Thursday, July 28, 2005

San Diego Eats

We've been in San Diego, and had a few meals of note.

Via Italia is an Italian trattoria stuck in what was formerly the most depressing shopping mall ever (Clairemont Square), now gussied up with some brightly colored stucco but still an odd place for a restaurant that has better Italian food than most of the slick and expensive places in the Gaslamp. This is Italian food like you get in Italy--fresh, simple, good ingredients. I'm annoyed that nobody told us about it when we lived here. I had a pizza bianca with porcini and parmesan. Debbie had gnocchi with an olive puree sauce. I started with a caprese, which is just fresh tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil. Add a little oil and vinegar, and it's delicious as long as the tomatoes are good, which these ones were. Debbie had a salad of arugula, prosciutto, and parmesan, as featured previously in this blog.

We had breakfast at Hash House a Go Go in Hillcrest. Big food lives! It's the place to go for a huge breakfast in a kitchen run by a pro. Stuart had a Snickers flapjack bigger than his head (he ate about 1/3 of it). The Tractor Driver's lunch fed both Liz and Catherine, with food left over. I had smoked salmon benedict, which is an amazing architectural pile on a long plate, with things sticking out of it (fried shrimp tentacles, maybe?), roasted asparagus and a chile cream sauce. The benedict was tasty, but I think I'd get something else next time--it was a bit of a muddle, and "cream sauce" and "hollandaise" aren't the same thing, man. Good coffee. Lunch and dinner have gotten good reviews as well.

I had a frankly disappointing carne asada burrito at the Roberto's on Convoy. The meat was mushy, the guacamole was brown. I might have to stop by my old 'hood standby, Don Lucio II, before I leave. Arturo wouldn't let me down.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Araucanas or Ameraucanas, or something

Araucanas are a breed of chicken known for their colored eggs. The eggs are usually shades of green or blueish-green. I've also heard of lavender eggs, though that might be a farmyard legend, because I've never seen a picture of one. A few months ago we got some araucana chicks from Bay Hay and Feed. We didn't know what exact shade of egg color we'd get from them, until yesterday, when we got our first green egg.

Araucana Egg

Poking around the breed pages, it looks like we have either Ameraucanas or what the breed-club people would call "mongrels," but I usually find breed-club people to be very silly. (Have you ever seen a true breed-standard Siamese cat, with the tiny head?) The egg color got washed out in this photo:

Araucana Chicken and Egg

Blueberry Pudding Cake

Blueberries are really good right now, and are around $8 for a 2.5lb box (not an amazing bargain, but a decent price) at the T&C. Stuart ate most of a box last night (he ought to get plenty of anti-oxidants) but Debbie picked up another one today. Tonight Debbie made the Blueberry Pudding Cake featured on the cover of this month's (July 2005) Gourmet. It was really good. The Gourmet food stylists and photographers took a really appetizing picture, but mine looks more like what actually comes out. Doesn't look like much, but really good. Wait! Stop! Let it cool a bit. It was better after about 15 minutes than straight from the oven. The recipe says, "serves 6 to 8." Uh...

Blueberry Pudding Cake served

Saturday, July 16, 2005


I've never been to Babbo, mostly because I haven't made it to New York in a really long time. I do have Mario Batali's most recent cookbook, though, and have made a couple of dishes from it, using meat from Mario Batali's dad's salumeria/deli in Seattle, Salumi. This week I finally made it to Salumi for lunch--it's only opened 20 hours a week, and I'm usually at work when it's open. We missed the ferry we had originally planned to take, so we didn't make there until around noon, which meant that we stood in the line that snakes out the door and onto the sidewalk. Once you get inside the door, it starts smelling really good. You order at the counter, and then if you're eating in you can find a spot at one of the tables. There are a couple of little tables and one long table. There are lots of people in line at lunchtime, but there was table space available because so many people take theirs "to go." They serve sandwiches, platters o' meat, and various other items. I had a porchetta sandwich, served on a baguette, which was really good. It wasn't quite as good as the one I had at that stand (where WAS that stand, and could I find it again?) in Florence, probably because the latter was just cut off the pig and served on one of those round Italian rolls rather than a baguette. Debbie had the Salumi Platter, which had various cured meats, some gorgonzola, fresh house-made mozzarella, some hard cheese (parmesan?), some olives, and a bit of bread. We also had a plate of roasted red and yellow peppers. They do sell wine, served in 1.5l bottles on the table--grab a tumbler and go for it. Magnifico!

Moonstruck in Portland

On our Portland roadtrip, we stopped in at Moonstruck Chocolate Café on NW 23rd Ave. Even though it was not exactly hot chocoloate weather, we shared two kinds of hot chocolate (they have about 8), the Mayan, with cinnamon, and Ocumarian, which was a rich, dark chocolate with a touch of chile pepper. The Mayan was pleasant enough, but the Ocumarian was amazing--there was just enough chile to give it a slight hot undertone sort of like that sharpness you get with very dark chocolate amplified just a bit. We also took away some of their truffles, and a Chile Variado chocolate bar. The Ocumarian truffle was like the hot chocolate, but I thought the chocolate bar overdid the chile a bit.


We brought home an English Garden truffle collection to save for an opportune moment, but the kids (now returned from summer camp) browbeat us into sharing it.

A Few Bainbridge Restaurants

A few quick Bainbridge restaurant notes:

Cafe Nola: pretty good casual spot, with a very pleasant interior. Recently the lunch menu seems to have dropped anything that requires actual real-time skill to cook, leaving sandwiches, soups, and salads. The sandwiches are mostly pretty good. Dinner is a bit more elaborate. The kitchen can sometimes swing-and-miss, but it's usually done well. Here's Debbie's Focaccia Rosti with portobello mushrooms, artichoke hearts, and goat cheese:


Shima Garden Sushi is a Japanese restaurant that opened this year. They use organic ingredients, and have some interesting takes on sushi. They use a mix of white and purple rice ("heathier and pretty!" said the waitress) in the sushi, which gives it a lavender color. They make interesting vegetable sushi out of things like kabocha squash. And, they make the best sumonomo seafood salad we've ever tried: three kinds of seaweed (including pink seaweed), cucumbers, and a huge pile of crabmeat:


We ate at Isla Bonita on Winslow Way, which serves decent Mexican food. I had a plate of machaca, and it was not bad. Debbie had the tortilla soup, which was not very inspired. We also ate at San Carlos on Madison, which does its own interpretation of Mexican cuisine, and does it pretty well. A few months ago we tried Casa Rojas, which I thought was sub-par.

Portland Road Trip: Jake's Famous Crawfish

Crawfish Boil, not mine

My dad and stepmom moved to Portland a couple of weeks ago, so we spent the night in Portland to visit and see their new house. They live in a cute 1920s bungalow a couple of miles northeast from downtown, and a few blocks to the light rail.

For dinner we went to Jake's Famous Crawfish, which is one of those "institutions" that has been there forever. It's now apparently part of the McCormick and Schmick chain. Dad told the waiter "this is a shitty restaurant," and indeed, it was.

Update: I've noticed a few people getting to this page via Google, so maybe I should say something about why I wasn't impressed with Jake's. What flew Dad off the handle was the price of the wine: nothing under $30/bottle. What I didn't like was the food. I ordered Halibut, and was served a meager little slice of so-so Halibut with some OK vegetables and maybe some mashed potatoes on the side. For $25, I'd like a bit more fish, and I'd like it prepared with a litte more care. Debbie had some sort of seafood ravioli which was unmemorable. Dad had Sand Dabs, I think, and they were, again, not awful but nothing to write home about. Restaurants that put this much emphasis on seafood really need to have their seafood together. Tadich's Grill in SF is another old-school fish house from 100+ years ago, but somehow they manage to serve good fish after all these years. I'm sure Seattle has some old-tyme seafood restaurants, but around here it seems you can't get away with serving mediocre fish when there are so many restaurants with very straightforward but well-executed fish menus.


Last week our kids were both at camp, so we took an opportunity to get out a bit. On Monday night we went to Campagne, which is a French restaurant at the Pike Place market. The restaurant is much nicer than the website, which has annoying scrolling images.

The room is not large, and has some windows with views out to the market and the sound (I could see a sliver of sound from where I sat) but I wouldn't categorize it as a "view" restaurant. The maître d' and waitstaff were very competent if restrained in that French sort of way. The menu tends towards bistro fare, done in an upscale manner.

I started with a salad of butter lettuce and watercress with salt-cured mackerel with a verjus vinaigrette. The vinaigrette was creamier than I expected, but tasted good. There were small pieces of mackerel, pale yellow and a bit hard to see amidst the dressed lettuce, but the combination was very nice. Debbie had a charcuterie plate, which had some of the tastiest paté de campagne I've had.

For a main course, I decided to have the steak frites. The steak was an onglet (hanger steak), served with anchovy butter. I asked for it rare, and it came very rare, just like I wanted it. The butter was chock full of anchovy goodness, and I smeared it on the steak as soon as it arrived. I guess they serve it on the side for the squeamish. The fries are fried in duck fat. I have to say, I've had fries both here, and in France, in lots of different places, and these were the best fries I've ever had, bar none--golden, delicate, flavorful. Debbie had the salade Niçoise, which was done using fresh tuna grilled rare, rather than canned tuna. I gather using canned tuna is more traditional, and it's what we got in Nice, but I think it's a lot better with fresh tuna.

For dessert, I went for the tarte aux pèches, a little peach tart with cardamom ice cream. I decided that this would go really well with a glass of Sauternes, which indeed it did. The ice cream was amazing--just enough cardamom to give it a good flavor without hitting one over the head. The tart dough was soft as silk. Debbie had the crêpes au citron. They were served with a lemon coulis that had a really deep lemony flavor.

Summary: highly recommended. I don't think I'd show up without reservations, as the dining room doesn't have very many tables.


Last week we went to Lola, the newest restaurant in Tom Douglas's Seattle food empire. Lola advertises itself as "greek-inspired," and indeed much of the menu has a greek influence, though much of it has a more middle-eastern flavor.

This is the third Tom Douglas restaurant I've been to, and they all seem to share certain features: well-prepared, interesting food, comfortable, funky-cool interiors, and very competent, pleasant, and personable staff. It definitely takes effort to keep that up across several restaurants, and Douglas pulls it off.

We started with a couple of the spreads and some pita. We chose the minty feta spread and the tzatziki. Note that the latter comes as a side with the dolmades, so if you're ordering the dolmades and some spreads, choose another one unless you want a lot of tzatsiki. The pita was the fluffy greek kind, not the thinner "pocket" kind from the levant. It was lightly grilled and drizzled with olive oil, and was very yummy.

The dolmades were perhaps the tastiest we've ever had. Dolmades are grape leaves stuffed with rice and other ingredients. I think ours had currants in them. They were very fresh tasting, with a sweet-herby flavor.

For a main course, we shared a tagine of goat, apples, and garbanzo beans. It was phenomenally good. The goat was extremely tender and flavorful, not as strong tasting as the goat I've had in birria at Mexican restaurants in East Oakland. It also had some sauteed greens. For a side dish we had horta, which was a bowl of red chard and pea tendrils, which tasted like it had a bit of vinegar to add some kick.

For dessert, I had the "donuts," which were basically what I always wanted the loukomades that you get at Greek festivals to be: warm yeasty golden-fried balls served with honey and walnuts. I mentioned the comparison to Victoria, our waitress (who was really great and lots of fun) and she told me that they used to call them loukomades on the menu, but nobody would order them. Debbie had the goat milk pie, which was really good also.

All in all, a great meal: fabulous food, great service, fun atmosphere.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Garlic Party

The Persephone Farms CSA to which we belong had a garlic-cleaning party last night on the farm in Indianola. People brought mostly garlic-heavy potluck dishes to share. Debbie made chicken with olives, saffron, preserved lemons, and of course garlic--elephant garlic from last week's Persephone Farms share--yum!
Garlic needs to be clean before it's dried out for storage, or it will rot. We all sat around in a big circle, about two dozen of us, yakked and drank wine and ate each other's food, and peeled off the outer, dirty layers of the garlic, revealing the nice white clean inner portion. We cleaned a lot of garlic--at least three different kinds plus some elephant garlic. Some portion of the garlic bulbs were "rejects": they had either little bit of rot at the stem end or exposed cloves, so they weren't going to store well. Unfortunately I failed to bring my camera to photograph the beautiful bundles of just-cleaned garlic, and the good time that was had by all. Here is a picture of some "rejects" that we got to take home:
They'll need to be used in the next few weeks, but I think we're up to the challenge.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Sri Chinmoy Has a Posse

Silence-Heart-Nest is a vegetarian restaurant in the Fremont district, run by disciples of Sri Chinmoy. The servers are nice middle-aged women wearing saris. I avoid things like "bacon" that doesn't contain pork and other faux-food products, so I tried the "Center of the Universe Scramble", which was eggs, mushrooms, spinach, and jack cheese, served with dry toast and home fries. The eggs were decent, a bit on the dry and flaccid side, needed salt, nothing to write home about. The mushrooms and especially the onions could have been cooked a lot longer and more slowly and gotten more caramelized. The potatoes were spiced with something vaguely south-asian, though not very assertive, and were pretty good. Maybe if I go back I should try something off of the lunch menu instead...but not a "B"LT.

Monday, July 04, 2005


Gravlax is one of my favorite salmon preparations--the salmon is cured in sugar, salt, and herbs (usually pepper and dill) for a few days. It's sort of like smoked salmon or lox, in that it's cooked by curing rather than by heat, but it has a different flavor and texture--not quite as oily as smoked salmon, and a more translucent and delicate. I think the lineage of this method comes from burying salmon on a sandy beach in Nordic waters until it gets preserved by the brine, or so I've read. Salmon season is going strong in the northwest, so there's lots of very fresh and beautiful wild-caught salmon in the markets. Our friends Demi, Eric and their girls were coming over on Saturday night, so we decided to make some gravlax. I stopped by Pure Food Fish in the Pike Place market on Wednesday afternoon after work and bought a whole wild-caught King salmon. The guys at Pure Food Fish fileted the fish for me when I bought it. I don't think this is something that should be attempted with skanky farmed salmon filets that have been sitting in a styrofoam tray wrapped in plastic in the supermarket!
On Wednesday night, we prepared the gravlax. We started out with the fileted salmon.
Salmon Filets
There are varying opinions on the proportions of sugar to salt. We ended up following the Mark Bittman's advice from How to Cook Everything: 2 cups of sugar to 1 cup of salt, though he calls for brown sugar, and we used white sugar. The sugar and salt are mixed with some cracked black pepper, and that gets rubbed into both sides of the filets.
Adding sugar, salt, and pepper
Then Debbie added 1/4 cup Hangar One Buddha's Hand Citron vodka, which is amazing vodka that's handmade in a hangar on the old airbase in Alameda, California.
Adding Hangar One Buddha's Hand Citron Vodka
Finally, we added a couple of bunches of roughly chopped dill in between and on top of the filets, wrapped them in plastic, and then weighted them down with something heavy (we used rocks from the garden). They stayed in the fridge for a day.
Ready to weight and refrigerate
After a day the weights came off, and we basted the filets with the accumulated liquid that gets wicked out of the salmon by the brine. After two or three days, the filets get translucent and firm. At this point, we took the filets out and rinsed off all of the liquid and dill. I don't have a proper knife for slicing cured fish. My first attempt used a chef's knife, which didn't work very well because the blade is too wide and the fish sticks to it. It could have been prettier, but tasted amazing.
We served one filet that night, with dense black bread and big round flat rye crackers from the Swedish store in Ballard, along with mustard-dill sauce that Debbie made. With it we drank a Chardonnay from Navarro. After the gravlax we had a butterflied leg of lamb with a coarse tapenade of olives, pine nuts, and basil. The trick for the lamb is to cook it over indirect coals until almost done, let it sit for about 20 minutes, and then cook it for another few minutes over direct heat. Dessert was pound cake and ice cream with Suyematsu Farms (local) raspberries, raspberry coulis made from the leftovers of the previous 1/2 flat of the same raspberries, and chocolate and caramel sauces from Fran's.