Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Dish on Dining: Hong Kong Lounge

A Banquet for Family and Friends
5322 Geary Blvd. (between 17th and 18th Avenues), San Francisco
Outer Richmond
PH: 415.668.8836
Open daily for dim sum and dinner
Major credit cards, reservations accepted

During my Mom’s and sister’s visit last week, I feasted at several Chinese restaurants as my Mom got together with family and friends. One of those restaurants that are made for family-style dining is Hong Kong Lounge in San Francisco’s second Chinatown, aka the Richmond District.

Hong Kong Lounge is in the same location of the once-popular Hong Kong Flower Lounge, but it has no connections to the previous restaurant other than the name is almost the same. We arrived early on a weeknight for dinner as my Mom met up with three of her friends.

The restaurant, which is also popular for dim sum, glitters like other ostentatious Hong Kong-style restaurants. Most of the tables are for large parties, which was fine since there were six of us.

We ordered the $69.99-prix fixe menu, which comes with soup of the day, choice of sautéed lobster or Peking duck, and four other entrées that you select from a long one-page list. Since Chinese people are always worried there won’t be enough to eat for guests, we added an additional two courses off the regular menu.

Soup of the day at most Chinese restaurants is typically a dark broth with some kind of meat and a few herbs for flavor. At Hong Kong Lounge, they sweetened their soup with summer corn, which really added a nice twist to what can be quite a boring soup.

First up was sautéed fish with vegetables, a pretty basic dish that my Mom likes to order to make up for all the meat that typically comes to our table. I never can figure out what kind of white fish is used because of the Chinese names, but I’m guessing it was a cod. The dish was light and simple, but nothing exceptional.

Next came XO Chicken, which is basically soy sauce chicken but they use the XO brand. While this is a very pedestrian dish, the chicken was nicely cooked. It wasn’t overly salty, and our chicken pieces were quite plump.

Side note: I should point out that in the pictures, I didn’t always shoot the entire dish because, as per etiquette in Chinese dining, the guests and elders get served first. So oftentimes the food were placed in front of my Mom and her friends on the other side of the table and by the time it rolled over to me, several people had already gotten their hands into the dish!

We opted for the lobster instead of the Peking duck, and I’m kind of thinking we should have gotten the duck. The lobster was presented in a grand way with the head on the plate, but it seemed like there wasn’t much meat. It didn’t look like the lobster was very big, and it was simply cooked with the typical gloopey sauce of cornstarch.

We also ordered a plate of ong choi, the Chinese greens that were simply sautéed. And there was also a plate of sweet and sour pork, which was tasty but heavy on the batter, IMHO.

I’m a big fan of claypots, so we ordered the Oysters and Pork Belly Claypot, which also had mushrooms, greens and tofu. My Mom and her friends were disappointed that the claypot only had three pieces of oysters (even though they were quite huge) because that made it hard to make sure everyone at the table got one. I was one of the lucky ones who got an oyster, but I was disappointed that it was overcooked despite having a lot of meat to it. The pork belly was nice and they overcompensated for the lack of oysters with a lot of tofu.

To try something different, we ordered the Coffee Spare Ribs, which was served with a squirt of whipped cream to suggest a cappuccino, I guess. The spare ribs had a nice glaze on them, and a very distinct coffee flavor that lingered in your mouth even after you were done chewing on the meat. This was an odd dish that I found likeable and strange at the same time. The coffee taste didn’t seem to belong with the dish, but the honey is what must have kept me wanting to eat more.

The service ranges from friendly to brusque; it’s not the type of restaurant where they check up on you. If you need something, you have to flag down a server. When you order, a slip of paper with the dishes you ordered is kept at the front of your table (it’s a computerized slip with Chinese characters) and the server scratches off the dishes as they arrive.

The total for our table of six was $109 (the prix fixe plus the additional two courses). For a total of six courses, that works out to be about $18 per person, which is a pretty good deal. (We also got complimentary dessert, which at Chinese restaurants is typically a sweet bean soup served warm or a tapioca soup with melons served cold. This night we got the sweet bean soup, which was fine except I did take my Mom to a dessert place in the afternoon before dinner so we couldn’t finish our desserts. Complimentary desserts aren’t always a given at Chinese restaurants. Often you have to ask about it, and generally it’s only given to large parties.)

Overall, I found the food at Hong Kong Lounge to be satisfactory but not exceptional. It’s not greasy, which is always a sign of good Hong Kong-style food, but the cornstarch ratio can sometimes veer on being too much, which creates the gloopey sauce. It’s what I would consider a good family-style neighborhood restaurant that you can bring guests to, but it’s not a destination restaurant.

Single guy rating: 2.75 stars (Familiar and reliable)

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

Hong Kong Lounge on Urbanspoon

Similar restaurant reviews:
Jai Yun: “Family Dinner with Chef Nei”
Great China: “Feasting with Family in Berkeley”

Monday, September 28, 2009

Food TV on the Road: A Conversation with Daniel Delaney of VendrTV

Here’s a bonus post from my New York vacation earlier this month. While I was in the Big Apple, I got together with Daniel Delaney, host and executive producer of a relatively new Web-based show about street food called VendrTV.

Delaney and his crew were in San Francisco earlier this summer taping episodes, but I didn’t catch them before they wrapped up their episodes (which include visits to places like
Blue Bottle’s original alley shop, Spencer on the Go, and Let’s Be Frank). I checked out their Webcasts and was impressed by the quality of the production. I wanted to find out more.

Since I was heading to New York, where Delaney is based, we arranged to get together and check out a street vendor. Delaney suggested one of the hallmark of street foods in Manhattan, the Halal chicken and gyro cart on 53rd Street and 6th Avenue just north of Radio City Music Hall. Halal goes into full swing in the evening, when hungry diners leaving work stand in line for the famous chicken and lamb rice dishes or gyros. But we got together in the early afternoon on a weekday. (The Halal Guys are so famous that they’ve spawned several copycats around town, even imitating their signature yellow shirts. In fact, I was late for our meeting because I went to the wrong Halal cart.)

After we grabbed our orders of chicken and lamb with yogurt and hot sauce, we sat down on some sidewalk seating and talked about the growing popularity of street food and about VendrTV.

The following are edited excerpts from our conversation:

Single Guy: So tell me how VendrTV got started?

Daniel Delaney:
Essentially when I was in school — I have a design degree — I studied street food, and I studied it from a design perspective. And when I was finishing school, I was looking at a few different ideas … then I kind of realized that I’ve always had a desire to either be or support entrepreneurs. As a child I was walking dogs at the age of 14 with business cards and contracts.

… So I love entrepreneurs and I love food and I’m very proficient in technology and I had this multimedia background, so this just made a lot of sense to me. It was a way to do something that I loved, support people who work their asses off, and create a product that ultimately I was proud of and now people are starting to enjoy.

SG: Most people right out of school who want to do their own shows usually would just pick up a camcorder and upload their videos on YouTube. Your Web site and videos really look professionally done. Do you have backers who are funding all this?

DD: No backers. I have the good fortune of going to a university with other wildly talented people. So when I did decide to start the show I called some people I knew very well and explained what I wanted to do and sort of got the ball rolling.

Now, I won’t say it was easy. The initial four months of pre-planning before we got the show off the ground was very difficult. I learned a lot about what it takes to create a group mentality and create consensus. I made a lot of mistakes starting the show and I learned a lot. … But no, there were no backers. It was just the good fortune of friends and the desire to create something new and exciting.

SG: So what are your programming goals? You want to do an episode once a week?

We put a new episode up every Wednesday, and right now we’re focusing on probably this next year on covering the United States and then most likely thereafter we’ll start to travel internationally with the show. We have a lot more to cover in the States. …

Already in the seven months that we’ve been out we’ve covered a lot of ground. We’ve done Boston, New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, (Washington) D.C., Connecticut, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego and Santa Barbara. So a lot of cities.

SG: Usually when you travel to another city to film episodes, how long do you stay in one city?

We shoot really aggressively to the point where some days we might do five shoots in one day. For example we went out to the West Coast. We started in Seattle, and we rented this Ford Mustang convertible and we toured all along the West Coast and in three weeks we filmed 35 episodes of the show in seven cities. My crew does not like me for that.

SG: How many people do you travel with? Is it like traveling with your buddies on a road trip?

DD: Right now it’s myself, Andy (Buckmaster) the cameraman, and it was Florian (Dirringer) who did the sound for the show. Moving forward we’re going to be iterating once again and go to a two-camera shoot. We can get the right wireless microphone technology so we can do the show without a sound person and while I’m sad to not have a third person on the trip, it might make things more efficient for us and also make the cost of travel a little less.

As we chat, we dig into the Halal food. The hot sauce really sneaks up on you, but in a good way. I got the combination rice dish of chicken and lamb, and really enjoyed the mix of meat with rice and shredded lettuce covered with yogurt and hot sauce. It was a big plate of food, so I can see why the Halal guys are so popular because it’s a real value meal.

SG: Do you have any problems getting people to appear on your show?

DD: Never. I think in the whole time we had two carts we couldn’t get on the show. One of them was just unresponsive and the second just couldn’t allow for cameras in their kitchen because it was too tight so we couldn’t do them. But the vendors love it. It’s free publicity for them. It shows them in a light that most of them never get. Even when we looked at the Kogi barbeque truck in LA, they got tons of publicity from CNN, NBC, Wall Street Journal and New York Times. But it was never about them, or their food, or their family. It was the fact that they used Twitter, and it was a passing thought. So no, the vendor loves this. … It’s almost like a reward. These guys have been here over 25-30 years [pointing to the Halal truck], and the piece we did on them was probably the first time they were truly truly profiled in detail by a program.

SG: How do you decide which street vendor to feature?

We research every vendor ahead of time. In a city that’s accessible like New York or Philadelphia or Boston, I’ll drive up and try the food ahead of time. In places like the West Coast, we were fortunate enough to have really great people working with us. In Seattle we had a few food writers help us locate the proper parts to visit. Same thing in Portland, there’s a Web site called foodcartsportland.com, which is great. … But it’s at this point now where we’ve put up all these episodes that I’m actually getting a little bombarded with emails now because people watch it so much we get a lot of suggestions all the time from food cart vendors and also from viewers of the show.

SG: Do you ever feature so-called illegal vendors who don’t have permits?

Yeah, we filmed an episode on the roving vendors in the Mission (District in San Francisco), where we featured the Sexy Soup Lady and the Crème Brulee Guy and Magic Curry Kart … We did a bunch of illegal vendors in Los Angeles and we did taco crawls. … A lot of vendors who are illegal are illegal not because they’re so intent on being malicious, but the city makes it very difficult for a lot of people to sell food.

I think it’s very disappointing too. To me, I really can’t think of something that really transcends time and culture than the idea of selling food on the street. I mean, we can trace it back to the beginning of our civilization and the culture of bazaars where they’re selling food in large outdoor markets. It’s the same thing, it’s just changed shape. And unfortunately bureaucracy makes it difficult for people to get the ground.

SG: Do you see any particular trend with street food right now?

DD: Yeah, what it is are MBAs who got laid off and are starting street carts. They have the tech savvy to understand how to use social media tools like Twitter and Facebook and they have some reserve money to build beautiful carts with wonderful writing and that’s most certainly a trend.

SG: What do you think of these fancy new vendors compared to the taco trucks, for example?

I have mixed feelings. On one hand, part of me is reserved about it because it feels a little like these people who come from little more affluence are taking up space dominated by primarily immigrant cultures. So there’s something that’s difficult and not so pleasant about that.

On the other hand, this is America. It’s a free market. We operate in a free market society, and I don’t think competition is ever a bad thing. Honestly, I’ve tasted some of the street food 2.0 carts, if you will, in different cities. Sometimes the product is awesome, and if the product is awesome, that’s great. Sometimes the product is rancid. … I think a lot of stink is made about it, but at the end of the day, they are restaurants. Mobile vendors are restaurants, and if your product is good and you’re in a good location and you build a community, it doesn’t matter if you’re on Twitter or Facebook. The restaurant industry is not built on one-trick ponies; it’s built on repeat customers.

SG: Earlier you said you loved street food. Was that something you grew up with, eating a lot of street food?

No, the exact opposite. As a child growing up I jokingly say I was abused. I only really got to eat Italian food. My father is Irish, so when you’re Irish in America you eat Italian food because you can’t eat potatoes all day. So there’s a lot of chicken parmesan, spaghetti and meatballs and things like that. Then I went to college. I was dating this girl at the time and she was like, “let’s go get sushi.” And I was kind of shaking in my boots because I’d never had anything like that. Sushi? Raw fish? Disgusting. But we went out and I didn’t want to go, “oh, I’m not going to have that.” So we went out and got sushi and I was so nervous, and I tried it and it was fantastic.

And then I had tabouli and all these other delicious things, and I started to realize that there’s so much out there that I haven’t had and a little switch went off in my head and instead of being the timid person that I might have been growing up with food, or if not timid then not exposed, then a switch went off and I decided I needed to try everything that I could try.

SG: But how did that translate into street food?

Well, I was a college student, so I was broke. And I’m still broke. And often you can get great food for not that much money from street vendors. … One of my larger interests came from the design perspective. I kind of wanted to open a restaurant, but that was too big. Why don’t I open a food cart? That seems more attainable, an easier goal to shoot for. And in doing this project (for school) I learned more about street food, and started to develop a kinship toward them.

The thing I like most about them is how transparent they are. I get a little annoyed when I hear people say: “I’m not going to eat street food because it’s dirty.” In my mind, street food is one of the cleanest. The difference is in a restaurant you don’t know what they put in the food. But there’s such a level of transparency in street vendors. In my mind, when you walk up to the cart, you’re going to see if it’s dirty. Then it’s up to you if you want to take that risk.

Generally the guy who’s making the food is probably the proprietor, the owner of the cart, and if he makes a bad product for you, if he makes you sick, you’re not going to come back to his cart and that’s his meal ticket, and that’s his bread and butter, or, in this case, halal and white sauce.

SG: Is this something you want to do for awhile, or do you have any other goals? When I saw your videos, I have to say I thought you’re probably an actor-wannabe who fell into hosting a food show.

DD: I used to like theater (in school). I was at one point really excited about theater. But I never really wanted to be an actor, ever. So what’s going to happen now, we have two routes we’re going to go now. Did I tell you about our book deal? [Delaney explains he has a deal to publish a picture book with recipes of the best street food in America.] … The trajectory as we see it, we’re going to be doing the show in America for about a year. Then at that point the book will be coming out, and we’ll do a book tour. And then after that we’re going to end VendrTV as you know it and start a new show, “VendrTV: World Tour.” And that’s going to be the international version of the show. … We’re going to be doing that for a year and a half, and working on a second book about world street food and that’s where we see the trajectory going.

SG: In all your episodes there’s always an extended shot of you eating the food. You really don’t seem to mind being filmed eating. Is that for real or are you just doing that for the camera?

DD: For me food is always about comfort. It’s about no pretension, getting down and enjoying yourself. I don’t go to Per Se (Thomas Keller’s restaurant in Manhattan). I don’t like those places. I like street food. I like eating with my hands, that’s what I like. And I think part of what we have to do is tell stories. … At the same time, it’s my goal to make myself as relatable to my audience as possible. It’s my goal to make them feel like, oh yeah, that’s Dan. It’s not some person behind glass.

SG: So you’re trying to make it as real as possible.

Yeah, and it’s also funny. It adds some humor. In Boston we did the Speed Dog episode, and Andy was editing that episode and he basically put the camera down and filmed me eat the whole fucking hot dog. And then put it in fast motion and you like see me chewing away at this disgustingly large hot dog. It’s funny. We played it the other day at some conference and everyone’s laughing at that point because it’s this gargantuan disgusting thing. And I’m sure there are people who see that and say it’s disgusting, you shouldn’t eat like that. You should take a bite and then take a bite off camera. But you know what? I’m not every other show. We’re our show and we like that. And it’s not only that I take the bite, but very literally my cameraman as soon as I take the bite he goes in for a really tight shot. It’s about the grit. Street food is gritty. You’re eating off the street. There’s something nice, I think, about how unpolished like stuffing your face is. So to me the two are harmonious.

After our interview, Delaney walked a few yards down the block to check out another street food vendor, this one was a dessert van called Street Sweets. The street food research apparently never stops.

Special thanks to Daniel Delaney for taking the time to chat with me and for introducing me to the Halal guys. They’re definitely worth checking out if you visit Manhattan. You can see more of Delaney on his Webcasts by visiting
VendrTV’s Web site.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Test Kitchen: Rabbit Ragout with Soppressata and Pappardelle

September’s test kitchen is a little late because, as you’ll recall, I was away for two weeks and then my Mom was in town for another week. Hardly had any time to be in the kitchen.

But I finally sneaked in a session to make your top choice from my poll: rabbit ragout from Food and Wine’s September edition. I’m kind of thinking you all voted for rabbit so you can force me to chop up a bunny, right? Oh, you’re such the puppetmasters!

The recipe is actually from Tom Colicchio of “Top Chef” fame. Yes, he still cooks and this recipe is from his early days of working in the kitchen of Manhattan’s Gramercy Tavern.

Click here to get the complete recipe from Food and Wine’s site.

The trickiest part about this recipe is finding all the ingredients. Even though there weren’t very few ingredients, they were all quite gourmet. So it’s not like I could find them at my local Safeway.

The toughest was tracking down rabbit. I’ve seen it here and there at certain specialty grocery stores in the past, but it’s not something that’s consistently carried, even if you’ve noticed it at a store before. So the best tip I have to give is to call ahead to check that the place you’re heading to has rabbit available that day.

I didn’t have time to go hopping around for rabbit so I went straight to the meat market at Market Hall in Rockridge. I knew they would most likely have it. And they did, except it was frozen and in one whole piece. The recipe calls for six rabbit legs, but I wasn’t about to buy three rabbits just to get the six thighs. (I initially thought I could count the front two legs but in reality the front legs are considerably smaller and less meaty than the back legs.)

Anywho, I just bought the whole rabbit and used the variety of meat, not just the legs. Unfortunately, it was whole so I had to chop it up into pieces myself. But because I knew this was going to be a braise and I’d have to remove the meat from the bone later, I didn’t bother chopping it up to many small pieces and instead just chopped off the legs and cut the breast in half.

The recipe also instructs you on blanching plum tomatoes but it’s also rare to find fresh plum tomatoes at the store so I just bought a can of plum tomatoes, which makes the recipe easier. Soppressata is another fancy ingredient, but this salami can be found at most places selling Italian goods. Just be sure to have your deli guy slice the pieces thicker like bacon.

After I got all my ingredients, I started cooking. Making ragout is fairly simple because it’s just a matter of browning the meat and then adding the tomatoes and other ingredients and then letting the pot simmer for awhile (in this case, 1.5 hours).

I actually eat rabbit often when I see it on the menu (this is my first time cooking it at home). I especially like it grilled or roasted. When I was browning the rabbit, it had an amazing aroma that reminded me of a barbeque out in the woods with a hare on a spit. If you close your eyes, you could probably hear Maid Marion and the merry band of men.

The toughest part, for me, about this recipe was my mistake when I bought the niçoise olives (a French olive). I didn’t realize when I bought them that they still had their pits in them. So I had to take the pits out individually. Usually I’d smash the side of my knife against a bunch of them and that’ll loosen the meat and I can just plop the pit out. But many of the olives weren’t super ripe, so they didn’t want to shed their pits. (I bought my olives and the soppressata at The Pasta Shop, also at Market Hall.)

The recipe called for 1 cup of niçoise olives, but once I got to about ¾ cup, I stopped from exhaustion.

As the pot of rabbit simmered away (other ingredients included rosemary, chicken stock and sherry vinegar) I sat back and just enjoyed the aroma filling my apartment. After awhile I removed the meat from the pot and started to let the sauce reduce while I pulled the tender meat off the bones with two forks (it’s just like shredding roasted pork).

Once I returned the meat back to the pot, I added in the chopped soppressata and cooked everything for another 10 minutes like the recipe said. Oh, I also cooked a package of pappardelle (which actually is quite hard to find at stores, but I got a package from Whole Foods) and served it up on a plate with my rabbit ragout on top and a few shavings of parmesan reggiano.

So here’s how my rabbit ragout turned out. As you can see in the picture, the pappardelle I got weren’t as wide as the ones in the Food and Wine magazine’s photo above. I think next time I might just buy a large sheet of pasta dough and hand cut them myself.

My tips and warnings about this recipe: It’s actually stated in the recipe, but I think it’s worth mentioning again — season lightly when it comes to your ragout. The rabbit isn’t very salty, but when you add the briny niçoise olives and spicy soppressata, they bring in a lot of salt. So at the point in the recipe where it says to season lightly, I’d follow it exactly and put less salt than you typically would when seasoning a pot of sauce. Also, I didn’t find much difference in the rabbit parts so I wouldn’t worry about getting six legs. If you can buy it that way, great! But if you can’t find just the legs, a whole rabbit chopped into pieces is just fine.

Ease of cooking: This was extremely easy (not including the hunting of ingredients). That’s the genius of braising; you get your ingredients, toss them in a pot of liquid and let the magic begin.

Taste: I really enjoyed the taste of the ragout. I don’t think it was necessarily the rabbit that made it interesting (pork shoulder would work just as well) but it was more the soppressata and olives that gave the dish this really Italian flavor. The end result tasted like some ragouts I’ve had at nice restaurants around town. Adding the soppressata at the end gave the sauce a rich, shiny texture that made it seem really luxurious. My only problem was that I couldn’t get the sauce to reduce in the amount of time suggested by the recipe (20 minutes). I think it needed more time but I wasn’t patient so my sauce was a bit watery. Still, it had a very authentic Italian flavor.

Overall Grade: A- (easy and tasty but a challenge finding ingredients)

Don’t forget to vote in the poll on the right column on which recipe from the pages of Food and Wine’s October edition that you want me to tackle next!

Previous test kitchens:
Puff-pastry Tomato Tarts
Bucatini Carbonara
Mini Corn Cakes with Seared Salmon
Spicy and Sticky Baby Back Ribs

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Single Guy's Planner

As I mentioned earlier this week, my Mom and sister are visiting me and they wrap up their visit this weekend. Unfortunately for me, there’s a ton of interesting food events this weekend, specifically Sunday. So since I’ll be playing tour guide, maybe some of you might check out these fun events and tell me about them!

Sept. 27, Sunday. “Rockridge Out and About.” This is my neighborhood’s annual street fair and every year it gets bigger and bigger. Booths are set up on College Avenue in Oakland for the stretch that runs from Clairemont to Manila (right by the Rockridge Public Library). Several area restaurants will be selling food items, and there will be fun for kids and informational booths from area businesses. There’s also a chef’s stage with cooking demos and book signings (and even the bartender at Wood Tavern will be mixing up drinks). And if it’s like last year, Oliveto may be roasting a whole pig again. Free admission and pay as you go food booths. For more information, go to www.rockridgeoutandabout.com.

Sept. 27, Sunday. “Coffee from Seed to Harvest.” I’m not a coffee drinker (although I love the aroma), but for those of you who are, the community non-profit 18 Reasons in the Mission has been running a series of discussions on how coffee gets from the plantation to your local coffee joint. In this second part, Barefoot Coffee Roasters will be featured. Cost is $20 for the discussion and tasting. Click here to purchase tickets.

Sept. 27, Sunday. “Feeling Sheepish: September Cheese + Wine Tasting” at Bar Bambino. This fun Mission restaurant has been hosting cheese and wine tastings on Sundays this summer, and this coming Sunday’s event will be the last in this series. Try some Italian reds and four sheep’s milk cheese for $35, from 3 to 5 p.m. Reserve your spot by emailing events@barbambino.com or call 415.701.VINO. Click here for more details.

And something to plan for in the coming weeks:

Oct. 6 & 13, Tuesdays. Pig Butchery 2. Everyone’s into chopping up a whole pig these days, or if you don’t want to do it you can just be a voyeur and watch a demo. 18 Reasons is presenting a two-part class on how to break down a whole pig and then cure it. (This is a demonstration class only, so please don’t bring your own butcher knife.) Cost is $50 for members and $60 for others, and when you buy a ticket you’re signing up for both sessions. Click here to go whole hog.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Simply Ming-tastic!

Last week I went to a fun fund-raising event at Macy’s Cellar in San Francisco. It featured celebrity chef Ming Tsai of “Simply Ming” on PBS.

Tsai, one of the few visible Asian chefs around, is a charming and large presence. The fund-raiser was a kick-off to Macy’s “Come+Together” campaign to raise money to provide 10 million meals through the Feeding America non-profit. For our part that night, attendees paid $25 for a ticket and all proceeds went to Feeding America.

This wasn’t just a cookbook signing event, there were a few nibbles to taste as well. The central area of Macy’s Cellar was roped off for the evening, allowing paid attendees to grab a glass of wine and mingle among the Cuisinarts and Martha Stewart Collection.

Taste Catering was in the back cooking up some of Chef Tsai’s recipes for snacks, such as a shrimp-and-rice dish, an Asian sloppy Joe and for dessert a kind of banana foster sundae with macadamia nuts. It took awhile for the food to come out initially and everyone grabbed whatever came out on the trays, but eventually there were more than enough. I really enjoyed the sloppy Joe.

Part of the fund-raiser included a silent auction, where people could bid on kitchen items and food products like chocolates.

I was more interested in Chef Tsai’s demo. Tsai, who’s from Boston where his “Blue Ginger” restaurant is located, demonstrated a pot sticker recipe.

The pot sticker recipe looked pretty basic, but it was entertaining to just listen and watch Tsai. Who knew he was so hilarious?

He’s so cute, Tsai even had his parents in the audience. He features his mom on his PBS show occasionally, but apparently his dad likes to cook too.

Later on we got to try his pot stickers, and they were so tender and fresh. It was really tasty.

You can also participate in Macy’s Come+Together campaign to feed the hungry. It works by you hosting a dinner party and then asking your friends and family to donate to Feeding America. Macy’s will match your donations dollar-for-dollar. If you don’t feel like hosting a dinner (or like me don’t have the room to fit people in your apartment), then shop at Macy’s on Oct. 17 for its national “Shop for a Cause” day when part of the proceeds help the charity. Eating or shopping for a cause. You can do that, right? ;-)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Mochi from Hawaii

My Mom and older sister are visiting from Hawaii this week. I know. I just got back from two weeks of vacation and now I’m busy showing my Mom around. Will I ever get the chance to chill and experience the end of summer in the Bay Area?

Don’t get my wrong, I love spending time with my Mom. You can bet we’re eating a lot of Chinese food (good and bad) all week.

My Mom asked me what I wanted from Hawaii, and really, I don’t get many cravings other than for the fresh mangoes. But California agriculture laws would probably land my Mom in jail. So instead I asked my sister to buy a particular mochi that she got awhile back, which I tried and loved.

I generally don’t eat mochi — the Japanese sticky rice ball treats. (If you're not familiar with mochi, it's kind of like a marshmallow but sticky.) But this particular one is so fresh and tasty, I asked her to bring me a pack. It’s from the Kansai Yamato mochi stand in the food court of Ala Moana Shopping Center in Honolulu. What’s unique about their mochi, other than the freshness, is the flavors. Kansai Yamato has a variety of flavors and another unique mochi made with a peanut butter filling. (My sister loves that but it’s a bit too weird for me.)

My sister got me a pack of the honeydew melon and mango flavored mochi. First off, I love the muted colors of the mochi; green for the honeydew and orange for the mango. The sweetness and flavor, while slightly distinctly fake, still gives a good resemblance to the fruit without being overly sweet.

The flavored mochi at Kansai Yamato reminds me of eating chichi dango growing up as a kid in Hawaii. Chichi dango is the colored and sweet mochi eaten as a snack. It’s really the color and sweetness that kids love. So eating these Kansai Yamato mochi from Hawaii just makes me feel like a kid again. (And yes, when my Mom’s around she treats me like one too!)

Other sticky posts:
Sticking Together in the New Year

Monday, September 21, 2009

Partying at South Beach (San Francisco, not Miami)

Now that I'm back home in the Bay Area, there are still tons of food events to take advantage of. Case in point was this past Saturday when I checked out the second annual "A Taste of South Beach and Mission Bay."

The tiny event took place in South Park, the quaint patch of green in San Francisco's SOMA district. South Park is typically quiet on the weekends (it's more a weekday hangout) but it was busy this weekend for the food event, put on by the business association for the emerging South Beach and Mission Bay neighborhoods.

A variety of restaurants in the area put up booths, and then there were music and a few arts and crafts display. But in terms of food events this summer, this was definitely small. That was a nice change of pace, not having to push through people for food or standing in long lines. It was like a little block party, with some really good food.

After walking around checking out the different food booths, I settled on the Cuban sandwich ($5) from District, one of my favorite wine bars near AT&T Park. The sandwich had ham and pork and a lot of gooey cheese and bits of pickles and olives. It wasn't super big, but satisfying.

I also got a Bloody Mary ($5) from Bacar. It was so nice getting alcohol without having to get special tickets like other food events. Bacar's Bloody Mary was super spicy than I'm normally used to, but it was good. I love starting out my weekend mornings with a good sammie and a Bloody Mary, does it get better than that?

Actually, one of the really popular booths was the one from 21st Amendment, a microbrewery and restaurant. They were selling beer for $2, and I tried a watermelon wheat beer, which I can't say I totally love. But, hey, it was $2.

The really popular booth was by Little Skillet, which is a popular weekday lunch counter selling Louisiana-inspired food. They were popular at this past weekend's food event because they were selling fried chicken! (And yes, I passed.)

Even though I passed on the fried chicken, I did try the Red Velvet Cupcake ($2) from Little Skillet. It was extremely red and a nice cream cheese frosting.

And of course, the weather was amazing this weekend to be outside. It was nice checking out all the area restaurant's food and not have to deal with massive crowds. Now, I'm going to find my patch of green and stretch out to get rid of my farmer's tan. :)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Travel Treats: Georgetown Cupcake

This is the last installment of “The Single Guy Goes to Washington” as I blog about my vacation visiting my sister in the Washington, D.C. area. I’ll be back to blogging about food in the San Francisco Bay Area but will always look back fondly at my incredible two weeks in New York and D.C.

Best. Cupcake. Ever.

I saved my favorite epicurean adventure from my D.C. vacation for last. And that’s my visit to Georgetown Cupcake.

Living in the Bay Area, I have some good cupcakes to eat. (I’m an out and proud Kara’s fan.) But ironically I’ve found some of the best cupcakes during my travels, such as when I visited Cake Couture in Honolulu in 2008.

The same thing happened this time when I visited Georgetown Cupcake, a stylish and widely-reported-on cupcake shop in the heart of the historic Georgetown neighborhood.

They only have one store, and it’s in a tiny shop off the main street in Georgetown. When I arrived with my sister, brother-in-law and 3-year-old niece, there was a line sneaking out the shop. (I felt so much at home because you know how I’m always standing in line for food in the Bay Area.)

We arrived near the end of the day on a Friday so a lot of people looked like they were buying cupcakes on their way home from work. There were some new buyers in the line, questioning out loud whether it was worth the wait. And then there were some regulars in line who were telling them that, yes, it’s just that good.

The line actually moved fairly quickly. I’m pretty sure it just looks long because the shop is so small. But inside, you see a large display of beautifully crafted cupcakes on several stands. All of the cupcakes are made on site, and as I was waiting I could see the young workers in the back moving like busy worker bees.

Like most gourmet cupcake shops, there’s a list of everyday flavors and a changing daily menu of specialty flavors. I’m always excited to check out a cupcake shop that has creative flavors I’ve never heard of.

I ended up trying the Caramel Apple cupcake (all cupcakes are $2.75 each), which tasted like a spice cake with frosting and caramel drizzles. From the first bite, I was in love. There was something about the frosting that was so different than others I’ve tried. It wasn’t buttercream, but more like icing, but the way it was whipped was almost like a meringue or a light marshmallow. It was light and fluffy and so good. The touches of caramel blended nicely with the cake, which was moist and tasty. I totally enjoyed mines.

My sister actually got a few flavors because my brother-in-law couldn’t decide what to get. They tried the “lava fudge,” “chocolate-square,” coconut and vanilla. The lava fudge was decadence in chocolate, with a valrhona chocolate cake and vanilla icing and then fudge filling to resemble molten lava. The chocolate-square was valrhona chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. My brother-in-law thought the chocolate-square was OK but he really enjoyed the coconut. (There’s also a chocolate-cube.)

The vanilla was for my niece, who actually had just woken up from her afternoon nap and was wondering why her uncle was going all crazy over cupcakes. She ate some of her vanilla cupcake, but had to give it to her mom to finish. She says the frosting was a little too sweet.

Like any cupcake shop, it seems the flavors make the difference in your experience. I can highly recommend the caramel apple and my sister and brother-in-law endorse the lava fudge and coconut. But with the variety of beautiful cupcakes at Georgetown Cupcakes, I’m sure you’ll discover a favorite all your own.

Georgetown Cupcake, 1209 Potomac St. NW (at M Street), Washington, D.C. Open daily except Mondays. www.georgetowncupcake.com

Travel here too:
Crumbs Bake Shop (New York)

Friday, September 18, 2009

Travel Dish: DC Coast

Continuing reports of “The Single Guy Goes to Washington” as I blog about my vacation visiting my sister in the Washington, D.C. area.

Overflowing with Cuisine from All Coasts
1401 K St., NW, Washington, D.C.
PH: 202.216.5988
Lunch weekdays, dinner daily
Reservations, major credit cards accepted

Much of my dining in D.C. was geared around location. Which places were close to the sites or museums I happened to be visiting that day?

One day after walking around the monuments and the White House, I stopped into DC Coast for lunch. The 11-year-old restaurant is in a Beaux Arts building and has a very nautical theme, as demonstrated by the huge stone mermaid sculpture in the front. (It really looked like it came off the bow of the Titanic.)

I was there early since I didn’t have reservations, but I was taken to the mezzanine level to a table at the top of the steps in the corner. The location just seemed so lonely (no one was around then) and I knew I would have to stare at every person that walked up the stairs. Plus, no one puts baby in the corner. (RIP Patrick Swayze.) So I opted to just sit at the bar, which turned out to be the better option because the bartender was super friendly and they were showing the U.S. Open on TV.

The menu from Executive Chef Brendon Cox is primarily seafood with influences from the various coasts—from the Kennebec fries to the Louisiana seafood gumbo. The cuisine is listed as American but has touches of Italy and Spain.

I started off with the Sheep’s Milk Ricotta Gnocchi ($11) with lobster sugo, crab and basil. I had forgotten that when I read a review of DC Coast, it mentioned the large servings. They weren’t kidding.

The gnocchi, which came out in a saffron-colored sauce, looked like an entrée size instead of an appetizer. Each individual gnocchi was a bit larger than I’ve seen, but still soft and light. But really, it’s the sugo that makes this dish delectable. The tasty lobster and crab meat blended together to create a sweet sumptuous sauce to stick to the gnocchi. I was tempted to save some to take home, but I couldn’t stop eating it.

Luckily, when I ordered a Caesar salad, the bartender was nice enough to suggest a half order. (I love it when they offer to do that without you asking.) My half order of the Caesar ($5) still looked like a generous portion, with the full romaine lettuces topped with croutons and extremely fresh anchovies. I’ve never seen such shiny anchovies (they were Spanish), and they were less salty than regular cured anchovies and had more of a twang to it.

My main lunch entrée was the Louisiana Seafood Gumbo ($14), which again was a huge plate of gumbo with a scoop of rice in the center. The gumbo had lots and lots of andouille sausage chunks and several whole pieces of shrimp (there was even one large fresh oyster). While the flavor was nice (it wasn’t super spicy but I was given a bottle of Louisiana hot sauce on the side), I felt the gumbo was a little too watery for my taste. I like my gumbo a bit thicker to cling to the rice.

So you can imagine at this point I didn’t have room for dessert. It was a good thing I was doing more walking at museums in the afternoon.

Side note: The room filled up quickly, and it looked like a lot of power lunches were happening with everyone in suits. At one point there was a Secret Service agent standing by the door (you know, with the ear piece), and since we were close to the White House, I thought maybe First Lady Michelle Obama was going to drop in for lunch. But eventually the agent disappeared. He probably was just getting food to go.

DC Coast is definitely the power lunch locale during the day, with a friendly and fun vibe at the bar. But the food, with nice flavors here and there, is really like the value meal for fine dining because of the portion sizes and the price. More restaurants should follow DC Coast’s lead in this economy, and you can bet there will be lots of stimulus action for the industry from happy diners.

Single guy rating: 3.5 stars (value dining)

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

DC Coast on Urbanspoon

Travel here too:
Restaurant EPIC (Honolulu)