kong. One special treat during this dinner was a local speciality - hairy crab, which happened to be in season during our visit. The meat was very succulent as was the crab roe. In fact, one of my friends told me to skip the meat and fill up on the roe!

By the end of our second week, my sister and I were more than ready to head back home. (My mom is staying for an extra couple of weeks to visit more friends and family.) Overall, the trip was good and all of us were happy that we were able to make over to China and experience it together. China is an amazing country and has a wealth of historical and natural treasures. However, as my sister and I noted, there are still a lot of things to be desired. For example, the pollution in China was bad in every city that we visited. In particular, the air in Xi'an was utterly horrible. I've never been to Mexico City, but I would find it hard to believe that the smog there could be any worse than it is in Xi'an. There was a brown haze in every direction and at all times of the day. One could imagine that a child could grow up there and not realize that the sky is blue. Related to the pollution is a general lack of hygiene in the country. People are spitting everywhere and no one seems to care very much. The tap water is so unhygienic that you cannot even brush your teeth with it; every hotel in China where we stayed provided bottled water for that purpose. Don't get me started on the bathrooms. Almost none of the women in the tour group would use the public 'squat pot' toilets, which were often little more than a hole in the floor. I am wondering what the world will think if the situation does not change before the 2008 Olympics Games in Beijing. I would imagine that a large number of the visitors who are coming for the Games will be from the Western world - what will they think about the unclean water and the rudimentary toilets? Even my mom, who grew up in China, hated using the public facilities. I realize that a large part of the world doesn't even have running water nor anything like what exist in China, but then again, they aren't hosting an Olympics summer games. I hope that the infrastructure in the country will improve as a result of the games, but I'm not too confident that this will happen.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

My dinner at Frasca

Between dealing with work and preparing for my upcoming trip to the Far East, I have not had much time to think about a new post. However, I thought that I would share an experience about which I originally posted on the Good Eats Message Board. While the original post has vaporized into the ether of the Internet, I am happy to share it with you here:

(From August 2005)

Last week, my girlfriend and I decided to book a weekend trip to Boulder, Colorado for a little R&R. While we mostly wanted to get away from work, we also thought that it would be fun to see if we could find some way to have dinner one evening at Frasca Food and Wine. Both of us had wanted to check out the restaurant after reading that Executive Chef and co-owner Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson had been named one of the 10 best new chefs in the country by Food and Wine Magazine. We were hoping to get a reservation for the Monday night prix fixe dinner though we weren’t too optimistic as we only booked our tickets on Wednesday, which didn’t get us a lot of lead time. I called to see if there were any available tables on Monday. As it turned out, they had one available, though it was a table for six. I decided to take the table, as I figured that we could round up four of my friends to join us for dinner that evening.

Unfortunately, I figured incorrectly; as Monday rolled around, it was looking like it was just going to be the two of us. As we made the drive up to Rocky Mountain National Park Monday morning for a day of hiking, I saw that Frasca had called my cell phone and left a voice mail asking me to confirm our dinner reservations. Before I lost cell phone coverage, I called the restaurant and left them a message saying that we would have to cancel our reservation. I apologized for the late cancellation but added that we were still interested in coming if we could just get a table for two. By this point, I had pretty much eliminated the possibility of visiting Frasca on this visit (as we were flying out the following afternoon) and went off to enjoy the trails of the park.

After a good afternoon of hiking, we got back in the car and started making our way back to Boulder. When I got back into cell phone range, I saw that I had a voice mail waiting for me. One of the hosts had called us back saying that they were sorry that we had to cancel our reservations and, surprisingly, while he wasn’t sure what he could do, he also said that if we still interested in getting a table for two, we should give them a call back. Though it didn’t sound too promising, I figured that it was worth a shot. I called back and someone named Bobby took my call. I explained that we would take anything that they had available that evening and, to my surprise, he said that he’d definitely be able to work something out for us if we didn’t mind coming by a bit later in the evening. After this fortuitous change of events, my girlfriend and I made a beeline back to the hotel for a quick shower and change of clothing so that we could make our 9pm reservation.

We arrived right on time and the place was quite busy, which is unusual for a Monday evening in Boulder. As we waited for the hostess to get our seating ready, a gentleman walked up and introduced himself to us, “Hi, I’m Bobby. We spoke on the phone earlier today.” It turned out that Bobby was Bobby Stuckey, co-owner of Frasca and Master Sommelier. He shook our hands and warmly welcomed us to his restaurant. He told us that it was really nice that we could work something out that night. He said that while he wasn’t able to arrange a table for us, he got us seats, front and center, at the dessert bar. Of course, we didn’t mind this at all. As he led us to our seats, he asked us where we were from. When we told him that we had flown in from the Bay Area for the weekend, he got excited and told us that both he and Lachlan had moved to Boulder last year from the French Laundry. He asked us about our favorite dining spots in the Bay Area and gave us some of his personal recommendations. He told us a little bit about himself and his background and talked about the inspiration for the food. The cuisine at Frasca is based on the cuisine of the alpine region of Italy, located near the Slovenia border. The cuisine is based on using fresh ingredients and balancing the individual flavors of the each ingredient in simple and rustic dishes.

The Monday night prix fixe menu consists of three courses: a starter, an entrée, and dessert. The menu changes weekly based on what happens to be in season. Both the starter and entrée course had two selections. Since we wanted to try as many different things as we could, we decided to get different starters and entrées and split them. At the dessert bar, we watched as the pastry chef behind the counter also prepared scrumptious plates of cured meats using a hand-cranked slicer, so we decided to start off with the salumi platter on top of the appetizers that we ordered with the dinner. We also went with the wine flight that was suggested for this evening. Being wine neophytes, we figured that we would play it safe and just go with the Master Sommelier’s selections. Because these wines were paired with the prix fixe menu, we also asked our server for a wine (her choice) to go with the salumi platter.

The salumi plate came with paper-thin slices of three different types of cured meat: prosciutto, Italian speck, and coppa from New York. We wrapped the meat around house-made grissini, which are thin Italian breadsticks, and dipped it into rafano, a horseradish sauce made with crème fraiche. It was a perfect way to start our meal; it wasn’t too heavy, but was packed with flavor. The wine that the server selected (a white wine – I can’t remember which varietal it was though) was crisp and went very well with the saltiness of the cured meats and the slight kick of the rafano.

Next came the starters. On this evening, the starters were a chilled melon soup and an heirloom tomato caprese salad. The soup was bursting with the flavor of ripe cantaloupe and was a great accompaniment for a warm summer evening. The caprese was made with house-made mozzarella cheese and was a wonderful mix of tomatoes, cheese, basil, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar. They went very well with the paired viognier from the wine flight.

For our main courses, we had a bowl of house-made tagliatelle with corn and oregano. The noodles were unbelievably buttery and each bite was bursting with sweetness from the corn. The other entrée was a roast pork loin with mashed dates and bacon. Normally, I hate ordering pork out at restaurants because it always seems to be overcooked, but the loin was cooked to a perfect medium doneness and was moist and succulent. The entrées were paired with the two wines, a Shiraz and a zinfandel. Surprisingly, these wines were from a vineyard in Southern California (near Santa Barbara, I believe), but went very well with these hearty dishes. On the night of our visit, the owner of the vineyard was at the Frasca and he actually served us for this course.

Dessert was house-made peach ice cream with vanilla mousse and almond crunch, which was a great way to end our meal. Throughout our dinner, we watched the pastry chef put together the desserts on the other side of the bar and we eagerly awaited our turn. The ice cream alone was very rich, but paired with the heavy mousse, the dessert was decadent.

The service at Frasca was nothing short of spectacular. The service was prompt and attentive without being obtrusive. Our server made sure that our glasses were filled as necessary and that we had everything that we needed on the table before we actually needed it. She took the time to answer our silly questions about the wine and food. The pacing of the food was perfect; we never felt like we were being rushed through a course nor did we feel like we were waiting around for the next course to show up. In addition to our server, Bobby dropped by our table every so often to check in us and to pass along some personal anecdotes about his experiences in the Bay Area, which we clearly enjoyed hearing. At the end of the evening, he came by and gave us a list of places in SF that he liked and asked us to say hello to some of the people there if we chose to pay them a visit. After the last of the entrées had left the kitchen, Lachlan came out and went around the restaurant, checking at each table to see how things were. Basically, they made us feel like the evening and dining experience was really about us and meeting our needs. The amazing thing was that, looking around the dining room, it seemed that everyone in the restaurant was getting the same level of attention and service that we were getting.

After a three hour gastronomic experience, we stumbled out of the restaurant, a little tipsy, comfortably full, and very happy. As we were leaving, I heard my name being called from across the dining room. One of bartenders was an old student of mine back when I taught at CU and thought that he recognized me from across the room. Bobby confirmed that I was who he thought that I was and got us together for an impromptu reunion.

The Denver Post food critic said that from now on, his life will be divided into two parts: before he ate at Frasca and after he ate at Frasca. Now, I won’t go that far, but I would say that this was one of the best dining experiences that I’ve ever had, if not the best. Not only was the food fantastic, the service was out of this world. This is one of the few times that I felt that dining experience was as important as the food itself. We will definitely go back to Frasca the next time we’re back in the Denver/Boulder area. For those of you who live on the Front Range, we cannot recommend it highly enough.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Hawaii Part IV: Wedding Bells

We would have likely stayed in Maui for our entire trip if not for the Oahu wedding of my sweetie's friend from back home. Indeed, the wedding was the impetus for our trip to the islands in the first place.

Day 7: After a complementary buffet breakfast at the Kuhio Beach Grill in the hotel, we went to check out the USS Arizona memorial. Commemorating the military personnel who perished during the attack on Pearl Harbor, including the 1177 aboard the ship, the white memorial straddles the sunken hull of the battleship. After queueing up for a ticket, we checked out the exhibits that describe the events leading up to the attack and the subsequent effects in the visitors' center while waiting for our pontoon ride to the memorial itself. I have to give major props to my girlfriend, who endured the endless lines and the unbearably long wait for our turn to visit the memorial.

After leaving the memorial, we stopped by Leonard's Bakery for some fresh, hot malasadas, the Portuguese take on the doughnut. We each enjoyed a couple of malasadas, one filled with a creamy custard and another simply dusted with granulated sugar. After polishing off the sweet confections, we hurried back to our room and changed for the welcoming reception at the Hyatt for all of the visiting wedding guests. Despite the heat on the lanai, we enjoyed made-to-order sushi and other finger foods, while we cooled off with some icy cold adult beverages and visited with my girlfriend's twin brother and her other friends from back home in the Poconos. After the reception, we made a return trip to Duke's, where we hung out with some of the other wedding guests until we made our way to the Rock Island Cafe for a late-night snack of "Duke's" pizza and cheese fries.

Day 8: Taking advantage of the wedding event-free day, we decided to take a drive up to the North Shore. Before heading up, we stopped for a late breakfast/early lunch at Nico's at Pier 38, a little eatery nestled between warehouses in the middle of the commercial fishing district. You might expect good fish there. Not only will your expectations be met, you also get the fish at great prices. My girlfriend's plate of furikake pan seared ahi with a ginger garlic cilantro dip and my fried tuna belly set us back less than $20. The fish in each dish was generously portioned and very fresh; I wouldn't be surprised if the fish were still swimming the daylight broke that morning.

We then started our way north on the Pali Highway. Our plan was to meet up with my girlfriend's brother and high-school friend who were playing golf up at the Turtle Bay Resort. We stopped to gaze at the scenic overlook at Nu'uanu Pali, the site of one of the great battles in Hawaiian history, before continuing along the windward shore of Oahu. Just a short distance before Turtle Bay, we saw a bunch of cars parked alongside the highway and a long line of people queued up to a little roadside shack. Naturally, we pulled over as well to see what was going on. It turned out that we had stumbled onto Romy's Kahuku Prawns and Shrimp, a little family owned and operated stand that serves up some of the tastiest shrimp in the area. Though neither of us was particularly hungry, we still wanted to check it out so we split the cocktail shrimp plate. We were not disappointed. The shrimp, harvested daily from the ponds just beyond the stand, were firm, plump, and tender, a perfect delivery device for the spicy cocktail sauce that accompanied the plate. After polishing off our second breakfast, we met up with our friends at the golf course and headed out to the proverbial 19th hole at Haleiwa Joe's for some drinks.

No visit to the North Shore would be complete without some shave ice. So after hanging out for drinks, we figured that we would head down the highway another few hundred yards to sample some shave ice at the famous Matsumoto's. In business for more than 55 years, this little store turns out over 1000 servings of shave ice on a warm summer's day. After splitting an icy treat, we doubled back to Waimea Bay Beach just in time for sunset before heading back to Honolulu. Once again, we were treated to a spectacular Hawaiian sunset:



After getting back to Honolulu and picking our friends up from the airport where they dropped off their rental car, we decide to grab a small dinner. After getting completely lost on some residential neighborhoods, we stumbled onto Ezogiku Noodle Cafe, where we each enjoyed a nice bowl of ramen (with curry and miso-flavored broth) and gyoza before heading back to the hotel for a good night of sleep before the big wedding day.

Day 9: This morning, we woke up and grabbed a quick breakfast at the Kuhio Beach Grill. As a little surprise for me, my sweetie had set up a massage session for the two of us in the hotel spa. The massage was fantastic; it really helped work out the knots in my back and was thoroughly relaxing. After going back to our room and cleaning up, we changed into our far-too-hot-for-the-weather wedding attire, we headed over to another hotel just further down Waikiki Beach to catch a bus that would take us over to the wedding. Even though the walk was only three blocks long, I was feeling quite overheated by the time that I boarded the bus. Luckily for all of us, the A/C on the bus was working quite well.

After a beautiful and short ceremony at church, we boarded the bus once again and were given a short tour of Honolulu while the wedding party was busy with photos. We drove over to the Punchbowl National Cemetary of the Pacific, before heading over to the State Capitol and the 'Iolani Palace, with the entire tour narrated by our hilarious driver who kept telling us that he really just wanted to take us to the liquor store. Eventually, we made it to the Royal Hawaiian Hotel back on Waikiki Beach for the wedding reception. By this time, the temperature had subsided, which made for a very pleasant evening cocktail hour out in the reception area overlooking Waikiki Beach. Dinner was also fabulous: we started out the meal with a tasty lobster bisque en croute (which was unfortunately not the best choice for this hot weather), followed by a crab and seafood salad. The main entree was grilled filet and garlic prawns with assorted vegetables. For dessert, we were treated to a guava sorbet with fresh fruit as well as wedding cake. All in all, it was one of nicest weddings that I have attended.

Day 10: We had an early flight back to the mainland, so there wasn't anything really too exciting that morning. I will mention that we had breakfast at the nearby Cheeseburger in Paradise, a place that I wanted to check out in both Lahaina and Honolulu. Unfortunately for me, I found out that "Cheeseburger in Paradise" = "Overcooked Food" + "Crappy Service". I'm mean, how can a place that purports to specialize in cheeseburgers cook a beef pattie so long that it is literally crumbling from the dryness?? After the disappointing breakfast, we headed for the airport.

Though by this time I was looking forward to going home, sleeping in my own bed, and finding some less humid weather, I found myself thinking about and looking forward to my next visit to the Islands. For those of you who have never been to Hawaii (like me prior to this trip), I recommend that you give it some serious thought for your next getaway. It is a fantastically beautiful place where you will experience some unforgettable memories.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Hawaii Part III: From Maui to Oahu

Day 5: Seeing that this was our last full day in Maui, we decided to head out to the beaches once again. We had read some really nice reviews about Kapalua Beach, so we decided to check it out. We actually had no idea where the beach was located other than that it was somewhere in the Kapalua Resort, so we ended up driving around for a bit until we saw a pristine strip of sand behind the Ritz-Carlton. After parking the car and trudging across the expansive resort with our beach chairs and snorkel gear, we realized that we weren't at Kapalua Beach after all, but rather, we had arrived at D. T. Fleming Beach. As it turned out, it wasn't a problem at all, as we enjoyed the sun and sand as much we did at any of the other beaches we had visited earlier in the trip. One of the nice features of Fleming Beach is that the surrounding palm trees provide a good deal of shade, of which I took advantage while I read a book in my beach chair. After a few hours of lounging around, we started getting hungry and went in search of some nearby eatery.

After a short drive, we found a restaurant, the Sea Horse, at the nearby Napili Kai Beach Resort. As luck would have it, we noticed a sign indicating coastal access as we drove around looking for a parking spot. Could it be? Yes! We had found Kapalua Bay! Wanting to take advantage of our good fortune, we stopped for a quick bite at the Sea Horse, splitting a cheeseburger and small sampler platter, and headed over to the beach. The Sea Horse was on a nice beach as well, but we opted for our original destination. By the time that we had arrived at the beach, it was already getting late in the afternoon, but the sun was still warm and the water inviting. Unfortunately, the afternoon surf had kicked up a lot of silt into the water, so snorkeling wasn't ideal, but we were still able to see a lot of fish in the offshore coral reefs. We hung out at Kapalua Beach for a while, not leaving until the sunset. Unlike the day before, the skies were mostly devoid of clouds so we were treated to a spectacular Hawaii sunset.

After cleaning up back at the B&B, we pondered our dinner options. We had heard from some of the other guests that there was a small hole-in-the-wall place nearby that had great food, so we figured that we would give it a try. This little restaurant, Honokawai Okazuya and Deli, turned out to be a gem. Located in the less than appealing AAAAA Rent-A-Space Center, Honokawai Okazuya was off of the radar of most visitors, but it was definitely known to the locals, as the line was nearly out the door as we arrived. The original owner was formerly a chef at Mama's Fish House, the award-winning restaurant in Central Maui, and he developed the menu and recipes that are still being served today. It was hard to choose a dish as the menu, located on a plastic board behind the cash register, had so many delicious-sounding choices, but my girlfriend settled on the teriyaki steak and panko encrusted mahi-mahi, while I picked the mahi-mahi sauteed with a butter caper sauce. Both dishes were simply outstanding. The sauteed mahi-mahi was one of the best cooked fish dishes that I had eaten in a long time. As one of the other B&B guests had said, that dish would be a $30+ item if you put it on a fancy plate in a fancy restaurant, but it only cost $12 at Honokawai Okazuya. Of course, it was served in a styrofoam box instead of a fancy plate, but that was just fine with me. After finishing our delectable meal, my sweetie was in the mood for ice cream, and not just ordinary ice cream, but Roselani's, which is made locally in Maui. We drove over to the Lahaina waterfront in search of ice cream. We walked up and down the main street and found several ice cream shops, but not one of them featured Roselani. Disappointed, we stopped in one of the shops and got some Lappert's, another Hawaiian-made confection. As we walked down the street, we eyed yet another ice cream shop and saw they were, in fact, a Roselani vendor! Not ones to waste good ice cream, we finished off the ice cream in our hands and headed off for seconds. It was a very sweet end to a sweet day.

Day 6: As we were scheduled to fly from Maui to Honolulu in the late afternoon, we decided to pack up and head back toward Kahului. We stopped off for another plate lunch at Da Kitchen and planned out the afternoon. Over chicken katsu and Kalua pork, we talked about driving out on the road to Hana for as long as we could before turning around to catch our flight. We drove about 20 miles or so before we saw a pack of cars parked on the side of the road. We stopped the car and saw a sign indicating that there were a couple of waterfalls a short hike away. We exited the car and wandered down the trail that led into the thick tropical forest. Eschewing the closer (and smaller) waterfall, we worked our way deeper into the wilderness until we saw something off in the distance. We had found our waterfall! Unfortunately, I was not wearing the proper foot attire to slosh through the foot-deep water to take a closer look at the waterfall, but luckily my sweetie was better prepared. This is what she saw:



After lingering for a while at the waterfall, we headed back to the car and decided to start driving back toward the airport. We still had a bit of time to kill, so we stopped on the way back to check out the ocean at the couple of spots along the shore. We had hoped to see some surfers out catching some waves, but we must have been there at the wrong hour. We headed back to the airport, dropped off the rental car, checked in, and sat through an uneventful half-hour flight to Honolulu.

Making our way from the airport to the hotel turned out to be an irritatingly long and slow drive. Who knew about the crappy traffic in Honolulu? After checking in to our hotel, we decided to check out the famous Waikiki Beach locale where we were staying. First, we wanted to grab some food and recalled from our dining experience at Sansei a few days earlier that there was a sister restaurant in our hotel. Neither of us were up for an elaborate dinner, but we decide to head there anyway. We must have been thinking on the same wavelength that evening, as we both ordered ramen soup dishes. My girlfriend went with the dungeness crab ramen and I picked the Sansei special ramen. Of course, being in a sushi restaurant, we also ordered a couple of pieces of sushi: the Sunshine Surprise and unagi rolls. Both of the ramen bowls were delicious. I noted that the broth in the crab ramen has a buttery finish to it, which was confirmed by our server who said that it was finished with truffle butter. Very luxurious!

After dinner, we wandered across the street and found ourselves walking through the white sands of Waikiki Beach. We took a nice, late night stroll along the beach. There were still a lot of people out, including a number of people still splashing out in the warm water under a moonlit sky. We walked for a while and decided to stop off for a nightcap at Duke's. We found a beachside table, sipped on a stream of mai tais, and enjoyed the sights and sounds of Waikiki until last call.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Hawaii Part II: Haleakala or bust

Continuing the story of our adventures on Maui...

Day 4: Today, we decided to take a break from beaches to check out Mount Haleakala, the massive shield volcano that makes up the eastern three-quarters of Maui. Many people head up to Haleakala (or "house of the sun" in Hawaiian) to catch the sunrise. However, this would have required us to get out of bed and hit the road by 3:30am, so that was out of the question. Instead, we decided to take a leisurely drive up to the summit, stopping at a few places along the way. Our first stop was Makawao, one of Hawaii's last remaining cowboy towns, where we checked out some boutique shops and art galleries, including a glass-blowing shop where you can watch the artisans ply their craft. After walking around this small town, we were getting a bit peckish, so we decided to head off to lunch at the nearby Hali'imaile General Store. Operated by award-winning chef Beverly Gannon, the General Store is well-known for its innovative Hawaiian cuisine. On that count, it did not disappoint. We started our lunch with Bev's Famous Crab Pizza, which was quite delicious. We then split two plates; one was a macadamia nut encrusted mahi-mahi filet with curried mashed potatoes and the other dish was a Kalua pork enchilada pie. Both dishes were quite interesting and very tasty. However, we were a little disappointed with the subpar service that we received, though admittedly we did hit them during their lunch rush. However, what really irritated me was that my Diet coke with two refills cost me nine dollars. That's nine dollars for a three glasses of fountain soda, three glasses that were mostly full of ice to start with! In my opinion, that's a ridiculous markup, which our server conveniently neglected to mention to us. I don't think it's unreasonable to charge for refills, but c'mon, this was silly. This time, we calculated our tip on the bill less the cost of the soda.

After lunch, we decided to check out the Ali'i Lavender Garden on our way toward Haleakala. This garden, located on the uplands on the way toward the volcano, features 45 different types of lavender. If you are a fan of lavender, this is the place to visit. At the gift shop, you can buy all things lavender, ranging from soaps and candles to food items, such as lavender chocolate brownies and lavender pepper seasoning. By the time we left, I must admit that I was a bit lavendered out. Our next stop: Haleakala.

The road to Haleakala is winding and full of switchbacks, though fortunately it is wide with hard shoulders and guardrails, so it is a long but reasonable drive. The twenty or so miles from the main highway to the summit takes about an hour, but your patience will be rewarded. Once we poked through the cloud deck on our way up to the summit, we were treated to some spectacular views:







We hung out at the summit for a while and even ran into another couple from the Bay Area who was staying at the same B&B where we were staying - small world. We lingered at the top for a while, taking many photos of the rugged landscape surrounded by pillowy clouds. We had thought about watching the sunset from the summit, but not willing to wait two hours, we started to head back to the valley. The drive down Haleakala takes as long as the drive up, so by the time we got back to the main highway and found a gas station to fuel up our gas-starved car, the sun was making its way down toward the horizon. We found a nice little park with a view of the ocean, but the evening clouds prevented us from seeing the sun actually set, though the sky was tinted with beautiful shades of red.

By this time, we were also starving. As we headed back, we decided to stop off for dinner at A Saigon Cafe, a little non-descript Vietnamese restaurant in Wailuku. It is so non-descript that our directions to the place told us to drive around a sleepy little neighborhood until we saw a glowing neon "Open" sign. Both of us were a touch under the weather and were looking forward to a warm bowl of pho, a traditional Vietnamese noodle soup. My sweetie chose the Mi Won Ton (Won Ton Egg Noodle Soup) while I went with the Pho Tai Bo Vien (Rare steak and meatballs). The soup and the summer rolls that we split were very filling and definitely hit the spot. After dinner, we started on our way back to the B&B, ready for a good night of slumber after a long day.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Hawaii Part I: Maui

I just got back late last night from my trip to Hawaii. My sweetie and I had a great time lounging in the sun and sand and enjoying some great food. Here's a synopsis of the first part of our stay in Maui:

Day 1: We arrived at Kahului after an early morning departure from San Francisco. After the long flight, we found our way to Da Kitchen, a Hawaiian plate lunch place conveniently located just a few blocks from the airport. My girlfriend ordered the Hawaiian plate lunch consisting of pork lau lau, Kalua pork, chicken long rice, and lomi lomi salmon, while I opted for the loco moco. Of course, both plates came with the obligatory two scoops of rice and a scoop of macaroni salad. Each plate was enormous, with easily enough food for two people.

Sated with our plate lunches, we made our way to Lahaina, to the bed and breakfast where we were lodging during our stay in Maui. We chilled out for a while after our long journey before we headed into town to check out the local trinket shops and art galleries prior to our dinner at the aforementioned David Paul's, located in the heart of Lahaina waterfront. We were tempted by their tasting menu, but after a long session of hemming and hawing, we decided to order a la carte. We started out dinner with a couple of appetizers: the crispy blue corn crusted chile relleno and the Cake Walk, a trio of little bites of Kona lobster cake, Louisana rock shrimp cake, and seared ahi cake. Both the chile relleno, which was stuffed with prawns, scallops, and cheese, and the Cake Walk were excellent. The presentation on the Cake Walk was particularly impressive, drawing comments from the couple sitting at the table next to us. For our entrees, my sweetie had the Maui onion and sesame seed crusted ahi, which was a bit underwhelming, while I went with the Kona coffee roasted rack of lamb, which was excellent, even though the coffee flavor really didn't come through. Overall, dinner was good though it was quite expensive.

Day 2: We started out the day by driving down to Makena and having the Sunday champagne brunch at the Prince Court at the Maui Prince Hotel. The buffet was very good, with a nice assortment of sushi and sashimi to go with the traditional brunch buffet fare, which included made-to-order omelettes and roasted meats from the carving table. After brunch, we headed out to nearby Big Beach, where we sat out and soaked in some rays and played around in the warm ocean water. It was very relaxing. After a couple hours of sun, we headed back to Lahaina so that we wouldn't be late for dinner at the Old Lahaina Luau. The ocean-side luau, considered by many to be the best and most authentic on the island, features an all-you-can-eat menu of traditional Hawaiian foods, such as Kalua pig, poi, guava glazed chicken, and taro salad, all of which you can wash down with a never-ending stream of drinks from the open bar. After dinner, the luau puts on its nightly entertainment program of song and dance, presenting the history of the Hawaiian people and culture, which both of us thought was pretty cool.

Day 3: After a quick breakfast at the B&B, we again made our way to the beach, settling this day at Black Rock Beach at Kaanapali, where we relaxed under the warm sun. I also gave snorkeling a try for the first time, under the guidance and watchful eye of my sweetie, who made sure that I did not get myself into any trouble. The water was very clear that morning so we were able to see several varieties of fish swimming in the waters near the beach. My girlfriend also saw a sea turtle, which ventured into the rocks near the shore after which the beach is named. After being thoroughly exhausted by the sun and the snorkeling, we headed for a quick lunch at the Aloha Mixed Plate, where we enjoyed another plate lunch, though one that was much more reasonably sized than our meal two days earlier. The shoyu chicken, for which the restaurant is well-known, was especially good, both flavorful and juicy.

We headed back to the B&B for some rest before heading out for dinner. That day, we were celebrating two years together :-) so we wanted to try out someplace nice, though neither of us were up for anything too formal or elaborate. We settled on Sansei Seafood Restaurant and Sushi Bar. The restaurant had relocated and opened in a new location just a few days earlier, so we had a little adventure finding it, driving around the Kapulua resort several times before my eagle-eyed girlfriend caught its new location next to the Ritz-Carlton resort. We settled down at the sushi bar and both quickly decided on the omakase menu. The omakase dinner started with a nice bowl of red miso soup, followed by ten pieces of nigiri sushi, ranging from baby yellowtail to o-toro, all of which were very good. While enjoying our dinners, we engaged in a nice conversation with the sushi chef, who really hooked us up by sending out an extra full order of o-toro nigiri and some ahi poke - both on the house! We finished off our dinner with some deep fried tempura ice cream, which we both really liked. It was a very nice conclusion to an excellent day - a great day on our anniversary.

Next up: Our last two days in Maui before moving on to Waikiki Beach.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Off to Hawaii

As I mentioned earlier, I haven't been posting much as of late due to a busy work schedule and everything else going on in my life. Well, it's time for a break. Tomorrow, my sweetie and I will be jetting for a little vacation to a warm and sunny place - Maui.

Of course, I will report back on our eating adventures. We've already booked a dinner date at David Paul's Lahaina Grill, as well as a luau the following evening.

So, stay tuned and keep on truckin'.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Hungry Detective

I've recently seen a couple of commercials for the upcoming series "The Hungry Detective", which premieres on the The Food Network on October 17. The host of the show is Chris Cognac, who you may have seen in the Alton Brown mini-series Feasting on Asphalt. He is the police officer who shows Alton the good eats around LA after Alton's unfortunate spill on his bike in the Nevada desert. Cognac, who is a member of the Hawthorne, California Police Department, moonlights as food columnist for the Daily Breeze newspaper and maintains a blog of his culinary adventures.

I've been thinking about ways of how I can get a gig like this. After all, I also write about food, albeit, not for a newspaper. Maybe I can use the same angle and get some air time on Alton's next show. Of course, I'll have to find a good name for the show, which combines my day job with my love of food. "Gastronomic Solution Architect" doesn't exactly roll off your tongue, does it? How about "The Food Prototyper"? Well, I guess that I'll have to work on that...

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Review: The Front Porch

First, my apologies for the lack of updates lately. Between travelling to Europe for work (two trips in the past four weeks) and getting sick, I haven't had a lot of energy to post. Now, that I'm feeling a bit better, I'll start to catch on my backlog and tell you about my visit to The Front Porch (65A 29th Street; 415-695-7800), which just opened for business in the Mission around the middle of last month to a fair amount of local buzz. The Front Porch, which has been labeled as a "gastropub", features an eclectic assortment of dishes including Southern soul food, such as fried chicken and grits, along with a few tastes of the Caribbean and some standard pub grub. The Caribbean influence comes courtesy of the chef, Sarah Kirnon, a Barbados native who previously was the chef at Emmy's Spaghetti Shack, just around the corner from The Front Porch.

My girlfriend and I paid a visit to The Front Porch on its opening night. We arrived during a lull in the action and managed to get seated right away in a booth next to the kitchen. The seats in the booths are recycled from old automobile bench seats. I found it somewhat amusing that the seat belts were still in place, just in case we needed to buckle up for the meal. We started out our dinner with a couple of appetizers, the fried chicken livers with onion gravy and the tuna tartare. Served on a large toasted brioche, the very generously sized portion of chicken livers were smothered with caramelized onions and gravy. It was a very interesting interpretation of the traditional liver and onions plate and will certainly delight the offal lover in you. The tuna tartare took a while to come from the kitchen, but it was worth the wait. Served with perfectly fried plaintain chips and scallions, the tartare was a delightful treat. While the tartare itself was very tasty, the plantain chips were just fantastic- I could have spent the rest of the meal just eating those chips. We attributed to delay in receiving our second appetizer to the expected opening night jitters. Sitting close to the kitchen, we noted the occasional miscommunication between the kitchen and the servers and the confusion amongst the servers themselves. Our server told us that they had a made a couple of dry runs on the days preceding opening night and were hitting on all cylinders the night before, but it seemed that the real deal was a bit different from their practice runs.

For our entrees, we decided to stay in the Fried Food section of the nutritional pyramid and went with the fish and chips and the fried chicken. The fish was moist and coated with a nice crunchy batter, but the chips were below average, too thinly cut and not browned enough, which made for a very ordinary dish. On the other hand, the fried chicken was fabulous, the highlight of their menu. When they opened the restaurant, they intended to make the best fried chicken in town using a recipe originally belonging to Kirnon's grandmother. According to my girlfriend, they have succeeded in that mission. The chicken was perfectly cooked, both tender and juicy. The crust on the chicken was light, crunchy, and well-seasoned, making for a very flavorful and delightful dish. In case you are ordering for a crowd or just especially hungry, you can also order the fried chicken by the bucketful.

Despite the occasional hiccups here and there (it took the server four tries to get my bill calculated correctly), the service was pretty good, and the food, for the most part, was very tasty. Once they work out the kinks and start running on all cylinders, I suspect that The Front Porch will be packing the house nightly.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Fred's Steak

My impression upon seeing Fred's Steak for the first time was, "Wow, that looks pretty disgusting." How on Earth could a black slab of beef that looks more like a lump of coal than a piece of meat be at all appetizing or even non-toxic for that matter? However, my opinion completely changed after taking my first bite.

Fred's Steak was invented about 40 years ago by a South Bay butcher named (not surprisingly) Fred, who created a special marinade for his sirloin roasts. In the ensuing years, the secret recipe made its way up the Peninsula, and today, Fred's Steak can be found at Schaub's Meat, Fish, and Poultry Market in the Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto. Surrounded by bright red and pink cuts of beef and pork, Fred's Steak sticks out like a blackened sore thumb in the refrigerated display cases at Schaub's.

Before cooking, Fred's Steak looks like a wet lump of charcoal. After roasting in the oven, it looks like a hot, crusty lump of charcoal. But it is this crust, formed by the secret marinade as the roast cooks, that is the magic of Fred's Steak. The crust seals in the juices, preventing the savory flavor from escaping. The crust itself lends the right amount of seasoning and a hint of sweetness that complements the hearty taste of the beef itself. The result is a heavenly, full-flavored piece of beef, both tender and succulent.

(Incidentally, I've often wondered about what goes into the secret recipe. I would guess that the sweetness comes from molasses. I thought that the black color might come from ground black sesame seed, but judging from a Google search of several attempts to reverse-engineer the recipe, I think that I must be wrong. People seem to think that coffee is a component of the recipe. Interesting...)

The store recommends that you roast the beef at 375 degrees F for 20 minutes per pound for medium rare doneness. I suggest that you throw away your timer and pick up a digital oven thermometer instead, like the one that I have. I never roast meats by time any more; I always go by temperature. Set the alarm to go off at 122 degrees F. With carryover, you'll end up with a perfect, medium rare Fred's Steak.

If you've never tasted Fred's Steak, I recommend that you give it a try, despite its unappetizing appearence. I'd be willing to bet that you'll have a different impression, as I did, after taking your first bite.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Review: Chapeau!

This evening, my girlfriend and I enjoyed a lovely dinner at Chapeau! (1408 Clement Street; 415-750-9787), a little French bistro tucked away in the sleepy Outer Richmond neighborhood of San Francisco. This hidden treasure features a selection of traditional French fare, such as cassoulet, rabbit, roasted poussin, and rack of lamb. While the menu is not innovative along the lines of a French Laundry or a Manresa, it is well executed and very solid. For me, what sets Chapeau apart from many of the other restaurants that I have visited is the extremely high level of service and warm hospitality provided by Philippe and Ellen Gardelle, the restaurant's proprietors, and their staff. Tonight was no exception.

While you can order a la carte from the menu, most people opt for one of the prix fixe menus. Their early-bird special, which rings in at a surprisingly affordable $19, gives you a choice of an appetizer, an entree, and a dessert from a limited set of menu items, but you need to be there before 6:00pm in order to take advantage of this option. For those of us who choose to eat dinner at a non-AARP-endorsed hour, there are two fixed price menus. The first menu, appropriately named 'Menu 1', lets you pick any appetizer, entree, and dessert from their menu for $35. There are a few items, such as the foie gras appetizer and the filet mignon entree, that require you to pay a small additional charge. Menu 2 includes an additional fish course and allows you to add an optional palate cleansing sorbet. Tonight, we both went with Menu 1.

Our meal started with the seared foie gras and crispy sweetbreads appetizers, which came out after our complementary cold melon soup with mint. As I have mentioned in a previous post, my girlfriend and I both love foie gras. Their version had two decent sized slabs, lightly seared and served on top of a brioche with a peach reduction. We shared this tasty dish, accompanied by a nice sauternes paired by Ellen, who was our server tonight. The sweetbreads were served with trumpet and oyster mushrooms in a rich truffle sauce - it was also delicious. For our main courses, we ordered the rabbit and the bouillabaisse. The hind quarter was plated with white beans and surrounded by a rich sauce. As expected, the meat was very flavorful and also very tender. The bouillabaisse, loaded with cod and mussels, was served with slices of bread and a very savory rouille, a spicy aioli traditionally served with this stew. The bread, topped with rouille, was extremely useful in sopping up all of the savory broth. For dessert, we picked the chocolate lava cake (one of my girlfriend's favorites) and the panna cotta with strawberries and a basil coulis. Though we were already full from our main courses, we managed to polish off these delectably sweet morsels.

As it was during our last visit, the food was delicious and filling. Though as tasty as the food was, I was again most impressed with the service. Ellen and the other waitstaff were attentive without hovering over us and made sure that all of our needs were met. Of course, I don't want to forget mentioning Philippe. As is his norm, he greeted us warmly soon after we sat down as he made his rounds across the dining room. Even though we were strangers to him, he made us feel like we were sitting down to dinner in his own home. During the course of the evening, he would duck out of the kitchen periodically to make his rounds, checking on each table as if it were the only one in the restaurant. As we finished our dinner and made our way out, he met up with us just outside the front door to thank us for visiting and to bid us a good evening. During our previous visit, he actually chased us halfway down the block, with a hand full of wine goblets, in order to say goodbye. Luckily for him tonight, we were too full to move very quickly.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Saddle up to The Counter

Earlier this week, my lovely and ever-alert girlfriend pointed me to an article about The Counter, which just opened a new location in Palo Alto (369 California Avenue; 650-321-3900) last week, right down the road from my workplace. The Counter, which is known for gourmet burgers at less-than-gourmet burger prices, was recently mentioned on the Oprah Winfrey Show, resulting in a nearly six-fold increase in sales. Of course, where Oprah goes to eat, we must go too... ;)

One note: Several articles that I read about The Counter mention that there are over 300,000 different burger combinations. I guess this is true, but I can't figure out how they settled on that number. As far as I can tell, there are a lot more possibilities. You can pick four toppings from a list of 27, one sauce from a list of seventeen choices, and one of three types of buns. Applying mathematical skills acquired through years of post-graduate education, I figure that you have 895,050 different possibilities before you even contemplate your cheese selection. Even if you restrict yourself to the list of eighteen non-premium toppings, you already have 156,060 different combinations before deciding on your cheese of choice, much less your burger type (beef, turkey, or veggie). So, as far as I can tell, 300,000 is a lower bound though certainly not a very good one. I guess that it's better than saying that there are more than, say for example, 23 different combinations.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Perfect BLT

This week, MSNBC is running an article about the secrets to a perfect BLT. Personally, while I love the 'B' and 'T' part of a BLT, I can pretty much do without the 'L', especially if the B_T comes with lots of mayo. I am intrigued, however, by one of the recipes in the article, where the 'L' doesn't stand for lettuce, but rather for liver. Liver, as in foie gras.

Hey, now before you make that Mr. Yuk face, you should give it a try, especially if you happen to be on the Chicago City Council. Who knows, you might even like it. I'm not kidding. A short while back, my girlfriend and I tried the PB&J foie gras sandwich appetizer at Hawthorne Lane (22 Hawthorne Lane; 415-777-9779). Both of us thought that it was absolutely fantastic. I hope that they keep that item on the menu as they go through some upcoming changes.

IHRDb: Baked Squash

Back when I was in grad school, I lived down the street from a Black-Eyed Pea restaurant. The Black-Eyed Pea is a casual, sit-down restaurant chain that serves homestyle comfort food, like chicken fried steak, pot roast, and meatloaf. However, my favorite dish to eat there was one of their vegetable sides - the baked squash casserole, er, I mean hotdish. It was so good that my roommates and I would often get a second helping of squash to go along with the one that came with the entree.

Though I no longer live in Colorado (nor in Texas) where the restaurants are located, I found a recipe that is an adequate facsimile of the original, so I will offer it as the second entry in the IHRDb:

Baked squash hotdish

8-10 medium-size yellow squash
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs), plus additional for topping
1 stick butter or margarine, plus 1 tablespoon for topping, melted
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
salt and pepper, to taste

Cut tips off squash and cut each squash into 3 or 4 pieces. Drop squash into a large pot with enough boiling water to cover. Return to boil, reduce heat, and cook until tender. Drain in colander and mash with a potato masher.

Combine with beaten eggs, panko, the stick of butter, sugar, salt, onion and pepper. Turn into Pyrex dish that has been lightly greased or sprayed with nonstick spray. Mix a small amount of panko with the additional melted butter. Sprinkle casserole with a light layer of buttered panko. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until lightly browned.

Pulled pork

Beginning in the 1950s, American pork producers tried to change pork's image of being a fatty meat by instituting breeding programs to reduce fat content. While this has resulted in leaner meat as demanded by the U.S. market, the taste and quality of American-raised pork has dramatically declined as well. This is not the case in Germany, where I spent the last week and where the pork is as tender and flavorful as it was a century ago.

In a tribute to pork (and as requested by my friend Heather), I'll share a recipe for crockpot pulled pork. Yes, I know, real pulled pork comes from smoking a pork shoulder over low heat for many, many hours, but for those of us who don't have a smoker handy, this isn't a bad substitute.

Crockpot Pulled Pork

1 Pork Butt Roast (3-4 lbs)
1/2 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 cups ketchup
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
liquid smoke, to taste (optional)

Place the pork roast in the crockpot, fat side up. Cut the roast in half to get it to fit, if necessary. Cover with the onions. Mix the rest of the ingredients and put on top of the onions. Cook on low for at least 8 hours (preferably 10 hours), until the roast is fork tender.

Remove roast to cutting board. Pull it apart from the bone with two forks. Meanwhile, pour off the sauce into a container. Skim off the fat that rises to the top. Add the sauce to the pork and serve.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

I scream, you scream, we all scream for cookies 'n cream

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, the cafeteria at work serves frozen yogurt. There are usually two flavor selections, along with the ever-popular "twist" option. Normally, I don't care too much for their flavor choices but today they were serving my favorite, cookies 'n cream, which was in ample supply as they had forgotten to label their selection on the machine. (Most people seemed to opt for the labelled Kahlua flavored yogurt instead of taking their chances. Go figure.)

The main reason why I don't care for the other flavors, which include all-American favorites like Strawberry Avalanche, "Fresh" Peach, and Chocolate Espresso, is that they never taste like the food that they are supposed to taste like. Except, of course, for cookies 'n cream. Unfortunately the science of food chemistry has yet to develop the right mix of esters to reproduce these natural flavors in frozen yogurt. But there's the trick! Cookies are artificial to start with (unless, of course, I've been overlooking those groves of cookie trees growing in the wilderness), so the magic of science and alchemy has been able to replicate the taste precisely, which means good eats for me.

Thank you, Mr. Science!

Monday, August 14, 2006

Share Our Strength's Restaurants for Relief 2

The following is a message from Share Our Strength, a national non-profit organization that inspires and organizes individuals and businesses to share their strengths to help end hunger.

One Night, One Meal Can Make a Difference

"Dine out on Tuesday, August 29th at your favorite participating restaurant and you'll be helping relief efforts in the Gulf Coast region."

"Share Our Strength invites you to dine out on Tuesday, August 29th, the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, for Share Our Strength’s Restaurants for Relief 2, presented by American Express. This nationwide event is the organization’s second annual dine-out to benefit Gulf Coast recovery efforts and is organized in partnership with Food Network and the National Restaurant Association."

"Diners across the country can enjoy food and drink at thousands of participating restaurants that are contributing a portion of their proceeds to Share Our Strength’s hurricane recovery efforts. As part of its efforts to end childhood hunger in America, Share Our Strength is helping families in the Gulf Coast region. By dining out on August 29th, the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, your support will help rebuild school cafeterias, open summer meal programs, provide assistance for affected restaurant workers, and more."

To find a participating restaurant near you, go to the Share Our Strength's Restaurants for Relief 2 web page.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Review: Sushi Bistro

A couple of months ago, my girlfriend and I were in the mood for sushi and decided to check out Sushi Bistro (445 Balboa Street; 415-933-7100), which was the winner of the sushi category in the Best of Citysearch in 2005. During that visit, we were wowed by the quality of the fish and the creativity in their extensive selection of sushi rolls. Tonight, we decided to go back for a return visit and again we were delighted.

Sushi Bistro is located in a non-descript building in a quiet section of the Inner Richmond neighborhood of San Francisco. It's an intimate restaurant, having seating for perhaps 35 people, including 10 at the sushi bar, where we parked ourselves tonight. Looking at the menu, you'll notice a couple of lists of unique dishes. The first list, aptly named "Something Unique", has a number of interesting starters and small bites, both raw and cooked. On our first visit, we didn't order anything from this section, so tonight we decided to try a couple of items: Hot Love (baby lobster, avocado, and crab rolled in white fish with a sweet sauce) and Mr. Brown, an inari roll with unagi, avocado, and tofu, lightly deep-fried and served with unagi sauce. Both of the dishes were good, but we felt that they paled comparsion to the items we chose from the "Chef Special Rolls" portion of the menu.

On our first visit, we went for Nemo Found, a roll with sake (salmon), unagi, cucumber, and avocado (they go through a lot of avocado there) wrapped in soybean paper (as opposed to the usual nori wrapper). We also tried the New Legend maki, with shrimp tempura, a spicy aioli, and avocado topped with seared albacore, green onions, and a spicy garlic sauce. Both of these rolls were excellent, having an interesting mix of textures and flavors. On our visit tonight, we only picked one maki roll, the Watermelon-Man, a roll consisting of spicy tuna, mango, and black sesame seed, topped with macadamia nuts and avocado (like I said, they use a lot of avocado there). Though we weren't sure about the mango, the sweet and ripe fruit went extremely well with the spicy tuna - we both enjoyed every bite.

Though we give a tip of the hat to the maki rolls, both my girlfriend and I are all about the nigiri, which shine brightly at Sushi Bistro. On our first visit, we ordered yellowtail belly, unagi, ocean trout (which was a daily special), and aji mackeral (also a special). One of the things that often gets overlooked at a sushi joint is the skill of the sushi chef. On more than one occasion, I've had nigiri and sashimi that fell well short of their potential, despite the quality of the fish, due to a poor job of slicing by the sushi chef. I've even had toro that was ruined due to the shoddy job of cutting on the part of the chef. This is certainly not the case at Sushi Bistro. The main chef, who worked behind the bar during both of our visits, did a masterful job slicing and crafting our nigiri. All of the nigiri pieces that we ate had wonderfully cut pieces of delectable fish. The unagi was wonderfully roasted and covered in a savory sauce - it was best unagi that I've had in a long time (if not ever). The ocean trout nigiri was awesome; a large cut of fish, perfectly sliced against the grain and similar in appearance to salmon, but much better. If it's on the special menu again (it was not listed tonight), we will definitely order it. The yellowtail belly was also fantastic. It was reminiscent of toro, but at $5.25 for two pieces, about a third as expensive. Like the ocean perch, it was exquisitely cut and melted in my mouth - another winner. The aji was good too, though it was a bit oily for my girlfriend's palate. On our visit tonight, we again selected the yellowtail belly and the unagi and tried out scallop and albacore tuna belly. The scallop was very good, again very finely cut for that melt-in-your-mouth experience. The albacore belly was decent, but not quite as good as the yellowtail belly. Still, it was quite nice. All in all, the nigiri, generously portioned, skillfully sliced, and fabulously priced, is definitely a highlight at this restaurant.

Lest you only order from the printed menu, we recommend that you also look at the specials of the day listed on the chalkboard behind the sushi counter. As I mentioned above, the ocean trout nigiri was fantastic. Tonight, we selected the BBQ ahi tuna, which came just lightly seared on all sides and covered with a spice rub. (I picked out celery salt as one of the predominant components of the rub - surprisingly interesting and tasty.)

Finally, I should mention that the service at Sushi Bistro is very solid. My girlfriend noted that it appeared that the sushi chefs and the servers were coordinating the orders in such a way so that each party would get part of their order on a rotating basis. In that way, no one party had to wait a long time to start getting food. Also, this allowed for everyone's meal to be well paced - instead of getting hit with all of the items that you order all at once, you would get a couple of things at a time. Despite the fact that they had a full house for much of the evening, the servers never lost track of our orders and were reasonably attentive to our needs.

Sushi Bistro is definitely a winner in our books. The combination of the fantastic food, great prices, and good service has elevated Sushi Bistro toward the top of my list of favorite restaurants in San Francisco.

IHRDb: Wild Rice Hotdish

The other night, one of my friends suggested that I post some of my favorite recipes here. In particular, he was interested in having me post some hotdish recipes that he wanted. Okay, I know that you are going to ask, what is this "hotdish" thing you speak of? Well, for those of you possessing an inferior education or not fortunate enough to have spent a portion of your life in Minnesota, "hotdish" is the haute cuisine term for a "casserole". Don't argue with me. Pretty soon, you'll be saying that there's no such thing as Peppermint Bon Bon. Sheesh.

So, inspired by the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), I have decided to start the Internet Hotdish Recipe Database (IHRDb for short), which will catalog all hotdish recipes known to, well, uh, me.

Without further ado, here is the first entry in the IHRDb, courtesy of my friend Christy, who passed along the recipe to me.

Wild Rice Hotdish

2 cups of wild rice, cooked (see package for cooking directions)
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 can cream of celery soup
1 tsp. soy sauce (more or less, to taste)
1 lb. lean ground beef
1 lb. sweet Italian sausage (casing removed)
1 4-oz. can sliced mushrooms
1 can sliced water chestnuts
1 cup sour cream
1 large onion, chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Brown the meat and drain. Combine with the remaining ingredients and put into a large Pyrex baking pan. Bake in the oven at 350 degrees F for 1 hour, or until bubbly.

Actually, Christy's original recipe included bean sprouts, which I have omitted since I don't care for them in this dish, but by all means, include them if you like. Hey, you'll be eating it, not me. For the baking pan, I suggest that you use one that is at least 9" x 13" in dimension, as this recipe will make a lot of food. (I use a 10.5" x 14.75" pan.) Also, you can sprinkle on slivers of toasted almonds after you have pulled the dish from the oven if you desire. It's a very hearty dish and goes well with your typical fall or winter fare. Give it a shot for Thanksgiving.

Friday, August 11, 2006

I want my baby back, baby back, baby back ribs

Last night, I prepared a few racks of Alton Brown's No-Backyard Baby Back Ribs. For those of you not familiar with Alton, he is the host of the popular Food Network show Good Eats as well as the commentator on Iron Chef America. This particular recipe, originally published in his book I'm Just Here for the Food: Food + Heat = Cooking, is very easy to make and takes very little time; it only takes me about 20 minutes of active prep time to ready three racks of ribs with the dry rub. The most time-consuming part of the recipe is the preparation of the sauce. Depending on how much braising liquid is there, it can take up to 45 minutes to reduce it down to the right thickness. It also reheats very well, which makes it a good option if you want/need to prepare some racks a day or two ahead of when you want to serve it.

Of course, I wouldn't be writing about this recipe if it weren't any good. It's been a hit every single time that I've made it. (And I've made it a lot of times - over the past three years, I've probably made at least 120 lbs of ribs using this recipe.) I've made some small tweaks to the recipe to make it more to my liking - I'll pass these tips along to you:

  1. Remove the membrane from the ribs before you apply the rub. If you don't do this, you'll have a chewy mess - not Good Eats.

  2. Cut down on the amount of honey in the sauce. The 1:1 ketchup-to-honey ratio results in some mighty sweet sauce, too sweet for my taste buds. I cut down the amount of honey to around 1/3 to 1/2 of the amount specified in the recipe. I don't really measure the amounts of the ingredients that I put into the sauce, so that is rough estimate.

  3. Add some liquid smoke to the sauce. I use Colgin brand liquid smoke (hickory to be more precise). Actually, I forgot this in last night's batch of ribs.

  4. Add 2-3 parts of kosher salt to the Rub No. 9. Oh, I find that if one part=two tablespoons (see recipe for what I mean by "one part"), I get the right amount of rub for three large racks of ribs.

This is one of my all-time favorite recipes, definitely one that I recommend that people try at least once.

Monday, August 07, 2006

More anti-diet

I read an article in the San Jose Mercury News about the growing problem (no pun intended) of the American waistline. The article attributes a large part of the blame on the supersized portion sizes in the typical American meal, citing as an example the fare at Romano's Macaroni Grill.

Suppose you head over to the Macaroni Grill tonight and order a simple three-course meal: the shrimp and artichoke dip appetizer, a spaghetti and meatball dinner (with meat sauce), and for dessert, the cheesecake with fudge sauce. Sure, that sounds like a pretty heavy meal but still somewhat reasonable, right? Well, if you licked your plates clean, you'd put away a Kobayashiesque 5090 calories. To put this in perspective, you'd consume fewer calories if you ate 17 Johnsonville brats for dinner. (Note that if you could have eaten said 17 brats in 10 minutes, you would have taken home $250 and 10th place in the Johnsonville brat eating contest!)

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Best of the wurst (the bratwurst, that is)

A month after his efforts at Coney Island, Takeru Kobayashi downed a record setting 58 Johnsonville brats in 10 minutes. Unlike the Nathan's hot dog eating contest, it was all meat with no buns.

Checking out the nutritional information label and doing some quick mental calculations, that works out to 16820 calories and 1450 grams of fat, with enough sodium to form a salt lick.

As Homer Simpson would say: "Mmmmm... fattening..."

Review: Bacar

This past Friday, my girlfriend and I both got out of work early so we decided to check out the lunch special at Bacar (448 Brannan Street; 415-904-4100), a trendy spot in SoMa known for its expansive wine collection. Featuring a three story glass-enclosed wine wall, Bacar ("wine goblet" in Latin) features more than 1400 selections from all over the world and 80 wines by the glass.

Lunch at Bacar is a once-weekly affair, available on Fridays only. Thanks to congestion on the Bay Bridge, we almost missed lunch, but managed to find street parking right in front of the restaurant and arrived with 10 minutes to spare. The restaurant was practically devoid of the lunch time crowd by the time we arrived, but we were cheerfully greeted at the door by their gracious host and quickly seated in the airy, three-level space.

The lunch menu at Bacar is a three-course prix fixe, consisting of an appetizer, an entree, and dessert for $21.95. You can also order a pizza from their wood-fired oven a la carte, but we were both very hungry and opted for the featured items from the main menu.

To start, my girlfriend ordered the wok-roasted PEI black mussels, while I opted for the arugula salad. The mussels arrived steaming hot in a huge metal bucket, steeped in a flavorful white wine sauce containing large cloves of softened garlic. The order was enormous, easily big enough to have been an entree in disguise. The arugula salad came with halved figs, candied walnuts, and crumbled bits of blue cheese. I wasn't sure that the blue cheese would work in the salad, but it matched very well with the figs, which were soft and perfectly ripe (we are, after all, smack in the middle of the fig season).

After downing the appetizers, which made serious dents in our once-ravenous hunger, we were presented with our main courses. My girlfriend selected the roasted petit chicken, which came with roasted fingerling pototoes and brussels sprouts. I chose the pan-seared halibut, which came in two generous sized fillets on a bed of mushroom risotto. As is our norm, we split our entrees, switching plates after we had finished our half of the dish. The chicken, which looked about the size of a cornish hen, was mostly deboned and nicely roasted. The bird was flavorful and moist - it was a very nice dish. Even the brussels sprouts, which are among my least favorite vegetables, were pretty good. The halibut fillets were lightly seared on one side. I would have preferred a slightly more developed crust on the fish, but that would have probably overcooked the fillets, which were very moist and succulent. The risotto accompanying the fish was creamy and chock-full of mushrooms. Another fine dish - Bacar went 2-for-2 on our entrees.

By the time dessert (espresso gelato for her, watermelon/strawberry sorbet for me) came around, we were both stuffed. We made some efforts to tackle the sweet offerings, but it was an uphill battle. As we were taking care of the tab, our server mentioned that we were welcome to stay for Happy Hour, which starts on Fridays after lunch ends at 2:30pm. The Happy Hour specials include $1 oysters from the raw bar (yes, you read that right, $1!), and 1/2 price drinks until 6:30pm. Unfortunately, given our satiated state, we had to decline, but we are both looking forward to the next time when we start our weekends early so that we can check out the wine selection and raw bar at Bacar.

Monday, July 31, 2006

A New Little Star

Little Star Pizza (846 Divisidero Street; 415-441-1118) will be opening a second location at 15th and Valencia. For those of you not familiar with Little Star, this relative newcomer to the Bay Area pizza scene (opened November 2004) serves up award-winning Chicago-style pizza, which you can wash down with $1 PBRs during Happy Hour. Little Star has taken some knocks recently due to its decision to stop accepting credit cards, but for my money, it's the best Chicago-style pie in the city.

The new location will only be a block away from Pauline's Pizza (260 Valencia Street; 415-552-2050), so let the Pizza Wars begin!

Orgasm or excellent marinara?

You decide.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Corporate Advertising in Your Food

First, CBS announced they will be laser-etching ads for their fall lineup on eggs. Now, Ford will be promoting their Fusion model in boxes of Kellogg's cereal.

What's next? Microsoft Office-themed Happy Meals? Or perhaps, diamond-shaped, Viagra-branded Doritoes torilla chips - made of blue corn, of course.