Embarrassment of riches

Posted by Cameron on 08.18.06 6:13 PM

carnitas taco (c)2006 AECSomehow, this became the week of braised meat. In addition to the oxtails mentioned previously, I made carnitas.

I didn’t really grok carnitas until very recently, and I certainly wasn’t capable of cooking good ones until I found this recipe. It’s my all-time favorite Internet find for three reasons: It’s practically idiot-proof, it really works, and right in the middle it reminds you to call your mom.

That said, I often feel odd when I cook carnitas. I live near the Mission district in San Francisco, and there are roughly 2.3 million taquerias within a mile of my house. In fact, some of the best carnitas that I’ve ever had are at the taqueria that Anita and I consider our “local.” For an investment of five minutes and two dollars paid to a local business, I can get a carnitas taco that doesn’t have to step aside for anyone. Compare that with $15 or more, plus five hours of cooking. Given, it’s easy time that you can do other things with and it makes the house smell great, but five hours is five hours.

This is the same kind of thinking that eventually made me pull the plug on brewing my own beer. The scale was a little different: three days of work scattered across six or eight weeks of waiting, plus time spent cleaning and storing the gear. But the theory was the same, and the argument was completely insupportable when I could go down to the store and buy a six-pack from local boys who done good.

But what I suspect it comes down to is that I like to do things that I’m good at, even if they’re completely superfluous. Much to my chagrin — as it seems like something that a competent man should be able to do — I was never very good at brewing beer. But I can say with a total lack of modesty that my carnitas kick ass.

beer, cooking, literary, meat, Mexican, The Mission


Drink of the week: Currier

Posted by Anita on 08.18.06 6:57 AM

currier cocktail (c)2006 AECAnother one from Murray — I promise next week we’ll come up with something on our own, but this one’s too good.

2 oz. medium-body bourbon
1/2 oz. Kummel (caraway-cumin liqueur)
1/4 oz. fresh lime juice
1/4 oz. Rose’s Lime Juice

Shake with ice, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Murray found the Currier in the old Playboy Bar Guide. He sent it on to Simon Difford, who says he likes it so well he’s including it in the next Diffordsguide.

Drink of the Week, drinks, recipes


Downtown farmerbrown

Posted by Anita on 08.17.06 11:56 AM

farmerbrown waterglass (c)2006 AECFinding ourselves without dinner plans — and seriously in need of both comfort food and cocktails — we decided to try out farmerbrown. (Or is it “farmer brown”? Even they can’t decide: it’s farmerbrown on the sign and the site, and farmer_brown on the door.)

Anyway… Our man Brown — or his real-life counterpart, chef-owner Jay Foster — seems to be a heckuva guy, and we figured we’d like his stuff. Any place that boasts of “farm-fresh cocktails” can’t be all bad, and Foster makes a big deal about supporting local and African-American farmers. Cool beans.

Realizing that fb is a hot ticket, we called ahead to make sure we could get in. Cameron tried first, and got no answer… even though it was 5:20 and the restaurant opens at 5. I tried a bit later, and got an answer on the first ring. I said that I realized it was late, but wondered if they had space for 2 at 6:30; the hostess said they did.

I arrived at 6:25 and was asked to take a seat at the bar until the rest of my party arrived. Which would have been a lovely idea, as I spied some vodka infusions that looked interesting, except there were no seats to be had. Luckily, Cameron walked in just at 6:30. The hostess seated us at a 2-top table right in the doorway, and asked “Is this OK?” I asked if we could get something a little less in the middle of traffic, so the hostess checked the books and seated us along the banquette near the door — good enough.

But then, just as we were settling in with menus and napkins, she came back and, with no apology, tells us that, oops, she made a mistake, that table’s reserved for a large party. We followed her to the rear of the restaurant where two different tables had to move so that we would be shoehorned into our seats. Harumph.

OK, so… menu at last. Looks like it does online: Hopped-up versions of soul-food classics. We snarkily pointed out multiple typos to one another (like “dungenss” and “pickeled”) but otherwise liked what we saw. Water arrived in cute little canning jars, with a mint-spiked carafe for refills. The cocktail list is short, but balanced and in tune with the theme. The beer list is impressive — only five taps, but the closest thing to a generic brew was Anchor Steam — and mostly local. We chose a bourbon sidecar and a mint julep, which both were reasonably well made, served in stemless cocktail glasses over far too much ice.

After placing our food order, the runner brought us a plate of mini-breads: a pair of nice cornbead muffins and two dinner roll-ish biscuits, plus a small serving of runny berry preserves. We both ordered Wedge salads, which were fine but rather uninspired for a place that boasts of its farm connections: a quarter-head of iceberg, good bleu-cheese dressing, a sliced radish and a few cherry tomato halves. It needed something more to make it feel special; as it was, it felt like something you would whip up in 5 minutes at home.

I ordered the much-praised fried chicken for my main, which was possibly the best rendition I’ve had in San Francisco. The accompanying side of mac-and-cheese was measly — no more than a half a cup — and not very well made. The macaroni was overcooked, and the cheese sauce tasted overwhelmingly like a prepackaged spice blend: Tony Cachere’s or Lawry’s Seasoned Salt, perhaps? The accompanying sad, dead pile of arugula shouldn’t have left the kitchen.

Cameron’s crab po’ boy sandwich was similarly problematic. The overstuffed crabcake interior and too-chewy bread made it impossible to eat without a knife and fork, and its flavored-mayo spread was tooth-achingly sweet. On the upside, there was plenty of crab, although it didn’t taste especially fresh and crabby. The dish’s highlight was its accompanying slaw: a chunky cabbage-and-cuke mixture lightly dressed in mayo touched with Chinese mustard.

Service was distant and scattered, and gave us the distinct impression that they really wanted us out of there: We ordered nearly the identical meal as the table next to us, who ordered before us, but we got served first. And instead of asking us if we wanted more drinks, the server just took the empty glasses; we had to hunt her down to order a round of beers. She also brought us the check as soon as our plates were cleared, and half-assedly added “Any dessert?” Gosh, no… we wouldn’t want to put you out.

Despite all of our whining, we managed to make a number of pleasant observations. First: whoever runs their fryer knows their business; neither the chicken nor the po’ boy stuffing was the least bit greasy. And it’s not expensive: We barely spent $60 between us. The decor is a trainwreck, but the ambiance feels cozy despite the amateurish design. But the initial fumbling by the hostess, the crappy table we ended up in, and the mad rush through our meal all rattled us so deeply that we had a hard time enjyoing ourselves.

25 Mason Street
San Francisco, CA 94112

downtown SF, restaurants


The sausages of summer

Posted by Cameron on 08.16.06 3:48 PM

toulouse sausage (c)2006 AECAnita and I were chatting about charcuterie as we sat down to dinner on Monday night when she allowed as how she always thought of pâté as a winter dish: something hearty for blustery weather.

Of course she’s right. Charcuterie evolved as a way of both using scraps and preserving so that it could be eaten when fresh meat wasn’t on the menu…say, when the winds of winter blew.

But for me, charcuterie is linked with summer, not winter. The natural place for a sausage is sizzling and popping on the grill, leaking fat onto the flames. When I was a kid, it wasn’t summer until we were piling ham, salami, and whatever else onto sandwiches for lunch with cold Cokes and crunchy Fritos. And pâté insists on a picnic basket, grass prickling your legs, and French white wine poured from a bottle that’s ice cold and slick with condensation.

Should you find yourself with a picnic basket to stock, do yourself a favor and include a slice of pâté maison from The Fatted Calf. They appear at farmers’ markets on both sides of the SF Bay and you can order from their Web site. We’ve liked everything that we’ve tried so far (don’t even talk to me about Aidells anymore), but the pâté is especially good. It’s well balanced, not heavily spiced, and tastes fresh, which is an odd thing to say about a preserved dish, but for you I’ll make an exception. Now waggle your eyebrows and read that last sentence in your best Groucho Marx voice.

meat, shopping


Better & better

Posted by Anita on 08.16.06 11:07 AM

logo courtesy bourbonandbranch.comFrom Cocktails with Camper English comes word that The City is about to get a new cocktailian venue: Bourbon & Branch. We’re big fans of the drinks at Cortez, so we’re looking forward to seeing what Todd Smith’s crew comes up with.

I’m a little leery of the notion of “molecular” and “lounge” occupying the same space, but I’m willing to lay aside my prejudices to experience cocktails made by people who appear to be true mixology enthusiasts, rather than opportunistic cynics looking to cash in on a craze.

bar culture, downtown SF, drinks
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The breakfast-haters’ club

Posted by Anita on 08.15.06 9:24 PM

bacon-avocado-tomato sandwich (c)2006AECI don’t talk about it much, but I’m rarely in the mood for breakfast foods in the morning. For years I tried to find pleasure in cultured boutique yoghurts, angelic buttermilk waffles, and steel-cut oats with berries… to no avail. Even my breakfast dream team — chilaquiles, corned-beef hash, eggs benedict, the sausages at Lola — leans to the savory side.

Finally, I just had to admit it: I’m not a breakfast gal. Now that I’ve made peace with this awkward reality, I’m much happier. In a pinch, I’ve been known to make a morning meal of dinner leftovers. But when time allows, I often eat what most people would consider lunch.

As I cleaned out the fridge last night, I noticed a couple of strips of bacon languishing all alone. I’d also bought a small bag of avocados at Trader Joe’s, and then turned right around and bought three more at the farmer’s market — oops. And I was making salsa this morning for tonight’s dinner, so I had an excuse to hijack a slice of heirloom tomato. Add two slices of toasted Acme pain de mie, and you’ve got yourself a midsummer B-A-T sandwich, with a side of leftover mac salad. Perfect breakfast chow, no?

* Edited to add: We removed the link to the Cook’s Illustrated macaroni salad recipe in July 2008 in protest of their bullying tactics.

breakfast, recipes


Whole hog

Posted by Anita on 08.15.06 8:01 AM

tamales (c)2006 AECThe amount of lard seems high, but [Diana] Kennedy says much of it falls into the water or is absorbed in the husks. “Pork lard, please, no substitutes,” she says. “Anyone who can’t eat lard should not be eating tamales.”

Grand Dame of Mexican Cuisine, San Francisco Chronicle, 08.09.06

She’s got 80+ years behind her, so you figure the girl must know a little bit about making do. Of course, she’s widely known as a curmudgeon’s curmudgeon, but in this age of soy cheese and Semi-Homemade, it’s a treat to hear someone say a food’s not worth eating if you don’t do it right.

cooking, Mexican


Simple, but not ordinary

Posted by Anita on 08.14.06 11:13 PM

roasting potatoes (c)2006 AECOne of the lessons that shopping at the Ferry Building Farmers Market is reinforcing: When you buy good food, you don’t need to do a lot to it to make it taste fabulous.

Sure enough, tonight Cameron made an amazing meal out of many of our Saturday finds, sans recipes: He roasted up some freshly dug Yellow Finn potatoes, grilled the Fatted Calf Toulouse sausage, and tossed together a salad of Little Gem lettuces, red shallots, queso añejo, Bariani olive oil, and sherry vinegar. Served with a little Maille dijon and a bottle of Aussie shiraz, it made the perfect late-evening meal after a too-long day at the office.

cooking, farmers markets, shopping
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Ox tales, chapter 1

Posted by Cameron on 08.14.06 4:32 PM

oxtails (c)2006 CCI get a little goofy when it comes to braising, and a lot goofy around variety meats. So when I saw oxtails on sale at our local pan-Asian supermarket for $2.50 a pound on Saturday, I grabbed an armload of whole, skinned tails out of the butcher’s case and ran up and down the aisles cackling like Vincent Price while blood dripped on the floor and everyone stared at the crazy gweilo.

At least, that’s what I wish I did. The staring part was true, but that happens whenever I go to 99 Ranch because I’m the only bald white guy in there.

I like Mario Batali’s oxtail ragu recipe out of The Babbo Cookbook. The picture is of my five pounds salted, peppered oxtails ready to be dredged lightly in flour and thoroughly browned in olive oil in a dutch oven on the stovetop. When the meat was seared, I set it aside on a platter and dumped some thickly sliced onions into the hot oil. When they were brown, the meat went back in with some red wine, Basic Tomato Sauce (Mario again), chicken stock, and thyme. Cover tightly and into the oven at 300 degrees for four hours or so. The cookbook says 375 degrees for 90 minutes, but that’s too hot and not near long enough.

When all was loosey-goosey and falling apart, I pulled out the oxtails and picked off the meat. At every moment I was attended by my faithful dogs, overcome as they were by love and devotion for me. The loose meat went back into the cooking liquid and thence into the fridge. Tuesday I’ll boil it down and freeze it for low-impact dinners.

cookbooks, cooking, Italian, meat, recipes, shopping


I spoke too soon…

Posted by Anita on 08.14.06 11:59 AM

… when I said that there weren’t any non-aesthetic changes you needed to worry about. Apparently, the move from Blogger to WordPress broke our RSS feeds, so if you’re not getting our updates in your blogreader, you may need to re-subscribe.

We’ve installed a handy-dandy FeedBurner button in the right sidebar, underneath “Daily Reads”, which takes you to a one-click subscription page for most major readers.

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