A Couple of Tarts

We should look for someone to eat and drink with before looking for something to eat and drink, for dining alone is leading the life of a lion or wolf. ~ Epicurus

Friday, July 27, 2007

Perpetually Full in LA

One of the perks (and downfalls) of visiting my parents is that we go out to eat. A lot. And their refrigerator is always full. Which is great, except for the part where I always gain five pounds per week I am home. When I was young, going out to eat meant fast food or chain restaurants, but my parents have branched out quite a bit since those days and I can always count on excellent food choices.

Before RFC and I said good-bye to the Bay Area, though, we stopped by Arizmendi Bakery for a carbohydrate loaded breakfast of cheese rolls, sticky buns and muffins. It tasted wonderful at the time, but unfortunately we had a sugar high crash a couple hours late...it was worth it. And on the drive down to LA we made the first of two In-n-Out stops. Always a must when traveling in California. Make sure to ask for the grilled onions!

In Los Angeles, I was lucky to get to try two very different bakeries. While popping over to Venice to see a friend, we took a walk on Abbot Kinney. I stepped into Jin Patisserie, a Japanese-influenced bakery that I have heard much about. On the expensive side, I splurged and bought a lavender chocolate gateau and a bag of green tea shortbread bites. I was most impressed with the textures of both. The cream filling of the cake was very smooth with just the slightest hint of lavender and the cookies had a very fine crumb. The second bakery was in the San Fernando Valley, Big Sugar Bakeshop. I wasn't planning on going there even though it has been on my to do list for the past couple of visits. I just happened to be reading the local paper and saw listings for Harry Potter release event. I love Harry Potter and while I'm not one to be waiting in line at midnight for a copy of book I can buy at Target the next day (which is just what I did), I can be persuaded to wait in line for Potter-inspired goodies. The line at the bakery wasn't too bad...there was a fog machine, treats for those of us waiting (muggle chocolate coins and orange slugs), and the chance to be on the 11 o'clock news. Once at the counter we tried cauldron cakes, pumpkin pasties, pretzel wands, all washed down with butterbeer and pumpkin juice.

Before I end this post and we move onto the trip back to NYC, I have to mention the amazing Mexican food we had at Las Fuentes in Reseda, which RFC proclaimed as some of the best he has ever had. And the incredibly tasty Indian food that was eaten at Clay Oven in Sherman Oaks. The San Fernando Valley may get a lot of knocks (some coming from me) but there are some gems to found hidden among the strip malls.

NYC Tart
(from somewhere in the Rocky Mountains)

Sunday, July 15, 2007

At the Ferry Building

If I play my cards right, one of the days I visit San Francisco is always a Saturday. That way I get to pay a vist to the Ferry Building Farmer's Market. Yes, it is a pricey and can get crowded, but I LOVE it. It makes me so happy to be there and RFC noted that I was in heaven the whole time we were walking around. We really splurged this time and picked up lots of treats to make dinner. Heirloom tomatoes, jade beans, Bedega goat cheese, a baguette from Acme Bread, organic strawberries, June Taylor jam, shitake mushrooms from Far West Fungi...jealous yet? And even though it started out a typical SF summer day, foggy and chilly, that changed by the time we were finishing up and the sun was out and the sky as blue as can be.

We had breakfast at the market with my brother, RFC and I splitting up to maximize the number of foods we could taste. I headed for Hayes Street Grill to get a plate of wild mushroom scrambled eggs while RFC scored by getting one of the last batches of griddle cakes and sausage from Prather Ranch. My brother also got scrambled eggs, but from Rose Pistola. Blue Bottle Coffee accompanied all meals. It was pretty potent, being the single cup drip variety. I think we were all wired.

It was hard to leave, but I am looking forward to the meal in which we will be using many of these amazing ingredients.

NYC Tart (from SF)

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Golden State

It's hard to believe, but we made it to California. After many miles (3400 to be almost exact) we rolled up in Petrolia, California. You might be wondering where this is, even if you have lived in CA all your life. It is pretty much far away from any kind of city or town (Eureka being the closest) but right smack dab in the middle of amazingly beautiful countryside. A friend of RFC's lives there and we took a very windy road to spend two days with her. We went for a bike ride by the ocean and spent a day by the river, swimming in a real swimming hole! Because the town of Petrolia only has one little general store that closes at 5 pm, cooking at home was the plan for each day. RFC's friend was a wonderful hostess and prepared fabulous spreads at meal time. Our first morning, we feasted on banana stuffed pancakes laced with local currant jam eaten out on her back pork amid the butterflies and hummingbirds. She also made kickass salsa. At night we threw salmon on the grill and made our own eel sushi. I even got to pitch in and put together a crisp using cherries and local blueberries. We had such an amazing time that it was very hard to leave. The only thing that made it okay was that the next stop was San Francisco!

This has been RFC's first trip to the Bay Area, so I have been having fun taking him to all my favorite places, On the way down Highway 1, we stopped for lunch at the North Coast Brewing Company. My dad had recommended the beer battered fish and chips and he was right on. The coating was just enough to make it feel decadant but didn't overwhelm the fish and the fries were the perfect crispy consistancy. Their kobe burger was also great, especially when paired with their garlic fries. The first morning in San Francisco, we met one of my old baking buddies at Tartine Bakery in the Mission. So many things to try and after discussing with my friend what we recipes we had tried from their cookbook, I settled on a slice of their olive loaf and a straight-up croissant. They were both fantastic. The olive bread was loaded with olives (of course) and bits of ham. It was almost custardy inside. RFC ordered one of their croque monsieurs. Now that was rich! They had just come out of the oven and were overflowing with gooey cheese. I wanted to get some sweet things, but we were so full (and I felt a bit gluttonous) that we passed and took a walk to Dolores Park. We did make one little stop at the Bi-Rite ice cream shop. The counterperson was kind enough to give us tastes of a number of ice creams. I don't know if I will be able to go back this trip, but if not it is going to move to the top of my list.

Of course RFC had to have the SF taqueria experience, so I took him to my favorite: El Torro. My brother and I talked him into getting a burrito. He thought it was ridiculous...rediculouly good. We stuck with more low key tacos. I know that some people prefer Pancho Villa and they are owned by the same people, but I like the intimacy of El Torro. Plus it is the scene of one of the craziest things I have ever seen happen in SF involving shouting and a flying plate of food. And obviously I love the food.

One highlight has been dinner at Firefly Restaurant in Noe Valley. There is a soft spot in my heart for it and I haven't been there since I moved away four years ago. It was a treat to go back. The style of food has remained the same...their logo used to be home cooking with no ethnic boundaries. We had grilled romano beans with truffle oil, a tempura tuna roll, and entrees that included a veggie tagine, salmon with pesto potatoes, and sea bass with avocado and quinoa. Desserts are as good as ever. Simple and homey and filled with flavor. Creme brulee is no longer on the menu and neither is a flourless chocolate cake (probably for the best and the sanity of the pastry chef) and we enjoyed an apricot turnover and a chocolate truffle tart.

One more treat was to have afternoon cocktails at the Orbit Room. Drinking a mojito, the breeze blowing through the window, sitting with people I love...now that's pretty close to perfection.

More soon!
NYC Tart (from the Left Coast)

Thursday, July 05, 2007

On the Open Road

Oh, where to begin? RFC and I left on our great cross-country adventure last week. It is made a little more adventurous by the fact that I am sharing the driving of RFC's stick shift, when all I have ever driven is an automatic. But so far, so good, and we have made it to Rock Springs, Wyoming.

We have been taking a northern route west and have driven through a number of states. Pennsylvania seemed to take the longest, but it was the first day and we may have been anxious to put some distance between ourselves and NYC. So far, it has been camping each night which means lots of camp fires and camp food. We stocked up before we left and invested in a camping french press so I could have my coffee from the Porto Rico Importing Company each morning. A few nights ago I had my first real s'more. I discoved the trick is to get the mini chocolate bars because the big size is too big and doesn't melt well enough from the heat of the marshmallow. No worries though, because the other trick is to rest the assembled s'more on your fork and hold that over the fire to finish the job. I have also realized that nothing compares to the taste of a fire-roasted hot dog on the Fourth of July when you have just gone to see Mount Rushmore.

Speaking of Mount Rushmore, we thought it lived up to all expectations. And the Black Hills of South Dakota have got to be one of the most amazing sights in the United States. And wacky. Huge heads carved into a mountain? Before we got here, though, we also paid a visit to the Corn Palace. Yes, that's right, a palace decorated with corn. RFC has heard me say this already, but I think the coolest thing about the Corn Palace is being able to say that you've gone there. We also stopped for lunch at the famous Wall Drugs. Haven't heard of it? Drive anywhere within a 400 mile radius of Wall, South Dakota and you will see the signs advertising free ice water, 5 cent coffee and homemade pie. (My advice: skip the pie and go for the homemade donuts...they are perfect.)

I made sure to buy Road Food by the Sterns and have tried to map out a few of their suggestions. Our first attempt was a place in Middlebury, Indiana, but we found ourselves out of luck, it being Sunday in Amish Country. We were more fortunate at Bob's in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. We sampled broasted chicken for the first time. Broasting is a way of cooking in a pressurized fryer. Apparantly a company in the Mid-west makes them. The result is fried chicken without the breading but all of the greasy crispy goodness. We topped off this meal with a generous helping of homemade vanilla ice cream.

Life is good! We've learned that there are RV's bigger than our apartment. You can get pretty good Mexican food in Albert Lea, Minnesota. And the deer and antelope really do play out on the range.

NYC Tart (dispatching from the field)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Bar Jamon

My friends are awesome. I really adore each and every one of them. And one thing they all have in common is great taste in food and restaurants. I can count on them to accompany me to a little pizza place in Brooklyn or a higher end seasonal menu type restaurant in the West Village. Sometimes I am lucky enough to be the recipient of an evening out as a gift for a birthday or some other event. S. recently took me out to the tapas bar Bar Jamon in honor of completing my masters. We share an affinity for Spanish food which was well established on a three week trip through Spain four years ago. We often reminisce and sigh thinking about the delicious meals which included bacalao, stuffed peppers, tortillas and various forms of fried fish (of which we indulged a little too much).

We have been to Casa Mono, Bar Jamon's sister restaurant around the corner. Bar Jamon really is a bar, with bar chairs situated around long, high tables. We got there early to ensure a seat and began our experience with Cava Mono. I don' t know much about sparkling wine, but this was delicate and refreshing and didn't give me a headache, all signs of something good. We wanted to try a number of plates, but ham and cheese were must-haves. We ordered a plate of jamon serrano and manchego cheese paired with mebrillo (quince paste). I am partial to this combination from having to make trays and trays of the paste as a pastry chef in San Francisco. We also had to get pain con tomate. This is basically toasted bread with tomatoes rubbed over the top and drizzled with olive oil. So simple and so satisfying. I think tomatoes on toast is one of the best things to eat. Ever. We also had lomo (pork) served with shitake mushrooms and a plate of pickled sardines. The only disappointment was the churros with chocolate. I think everything served at Bar Jamon is prepared earlier in the day and just plated to order by the bartenders. The churros were hard and drenched in cinnamon sugar, nothing like the light, crispy/chewy fried dough sticks we were expecting. The chocolate was tasty, with a bit of a spicy kick, but it didn't make up for the churros. I guess it is a reason to go back to Seville.

Thanks S. for a wonderful evening out!

Bar Jamon
125 East 17th Street
New York, NY
(212) 253-2773

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

My Favorite Thing

Mmmm...bagels. One of my all time favorite things to eat. Before I moved to NYC, when I was visiting here with S., we stayed in the West Village and we would often walk by Murray's Bagels on the way to the subway. I would look in the window and see people reading the paper, enjoying their bagels. And I would think how neat it would be to live in New York and be one of those people. Little did I know that one day it would be me. Well, I usually enjoy my bagel and newspaper around the corner from my apartment in Astoria but every so often I do get myself to Murray's to have one of their crusty and chewy works of art. Today I treated myself to an everything bagel with sundried tomato cream cheese. It was a little heavy on the spread, but the bagel itself was so straight-out-of-the-oven warm that it seemed toasted and the cream cheese melted into a gooey mess. Yum! Hands down, the best bagels in New York City.

Murray's Bagels
500 6th Avenue
New York, NY
(212) 462-2830

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Official Start of Summer

I know summer doesn't officially start for another week, but as far as I'm concerned, it got going recently with a trip out to the beach topped off by dinner at All American in Massapequa. Last year I was introduced to this Long Island institution by RFC. It's legendary among him and his friends as well as with a few other LIers I know. The food is fantastic, cheap and fast. It's reminiscent of McDonalds (I'm sorry, it's not a dig, but a reality). I always get the quarter pounder and onion rings. One of these days, I'm going to get a shake, but I can't justify the calories just yet. (Maybe if I actually get myself to the gym.) But anyways, one of the traditions of going to All American is to eat in the car. Put the rings on the dashboard, lay down some napkins on your lap and dig in. It is always satisfying, especially topped off with ice cream from the adjacent Marshall's where I recently had my first Brown Bonnet...which I think sounds vaguely dirty.

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