Thursday, May 31, 2007

Guest Blogging: Karen's Analysis of the FFT Readers

Tonight, I'm going to put aside the keyboard to allow Karen to share some of her thoughts. Take it away, sweetie!

How'd You Get Here?

Did You Know: Food for Thought gets more hits from Google searches related to Fred Steak, Real Men of Genius, the Testicle Festival, and the nutritional value of food (generally sushi and Johnsonville Brats) than anything else?

For almost a year now, Food for Thought has been a personal labor of love consistently read by a relatively small group of friends and family. But in recent weeks, traffic to the site has been inching its way upward and Loren has been getting pretty excited. Being a Web 2.0 guy, he’s happy to see his work shared with a broader community. People have been coming from all over the world and getting here in the most interesting ways. I know because Loren (on more than one occasion) has shared his sitemeter statistics with me. While the numbers are nothing compared to the big blogs out there, I think the findings are worthy of note and would like to share some of my favorites.

Before we get started, let me stress again that Loren is thrilled by everyone who comes to visit his blog. The views presented here are mine only. Please don’t take any offense if you happen to see one of your own search terms listed; I am noting it because it was either entertaining or thought-provoking in some way. Come back often!

First, a look at the demographics of Food for Thought readers (from recent statistics):
The majority of readers (82%) come from the US. No big surprise there. But also represented are Australia, the Philippines, Austria, Canada, Netherlands, Italy, United Kingdom, Singapore, Indonesia, China, and the infamous Unknown Country. I know there are German readers out there too - not sure why you guys are getting slighted.

Lots of folks come into the site either through referring URLs (Food Wishes, Carleton, etc.) or personal bookmarks. But as mentioned above, many also come in as the result of various searches. Examples include:

  • Testicle Festival

    Search terms have included: testicle festival utah, testicle festival woodruff, black gold festival 2007 woodruff. Similar searches result in links to the post about the festival at Mama's Place.

  • Real Men of Genius

    Search terms include: bud light real men of genius, bud light present real men of genius, real men of genius boneless buffalo wings inventor.

  • Food Nutritional Value

    Search terms have included: unfiltered sake calories, calories in unagi don, compare calories in baby back ribs and fish, calories in johnsonville brats. Links are taken to the July 2006 and August 2006 archives (among other places).

  • Fred Steak

    Search terms have included: freds marinade, freds steak marinade, fred’s steak recipe, fred steak.

Beer can chicken and cherry picking are also starting to pick up popularity due to recent posts. And math pie/cosahedron/mathematical baking has also popped up more than you might think. Other intriguing searches include: quadruple BK stacker, taco in a bag, wild hotdish, loren cook "grill" (from China no less), and mmmm.

There are too many searches to even begin to mention (and the history only goes back so far). My, until very recently, all time personal favorite (and perhaps the most humorous search getting to Food for Thought) is: massage happy ending boulder co

But a new front runner has taken its place. Thanks to a searcher in New Jersey with ideals similar to mine, "beets nausea" can take its rightful place in the pantheon of Food for Thought Searches. And that lucky reader ended up reading a lovely story.

Let’s see what you come up with next!

Posted by Karen

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Kicking Off the Summer with Beer Can Chicken

For many people, Memorial Day weekend marks the beginning of summer. Of course, the start of summer also means the start of grilling season (not that I waited until this past weekend though). Yesterday, I decided to kick off the summer grilling season with one of my all-time favorites: beer can chicken. Popularized by Steven Raichlen (who even wrote an entire book on this dish), beer can chicken comes in many forms, but the basic idea is the same across all recipes: take a whole chicken, season it with some rub, put an open, half-filled can of beer in the cavity (i.e. shove it up the chicken's butt), and hot-smoke it over indirect heat until it's done.

On the way home from work, I stopped by BevMo to pick up the key ingredient: a 12-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon, my official beer of choice for beer can chicken. I have bottled beer at my place, but you can't substitute bottles for cans in this instance. (Alright, I like to use PBR because it's cheap, okay?)

As usual, I decided to make two chickens, as it doesn't take any more fuel to make two chickens than it does to cook one. (In this day and age, it's best not to waste energy.) First, I took two whole chickens that I picked up at Costco this weekend, removed the giblets from the cavities, and washed them out very well (both inside and out). After patting the chickens dry with paper towels, I seasoned them with a dry rub. For these chickens, I used a generous amount of McCormick's Montreal Steak Seasoning. Yes, I know that they make a chicken seasoning, but I like the steak version; plus, that's what I had on hand. I also like to use Penzeys Galena Street Rub, but I didn't have enough for the two chickens.

After seasoning the chicken, I opened two PBRs, drained out half of the can (I made an attempt to drink the extra beer, but it's just not that good), punched a few additional holes in the top with a church key, and poured in some of the excess rub. Then, I put a can into the cavity of each chicken and folded back the wings so that they wouldn't burn while cooking.

In order to cook a whole chicken thoroughly without charring the exterior, you need to cook the chicken over indirect heat. Therefore, I would only need to use one of the two burners on my grill. I know that a grilling purist would probably make this over a charcoal or wood fire, but I like using gas, as it is easier to regulate the heat and smoke. (Yes, I have made this recipe over charcoal on a Weber grill, but I still like using my propane rig for this better.) On the side without the flame, I placed a foil pan to catch the drippings from the chickens, which I would be placing above. On the other side of the grill, over the lit burner, I set a smoker box which I filled with hickory chips that I soaked in water for 20 minutes. The hickory would provide the smoke that I wanted to flavor and color the chicken.

Using the can and the two drumsticks, you can form a fairly stable tripod so that the chicken is cooked upright. This is the secret to beer can chicken. The beer will steam out to keep the chicken moist as well as to help cook the inside of the cavity. I placed the chickens on the grill in the upright position, taking care to leave some space between the chickens.

I started the burner on high in order to get the wood to smolder. After 5 minutes or so, I saw that there was a decent amount of smoke coming from the grill, so I dropped the temperature to low and left the chicken to smoke for the next hour and half or so, turning the chicken every 30-35 minutes to ensure even cooking.

After the 90 minutes were up, I took my instant-read probe thermometer to check on the doneness. Even though many people think that you need to cook chicken to 180 degrees F, you really only need it to get to 165 degrees F in order to kill any nasty bug. Counting on carryover heat, I pulled the chickens off the grill once they hit 160 degrees F in the thickest part of the thigh.

After a short rest to allow the juices to redistribute, I took one of the chickens, carefully removed the half-filled can of hot beer (no, the beer won't completely evaporate), and placed the cooked bird on the cutting board.

A few deft cuts later, I was ready to eat!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007


This post marks the 100th post of my blog. I've really enjoyed writing about my food adventures in and around the Bay Area and I hope that you've enjoyed reading about my exploits as well. Thanks to everyone for their comments and encouragement, especially my sweetie Karen, who has been phenomenally supportive of me and my writing. Please pass along any comments and suggestions that you have. What started out as an exercise to help me improve my writing has turned into a very fun and fulfilling experience for me. Thanks again!

Cherry Picking

Karen and I took advantage of the day off yesterday to head over to Brentwood and pick some fruit at some of the many u-pick farms located in that area. The holiday weekend was the opener for many of the farms and fruit stands, which attracted people to the area yesterday in droves. We first stopped at Pomeroy Farm, where we picked up some cherries. The farm had both Bing and Rainier trees, but we mostly stuck to the Rainiers, whose fruit seemed riper and sweeter. Normally, you need to purchase a minimum of five pounds of fruit, but the friendly guy who was tallying the bill let us slip under that limit.

After our round of cherry picking, we headed out looking for some other types of fruit. We had hoped to find some u-pick strawberries, but apparently no such fruit was to be had. Cherries seemed to be the dominant fruit available for picking yesterday. After a short drive around the area, we stopped at the Farmer's Daughter Produce and Drive-Thru Coffee Bar. Though the coffee bar wasn't in operation, they had a bunch of fruit-bearing peach trees, from which we picked up a large load of sweet and delicate white peaches. The women working at this stand were really friendly. We were happy that we stopped here to support them as they were going through a bit of a rough season; with the construction at the corner of Walnut and Marsh Creek Roads, they had limited access to the orchard prior to this past weekend.

After gathering our haul of peaches, we had a quick lunch. We had actually packed for a picnic, but with the afternoon sun beating down on us, we nixed the picnic and decided to hang out in the air-conditioned car and have the sandwiches that we picked up earlier from Alamo Square Market and Deli (535 Scott Street; 415-861-7120) to go along with the peaches and cherries we had just picked. After the late lunch, we drove around for a bit, but nothing really caught our eye. We stopped at a fruit stand that advertised picked strawberries, but they had sold out just prior to our arrival. With that, we decided to conclude our excursion and head back into the city. Though we didn't get all of the fruit that we wanted, we definitely had enough to tide us over for a while. Here are a few pictures from our day:

As Karen says, eating the fruit is the best part of picking fruit:

Me, under a peach tree:

Some of the fruits of our labor:

Lunch 2.0

Who says there's no free lunch? Many high-tech firms around Silicon Valley offer their staff a free or subsidized lunch in the company cafeteria as one of their many employee benefits. Of course, one could argue that these sorts of perks are meant to keep people in the office working longer hours, but at the same time, you still have to eat, don't you? Perhaps the most well-known benefactors of the free lunch are the employees at Google, who down complimentary gourmet meals in their fabled cafeteria at their Googleplex headquarters.

Ever wanted to see on what you are missing out? If so, perhaps you should join up with the Lunch 2.0 guys. Lunch 2.0 is comprised of a group of Silicon Valley folks who are united in their goal of getting a free lunch. So far, the group has eaten free grub at such places as Yahoo, LinkedIn, and yes, Google. Many Valley firms are embracing these noon-time cafe crashers and looking at a Lunch 2.0 meal as an opportunity to network and recruit.

My own employer also offers complimentary meals to us employees (and a decent lunch at that, though I suspect that it's not nearly the haute cuisine served at Google), so I wonder if we will host a Lunch 2.0 event in the near future.

Monday, May 21, 2007

In Case You Forgot Your Sack Lunch...

For those of you who missed out on the feeding frenzy at Mama's Place Bar and Grill, you're in luck. The Black Gold Cattle Company will be holding its 7th Annual Testicle Festival next month in Woodruff, Utah. Brenn Hill will be among the entertainers at this event, which is held over three days spanning two weekends. Proceeds from last year's event, totaling $4,500, were donated to charity to help children with medical problems.

On a related note, Chris Cosentino recently updated his blog with additional information on duck fries. Note that duck fries are not French fried potatoes cooked in duck fat, as the name might lead you to believe.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

You Can't Have Too Many Grills, Can You?

Every so often, Karen's employer holds a silent auction at work, with the proceeds benefiting local charities. This past Thursday marked another such occasion. Knowing that the money would be going to a good cause, Karen took a quick break from work and went downstairs to check out what was available. Among the items up for bid was a MasterBuilt 7 in 1 Smoker and Grill. Seeing that no one had yet bid on this, Karen put down an offer. She figured that if she won this, she would just give it to me. (Aww, that's very nice of you, sweetie!)

Well, guess what? She won the smoker, along with every other item on which she bid. (And she bid on a lot of stuff!) We're going to be over in the neighborhood for a birthday party this weekend, so we'll probably drop by the office to pick up that 50 pound box.

With the acquisition of the smoker, we now have four grilling/smoking/BBQ apparatuses between the two of us. In addition to the smoker, we have:

Good thing that I haven't pick up one of these Brinkmann electric smokers as I have been thinking about doing...

Friday, May 18, 2007

Redd is the New Black?

Last weekend, Karen and I headed to Napa Valley for a short getaway to celebrate her birthday. In addition to taking her on some wine tastings and indulging her fondness for massages, I wanted to take her out to a nice setting for a birthday dinner. I had heard good things about Redd (6480 Washington Street; 707-944-2222), a relative newcomer to the high-end dining scene in the town of Yountville. Named after executive chef Richard Reddington, Redd is located on the south end of Washington Street, just down the road from The French Laundry and Bouchon and next to Thomas Keller's latest venture, Ad Hoc, which we visited earlier this year.

Unfortunately, Karen's birthday fell on Mother's Day weekend this year, so all of the prime-time reservations had been booked well in advance. When I called a couple of weeks before her birthday, the only available slots were before very early (i.e. before 5:30) or quite late. Since we wanted to have a relaxing time and didn't want to be in a rush to drive up to Napa, we opted for the late time slot. Of course, this meant our dinner reservation was set for 9:30pm.

We arrived at the restaurant a few minutes early and were immediately seated at our table. We are both fond of tasting menus, but given the late hour, we were unsure about whether we should instead order a la carte this time, or if we would go with the five- or nine-course menu. Eventually, we settled on the five-course menu, though we felt a little boxed into this decision, something on which I will elaborate in a moment.

One of the interesting things about the tasting menu at Redd is that though everyone at the table is required to order the menu (just like at many other places), each diner gets a different dish for each course. So, for our five-course menu, we were going to get the opportunity to taste ten different dishes.

Our dinner started out with fish dishes: hamachi sashimi with sticky rice and edamame in a lime ginger sauce, and yellowfin tuna tartare with avocado, chili oil, and crispy fried rice.

I really liked both of these dishes. The tartare was especially good, highlighted by the contrast in textures between the tuna and the rice, which was very crispy. The sashimi was also quite tasty; the fish was very fresh and well-prepared.

The second course of the tasting menu consisted of two seafood courses. The first was a John Dory filet with creamy jasmine rice, mussels with chorizo in a saffron curry nage. The other plate was a caramelized diver scallop over cauliflower puree and almonds with a balsamic reduction. (Apologies for the washed out photos of these dishes; there's only so much that you can do with a little point-and-shoot digital camera with those lighting conditions.)

The fish, mussel, and chorizo dish sounded odd to me, but the flavors worked pretty well together. The scallop dish was also quite nice and had a nice contrast in textures with the shellfish, califlower puree, and nuts.

Our next courses were the glazed pork belly with apple puree, burdock root, and soy caramel and the quail with broccoli rabe, sausage, chili flakes, and white beans.

I thought these dishes were decent, but perhaps not quite as good as the other courses. As we were eating this course, Karen said that she thought that the dishes up to (and including these) were on the verge of being too salty. I too had noticed that while the first bite of each dish seemed to be bursting with flavor, there also appeared to be an increasing note of saltiness with each additional bite. Perhaps you could chalk this up to personal preference, as neither of us are heavy-handed with NaCl, but I suspect that others would have found the dishes to be saltier than the norm, if not too salty.

Next came the meat courses: The Napa Valley spring lamb, served two ways (braised and roasted) with spring vegetables over a bed of creamy mascarpone polenta, and the Prime New York steak and shortribs, with fingerling potatoes and creamy ramps.

Luckily for us, these dishes were not oversalted. The lamb was very tender and flavorful, with nary a hint of gaminess. Both preparations of the beef were also tasty as well, with the New York steak roasted to a near-perfect doneness. The portions on both plates were really quite substantial, especially for a tasting menu course. We asked our server about the portion sizing, and she said that the a la carte portions are substantially bigger.

For dessert, we had very different plates; the first dessert was a Meyer lemon flan with crème fraîche, accompanied by cream cheese ice cream with tapioca pearls and a homemade tangerine soda. The second dessert was a peanut honeycomb parfait with a chocolate peanut butter giandula.

Both the desserts were very good, though by this point in the dinner (and at this time in the evening), they were a touch on the heavy side.

Overall, despite what we perceived to be a heavy hand with the salt, we thought that the food was very good. There were a lot of interesting and innovative combinations of flavors and textures which worked well together. However, we were disappointed with one aspect of dinner, namely the service. We found that the wait staff, while courteous and friendly, was somewhat impersonal and seemed hurried. Even though our dinner took two and a half hours, both of us felt rushed by the staff. I know that five courses over 150 minutes can hardly constitute being a short and hurried dinner, but on the flip side, it does taken something unusual to make people feel rushed over that time frame.

Though, given the time, we were leaning towards going with the five-course menu instead of the nine-course one, our server came over and told us that the kitchen informed her that no nine-course menus would be served after 9:40pm, so we could only go with the five-course menu. What kind of rule is that??? We were seated at least fifteen minutes before that deadline, but we took a little bit of time to order our drinks and to peruse the menu, and hadn't gotten around to placing our order until a quarter to ten. As it appears that we were the last party of the evening, was that rule set up to exclude the last party (and only the last party) of the evening from ordering the nine-course menu? That rule simply doesn't make any sense to me. As I mentioned, we weren't leaning toward the nine-course menu anyway, but it would have been nice to have that option or at least be told in advance of this deadline, lest we want to have a three and a half hour dinner starting around 10pm. Don't get me wrong, I understand that the chefs and staff don't want to hang out all evening, but I just don't get why they would institute a rule to exclude a single party from going with that option. Though the food was quite good and worthy of a return visit, the flap in service takes them down a couple of notches in my book.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Bud Light Presents... Real Men of Genius

As I wrote about the James Beard Award winners, Karen made sure that I also gave props to some of the 2007 Clio Award winners. The Clio Awards are handed out annually by the Nielsen Company to recognize excellence and creativity in the advertising industry.

I'd like to mention some of the winners in the Radio category, specifically two winners from the Bud Light Real Men of Genius series: Mr. Hot Dog Eating Contest Contestant and Mr. Boneless Buffalo Wing Inventor, which won Gold and Silver awards, respectively.

Gentlemen, this Bud's for you.

We Have A Winner Some Winners!

As I mentioned earlier, several Bay Area chefs were nominated for James Beard Foundation Awards this year. Last week, the winners were announced at a gala held at Avery Fisher Hall in New York City. The Bay Area was well-represented in the winner's circle. Thomas Keller of The French Laundry, Bouchon, and Ad Hoc in Yountville was named the Outstanding Restaurateur. Keller also operates the restaurant Per Se in New York City. Also winning a major award was Traci Des Jardins of Jardinere, who was named the Best Chef in the Pacific region. Des Jardins won for the first time after being nominated for this award six previous times. In 1995, she won the James Beard Award for the Rising Star Chef.

Other Bay Area winners included the San Francisco Chronicle, which won for Best Newspaper Section and Best Newspaper Feature Writing with Recipes, and Michael Pollan of UC Berkeley who won the Writing on Food award for his book The Omnivore's Dilemma. Congratulations go out to all of the winners!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Festival at Mama's Place

I just got back from a long weekend in Wine Country, about which I shall post later. After getting home tonight, Karen found out that during the course of planning for this weekend, we completely overlooked the Testicle Festival, an annual event held at Mama's Place Bar and Grill. Perhaps we could have caught the red eye to Wisconsin had we not had alternate plans in Napa Valley this past weekend. (Hey, we are both fans of offal ya know.)

Oh well, maybe we'll catch the 10th annual event next year.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Easy Baking 101

While I enjoying cooking very much, I'll be the first person to tell you that I'm not much of a baker. All of the precision and rigor that went along with being a mathematician (in my former life) never made it into in the kitchen for me; hence my general lack of interest around baking. The freedom to improvise while I create is one of the things that I really enjoy about cooking. Unfortunately, improvising is something that does not work well while baking.

However, there are a few things that I don't mind baking. These baked goods have recipes that are characterized by their simplicity (both in the number of ingredients required and the complexity of the steps) as well as their tolerance for being tweaked due to my general indifference for precise measurements. One such recipe was passed along by my friend Christy, who also gave me the famed wild rice hotdish recipe. Friday night, I decided to pop out a batch of these popovers. Here were the results:

Doc Lampi's Never Fail Popovers

2 eggs
1 cup milk
1 cup flour, sifted
1/2 teaspoon salt

Break eggs into bowl. Add milk, flour, salt. Mix well with spoon, disregarding the lumps. Fill greased muffin tins 3/4 full. Put into cold oven, set control for 450. Turn on heat and bake for 30 minutes. Success secret is starting with a cold oven and not opening the door to peek. Makes 9 popovers.

Karen mentioned that they looked different from the last batch that I made, but they were equally as good, especially fresh out of the oven. Since the stove was already hot from making the popovers, I actually decided to make a second batch of baked goodness. Once again, it was a simple and easy recipe, one which I first saw mentioned on Slashfood. This second recipe comes from the blog Rasa Malaysia and is a formula for replicating Red Lobster's Cheddar Bay Biscuits.

It's been quite a few years since I last visited a Red Lobster, so I can't attest to their authenticity, but these biscuits, like the popovers, were definitely good eats.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive

I know that this announcement is coming at the last minute, but tomorrow, postal workers across the country will be collecting non-perishable food items for their Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive. If you would like to help, simply place bags filled with non-perishable food items next to your mailbox. Your letter carrier will come by to pick up the food and deliver it to local food banks. A big thanks goes out to my friend Tesha for telling me about this effort.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Mmmm.... Steak....

My dinner in pictures:

Friday, May 04, 2007

Mile High Class Dining

Hawaiian Airlines recently announced that they will be serving the airline industry's first "tasting menu" for its First Class passengers. For lunch and dinner, those passengers will be allowed to create their own meal by selecting three dishes from a choice of five items; for breakfast, First Class passengers will pick two dishes from a selection of three to go along with a fresh fruit plate. The lunch and dinner selections will come from a list of twenty different entrees, designed and developed by Hawaiian chef Beverly Gannon. Gannon is the owner of Maui's famed Hali'imaile General Store, where we enjoyed a nice (though overpriced) lunch during our trip last year. The list of entrees includes Hawaiian Crab Cake Tantalizing "Taste of the Island" with a Zesty Pineapple Salsa, Rock Shrimp and Lemon Pepper Ravioli with Creamy Sun Dried Tomato-Basil Sauce and Tri-Pepper Garni, and Chicken Tandoori served with a tangy Makhani Sauce and Sultana Basmati Rice Pilaf.

Passengers riding in Cattle Coach Class will continue to be served complementary meals (also designed by Gannon), which is a lot more than I can say about other domestic airlines where you have to pull out your wallet if you want something more than a can of soda and a bag of pretzels.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

People, Use Some Common Sense!

As Karen mentioned in her comments to my previous post, we've had several unfortunate experiences, including two occurrences in the past few weeks, where we've sat next to a couple whose romantic dinner conversation flared into a heated argument. Michael Bauer recently wrote about some similar situations that he's experienced in his blog post about couples who break up over dinner.

To be fair to the women out there, it often seems to be the guys who escalate these dinner-time conflicts. At least this appears to have been the case in these most recent two occurrences. Guys, listen up. Here's a tip to help you avoid a spat in public: use some common sense. For example, when your date is visibly upset because you disagree with her political point of view, it doesn't help matters to continue to press her on it. Nor does it help if you stop responding her questions and tell her that you won't answer her because you feel that she is twisting your words. Make sense? Another example: Suppose your dining companion gets really pissed at you because it comes out that you've been sneaking around and hanging out with your blonde ex-girlfriend behind her back. In that case, it's really not a good time to tell her that you think that she would be more attractive if she got highlights or if she bleached her hair blonde.

Hello? McFly, anybody home?

(Yes, these were the actual arguments that we sat through.)

So, just use some common sense. Sure, this won't prevent all conflicts, but hopefully it will minimize the number that we have to endure. Your fellow diners, including the two of us, would appreciate it. Thank you very much.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Offal Is Good!

Did you know: Duck fries are to mallards as Rocky Mountain Oysters are to bulls?

I found out this fascinating fact tonight during my dinner at Incanto (1550 Church Street; 415-641-4500), the Italian restaurant in the Noe Valley neighborhood of San Francisco known throughout the Bay Area for their house-cured meats. Food Network fans may recognize Incanto executive chef Chris Cosentino from his recent challenge against Mario Batali on Iron Chef America in "Battle Garlic". (During the next couple of months, Incanto will be featuring a special garlic dinner menu on Friday and Saturday evenings that serve up the same dishes as the ones created during that ICA battle.)

Karen and I had talked about paying a visit to Incanto well before Cosentino's television appearance brought the restaurant into the spotlight, so we took advantage of the opportunity to check it out tonight. In addition to their cured meats, Incanto is well-regarded for their emphasis on using fresh, local ingredients and their award-winning collection of Italian wines. Cosentino is also well-known for his creative use of offal in his menu. In fact, Cosentino writes about variety meats and their preparation in his blog, cleverly titled Offal Good.

Since this was our first visit to Incanto, we decided to stick with the house specialties. We started with the antipasto plate for two, which consisted of house-cured meats, roasted garlic and green onions, and marinated carrots. (We did consider the duck fries though.) The plate had several kinds of cured meats, including a homestyle head cheese, a lamb pâté, some mortadella made with pistachios, and some goose proscuitto. Karen really liked the head cheese, and I was quite pleased with the mortadella. For our main courses, we decided to split a pasta dish and an entree. For the pasta course, we chose the chicken liver agnolotti with fava beans and chianti. I had been looking forward to trying an agnolotti dish after reading Alan Richman's article touting his favorite variety of pasta in the January 2007 issue of Bon Appétit. The pasta was good; the savory filling was silky smooth and bursting with flavor inside al dente wrapping. For the entree, we picked the roasted lamb neck with cardoon, mint, and polenta. The lamb was perfectly cooked, its exterior roasted into a beautiful and tasty crust encasing a generous portion of juicy, fall-apart tender meat. It was great, definitely a dish that I would order again and again. The polenta was quite good as well - we were wondering how much cream and butter went into its making.

We both really enjoyed dinner tonight at Incanto and would recommend it to anyone who is interested in trying something different. Unless, of course, you are a vegetarian, in which case you should look elsewhere for dinner. There aren't a lot of options for non-carnivores there. There are a couple of interesting things to note about Incanto. In response to the San Francisco ordinance requiring restaurants to boost their minimum wage and provide health care benefits for all employees, Incanto instituted a 5% service surcharge to pay for the additional costs. The second note of interest is that Incanto offers filtered still and sparkling Hetch Hetchy water, free of charge, to address concerns about the environmental impact and costs of bottled water. The additional cost of the service charge ended up being balanced out by the free sparkling water - it was a wash for us.