Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Strawberry Tomato Farro Salad Recipe

First there were cherry tomatoes, then the cute and tiny grape tomatoes. Now, they've got strawberry tomatoes.

I found these so-called strawberry tomatoes (maybe they should be called "strawmatoes"?) at Trader Joe's, so I decided to check them out. They don't have a strawberry flavor. They get their name simply because the shape supposedly looks like a strawberry. I guess, if you squint really close. They do have a brilliant red color.

Since it's summer, I ended up using these tomatoes in a simple salad using one of my favorite ingredients, farro. They taste like cherry tomatoes, and really when you cut them up, nobody sees the strawberry shape any more. Well, cute name. Got me to buy a packet.

Copyright 2011 by Cooking With the Single Guy

1.5 cups farro
9 oz strawberry tomatoes (or cherry tomatoes), about 1.5 cups
1 can of pinto beans, cooked (15 oz.), drain and rinse
1 cup fresh basil, thinly sliced

1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 T Dijon mustard
1 T sugar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
pinch of salt

Bring a pot of water to a boil and add some salt, then add the farro and simmer for 20-25 minutes until cooked. Add the pinto beans and let cook to warm through, about 2 minutes. Then drain all the ingredients. Pour everything into a large bowl, then add tomatoes and basil.

In a small bowl, whisk all the ingredients for the dressing together and then add to farro salad and toss. Serve immediately or refrigerate.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Summer Colors at the Farmers Markets

California is known for its agriculture, and its shining moment is definitely in the summer when the farmers markets are packed with all sorts of fresh fruits and vegetables, along with tons of people out and about on a sunny weekend day.

Of course, heirloom tomatoes just scream summer. They're at their peak right now, and they look so juicy and ripe.

Summer squash can really turn into some beautiful gems with its marbling patterns. Plus, it's like sunshine on a plate.

I'm not a fan of eggplant, but I do love the purple color. At Chue's booth, they had four different kinds of eggplants, from Japanese to Chinese to Italian. Oops, I forgot the fourth one. Maybe it was Korean?

Grapes definitely say California to me, and although I'm more a fan of red flame seedless grapes, these black grapes look pretty classic.

I just enjoy wandering the farmers markets and just seeing bursts of color. This weekend the summer weather finally arrived, and just in time to spotlight all the amazing food here.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Feeding on Art: No. 4

I caught a glimpse of this artwork while I was passing a cafe while walking from the sidewalk. So I went inside and snapped this photo. I like realist pop art of eating utensils. It's the obviousness of it all that I find fascinating for some reason. I probably would get excited if someone framed a napkin. It kind of looks like how I organize my utensil drawer. Anywho, got any guesses on where this piece can be seen? Have you seen it at your neighborhood coffee shop before? I'll give you a hint. If you live in Berkeley, you may have seen it.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Locanda Osteria and Bar in San Francisco

Casual Italian from the People Behind Delfina
557 Valencia St. (between 16th and 17th), San Francisco
Mission neighborhood
PH: 415.863.6800
Open daily from 5:30 p.m. to midnight
Reservations, major credit cards accepted
$1.50 service charged added per person for Healthy SF

Craig Stoll, the man behind the award-winning Delfina in the Mission, has spread his empire to two Delfina Pizzerias and now a wine bar on Valencia Street called Locanda.

Opened just a few months ago, Locanda is a handsome room with a huge bar and open kitchen that serves as a showcase for Chef Anthony Strong, who recently headed Delfina Pizzeria for Stoll. A wine bar would traditionally be heavy on the drinking with just a nod to delicious small bites, but when in California, the food sometimes outshine the wine.

Stoll's pedigree (the dude's a James Beard Award-winner, folks) guarantees that Locanda gathers a good-size crowd every night, and the restaurant was nearly full when I arrived Friday night just a few minutes after the doors opened at 5:30 p.m. (I heard from people eating next to me that there was a line waiting for the restaurant to open before I arrived.)

Since I was eating solo, I sat at the communal table, which I happened to share on this night with several people who definitely was focused on the drinking rather than the food (read: shots). Along with the tables in the front area by the bar, there are also tables in the back facing the open kitchen.

The menu is broken into antipasti, a special section on offal items such as tripe and sweetbreads, pasta, charcoal-grilled items, and side dishes like beans and greens.

The service was professional, smart, and friendly. Everyone I encountered was helpful and welcoming, and my main server offered an excellent recommendation for a red wine, a glass of 2007 Cantina Damiano "Silene" ($11), which is a wine variety known as Cesanese from Lazio, Italy. I loved the medium body of this wine with just a slight smokey taste. It was easy to pair with the food I ordered.

Locanda has several items in the antipasti section known as "pizza bianca" and I thought maybe these were slices of pizzas. But instead, they're flatbreads that are similar to foccacia. Some of the choices are served up almost as a sandwich, but I got one that was served open face like a bruschetta.

The Pizza Bianca with Egg and Salmon Caviar ($9) was colorful and beautiful with the bright intense orange of the salmon caviar offset by the yellow of the egg yolk. The pizza bianco was airy and crusty, and the egg salad and salmon caviar were actually mild in flavor than what I expected. I thought the salmon caviar would be more salty, but they weren't. Another beautiful pizza bianca I saw heading to other tables was a classic fig and prosciutto version.

Always making sure I get my greens, I ordered the Little Gem Salad ($11), which was more than just a salad as it was served with albacore conserva, padron peppers, and thinly sliced fennel. It was so beautiful on the plate, with the crispness from the fresh little gem holding up nicely against the meaty tuna. I loved the addition of the peppers, which were slightly blistered to soften them. (Typically on the menu this salad is made with broccoli rabe, but it looks like Chef Strong was taking advantage of the seasonal availability of the padron peppers, and I'm glad he did.)

I really wanted to try a pasta but also wanted a meat dish. And if I were in Italy with a big group of diners, I probably would have had the pasta as a first course followed my the meat. But eating alone, I wasn't sure if I could eat two big plates. When I asked my server if I could get a half order of the pasta, he said it wouldn't be a problem, so I was happy because that would allow me to try another entree.

So for my pasta, I went with a simple dish, which was the Whole Wheat Spaghetti ($9.50 for half an order/$17 regular price), with nettle, gaeta olive, and pecorino. I've had whole wheat spaghetti with nettle at other restaurants and they were always done so hearty and refreshing. Unfortunately, I have to say that this particular night's spaghetti fell short. The pasta tasted bland and slightly gummy, almost like someone added too much pasta water so all the other ingredients like the cheese didn't seem to cling to the pasta or give the overall dish much flavor or punch.

Side note: The pacing at Locanda is actually very Italian, which means a bit of time between courses allowing the patrons to dine slowly, enjoying the food and the company. When you're dining alone like me, that just means bring a book to kill time between courses.

My main dish from the grilled section of the menu was the Guinea Hen Leg ($21) stuffed with pancetta and served with cicoria, an Italian dandelion. The slices of the leg lay on what tasted like lentils.

I really loved this dish, mostly because the guinea hen was cooked perfectly with the thin skin beautiful crispy and golden. I generally avoid eating poultry skin, which has a lot of fat, but I couldn't resist this skin because of how expertly it was prepared. The jus on the side had a nice flavor and the circoria added a slight bitterness to balance the overall dish.

Locanda has an extensive dessert menu, but I couldn't eat any more after the pasta and guinea hen. But I left pretty satisfied with the variety of foods I ordered, and my nice glass of wine. There was a steady stream of customers coming for a Friday night, but I never felt crowded or overwhelmed. It was a nice dining environment (well, except for the Friday night shooters) with excellent service. The food has a few slight misses, generally sliding toward the milder flavors, but overall it's a quality stream of dishes coming out from the kitchen.

Single guy rating: 4 stars (more than just small bites)

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

Locanda on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 22, 2011

Dijon Must'art Tasting and Cooking Demo

How Dijon mustard and tomb sculptures from the Court of Burgundy have anything in common is beyond me. But this past Saturday several Michelin-star chefs from France came to promote the culinary styles of that country as part of a promotion of a special exhibit now at San Francisco's Legion of Honor.

Dijon Must'art set up at tent at the Saturday farmers' market at the Ferry Building to give out free tasting of dishes by chefs Stephane Derbord, William Frachot, Yves Rebsamen (pictured above), and Jean-Pierre and Alexis Billoux. As mentioned, the tour of French chefs coincides with the start of "The Mourners," now at the Legion.

Many of the free mini tastes had very fancy names, just like this Tartare de Crabe "Dungeness" au Basillic, Chevre, Pignons by Chef Rebsamen.

Chef Derbord created this substantial Supreme de Volaille bio Farci aux Escargots de Burgogne, Gelee a la Moutarde de Dijon, or chicken breast stuffed with escargot and mustard and jelly.

This is a Gelee de Mangues Lait de Coco Noix de Saint Jacques Marinee's, or sweet royal scallop in coconut milk and mango jelly.

If you're regretting that you didn't get a chance to check out these French stars, then you have one more chance on Tuesday, Aug. 23, when Chefs Jean-Pierre and Alexis Billoux do a cooking demonstration at the CUESA kitchen at the Ferry Building from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. I'm pretty sure there'll be tastes of what they make.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

San Francisco Street Food Festival 2011

So yesterday was the "food event of the year in San Francisco," or at least that's what several blogs were saying leading up to the 3rd Annual San Francisco Street Food Festival.

This food event dedicated to the celebration of street food -- from established food trucks and local restaurants to newcomers working under the festival sponsor LaCocina -- takes place in the Mission neighborhood, on Folsom Street. This year the block party atmosphere extended two blocks, running from 22nd to 26th Streets.

The promotional wheels for the festival were in full gear prior to the one-day event, with the promise of more vendors and more space. So you know what that means? Major clusterfuck.

It's like the tradition of the street festival as people created lines from the booths on the residential-sized streets and curving onto the sidewalks. (As an added treat, several spots along the new areas of Folsom between 22nd and 24th stank of urine, making standing in line in those areas a real test of my foodie reserve.)

Despite the crowds, unorganized lines, and Mission street smells (I'm not talking about the grilling), the festival is a wonderful way to celebrate the city's love affair with street food. (I just agree with a few people who I chatted in line as some suggested that the crowds allowed into the blocked off areas be limited to avoid overcrowding.)

So I got there early when the festival began at 11 a.m. and made a beeline to Azalina's Malayasian because I bought into the early promos, with many raving about the Penang Curry Bomb, a chicken curry bun that's deep-fried to make the bun crispy. And while I don't eat deep-fried foods, I couldn't resist everyone's description. This actually was the furthest from the bomb, mostly because the bun was leaking oil. Just touching it got my fingers glistening with oil. I ate one of these two buns and had to pass on the other. The curry itself was a complex spice, a bit on the spicy side.

Wandering around checking out the other booths, I landed at Commonwealth, which served up a delicious and refreshing watermelon gazpacho and this lamb cheeks skewers over quinoa salad. Both items were perfectly done, and really raised the definition of street food.

There were several visiting food trucks from other parts of the country, including the famous Nom Nom food struck from Los Angeles, which was featured in the first season of the Food Network's "The Great Food Truck Race." Because I was early, there wasn't much of a line, but I had just had that Penang Curry Bomb so wasn't ready for Nom Nom's pork banh mi. Big mistake, because just an hour later, this is what the line looked like...

Hands down this had to be the longest line for any vendor at the event. So I didn't bother getting something from Nom Nom. Luckily, Nom Nom opened a food truck in San Francisco a few weeks ago, so I knew I could try Nom Nom's banh mi on another day without the crowds.

Saw this sign with such sage advice.

Last year the food festival had a few streets south of Folsom set aside for a line of food trucks and a dedicated dessert area. I actually liked that concept, but they didn't repeat that this year. But they did take over the courtyard of a nearby school and I did like checking out the food booths set up there along with the cool murals. What a fun setting.

One of the booths in that special section was A16, the popular Marina-area restaurant. I got its duroc pork meatball (nice texture, good sauce) and its miniature cannoli with chocolate and pistachio (crunchy but the cream inside seemed a bit too thick).

As I continued to wander amongst the crowd, I bumped into my food blogging buddy Foodhoe, who had just stood in line for 25 minutes for this plate of arepa from The Arepa Lady. Foodhoe saw the Arepa Lady (who's from New York) featured on the Food Network and wanted to try her arepa, but it turned out to taste like a big pancake and Foodhoe was a bit disappointed, especially after standing in line for 25 minutes.

I asked Foodhoe if she had any interesting food items so far, and she took me to the Don Bugito booth where she said she had this sweet toffee crisped mealworms. The mealworms were sold as toppings on vanilla ice cream in some kind of weird dessert. I did try one mealworm, which tasted like toasted nuts because they were so smokey and crispy, but I didn't feel like standing in line for a vanilla mealworm sundae. Still, it was the most interesting food item so far.

Foodhoe and I ate a few other items and were nearing our full factor, so we decided to split the porchetta sandwich from Flour + Water, another Mission restaurant. I enjoyed the sandwich, which had some nice crispy skin bits along with the tender porchetta meat. If I included Flour + Water's version in my recent porchetta taste off, it probably would have ranked No. 3.

There were several booths with colorful uniforms, but I have to give the award to most creative costumes to the guys at the Seoul Sausage Co. who dressed up in T-shirts with the words "Fear the Sausage," a play on the San Francisco Giants' motto "Fear the Beard" (for closer Brian Wilson and his famous beard).

There were several deep-fried foods that I avoided, including this platter of Scotch eggs, which is a whole hard boiled egg encased in beef (or was it pork?) and then deep-fried.

Another popular item that sounded unusual was this Elote corn from Los Cilantros. Foodhoe was more adventurous to try this grilled corn that's brushed with butter and then dipped in cheese. The cheese smelled like parmesan, so the saltiness actually seemed like a nice accent to sweet corn.

I stuck with safer fare, like this scrumptious Thai iced tea from Lers Ros.

Since I was winding down, I went looking for dessert and wanted to check out these jello creations from Sweets Collection. Owner Rosa Rodriguez uses traditional Mexican techniques to create these extraordinary gelatin cups. They were almost too pretty to eat.

This year's Street Food Festival didn't seem to have as much pop as last year. I think it was because, now in its third year, I'm starting to see the same booths, offering the same things. (How many steamed buns can Slanted Door sell every year?) I know there were some new booths, but they offered usual fare or lots of fried stuffs. Still, it was perfect weather for a street fair, with some moments of bright sun to warm us up, but moments of San Francisco overcast skies to give us a break and keep us cool. So in other words, a little bit of everything for everyone.