Posts Tagged ‘restaurant


mexipino fusion

When Jeremy treated me to lunch at Papalote for helping him complete his move to Seattle, I had already ordered a prawn quesadilla before I noticed a poster advertising their new “Mexipino burrito.” A burrito filled with chicken adobo, garlic rice, and fresh tomatoes? I told myself I would try it next time.

Next time was last night, and oh my goodness! That rice is amazing. Imagine the best Mexican rice you’ve ever had, drained, and fried in oil with garlic. So delicious. So something I’m going to try at home. (The chicken wasn’t bad either.)

It was the first food we’ve eaten out in a long time that made both J-P and me gasp with delight. (Eating in, the last thing was Mervin’s limes pickled in chili oil.) Thus continues our trend of being more impressed with San Francisco’s street food than with its high-end cuisine. I never thought I would like a Fresh-Mex place this much, but J-P nailed it: “It’s been Fresh-Mexed, but by Mexicans, not Californians.” How can that be bad?


new year, new posts

For breakfast, jalapeño cornbread, courtesy Liza:


She gave me a container of it when we met up with Richard yesterday to wander around the Haight. It was inadvertently an all-Mexican, all-the-time day, culinarily speaking. Lunch was a gigantic breakfast burrito (not quite a breakfast taco, but at least it came in a flour tortilla) at The Little Chihuahua on Divisadero, where the rice and eggs both were moist, the carne asada was good, and the beans and carnitas both seemed to lack lard. The carnitas also packed what we could only guess was curry powder…?

Dinner was leftover-turkey quesadillas and mixed-salsas-on-lettuce salad at Steve and Liza’s, where I went to print out a manuscript on canonization to edit. Speaking of which, look what I got on Haight:

This morning, I am trying to follow Mark Bittman’s advice, from Kitchen Express, to cook dried beans when you have the time, then freeze them for later use. (I fell in love with this book while I wasn’t blogging; the quick-to-prepare recipes, arranged seasonally, are really just paragraph descriptions that assume you know how to cook and offer lots of substitution suggestions. The idea is that you should be able to peek in the book after work and throw something tasty together, and the tone is very homey and collegial.) There seems to be a problem with the seal on my pressure cooker, though, so the chickpeas may end up very tedious indeed…


chile pies (& ice cream)

We met Julie at Chile Pies (& Ice Cream), at the corner of Baker and Fulton, for lunch today. Liza has been telling us about this place for a while, and we almost went last weekend–until Steve decided to cook us a French feast and I showed up with a chocolate hazelnut confection from Tartine. The desire to go out faded.

It turns out there’s a more full-service place called Green Chile Kitchen a block away at Baker and McAllister, and the menu looks good enough that I’m sure we’ll give it a try some day. But the draw to the smaller, simpler Chile Pies (& Ice Cream) was the Frito pie, served à la bag. Julie, child of health-food nuts, had never experienced such a thing; J-P and I both remembered it fondly from concession stands at football games.

I admired Chile Pies’ modular approach to Frito Pie. Three soup tureens, one with ground beef, one with beans, one with chili. You want vegetarian? They serve you from the latter two only. You want less spicy? I presume they leave off the chili. Instead of garnishing with Colby and pickled jalapeños, as is traditional at Texas sporting events, these pies were topped with cheese, sour cream, and pico (still legit), plus lettuce. The last was a stretch, we assumed a concession to Californian tastes. The chili would have been tastier if all the ingredients were simmered together, but it was still satisfying.

For dessert, Julie had lemon-butter pie with cardamom ice cream. J-P and I each had a slice of green-chile-and-apple pie (this is such a good idea!), he with lemon cookie ice cream, me with cardamom ice cream, both with red-chile honey on top.


attitudes toward diversity in food

Thanks to Joan for pointing out the differences in tone and language between these New York Times articles, one about Bulgarian-British star chef Silvena Rowe, the other about Tomas Lee and the increasing availability of Korean tacos.

Rowe can indulge, without reproach, an “Orientalist vision” in her “sexy,” “hedonistic” “signature dishes.” (Perhaps she gets a pass because she caters to “the pomegranate craze” in a “Britain avid for new cuisines.”) Her food is the product of great thought and creativity: she “reinvents” herself, “finds” herself, “locks herself in her room” until she gets her variation on someone else’s recipe right. She “preserves” recipes through her innovation, and looks to the past (that outdated Orientalist vision again).

Meanwhile, Tomas Lee and the other Korean taco chefs profiled in the second article (note that they are many; Rowe is one) are “making up a cuisine as they go along.” They hardly think about what they’re doing, much less lock themselves away for research. Inevitable product of the interaction between Korean shopowners and their Mexican employees, Korean tacos were “just lunch” for all these “entrepreneurs” (not chefs, note) who are now trying to “mainstream” Korean food in America. Dave, though, pointed out my favorite line: “The tortilla and the toppings are a way to tell our customers that this food is O.K., that this food is American.” Even so, the article sounds rather concerned that there are so many “trend-conscious restaurateurs with few apparent ties to Korea” who are getting in on the act. (Compare to how Rowe’s tenuous ties, as a Bulgarian-born, Russian-educated British citizen, to the Middle East go unremarked in the previous article.)

Meanwhile, in Arizona, SB 1070 (otherwise known as the Your-Papers-Please Law) with go into effect tomorrow. Andrew Leonard of Salon’s “How the World Works” noted an uptick in Google searches for Pei Wei, the casual pan-Asian spin-off of Scottsdale-based P.F. Chang’s. Were people searching for information on the Pei Wei franchise in Chandler, Arizona, that fired 12 employees for taking May 29 off (unauthorized) to protest SB 1070? Nope, the buzz was all about the cut-rate entrees the chain is offering to celebrate its tenth anniversary. This leads Leonard to a wonderful rant:

What really gets me riled are the ridiculous contradictions baked into the ersatz globalization symbolized by a chain of faux-Asian eateries in a state like Arizona.

Diversity is fine if it applies to the ability of Arizonans to eat cheaply priced cuisine that imitates Chinese or Malaysian or Thai (albeit with all the sharp edges sanded off.) The fact that producing such cuisine for such low prices requires exploiting cheap labor gets swept under the rug. The fact that actual Asians have almost nothing to do with the production of the food is also considered irrelevant. …

But god forbid society itself should become more diverse, along with the food.

The actually interesting story there, about the workers who were fired for knocking off to go to a protest, also shows a limit to the kind of “community organizing” that has been most effective in the minority- and immigrant-heavy service sectors. Not only are significant classes of these workers (domestic workers, farm laborers) not even covered by basic labor protections, but those who are covered are only protected when they’re involved in straight-up labor organizing. Fighting against “race-baiting laws” that make the whole community insecure (including workers who might otherwise organize)? Not covered.

Thanks to J-P for the Andrew Leonard tip. (He also points out that William Gibson probably feels slighted that his 1991 coinage “kimcheewawas” didn’t make the Korean tacos article.)


American and English mid-range restaurants

Pubs, cafes, bistros, diners. Fifteen years ago, food in American mid-range eateries was bad; on my first visit to England, it was worse. I’ve eaten in many such places in America in the meantime, and I’ve watched the food get much better. So it was pleasant but not surprising to discover that similar improvements had been made across the Atlantic. (I made one trip in the interim, but my budget only permitted bread, fruit, cheese, and crisps.)

What was surprising was how divergent the menus are. In the US, I know what to expect. There will be toasted sandwiches, french fries, simple soups, meal-sized salads, often a brunch menu. Particularly fancy places will have some French touches (I do love duck confit), and the most common variation on the sandwich theme is the wrap or burrito.

There are obvious points of overlap. Part of our improvement was to realize that fish and chips and bangers and mash weren’t half bad, and put them on our menus. Sandwiches, salads, soups are all recognizable, but there’s notably more mushrooms, peas, and Shropshire blue cheese. The proportion of beef seems to be higher. Instead of burritos or wraps, you’ll find a plethora of savory things baked in pastries: steak and kidney puddings, various meat Wellingtons. Foreign influences, instead of being Mexican and French, are South Asian and Italian. Our hotel featured a chicken balti pasty one day, and lasagna was everywhere.


stolen breakfast

This was going to be a post comparing Scandinavian and English breakfasts (I’ll save that for next), but then this morning happened.

When I walked into the dining room this morning, it was more crowded than the day before, and the only table that was open and clean was a four-top. I told a waiter that I’d be happy to sit at the first two-top he cleaned, and I set our guidebooks on the windowsill next to it.

After I poured a little milk over some cornflakes and strawberries–an indulgence, since we don’t keep boxed cereal at home–I found my way to the water pitcher blocked by a man pouring himself some orange juice and who excused himself in a French accent. All fine–until he made a beeline for my table. “Excuse me. Excuse me!” “Oh, you are sitting here?” I gestured to the books in the window and nodded. He waited for the table behind that one to be cleaned.

The room filled quickly, as did as the outside deck. I was ignored for a long time. Although I really, really wanted at least some coffee, I kept quiet until I heard the waiter delivering the table-thieving Frenchman’s hot breakfast to him, with not yet a drop of coffee in my cup. I flagged him down and pointed out I hadn’t even ordered yet, and he ran off. The waitress, who appeared to be the only one empowered to take orders, appeared a while later, and I placed an order and got some coffee.

I ate my order slowly waiting for J-P to finish his morning grooming and join me. The place was packed; no way I was giving up my hard-won table. The waiter passed by with the coffee carafe twice before I caught his eye on the third go, trying my best to look like he’d shot my puppy. He seemed surprised that I might want more coffee.

Then J-P joined me, and the same drama repeated itself. Meanwhile, French yachtsmen barged in from outside and up to the counter, demanding service. It appeared that about two of them were actually staying at the hotel, and the other twenty or so were just their sailing companions. The invasion completely broke down the hotel’s breakfast table-waiting system.

One of these interlopers stationed himself at the (newly cleared) table behind ours and ate a full English breakfast plate while J-P was waiting to order. Finally, the order was placed, the coffee was poured, and we looked hopeful as the waiter brought out what looked like his meal–in better time than mine had arrived.

The Frenchman at the table behind flagged him down and insisted that the dish was his. The waiter (we’d heard him called Simon) ignored J-P’s desperate waving and set the dish down amid the remains of the Frenchman’s first breakfast. We drank more coffee and made up names for Simon (Simple Simon, of course, and Highwater Simon, for his hemline) until–many, many minutes later–we could catch the eye of the one other waiter and explain what we though happened. We placed the order again, provisional on confirmation that it was not still on its way but rather had gone down the gullet of yet another now-disappeared thieving French yachtsman.

The second waiter came back a few minutes later bearing J-P’s order and said, “We came to the conclusion that it was stolen by the French.” Thus outdoing the Finnish waiter we had presented with the cream-sauce spider.


Helsinki fine dining: Juuri

The second night of the conference, we ended up at Stadin Kebab, but we had meant to go to Juuri, at Korkeavuorenkatu 27. It turned out we were the only people who chose Juuri out a list of four choices, so we were shifted to a place called Seahorse. We tried to convince others that they wanted to join us at Juuri: You’re in Helsinki. How can you pass up a place offering sampler plates of traditional Finnish cuisine? By the time we prevailed, though, it was too late to make a reservation. J-P and I ate at Stadin Kebab, instead.

The next morning, we overslept so badly that J-P missed the last day of the conference, and we both missed the hotel’s glorious Scandinavian breakfast buffet (more on that next post). The fortunate side effect was that we set out on the hotel’s bikes just in time for lunch and decided to try Juuri after all. Easily the best food we had in Finland.

I had a fried reprise of Havis’ fish with false morels in a cream sauce. No spiders, and the sauce was notably more flavorful than Havis’ already very good version. My meal came with small whole potatoes that had been boiled, then either roasted on pan-crisped. We later noticed a street vendor calling them Parisian potatoes, but I’m going to keep on thinking of them as Finnish. I was also very pleased with the mayonnaise-based salad on offer at the salad bar: it seemed to be shoestrings of cooked turnip with peas and a red pepper aioli.

J-P’s lunch was a savory pancake from the Aland islands, topped with a huge amount of very thick, very smoky bacon and some caramelized onions. Our only regret there is that we didn’t note the name of the dish and so haven’t been able to find a recipe online. I found a few that come close, but it’s going to be more trial and error than I’d hoped for.

Besides being delicious, Juuri was also very cute. Its tiny dining areas explained why our late reservation attempts had been a no-go. The back room, with maybe four tables, had sheets of red and black stained glass hanging in the windows (to block the view of the dumpsters), an unusual take on the white-plastic Scandinavian hanging lamp, and a culinary themed version of what a friend calls the Doris Day clock. Picture a plain polished steel face surrounded by spoons, forks, and spatulas to mark the hours. Although it was a little stuffy at the time, the massive exposed ducts and the 24-hook coat rack spoke of chillier times.


Stadin Kebab

J-P and I escaped the fancy-conference-restaurant treadmill tonight with a visit to Helsinki’s “bohemian” neighborhood and the first kebab shop we saw: Stadin Kebab. (Don’t worry, we have been sampling the local fare: fish, reindeer, mushrooms, and unidentifiable berries have been consumed. We just wanted cheap tonight.)

Stadin Kebab gave us our first interaction in Finland that had to be conducted through grunts and pantomime. The pictorial menu helped, too. J-P haltingly ordered a “rullekebab ateria” and I ordered fish and chips (the only English on the menu) in my American accent. No problem for the non-English-speaking clerk. That was not the case earlier with the (English-speaking and otherwise very helpful) woman at the Suomenlinna information desk, who heard me say “Pajasali” three times before she understood which building I was trying to name.

When it came time to pay, J-P pulled out a 20 pound note, instead of 20 euros. We all laughed. J-P asked for a “cash machine.” Blank stare. “ATM?” More of the same. They settled on “banke” and pantomimed directions.

While J-P was gone, I filled glasses with water, and the clerk asked me, complete with a demonstration, if I would like ice. Dredging my memory for tidbits from the Finnish primer my sister made for me, I attempted “No, thank you.” “Ei kii-tos?” The clerk grinned and nodded, putting the ice away.


comparative waffles

Julie and I celebrated her 30th birthday recently with a visit to La Trappe. I’d only been once, almost a year ago, at the end of the night, and I was a little worried it would be hokier than I remembered–it is in North Beach, after all.

I shouldn’t have worried. The downstairs room is in fact a cozy little grotto, the beer list is extensive, and the grass-fed burgers are vast, the fries crisp, the dipping sauces flavorful (three things I didn’t experience last time).

And the waffles–yum. Very different from the crisp, airy, ethereal wonders that are the cornmeal waffles at Oakland’s Brown Sugar Kitchen, the last place Julie and I shared a waffle. But still, yum. La Trappe’s waffles have crispy edges around creamy centers that taste like there’s banana in the batter. Not enough to turn them into banana waffles, but a complex sweetness. Add syrup, fresh strawberries and blueberries, and cinnamon-kissed whipped cream on top. Delicious!


new favorite neighborhood chinese joint

I have a fondness for Chinese restaurants that is similar to my fondness for Tex-Mex ones. I know you’ve been around a long time, and that people call you mean names (“inauthentic,” “Americanized,” and worse), and that there are trendier options out there, but I still love you for what you are. You were fusion cuisines ahead of your time, and you’ll always be real to me.

Our new favorite Chinese? Eric’s in Noe Valley. We’d tried Alice’s once or twice–it’s six blocks away on our street and pretty solid–but last night when the muse called again, we decided to branch out. And Eric has Alice beat. Pot of hot green tea on the table on a chilly, foggy night: check. Delightfully crisped and gingery potstickers: check. J-P’s Spicy Smoked Pork was smoky and spicy, just as promised, and the the thin-cut everything (pork, leeks, garlic) had great texture. My Sesame Beef, described in the menu as “crispy beef braised in Szechwan sauce” delivered on the crispy promise, which is what really mattered, though it wasn’t as spicy as I had hoped. No problem: the table’s condiments were rice vinegar, soy sauce, and chili oil. I drizzled the latter two over my beef, and heaven. Plus, Eric’s is only three blocks from home.

There was even a proudly framed Michelin recommendation next to our table. Impressive, but the accompanying write-up was funny. The author’s two favorite dishes were the Rainbow Fish, whose advertised white wine sauce with pine nuts just seemed meh when we read the menu, and the crab rangoon, a dish that drives Helen to apoplexy. I know the food I eat is Americanized, but cream cheese?! Not even Chinese Americans cook with cream cheese!

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