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.