Sunday, January 30, 2011

Food Gallery: Watermelon Radishes

I've talked about watermelon radishes before, noting their beautiful interior that explodes like fireworks in a brilliant fuschia. I spotted them recently at the farmers' market and knew they would make a great photo subject.

I loved the interesting patterns inside, as expected. But I was also mesmerized by the lovely roots, that offered a peak of the beautiful color inside. One particular radish had such interesting roots, they reminded me of the coral found in my native Hawaii.

Watermelon radishes can taste sharp (nothing sweet like watermelons) and they always offer a splash of color to your dish.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Single Guy's Kitchen Renovation: Day 8 (Finale)

If I were in an episode of one of those HGTV or TLC design show, today would have been the day where you would see my contractor Ron and I scrambling in a high-speed montage to try to finish my kitchen renovation project. Well, it wasn't exactly a mad scramble, but the goal was to finish today because I go back to work on Monday.

So pretty much my kitchen is done, with a few minor cosmetic things left to do. I've gotten through all the major milestones so my kitchen is 98 percent complete. I know, you want to see the whole thing, right? But I still have to clean up and "stage" the kitchen before the reveal. So you'll have to check back later next week when I give you a pictorial tour of the change. (Wait till you see the before and after.)

One of the custom-made projects was this floating shelf that Ron made over my bar. I spent all day staining it, so I can actually say I did some work in my new kitchen (along with a lot of cleaning and painting).

I thought some of you who might be thinking of a kitchen renovation yourself may want to know where my money went. So I thought I'd give you an itemized list of my expenses and what percentage it took up of my overall budget. Just so you know, it cost me a total of about $8,500 to renovate my tiny studio kitchen. I'm sure your budget will be more because you probably live in a normal size space (unless you're reading this in Manhattan, then you're probably just going to pay more for living in Manhattan).

Single Guy's Kitchen Renovation Budget

  • Labor (contractor and granite installers): 38%
  • Appliances (dishwasher, range, garbage disposal, microwave, refrigerator): 29%
  • Floor tiles and backsplash: 14%
  • Cabinets: 8%
  • Granite counter tops: 5%
  • Sink and faucet: 3%
  • Cabinet handles: 0.5%
  • Lighting (hallway light, ceiling fan): 1.5%
  • Miscellaneous (paint, outlet plates, etc.): 1%

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Single Guy's Kitchen Renovation: Day 6

I can't imagine one day being better than the other with my renovations, but today topped yesterday's granite installation because today I got all my new appliances and it's like Christmas!

I don't know if it's just a guy thing, but I just love buying electronics or anything with buttons that I can push. I have to give a shout out to the delivery contractor hired by Lowe's, where I got all my appliances, because they were so quick and helpful, and they came way early in the two-hour window I was given. I'm always for early deliveries!

You can see that my freestanding range and refrigerator really takes up one side of my tiny kitchen. Sad huh?

And because I decided to get a normal sized oven instead of the tiny one I used to have, that means I had to make the sacrifice and get a smaller refrigerator. Luckily Lowe's sold a stainless steel one that fit nicely. But it's pretty small. I moved all the leftover items I had in my old refrigerator and it pretty much filled up the new one. (Oh, I just read the manual and it says to clean the refrigerator before putting anything in. Ooops. Do you think that was wrong? And in reading the manual for my self-cleaning oven, it says it may give off fumes that can kill birds. I don't have any birds in my apartment, but I've been known to chirp now and then. Yikes!)

I said before that I wasn't making any major changes in my renovation, just replacing all the yucky old stuff with new replacements. But one significant change I did make is that I had this microwave installed above the stove, which frees up a lot of space on my counters. Too bad my microwave got a little ding on the left side. My contractor Ron tried to hammer it down a bit, so hopefully it's not totally obvious. (Also, I don't want to peel off all the plastic covering until the renovation is totally over.)

I'm really excited about my new dishwasher from KitchenAid. Not only is it energy efficient and more quiet, but it just looks like it can hold so much more. Plus, my old one wasn't very strong and this one looks powerful. Funny how dishwashers are so expensive. This was the most expensive item of the four appliances I bought.

Ron also installed my faucet and dishwasher, so now I have running water in the kitchen. But one disappointment that some of you will understand: I noticed a scuff mark on my new porcelain faux wood tiled flooring! I don't know if it came when they were bringing in the stove or when Ron was pushing in the dishwasher. But now I notice it every time I walk in. Anyone have any suggestion on how to scrub away a scuff mark on tiles?

Blending Tea at Workshop SF

I love tea, especially those with a lot of fragrances that just takes me to another place. Many of my favorite teas in the past have been blended ones, with appealing ingredients like peach, rose, lavender, or mint.

But I think I’ve mentioned in the past how I can find a lot of interesting teas in my travels to New York, Paris, or London, but I can’t seem to find very original tea here in the San Francisco Bay Area. I’ve found that the shops here are mostly purists, who don’t like the idea of blending tea with anything other than the specific variety of tea leaves.

So when I heard about a Tea Blending Class at Workshop SF, I signed up right away. Workshop SF is a nonprofit space over in the city’s Panhandle area, where a lot of DIY classes are held. I actually first learned about it last month when I visited for a pop-up bake sale around the holidays.

It was there that I met Christopher Coccagna, a certified tea specialist who just started selling his own line of blended teas. He told me about the class that he taught, so I checked the Workshop SF calendar to find the next one, which happened to be this past Sunday.

Coccagna is really passionate about tea, and he spends the first half of the class giving people an introduction to the different types of tea. It was interesting to learn new tidbits about tea, and to dispel some myths I apparently had. For example, one of the myths I had about tea is that the label explains the ingredients. But that’s not always the case. Take mango tea, I always thought it had mango bits or maybe came from mango leaves, but the tea leaves have probably been flavored with some kind of mango flavor or extract.

While Coccagna encourages blending tea, he is also a bit of a purist and doesn’t like to use flavorings. So much of the natural flavors he infuses into his tea are through adding interesting or unusual ingredients such as ginger root, cocoa nibs, or rose petals.

A special note to all the single guys out there: This class is a chick magnet. I was one of only two guys in the class, and the rest of the class was filled with young, pretty girls. If you want to expand your knowledge of tea and meet some young ladies in the city, this is the class to join. I’m just saying.

Back to the class, after the introduction, Coccagna let us hit the blending, throwing us into our own little adventure in creating our own signature tea using the various ingredients he laid out in what he called his “tea buffet.” I was really impressed how everyone just jumped into the blending, picking at ingredients and blending them together.

I, on the other hand, was a little overwhelmed. (This is why I’m not a fan of sales because I get overwhelmed by the decision-making process.) So I started off a bit conservatively, I have to admit, going with flavors that I just thought I liked, not really thinking much about whether they would complement each other.

So my first concoction started with a mix of black tea (keemun), a bit of green (Jasmine), and some ginger, dried orange peel, and cinnamon. The smell was like a holiday tea, but when I added hot water to make a test cup, the ginger was just too strong and I didn’t like the overall taste.

So it was back to the drawing board and I started with the black tea again (I like black tea as a blending base), and this time added coconut ribbons (an ingredient I never saw before in tea but thought was exotic), cocoa nibs (for that chocolate flavor), and lavender, which is one of my favorite flowers/herb.

Despite being a lavender lover, the lavender had too much of an herbal taste to the overall tea and I was looking for more rounded edges to my drink. Maybe I put too much lavender? Even though I thought lavender was pretty, I thought maybe it was too powerful for the other ingredients. So I scrapped it.

I kept much of the other ingredients – black tea, coconut ribbons, cocoa nibs – but instead of lavender I substituted rose petals, another one of my favorite flavors. This time it tasted much smoother with the rose, instead of the sharp herbal taste of the lavender. But it needed a bit of a punch, I felt.

Even though the ginger was overpowering in my first batch, I added some ginger root to this final blend – just a little bit because I learned my lesson. And the slight tinge from the ginger gave my overall tea a nice complexity, so this became my final blend.

Everyone was coming up with names for their tea blends, but I couldn’t think of anything creative on the spot, so I just listed the ingredients and put a big B for my initial. But if I had to name this signature blend, I think I would call it “Hawaiian Rose,” just because I’m from Hawaii and that plays off the coconut in the tea, and rose because the rose petals are one of the main ingredients.

Spending a whole afternoon playing with tea and talking to others who love tea was such a great time. Some of you know I’ve been renovating my kitchen, so I haven’t had a chance to brew myself a pot of my signature tea yet, but I’m looking forward to doing it in my new kitchen.

If you’d like to learn more about tea and play with creating your own signature blend, Coccagna’s next class is on Sunday, Feb. 13, right before Valentines day. Sign up with your special someone or maybe go to meet someone. Just like the tea, it’s nice when you can blend things together.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Single Guy's Kitchen Renovation: Day 5

Wow, what a long day of renovating. And all I did was sit on my sofa watching the Australian Open.

In the meantime, it's funny how finishing the flooring and adding the granite counter tops really make the kitchen look like it's almost done. I know there's a lot of things still to do, but seeing my kitchen come closer to completion makes me totally forget how my old kitchen used to look like.

Installing the granite counter tops was my biggest concern, mostly because my tiny studio apartment has no place to cut the granite, so I had to find a company that was willing to come to my apartment to measure and then go back to the studio to cut. And that's what they did today -- all in one day! (If this was Home Depot, I would have to wait three weeks for the counter tops to be cut after being measured.)

Here's all the guck they used to glue the counter top to the plywood.

And here's my granite counter top (plus my new sink, which is slightly bigger than my old one). The granite is called "uba tuba." I totally don't know how they got the name, or what it means. But there's specks of yellow in it that I think matches my yellow walls. In a few days I'll apply the sealant on myself and then it should be ready for use.

Tomorrow: My new appliances find a home!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Single Guy's Kitchen Renovation: Day 4

Today's one of the more exciting days of my kitchen renovations because my contractor installed my new flooring.

With my flooring, I decided to splurge a bit and went with porcelain tiles that have been designed to resemble wood. It was actually a suggestion from my friend Vera who has the same tiles in her bathroom, and I didn't really see these tiles at most of the major home improvements store, but found them at San Francisco's Floorcraft.

I originally wanted to get hardwood floors, but they need to be nailed into place and I thought that would be too complicated with my concrete-based floor. Then I considered wood-like planks that you see designers snap into place in those design shows on HGTV or TLC. While those are more cost-effective, I kept hearing how after a few years the homeowner needed to rip them out because they would "buckle."

Which is how I came to tile that looks like wood. It's like the best of both worlds. I get a floor that looks like hardwood, but has the durability of tiles so if I drip water on it (pretty likely in a kitchen), I don't have to worry about damaging the wood, because it's all fake! They even come in the form of wood planks, instead of the typical square you imagine tiles to be. So laying them down was like laying down a wood floor, but without the nails.

My contractor Ron said it was the first time he was laying down these types of tiles, but even he said he liked the look of it that he might do it in his place too.

Like I mentioned, they're pricey because of the technique used to make it look like wood, but because my kitchen space is so small, I didn't really need to buy that many tiles. I ended up tiling my tiny kitchen and continued it into the hallway. I know it's hard to really tell in a photo, but they pretty much look like wood, right?

Chop Bar in Oakland

Casual Gathering Place Among the Warehouses
247 4th St. (at Alice), Oakland
Jack London Square district
PH: 510.834.2467
Dinner nightly, weekdays breakfast and lunch, weekend brunch
Reservations, major credit card accepted

This week is Oakland’s inaugural Restaurant Week – this city’s version of San Francisco’s Dine About Town. And it’s good timing since I’m without a kitchen and will be dining out pretty much all week.

For my first stop in Restaurant Week, I decided to check out Chop Bar, which celebrated its 1-year anniversary this month. The restaurant gets its name from the West African reference to a roadside eatery and community gathering place. It’s also environmentally focused, sourcing local ingredients and using reclaimed and recycled materials in its dining area.

When finding the restaurant, you have to walk a bit away from the heart of Jack London Square in Oakland’s waterfront, passed all the warehouses and empty factory spaces. Except for a few condominium lofts, there’s pretty much nothing else around Chop Bar.

I pulled up a seat at the massive half-circle bar of thick wood, with a view of the partially open kitchen. The bar is a very popular spot as more people arrived and chose to sit there instead of at the many empty tables, and even a bench used during the day by a lot of laptop sitters.

Side note: I did have a problem with the height of the bar. It was a bit higher than the stool, so that meant it was uncomfortable resting my arms on the side without feeling like I was in a constant state of shrugging my shoulders.

Oakland’s Restaurant Week allows its participating restaurants to create a prix-fixe menu for $20, $30, or $40. Chop Bar is offering a three-course prix fixe dinner for $30, but what makes it an especially valuable Restaurant Week special is that it comes with what’s advertised as “bottomless wine.”

That’s right, all-you-can-drink wine with your dinner. Now that’s a deal. Chop Bar offers a red or white wine (served on tap) and I chose the red. I can’t remember the name, but it was from Alameda and was actually very enjoyable and easy to drink. I didn’t really test the “bottomless” aspect, but the bartender did check on me a couple of times asking if I wanted a refill. I’d say I ended up drinking two glasses of wine.

For the first course, you have a choice between the arugula salad with Warren pears or the soup of the day. I chose the soup of the day, which happened to be curry carrot soup with yogurt.

The carrot soup was really thick, with a strong curry flavor and prominent undertones of cumin. I think the yogurt helped smoothen it out, but it wasn’t the most mind-blowing carrot soup I’ve ever had.

For the second course, Chop Bar is offering up either a pork shoulder ragu with polenta and fig-apricot mostarda or house-made pappardelle with broccoli rabe and tomato sugo.

I went with the pork shoulder ragu, which actually reminded me of kalua pig in Hawaii because it was basically salted pork that has been slow-cooked and then shredded. The pork was tasty (not too salty) and moist, and the polenta was extra creamy, almost like creamy grits. It definitely sticks to your ribs. The apricot and figs are a natural complement to pork, but I thought it would have been better if it was cooked a tad more. Still, the plate was absolutely cleaned when the bartender came to take it away.

The third and final course was dessert, and Chop Bar only offered one choice: pumpkin bread pudding. And really, it’s the only choice you need because this dessert is amazing. I’m normally not a fan of bread pudding, thinking it can really weigh you down, but this was not like any bread pudding I’ve had before.

The pumpkin bread pieces were light and fluffy, but the exterior had this crispy texture like a luscious croissant. The pumpkin flavor was definitely there, but it wasn’t the typical pumpkin pie overdose of cinnamon, cloves and ginger. It just tasted like pumpkin, and being a fan of pumpkin, it was very comforting. The dollop of cream just pulled everything together.

Chop Bar’s menu is simple and clean, fresh with local flavors and ingredients. Its Restaurant Week offering is a great value, with the bottomless wine and an incredible dessert to give the meal a wonderful end. All for $30! So run, don’t walk, to Jack London Square, hunt down Chop Bar, and enjoy its Restaurant Week special before it ends this Saturday.

Even when Restaurant Week ends, I’ll probably visit Chop Bar again (probably on the third Sunday of the month when the restaurant hosts a pig roast). This is a place with friendly service and simple but satisfying dishes.

Single guy rating: 3.25 stars (Relaxed and fresh)

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

Chop Bar  on Urbanspoon

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Redwood Room at the Clift Hotel

San Francisco has many historic and landmark institutions, and one of them among the cocktail scene is the Redwood Room in the downtown Clift Hotel.

Partly being historic just means something’s been around for a very long time. The Clift Hotel was built in 1915, a few years after the great earthquake. Then in 1934, the Redwood Room was added by G. Albert Lansburgh, the designer of the War Memorial Opera House.

Ten years ago, the Redwood Room was refurbished by Philippe Starck-Ian Schrager for $50 million. And while the lodge-gentlemen’s club vibe created lots of buzz, I never got a chance to check it out myself.

But last week I was invited to a cocktail tasting party hosted by the Clift Hotel to mark the 10 years since the Starck-Schrager renovations. So I went with my friend Kim, who lives in the neighborhood and also like me had not stepped foot into this historic bar.

The space, of course, gets its name from the redwood used all over, from the walls to the floors (or at least that's the story we were told). It provides a rich and luxurious feel, accented by the large yellow-illuminated bar shelves.

Once Kim and I sat down, along with a few other food bloggers, the parade of cocktails came to the table, all from the Redwood Room’s signature cocktail menu. There was the Huck’s Fizz (Right Gin, huckleberry shrub, thai basil, lemon juice) that I found very refreshing, and the Mandarin Lemongrass Martini (Hanger One Mandarin blossom vodka, lemongrass infused syrup, lime juice) that Kim thought was the best of the night. All were balanced and didn’t have a strong liquor flavor, but subtle in taste. (The cocktails go for a wallet-busting $15 on the regular menu.)

To keep us from getting drunk from all the cocktails, there were also passed h’or douevres such as the perfect breakfast bite – a crostini of truffled scrambled eggs and smoked salmon. There were also duck liver pate, wagu beef on crispy polenta cakes, crispy Brussels sprouts (Kim tried that for me) and squash soup.

All of the h’or douevres are available on the regular bar menu, but the Redwood Room was also trying to showcase the adjacent Velvet Room, the hotel restaurant that was revamped a few months ago from the former Asia de Cuba to a farm-fresh, California seasonal menu created by Executive Chef Ewart Wardhaugh.

Chef Wardhaugh chatted with us briefly, and this engaging Scottish chef (he was named “Young Scottish Chef of the Year” when he was 20) talked about cooking in kitchens from Singapore to Las Vegas.

On this weeknight, the new Velvet Room was like a ghost town compared to the lively Redwood Room. Kim and I took a peek at Chef Wardhaugh’s menu, and while it had some interesting dishes (I was intrigued by the sweet carrot risotto), we agreed the prices for the entrees ($28-plus) were too steep for us to just drop in for an everyday dinner. It's more a place for a special occasion meal.

The Redwood Room and its sister Velvet Room have that old world charm with trendy urban glamour that makes them a unique place in the city. If you live in the Bay Area, you should visit the Redwood Room at least once in your lifetime.

The Redwood Room, inside the Clift Hotel, 495 Geary St., San Francisco. Open daily from 5 p.m. (4 p.m. on Friday and Saturday) until 2 a.m.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Single Guy's Kitchen Renovation: Day 2

Today was all about painting and installing the cabinets in my tiny kitchen renovation. First off, the paint I chose was a pale yellow because I wanted something to lighten up the kitchen against the rich-colored cabinets I selected. The paint is called "peaceful calm" and I just liked the idea of feeling calm in the kitchen.

The thing is, the yellow right now doesn't look a whole lot different than the white walls I used to have. Oh well, maybe when everything's pulled together then it'll be like a nice accent color.

The cabinets took awhile for my contractor Ron to put together. By the end of the day, he got them up but still didn't get to put on the doors and handles. They'll just have to wait till next week when my renovation resumes Monday. Next major milestones are tiling the floor and waiting for the installation of the granite counter tops and delivery of the appliances. Almost guys!