Saturday, July 31, 2010

Single Guy's Planner

Hard to believe but summer is almost over, and as we make that mad rush toward the Labor Day weekend, there are a ton of food events to keep you happy and full along the way. Just a reminder, if you follow me on Twitter, you’ll get a heads up on which events I’m probably heading to (sometimes I don’t really know until that day). Happy eating!

Aug. 5 (Thursday): Taste of the Nation in Napa Valley. This event that supports the efforts of Share Our Strength, which fights childhood hunger, heads to beautiful wine country for a night of tasting from the area’s restaurants from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Silverado Resort. Tickets are $75, but you can get $15 off when you purchase online by entering the code: PRETZELCRISP. (Yep, they’re one of the event sponsors, and the code is case sensitive so be sure to cap everything!) Tickets can be purchased online here or by calling 1-866-26taste.

Aug. 7 (Saturday): East Bay Underground Market. The popular home-made goods market from San Francisco makes it to the East Bay, and after months of looking for the location, it's finally set for the vacant parking lot on the corner of 24th and Broadway in Oakland. The market runs from 5 to 11 p.m. Since this is a ground-up kind of movement, they'll be collecting $2 at the door (and you also have to register here for a free membership).

Aug. 7-8 (Saturday to Sunday): Aloha Festival at the Presidio. This annual event is a major fair that always brings a little bit of home (Hawaii) to the Bay Area. Along with all the craft booths and hula dance performances, you can also get some Hawaii grinds, so expect a lot of kalua pig and Spam musubi. The event is free and runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on both days a the Presidio parade grounds. For information, go to the event website.

Aug. 13-15 (Friday to Sunday): SFChefs 2010. This major food event at San Francisco’s Union Square offers a huge range of events, from workshops to grand tastings. You’ll see several of the Bay Area’s celebrity chefs, from Tyler Florence to Elizabeth Falkner, doing demos or plating up delicious food. I have to admit, I’ve had mixed feelings about this event when it was launched by the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, mostly because the ticket prices were outrageous. But it looks like you can attend some events now for just $20 (they’re mostly the classes). And some of the after parties are going for just $45, but you can still go all out if your budget allows and pay $125 for the Saturday Grand Tasting Event. If any of you have those fancy Visa Signature credit cards, you can purchase advanced tickets now and get a 20 percent discount on all the tickets by using your card. For more information and ticket buying, visit the website.

Aug. 15 (Sunday): Farm to Fork Tour. Bay Area Green Tours and Berkeley’s Gather restaurant will offer you brunch and then a tour of local farms to show how the restaurant sources locally. Event runs from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tickets cost $85 (includes brunch and tour) and can be purchased here.

Aug. 19 (Thursday): Sausage Making Class by Urban Kitchen SF. Love sausages? Well, learn to make your own from Dave the Butcher, who will teach you home techniques without the fancy equipment. The class runs from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the San Francisco Ferry Building’s CUESA Dacor Teaching Kitchen in the North Arcade area. Cost is $48. Register at the website.

Aug. 21 (Saturday): SF Street Food Festival 2010. This block party is back for a second year, promising to be bigger and better. If you went to last year’s fete outside the sponsor La Cocina’s offices in the Mission, you probably remember the long lines and the pressing of humanity as people tried to squeeze into a two block radius. Supposedly there will be more blocks along Folsom dedicated to this street fair, that features popular street food from popular city restaurants and food carts. The event runs from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Folsom, Shotwell and Treat all near 24th to 26th streets. Admission is free but you pay for the food you buy at the booths, where all the funds go to support La Cocina. For more information, go to

Aug. 27-29 (Friday to Sunday): Eat Real Festival. This is Oakland’s version of the street food party, and if it’s like last year’s inaugural event, expect a lot of food cart, people, demonstrations and fantastic weather (it is at Jack London Square, after all). And this year the event is growing with a Lit Fest and an Eat Real Bike Tour. For more specifics about the weekend of events, visit

Aug. 28 (Saturday): Soy & Chocolate with Michael Recchiuti and Minh Tsai of Hodo Soy Beanery. OK, I have my doubts about this but local chocolatier Michael Recchiuti makes fantastic chocolate so if he thinks he soy (which is used to make tofu) can go with chocolate, then I’ll keep an open mind. Recchiuti is teaming up with Tsai of the Oakland-based organic tofu maker for his Taste Project. At the Recchiuti kitchens in San Francisco, Rechiuti and Tsai will create five to six courses for a special tasting from 2 to 4:30 p.m.. Cost is $75 advance/$80 at the door and is limited to 25 seats. Go to Recchiuti’s website for information and to pre-register.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Top Chef: Season 7, Episode 7

The Case of the Missing Pea Puree

Previously: The cheftestants judge themselves, Angelo helps Tamesha and Stephen, but was he really helping? Someone who didn’t need help was Kevin, who wins the challenge while Tamesha was sent home. It was such a boring elimination I didn’t even remember what she made that sent her home.

Wow, there are just as many people gone as there are still around. We open with scenes of … the cemetery? You know how some people like to go and take pictures of the cemeteries? Yeah, not me.

Kenny is still hurting about being in the bottom, and even though Chef Michelle Bernstein said his food sucks, Kenny still thinks there’s a conspiracy to get rid of him. “Who do you want around, Kenny or Amanda?” he asks no one in particular. I want you both to go home! You for being too cocky and Amanda for being an airhead. Hope I get my wish.

Angelo says he’s upset that Tamesha’s gone, and Tiffany is singing the same old song from last week about how she believes Angelo isn’t really upset that Tamesha’s gone and instead that he had a role in her leaving. She wonders if Angelo is really helping or hurting? Then she does that “hmm” sound like she’s in some cartoon.

The cheftestants arrive at the Top Chef kitchen and there with Padma is this baby-faced Congressman. I bet he gets mistaken for a page all the time, but he has the Congressman’s pin on his lapel and Padma introduces him as Rep. Aaron Schock, the youngest Congressman in the U.S. House. No kidding. He’s also kind of a cutie, and I Google him and you know what I found? A few images of Rep. Cutie on the beach showing off these amazing abs.

Anywho, Rep. Frat Boy says the first thing they learn when they arrive in D.C. is ethics and how they can’t have lunch with lobbyists or else it’ll seem like they’re being swayed by a plate of steak. So Padma says Congress actually has a toothpick rule, which means elected officials can only eat food paid for by lobbyists if they come on a toothpick. Yes, someone actually thought of this rule and wrote it down.

So their challenge is to come up with a great tasting gourmet dish that can be served up on a toothpick. Basically, they’re making hors d’oeuvres or appetizers that your grandma used to make for New Year’s eve.

Oh, and it’s a high-stakes quickfire, which means they get immunity and $20,000 and everyone’s salivating over the money even before they win. Who couldn’t use $20,000? I know I could. $20,000 is how much Sears says I need to pay them to renovate my kitchen in my little studio. Yeah, wait till I get on Top Chef and win a high-stakes quickfire and I’ll get you that $20,000, Sears.

Everyone starts running around and a lot of people are cooking with scallops, and I love scallops but I don’t see how it’ll stay on a toothpick. If you pierce a scallop, it kind of breaks in half easily, so I see a mess ahead for a few of them. Alex is burning bacon and Amanda is talking about how she hates making hors d’oeuvres so she’s just going to make a lamb kebob. Bor-rrrring.

Tasting. Here’s how it went down when Rep. Schocky Schock and Padma did the rounds:

Kevin: Grilled pork and mushroom kebob. Nada.

Andrea: Buttermilk fried chicken on a cheddar waffle, which she said earlier was Southern comfort food on a stick.

Ed: A duo of tuna that’s grilled and confit. Rep. Boy Wonder says he likes being able to go to Asia without taking the long flight, especially since he’s not old enough to own a passport.

Tiffany: Crispy pork roulade with prosciutto.

Amanda: Lamb kebob, which Rep. Flirt says lamb happens to be his favorite, and Amanda does her silly girl smile because she’s not beyond calling herself an intern and wearing a blue dress. Oh. No. I. Did.n’t.

Kenny: Tandoor spiced salmon, and Rep. Aaron says he likes getting his liquor and meat all in one stick.

Angelo: Cucumber cup with spiced shrimp and cashew.

Stephen: Scallop and beef with what looks like a lot of bĂ©arnaise sauce. Rep. Newbie says it’s “very meaty.”

Alex: Pan-seared scallops with crispy bacon. Padma makes a weird face.

Kelly: Nantucket bay scallops with watermelon. I like it when people cook with watermelon. I should make something with watermelon before the summer’s out. That’s if summer ever starts up here in the Bay Area.

So Rep. Aaron says he didn’t like Alex’s dish because it had too many different flavors going on, and didn’t like Kelly because there were too little flavor going on. Kelly says she now needs to focus and make her flavors big and bold. Oh, and Ed is also on the bottom, just because.

Who the Congressman does like is Kevin, whose flavors stayed with him throughout, as well as Angelo (“It’s like fireworks in my mouth,” a phase I’m sure a politician has said many a days) and Stephen. But the winner is Angelo, and he looks like he’s about to cry. Hey, I just realized they didn’t cut to commercial or pull a Ryan Seacrest. Kevin looks mad that Angelo won again (although to be fair it’s been awhile) and says something about how the judges must love Chinese food, so whatevs. Hey, what’s wrong with Chinese food? Without it you’d all starve on Christmas day.

Commercials. Mike Rowe is built Ford tough. Enough said.

Elimination challenge. Padma says the cheftestants will be taking part in the old school political tradition of the power lunch. And they’re supposed to make lunch for 24 diners at the Palm D.C. restaurant, which is supposed to be some kind of power lunch spot but I’ve never heard of it. I guess I’m not a power player. Kelly says she’s eaten there, but I don’t really think she’s a power player either.

Each cheftesants pull knives to find out what protein they’ll be cooking with, and they’ll be in pairs although they’re not necessarily going head to head or working as pairs.

They go shopping at Whole Foods. I notice Andrea’s wearing a T-shirt with the skull and bones, except the bones are bacon strips. I wonder what’s that supposed to mean? Is she saying that bacon kills? I don’t think she’s a vegetarian. Seems weird for a chef to be anti-bacon. But how is a skull and bone using bacon as a representation is supposed to mean something good? Thoughts? Anyone?

They head back to the Top Chef kitchen to start doing their prepping. Ed (and Angelo to some point) is overwhelmed by the 4-pound lobsters he has to break down, and I’m like, where can I get a plate of that? Tiffany is busy making a tapenade and she’s pretty calm but wonders if she should be doing more because there’s chaos all around her, and chaos is spelled E-D.

Alex is talking about how huge his salmon is (is everything bigger in D.C.? I thought that was only in Texas) and he doesn’t know what to do with them.

Amanda has the porterhouse steak, and she says she’s never cooked with it and she starts to remove the bone. Kelly, who also has the porterhouse, criticizes Amanda for removing the bone, saying it’s no longer a porterhouse but is not just a New York strip. Oh look, a pan of bacon is burning again. Alex!!

They’re done for the day and the cheftestants head home, where Alex says he doesn’t know what to do with his salmon. He says something about peas, and Kenny says Ed is also using peas. Then Ed’s talking about his pea puree with Tiffany and how he’s worried he’s going to be in the bottom and Tiffany is trying to reassure him. Andrea is watching and says something’s going on between Ed and Tiffany, and Tiffany says she knows people think something’s going on but “I got a man.” And she yells it out really loud like her man is 95 years old. I can imagine this is Tiffany’s conversation with her man.

Tiffany: “Man, get my shoes”

Tiffany’s man: “What?”

Tiffany: “My shoes, man, my shoes. Get. My. Shoes!”

Tiffany’s man: “What? You’re blue?”

Tiffany: “Dang. Where’s Ed?”

Commercials. Dear Clorox: Your stain remover only looks like it cleans just one streak along the clothes. I don’t like that. Can you make a wider swatch? Thanks. Pig Pen.

The cheftestants arrive at the Palm Restaurant, and like those old celebrity-based restaurants, they have a wall with framed caricatures of famous people who ate there. I always wondered how someone realizes that they want to grow up to be a caricaturist? Just a group of big headed-small body people, I guess.

This man in an expensive looking suit comes in and it’s Bruce Bozzi Jr., who’s like the grandson of the restaurant founder, I think. He says it’s the first time the restaurant has turned over their kitchen to “outsiders” so to be safe they asked Tom Colicchio to keep an eye out on them. Bozzi also tells the cheftestants that the winner will get their big head caricature on the wall of fame.

They start cooking and Amanda’s getting on Kelly’s nerves. It’s like a kid in the kitchen (talking about Amanda) and Kelly’s the strict mom who always has to tell Amanda to move her stuff or cook more on her side. I think all these petty skirmishes are going to mess up Kelly’s mojo. Amanda asks Kelly for salt and Kelly doesn’t want to share, saying she brought enough for herself and Amanda should have thought about bringing salt.

Others start to ask Kelly for salt and stuff, and to make sure she did bring enough just for herself, Kelly starts to use all her salt on her meat.

Then they cut to Alex, who says he’s going to use a pea puree. But I didn’t watch carefully so I don’t really know if I actually saw him making the puree. And then that starts the whole pea puree drama because Ed is looking for his pea puree, which isn’t in the ice chests. He asks everyone and they all say they didn’t see it. And he asks Alex point-blank if he saw his pea puree, and Alex says “I did not.” Which is weird because he was just working with pea puree. If I had made the pea puree, I would have said, “I didn’t see yours, but I made my own.” Which Alex really didn’t say. Hmmm, suspicious.

The judges arrive, and ugh, there’s that gross Joe Scarborough. There’s also some other “D.C. insiders” who I don’t really care about. Padma introduces them anyway, including Sen. Mark Warner, some woman named Micka Brezinksy, that Joe guy, John Podesta from some think tank, and Bruce Bozzi Jr. At Gail’s table, she has three NBC reporters and a slimmed down Art Smith, aka Oprah’s one-time personal chef. (Isn’t it weird how when you see someone who was once chubby and then they lose weight, they always looks like they’re sick and not necessarily healthy. That’s what Chef Smith looks like.)

They bring out the food, starting with the porterhouse from Kelly and Amanda. Gail like the sear on Amanda’s meat, even though it’s off the bone, and the NBC lady says Kelly’s cut is like eating a whole cow, it’s so big. Plus, it’s really salty, but Joe likes it because he likes his food salty and buried in butter.

They move to the swordfish and I’m so bored with the comments from the judges already. Tiffany is upset about her fish, saying she knows she overcooked it and knows she’ll be in the bottom three.

OK, this is so boring. The dishes look so big and I don’t understand how the judges are eating all these dishes in one seating. Are they just taking a bite and then passing the dish to some other table? Seems like it would be a waste of food if they don’t eat it, but if they did, I can’t believe how they can eat all that food because they don't look like chef tasting portions, they really are a full plate of food.

After they’re done eating, Tom comes out of the kitchen. He was watching and also eating in the kitchen as the food went out. He tells the other judges that the cheftestants were really sloppy and all over the place. Art Smith is all about some people having love on their dishes and others didn’t. Why is it that chefs from the south always talks about love on the plate? Just wondering.

Ed and Tiffany are talking about the missing pea puree, and Kevin jumps in because he loves to gossip. Kenny says that Alex wasn’t working on a puree the day before, so he really wonders how he could have made it just that same day. He calls the whole thing kind of grimy.

Commercials. Ugh, if those iPhone people use their video capabilities on the subway or bus, I’m going to die. I’m already tired hearing everyone’s half conversation, can you imagine hearing both sides? Whatever happened to just reading a good book when you’re on the train? Huh, I’m really turning out to be a cranky old man, yeah? That’s going to be the title of my new book, “Cooking with The Cranky Single Guy.”

At the stew room, Andrea asks about the pea puree, and Alex says it was “coincidental” that he has a pea puree the same idea as Ed, but I find it funny that he never really says that he made the pea puree. He just says he used pea puree just like Ed. Padma comes in and calls for Alex, Tiffany and Ed.

Oh, Art Smith is still there to judge. No sign of Eric Ripert again. I wonder why they promoted him so much as the new judge and I think he only judged two episodes? Anywho, Padma tells the three they’re the best and they’re all relieved because you know all three of them know they’re potentially sucky.

As the guest judge, Art Smith names the winner, and he chooses Alex, especially because of the wonderful pea puree. You can see Tiffany and Ed totally biting their tongue. When they head back to the stew room, everyone’s like, what? Alex won for Ed’s pea puree? No?! That’s messed up.

Alex sends in Kelly, Andrea and Kevin to the judge’s table. Gail asks Kevin about his tomato side, and she says it had too much heat (spicy). You know it’s bad whenever the judges ask “Did you taste it?” Of course they’re going to say that they tasted it. I want to see a cheftestant respond the next time a judge asks “Did you taste it?” by saying “did you?” LOL. That’d be funny.

Andrea admits that swordfish is not her favorite dish to cook, and Art says that attitude was reflected in the dish. Plus he didn’t like the couscous. The camera cuts to Padma and she’s looking at Andrea with such empathy, like she’s sad to see Andrea squirm. But not Gail, who’s throwing out zingers left and right. When Andrea says she made that fish dish all the time at her restaurant, Gail shoots back “If we wanted to eat the food you cook every day, we’d just come to your restaurant.” Ouch, someone give Gail a cookie.

Tom tells Kelly she knows why she’s in the bottom, and she quickly picks up that she over salted her dish. Gail says it was like a “slap in the face.” See what I mean about the zingers?

The cheftestants head back to the stew room and Kelly talks about her mistake about too much salt, and she can’t even talk because she starts to cry. And then immature Amanda is all like, “oooh, karma for not giving me your salt.” Yuck, please go home you high school chef. What’s worse is Amanda says this with a smile, like she’s so pleased with herself that someone else is suffering.

They shoot back to the judges who are talking more about food being overcooked and Tom getting cranky (although not as cranky as the Single Guy watching these Top Chef episodes) about all the common sense errors. They shoot back to a crying Kelly who says her food is typically subtle and light, but she worried the judges would have called her bland, thus the salt.

Commercials. Pledge, I think I’ve watched you since I was a child talk about waxy build up. How I wish I owned stock in your monopoly.

Judgment time. Tom says the bottom three made lunches that made them want a power nap. Kevin overcooked his lamb, Kelly oversalted her steak, and Andrea ruined her fish with vanilla. Kelly looks like she’s going to burst into salty tears any moment. Then Padma sends Andrea packing.

Both Kevin and Kelly are bowled over with relief and they hug Andrea, who says “it’s all good.” What’s really weird about this moment of teary goodbyes is that the editors left in Padma looking kind of insensitive saying “that will be all, thank you.” It sounded a bit dismissive, like “leave already” and not the sweet Padma usual self. It was all very awkward.

I’m kind of sad to see Andrea gone. She seemed like the only sane one. Now we’re left with a bunch of sloppy cheftestants or egomaniacs. How fitting for D.C.

Next: They’re serving up food for some ambassadors and Stephen doesn’t know if Brazil has any kind of cuisine, Kelly says Alex gets too aggressive and he basically trips like some bumbling gourmand. And everyone wants to ask Amanda, where’s the beef?

Top Chef airs every Wednesday at 9 p.m. on Bravo. Check your local listings. Photos courtesy of the Bravo TV website.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Test Kitchen: Zucchini Carpaccio with Salt-Broiled Shrimp

This month’s Test Kitchen featured recipes from Food and Wine magazine’s best new chefs of 2010. It was a close race among the recipes, but the winner with 35 percent of the votes was the Zucchini Carpaccio recipe from Chef Jason Stratton of Seattle’s Spinasse restaurant.

Stratton’s recipe barely beat out the Salmon with Cantaloupe (34 percent) from Chef John Shields of Town House in Virginia and local Best New Chef James Syhabout of Oakland’s Commis who offered up a Green Tomatoes recipe (29 percent).

Now, I’m always a bit wary using a recipe from a restaurant chef, mostly because they often involve many ingredients and a lot of steps. And while the Zucchini Carpaccio (with shrimp) sounds simple, it was quite cumbersome. Here’s how it went in my kitchen when I tried out the recipe. As always, you can get the full recipe on the Food and Wine website.

Most of the ingredients for the recipe were easy to find (although there were a lot of them), except for the main feature: large shrimp in shell. (BTW, I cut the recipe in half.) As you can see in the picture above of the final dish from the magazine, the shrimp was cooked with the head still on. So I had to find large shrimp with head on, and it’s not as easy as you might think. It’s not at your basic Safeway and even some of the gourmet-type shops. So you have to either go to Chinatown (and for added freshness buy the shrimp live) or a specialized fish shop. I luckily found them at the seafood stand at the farmers’ market at the Civic Center on Sunday.

With my full shrimp in hand (I only paid about $3 for the six large shrimp), I started with the recipe, making the zucchini carpaccio first. I had to slice the zucchini lengthwise and then pan-fry them for a few minutes until they were slightly browned in a skillet.

After removing the zucchini strips from the pan, I then cooked the onion until they were soft and golden brown. Then I added the garlic and crushed red pepper and cooked it some more before adding the white wine and red wine vinegar. (See what I mean by a lot of ingredients.)

After adding the liquid, I had to wait until a third of it evaporated, or about 5 minutes.

When the onion mixture was cooked, I added the parsley AND mint.

Then the recipe said I had to layer the onion mixture with the zucchini strips in a shallow glass dish. I did as told, but I really have to say I didn’t understand the reason for doing this step. Maybe it was to marinate the zucchini strips with the onion mixture, but it’s not really explained. After creating almost what seems like a Napolean, I had to let the zucchini and onion mixture sit for at least an hour at room temperature. Again, for no other reason than that’s what the recipe said.

While the zucchini sat, I worked on the pine nut sauce. But you know what? The day I wanted to make this recipe, my grocery store didn’t have pine nuts! And I wasn’t about to go around town looking for a store with them, especially since they’re kind of expensive. So I went with sliced almond instead. This was my only substitution to the recipe. After toasting the nuts, I cooked them in a saucepan with chicken broth and lemon zest for more than 35 minutes waiting for the nuts to soften. When they were, I pulsed them into a puree, but the result was more of a peanut sauce rather than the creamy sauce promised by the recipe.

With the sauce done (this has already been more than a hour in the kitchen) I could finally cook my shrimp. I had to create a bed of coarse sea salt mixed with some lemon zest and crumpled bay leaves. I have to tell you, I hate using a whole bed of salt to cook seafood (which is why I will probably never do that salt-baked whole fish recipes you see sometimes) because it seems like such a waste of salt, and the bay leaves (but my bay leaves were old so I was willing to give them up).

Cooking the shrimp was pretty easy. After heating up the dish of salt under a broiler, I just placed the shrimp and cooked them under the broiler for about 3 minutes each side. Here’s how they looked after they came out of the kitchen. And then I plated everything up with the zucchini as a bed with the almond nut sauce and the shrimp on top. Here’s how the plate looked finish? What do you think?

My tips and warnings about this recipe:

  1. I really don’t get the whole layering of the zucchini strips and onion mixture. To me, you can probably just pile the onion mixture under and on top of the strips, but don’t worry about being so meticulous as to create almost a Napolean-style of layers.
  2. The nut sauce didn’t turn out creamy or white looking like in the photo. In the photo the sauce looks almost like yogurt. So I actually might add some yogurt and maybe less of the chicken broth.
Ease of cooking: Oh, you know what I’m going to say. This was not easy. Doing the steps on their own was simple, but combined together this was a lot of work resulting in a dish that in my mind would be a nice appetizer and not necessarily a main dish.

Taste: The shrimp was perfect, albeit a bit difficult to eat with the shell and everything. But it’s hard to spoil the shrimp if you cook it right and not over or under cook it. And actually, the zucchini wasn’t that bad with the onion mixture because of the bright mint in the mixture along with the twist of red wine vinegar. The recipe turns out a lot of the mixture and in the end I threw out almost half of what I made. What I found weird about this dish was you had to eat the shrimp with your fingers because you have to peel the shell, but then you have the zucchini, which you probably need a fork to eat. I don’t like dishes that don’t make sense that way.

Overall grade: C+ because while it tasted OK, it was a lot of work for just an OK dish. Maybe it might taste better at the restaurant.

Don’t forget to vote for my next Test Kitchen poll in the upper right hand corner as I test recipes from Food and Wine’s August edition. And this may be my last Test Kitchen using Food and Wine because I’m letting my subscription run out. I’ve found their recipes don’t always taste as good as the pictures.

Previous test kitchens:
Ginger-Marinated Bulgogi
Espresso-Shortbread Brownie Bars
Basil-Crusted Leg of Lamb
Pork Tonkatsu

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Tyler Florence’s Wayfare Tavern in San Francisco

American Comfort Cloaked in San Francisco History
558 Sacramento St., San Francisco
Financial District
PH: 415.772.9060
Open weekdays, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.; and weekends, 5 to 11 p.m.
Major credit cards, reservations accepted

Only someone of the stature of celebrity chef Tyler Florence would have the balls to open a restaurant in the same spot of the former Rubicon restaurant, which kick started the careers of local culinary luminaries like Traci des Jardins, Jeremy Fox, Elizabeth Falkner and Denis Leary.

Florence — of Food Network fame — has been a Bay Area resident for the last few years (he calls Mill Valley home) and Wayfare Tavern in San Francisco’s Financial District is the first of several restaurants he plans to open in the region. The completely renovated space has resulted in a restaurant that blends nicely with the nearby brick alleys of the neighborhood while adding modern twists like the open kitchen on the ground floor.

Barely a month old, the place was packed when I visited last week for dinner with my friend David. The front bar was surrounded by financial-business types and the main floor’s booths were already filled. David and I dined upstairs in an area that had the feel of a Colonial inn. (There’s also a mini bar at the top of the stairs that was also crowded with people either waiting for a table or just hanging out.)

David and I dined at Rubicon a long time ago, and we were trying to figure out what was different. For me, the space definitely felt tighter. I remembered Rubicon being more open (I think it’s because Florence took up dining space for the open kitchen). David was mostly trying to remember if there was carpeting before (now there’s dark-stained wood floors).

There’s an old world charm to Wayfare Tavern, from mounted deer heads and stuffed ducks (you know, Florence has this feel at his Mill Valley store too) to every dish embossed with an eagle and shield. While you might think the place is stuffy, the Levi jeans worn by the staff signals a more casual ambiance.

Florence’s menu is a mix of classic American dishes with California touches. Several items have already created a buzz among the foodie chatter, such as the buttermilk fried chicken, creamed corn and pineapple upside-down cake. One thing’s for sure, many of the items weren’t helping David’s or my cholesterol.

It didn’t help when the server brought the house bread, a huge brown thing that looked deceivingly like a drumstick. When you pulled it apart, you could tell it was airy and made with lots of butter because it was so flaky. It was like a super airy croissant. David enjoyed it and I liked it too. (UPDATE: Oh, someone tweeted me to let me know this is a popover. Makes sense now that I think about it. And no, I’ve never had a popover until now.)

Wayfare has a few specialty drinks and David really enjoyed his order of the Leidesdorff, which we found out later is the name of the alley outside the restaurant. Sorry, I didn’t take notes on what was in it, but it looked like a frothy tropical drink you’d get in South Beach.

For our dinner, we started off by sharing a few items. First off was the Grilled Monterey Bay Calamari ($10), which is lightly dressed with lemon, chili, and olive oil with some sprinkling of parsley and breadcrumbs. Everything tasted fresh and the mix of breadcrumbs gave it a nice texture to compliment the calamari.

David had noticed under the “sides” section the Padron peppers ($8). I recently enjoyed eating these at Lafitte so I was totally for the idea of ordering them as an appetizer and not later with our entrees. The bright green peppers were roasted and simply tossed with olive oil and sea salt. The plating wasn’t as creative as Lafitte’s version with apricots, but this was meant as a side so it’s a bit unfair to expect anything more.

Wayfare also offers a raw bar, so we ordered a half dozen of fresh oysters (three kumamotos and three hama hamas). The oysters were served on a stand and with a container of mignonette and cocktail sauce. The kumamotos were plump and sweet, but the hama hamas were a bit salty. Still, they were all delivered fresh and cleanly shucked.

For our entrees, David ordered the Crisp Pacific Halibut ($25), which arrived with a pile of cooked broccoli rabe and several Tomales clams on top. David said the fish was perfectly cooked, and he enjoyed the mix of flavors surrounding the dish, including preserved lemon in the sauce. We talked a bit about how restaurant often gives up on the fish course, usually offering up something simply seared and served on some starch. But here it was a grand presentation with a lot of components.

I ordered the Leg of Lamb ($27), which was cooked medium (per my request — they asked, I’m not pretentious that way) and served with perfectly cooked tender heirloom carrots, a bean ragout and cooked cippolini onions. I felt the lamb pieces were mixed, with some that was meaty and nicely cooked to those that seemed a bit fatty and chewy. Still, I loved the meaty jus on the plate that evoked a sense of wild game in rich butter. Don’t get me wrong, this didn’t taste like wild lamb, but the richness made it feel complex and hearty.

David also ordered a side of the popular creamed corn ($8), but mostly to take home for his 2-year-old daughter. We tried a bit (sorry Ella!) and David thought it was great, but I felt it seemed a bit sweet, almost like a touch of sugar was added. I know fresh summer corn is naturally sweet, but I had white corn at home recently and it was sweet but not super sweet like this dish. Still, it was a nice puree with generous chunks of corn drizzled with olive oil.

Of course, we had to end our dinner with the Pineapple Upside-Down Cake ($8), which came looking like an individual-sized cake instead of a slice. The cake was topped with a scoop of salted caramel ice cream and a macadamia nut brittle. The cake itself was airy, and reminded me of eating a doughnut (without a hole) while David thought it was more like a crumb cake (partly because there were brown sugar crumbles on top with the pineapple). What I liked about it was the pineapple flavor was muted and not super sweet.

I also enjoyed the salted caramel ice cream, which had a nice rich flavor. But I didn’t feel like it was a harmonious match with the sweetness of the pineapple. Even the slightly beige color didn’t seem to enhance the presentation with the yellow from the cake. Separately, they were amazing. Together, they were good.

Side note: The noise level is extremely high, even on the second floor where it seemed like it would be a more quiet experience. I don’t know if it were all the Tyler Florence fans or the acoustics of the restaurant, but it got harder to hold a conversation as the evening progressed.

The service was friendly and attentive. There are definitely more than enough servers and wait staff to make sure you get anything you need.

As for the chef, you might have expected that he was busy all night. When we arrived, David spotted Florence feverishly working at the open kitchen counter putting the final touches to dishes. As we left, he was caught in the mosh pit at the bar as he was greeted by fans.

It’s been many years since Florence has been in the kitchen (I remember enjoying dining at the hip Cafeteria in Manhattan when Florence was executive chef in the ‘90s) and some might wonder if a television chef still has the chops for a restaurant or whether it’ll all just be for show. But the early sign from Wayfare Tavern is that this celebrity chef respects the food and the city. And the result could well be another San Francisco institution.

Single guy rating: 4.25 stars (Not your father's Rubicon)

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

Wayfare Tavern on Urbanspoon

Other buzz restaurants:
Lafitte: "Not Quite a Revolution But Revelation"
Frances: "Exquisite Interpretation of the Neighborhood Restaurant"
Gather: "Vegetarians and Carnivores Come Together to the Table"

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Heating Up the Giants with Cheesesteaks

In baseball, a team can go hot and cold during the long season. It’s really this sport that weeds out the “fair-weather fans.”

If you follow me on Twitter, you know I’ve been checking out a lot of baseball games this season, and right now no team is hotter than the San Francisco Giants. Finally!

A lot of it is credited to some exciting rookies like new catcher Buster Posey and starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner.

As for the food at the Giants’ home, AT&T Park, I feel like there hasn’t been many rookies to help raise the excitement level. There really isn’t much new to write about.

Which brings me to Outta Here!! Cheesesteaks, a food cart in the back of the bleachers section. I don’t know if this is new — or just new to me — because I rarely venture behind the bleachers section. But on a nice day when I wanted to get out of the direct sun at my seat, I discovered this food cart and decided to try something different than my typical pepperoni pizza, clam chowder, hot dog or Cha Cha bowl.

Outta Here! (I finally got the name’s reference to a homerun because it’d typically be hit out of the park behind the bleachers section) serves a somewhat classic cheesesteak made with angus beef for $9. But I don’t eat a lot of red meat, so instead tried the San Francisco Cheesesteak ($9.50), which is made with grilled ground chicken, mushrooms and onions all held together with melted cheddar cheese. There’s also a veggie cheesesteak called the “NorCal” that’s made with shredded zucchini.

For my San Francisco Cheesesteak, I added some sweet peppers. Overall, this was a gooey mess to eat, with the juices of the chicken and melted cheese just getting everywhere. But I have to say, it was pretty good. Something about the melted cheese and the savory chicken pieces just seemed to work really well. Yeah, it was pretty messy to eat, but I had a whole nine innings to lick my fingers.

More ballpark favs:
Public House
Tres Agave

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Top Chef: Season 7, Episode 6

I like to mix things up now and then. I can't say the same for this season of "Top Chef: D.C.," which is driving me crazy with its predictability and lack of an interesting cheftestant for me to root for. So you can imagine how hard it is every week for me to do these recaps, which I committed to do for you all this season.

So to give myself a change of pace, I thought this week's recap would be fun as a cartoon photo recap. Here it is. Enjoy! (Tip: To read some of the captioning, just click on the picture for a normal size image.)

For an idea of what's up next week, here's a preview video of next week's episode featuring a baby-faced Congressman from Chicago.

Top Chef airs every Wednesday at 9 p.m. on Bravo. Check your local listings. Photos courtesy of the Bravo TV website.