Wednesday, October 31, 2007

As long as you're in town.....

Since I know you have to do something else besides eat at NOPA, here's four more new favorite things to do in San Francisco (plus one old favorite)...

1- PRESIDIO YACHT CLUB. This semi-rundown yacht club...but in a cool, old school sort of where the wedding reception took place (the actual wedding took place on a boat out in SF Bay on an exceptional, war, sunny afternoon. Most awesome!). It's at Fort Baker, under the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge. Besides being open on Fri-Sat-Sun to the public (call ahead to make sure they don't have any private events happening) for great, cheap, strong drinks and good draft beer, this place has a unbelievable view of the bay and bridge (at left is the view from their deck) that other bars would kill for. It takes about 15-25 minutes to get there from downtown, and is so worth the drive. I'm courting family trouble by giving away one of w's sisters favorite places, and I have mixed emotions because I would hate to see it get too popular, but this is just too good.

2- 24TH STREET CHEESE COMPANY. Should you find yourself in Noe Valley and in need of some snacking/picnic material, this is a fabulous cheese shop with an awesome selection of cheeses, plus wine, crackers, bread, etc. Everything you need for your outing, in one very well run stop. The staff was vry nice, helpful, and more than willing to sample some of their unusual, delicious cheeses.

3- STORE FRONT DIM SUM IN CHINATOWN. How have I never done this? Stop in one of these innumerable places, check out their selections, point to what you want (or if you're lucky like me, you're with someone who speaks Cantonese. Thanks tummy appreciates your native language skills), and get ready to eat for an insanely cheap price. At my favorite stop, You's Dim Sum, we had shared four different, really good bites (including a fresh out of the kitchen pork bun...yum!!) for just $3.30. On a sunny early afternoon of wandering, there's no better way to eat!

4- LUNCH AT JEANTY AT JACK'S. Before we had to head to the airport, w, sis, and I had lunch at this city outpost of Philippe Jeanty's Yountville restaurant. So very French, so very delicious. Perfect escargots, a terrific steak frites, and the best coq au vin I've had maybe ever. The bottle of '06 Sancerre went down pretty well , too!

5- COCKTAILS AT BIX. Classy but not stuffy, perfect negronis, martinis, and glasses of fizz. Any place that has separate cocktail glasses for their gin and vodka up cocktails works for me. The three of us went after lunch at Jeanty, and what a way to send ourselves off. I could spend waaaay too much time at this bar!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


Today and tomorrow a few tips for all of you who may have trips planned to San Francisco anytime in the near future...or for that matter if you live there and this is new news. w and I just got back from her sister's wedding/drinking & eating fest there, and it was an awesome weekend, filled of course with massive amounts of ingestibles. Starting with one of the best meals I've ever had in "the City", today's highlight (with a couple more coming tomorrow).....

If you know your dates, or if you have a free evening coming up, may I suggest you get on the phone immediately and make reservations at NOPA. Our friend Amy here in Portland turned us on to this incredible place, and it was spectacular!

w giving off some Edward Hopper vibe at Club Deluxe.

Here's how we got to the end of this food marathon: We had rezzies at NOPA for 8, so of course a drink beforehand was in order. We headed to Club Deluxe, a small indie bar at the intersection of Haight/Ashbury. By the way, are the people in this 'hood ever going to get over the 60s or 70s? I mean, how many "smoke" shops do you need in one block? Anyway, Club Deluxe was a really cool retro bar and they served a pretty decent drink, although I would really like my gin gimlet with fresh lime rather than Rose's. Still, a nice spot for a little mood setting moment. Then it was off for a 20 block drive and the usual parking spot derby at NOPA...but where in SF is parking not a nightmare?

The Old Cuban being prepared for our drinking pleasure...slurpy! And the adult refreshment area!

So we showed up about 15 minutes early for our reservation, and since all the bar stools were full, we ended up on the corner back by the open kitchen. Turned out to be very serendipitous. We were slurping a couple of most satisfying drinks, including something they call an Old Cuban, which is kind of a riff on the mojito, not only very attractive but WAY delicious. Standing just at my back was the guy who was expediting orders out of the kitchen. I figured if anyone could give us menu guidance, he was our man. So when he had a break, I turned and asked what we should be taking a look at. Instead of giving me the "look, dude, I'm really busy right now" vibe, he couldn't have been nicer. Shoulda known it was NOPA owner Laurance Jossel who was working it right behind me. Very cool guy, incredibly proud of his locally sourced, organic ingredients, and the best menu guide we could've hoped for. After soaking in his wisdom we headed for our table to soak up our remaining cocktails and starters of Olive Oil Poached Albacore Tuna; a salad of Fuyu Persimmon, Peppercress, Walnuts, Pomegranates, and Blue Cheese; and their Flatbread of House Smoked Bacon, Caramelized Onions, Gruyere, and Radicchio which the guy sitting directly to me left was pimping hard. Turns out he was a good guy to listen to, as he was Ravi Kapur, who when he's not chowing down at NOPA is chef de cuisine (meaning he runs the kitchen) at SF icon Boulevard. Again a super nice guy to talk to, and he was spot on about the flatbread, which was like getting a whole smoky, piggy pizza. Also, the poached tuna absolutely killed, and I thought it was the best of the starters (although the others were excellent as well). Oh, and Laurence also sent us over a side of their über-delicious french fries with a roasted red pepper-feta dip that were really nice. A little thicker cut, yet crisp outside and perfectly ender, and not to be too redundant, but very potato-ey inside. Plus there is no fear of salt here, which is always a good thing!

The Olive Oil Poached Tuna starter.

Then it was time to turn our attention to the main events, in w's case a plate of Duck Leg Confit and Seared Duck Breast. w is a huge confit fan, but in this case the duck breast rocked the tender, perfectly cooked, Whoever's raising his bird is doing it right. Then of course there was my Country Pork Chop with Scarlet Runner Beans, Philo Gold Apples, and Greens which Laurence had been pushing when I was up at the counter, and Ravi chimed in about how good it was. Since I'm usually not one to argue with world class chefs, I went with it. Holy shit!! This shoulder cut chop was THE BEST piece of roast pork I've put in my mouth. So succulent and tender, savory and set off perfectly by the tender cooked Philo apples. Crazy!!

Pigging out on the Country Pork Chop...awesome!!

Just ducky!

Then of course since too much is never enough, we went with dessert. One of the items on the menu, their Caramelized Apple and Cheddar Crisp also came with a scoop of Parmigiano-Reggiano Gelato, so you know I had to try that. Pretty out there with the Parma gelato, but not bad. We also ordered the pear Upside Down Cake with Honey Mascarpone which was a sensual knockout, and by mistake they also sent out a Pecan Tart with Salted Caramel Ice Cream. It actually was an error by our waiter, but when we pointed out that we hadn't ordered it, Laurence was basically "ah screw it, send it over" so he did and we LOVED it. Pecan pie on steroids, and the salted ice cream was so luscious...again, crazy stuff!

Oh, and the very well chosen wine list was filled with interesting bottles, both red and white, for any budget. I took along a bottle of 2000 Westrey "Reserve" Pinot Noir that was drinking absolutely perfectly and was well worth NOPA's $20 corkage fee.

You can really taste the local love in this food, not only in Laurence's culinary skill set, but in the customer vibe, too. Apparently NOPA is also a fave with local chefs, because when Ravi left, into his seat plopped the pastry chef from local hotspot Crush. When other restaurants are giving Chef-love it's always a good indicator, and this is place you've got to be hitting. Major thanks and props to Laurence and his wife/partner for treating us so well, and making some of the best SF chow I've ever had!!

The NOPA entrée menu (click on image to enlarge)

Friday, October 26, 2007

Where's the beef? Not here!

No one....wait, make that NO ONE...loves a good hamburger more than I do. Locally, I totally get off on the beefy discs served up at Castagna (the best...and the fries...holy shit!!) and new entrant Cava over on SE Foster. But since I get most of my beef burger on at those and other spots, at home w and I are huge fans of the occasional turkey burger, of course grilled over some charcoal year 'round. But you can't just go and buy some ground turkey at your local market, flatten a few burgers out, cook the shit out of it, and expect any sort of reward.

Turkey, as I hope everyone knows, is a culinary vehicle that needs other tasty bits along for the ride to give it some flavor interest. Imagine your thanksgiving bird with no herbs, salt, or pepper, just slapped down on the table all pale and unappealing. Same goes for t-burgers. On the other hand, you don't want to do to throw too much paint on that blank canvas or you'll end up with a very unappealing mess, the edible equivalent of a Jackson Pollack painting (okay, I admit it, I just don't get his stuff. I can't believe a paint laden five year old throwing a temper tantrum couldn't come up with something close.), with no turkey flavor showing under the culinary confusion. So with that, may I humbly suggest the following all-to-easy, and oh-so-satisfying, solution. I paired mine with a green salad and my beloved roast fingerling potatoes.

Chopper's Favorite Turkey Burger
makes 3 burgers

1 pound ground turkey, preferably all dark meat
3 tablespoons barbeque sauce
3/8 teaspoon garlic powder
Salt and pepper
Good buns....they're worth it, okay? Besides, the rest is so cheap, it's worth the upgrade!

In a medium bowl mix ground turkey with barbeque sauce and garlic powder. Form 3 patties about 1/2" thick. Liberally salt and pepper both sides. Grill over high for about four minutes per side for medium (medium rare turkey burgers are not too appealing, but also neither are overdone hockey pucks). When done to desired doneness, remove from heat and let rest on a plate, loosely covered with foil. While burgers rest, toast buns over fire.

The rest is up to you, as turkey burgers take well to all the usual beef burger condiments!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

You CAN always get what you want.......

What if you could have whatever you wanted, whenever you wanted? Imagine the possibilities. GWB would wake up one morning and decide to "establish" yet another democracy and alienate the other half of the world without any pesky questions. Senator Larry Craig could have the run of airport restrooms around the country where he could "borrow more toilet paper". And for a long time I would gladly have had at my beck and call a plate of Portland's 3 Doors Down Café's iconic dish of Penne alla Vodka, the best version of this homey Italian classic I have ever had. Sadly, for so long it was not to be, and I could only have it at the restaurant. I would go there for one of my regular visits and ignore the rest of the menu, which is awesome by the way, just so I could get my fix. Then one day a couple of years ago, I was looking up their phone number on their website, and came across the "recipe" tab. click later, magically the rest of their menu opened up to me, because now I can make my beloved 3DD PaV at home! Now I could actually try something else on their menu when I walked in their doors. Just so you know, nobody knows roast chicken like chef/owner Dave Marth!

Yesterday, I found myself with the 3 hours necessary to make this staggeringly luscious and addictive pasta for dinner, and once again I blessed Al Gore for inventing the internet so I could make this discovery. And with all due respect to Mick Jagger, sometimes you can always get what you want!

If you're looking for a pasta dish that is guaranteed to make your friends worship your culinary skills, this is it. It's incredibly easy, and the reward given to effort expended ratio is off the charts!
Penne alla Vodka
from 3 Doors Down Cafe

1 Cup Vodka

6 Mild Italian Link Sausages

1 Cup Whipping Cream

2 Tbl Unsalted Butter

1 & 1/2 Tbl Tomato Paste

1 Medium Onion, Chopped

1 Lb Penne Pasta

1 Tsp Red Pepper Flakes

1 Cup Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese
56 Oz Canned Italian Tomatoes
Fresh, Chopped Oregano, For Sprinkling


In a large pot, bring water to boil. Add the sausage links and boil for 10 minutes. Remove the links and set aside. In a heavy-bottomed sauté pan or skillet, melt the butter and add onion and red pepper flakes. Cook over medium-low heat until onion is translucent. Stir in the whole tomatoes with liquid and simmer for one hour. Add the sausage links and vodka and continue to cook at a simmer for another hour. Turn the heat to high, add cream and tomato paste and stir constantly for 10 minutes. Reduce to simmer and continue to cook for another 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Meanwhile, bring 4 quarts of water to boil in a large pot. Drop the pasta in the boiling water and cook, stirring frequently until molto al dente (about 1 minute from al dente-which is tender but firm to the bite). Drain well and toss pasta and sauce in casserole dish with 2/3 cup grated cheese. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle the remaining 1/3 cup cheese on top. Sprinkle with oregano and serve. Make sure to serve with a nice crusty Italian como or ciabatta bread for dunking in the sauce. We like to drizzle a tiny bit of extra virgin Olive oil over the top right before serving. This is a great dish for company.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Kindness of Strangers

So it's cranking here at the wine shack, it's 2pm and I haven't had anything to eat since my 9am apple. My blood sugar has dropped below the limits set by my body for civil behavior to others. Meltdown is moments away, reason is being abandoned, and physical attacks against customers are an all too real possibility. Then, out of nowhere, my savior appears in the form of Cory, who bestowed the chocolatey discs of deliciousness that you see to the left. Now I've never met Cory before, but somehow she divined my desperation. Apparently she lives in the neighborhood, reads my occasional rants in this space, and wanted to share her particular skill set and thought I might like these. Um, Cory...when you read this...I LOVE these! For a stranger to do something like that is pretty awesome, but when that stranger just had a new baby a week ago, and somehow found time between recovering from childbirth, feeding and changing the baby, not sleeping, and keeping track of her other kid, I've gotta say I'm pretty knocked out. So Cory, since sharing is caring, bring me your cookie recipe to post here, because these are SO good that I think others would enjoy them, don't you? Oh, and thanks!

Cory came through on her comment below, but to save you a couple clicks, here's the recipe:

World Peace Cookies
(Chocolate chunk butter cookies with sea salt)
from Dorie Geenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup (1 stick) plus 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel or 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt1 teaspoon pure vanilla
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into chips, or a generous 3/4 cup store-bought mini-chocolate chips


Sift the flour, cocoa and baking soda together.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add both sugars, the salt and vanilla and beat for 2 minutes more.

Turn off the mixer. Pour in the dry ingredients, drape a kitchen towel over the stand mixer to protect yourself and your kitchen from flying flour and pulse the mixer at low speed about 5 times, a second or two each time. Take a peek; if a lot of flour is still on the surface of the dough, pulse a couple of times more; if not, remove the towel. Continuing at low speed, mix for about 30 seconds more, just until the flour disappears into the dough. For the best texture, work the dough as little as possible once the flour is added, and don't be concerned if the dough looks a little crumbly. Toss in the chocolate pieces and mix only to incorporate.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface, gather it together and divide it in half. Working with one half at a time, shape the dough into logs that are 11/2 inches in diameter. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate them for at least 3 hours. (The dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months. If you've frozen the dough, you needn't defrost it before baking -- just slice the logs into cookies and bake the cookies 1 minute longer.)

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.

Using a sharp, thin knife, slice the logs into rounds that are 1/2 inch thick. (The rounds are likely to crack as you're cutting them; don't be concerned, just squeeze the bits back onto each cookie.) Arrange the rounds on the baking sheets, leaving about 1 inch between them.

Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 12 minutes -- they won't look done, nor will they be firm, but that's just the way they should be; they'll firm up and become more sandy-crumbly as they cool. Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack and let the cookies rest until they are only just warm, at which point you can serve them or let them reach room temperature.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Getting Juiced!

When it comes to cooking or making your favorite refreshing juice-based cocktail, efficiency is key. Efficiency, and for those of us without dishwashers, ease of cleaning. I don't usually pimp products here, but ever since I saw this in Gourmet I wanted it. Plus I admit to a certain unhealthy fascination with new kitchen gadgets. Then a few weeks ago w came walking in the door with one after a Target shopping spree, and after one use I was a believer. Sure, I'd like one of those fancy countertop juicers, but at a couple hundred bucks a pop my money is better spent elsewhere, like on more food and Tanqueray! Plus they take up valuable counter space, and in our square foot deprived kitchen, every inch counts. At ten bucks a pop it's ridiculously cheap, and with its non-skid rubberized bottom, clean pouring, and super ease of clean up, very well thought out. And it beats the hell out my my hand reamer, where I was left fishing seeds out of the juice when I was done. Trust me, get one, and you can thank me later!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Marcella Rules!

If Marcella says it's her favorite fish dish, then who am I to argue? Oh, for the uninitiated, uncaring, and people who need a drastic upgrade in their quality of life, that would be Marcella Hazan, goddess of all that is Italian and edible. I was paging through the September '07 issue of Food & Wine in bed the other night before sleep so I could dream about my next meal and came across her recipe for Marinated Fish with Salmoriglio Sauce. Apparently about 30 years ago Marcella and hubby Victor, no slouch himself in the kitchen and wine cellar, were on Sicily in the resort town of Taormina and came across this dish which knocked her support hose off. No mean feat. She says ever since that first revelatory bite it's been a staple in her home, her classes, everywhere. That's good enough for me, so tonight it was time to put it to the test. Bottom line, score another one for Marcella! The salmoriglio sauce had this perfumey aroma from the fresh thyme, with that nice lemon juice and dijon tang and rich, creamy flavor. We had it with halibut, but I think it would be even better with fresh wild-caught salmon or swordfish. Plus, this was a super easy recipe and gave huge return on little effort. Immediately a regular in my repertoire, I can't wait to make it again.
Oh, and I opened a bottle of Meursault "Les Clous" with it, because I brought one home form the wine shack that I had to try. Now I am pretty much a white Burgundy slut, and if I'm slurping chardonnay, I want it to be just like this. Rich, creamy, butterscotchy-apple flavors, brilliant acidity and presence on the palate, which a sauce this flavorful needs. Not my everyday drinker, but it was here and needed my attention!

Salmoriglio sauce


Marinated Fish with Salmoriglio Sauce
from Marcella Hazan
serves 4


For Fish:

White vinegar

2 pounds fish fillets, such as wild salmon, arctic char, ruby trout or halibut, with or without skin.
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup fine, dry bread crumbs

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Salmoriglio Sauce:

2 tablespoons thyme leaves

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil


1. Prepare the Fish: Pour a little vinegar over the fish fillets, then rinse them under cold, running water. Pat the fillets dry with paper towels and arrange them on an ovenproof glass or ceramic platter. Rub a little salt over the skinless sides of the fillets and sprinkle with the lemon juice. Spread half of the bread crumbs over the fillets and drizzle them with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil; turn the fillets and repeat with the remaining bread crumbs and olive oil. Cover and let marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, make the Salmoriglio Sauce: In a mini food processor, combine the thyme leaves, lemon juice, mustard and salt. Pulse for 1 minute. Add the butter and process until completely smooth. With the machine on, add the olive oil in a thin, constant stream until fully incorporated. Season the sauce with salt and pour into a sauceboat.

3. Preheat the oven to 400° or light a grill. Bake the fish on the platter until just cooked through, about 12 to 15 minutes. Alternatively, grill the fish, skin side down for skin-on fillets, for about 5 minutes; turn the fillets and grill just until they flake, about 4 minutes longer. Transfer the fish to a platter. Pour the salmoriglio sauce over the fish fillets and serve.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Portland to the Piedmont in one night!

I'm back from blog-hiatus, and with a stellar offer for all of you living in Portland. For the rest of you, should you find yourselves with plans to visit our fair city, pay attention. Here's the deal: In the next five minutes or so you spend reading this, you can have an extra $3,000 in your pocket! I know, pretty fucking crazy, right? Check it out....

About four months ago w and I took a trip to the Piedmont region of Italy for some serious eating and drinking research. The wine was incredible, and the Piedmontese cuisine was completely off the hook. We pine for it all the time. Including a few days in the Cinque Terre and five days in Paris (BTW-you can read all the delicious details by going back in the blog archives to late April/early May 2007), and the fact that our wallets were bludgeoned by the Euro-dollar beatdown, we dropped a few thousand each. Any of you with plans for the same trip, get your finances in order. So what about that 3G savings deal? Here's all you have to do: Get in your car, drive about 10-20 minutes out to 6440 SW Capitol Highway here in PDX, and dig in to owner/chef Kurt Spak's dead-on Piedmontese creations at his sublimely satisfying restaurant Alba Osteria. This is food as good as anything you'll eat in town, and measures up to the best meals we had on our Italian sojourn.

Where to begin? How about with a couple of glasses of fizzy prosecco and a dish of perfectly prepared fritto misto, lightly battered and fried Willapa Bay oysters and shrimp with a fennel salad. Then to go old/new school surf and turf, we also had a plate of Kurt's exceptional carne cruda, which is fresh, lean, raw chopped beef with lemon, olive oil, and Reggiano. Why most chefs seem to fear this dish and lack faith in their customers sense of adventure I have no idea. Our waiter Jeff said they sell tons of it, so obviously it's not a customer problem. And besides, it is something I LOVE, so get with it you guys!

We followed those 2 plates of satisfaction with their baked sweet peppers with Oregon albacore, anchovy, and olive oil. This was fantastic, beautifully presented, perfectly balanced. And with a glass of Arneis, the signature white from the Piedmont, it was swoon-worthy.

Now, when we were in the Piedmont, we had some crazy multi-course feasts that went on for two to three hours, which is the only way you can eat that much food. We were going for the same effect at Alba, and next time I think I'd tell Kurt we wee in no hurry, and space the dishes a little further apart. I know most Americans freak out if one plate doesn't slap down on the table the moment they're done with their last dish, but with this kind of cooking, it's all about pace, taking the time to enjoy each bite, and the nuances and subtleties of flavor. Even without that pacing, we were going for it this night, so our next plate out was a shared dish of ricotta gnocchi with chanterelles and cream. Oh, man, perfectly pillowy gnocchis blanketed in a luscious mushroom cream sauce that made me want to curl up with them. So good, not heavy at all, just seasonal satisfaction at it's finest.

There was more on the menu, so we had to keep going. w had their fish special of mushroom stuffed trout which she loved, but sadly by then couldn't finish due to all the indulgence. I had the Alba pork fest, aka an incredible plate of slow roasted pork belly, cotechino sausage, and a Grive Monferrato which was an amazing pork and pork liver sausage patty. All this served with some silky smooth potato puree. Oh, and I had brought a bottle out of the archives of 1997 Ausario Barbaresco that was perfection, slowly opening to reveal it's rich, ripe, earthy blackberry fruit. Wow!

Then, despite w's admittedly weak objections because she loves it as much as I do, we had his gelato trio. Three scoops of house made hazelnut, vanilla, and caramel gelato that were creamy goodness defined, and left us stuffed, satisfied, and deciding that if we can't be in Italy, this isn't a bad way to go.

We talked with Kurt for a few minutes on our way out, and you can't help but feel his passion and commitment. He takes regular trips to the Piedmont with his sous chef to recharge and keep up with what's happening, and then comes back and dishes it like nobody else. This is the best Italian food in town, and as good as anything I've had at any Italian restaurant in the country. Yeah, it's that good. Plus, those 3G's in my pocket are feeling pretty good!