We finally got ourselves over to Alameda this afternoon to visit the Hangar One / St. George Spirits distillery. We’ve always managed to be out of town during their annual open house parties, but this year was different. For a $30 ticket, we got the chance to sip pretty much everything they make (though we limited ourselves to things we hadn’t already tried), including the seasonal Spiced Pear vodka. The best part, though, was getting up close with their gorgeous copper stills, one of my favorite photo subjects.
For an additional $10, we also got to sample the new Agua Azul, a 100% agave spirit that can’t technically be called tequila because it’s not made in Mexico. We loved all three expressions — rich cristal, smoky reposado, and mellow-but-not-boring añejo — but balked when we saw the $60, $80, and $120 price tags. (We’ll probably change our minds right as they sell out, just as we did with the Absinthe Verte last year… oh well.)
In addition to all the sippable samples, admission included copious top-notch munchies: June Taylor preserves, Boccalone salumi, El Huarache Loco antojitos, La Cocina sweets, and Recchiuti chocolates. We were impressed at the short lines for both the samples and the loos (thanks to a set of porta-potties ’round back of the distilling equipment), and plentiful water stations all throughout the warehouse. A DJ spun tunes, employees answered questions, and a shuttle swung by every hour to drop guests off at BART.
Sound like fun? Sign up for the newsletter to find out about next year’s open house and other special events throughout the year.
Hangar One / St. George Spirits
2601 Monarch Street
Alameda, CA 94501
You may remember from last month’s MxMo post that something like 17 recipes from our local bars and restaurants are included in Food & Wine Cocktails 2008 — a feat unmatched by any region’s mixologists, including the much-larger contingent from New York City. Soon after the book hit the streets, a gaggle of Bay Area food bloggers were talking about how remarkably lucky we are to live in a region with so many talented bartenders. One thing led to another, and soon people were plotting an exhaustive tour of the featured establishments.
Now, anyone who’s been party to a brilliant idea hatched in the midst of an alcohol-fueled afternoon knows what usually becomes of these grand plans: Nothing. As soon as the sober light of reality hits, you realize that getting a dozen-plus people to agree on schedules, venues, and pacing is just too much drama for a simple cocktail.
But obviously, you don’t know Jen.
Our supremely organized friend sat down with her trusty spreadsheet in one hand and a copy of the cocktail compendium in the other and plotted out an agenda that takes us to a different F&W-mentioned bar each week of the summer. Because of the logistics of getting our mostly San Francisco-based crew to far-flung destinations like Napa or even the East Bay, Jen left some drinks off the formal agenda as an extra-credit exercise for completists to tackle at their leisure.
Circulating the schedule to a crew of cocktail-savvy bloggers and other social butterflies, Jen kept the schedule-jockeying to a minimum with one simple idea: “We’ll be gathering here at the appointed time. Come if you can; we’ll see you next week if you can’t.” Brilliant, no?
And by god, it seems to be working. A quick call to the bar a day or two before gives us reasonable assurance that they’ll have any special ingredients on hand. People come early, leave late, wander in and out during the evening. A good time is had by all, and we manage to have a sociable drink or two before wandering off in various directions in search of supper.
And if the published cocktail at this week’s destination turned out to be… well, perhaps we’ll just say “seasonally inappropriate”? At least we had a wonderful time with some of our favorite blog-friends, enjoying some unseasonably warm weather in one of the coziest bars in The City. And hey, there’s always next week.
I don’t know about you, but when I’ve had a bad meal or any other below-scratch culinary experience, my natural instinct is to go for a do-over at a tried-and-true spot where we know we won’t be disappointed. Looking over Jen’s list, we realized that some of the far-flung omissions weren’t so far-flung after all, at least to those of us blessed with a car and a FasTrak transponder. And, really, it doesn’t take much of an excuse to get Cameron and me across the bay to Forbidden Island; the opportunity to taste a Fog Cutter made by the man whose license plate spells out the name of this Trader Vic tiki classic was more than sufficient.
- Martin Cate, Forbidden Island
From Food & Wine Cocktails 2008
1-1/2 oz white rum
1/2 oz gin
1/2 oz brandy
2 oz fresh orange juice
1 oz fresh lemon juice
1/2 oz orgeat
1/2 oz Amontillado sherry
Shake all ingredients except the sherry, and stain into an ice-filled highball glass. Carefully pour the sherry on top, and garnish with a sprig of mint.
At this very moment, I’m on my way to Oakland for the last session in my third series of advanced classes with Thai cooking expert Kasma Loha-unchit, the award-winning author of It Rains Fishes and Dancing Shrimp. Since it takes a year or more to complete the prerequisite classes — and chances are good you’ve heard me rave about Kasma before — I won’t torture you with the details of the truly delicious food we’re making …although you’re welcome to peek at the photos on Flickr, or check out my last class recap of Series B.
But… if you’re interested in starting down your own path to culinary liberation (and really, who doesn’t want to be able to cook better Thai food at home than you can buy at any restaurant outside of Thailand?) you’re finally in luck. Kasma’s just this morning opened up three new Beginning Thai Cooking series for fall 2008:
September - Mondays, Sept. 8, 15, 22 & 29
- Tuesdays, Sept. 9, 16, 23 & 30
October – Mondays, Oct. 6, 13, 20 & 27
(There’s also a single Intermediate series and a single Advanced set, but I’m presuming that anyone who’s met the prerequisites for these has already gotten word of them.)
Each 4-session series costs $175, which includes 16 hours of hands-on instruction and full meals. More details about the classes — including menus — can be found on Kasma’s site, Thai Food and Travel.
But do hurry: The beginning classes, especially, fill up faster than you can say “bpoo pad pritkai dâm pkap kreuang tehd” (or even “Black-Peppered Crab with Roasted Spices”… ) Send a request to hold your space to kasma[at]earthlink[dot]net, and be sure to send along second- and third-choice dates to avoid disappointment.
When I read that Shuna Lydon was teaching her legendary pastry tutorial — a class that, by her own admission, she’s taught so many times she’s lost count — I leapt at the chance to sign up. The last time I had the pleasure to learn at her elbow, I picked up countless little tricks for making outrageously tasty seasonal fruit desserts.
This time out, I finally learned why my usual pie-dough recipe is fine for savory applications like quiche, but not so hot for desserts. I got to see and feel where I’d been going wrong in my previous pie-making expeditions. As a side benefit, I got to hole up inside a breezy commercial kitchen on one of the hottest days of the year, relaxing into the busy charm of a kitchen full of women. Perhaps best of all, though, I got to come home with one seriously gorgeous pie crust for my troubles.
As I carefully ferried my flaky cargo across the bay in an insulated bag, visions of oozy pastry goodness danced before my eyes. But as bountiful as our spring produce is here already, we’re in that awkward in-between stage, fruit wise. It’s too late for apples, way too early for blackberries. Strawberries are coming into season, but I don’t really like them cooked. I’d hoped to have enough lemons off of our tree by now to attempt a lemon meringue, but you can’t rush Mother Nature. So I dusted off the cookbooks and went looking for options.
There it was, smack in the middle of my 1961 edition of The Joy of Cooking. A long-forgotten childhood favorite, that humble all-American dessert known as black-bottom pie. Line a simple pastry crust with chocolate custard (or ganache, if you’re feeling modern and fancy), cover with a rum-kissed custard, and top with whipped cream. Even with the cheapest ingredients, it’s indisputably delicious, even if a bit homely. When made with top-drawer bittersweet chocolate, pastured eggs, and the best dairy you can find, this simple combination turns into a dessert worthy of a pastry chef’s crust.
I separated four Marin Sun Farms eggs, and right away I could tell I was in for a treat. These eggs are always delicious, but some weeks — especially in the winter — they’re not especially gorgeous. These were a sure sign of spring: Yolks so yellow they were almost-orange standing proudly atop solid whites. Separating them felt almost cruel, as each half clung tenaciously to the other.
Cooking the custard until it was thick enough to coat the back of a spoon took mere moments — not the 20 minutes that Mrs. Rombauer instructed. Whipping the whites (to fold back into the custard) was equally swift: Even using a wimpy hand-held mixer, they flew right past soft peaks and into firmness in a matter of seconds. When yolks and whites were reunited, the resulting rum chiffon stood high in the bowl without the usual gelatin stiffener.
And the taste? Oh, my… so decadent. I can’t give away all of Shuna’s pie-crust secrets — though they’re there for the taking if you know where to look.
1 pie shell, blind baked and cooled to room temperature
1/2 T (approx. 1/2 packet) gelatin*
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
4 tsp cornstarch
4 eggs, separated, with 1 white discarded
1-1/2 oz unsweetened chocolate, grated or shaved
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 T white rum
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup whipping cream
2 T confectioners sugar
1/2 oz bittersweet chocolate, for shaving
If using gelatin, soak in 1/4 cup cold water and set aside. Scald the milk. In a small bowl, add the sugar and cornstarch, and whisk gently to combine; set aside. In a medium metal bowl, whisk the egg yolks until light in color. Slowly stir the hot milk into the eggs with a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula, then add the sugar mixture.
Bring a cup or two of water to a simmer in a medium saucepan. When you’ve reached a stable, steady simmer, place the metal bowl over the steam to cook the custard. Make sure that the water is not touching the bottom of the bowl; you’re cooking with the steam, not by direct water contact. Stir constantly with the spoon or spatula, making sure no hot spots develop. The custard is ready when it thickly coats the back of the spoon; this can take anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes, depending on the freshness of your eggs, the thickness of the bowl, and the speed of your simmer.
Place the grated unsweetened chocolate in a medium bowl. When the custard is done, immediately measure out 1 cup of the cooked custard into the bowl of chocolate, and stir until the chocolate melts and combines with the custard. Add the vanilla and a pinch of salt, and stir to combine. Pour the chocolate into the prepared pie shell, spreading evenly around the bottom.
If using gelatin, add it to the remaining custard while still warm, then add the rum; stir all until combined and the gelatin completely dissolves.
Using a stand mixer or electric hand mixer, beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry. Continue to mix while gradually adding the granulated sugar, a teaspoon at a time to keep from deflating your eggs.
Fold the whipped egg whites into the custard. Add the rum custard to the pie shell atop the chocolate layer, and chill the entire pie until set (about an hour).
When ready to serve, whip the cream to stiff peaks, then add the confectioners sugar. Cover the custard layer with whipped cream, and garnish with chocolate shavings or chocolate curls.
Pie will keep, in the fridge, for a couple of days.
* Note: Most recipes call for a full packet of gelatin, which I find makes for a very firm, almost artificial-feeling chiffon. You can reduce it to half that amount, as noted here, to keep the texture less spongy. If you want the pie to be strictly vegetarian, the gelatin is optional providing that you’re using very fresh eggs, that you don’t stint on fully whipping them to stiff peaks, and that you don’t mind your custard layer being a little loose. (I actually prefer it this way myself.)
Also, the egg whites are essentially raw here, so the usual food-safety caveats apply.
This little slice of yolk-yellow love also happens to be our entry for A Taste of Yellow, a blog event now entering its second year. Hosted by Barbara of Winos and Foodies, A Taste of Yellow features entries from food bloggers around the world — last year’s inaugural edition boasted 149 entries! — in support of LiveSTRONG Day, the Lance Armstrong Foundation‘s initiative to raise awareness and funds for the cancer fight.
We dedicate our Taste of Yellow post both to our hostess Barbara, in her ongoing efforts to remain cancer-free, and to our friend Briana. Many of you know her blog, Figs with Bri, where she posted Wednesday about her recent setback: breast cancer has metastasized to her lungs. Since then, her site’s gone dark and her email account is offline. We’re keeping Bri and her husband Marc in our thoughts and prayers, and hoping for the very best.
In his introduction to this month’s Mixology Monday festivities, our genial host Rick describes how he came up with the idea for his theme of “Limit One“:
“Exotic cocktail spots would often advertise their potent potions by limiting a customer to one per evening. It wasn’t all gimmick, however; some recipes like the Zombie contained up to 5oz of 80-proof spirit! This phenomenon isn’t limited to just tiki drinks; in fact, many locales even have laws that forbid a bartender to create a drink with more than a specified quantity of liquor.”
Well, these sorts of potent potations may not necessarily be limited to tropical concoctions, but it’s hard to avoid the correlation: If the bar name includes an island locale and/or the word “Trader” in its name, the chances are pretty good that you’ll find some pretty strong stuff at the bottom of the menu.
Mercifully, many of these voluminous drinks come equipped with two or more straws, and most are expressly designed to be shared by gregarious group of cocktail hounds. Among this genre, the best known — and possibly the most confusingly varied — is the Scorpion Bowl. Back in the tiki heyday of the 1950s, it seemed like every bartender had his own scorpion style; some stuck with the arguably original rum and brandy; others went straight for the jugular with gin and/or vodka, and still others just threw together any random combination of high-proof booze in a bowl with sweet syrups, colorful liqueurs, and a tropical fruit garnish. With bartenders like these, it’s a miracle that anyone survived to tell the tale, much less that the Scorpion Bowl is remembered — and reinvented — so fondly in the modern mixology world.
At Alameda’s Forbidden Island, there’s no shortage of high-octane cocktails. Yes, you’ll even find a Scorpion Bowl: Show up on Sundays, and you can share one with your friends for a mere $15. Theirs is a potent elixir, and quite the show to boot: A flaming crouton simulates lava spewing forth from the crater of the bowl’s volcano centerpiece. True to its origins, this scorpion’s sting will surely make you — and, hopefully, three of your closest friends — forget all of your cares… and maybe your name.
But for my money, the tastier option is a Forbidden Island exclusive known as the Fugu for Two. Even though it’s served in an adorable Munktiki fish-bowl, it’s hard to imagine how anyone other than a tiki fanatic would think that a couples’ cocktail served from the belly of a ceramic pufferfish is romantic. (‘Til death do us part, anyone?) But the drink itself is as delicious as it is strong: Fruity and tropical, but not sickly sweet. It’s as potent as its Scorpion sibiling, yes, but it’s more than a little civilized.
For those of you who can’t make it to Alameda, the Fugu tastes just as nice when served in a regular bowl — or even a pair of double Old Fashioned glasses, in a pinch — as it does when it’s poured into a jumbo collectible mug. And unlike its aquatic namesake, you don’t even need a special license to prepare this Fugu.
Fugu for Two
3 oz amber rum
1 oz vodka
1 oz apricot brandy
2 oz pineapple juice
1-1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
1 oz passion fruit syrup (preferably Monin)
1 oz orgeat
Combine all ingredients in a blender with two cups of cracked ice and pulse twice, very quickly. Pour into a tall bowl. and add more cracked ice to fill. Top with a float of sparkling wine, and serve with two straws.
My Dark Days Challenge cohorts, please avert your eyes: With the exception of two or three breakfasts, there was absolutely nothing sustainable, local, or even organic about the way we spent our long Presidents Day weekend. Que lastima — we traded local for loco, spending a crazy four days eating nothing but Mexican food.
Since time was limited on Friday morning before work, we headed to an old standby. Los Jarritos has been the scene of more Sunday breakfasts than we can count, and one or two dinners over the years. The coffee is terrible, so stick with the Mexican chocolate, and the chilaquiles are limp and over-egged. But it’s hard to complain too much about a place that serves homemade tortillas, and the service is always so adorably welcoming that we’re more than a little forgiving of Jarritos’ shortcomings.
Maybe it’s was a case of diminished expectations, but I have to say that my lunch at Frontera Fresco on the lower level of Macy’s Union Square was not nearly the dreck-fest I was expecting after reading some early critiques. Yes, it’s corporate chain food — think Wolfgang Puck Express goes to Mexico — but it’s certainly no travesty.
It might be too strong to say that I enjoyed my meal, but I was served a thoroughly decent, well-garnished bowl of tortilla soup, and an unorthodox (but not unpleasant) chicken torta. I laughed out loud at the sandwich’s sundried tomato garnish, and its lettuce seemed to be dressed in Good Seasons Zesty Italian. But everything else was in the ballpark: rich frijoles, tinga-style chicken, and a chunky slab of queso añejo. Don’t get me wrong: It’s not fabulous, and it’s definitely not worth a special trip, but there are certainly worse ways to spend your $10 downtown. And I’d be downright ecstatic to find a Frontera Fresco branch in an airport.
Friday afternoon, I hopped a southbound CalTrain after work. Cameron picked me up at Mountain View station and in just a few moments we were pulling into the parking lot of our favorite Mexican restaurant, Fiesta del Mar. Our friends Jason and Margaret introduced us to this fabulous place way back in the day — more than a decade ago, now — and we’ve been coming here religiously ever since. Sure it’s crazy to drive an hour to go to dinner, but such is our devotion.
And we’re not the only fans: Plaques on the wall attest to the restaurant’s enduring popularity: They’ve been voted “Best Mexican Restaurant” by the local paper every year but one since the early 1990s. They’re justly famous for their shrimp dishes — Cameron loves their Camarones Alex and the Camarones a la Diabla — but I love them for their great margaritas (El Jimador, rocks, salt… thanks!) and their unbattered chiles rellenos. There’s almost always a line out the door, but the tables turn quickly and you won’t regret the wait.
Saturday morning found us at our usual spot: The Ferry Plaza farmers market, and specifically the Primavera stand. Although this market favorite offers chilaquiles nearly every Saturday, they mix things up a little by varying the sauce; one week it’s a green tomatillo-serrano blend, the next it’s a tomato-chipotle salsa, and the next it might be a puree of guajillo chiles (as it was that weekend).
A plate of salsa-sauteed chips served with Cameron’s all-time favorite soft-scrambled eggs and some pretty delicious black beans… ahh, brunchly perfection. Of course, we couldn’t resist ordering a plate of tacos al pastor — and its perfect pairing, piña agua fresca. Weighted down by our mega-breakfast, we wandered our way around the market, vainly trying to work off our stuffedness while finishing our weekly shopping.
Not surprisingly, we weren’t hungry again until dinnertime. After the sun set, we made our way to the Daly City border to check out a little hole-in-the-wall we’d heard good things about. Lisa’s Mexican Restaurant looks like a biker bar from the outside, with its microscopic windows, spotlit sign, and ugly burglary bars facing Mission Street.
But when you step inside, you’re entering another world. Every surface but the floor is covered with goofy stuff — photos of old Mexican movie stars, life-size parrots, oversized sombreros, and creepy paintings of big-eyed children. The overall effect is like dining inside some crazy abuela’s closet, but somehow it feels cozy, not chaotic. The welcome is friendly, both from the staff and the other patrons. And the food…
Well, honestly, I don’t want to get your hopes up. Lisa’s is decidedly not gourmet, and it definitely isn’t in the same league as Fiesta del Mar. But if you’re a homesick Southern Californian pining for the cheesy combo-plates of your youth, Lisa’s will fill your heart and belly in a way that you’ve never experienced north of the Grapevine. Their chile relleno sauce is just right (it’s the kind with chunks of celery like you see absolutely everywhere in L.A.) and their crispy tacos are dynamite. The best thing we’ve had at Lisa’s — and I am embarrassed to admit, we’ve been back almost every week since we discovered it – is their chile verde. Cameron likes to ask for it in their Lisa’s Especial, a football-sized ‘wet’ burrito stuffed with everything a homesick Angeleño needs to feel right again.
Sunday we crossed the bridge for brunch at our East Bay fave, Tacubaya. The spinoff of Temescal’s oft-lauded Doña Tomás, this taqueria — tucked behind Sur La Table and Café Rouge on Berkeley’s Fourth Street restaurant row — lures breakfasters into gorgeous skylit space decked out in tropical-fruit colors and natural wood surfaces. It’s a neighborly place, albeit one with a very calculated and upscale vibe, and though the crowds come out in force, the line moves fast and there’s never much of a wait for a table.
No matter what time of day we visit, we can never resist an order of churros y chocolate; other breakfast fare mostly starts and stops with so-so chilaquiles and decent variations on huevos, plus menudo on weekends. Like its O-Town sibling, Tacubaya bases its menu on local produce and sustainable meat.
Later in the day, we took a long-overdue tour of Oakland’s taco-truck scene. We used to love planning day-long taco crawls with our Seattle crew, and when we first moved back to San Francisco, we tried to get our new friends to follow suit. Various circumstances conspired against us — ranging from a surreal bout of foul weather to half the group catching one of those pandemic colds — and eventually we gave up trying to get everyone across the bay at the same time. But I’d kept my notes, adding a truck here or a cart there from time to time, and waited for the right day. And now that day had come.
We started out at the corner of 22nd and International, at a former A&W Drive-In that’s now home to not one but two taco trucks. Tacos Sinaloa features the usual assortment of meats — carnitas, chorizo, carne asada, and such — ensconsed in the eater’s choice of tacos, burritos, tortas and more. Across the parking lot, Mariscos Sinaloa offers all these plus fish tacos, tostadas de ceviche, and other seafood-based items. I opted for a taco full of deliciously meaty carnitas; Cameron had a muy sabroso shrimp taco from the other truck. Off to a good start, we ate our way up and down the boulevard, stopping at any truck where we saw more than two people in line. Our favorites: El Grullo’s tacos al pastor, Tacos Guadalajara’s shredded carnitas, and the cabeza at El Novillo in the shadow of Fruitvale BART.
Monday is a hard day to find Mexican breakfast in the City; many family-run businesses take the day off after their weekend rush. We didn’t want to repeat ourselves, so we headed to Green Chile Kitchen over in NoPa. It’s the kind of storefront cafe you find in nearly every San Francisco neighborhood: Wood tables, tall windows, a chalkboard menu, and a tall counter where you place your order.
Sadly, the food’s no better than average, and it’s definitely Southwestern rather than Mexican. But they use quality ingredients (mostly organic produce, Niman Ranch meats, and Fulton Valley chicken) and there’s good coffee, easy street parking, and a pleasant little vibe.
As we were leaving NoPa, the once-cloudy day turned sunny, so we grabbed the dogs and headed back to the Mission. There’s nothing better on a bright winter afternoon than a lazy meander down the eastern stretch of 24th Street, where you can walk and shop for hours without hearing a single word of English. When we’d finally gotten our appetites back, Cameron entertained the pups while I popped into Tortas Los Picudos, a cheerful slice of chaos where they sell grilled Mexican sandwiches and licuados (which many shops translate as “milkshakes” although they’re really more like smoothies).
Fillings at Los Picudos run the gamut from basic ham-and-American or turkey-and-Swiss to belly busters like the Cubana. A very distant relation to the medianoche you may be used to, Los Picudos’ porcine homage to La Isla includes roast pork, ham, queso fresco, lettuce, jalapeños, mayonnaise, butter… and a foot-long hotdog! We wisely chose to split a spicy pulled-pork torta, and picked up a Mexican Coke at Casa Lucas on our way back up the block.
By the time we were hungry again, our options on a Monday night had diminished to a handful of late-night taquerias. Wanting to make sure we ended our weekend of gluttony on a high note, we popped down the hill to our nearby favorite, El Gran Taco Loco. Sandwiched in between a hard-liver bar and our local branch of Cole Hardware, Taco Loco has won our hearts despite its interrogation-room lighting, uncomfortable booths, and goofball murals.
We long ago discovered that the burritos and other semi-Americanized offerings at Taco Loco aren’t much to write home about, but their tacos — and most specifically, their carnitas tacos — are a thing of beauty and a joy forever. (Or at least the next 4 to 6 hours.) Cameron’s a huge fan of their birria, — a goaty, dark-chile-flavored soup that’s good for whatever ails you on a Sunday morning. But for our last meal of the long weekend, we kept it simple: A carnitas super-taco for me, and a buche taco for the bald guy. It certainly wasn’t the best meal of the bunch, but a late-night snack at our neighborhood favorite was definitely a fitting end to a gastronomical journey that spanned three area codes.
901 South Van Ness
San Francisco, CA 94110
170 O’Farrell Street, Macy’s basement level
San Francisco, CA 94103
Fiesta del Mar
1005 N. Shoreline Blvd
Mountain View CA 94043
Ferry Plaza Farmers Market (Embarcadero at Market)
San Francisco, CA
Lisa’s Mexican Restaurant
6582 Mission Street (near John Daly Blvd)
Daly City, CA 94014
1788 4th Street
Berkeley, CA 94710
Tacos Sinaloa / Mariscos Sinaloa
International Blvd & 22nd Avenue
Oakland, CA 94601
International Blvd & 26th Avenue
Oakland, CA 94601
International Blvd & 44th Avenue
Oakland, CA 94601
Tacos El Novillo
1001 Fruitvale Avenue
Oakland, CA 94610
Green Chile Kitchen
601 Baker Street
San Francisco, CA 94117
Tortas Los Picudos
2969 24th Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
El Gran Taco Loco
3306 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
Back in May, I talked about the Thai cooking classes offered by Kasma Loha-unchit in her Oakland home, and mentioned that “Kasma’s classes, especially the beginning series, are perennially booked”. But if you get a wiggle on, you might be able to score a place in her 2008 classes, which were announced today.
Seven sets of the four-class Beginning series, which costs $170, will be offered next spring:
March: Mondays, March 3, 10, 17 & 24
Tuesdays, March 4, 11, 18 & 25
Wednesdays, March 5, 12, 19 & 26
April: Mondays, March 31 & April 7, 14 & 21
May: Tuesdays, May 6, 13, 20 & 27
Thursdays May 8, 15, 22 & 29
June: Mondays, June 2, 9, 16 & 23
There’s more information, including menus, online at Kasma’s site
, although the 2008 dates are not yet listed. You can send a request to hold your space to kasma[at]earthlink[dot]net; Kasma’s husband Michael recommends that you send along second- and third-choice series the first time around, as classes really do fill up quickly.
I teased you last week with a glimpse into my Tuesday-night classes with Thai cooking maven Kasma Loha-unchit. This most-recent set of classes was the fourth 4-week series I’ve attended; I started with the beginning series nearly 10 years ago, followed up with the intermediate course a few years later, and then — after travelling with Kasma through central and northern Thailand in January 2006 — picked up again with the advanced series last spring.
In the beginning series, you master popular curries, simple stir-fries, spicy soups and salads, and authentic (ketchup-free!) pad thai noodles. Even if you think you know a lot about Thai food, you’re sure to learn a lot: You’ll taste-test multiple brands of coconut milk, learn about the best places to buy ingredients, hear the lowdown on the top brands, and get plenty of practice balancing sweet, salty, sour, and hot flavors under Kasma’s watchful eye.
Intermediate classes move on to more labor-intensive preparations, and a larger assortment of ingredients. By the time you reach this level, you’ll have a thorough understanding of flavors and techniques — pounding curry pastes, balancing flavors, frying ingredients in coconut cream — that will put you in good stead for the advanced courses. A total of six advanced series walk students through regional specialties, intricate preparations, and adventurous foodstuffs. Many students work their way through the entire curriculum and then start again — it’s just that much fun to cook alongside other students who are experienced and passionate about Thai food.
The real joy of learning to cook Thai with Kasma is that she makes Thai cooking accessible without dumbing it down. I hope you won’t think I’m immodest when I say that — even after just the basic courses — I could make Thai food better than what we find at local restaurants. The setup of Kasma’s classes allows for plenty of hands-on work, and lots of time to talk, taste, and learn. Each session starts with a snack while Kasma explains the four to six dishes of the day. Students team up for prep, then gather round as each dish is completed. When the cooking is done, you sit down with Kasma and her charming husband Michael to enjoy the feast you’ve prepared. I promise: You won’t leave hungry.
Kasma also sells specialized tools and hard-to-find items to her students. Years ago, when I first took the beginning series, her dining-room table was one of the few places to find Thai coffee filters and decent papaya graters. Her offerings have blossomed into a veritable general store of favorite brands and equipment, a useful one-stop-shop when stocking your Asian pantry. Students can also buy from a dwindling stock of Kasma’s award-winning (but out-of-print) cookbooks — Dancing Shrimp and It Rains Fishes — at their original retail price … a big savings over the $40-plus prices you’ll see on Amazon for used copies.
And speaking of bargains: You won’t find a better deal on cooking classes anywhere. Each four-class series costs $160 — just $40 per class, less than you’d probably spend for dinner at your favorite Thai restaurant. Kasma’s house is located close to Oakland’s MacArthur BART station (a quick bus ride or a leisurely half-hour stroll gets you the rest of the way there), making it easy for visitors and bridge-averse City-dwellers to attend. If you live outside the Bay Area, you’re not completely out of luck: Kasma offers week-long intensive sessions each summer for a stunning price: $550. You spend five full days covering territory similar to the beginning and intermediate series, or an assortment of advanced recipes in the later intensives.
Now that I have you salivating, let me disappoint you: You’ll have to be patient. All of Kasma’s classes, especially the beginning series, are perennially booked — and the mention she got in this month’s San Francisco Magazine (alongside Shuna Lydon and June Taylor, among others) will only make matters worse. To finagle a spot, join Kasma’s announcement-only Yahoo group, and be the first to hear about next spring’s offerings.
The Art of Thai Cooking
near Piedmont and Grand Avenues
Sometimes, we just don’t post because we’re not eating anything interesting, and there’s just nothing to talk about. But I can assure you, that has NOT been the case these last couple of weeks. We’ve been eating our way around the bay, scheduled to the breaking point: Out of the last 11 evenings, we’ve had nine social engagements. No wonder I’m exhausted!
Our little foodie death march all started back on Tuesday the 15th, with my second of four sessions in Kasma Loha-unchit’s Thai cooking classes. I’ll post a complete wrap up at the end of the series, but suffice to say that if you’re looking to learn more about Thai cooking, look no further.
Then that Wednesday, we met up with DPaul and Sean to say farewell to our mutual friend Matt (who’s taking a sabbatical from San Francisco for a while) over a sangria-soaked supper at Piqueo’s, Bernal Heights’ new Peruvian cevicheria and small-plates joint. Although the impossibly long menu was nearly entirely different from our first visit a month or so ago, we enjoyed almost everything we’ve tried there so far.
Thursday of the same week found us stuck in traffic on the Bay Bridge approach, on our way to The Blue Door at Berkeley Rep. A car-snarl from hell — more than an hour from SoMa to the Bridge, thanks — meant we missed our Downtown reservations by more than an hour (we called!) and our consolation snack at North Beach Pizza was grim in every way possible. Truly, we were expecting mediocre but fast, and ended up with slow and barely edible.
Saturday we hit the Ferry Building market in the morning, running into Tea at the Rancho Gordo stand. Farmer Steve’s sure the popular boy these days, with dozens of folks stopping by to congratulate him on his much-publicized (and bilingual!) defense against Carlo Petrini’s ill-mannered slagging of the FPFM’s farmers and customers alike. Everyone must’ve bought a bag or three of beans as they stopped by to say “Good on yeh!” to Mr. Sando — many varieties were already sold out by the time we strolled up.
That same afternoon, we hosted two sets of friends and their 2-year-olds for a summer supper of bacon-cheeseburgers, mac salad, and red cabbage slaw, with complete strawberry crisp for dessert. The junior guests had as much fun as their mommies and daddies: Little Toby rocked out on guitar with Cameron, and Miss Martha endeared herself to everyone with sweet hugs and adorable curiosity.
Monday night, an impromptu get-together chez nous. Tea was in town for the week, so we invited her, plus DPaul and Sean (are they sick of us yet?) — and their sweetie-pie girl Reese — over for dinner. We snacked on pencil-thin asparagus dipped in homemade aioli while we tried out yet another recipe for grilled pizza. I’m still not convinced we’ve found a keeper in the pizza department, but the season’s first peach cobbler proved a hit all around. And when we saw Tea later in the week, she declared that the chopped salad we served with the pizza had earned a slot on the menu of foods she expects to find in heaven. (Flattery like that will get you invited back!)
Tuesday was Thai cooking class again, and Wednesday another dinner to-do: Cameron’s cousins and their 2-year-old (we’re toddler magnets!) were in town from Houston, on their way to Yosemite for the long weekend. Little Camden gobbled a Prather Ranch hot dog while the grownups feasted on tri-tip grilled up Santa Maria style (rubbed with an equal mixture of salt, pepper, and garlic powder moistened with oil), sliced thin and served with guacamole on Rancho Gordo tortillas, with a side of beans a la charra. And yes, another quickie dessert: Pear-rosemary crumble, and vanilla ice cream.
Tonight we met up with a gaggle of cool food bloggers from SF, the East Bay and beyond for dinner at Berkeley’s stalwart O Chame. We loved every appetizer we shared — especially the seared ahi cubes and their lovely horseradish drizzle, the grilled shiitake mushrooms with fresh asparagus, and the snackalicious green-onion pancake blocks. Our soba and udon bowls were so-so (flavorful broth, but overdone noodles) but scoops of balsamic vinegar caramel ice cream were hauntingly good… and rapidly gone.
A short stroll down 4th Street led us to Cody’s Books, where we listened to the charming Clotilde speak about her progression from software developer to food blogger to published cookbook author. She gave us all a chuckle when she spoke of the oddness of being a Frenchwoman writing an English-language food blog — to the consternation of some of her compatriots, she confessed — and her passion for ‘dangerous’ recipes like souffles and gougeres, where a cook never knows whether she’s destined for dinner or disaster. (Clotilde’s signing books Saturday afternoon in San Francisco, in case you’d like to meet her and get a copy of her lovely new book.)
Tomorrow? Ugh. I’m more than a little bit sick of cooking, and yet I don’t think I could bear the pressure of going out somewhere new, or even someplace fancy. So… we have reservations at Range, our delightful standby, where they know us just well enough that we can all relax, but not so well that we have to be social. I’m liking that idea a lot. I wouldn’t have missed a single night of the last 2 weeks, but I am sure glad that it’s done.
I’m half hoping that the bounty of the farmers market on Saturday snaps me out of my apathy, but I won’t be surprised (or even too sad) to find that I’ve burned out on planning, prepping, and putting food on the table… at least for a while. We’ve got a freezer full of incredible leftovers from the last six weeks of new-kitchen cooking frenzy, so it’s not like we’ll go hungry.
As we slow down a bit, I’m aiming to do a better job posting here on a more-regular basis. I’ve got a backlog — five posts’ worth and counting — of recipes, photos and stories that should last through a week of diminished cooking capacity. In the meantime, I’ll tide you over with a recipe for an simple (but apparently impressive) salad that’s quick enough for everyday, but with a just enough company-class touches for a weeknight dinner party on the fly. You can vary the vinegar, the cheese, the herbs, and even the olives to complement your main course.
Heavenly Chopped Salad
(adapted from Food & Wine, September 2006)
2 T mild vinegar (such as cider, champagne or sherry)
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 small shallot, chopped fine
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 cups chopped lettuce or baby greens
4-5 small Belgian endive (preferably red) halved, cored and coarsely chopped
1 English or Japanese cucumber, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
2T to 1/4 cup coarsely chopped chives (or other herbs, as you prefer)
3/4 cup pitted kalamata olives, halved (or other olives)
1/2 pound feta (or bleu) cheese, crumbled
Whisk the vinegar, lemon juice, and shallot in a medium bowl. Whisk in the oil until emulsified, and season the dressing with salt and pepper.
Combine the remaining ingredients together in a large bowl. Add half of the dressing, season to taste with salt and pepper, and toss. Add the remaining dressing (or less, to taste) toss again, and serve.
In addition to selling her luscious marmalades, conserves and fruit butters at the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers Market on Saturday mornings, June Taylor now also opens her warehouse/kitchen for retail sales on Fridays, and on select weekend days for classes.
I took a class back in late winter that featured three-fruit marmalade, which I loved. Last weekend, I followed up with June’s summer preserves class, which focused on peaches and nectarines; we made a preserve with “Summer Sweet” white peaches. Was it good? Let’s just say the jar I brought home is already gone — it was the most gorgeous rose color.
The classes are pricey ($125) but you go home with a good understanding of how to create your own preserves, plus a jar of the goodies that you and your classmates make in class under June’s direction. And you’ll never balk at paying $9 a jar again after you see what goes into it.
June Taylor Company/The Still-Room
2207 4th Street
Berkeley, CA 94710
Update 08.14.06: June’s classes got an endorsement today from Shuna at eggbeater.