Monday, May 31, 2010

Single Guy's Planner

Summer is here and there are so many events to go out and enjoy, especially under the sun. Maybe I’ll bump into you at one of the following?

June 4 (Friday): SF Underground Market. The popular homemade foods market gets even bigger in June. The market will split into a day and night market, with the day event focused on homemade goods for sale, and the evening portion turning into a food court party with hot food for sale. This time the event has a $2 cover charge (but that also gets you a raffle ticket). This month’s location is SomArts at 934 Brannan St., from 11 a.m. to midnight.

June 6 (Sunday): Napa Luxury Chocolate Salon. The same people who put on the popular San Francisco Chocolate Salon is heading up north for the first chocolate salon in Napa Valley. The all-day event features about 25 chocolatiers – some of them regulars on the circuit and a few local guests from the wine region. The event takes place at the Yountville Community Center, 6516 Washington St. Tickets: $20 (at the door); $17.95 (advance), children 6 to 12, $10; children under 6 go free. For more information go to

June 11 (Friday): Top Chef Tour hits San Francisco. OK, so I just read that BRAVO has finally announced the date when the Top Chef: The Tour 2010 hits San Francisco, and it's June 11 at Justin Herman Plaza. Unfortunately, you have to pre-register to get in and already pre-registration has closed for this date. (Don't feel bad; I didn't get to pre-register either!) But if you're a die-hard fan, you can go on the day of the event and see if you can walk-in on a first-come, first-served basis. The San Francisco stop showcases local cheftestants Ryan Scott and Jamie Lauren. For more information, go here.

June 11 (Friday): Scribe Winery Producer Dinner at 18 Reasons. The Mission neighborhood gathering place invites you to dinner put on by the people from Scribe Winery, featuring its livestock and wine. Eat and chat with Scribe’s Andrew Mariani, which runs from 7 to 9:30 p.m. Cost: $75 for members, $85 for non members. Click here to purchase tickets.

June 12 (Saturday): Cheese Plus 5th Anniversary Artisan Food Festival. This Nob Hill cheese store always know how to throw a party, and for its fifth anniversary it’s bringing some local purveyors who will be samling their goods – people like Bleating Heart, Cheeseland, and Bellweather Farmers. Event runs from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the store, 2001 Polk St. (at Pacific Avenue), San Francisco. For more information, go to the store’s events page.

June 12 (Saturday): 7th Annual San Francisco Crawfish Boil. If you have a hankering for New Orleans but can’t afford a ticket, head over to San Francisco’s Marina Green for a big crawfish boil. It’s all you can eat for $25. Click here for more information.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Start Summer with My Shrimp Roll Recipe

Summer finally is just around the corner in the Bay Area after weeks of spring rain. With the Memorial Day weekend upon us too, many of you are probably busy planning picnics or BBQs. (My question to you is where is my invitation? LOL)

An easy, fast lunch perfect for a summer picnic is shrimp roll. Shrimp is always easy to find, and their meaty flesh makes the roll seem hearty. I spice up my recipe by creating a chipotle sauce to bind everything together and cooling it off with healthy slices of avocado.

Since I’m not a baker and I’m all about convenience, I just bought French rolls from Chinatown (I got them at the Vietnamese sandwich shop for just 25 cents each!). I suggest you do the same because a long holiday weekend shouldn’t be spent baking bread. Enjoy!

Copyright 2010 by Cooking With The Single Guy

Shrimp Chipotle Roll

6 to 8 oz. of medium-sized shrimp
1 or 2 avocados
1 chipotle pepper (in can with adobo sauce)
2 T mayonnaise
1 T honey
1 t Champagne vinegar (or rice wine vinegar)
1 T cilantro, finely chopped (optional)
Juice from half a lime
2 French rolls

Remove shell, tail and vein from the shrimp and then bring a pot of water to boil. Add some salt to the water and then add the shrimp, cooking for 3 to 5 minutes until opaque and cooked through. (Just pull a shrimp out and cut it in half to see if it’s cooked in the middle.) Drain the water and place shrimp in a bowl of ice cold water.

Prepare the sauce for the shrimp by pulsing one chipotle pepper with a bit of the adobo sauce from the can in a food processor into a puree. (If you like your food extra hot you can add another pepper.) You can also just finely chop the pepper into a pulp if it’s too small for your food processor.

Mix the chipotle pieces in a small bowl with the honey, mayonnaise, cilantro, Champagne vinegar and squeeze of lime juice. Whisk all the ingredients together until smooth. (If the sauce seems too wet, place in refrigerator for awhile.)

Drain shrimp from water and pat dry with a paper towel. Chop shrimp into small chunks (make it bite size per your preference) and then slowly add a bit of the chipotle sauce until you have the consistency you like. (You may not need to use all your sauce, so just add a little at a time.)

Assemble your roll by toasting your roll first, then slicing an avocado and laying the sliced pieces in the roll. Then spoon in some of your shrimp. Serve your shrimp roll with grilled corn on the cob.

Makes enough for two rolls.

Pair with a pale ale.

TIP: If you don’t want to deal with the avocado slices (which looks prettier but can make it more slippery to eat your roll), then chop them into small chunks like the shrimp and mix the avocado with the shrimp in the chipotle sauce. Going this route also means you don’t need to use a whole avocado for just one roll. You can use just one avocado for the two rolls. You can also dress up your roll with some little gem lettuce leaves.

CHIPOTLE IN A CAN: Just a reminder that this recipe calls for just one chipotle pepper, which you can find in a can in the Mexican aisle of your grocery store. It’s usually sold with adobo sauce and you can use a bit of the adobo sauce in the recipe. But don’t get confused and use the entire can. This recipe calls for one pepper from the can, not the whole can. (I’ve made that mistake before and it wasn’t pretty.) So what to do with the rest of the peppers from the can? I learn this trick from my fellow food blogger Foodhoe, who suggests that you place each pepper into a slot in your ice cube tray and then freeze them. When they’re frozen, place the pepper cubes into a plastic bag or container and then you can use each pepper for future recipes, as you need them.

More sandwiches and rolls:
Asian-style BBQ Pulled Pork Roll
Caprese-style Grilled Sandwich

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Make Your Own Ice Cream at iCream Café

This is my last post recapping my recent long weekend in Chicago where I watched my nephew graduate from college, saw the enlightening Matisse exhibit at the Art Institute, ate some amazing cupcakes, and got shit-faced from whisky. What better way to end it than with designer ice cream?

After our family dinner at Mado in the hip Wicker Park neighborhood, we all walked over to iCream café, which was featured on The Food Network because of its gimmick of creating each and every customer’s ice cream choice on the spot. They can do this with several mixing stands and loads of liquid nitrogen. It all makes for a good after-dinner show, too.

When iCream says you design your ice cream, they’re not kidding. You choose everything for texture to flavor to toppings to — yes — even color. All of this, as you can imagine, can be overwhelming. Luckily the kind folks at iCream have posted some of their favorite creations for inspiration.

But it’s more than just ice cream. You can make your own frozen yogurt or soy ice cream or sorbet. After you place your order, the workers at the mixing stand starts to conjure up your creation, and it all looks scientific as they add the liquid nitrogen to create the “rapid freezing process.” It looks like some science project gone mad or an overworked fog machine on the set of “Dancing With the Stars.”

Since they don’t start making your ice cream until you order, it can be about five to eight minutes before you get your order (and sometimes longer on the weekends when the crowd gets big). I ended up creating an ice cream with green tea and pomegranate flavors with added graham crackers for texture. I forgot to choose a color (I saw one girl leave with Smurf blue ice cream) so mine just turned out green like the green tea.

The ice cream tasted more like pomegranate — on the sweeter side than green tea — and I didn’t mind the crunch from the graham crackers. But the overall texture of the ice cream was less creamy and more watery. Still, it held up together and that says a lot since it started off just a few minutes ago all wet.

I wouldn’t say iCream’s products have the luscious quality of some home-made ice cream I’ve tried, but that’s not really the point. iCream is about individualism and show, and sometimes food can be entertaining and fun.

iCream Café, 1537 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago. PH: 773.342.2834. Open daily.

More travel sweets:
Helado Brain Freeze

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Chicago: Mado Restaurant in Wicker Park

Taste Courtesy of Midwestern Farmers
1647 North Milwaukee Ave., Chicago
Wicker Park neighborhood
PH: 773.342.2340
Open for dinner, Tue.–Thu., 5–10 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 5–11 p.m.; and Sun., 5–9 p.m. (closed Monday)
Reservations, major credit cards accepted


It might be lofty to compare Mado Restaurant to the legendary Chez Panisse in Berkeley. But if it doesn’t compare in talent, Mado definitely is similar in approach.

This tiny, contemporary restaurant on the edge of Chicago’s hip Wicker Park focuses on sustainable, farm-fresh ingredients coming from local sources. They work with their purveyors to ensure the animals are raised responsibly. This may not sound ground-breaking in the Bay Area — where almost every new restaurant touts their local sourcing and minimalist plating — but it’s near revolutionary in Chicago where portions are big and so are the appetites.

Mado ended up being the location of our graduation dinner for my nephew Chris, mostly because it was one of the few places that could take reservations for our party of 10. We basically took over the communal table in the center of the dining room, which was casually decorated with exposed red-brick walls and chalkboards with the menu and list of farmers who provided the ingredients.

I felt very comfortable with the menu, which features cured meat platters and small plates as starters. The changing menu also features salads, soups, a few pasta options and large plates (many with items cooked from the wood grill or rotisserie).

We started off with an array of small plates for the table, including the roasted beets with crème fraiche, spring onions and mint ($9). The roasted beets had a beautiful marbling effect in appearance because of the crème fraiche, and they were roasted perfectly tender.

The roasted carrots with ras el hanout goat cheese ($10) caught several of our eyes, and the plate looked beautiful with these thin, heirloom carrots glazed with cumin honey. The taste, however, was too candy-like (I tasted almost a hint of cinnamon, too) and made me think it would be best for a Christmas dinner but no other time.

My 17-year-old niece was enthralled by the fried farm egg bruschetta ($9), excited that she was going to get a piece of breakfast for dinner. My younger sister and I really enjoyed the seasonal wood-grilled ramps with spicy crème fraiche ($11). The ramps were grilled until they were softened, releasing the natural sweetness. While my sister is not a big onion person, she said she really appreciated the way the ramps were prepared.

I also ordered the arugula salad ($10) with shaved asparagus, radishes and toasted almonds in the lemon vinaigrette. Everything was fresh and the flavors were clean.

The six entrée options proved to be a tough choice for many of us at the table, but a couple went with the spit-roasted chicken ($21) with green garlic panzanella. My niece, who had ordered the chicken, thought it was too big of a serving and wished she had ordered her mother’s hanger steak ($26). (I tried a bit of the chicken and it was perfectly moist, but a few people at the table thought it was bland.)

A couple of people ordered the wood-grilled pork leg paillard ($23) with grilled ramp and faro salad. My younger sister, a bit of a foodie herself, felt the pounded thin pork slices were overcooked because it was a bit tough to eat. But she says she loved the faro salad, which had a complexity of flavors and texture.

My brother-in-law sitting next to me ordered the rainbow trout ($25) with marinated chick peas and chili oil.

I tried the most unusual item on the menu: wood-grilled beef heart ($24). I’ve never eaten beef heart, and after asking our server about what it was like (he described it similar to lamb as opposed to liver, which is what most people’s minds probably jump to when they hear heart) I decided to give it a try.

My entrée was the only one served up in a cast-iron skillet, with the slices of beef heart looking like rare meat. It was served with charred spring onions and watercress. When eating the beef heart slices, the texture did remind me of lamb meat. It was interesting how grilling the heart gave it a meaty texture, and it was quite a big heart. I think the grilling helped mask the exterior to give it a nice char flavor with the seasoning, so you don’t think that this was once beating in a cow.

We ended our dinner with a variety of desserts ($8 each), including the house special called Migas Bark (the restaurant sells it by the pound to take home). It’s basically a Spanish type of chocolate crunch bar. The chocolate pieces melted on your fingers once you touched them, which makes me think the chocolate wasn’t tempered properly. The overall flavor was a bit too bitter for me, and that’s surprising since I’m more a dark chocolate lover than milk chocolate.

My younger sister tried the chocolate coconut flan cake, which looked really pretty when it arrived at the table. The flan had a layer of chocolate, which my sister and I agreed ended up overpowering the delicate flavor of the custard.

We were also intrigued by the layered ganache cake, but that turned out to be a simple tasting yet dense yellow cake with, again, a heavy chocolate flavor.

Overall, most of us were disappointed with dessert. But I enjoyed the bulk of our meal, even though a few skeptics at the table thought it was too simple and bordering on boring (I think this is a common sentiment among some Chicagoans as well).

Coming from the Bay Area, however, I appreciated the simple preparations from the kitchen and the few creative touches, especially among the small plates. I can’t help thinking that if Alice Waters were in town, she would totally go bananas at Mado.

Single guy rating: 3.75 stars (Natural Flavors Shine)

Explanation of the single guy's rating system:

1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner

Mado on Urbanspoon

OK, you're going to have to indulge me as I share this photo of my 3-year-old niece, Mirabelle. During this trip I got to spend time with three of my nieces, and while they're all beautiful, I just liked the lighting on this shot I took of Mirabelle during dinner. She enjoyed her own special plate of butter pasta and French bread. I think she's so funny because even at a big fancy restaurant, she can always entertain herself and often would make up stories to tell herself. So smart, huh?

Previous travels:
DBGB Kitchen and Bar (New York)
Bar Uriarte (Buenos Aires)
Downtown @HiSAM (Honolulu)

Monday, May 24, 2010

Chicago: Sugar Bliss Cake Boutique

Like I said earlier, I wasn’t successful in tracking down a good Chicago dog or deep dish pizza during my visit to the Windy City. But you know I can always find a city’s best cupcakes.

I can’t say that I visited various cupcake bakeries in Chicago to declare Sugar Bliss Cake Boutique as having the “best” cupcakes. But after doing some research on discussion boards and tasting them first hand, I feel pretty safe calling them so.

Sugar Bliss started out as a cupcake catering company and then opened its first retail store near Millennium Park in December 2008, which means it’s really convenient to find if you’re a tourist like me. (It’s also close to the Macy’s store.) The bakery was started by a former financier who got bored and went to culinary school in Paris, returning to create the many flavors that make up the menu at the store in Chicago’s Downtown Loop area.

Like other cupcake shops, Sugar Bliss offers several daily flavors (the popular ones include Red Velvet and Black and White) and seasonal flavors (this week is a multi-colored bright Cotton Candy cupcake). The cupcake sells for $3.50 each and mini versions are available at $1.50 each. All the cupcakes are decorated in a flower pattern, which is unique compared to the typical swirls. (But for the record, I do like the swirls because the flower petals can sometime look like dollops.)

I got three mini cupcakes so I could try a few flavors. I went with the popular selections (according to the counter person), which was the Red Velvet and Black and White. And I also got the Chocolate Cappuccino.

The red velvet is actually called Texas Red Velvet because the owner is originally from Texas so I guess she uses a recipe popular there. The cake was really moist and I really enjoyed the cream cheese frosting.

The chocolate cappuccino had a really distinct coffee flavor in the icing, and the chocolate cake was just as moist (maybe too moist because the top of my cupcake broke away from the bottom as I ate it).

But I think my favorite of the three I tried was the Black and White. I can see why it’s so popular. The moist chocolate cake is balanced by a pure vanilla icing that was not too sweet yet refined. The beauty is in the simplicity and purity of the flavors that make the combination such a classic.

Sugar Bliss is a cute shop with just a few counter seats. People come far to purchase dozens of cupcakes for special occasions and I can see why. The cakes are moist but not crumbly and the icing (a variety of either butter cream or cream cheese) are balanced and light. IMHO, this beats a Chicago dog anytime.

Sugar Bliss Cake Boutique, 115 N. Wabash St., Chicago. PH: 312.845.9669. Open daily.

More cupcake travels:
Georgetown Cupcakes (Washington, D.C.)
Crumbs Bake Shop (New York)
Cake Couture (Honolulu)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Local Farmers and Artisans at Chicago's French Market

The local and sustainable food movement is slowly building across the country, and a small part of it seems to have found a home in a commuter train station in Chicago's West Loop neighborhood.

The Chicago French Market is an indoor marketplace inside the city's MetraMarket station. It features about 30 vendors who are a mix of farmers, merchants, specialty food purveyors and food booths. The market is a modest space, but it's an interesting place to find unique items like candied popcorn to French macarons to local cheese.

I'm not exactly sure how old the market is, but it feels like it's maybe just a year old because some vendor spaces still need to fill out. Also, it didn't seem that busy when I was there, almost like many local people still don't know it exists.

The French Market does appear to be a popular place for the business lunch crowd. The West Loop neighborhood is west of City Hall and the financial district, so it looks like a few people come here during their lunch hour to eat at the mini food court. There were a few French-related food booths, but there were also several ethnic spots selling Korean and Vietnamese food (I was shocked to see a banh mi sandwich for sale for $7).

I ended up getting lunch at FLiP Crepes because I wanted to stick to the French theme. I got a Provencal crepe that was filled with ham, arugula and tomato. It was pretty good, and I also got a cup of beef barley soup that was also satisfying. Other people munch on sandwiches and salads from other vendors. One vendor called RAW served up vegan dishes and I actually tried a sample of their hummus that was really thick and tasty.

Of course, there were lots of options for dessert, from chocolates to gelato to these colorful macarons from Vanille Patisserie. I was about to purchase a couple to take with me on my plane ride (I was leaving that afternoon) but the girl at the counter was so slow helping people before me, so I guess I just have to come back another time to Chicago and the French Market.

Chicago French Market, 131 North Clinton (at Randolph).

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Chicago Dog — FAIL

My long weekend in Chicago was chaotic and exhausting. I got to spend a lot of time with my family and tried some interesting food. But I have to be honest and say that I think I failed when it came to trying some of this city’s classic culinary delights.

For example, I left without eating a deep dish pizza. FAIL. I couldn’t squeeze in a trip to any of the four Rick Bayless restaurants (the guy is lazy and doesn’t work on Sundays AND Mondays, which turned out to be the only free time I had with my nephew’s graduation taking up much of Saturday). DOUBLE FAIL.

But probably the most disappointing of all is that I left without eating a Chicago hot dog. MAJOR FAIL.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, I had a list of possible locations to check out the legendary hot dog topped with pickles, hot peppers and creamy mustard. Despite the warnings about no ketchup on a Chicago dog (you know I’m a ketchup fan), I was still up for the taste challenge.

After doing some research, my short list included such buzz-worthy locations like Fat Johnnie’s Famous Red Hots, Superdawg, and the extremely popular Hot Doug’s (where I read the wait can be up to an hour).

But what I realized when I arrived in town was that all these popular hot dog places were nowhere near the heart of the city. Some of them were close to the airport or in some outlaying neighborhood that wasn’t even on my hotel map. And because I didn’t have a rental car, I wasn’t about to pay $10-plus for a taxi ride just for a hot dog.

Also, I was with my family and they aren’t die-hard hot dog fans like me. But on Friday, the day my younger sister arrived with her family, my brother-in-law suggested getting a Chicago dog. He asked someone at our hotel and they recommended Mister J’s Dawg ‘N Burger, which was just a few blocks from the hotel.

Mister J’s definitely had the ambiance of old town Chicago with its greasy-spoon décor. A scan of the menu showed various hot dogs, Italian sausages and gyros. But nothing yelled out “Chicago dog” or at least nothing was labeled such. All I saw was Vienna beef dogs.

So instead of getting a Vienna beef dog, which for some reason reminded me of Vienna sausages in the can, I got an Italian sausage with sweet peppers. So really, is a Chicago dog any kind of sausage that you eat in Chicago with peppers on top? That’s pretty close, right?

Well, my brother-in-law and nieces got the Vienna dog, which I’ve learned now is the elusive Chicago dog (not called Chicago dog when you’re there like how Chinese food is just food when you’re in China). So at least I know how it looks. And my Italian sausage was fine, although slightly dry.

I did get a banana milkshake at Mister J’s and it was perfect!

Mister J’s Dawg ‘N Burger, 822 N. State St. (at Pearson), Chicago, PH: 312.943.4679.

More dog love:
Hot Dogs Put on a Show (Show Dogs)
Frankly It's More Slim Dog than Hot Dog (Let's Be Frank)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Chicago: Bite Café

Eclectic Dishes at Colorful Neighborhood Joint
1039 N. Western Ave., Chicago
Ukrainian Village
PH: 773.395.BITE
Open daily from 8 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. (till 11:30 p.m., Wed.–Sat.)
Major credit cards accepted, reservations only for six or more
Web site

When you get out of downtown Chicago with its gorgeous architecture, everything starts to look pretty low, plain and simple. Then neighborhoods begin to look alike.

It was in one of these nondescript neighborhoods that I ended up at Bite Café, a Bohemian-type eatery where the body ink is plentiful and the food is hard to pin down. I’m not even sure what the neighborhood is called (Urbanspoon has it down as Ukrainian Village so I’ll got with that) — all I know is that it’s west of downtown Chicago.

My childhood friend Angel brought me to Bite because it’s close to where he lives and he likes the casual, approachable food. I was all game for something non-touristy, and Bite is anything but touristy.

The comfortable and cozy dining room is headed up by Chef Brian Ferguson, who Angel says likes to keep the menu changing with the ingredients he finds. The restaurant is next door to a bar called The Empty Bottle — a dark, dingy open space where bands play live music.

Since Bite doesn’t have any liquor, customers can go through a short connecting hallway over to The Empty Bottle — either to wait for a table back at Bite or to pick up some pre-dinner drinks, which is what Angel and I did while his partner, Bob, waited at our table.

Side note: The bar was rough around the edges and had a real working class feel. So I wasn’t about to order my usual martini. I got a glass of whisky, and the friendly bartender gave this great recommendation of a smooth whisky that I loved too much because I drank another and that began my road to oblivion. So yes, this dinner recap is tainted by blurred whisky memories from that evening.

Back at Bite, the menu was limited because of its changing nature. Bob went ahead and ordered the artichoke fritters ($6.50), which actually looked amazingly tempting because I love artichokes. But I’m not a fan of deep-fried foods and that looked as deep-fried as any fritter can be.

Instead, I got myself a salad. (When I travel, salads are my friend albeit boring.) Here’s the house salad ($4.50) with romaine lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber and red onions. There are several choices for the dressing and I got the tomatillo avocado dressing. This is where I blame the whisky because I don’t remember how the dressing tasted. I do remember that all the greens were fresh and the salad hit the spot.

Chef Ferguson’s menu, as I hinted at earlier, is hard to describe because while it sounds like conventional American pub food, it also has tiny twists that incorporate ingredients or styles from Asian, Native American, and Mexican cuisine. For example, Angel ordered the Pad Thai ($11), which I also love but the dish didn’t seem to fit the café-bar atmosphere of Bite.

Bob ordered the Pecan-encrusted Catfish with honey-mustard cream sauce served with corn pudding and collard greens ($14), a very Southern-inspired entrée.

I went with the slow-roasted, organic, free-range pork ($14), which totally sounds like something I’d get in California except it came with a huge Navajo fry bread on top. I’d never tried a Navajo fry bread, but it’s a bit like the Indian naan. The pork itself was prepared with a spice rub that included six chilies and was served with a red cabbage-green apple slaw.

What I do recall about my pork dish was that the meat was perfectly cooked, tender and juicy. I remember taking a bite or two of the fry bread and that the slaw was light and crunchy. Overall, I enjoyed the dish as well as the overall vibe at Bite.

Everyone whom I saw eating at Bite looked like regulars, or at least they seemed really comfortable in the environment. With its moderate prices and creative dishes coming from the kitchen, Bite is a tasty spot with lots of character. Just hold the whisky.

Single guy rating: 3.25 stars (Hipster comfort food)

Explanation of the single guy's rating system:

1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner

Bite Cafe on Urbanspoon

Past travels:
The Spotted Pig (New York)
Le Bar (Buenos Aires)
Tango Contemporary Café (Honolulu)