Sunday, December 28, 2008

Cupcakes Must Die, Part 2

I went to the Stanford shopping center with my family a few days ago, where there is the only Sprinkles in Norcal. I obviously make cupcakes quite often - if you're in the wedding business, it's really unavoidable. However, just the thought of Sprinkles just makes me cringe - feelings that haven't changed for awhile. $3.50 for a tiny little cake?? It drives me nuts. A woman in front of us in line bought $70 worth of cupcakes. That's just plain ridiculous. And the lines! Their brand strategy is to serve customers at the door, so even if there are only 5 people queuing up, there's already a line out the door.

Granted, Sprinkles does have a good red velvet, which is what they're known for. Everything else, however, is not much better than a dozen you can get at Safeway for the same price. Cupcakes are cute; it's undeniable. But really. Sprinkles just has no soul in their food, just like all franchises. BLAHHHH

And yes, we did buy a few because my sister really loves them and my parents had never been before. =P


Christmas Desserts A Plenty

I had a good amount of egg yolks, whites, and cream leftover after the wedding, so before I left SF I wanted to use it all up so it wouldn't end up in the trash.

- olive oil ice cream + fleur de sel ganache: When I arrived at my parents' house for the holidays, I mentioned that I had an ice cream base to spin and their eyes lit up as they inquired what kind. Olive oil, I said (adapted from a David Lebovitz recipe), and immediately their faces looked of disgust. After I made it my dad was like "it tastes too oily"... who would've thought. I used a really good bottle of olive oil that Mike gave me that was actually kind of old, so it probably didn't taste as good as it would have if it had been fresh. I made a quick 1:2 ganache using the leftover bittersweet chocolate from the truffles I made for the wedding and some fleur de sel to give the ice cream some contrast.

- leftover "vanilla" cupcake batter + vanilla buttercream

- leftover lime cream => lime meringue tart, pate sucree shell: Since the lime cream (adapted from a Pierre Herme lemon cream recipe) wasn't intentionally made for a meringue pie/tart it didn't really hold when I put it in the oven and the entire thing deflated by the end of the day. Usually you just use citrus curd, and not a cream that is mostly butter.

- butterscotch pudding a la tiffany from top chef holiday special: I put this, unwrapped, in a bag with a bunch of other stuff and left it in the hallway of my parents' house, and when I finally remembered I left it there, it was partially eaten! Sneaky little Bonnie (sister's dog)! This had very dark caramel flavors from the brown sugar, and was extreeeemely rich, but my dad made me throw it out since he was afraid Bonnie's germs might get us sick.

- round chinese pineapple cake vs. rectangular: We went to my cousin's new house on Christmas day, and they had a container full of round pineapple cakes. I had never seen them before, but they tasted exactly the same as the rectangular ones, except without all the extra cakey parts. Since it didn't have corners, there was a pretty even ratio of cake:filling, which made it ten times more enjoyable to eat since the cakey part is usually really dry. No pictures of it, but if you ever see it... trust me... it is a much improved eating experience!

- Egg custard tarts from Golden Gate Bakery: My family had dinner at the House, and stopped by Chinatown for a little pre-meal snack. As always, there was a line, but they are so worth it. Sure, you can find them for cheaper than $1.15 elsewhere, but there is no bakery in the bay area that makes them better. Always the best when eaten on the sidewalk - hot and fresh out of the oven! (The House isn't as good as it used to be, btw, although it was still packed).


Friday, December 26, 2008

The Dining Room

Every year after Thanksgiving, my family usually eats at a fine dining establishment to celebrate both my mom's and my birthdays. Last year it was Aqua, and this time, after recs from quite a few friends, we decided to venture to the Ritz Carlton. Our family is very talkative and loud, and although the restaurant scene is a bit more lax in the bay area than, say, nyc, I found the Dining Room really stuffy and a bit too fancy shmancy for my taste. The ambience felt stiff and embarassingly quiet, and I think half the room was listening to our inane conservations. Sure, the chairs were ridiculously throne-like and plush, but they were definitely comfortable seats for our 3-hr ride.

All that aside, we were all extremely impressed by our meal. We each got the "Salt and Pepper" tasting menu - eight courses of dishes spotlighting varieties of (you guessed it) special salts and peppers. With 3 delicious amuse bouches to start (chicken empanada, sea urchin panna cotta, and caviar + the most perfect quail egg ever), we were already wowed with what they had to offer.

Foie, Sea urchin panna cotta, and the Caviar + Quail Egg on a vessel full of smoke (there's a better picture of that here)

Every dish was executed almost perfectly. The poultry course was a poussin (young chicken) that was so Californian in its simplicity, but you could really taste all the ingredients in their own light. The only real disappointment was the wagyu that came with a $30 supplement. I asked for rare (my mom, medium rare), and I'm not sure how they cooked it, but it tasted like it was deep-fried and my cut tasted overcooked and really just like fat. I must've gotten a bad cut or something, because my mom's actually tasted like meat, although you wouldn't be able to tell it was wagyu. Regardless, not worth it. The ribeye with bone marrow was much tastier and overall had better complementary sides.

Wagyu, Ribeye, and the Poussin

Desserts weren't as impressive as the rest of the meal, but they were still done well. At the end of the meal, I decided that this was probably the best fine dining meal I've had in SF!


Bar Crudo

I pass by this tiny nob hill "modern raw bar" every day on my way to work. It's been in the Chronicle's Top 100 for the last two years, and my friend suggested going there after reading some positive reviews. Taking some queues from yelpers (despite my disdain for yelp in general, I still skim reviews to see any ordering trends), we ordered the crudo sampler (left), the lobster + beet salad (right), and halibut cheeks (not pictured). They actually gave pretty fair pieces of fish in the sampler, but the flavor combinations weren't anything astounding. The halibut was quite impossible to eat - bones everywhere and barely any meat.

I think the only thing worth going back for would be the lobster and beet salad - light and refreshing, even with the chunks of buttery burrata. Sharing the salad between two people, with some $9 (seriously) Hitachinos would be a nice afternoon snack!


Thanksgiving, a month later

"Deep-fried" turkey, apple pie (cured apples to maintain shape), vanilla bean ice cream. Sweet and simple, hot and cold. The pie turned out much better than last year's. No pictures of the creme fraiche ice cream + pumpkin caramel sauce.


Monday, December 15, 2008

TOP 5: 2008 round-up

Top 5 Hits of my own
brioche bread pudding
Roquefort quiche w/ leeks + mushrooms
chevre panna cotta
Lime chiboust

Top 5 Meals:
La Mar (Lima)
Michael Mina desserts
The Dining Room

Top 5 New Regulars:
Herbivore: soy chicken shawarma, red curry w/ quinoa + soy chicken
Blue Bottle: New Orleans
Philz: Iced Coffee, Philharmonic
Muracci's: katsu curry
Harvest + Rowe: split pea soup

Non-food-related lists after the jump!

Top 9 Albums in no order (I couldn't think of a 10th that i really liked)
bon iver (#1)
department of eagles
vampire weekend (regardless of how overrated it was)
fleet foxes
top ranking (diplo x santogold)
sigur ros
the kills
marching band

Top 6 songs I liked not on my top 9 albums:
juana molina - un dia
beach house - used to be
we are scientists - after hours
musee mecanique - like home
el guincho - palmitos park
okkervil river - lost coastlines

2008 pop songs i liked (i can't help it!)
katy perry - i kissed a girl
beyonce - single ladies
jason mraz - i'm yours
ne-yo - miss independent

2007 albums i didn't listen to until 2008 that i really liked:
port o'brien
st vincent
there will be blood soundtrack


Friday, December 12, 2008

Mission Street Food: Take 2

My second visit to Mission Street Food was for Ryan Farr's (Orson, Fifth Floor) guest menu. If you ever take a look at his blog, it's filled with detailed photos of how-tos, mostly involving meat. Vegans, stay away!

We got there a little before 7pm and waited about 10 minutes. When we left after 8pm, there were seriously crowds outside. Ridiculous! The menu was fun - a little beef tongue, some pork rinds, some fried-ness... not very diet-friendly, but just about everything was quite tasty. No dessert - none of us were very interested in the 2 options. Plus, the food was so heavy we probably wouldn't have been able to eat it even if we tried!

Photos (courtesy of Gigi) and details of our meal after the jump!

We started off with the chicharrones, nicely fried and melt-in-your-mouth. We all pretty much agreed that the "spicy dip" didn't do it for us - tasted a little too much like Panda Express sweet and sour sauce, which really made us feel like we were eating Chinese shrimp chips. The sausage w/ the persimmon/brussel sprout salad was a bit lackluster... didn't have much flavor.

The buttermilk fried cauliflower w/ carrot aioli (not pictured) was a really great vegetarian dish. Alice thought it was too heavy, but I really liked how meaty it tasted. It was also seasoned very well. The mushroom flatbread was a table favorite, where the consensus was that the wrap was very similar to a Chinese spring onion pancake (I'm not sure how I would spell that phonetically... tsong yo bing?).

This was my first time having lengua (same with Alice and Stacy), and it was really not what I expected. The texture was a lot like normal beef, except it had a gamey/almost livery aftertaste. Not bad at all. The accompanying pork belly rice was very comfort-foody, especially with the slightly runny yolk of the fried egg tying it all together. The terrine was probably the biggest disappointment. It tasted a bit too much like the CCA's buffet of mediocre meat jellos. Was not a fan, sorry.

Overall, we had a great meal. The prices weren't as mind-boggling cheap as last time, but at $14 a person (without drinks or dessert) it ain't bad at all. Let's see what they come up with next!


Thursday, December 11, 2008

3rd time's the charm - Salt House

This is my 3rd time eating at Salt House. The 1st time was when they first opened and it wasn't that remarkable. The 2nd time was lunch and I forgot what I had :P. BUT this time, it was very good. Thanks to our insider hookups (Thanks Kathy), we got to try a lot of different things and desserts were amazing!!

To start, we ordered the house favorite Poutine (crispy potato with gravy and cheddar, the ultimate comfort food)

Then the chili and foie gras, compliments from the head chef :)

For the main event, we got duck confit, shepherd's pie, gnocchi, and sole.

By this point, we were already pretty stuffed. But how could we skip desserts when they were THESE!!

Apple "tatin" w/ white cheddar crumble, vanilla bean ice cream, and huckleberry sauce. Chocolate cremeux on top of a hazlenut dacquoise, with a chocolate lace tuile, vanilla ice cream, and chocolate crumbs.

Brioche bread pudding w/ bourbon caramel sauce and raisins, topped with dollop of bourbon chiboust. Meyer lemon meringue tart w/ basil sorbet (candied orange garnish)

We were really full so we had to box some of them to-go. When we got back to the office, food coma ~o~


Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Scratched Bicycle/Smell Memory

- This holiday season is bittersweet. We all knew that small restaurants were already feeling the effects of this recession, but even SF's most popular are no longer untouchable. Times are tight - change in purveyors, changes in staff... then there are less bookings and less covers, giving us less to do.... If we're feeling it, everyone must be.

- Thanksgiving: apple pie (cured the slices) + vanilla bean ice cream, creme fraiche ice cream + pumpkin caramel sauce

- 25: The Dining Room (the most perfect soft-poached quail egg of my life). Tartine cookbook! <3

- Bar Crudo: lobster + beet salad, nothing else.

- Ramen + Asahi on a bloody cold night.

- Chewy chocolate mint cookies w/ white chocolate chunks - 5 dozen gone in one day at the office. Simple is always better. I am the best coworker EVER (Jason and Marc are so lucky to sit next to me).

- When I read this article, it reminded me of my friend Jason who lost his sense of smell awhile ago. He really liked the aforementioned cookies, which means I did a good job in evoking his other senses/catering to the tastes he can still detect (the potency of the peppermint, the crispy edges and chewy center, the sweetness of the white chocolate, etc).