Only in Japan.
Food is Love
Cute story about the art of making Japanese kids’ bento boxes.
Reminded me of when I worked for Sanrio. Our boss used to come in with bento boxes prepared by his wife. It looked like she must have been chained to the kitchen, based on the delicate details of each lunch. Carrots cut into flower shapes, carefully crafted rolls and rice balls…we always wanted to check out his lunch each day! We were a design studio, after all.
One day when we asked him what he had for lunch, he replied, Oh, just a sandwich, rather sheepishly. We took a look at the sandwich…perfectly cut lettuce, cucumbers, tomato, etc. Not a thing out of place. Definitely the most fussed-over sandwich I’d ever seen!
I’d like to have a wife like that at home!
Nice artwork from Giacomo Bagnara.
Stuffed Nardello peppers. © Log Cabin Cooking
I was searching for Nardello peppers and found this image on this woman’s website. Her classes look yummy…I wish I lived closer!
There’s an article in today’s SF Chronicle food section about how local restaurants are reworking the classic bread pudding into both sweet and savory creations. Dynamo Donuts (can’t believe I’ve never been there…someone’s falling down on the job!) even replaces bread with day old donuts. That must be crazy sinful (although it’s easy enough to reduce-[maybe omit?] the sugar). That’d be as over-the-top as, uh, adding bacon to beignets!
I love making bread puddings. It’s not uncommon to end up with extra bread and I can’t think of a better use for the leftovers!
A long time ago, someone had recommended Frances, but it’s a very difficult reservation to get. They do walk-ins, but the counter area does not look super inviting (imagine that…) so I’m glad we were sitting at a table. I’d made the reservations about 6 weeks prior. The anticipation did not lead to disappointment.
It’s a small neighborhood restaurant in an unlikely location in the Castro. You wouldn’t expect to see a restaurant nestled in amongst the residences, but there it is. We had a really lovely evening with delicious food. But it wasn’t cheap…almost $200 for two of us.
Bacon beignets. Because plain donuts just aren’t unhealthy enough. I think they may even fry these in bacon grease—the bacon flavor was intense but not overwhelming.
Roasted eggplant and smoked fennel dip. This wasn’t a stand-out, but I liked the fennel pollen lavash that it was served with.
Tagliatelle with tomato-braised chicken. Delicious. The chicken was so tender, and I loved the combination of the Nardello peppers, tomato and green olives. All served over tender fresh tagliatelle. I wanted a second helping.
Kale salad. This was really refreshing—the kale was tender, and the shredded brussels sprouts added a nice touch. The almonds were also a perfect addition of texture.
For our main course we had steak bavette over a bed of risotto. This was my least favorite dish. The risotto lacked structure and I almost didn’t recognize it as risotto.
The almond cake was superb. I could have eaten two of these too. Well, not really, because by the end of the meal we were pretty full.
I really enjoyed my wine too—a Medlock Ames cab/merlot/cab franc blend. I did have two of those.
(BTW, the title is an obscure reference to the Illy espresso machine…in case you were wondering)
Yes, I’m catching up. Today is Charles Phan. South is his restaurant at the SF Jazz Center. It’s not the coziest—feels like you are in a museum restaurant. Well, you sort of are. But we sat at the counter (duh) and that was comfy enough.
What we ordered:
- Boudin balls—sort of like arancini but not
- Roasted corn, pickled fennel, watercress, radish
- Heirloom tomato salad, watermelon, cucumber, smoked paprika vinaigrette
- Braised Short Rib
- Collard greens with smoked ham hock
While this was back in July, my memory is good enough to remember that it was all very good. I probably could have done with less ham hock in the collard greens, but that’s just me. I loved the rich “tomato water” vinaigrette that the salad sat in. The corn and the tomatoes perfectly captured the essence of the season.
Unfortunately it’s been so long that I don’t recall what cocktails we ordered. Does the tall drink look like gin, apricot brandy and Peychauds? I may have to go back…
Charles Phan Fan
I’ve had the fortune to go to two Charles Phan places in the past few months. Last weekend I tried Hard Water, his new joint at Pier 3. It’s a fun area, especially on a spectacular Indian summer day such as we had. Glorious.
Both Hard Water and South, his other recently-opened place, take their cues from southern cuisine.
Three of us shared a few appetizers and sides, and dessert, and found ourselves pretty full at the end of the meal. Here’s what we chose (right from their menu, so those are the prices):
albacore crudo 14
early girl tomatoes, burnt orange, fennel, mint
half dozen chilled wild gulf shrimp 22
jalapeño aioli, cocktail sauce
pork belly cracklin’ 8
spicy sea salt
roasted corn 12
shrimp, chilies, mint
rosemary pull bread 4
spice cake with chantilly cream (not on the currently posted menu)
The shrimp was good enough, but I’m not a huge fan of this style—too much work to eat.
The stuff that looks like bacon is actually orange—maybe fried preserved orange? The flavors were subtle (some might think too subtle) but I liked the combination of the orange cream, chili oil and fennel.
The pork belly cracklins were the hit of the night. So very delicious…worth living a shortened life, IMO.
Runner-up for best dish. Delicious corn on the cob, grilled perfectly.
Spice cake for dessert. Good, but if you have to die early, go for the cracklins.
Overall, an enjoyable meal. Cocktails were good too.
One unfortunate thing about Hard Water, however, is its position on the pier. We were there on a super warm evening, and the doors and windows were all open. Should be great, right? Seems they may have some effluent nearby—a strong smell of sewage came wafting in at one point. Luckily we were at the end of our meal by then. I hope they can fix that somehow. It won’t be as much of an issue on cooler, more typical SF days, so I think overall it’s not a huge problem.
A favorite from childhood: poached eggs on toast.
Even though my latest blood test showed a slightly high cholesterol level, I’m still eating poached eggs on toast. How can I resist when I am given “home-made” eggs from my friend’s chickens? Easy to make and no added fat (until you butter the toast…).
*What our local Japanese chef called them when my friend gifted him some eggs
Last weekend, went to Hard Water, touted as an American Whiskey Bar. While you can definitely get a full meal there, it’s really set up as a bar. There are only two tabletops where people can actually sit across from each other.
I don’t mind—if you know me you know I love to sit at counters. Of course, it works for parties of up to three, but not really for anything larger. At Hard Water, the best place to sit is at the big U-shaped bar in the center.
I had two very tasty cocktails. The first was the Rofﬁgnac Cocktail: Redemption rye, lemon, grapefruit, red hembarig syrup, and soda water. The hembarig syrup is apparently a sort of raspberry vinegar. Vinegars seem to be all the rage in cocktails these days…add it to the bar-stocking shopping list. The drink was tasty, served in a long glass over ice. I’m loving most cocktails with Redemption rye and citrus these days.
The second was a Presbyterian. Didn’t know that was a standard—I first had it at Three in San Mateo. They’re made slightly differently at the two joints—Three uses a ginger-infused bourbon and ginger beer whereas Hard Water uses plain bourbon (well, Wild Turkey 101 to be exact), ginger syrup and soda water. I think I enjoyed them both but simpler is better. If I don’t need to infuse the bourbon or get ginger beer it’s easier to whip one up when the fancy strikes. I now keep ginger root in my freezer for just such moments.
Here are the food notes.
It’s a tough call.
(Sorry, can’t add attribution because someone posted this to FB without any links…)
"She made me a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich"
J.D. Souther, reminiscing about falling in love with Linda Ronstadt after he asked her to cook him dinner and that’s what she served up.
(from Steven Winn’s profile of Linda Ronstadt in Sunday’s SF Chronicle)
It also reminds me of a favorite Peanuts cartoon where Lucy (I think) makes Charlie Brown lunch. It’s a PB&J sandwich. Charlie Brown takes a bite, and tells her she’s a good cook.
Apparently it’s a powerful thing.
Aptly named Prima in Kailua
Prima was on the list of restaurants favorited by our host, so we thought we’d check it out. It was not where you’d expect to find such a unique Italian restaurant, situated in a strip mall just down from a big Foodland.
First thing you should know about this place is that it has no liquor license. There’s a wine shop right next door, which is convenient, unless you happen to have arrived just after the wine shop closed. (Boo!) Too bad: the food would have been well supported by a nice glass of wine.
It was hard to choose, because everything on the menu sounded pretty interesting. Could not pass up the maitake mushroom, however, served with cremini on toast and a delicious puree of cauliflower. Really nicely done, and so tasty.
We also tried the oven roasted radicchio. I ordered it, reminiscing about the yummy grilled radicchio that you get in the Veneto (radicchio trevisiano). This one fell short, being the rounded local version, not the long trevisiano version, and it was a tad overdrizzled with balsamic.
The main course, and a real treat, was the pasta. Pappardelle with curry bolognese topped with fried curry leaves. Wow! Really was sensational. I’ll be trying to recreate this one for a while. I might have trouble sourcing the curry leaves anyway.
Definitely worth a second visit, and next time, I’ll be armed with my own bottle of nebbiolo.
By the way, someone should tell Prima that they need to put their address prominently on their website.
Looking for Lao in all the wrong places
Before going to Oahu recently, I’d read about a Thai restaurant that is owned by Laotians that will make you Lao food if you call to request in advance. According to the article, a lot of Thai restaurants are run by Laotians, but because Thai food is more well-known, that’s what they cook up.
Having really enjoyed Lao food while in Luang Prabang (ugh, crime, I never had a chance to blog about any of it…maybe I will do that eventually), I thought it might be fun to check out S&T Thai.
I’d like to say we were bowled over, but not surprisingly, it was a bit of a disappointment. First they served us a sausage and a pork meatball. Both were very dry, so luckily they came with the greens and cucumbers to help get them down.
I was really looking forward to a green papaya salad, but what we got did not have the bright, fresh flavor that we’d found in SEA. Part of the problem may have been too much fish sauce. Not sure, but not so good.
The one dish that was most interesting was a curry soup, served room temperature (or maybe not, but it was served so early that by the time we ate it it was no longer hot). It had a peanut-curry sauce with a little bit of heat. It had good flavor, but I think I would have preferred it hot, and with everything mixed together in a large pot at the last minute. It was too difficult to blend in the individual serving bowls.
In looking at the pictures in the article vs. what we got, it may be that they just didn’t try very hard. Still, I guess the lesson to be learned is that if you want good Lao food, best to go back to Lao.
Speaking of junk food…
The return of twinkies and the news that they plan to try to make more healthful versions (gluten-free, low sugar, and low sodium…you know, the standard buzz words) brought to mind David H. Freedman’s article in the Atlantic about using junk food to combat obesity.
At a glance that may seem ludicrous, but he makes some valid points. Interesting ones to someone like me who generally likes what Michael Pollan has to say.
First of all, you’re not going to get people who love eating yummy tasting fat-laden fast food simply to convert to eating local produce and more wholesome food. Habits are hard to break. And even if you could get people to want to make more wholesome choices, it would take a long time to bring online enough small organic farms and local shops fast enough to serve it up. Freedman argues that industrial food producers and and fast food purveyors may be just the ones who are in the best position to drive changes—they have the audience. “Pollanites,” however, may be undermining this with the strong advocacy against processed foods:
Fast food and junk food have their core customer base, and the wholesome-food gurus have theirs. In between sit many millions of Americans—the more the idea that processed food should be shunned no matter what takes hold in this group, the less incentive fast-food joints will have to continue edging away from the fat- and problem-carb-laden fare beloved by their most loyal customers to try to broaden their appeal.
Pollan has popularized contempt for “nutritionism,” the idea behind packing healthier ingredients into processed foods. In his view, the quest to add healthier ingredients to food isn’t a potential solution, it’s part of the problem…As he resonantly put it in The Times in 2007: “If you’re concerned about your health, you should probably avoid food products that make health claims. Why? Because a health claim on a food product is a good indication that it’s not really food, and food is what you want to eat.”
In this way, wholesome-food advocates have managed to pre-damn the very steps we need the food industry to take, placing the industry in a no-win situation: If it maintains the status quo, then we need to stay away because its food is loaded with fat and sugar. But if it tries to moderate these ingredients, then it is deceiving us with nutritionism. Pollan explicitly counsels avoiding foods containing more than five ingredients, or any hard-to-pronounce or unfamiliar ingredients. This rule eliminates almost anything the industry could do to produce healthier foods that retain mass appeal—most of us wouldn’t get past xanthan gum—and that’s perfectly in keeping with his intention.
By placing wholesome eating directly at odds with healthier processed foods, the Pollanites threaten to derail the reformation of fast food just as it’s starting to gain traction.
Probably what we need is some (or a lot of) both approaches. Anyway, I found it an interesting read.