Eat Drink Style Laiola, San Francisco - Good Things Come in Little Dishes

Laiola San Francisco

Long gone are the days when I used to relish over all-you-can-eat places, including Korean bbq, and made-for-Viking joints like Claimjumper's. America is about exceeding limits – a sometimes tacky and overbearing demonstrating to other countries that power is exemplified through making things faster, bigger and stronger. Is it a wonder that Americans don't live as long as, say Europeans, who bask in the sun with wine and gorge in meals 3-4 times a day? No, because they understand the concept of moderation and turn their heads away from fast food. As you can see from my profile photo, I haven't come to terms with eating in moderation –

I am clearly... American.

During my grueling 2-month stay in San Francisco for work, I came across this little gem, Laiola, with high recommendations from Bar Crudo's Chef Mike Selvera. Previously, I had asked Selvera about his favorite places to eat, during my 7 visits to Bar Crudo. I love finding out what chefs, sick of their own success, like to eat after a long shift. For those that haven't seen Mojo HD Channel's 'After Hours with Daniel', watch it. It's an intimate 60 minutes with celebrity-French Chef Daniel Boulud and America's famous chefs. And most of all, you get to see what they like to eat.

Laiola serves tapas. Tapas is Spanish for appetizers – delightful nuggets of goodness nestled into a 6 x 6" plato. I may be one of the last people on earth to have ever tried tapas, so for me, this was a meal long overdue. And just like dim sum, Vietnamese steamed rice cakes (banh beo) and izakayas... tapas are proof that small dishes are often very delectable.

I took a cab into the Marina district of San Francisco, an area much like the La Brea/Beverly Hills area, with restaurants ranging from passable to showstopping. I met J's brother at the front of Laiola and within a few minutes, we were seated front row. By front row, I mean, right in front of the kitchen set up behind the counters. And next to me sporting a shiny bead of forehead sweat was the head chef firing orders with an AK-47-like demeanor. For any restaurateur and guest, this arrangement can be the breaking point. It can be thrilling watching the line cook add some cognac to the pan, with rising flames that kiss the overhead range. But it may not be thrilling watching him pick out his murph and then using that same hand to plate your $35 dish. Excluding tax and tip.

In Laiola's case, cleanliness and orderliness was intact. The drinks were flowing naturally in a Spanish sangria-serving environment. And gossip was in the air amongst coworkers, business grunts and people with their date-faces on.

Laiola Sangria

Laiola's Stylish Sangria
I'm a beer and whiskey drinker and the chances of seeing me with this drink are very unlikely because it has fruit in it, unless I'm on vacation. It might as well have had an umbrella and a hula dancer on it because it looked like liquid vacation. I remember back a few years ago when I attempted to make Sangria for my friends. A little wine, some chopped up apples/oranges/grapes, 7-up and some brandy.... you're good to go. Or so I thought. My friends told me that the Sangria I had made was probably 150 proof, meaning 75% alcohol. I was convinced that I had made liquid death after seeing 2 of my friends pray over the White Porcelain God. Oops, sorry! But this drink was different, it was aesthetically pleasing, very light and flavorful as any drink should be. I had 2.

Laiola Pan Con Tomate

Pan Con Tomate
Literally means 'bread with tomato'. Fresh artisan bread, cut 3/4" thick was first grilled with a light drizzle of olive oil, rubbed with a cut garlic glove and then sanded down with an heirloom tomato. The result is a slightly-soggy, red-tinted, garlic-scented slice of bread... that is ultra savory.

Laiola Chickpea Fries

Chickpea Croquetas
We actually didn't try this Jenga-like dish. But since the chef was next to me, I asked if I could take a photo of it. From the looks of it, this is a healthier form of its cousin, the french fry because it isn't battered and well it's made of chickpeas.

Laiola Albacore Tuna Salad

Olive Oil-Poached Albacore Salad
I usually don't like to eat cooked fish because many times, the process of holding the fish overcooks it. Cooked fish tastes the best when served immediately. The poaching of the albacore resulted in extremely moist and tender strands of meat. I could taste a hint of cayenne or paprika in this. I didn't like this dish at first, but after a few bites, I grew to like the taste of it.

Laiola Blood Sausage

Cigrons Amb Morcilla (Chickeas with House-made Blood Sausage)
I've had Korean and German blood sausage before and was curious how the Spanish like to do it. I expected to see a sausage, but instead saw raisin-like cuts of meat. And it actually tasted very sour. The mixture and ratio of chickpeas and blood sausage was honestly quite bizarre. With recommendations from three staff members, we were left somewhat disappointed.

Laiola Clams Lamb Sausage

Steamed Willapa Bay Clams with Lamb Sausage
I love clam dishes. It's almost like a double treat. Most of the time at restaurants, you'll get a clam dish steamed in wine and chorizo. But the addition of lamb sausage made this stellar. After you get to eat the clams, you still have all that delicious clam juice/butter sauce. We asked for more grilled bread so that we would not leave any of that juice on that plate. This was great.

Laiola Fries with Eyes

Frituras Con Ojos (Fries with Eyes)
The advantage of getting a seat at the counter with kitchen view has its advantages. We overlooked this dish on the menu because my Spanish has gone down horribly over the years. We saw this dish being fired every five minutes. I asked the chef if those were fries and he gladly replied "fries... with eyes!" Smelt fish is battered lightly and sent to the Deep Fried Sea. A little squeeze of lemon and a savory and memorable dish is made. For $9, you get quite a big portion of 'fries'. We could only finish 1/4 of it because we had so much food.

Laiola Grilled Octopus

Grilled Octopus with Romano Bean Salad
This was my favorite of the evening. Baby octopus are blanched really quickly so that the tentacles spread in a more presentable form and grilled with olive oil and served over a cold romano bean salad with chicken stock. Very healthy and very delicious! I wish the romano beans were served hot.

Laiola is a great place for those that are super hungry or those that just want something small to munch on. I'll be back here for sure to try the rest of the 22 -tapas on the menu. In addition, there are four full-plate dishes as well – roasted lamb, grilled swordfish (HUGE steak), slow roasted piglet (looked awesome!) and grass-fed steak.

Thanks for reading.

Laiola
2031 Chestnut Street
San Francisco, CA 94123
(415) 346-5641
www.laiola.com

Eat Drink Style A Fall Soiree - Man vs. the Wood Fire Beast

Fall Decor

We all have our fears, whether or not we're willing to admit them. But we're all human beings, and it's one of the many things that sets us apart. I've got a whole list of them. For example, I loathe the glaucoma machine at the optometrist's office. You know the one that blows AIR into your eye at like 528 mph. It takes me a good 4 minutes per eye and I wish I was a pirate or cyclops so I'd only have to endure the suffering for 4 minutes total. Another thing I fear is anything in tiny dot patterns. Blackheads, blueberry pies and bad 80s polka dot clothing. I'm not sure why but I think it might have to do with this cartoon I've watched before... where this character had 18 eyes on his face... all blinking at different times. Weird I know. And finally... my apparent condition of bakephobia. I've talked about it in my pizza posting a few weeks back and just can't get myself to appreciate baking because of the necessary precision and limitations set by recipes. I own about 30 cookbooks and because of my short attention span, rarely follow all the directions in them. I use cookbooks merely for the ingredient listing and I adjust accordingly to my own tastes. I also leave out measurements in my cooking posts because not everyone out there trying the recipe will like it. Some may want it spicier, sweeter or saltier. And you can't please everyone, especially when it comes to catering.

I baked a few weeks back, and I can honestly say that baking is an uncharted sea for me to navigate through. I want to learn how to bake. There is an inherent art and beauty behind the combination of eggs, flour, salt, sugar and yeast. Every country in the world has some sort of baked food, with bread being the most basic form of sustenance. In the wonderful book, Sauces, the author talks about the usage of bread as dinnerware. Wood and metal plates were just too expensive to mak during the 13th century in Europe, thus came the idea of bread bowls and flatbread. Not only would you not have to hold 300 degree stew in your own lap or hands, you could eat it afterwards! Genius. Imagine if we had to eat paper plates. This book by the way isn't entirely about making sauces, but explains how food has come to be over time. It's awesome. Did you know that Europeans actually used a form of fish sauce back then?

I started working with a group of nice people that run an event planning group called Fresh Events Company. Through a friend, we were brought together for this fall-themed party in Hollywood Hills. The client requested pizza made with their wood fire oven. It's tough enough dealing with an oven in a gig because you have to parcook food for holding, now I have to battle a monster: a wood fire oven.

Setting up a wood fire oven is similar to building a campfire. You set one large log in the oven as a 'backstop' and rest smaller pieces of wood on it, making sure that air is allowed to ventilate under the wood. You can't do more than two big pieces at a time otherwise the wood to fire ratio is knocked off balance and you're left with a slower temperature increase. It's hard to explain and I found myself scratching my head and swearing as I tried it out before the event. The client and I met again on another weekend before the event to practice the wood fire oven. In about four hours, we reached the temperature of 600 degrees. It's not the internal temperature of the oven that needs to be 600 degrees, it's the bricks that form the oven floor that need to be heated. I smiled when I saw the glowing embers of what was once wood. In the four hours it took, I had to come back every 15-20 minutes and feed it some more... much like a baby that wants to keep eating. Once you reach 600 degrees, the next goal is to make as much floor space as possible. Using a long metal spatula, we pushed all the coals to the left side, including the large backstop log. The client than grabbed a wet towel and wrapped it around the spatula and 'wiped' down the oven floor. It's ok if you get a little bit of ash on the bottom of the pizza, it only makes it look more rustic.

I quickly ran into the kitchen and pulled out my pizza dough from the fridge. Threw some flour on the counter top, rubbed my hands together like a gymnast, without the tights of course, and started massaging the ball of dough. After making a disc shape, I did a few rotations using my knuckles to stretch it. This takes skill because if you pull too hard, you'll tear the dough. No no no. For rookies, the rolling pin is still the best. I used my asian style rolling pin, which is smaller than the standard rolling pin, but without the handles. The smaller ones are used for making dumpling skins. Once the dough was as thin as it could be, I carefully laid the dough on a wooden pizza paddle with some flour beneath it. Flour works better than cornmeal in the case of the wood fire oven because it has a higher cooking temperature. If you're making pizza in a conventional oven, cornmeal on a pizza stone will be fine. I then added olive oil (vs. using tomato sauce), two kinds of cheese (a container of four cheese and mozzarella) and the appropriate accoutrements – the client requested portobello mushroom, white truffle oil and thyme. I carefully held the paddle and handed it to the client. He carefully guided the paddle into the oven mouth as if he was feeding a big monster. As soon as he pulled the paddle from beneath the pizza, I heard the most beautiful sound ever: the searing of fresh dough on hot oven bricks. 30 seconds later, the left hemisphere of the pizza was already bubbling... as high as 1.5 inches. The edge of the crust slowly blistering with dark spots. Another 30 seconds later, we used the spatula to rotate the pizza so that we could cook the other side. For a total of 2 minutes in the oven, something extraordinary comes out of the oven. He pulled out the pizza and set it on a table. I almost shed a tear because it was so beautiful. The cheese was bubbling quietly and the crust so fluffy and 'pillowy'. We all took a slice of pizza and sank our teeths in for that familiar and nostalgic food we've all grown up with. As I ate, I watched for the client's reaction and they loved it. I felt so much better doing a practice run and knew things would work out nicely on the day of the event.

Fall Decor

This catering event was very different than many others I've worked. For the first time, I was working with an event planning group. Not only did it mean that there would be decorations and invitations being taken care of, I had people to take care of the front of the house, meaning the wait/bar staff. It is HARD working the kitchen AND front of the house. I could focus more on cooking the food vs. running around like a lunatic.

Although it rained the night before, the dampness had evaporated and left a nice waft of cold air. I couldn't imagine cooking during the heatwave we had two months ago. Many of the decorations used by Fresh Events had orange, brown and yellow leaves, which were really nice.

Fall Decor

Woodfire Oven

And there she is, the wood fire beast. Inside the cavity, there's about 3 sq. feet of space, not very big. That's why it's important to slowly burn wood vs. stuffing it. Four hours to get it going, 2-3 minutes to cook your food. As it sounds, it's a lot of work, but the results do not lie.

Woodfire Oven

A close-up of the wood fire oven. Here, it's at about 425 degrees. By the time you're ready to cook, you shouldn't have any flames at all.

Wood Fire Oven

I gave this thing more attention on that day than I do with J. She wasn't happy with me, but she was very happy about the pizza.

Scallop, Shrimp & Avocado Ceviche

Scallop, Shrimp & Avocado Ceviche
I love love love ceviche and was dying to serve some food on white spoons. Whenever you can get the client to interact with the food, versus picking it up with greasy fingers and napkin, you whet their appetite. I "cooked" 32-40 size shrimp with baby scallops in lime juice for about 4 hours. Any longer, you may risk the chance of having no taste whatsoever. I added tiny-brunoised cuts of red bell pepper for color, green jalapenos for spice and put a small wedge of avocado and cilantro leaf on top. For some additional flavor, I added one of my favorite ingredients, smoked paprika. Client loved this.

Bacon Wrapped Dates with Parmesan & Goat Cheese

Bacon-Wrapped Dates with Parmesan/Goat Cheese
AOC and my friend Immaeatchu have made me love this appetizer more and more. The combination of sweet dates, goat/Parmesan cheese and salinity from the crispy bacon make it one hot kid on the block. There are two main types of dates out there: medjools and deglet noors. If you're going to use medjools, you might want to cut them in half lengthwise because they are huge. Dates may not appeal to everyone because they've got that sticky chew. I prefer deglet noors because you can pop them in one bite and are actually very easy to work with. There are recipes that call for goat cheese or Parmesan, why not bring the best of both worlds and do a 50/50 ratio? You can use a toothpick or skewer (put 7-8 of them on one stick) to secure the bacon if you're worried about them falling apart. Bake for 5 mins on one side at 400, then flip over and bake for another 7-10 mins until bacon is somewhat crispy... just don't burn the bacon. I saw guests take 2-3 at a time, popping them like they were tater-tots.

Prosciutto Wrapped Asparagus

Prosciutto-Wrapped Asparagus Bundles
Everyone loves bacon and everyone loves prosciutto. For this dish, I cut the asparagus into 7" lengths and bundles of three using the prosciutto as 'tape'. Lightly spray some olive oil on the bundles and add a TINY bit of salt only on the asparagus. Fresh black pepper and lemon juice for a kick. These were very fun to eat.

Portobello & White Truffle Oil Pizza

Portobello & White Truffle Oil Pizza
And finally, the product of four hours of constant nurturing, arguing and making up: the portobello mushroom, white truffle oil and thyme pizza. These came out beautiully and guests kept requesting more and more truffle oil. Whoa, too rich.

By the end of the night, everyone had so much to eat, including my staff. It's too easy to get pizza'd out, but it was the crust that we kept coming back to. So soft and pillowy.

Great clients, excited guests, wonderful event planning group, loving gf and sister, loyal friends and one angry, tempermental 600 degree oven. That's the best way to sum up one of the smoothest events I've ever worked. Thank you to the McK's, Fresh Events, staff and to you for reading.

Eat Drink Style Chinese Beef & Scallion Pancake - 肉 卷 餅 or 牛肉 卷

Beef Scallion Pancake

On Sunday night, I invited my friends HL, Yoony of Immaeatchu and her beer-guzzling man over for for dinner. The irritating heatwave that had struck upon us a few weeks ago was finally, long gone. When it's cold, I immediately think of beef noodle soup because I am a noodle whore. Beef noodle soup calls for the usage of beef shank, the leg portion of the cow, and because it is tough and sinewy, it requires many hours of braising. Usually when I make this, I'm left with way too much beef. I had run out of soup and didn't know what to do with the remaining meat. Then, I remembered a delicious item I had eaten at Temple City's Mandarin Noodle Deli... scallion beef pancake. Such a good and easy snack to make.

Much like Koreans with their side dishes, known as 'baan chan', Chinese also have their own set of delicious snacks. We have something we call 'lu wei' (滷 味), which literally means 'simmered flavor' and requires hours of braising/simmering foods with spices such as anise, cinnamon and coriander. It's peasant food at its best. If you've been to a Taiwanese or Chinese market/deli, you might see a section of boxed foods with duck's feet, pig ears, tripe, intestines, etc.... that is 'lu wei' food. If you've ever had brown-colored boiled eggs, with that sweet, aromatic and somewhat salty taste... that's 'lu wei'. Good stuff! One of my favorite 'lu-wei' items is cold-sliced beef tossed with cilantro, chili oil and sichuan peppercorns... which is similar to what is used in beef scallion pancake.

Beef Shank Slices

I took my remaining beef shank from the beef noodle soup pot, wrapped it up and threw it in the fridge to let it harden. The next day, I sliced it into 1/8" cuts and poured a little bit of my beef noodle soup over it to revive it from dryness.

Scallions & Cilantro

Next, I chopped up some scallions and cilantro. One of the best kitchen gadgets I own is the scallion slicer/rake. For this dish, you don't want thick cuts of scallions otherwise it'll be overpowering.

Hoisin & Sesame Oil Sauce

For the beef scallion pancake, you need a sweet sauce. Not oyster sauce because it's too salty. Get hoisin sauce. I diluted it with a little water and added about 5-6 drops of sesame oil to brighten the sauce. Tasty.

For the scallion pancake, it's not hard to find it at the Chinese market. They either come fresh in the bread section or frozen. Fresh is best, but if you can't find it, no worries. Just don't use a tortilla or pita bread. Pan fry the scallion pancake for 3-4 minutes on each side until it's slightly brown. If you overfry the scallion pancakes, you'll see the mess you'll make when you try to roll it up. So the softer the pancake, the better it is.

Now, lay the scallion pancake flat, cover it with a generous amount of hoisin/sesame oil sauce, add the scallions and cilantro toward the bottom of the pancake in a tidy row (close to your body), add the beef slices.... and roll tightly away from you. Cut them at a diagonal bias and discard (or eat) the ends.

For the cold beef slices, you can just use the beef noodle soup recipe. Enjoy and thanks for reading.

Beef Scallion Pancake

Eat Drink Style Pizza Party for My Nephew & Pizza Snob Friends

Taylor's First Pizza

As a kid growing up, I looked forward to Sundays when the Times would be delivered to our doorstep. I'd get up and run to the door and grab the heap of freshly ink-pressed paper and toss it onto the living room floor. I would then grab scissors and hastily cut the bra and thong off the newspaper with two quick snips. And on my hands and knees, I would quickly shuffle through the stack like a college intern in a file cabinet on a busy day. There it was. Exactly what I was looking for.

No, it wasn't the comics.

Coupons. Pizza coupons.

During that time, the powerhouse pizza companies were Domino's, Pizza Hut and Little Caesar's and were constantly offering deals with soda, an extra pie for X amount of dollars or some weird culinary invention. But it was Little Caesar's who kept it real. For $15, you could get TWO pizzas with TWO toppings, while the other two offered ONE pizza for nearly the same price. Coming from a frugal, Chinese family, we'd be lucky to even get the $15 deal. Domino's and Pizza Hut was for the rich... and plus, they make such damn greasy food. I still refuse to eat that stuff to this day. But Little Caesar's? Yes please! Anyway, it was easier to push a cow off the road than it was to convince my parents to buy us pizza. They just didn't see the point of bread, cheese and sauce cut into triangles? Why? For $15, they could get a whole roasted duck at the Sam Woo bbq zoo. They could buy 7 of those face-sun visors if they made them back then. Thank god they didn't. Sometimes, we'd get those cardboard-like pizzas that came wrapped and stacked on top of each other. One look at it and you knew that it wasn't going to be very good.

My sister and I devised a plan to obtain more pizzas... simply by being on our best behavior. We showed homework, cleaned the house up every chance we could and blew MAJOR smoke up their asses. Most of the time, we failed. But for every 15 tries, we got our pizza. And it was heaven. For some reason, my story wasn't far off from Charlie & the Chocolate Factory. We weren't very wealthy but we had hopes and dreams... of getting pizza. I still remember what it was like holding $15 buck in my pocket and happily crossing the street. The all-too-familiar sign with the cartoon Greek guy would widen my eyes. I could see the oompa-loompas walking back n' forth behind the counter processing goodness. A smile cracked on my face and wielding that fabulous coupon that would grant me access into delicious cheesiness. If you remember, Little Caesar's used to package their double goodness on a cardboard and large white 'envelope'... much like Charlie's winning ticket in the chocolate bar. A simple tear in the 'envelope', and wafts of goodness seaped into your nose. Those days are long gone. Now Little Caesars pack their pizzas in boxes and are selling two types of pizzas for $5 each. You've seen their human billboards... spinning and tossing their signs on the corner of the street. Definitely not the same.

I still love pizza to this day, but really, who doesn't? My favorites being Fat Slice in Norcal, Abbot's in Venice Beach and Greco's on the corner of Hollywood & Cahuenga. And for a frozen brand, I absolutely love the 5 for $5 Jeno's pizza – my official poor-college-guy staple, amongst Del Taco and Sriracha-sauce hot dogs. But the more you cook, the more you stray away from eating out and I definitely can't eat the pizza from Domino's and Pizza Hut. The sight of that greasy bread and orange puddle of oil laying on top... man. It's inevitable that you'll try making your own pizza.

Finally, after a long hiatus, I got called for a catering gig that requires making pizza in a woodfire oven. I freaked because (1) I cannot stand baking and (2) how the hell do I work a woodfire oven. Why do I hate baking? Because it basically requires a lot of patience, standing around and precise measurements. Once you've done exactly what the book tells you to do, you loiter in the kitchen area. I prefer cooking savory food because it triggers the human senses and requires full attention. I see it as a high maintenace girl that needs love, care, attention, gifts, massages and affection. If something's not right, she'll react and blow up. Such is the case with sauces that break... meat that is overcooked. Very temperamental but I love it.

J and I borrowed her mom's Kitchen Aid mixer and one look at that thing ensures that your food will be good. Tokyoastrogirl sent me a link to a recipe by Heidi of 101 Cookbook's, who now has her first published cookbook. (Congrats to her on a huge achievement – she deserves it). I decided to throw a pizzafest slash practice for the catering event, and to celebrate my nephew's first birthday. Since he has four beaver teeth coming out, he'd be able to eat his first pizza. I tried out the recipe Heidi used and man, this was some GOOD pizza dough. My mom, who never let us have pizza, loved the bread. J called me 30 mins after she tried it, and asked that I save some dough for her. I myself hate eating pizza crust, but couldn't resist. So far so good. The best way to find out if this pizza was really good was to call on my friends ME & EP. These two are pizza snobs slash whores. They eat pizza once a week. They've DRIVEN to the famous Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix TWICE, where people wait for 2 hours in line to get in to this spot. I've seen the photos of their pizza and wow, amazing. If you like the pizza at Batali & Silverton's Pizzeria Mozza, you'll like Pizzeria Bianco because the head chef, Chef Matt Molina, was trained in that same restaurant.

Australia-looking Pizza

These hairy arms are not mine. They belong to my friend ME. Here ME is rolling the dough out for our first pizza. A great dinner party to have is a pizza party, where you buy a bunch of pizza toppings and let everyone make his own pizza. I watched as he rolled the dough, and he looked very happy. Almost with that perverted, sexual offender look. Don't worry if your dough starts to look like Australia like it does in the photo, simply roll it back into a ball and start over. It's a good thing also to roll a few times because you want air to get in there to add some puffiness to the pizza.

Baby Cheese Pizza

Baby Cheese Pizza
For the birthday boy, my sister and I made him a 6" pizza with delicious marinara and mozzarella cheese on it. We then sliced the pizza into 1/2" x 1/2" cubes and laid them out on his baby chair (pictured above). He went to town on it and gobbled it up in about 7 minutes. This pizza reminded me of larger Bagel Bites and was very very fun to make.

Pepperoni Pizza

ME's Double Pepperoni Pizza
First ME laid out 5-6 pepperoni slices on the cheese. I looked at him with a puzzled look. C'mon man, I thought you were a pizza whore... double down on it! He pretty much covered the whole pizza up w/ pepperoni... not a chance for the bread to see the light of day. A classic, delicious pizza!

Marguerite Pizza

My Sister's Marguerite Pizza
She likes simple food and this pizza is a classic representation of food that doesn't need to be complicated. The Italians first devised this pizza as a way to promot patriotism. A marguerite consists of only red sauce, white cheese and green basil... the 3 colors in the Italian flag. I cut the slices of tomato rather thin because 10 minutes in the oven really doesn't cook the tomato fully. Everyone loved this.

Sausage & Zuccini Pizza

Spinach & Fontina Sausage with Zuccini and Red Onions
My favorite pizza has to be a veggie pizza, but the consensus insisted on adding sausage to this pizza. You can use any kind of sausage, it'll taste perfectly fine. I did a quick sauté with the zuccini and added garlic and smoked paprika. This combination was very good.

Portobello & White Truffle Oil Pizza

Portobello & White Truffle Oil Pizza
I made this for the client and she absolutely loved it. I quickly sautéed the portobello mushrooms in garlic and thyme and added it to the pizza. After it came out, I lightly drizzled some fantastic White Truffle oil. If you plan to buy White Truffle oil, try to fork out the money for a pure bottle of truffle oil, not the truffle-infused olive oil crap you see at Trader Joe's. If you don't use it quickly enough, the oil goes bad and tastes nasty. For many this was the 2nd favorite.

Heirloom, Basil & Burrata Cheese Pizza

Heirloom Tomatoes, Basil & Burrata Cheese Pizza
I think for this election, I'm not voting for Hillary, Obama nor Edwards, I'm voting for Burrata Cheese for President. This stuff is stellar. Tokyoastrogirl gave me the idea for this and I really have to say THANK YOU. The combination of sweet, juicy heirlooms, fragrant basil and soft & milky burrata is heavenly. After I baked the pizza, I dropped globs of the burrata cheese (it comes in a water-filled tub, in some sort of 'casing') all over. I watched as it melted slightly on the surface. Beauty. This was everyone's favorite and definitely mine.

A note to those that wanna try out the pizza recipe. With exception to the Baby Cheese and Pepperoni pizzas, I simply used olive oil on the dough as a 'sauce' base. I'm not much of a tomato sauce person, so I refrained from using it – and it turned out wonderful. Always salt and pepper the pizza after you've added your toppings. You can even add some more olive oil on top of the pizza before you bake it. Pizzas were baked for about 12 minutes, at 450 degrees without a baking stone. I've heard a baking stone does wonders, so I'll try that next.

Here's the link to Heidi's tasty recipe again. Happy belated to my little nephew, you rock. And thanks to everyone for reading.

Eat Drink Style San Francisco - All Work, No Play... But Definitely Good Eating

The comedown from such an eye opening experience in China resulted in periodic wakeups every 3 hours in the night, slight headaches from basically being hung upside down for a good week and a half and constant cursing from being completely exhausted. J and I did a lot in only 10 days, 2 lost from flying... Hong Kong, Macau, Zhuhai and Yangshuo. And when I thought I could finally slip back into my Los Angeles mode, I was abruptly shuttled to our San Francisco office for a week of work. There's something frustrating about emptying a suitcase, and then having to repack again.

Argh.

*Bing* But wait, a business trip entails business meals. Oh yes.

I take that 'argh' back.

The Clift Front

I was put up in another one of the Morgans Hotel Group properties, the Clift. Back in February, I got to stay at Ian Schrager's beautiful Hudson Hotel in Chelsea, New York. Both are truly sleek, conceptual boutique hotels. I could only dream of affording a night there.

The Clift Lobby


The Clift Bar

The Clift Hotel is well-known for its bar, which is built with the wood from a single redwood tree. May not sound astonishing, but this place is huge. I'd have to guess the ceilings are at least 40' high. There are picture frames with portraits of people all over, and when looking closely, you can see that it's not really a still image. It's a looping pre-recorded video. Kinda creepy when you catch one of the models gazing at you. J's brother and I came here after dinner and soon found out the hard truth with boutique hotel bars, you're gonna get ripped off. 8 shots of tequila and 4 beers, we were happy. But immediately sobered up upon receiving the $150 tab. Looks like we're eating cheap the rest of the week.

Bar Crudo

Before landing in SF, I did all my restaurant research on Chowhound and Yelp! Bar Crudo was one of the places many of the posters and reviewers had mentioned. 'Crudo' is spanish/italian for 'raw' and you might catch yourself getting some cold stares if you even refer to this place as a sushi bar. No rolls, no nigiri rice, none of that. Just plain old cuts of delicious, super fresh fish presented in a way that gives San Francisco bragging rights. Chef/owner Mike Selvera is extremely talented. Guest-eating with J's brother and I was another one of my foodie friends EW. If you had read about my awesome trip in Taiwan, she was the tour guide for all the nuggets of goodness available only at the night markets.

Bar Crudo Jellyfish

Selvera has a taste for art as much as he does for his culinary creations. We sat there for about 15 minutes trying to figure out how that jellyfish piece was constructed and when Ikea would steal the idea and put that out on the shelves. I'd buy one though, maybe even 15.

Bar Crudo Raw Bar

We grabbed a front row seat at the bar like teenagers with fake ID's at a nudie bar. Our eyes admiring, no STUDYING, the many types of shellfish available. Chef Selvera saw us and gave a smirk. He could tell that we were total food perverts. Patience, perverted ones.

Bar Crudo Kumamoto Oysters

Kumamoto Oysters
Unless you're an ogre or Paris Hilton, I don't understand how one can swallow the tongue-sized oysters that are usually listed on menus. The first time I tried an oyster, it had to be the size of a human tongue. I started tearing and had to spit it back out, and so did my friends haha. But then comes the wonderful midget of oysters... the Kumamoto. It originated in Kyushu, Japan but is now harvested in the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia region. And with the best coming from Humboldt Bay. The oyster is only about 2" long in its shell, but when carved out, it's thin and easy to chew. But its the taste that's so amazing – sweet with very little brininess. Absolutely no soapiness to it. It's a good thing we asked Selvera if he had Kumamotos because he rarely gets them. J's brother, Jeremy, had never tried Kumamotos... and after 1... we each got 1/2 a dozen for ourselves. Chef Selvera serves them the traditional way with mignonette and cocktail sauce. Delicious.

Bar Crudo Scallops

Day Boat Scallops with Corn Puree, Lobster Mushrooms & Terragon Oil
Scallops, the tater-tots-of-the sea. No meal for me is complete without some sort of scallop, whether it's seared or in ceviche form. Scallops are delicate and texture and taste and the addition of the cubed lobster mushroom makes perfect Yinyang. I've never had sweet corn puree on anything but love how this is a great substitute for sugar.

Bar Crudo Tuna

Tombo Tuna with Lobster Oil, Pineapple Vanilla Vinaigrette & Himalayan Pepper
One look at this tuna and we knew it was superfresh, not to mention the beautiful pink hue. I loved this dish! Where can I find Himalayan pepper?!

Bar Crudo Hawaiian Ono

Hawaiian Ono with Lemongrass, Chili, Citrus, Mint & Yuzu Tobiko
This one was the winner for me. I've only had seared and broiled ono... and now prefer it completely raw. Selvera basically made a Vietnamese-style vinaigrette with chili, lemongrass, fish sauce and sugar. I'm sure the sauce used would even work well with spring rolls.

Bar Crudo Fluke

Rhode Island Fluke with Jamon Serrano & Soft Quail Egg
Of all the dishes tonight, the fluke was the most tender. It reminds me a lot of the sushi prepared by the wonderful Keizo of Sushi Zo in Palms. The quail egg was pretty much a bonus to me since I'm a sucker for them.

Bar Crudo Arctic Char

Arctic Char with Creamy Horseradish, Wasabi Tobiko & Dill
I was excited to try this dish because I had heard a lot about Arctic Char. It belongs to the salmon family and even possesses trout attributes. It is also the only freshwater fish found so far North in the Arctic region. This guy has no trouble frolicking in icy water. I loved this dish as well. You can totally tell Selvera used freshly-grated horseradish, because you might tear from its robustness.

Bar Crudo Lobster Salad

Maine Lobster Salad with Sweet Corn, Heirloom Tomatoes & Burrata Cheese
Peanut butter & jelly. Spam & eggs. Midgets & strippers. All pairings that I like, JK on the last one. And thanks to Mike, I'm adding this one to the books. Chunky pieces of butter-poached Maine lobster with whole peaches and watercress. Seriously, if you served a scoop of ice cream on top of this, I would nod my head and agree that this is... DEFINITELY dessert.

Bar Crudo Seafood Chowder

Seafood Chowder with Applewood Smoked Bacon & Potatoes
More like bacon soup with a garnish of squid, fish, lobster and clams. It's a good thing the three of us shared this because it was sooooooo rich. But my god, this had to be one of the tastiest nouveau chowders I've had. I say 'nouveau' because I know this may not be as good as New England's chowder. But damn it's good.

This is the first time I've ever used this word when speaking about food, but the food at Bar Crudo is simply SEXY. Bring a date and you'll have her/him/it in no time. And not to mention Selvera's interest for fish and art, he's got a good palate for microbrews and imports. I highly recommend Norcal's Racer 5 beer. Bar Crudo for president!!!

Incanto San Francisco

When it comes to offals, the 'unused' parts, one might think of Mario Batali and just about every single Chinese chef in the San Gabriel Valley with their bbq zoo on display. But thanks to the people on Yelp! and Chowhound, I learned about an Italian, Rhode Island-native named Chris Cosentino. Chef Cosentino has worked at Alice Water's Chez Panisse in Berkeley and SF's Rubicon and has appeared on Iron Chef America against Mario Batali in Battle Offals. At his restaurant Incanto, you might want to inquire about the group dinner special. It's definitely prix fixe but it's not a 9 course menu... it's one whole roasted pig or lamb at a whopping $1500... enough to feed 20 according to the staff. And every part of that animal is served. Being an offal eater, there was no hesitation in paying Noe Valley's Incanto a visit. And before I start to ramble on, I want people to know that Incanto serves half portions of their appetizers and wine, allowing you to get a tasty glimpse of Cosentino's secret weapon(s). How many restaurants out there will offer 1/2 orders of anything? I really like how Cosentino encourages people to try things they haven't tried before.

Incanto Pig Head

This is one of those things you might find at a garage sale or swapmeet, but for Incanto, it makes a lot of sense – it's their brand image.

Incanto House Olives

House-Marinated Olives
I started out with some house olives. Olives... I love them but how exciting can they be if there served as appetizers. It wasn't until I saw the pantry cook toss these in dark olive oil and probably some kind of herbal vinaigrette that I knew something was up. To top it off, he put them on a plate and threw in what looked like a toaster oven. Whoa, toasted olives. For many people, olives are too earthy and much to tannic. But the simple task of infusing heat into these seeded beings takes them to another level, like kimchi thrown on a korean bbq grill. These were excellent and perfect with the pre-dinner drink.

Incanto Heirloom Tomatoes

Heirloom Tomato & Melon with Vanilla Salt & Basil
Heirloom tomatoes are in season and I recommend eating them while they are hot. Tomatoes are fruits, but do they really taste like fruit? Not really. But things change when heirlooms come into the picture – they are sweet and succulent. And the addition of very expensive olive oil and vanilla-infused sea salt enhances the dish. Like the Maine lobster and peach salad I had, a simple scoop of ice cream would've slotted this dish in the dessert category. It was THAT refreshing.

I was done with the appetizers and picked up the menu again. For some reason, my mind is only picking out the bizarre nouns... like brains and hearts. And its exactly what I had.

Incanto Beef Heart

Grilled Beef Heart, Pickled Watermelon & Pistachio
I'm used to chicken hearts but I didn't expect the beef heart to be... well so beefy. If I was told that this was a steak, I would've believed so. I was expecting to see valves and veins but the beautiful searing covered it up. What brought this dish together was the pickled watermelon... I can eat them like candy all day long – so good!

Incanto Calf Brain

Calves' Brains with Porcini, Capers & Lemon
Now just imagine egg tarts at dim sum. Imagine the steamed egg at korean restaurants. Imagine panna cotta but with a beefy taste to it. And that's calves' brains. I loved loved loved this... partly because it wasn't as rich as I had imagined it to be. When I had brain tacos in SF last year, all I could taste was FAT. Although good, I couldn't imagine anyone pounding more than one of those. I had read somewhere that the cow brain contains anywhere from 2,000-3,o00 calories because of all the colored matter. Not good for you. Anyway, the sauce that accompanied this couldn't be more perfect. The brain is so delicate and rich that you need nothing more than a beautiful, buttery, lemony stock to wash it down. I guess the only thing creepy about this dish really is the cloud-like shape of the actual calf brain. Other than that, Cosentino has made a stellar dish.

Incanto Tuna Heart Pasta

Sardinian Cured Tuna Heart, Egg Yolk & Parsley Spaghettini
The bartender, server and guy sitting next to me recommended this dish. Three people can't be too wrong. I knew this dish was up next because I could smell the strong waft of sardines... but it was immediatly followed by a slap of garlic. Wow. I had to sit there and enjoy the aroma for a few seconds before digging in. I mixed the egg yolk with everything on the plate, and the result was a golden hue with little freckles of shaved, fried tuna heart. I ate this in approximately 3 minutes without one sip of water or wine. I wanted more and more. Why did they tell me that I could order a 1/2 order of this?! Excellent!!!

Incanto Lamb Ragu

Lamb Ragu with Handkerchief Pasta
I didn't have to taste this to know that this was going to knock me over. Braised-to-death slivers of lamb, velvety ribbons of fresh pasta swimming in a golden river of cholestorel. Oh man. Again, I killed this dish.... scratch that.... inhaled it in 3 minutes.

I'll be honest with you, I can't justify spending $20+ on pasta because it's something that I attribute to home cooking. It just seems so expensive for what it is. I would eat pho WAY LESS if it was $25 a bowl, even if it had braised short ribs or kobe beef in it. Wouldn't you? But thank you to Chef Cosentino, I am craving more freshmade pasta now. And I cannot wait to go back here. *Applause*

I had only eaten two of SF's best places, and I was already feeling spoiled. But it seems that the Gods of Employment saw that I was having too much fun... they threw a big thunderbolt of work at me. Approximately two days of 16+ hour workdays and a 30+ hour all nighter of work at me.

Thanks, Gods of Employment.

And on the last day, after 30+ hours... I ended up here in the streets of San Francisco. Completely exhausted, delirious, with stinging eyes... wandering the streets for some sort of reward.

San Francisco Tsingtao Billboard

I saw this sign while walking around aimlessly. I found it funny at the time and laughed out loud like a madman, maybe it's not as funny now... especially if you can't read Chinese.

My flight was in 2.5 hours and I needed to redeem the last few days of vacuuming and polishing Satan's basement. My friend, Immaeatchu's man, had told me about a great spot called City Beer. At this point, it was 11:45 and I found myself staring at the shop from across the street. They weren't opened yet. It was either I go here for a liquid lunch and look like an alchy, or head out to Burma Superstar for one of SF's favorite joints. With my backpack and raggedy carry-on, I looked at my cellphone for the time again.

11:54 AM.

11:57 AM.


You see, the biggest problem and guilt comes from the fact that AM is showing on my phone, not PM. Any big drinker will tell you that it's NOT a drinking problem when you drink in the PM. What's one beer? I'll go to Burma Superstar after that ONE beer.

City Beer San Francisco

12:05 pm. I walked in to City Beer. Like a kid in a candy store, I was suddenly awakened by the sight of something so beautiful. Just hundreds of colorful beer labels beckoning me to pick them up and caress them. Hold them and love them and cherish them. See them grow, graduate and have their own families.

I met the owner Craig, a mid-30's guy, who is so passionate about beer he'd kick you out if you even asked the question, "do you have any wine coolers?" City Beer offers a weekly selection of beers on tap and only charges $4 for an 8-10 ouncer. You can try any beer on the shelves or fridges for only $1 corkage per bottle.

City Beer Hops

These are hops used for making beer. I was buzzed and popped one in my mouth and you kno what, not a bad snack. I'm sure I would've said the same thing if I had eaten grasshoppers.

2.5 hours later, 5 beers and $35 worth of beer, I had forgotten about my lunch plans and found my new batcave. Quite simply, I was drunk. And this couldn't be a more perfect way to end the rough week. Drop by and have a beer with Craig, you'll learn a lot. He's a great guy.

But the fun doesn't stop... I'm currently writing from a hotel in San Francisco... again for the 2nd week. Stay tuned...!

Thanks for reading.

Bar Crudo
603 Bush Street
San Francisco, CA, 94108
(415) 956-0396
www.barcrudo.com

Incanto
1550 Church Street
San Francisco, CA, 94131
(415) 641-4500
www.incanto.biz

City Beer
1168 Folsom Street
San Francisco, CA, 94103
(415) 503-1033