Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Served Up on a Stick

Earlier this week, SF Gate food critic Michael Bauer attended the Association of Food Journalists conference in my home town, the Twin Cities. While he was there, he and the 60 or so conference attendees from around the country took the opportunity to visit the annual state get-together, the Minnesota State Fair. In his blog, Bauer writes about his visit to the festival, an homage to the state's agricultural heritage and a celebration marking the end of another summer past.

While the fair features a multitude of art and science exhibits, musical performances, and carnival rides, I would argue that it is the food that draws people to this event year after year. Indeed, for a brief twelve short days at the end of each summer, the state fairgrounds become the proverbial center of the culinary universe. You see, among the 4-H livestock judgings, the farm equipment displays, the roller coasters, the REO Speedwagon concerts, and the stock car races lies the true raison d'être of the State Fair: food-on-a-stick. As any true Minnesotan knows, it is not the molecular gastronomy nor the Slow Food movement that marks the leading edge of the culinary world today, but it is rather the answer to the simple question,

"What food can I serve on a wooden stick this year?"

As Bauer notes, the Minnesota State Fair is the home to all foods served on a wooden skewer. From walleye pike-on-a-stick to alligator-on-a-stick to spaghetti and meatballs-on-a-stick to Reuben Dog-on-a-stick to macaroni and cheese-on-a-stick to pork chop-on-a-stick to the classic Pronto Pup, the State Fair has it all. You can even get hotdish-on-a-stick, complete with cream of mushroom soup dipping sauce, though I'm not sure why it took until 2006 before someone revealed this secret to the entire world. Of course, you can find other culinary gems there such as deep fried cheese curds and cinnamon sugar lefse, but it's the food-on-a-stick that brings the people back year-in, year-out.

This food-on-a-stick phenomenon is not just restricted to the Upper Midwestern food scene. Folks visiting the Texas State Fair can now enjoy peach cobbler-on-a-stick. Sadly, the cobbler is the only entry for the Big Tex Choice Awards this year. Hopefully, if all goes well, you will be able to enjoy Fried Coke-on-a-stick at the next state fair.

The Best Thing Since Sliced...

...Spam! Yep, you heard that right. Your favorite canned luncheon meat now comes pre-sliced in a single-serving pack for your dining convenience.

What will those guys in Austin think of next??

Monday, August 27, 2007

An Afternoon in Bodega

On Saturday, Karen and I drove up to the Bodega Seafood, Art, and Wine Festival in Sonoma County, about 90 minutes north of San Francisco. What started as an overcast and cool day turned into a sunny and warm one as the day progressed. We listened to some music and checked out some of the pieces being sold by the many artisans and craftspeoples exhibiting their work at the festival. Of course, we also had a chance to check out the delectable cuisine being sold by the many food vendors in attendance. Here's a rundown of some of the food items that we encountered (and devoured):

A shrimp po'boy on a Dutch crunch roll. We were a couple of bites in before we remembered to take a picture:

Teriyaki chicken with a side of garlic fries. The chicken portion was huge:

Some homestyle macaroni and cheese:

A funnel cake topped with powdered sugar, strawberries, whipped cream, and cocoa powder:

Friday, August 24, 2007

Happy Birthday, Big Guy

The Big Mac turns 40.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Alive and Kicking

Lest you think that my recent lack of posts means that I have been not eating (as my friend Doug seems to think, at least judging from his comments in a recent post), let me reassure you that I am alive and well, but simply quite busy. Despite our somewhat hectic schedules, Karen and I have managed to fit in a few dining outings here and there.

A couple of weeks back, Karen took advantage of her half-day Friday to hop on a mid-afternoon train and head down in my direction, meeting up with me just as I was getting off work. We had made plans to meet up with one of our friends, Diana, before she headed out to the other coast for grad school this fall. We left the dining plans up to Diana, who wanted to enjoy some cuisine that she might not be able to get in her new home city. She thought that some Indian food would be nice, so we headed to Amber India (377 Santana Row; 408-248-5400). This was our first visit to the Santana Row location, though we had previously dined at the Mountain View restaurant. I was a bit surprised at the differences in decor between the two locations. The atmosphere at the original restaurant is subdued and traditional, a marked contrast from the new location's trendy and sophisticated decor, which fits in perfectly at Santana Row. For dinner, we decided to share a few entrees: asparagus kofta, maans ki soweta, and butter chicken. The kofta was good, but then again, how could a paneer cheese dumpling not be good? We also liked the maans ki soweta, a lamb curry with yogurt and corn, but our favorite was the butter chicken, which was very rich and quite decadent.

The next morning, we slept in and enjoyed a late breakfast of egg, cheese, and Spam sandwiches (yes, I do like Spam) before heading up to the City to meet up with a group of friends at the Nihonmachi Street Fair in Japantown. It was a nice day for a walk, during which we took in the sights and sounds of the fair. We also liked the smells that were coming from the many food vendors, who were grilling up large quantities of teriyaki chicken and beef over hot coals. Though I was tempted, I refrained from ordering any street food as we had agreed to an early dinner with our friends. After walking around the fair for a bit, we wandered down to Fillmore Street and checked out Pacific Heights, one of my favorite neighborhoods in San Francisco. Soon, all of us were starting to get hungry so we decided to pick a nearby dining establishment for dinner. We settled on The Elite Cafe (2049 Fillmore Street; 415-346-8668), a Cajun/Creole restaurant located in Upper Fillmore. By the time we were seated, all of us were quite hungry. We definitely needed some starters. We ordered a dozen of Doňa Luisa's Infamous deviled eggs for the entire group as well as a mess of cornbread, which we devoured as soon as the food hit the table. For the main course, I ordered the duck confit, shrimp, and andouille sausage jambalaya, while Karen opted for the Niman Ranch pork chop. The jambalaya, which came out in a large steel pan on a big plate, was chock-full of generously-sized portions of duck, shrimp, and sausage and pretty tasty, though I was expecting a bit more spice and heat from this dish. The pork chop was very good as well, but the accompanying side of corn stole the show - it was simply bursting with flavor.

The next morning, Karen and I met up with another group of friends, one of whom was passing through town on her way from Hawaii to Norway. We brunched at Pomelo (1793 Church Street; 415-285-2257), a cozy (35 seat) restaurant located in Noe Valley. The menu at Pomelo features traditional selections from around the globe; the items are named after locations in the countries from which they originated. I picked Cork, aka corned beef hash with eggs, while Karen selected the Altamira, a plate of three white corn buns, each containing a different filling. The Cork was one of the best hash dishes that I've ever had, with huge pieces of delicious corned beef. It would have been the best version of this dish had they omitted the accompanying vinaigrette, whose sharp flavor felt way out of place on this dish. The Altamira was decent, though the egg filling was rather bland. After this delicious brunch, we hung out with our friends for a while before heading off to enjoy an afternoon walk in the Mission District. On our walk, we stopped by La Palma Mexicantessen (2884 24th Street; 415-647-1500), where we picked up some carnitas, which is sold by the pound, and birria, a spicy, stewed goat dish. We also grabbed a dozen fresh corn tortillas, hot off the griddle and better than any tortilla that I've ever eaten previously. We threw in a small order of chicharrón for good measure and brought all of this food back to Karen's place, enjoying it later for a very tasty and filling dinner.

Fast forward to last weekend. Last Friday evening, Karen and I took a relaxing, evening drive down beautiful California Highway 1 from San Francisco down toward Half Moon Bay. Our destination: Mezzaluna (459 Prospect Way; 650-728-8108), a Southern Italian restaurant located in little harbor town of Princeton-by-the-Sea. We started out dinner with an order of calamari, which we quite liked for its very light batter. For our main courses, we ordered a plate of Mezzelune al Salmone, half-moon shaped ravioli filled with salmon in a tomato cream sauce, and a politically incorrect Chilean sea bass dish. Both of these fish dishes were excellent, especially the sea bass, which came with an olive tapenade, grilled polenta, and a pea puree. We were quite happy with our dinner selections as they were not only quite tasty, but also reasonably light.

The next morning, we caught up on some much needed sleep before we got up and headed out to Le Village for its monthly open house. We picked up some pâté, cheese, and crackers, which we enjoyed for lunch after we returned home. We also picked up some Veuve Amiot champagne sparkling wine at the spectacular price of $84 for an entire case. After lunch, we spent the afternoon doing absolutely nothing, which was great - both of us continued working away at our sleep debt by catching a cat nap. That evening, Karen had plans with her friends, so I headed back down toward my place in the South Bay, but not before grabbing a Matisse crepe with her at Frjtz Fries (570 Hayes Street; 415-864-7654) in Hayes Valley. After I got home that evening, I whipped up a batch of macaroni and cheese using a recipe from the new issue of Bon Appétit. Karen had requested this dish, which I was more than happy to make and take up to her.

The next day, I putzed around my place, doing some of the mundane chores that I had neglected for the past few weeks, before heading back up to Karen's place, with a Pyrex pan of mac and cheese in hand. Of course, I already knew that I would not be tasting the macaroni dish that evening, as we had dinner reservations at Zuni Cafe (1658 Market Street; 415-552-2522), the James Beard award-winning restaurant featuring Mediterranean-inspired cuisine. You would think that as self-proclaimed Bay Area-based foodies, we would have been to Zuni already, but this was my first visit there. Zuni is very well-known for its roasted chicken for two. This dish, which comes with a panzanella salad and dressed with mustard greens, is roasted to order in a wood oven. As you might expect from a roasted-to-order chicken dish, you have to endure a long wait (up to an hour, according to the menu) for your dish to arrive, but it is well worth the wait. The moist chicken and nicely roasted skin is absolutely delicious. The best part is that since you get an entire chicken, there'll be leftovers for the next day. The only drawback, in my opinion, is the cost; the roasted chicken dish for two will set you back more than four sawbucks, which is quite steep, even for this delectable dish.

So, dear readers, no need to worry about whether we are eating or not. (This means you, Doctor No.) Our Bay Area dining adventures continue.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Hot Dogging

Between a family visit, a sudden surge at work, and a wonderful event in my life (about which I'll probably blog one of these days), I haven't really been thinking much about food lately, especially not about cooking. In fact, I haven't really cooked anything for three weeks and counting. (No, making sandwiches and reheating leftovers don't count.) I know, it's quite disappointing, but hopefully things will settle down soon.

Anyway, to tide you faithful readers over until that time comes, I thought that I would mention a CNN article that I read about Chicago's best hot dogs. This week, I transited through Chicago twice on a trip for work but never left O'Hare, so I was unable to sample any of these dogs. Luckily, there are places here in the Bay Area that carry that bright green relish that is a necessary component of a true Chicago dog.

Friday, August 03, 2007

What We Ate... At The Alembic

Monday, July 30

Dinner: The Alembic Bar, 1725 Haight Street; 415-666-0822

Last Monday, we decided to check out The Alembic, a trendy new bar in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco.

What we ate:

  • Sliders: Moroccan spiced lamb burgers with harissa aioli and olive tapenade. Tasty, but I wish that we got more than two burgers for $10.

  • Stout-braised oxtail: with melted cheese and roasted peppers on toast. Good, but also a bit expensive.

  • Herb and Spice Dusted Fries: with lemongrass, garlic, and aromatic aioli.

  • Spaetzle: with braised rabbit, bacon, gruyère, dijon mustard and tarragon. Absolutely delicious, our favorite dish of the evening.

What we drank: