Sunday, May 13, 2007

grilling for mom.

for mother's day, i grilled for my mom:
marinated beef skewer
cream marinated shrimp
curried garlic lamb skewers
shitake mushrooms

in the chiminea, we roasted foil-wrapped japanese potatoes.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

the lost art of burrito

it's still lost.

with a sudden grandma emergency (she fell down badly but she's doing well now), i found myself home alone at night instead of an extended family dinner. after a day of wandering through sfmoma in the morning, building a charcoal grill, fixing up my new bike and waiting for news from my parents... i'm was really hungry. i rummaged through the house for food but i couldn't find anything except for the food i was planning to grill for mother's day sunday. i decided to look around the neighborhood for dinner. i hopped onto my new bike and rolled out toward judah and 44th. i haven't eaten a burrito in a long time. and i was curious if beach burritos' burritos would satisfy my hunger.

beach burrito opened up within the past three years. it's nestled between a health food grocery store and an organic juice and ice cream shop. the burrito place offers a huge range of mexican foods — burritos, quesadillas, tacos, nachos — along with a la carte plates (in dinner sizes too) and breakfast. each menu items has a seafood and vegetarian version. this place is very vegetarian friendly: can you say tofu burrito?!

i opted for a take-out burrito special — choice of meat (i picked chicken), rice, beans, cheese, guacamole, and salsa. the burrito comes with a bag of chips. i also purchased an apple soda.

i get home and excited about trying the burrito. i unwrapped it while listening to warren buffet talking to charlie rose courtesy of my DVR. the first bite was... RICE? where's the beans? where's the gauc? where's the chicken?!

i definitely didn't like the tortilla which was soggy. so i torn apart my burrito with a fork to eat the insides:
the rice — dry.
the gauc — bland.
the beans — beany average.
the chicken — dry. bland. average. and lacks seasoning.
the overall — cardboardy!!!

this burrito is amazingly disrespectful to all things mexican! i got so bored with its taste i tossed half of it away. sigh. i wonder what kind of burrito warren buffet would eat...

Friday, May 11, 2007

Retro Eats

Work made me do it.

I tested two recipes for our Mother's Day reader write-in. The staff-photographed art did not make it into the paper, but of course I had to document these zany-looking dishes myself.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Bun Bo Hue

Last weekend I embarked on one of my occasional cooking projects. I call them projects because I find myself baffled over where to find ingredients at the store, and exhausted but still standing at the kitchen stove past 1 a.m. At that point I’m bemoaning my weary feet and reminding myself how hard it would be on my body if I cooked for a living. (I have to tell myself this every so often because I find the thought of owning a pastry shop very enticing!)

In February, I was up past midnight churning raspberry lambic ice cream for DessertFest2007. Saturday and Sunday, it was all about Bun Bo Hue. This spicy beef and pork noodle soup is a specialty of Hue in central Vietnam. It’s the dish I often beg my mom to make when I visit her in L.A., and it’s the dish I gobbled up two mornings in a row when I traveled to Vietnam in 2005.

I started off studying Andrea Nguyen’s wonderfully detailed cookbook, Into the Vietnamese Kitchen, for what to buy and basic technique. Her cookbook is an invaluable resource in these instances; asking Mom would take too long and test our patience greatly.

Like most of my Vietnamese cooking endeavors – not that there have been that many – I drove to Hong Kong Market for ingredients. At the store, though, I realized I had no idea what banana blossoms/buds look like. Since I’d only seen them thinly sliced in restaurants, I called my parents to confirm. It would be the first of three consecutive calls.

I wandered over to the vast meat department. I don’t buy much red meat, so I spent some time searching for beef bones and such. I called my parents again, first to see if pork hocks cut earlier the same day were OK to buy and again to discuss seasoned ground pork. I only needed a small portion of beef, but the butcher guy wouldn’t cut me one, so I had to swing by Kroger for a piece of steak.

Bun Bo Hue requires an intense broth cooked for hours. My mom does simmer her version for a long time, but she also uses a prepackaged flavoring base to move it along. I decided that I would mostly follow Andrea's recipe and take no shortcuts. Plus, simmering beef bones would give me delicious bone marrow to enjoy! In short, I sautéed chopped onions with annatto (seeds that impart an orange color), then seared pork hocks and steak in the same big pot. Next, in two 5-quart pots – because I didn’t have a large stock pot -- I tossed in the onions, pork hocks, parboiled beef bones, lemongrass, fish sauce, rock sugar and other seasonings, and let them simmer for an hour. For the second hour of simmering, I replaced the hocks and bones with the beef. I strained and refrigerated the broth and finally settled into bed after 2 a.m.

Here’s the thing about me and Vietnamese cuisine: I’m usually familiar with the dish I’m attempting and have witnessed my mom making it a number of times. Yet there’s generally an ingredient or two I’ve never cooked with. This time, it was those banana blossoms/buds; I didn’t remove all the flowers as I should’ve. Cooking Bun Bo Hue reminded me, once again, how much time my mother used to invest in preparing beautiful dinners for our family every day.

Sunday, I made the lemongrass-chili oil with three tablespoons of red pepper flakes and added lots of freshly ground pepper to the seasoned ground pork before dropping balls of it into the boiling broth (after skimming off a bunch of fat). I also cooked thick round rice noodles and prepared a garnish plate of banana blossoms/buds, mint, cilantro and lime wedges. I sliced up onions and scallions, but omitted the traditional bean sprouts – ick! – and romaine lettuce, instead chopping up Napa cabbage for YouKnowWho. (There were probably more steps, but everything’s a blur at this point.)

Delicious! Not to toot my own horn, but this is a meal I no longer have to beg Mom for. So satisfying. I decided to pack leftovers for CabbageLover and NoLaNative and also ate some more last night.

This morning, I had my blood drawn for cholesterol testing. Oh, boy.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

cafe tiramisu

janel suggested attending a web 2.0 mixer at 111 minna gallery, last thursday. somehow she got ellie, gary (ellie's recently relocated boyfriend) and myself to go along. none of us been to this monthly after work mixer where random startups showoff their wares. at the event, hendricks gin gave away coupons for free gin cocktails which we, er, abused. after loading up on free gin cocktails, we all got a bit hungry. we definitely need to pad the stomach a bit since there wasn't any food left at the mixer... how cheap!

we brainstormed for dinner ideas and eventually wonder toward belden street, an alley street with a san francisco mix of cuisine — italian and french. the once top 100 restaurants, plouf resides in the middle of the alley. after looking at a series of menus (the ladies were picky)... we settled on tiramisu because their black olive gnoochi with shrimp caught both my eye and gary's (i'm guessing dorks like to eat the same things). the owner's brother runs another italian restaurant, belden tavern, just two doors away from tiramisu.

while the girls excused themselves, gary picked out a bottle of wine. i wasn't really paying attention to the wine selection but the restaurant was out of stock. right before the girls came back, a "similar and same price" wine bottle was delivered. i can't remember the wine but it was medium-bodied and had a dry finish. after taking awhile reviewing the menu, we ordered. yup, gary and i ordered the same dish, the black olive gnoochi with shrimp. ellie ordered the campanelle bell-shaped pasta with mushroom and ahi tuna while janel ordered eggplant mozzarella ravioli with garlic pesto chips.

everyone's plate arrived ten minutes later. and we quickly dug in since we were all hungry. the gnoochi dumplings were tinier than the tip of your thumb. your typical gnoochi is yellowish and potato-ey but these black olive ones were dark, spectacled and carried a hint of olives. the shrimp were tender and absorbed some of the tomato sauce. everything worked well together and was just perfect. if cooked a bit longer, the gnoochi would have been smooshie and the shrimp tough. i honestly can't give a review on janel and ellie's dish since i didn't eat enough of their plates to really taste, however they enjoyed their dishes.

sea breeze cafe

the outer sunset is the sleepy part of san francisco with neighborhood cafes, small markets and tiny restaurants. thanh long is the only recognizable restaurant. everything else is a local secret. my friend millie was over and we were seeking food.

i recommended a small place that was an easy walk from my place. sea breeze cafe is really the local favorite whether you want to take it easy and enjoy the weather or nurse a hangover. since the day was warm, we sat outside. the restaurant's menu is heavily-spanish/mexican influenced brunch. if you want eggs, you'll get eggs.

millie ordered eggs benedict with chipotle hollandaise sauce while i ordered a chorizo sausage with a cheese scramble and tortilla. both dishes came with home-styled potatoes. we were pretty sleepy so we both ordered coffee and lots of it. while we talked about newspapers and journalism, our brunch arrives. the smells were amazing. her eggs benedict was drenched in chipotle hollandaise sauce. drowning in sauce! my chorizo sausage were thinly sliced and topped on cheesy scrambled eggs. it didn't look as cool as millie's.

first bite of my dish inspired a "mmm... food good." i usually don't use the tortilla because it's just extra carbs. yes, i do think about my carbs intake. but today, i gave them a try. sadly, they were really dry and stiff. they didn't fold around the chorizo egg cheese stuffing very well. i exiled them to the dark side of the plate. the home-styled potatoes were crispy and well-seasoned. millie's eggs were well poached with a custardy interior. the chipotle hollandaise sauce was good. it soaked deeply into the bread, adding to the flavor. it was peppery, instant, smooth and buttery.

sea breeze cafe is really quaint. its menu hasn't changed since it opened. the food is consistent. the serve is great because the same tiny hispanic woman runs the place. as the world changes around very quickly, you can depend on sea breeze to deliver the comfort food you need in this sleepy side of san francisco.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

roadside bbq

my pulled pork, brisket, mac & cheese and potato salad

for the past week, ellie and i were talking about bbq. gary, originally from florida, wanted some bbq in the san francisco area. as if the stars were aligned, my buddy jay and i talked about trying bbq around the city. after living in texas for two years and some time studying in florida, i kinda know something about bbq. jay travels around the states for business, knows his bbq food well and just needs to satisfy his desire for bbq meats. two places came to mind since the san francisco chronicle's 96hours had a brief review of few bbq places — roadside (in inner richmond) and memphis minnie (in lower haight).

this past friday (apirl 28th), ellie, gary, yumi and i headed out to an art opening at park life which is directly across the street from a great american comfort food restaurant, Q. after loading up on some beers at park life… and me spending a few hundred bones on a painting, we decided to walk over to the nearby roadside bbq.

roadside bbq is something you would miss as you drive down the busy geary street. there's nothing that shouts out bbq except for it's street sign. as you walk into the wooden panel interior, you smell bbq, see brisket and rolls of paper towels and drool. here's me being picky about the interior... it looks half-assed with cheesy texas license plates and southern-looking items with southern state names on them. the menu is a big billboard with their items on wooden blocks. as we were ordering, one of the cooks pulled out a brisket and started slicing. all of us pretty much dropped our jaws.

ellie's baby back ribs, corn on a cob and [yikes] cole slaw

for some random reason, gary and i order pretty much ordered the same thing again — the memphis pulled pork and texas brisket. [ellie, could you tell your boyfriend to stop copying me?! stop it!] ellie had the baby back ribs (in an obvious attempt to regain her eating championship belt) while yumi ordered the smoked bbq chicken. each plate comes with two sides and a corn bread muffin. the order came in five minutes with someone shouting out your name and order.

so how's the food? well, it's good but it doesn't knock your socks off good. the place claims it's "authentic bbq." authentic what? texas bbq? southern bbq? KC bbq? the word, authentic, sounds like a gimmick. everyone agreed the pulled pork was great. it's moist, juicy and flavorful. however, i wasn't too keen on the brisket. i ate one strip of the three or four. the smoke ring wasn't prominent which means it lacks the smoky flavor. and dry too! the brisket was probably sitting around in the smoker for too long. and the bbq sauce was pretty bottle standard. their brisket would have been better as a chopped brisket sandwich oozing with sauce... sadly they don't serve that. ellie's ribs and yumi's chicken weren't bad though but i didn't eat enough to judge. the baked mac and cheese was average since i like the gooey soul food version. the peppery potato salad was well done. the corn beard muffin could have used a bit more corn meal for that crunchy texture. i avoided ellie's cole slaw since cole slaw scares me. and yumi's french fries were sweet and crispy.

boy, was i stuffed. i haven't eaten so much meat in a long time. my diet is heavily seafood-based since returning to san francisco. so, should you go? well, i recommend checking the place out and sticking with the pulled pork. if you're not familiar with real southern bbq, then you'll enjoy it. however i'm still fixin' for damn good brisket in san francisco.