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

Monday, June 26, 2006

A Piece of My Heart (Part Two)

I can't believe how much I crammed into my time out west, and there were still places I missed! Here are a few more highlights of my trip:

**Saturday Farmer's Market at the San Francisco Ferry Building. I know that this market is on the expensive side, but I think you are partly paying for the gorgeous view of the bay and the bridge. The day we went, there wasn't a cloud in the sky and the temperature was a perfect 78 degrees. Lavender is in season and the scent wafted over us at various points during our stroll amongst the stalls. I just had to buy lavender salt from
Eatwell Farms. I am hoping the perfumy flavor will be absorbed into grilled meat (maybe lamb?). I also stopped by an old favorite of mine, Flying Disc Ranch, who sell a variety of dates. I bought a few Derries, which were sticky and sweet like candy. They did not last the day. Another purchase was a jar of honey almond butter from G. L. Alfieri Farms. The folks at the stall plied me with tastes of all their flavors and also a few pieces of their delicious nut brittle. Last, but certainly not least, I indulged by getting two turnovers from Frog Hollow Farm's cafe inside the terminal. One was ham and Gruyere and the other was boysenberry. Both were wonderful.

**Pizza from Arizmendi in Oakland (3265 Lakeshore Ave). Sheepishly, I admit I never had their pizza when I lived in the Bay Area. Many, many people told me how great it is but it was just one of those places I never got around to trying. This trip I had their pizza not once, but twice. It was out of this world! They only sell one kind a day, always vegetarian. The first time it was feta, basil, and kalamatta olives. The next time I think it was simply sliced tomatoes and a mix of cheses that might have included goat cheese. The crust was more thick than thin and the pan must have been well oiled, because the bottom was crisp, almost like it had been fried.

**Olallieberry picking at Swanton Berry Farm in Davenport, followed by cream of green chile soup and olallieberry pie from Duarte's Tavern in Pescadero. Swanton's is known for their strawberries, which you can also pick yourself, but my family decided to pick olallieberries because they are something we don't run across that often. An ollalieberry is a cross between a blackberry and a raspberry (though we were given two other, very different definitions, so who knows?). They are on the tart side, more like a blackberry. I didn't take any with me because I was soon to be flying back to the East Coast, but my mom made jam with most of the fruits (hee!) of our labor. We stopped at Duarte's afterwards because I had never been there in all the times I had traveled on Highway 1. The pie we bought was straight out of the oven. It was too hot to even hold on my lap once we were in the car. And it was bursting with fruit. The crust was flaky and just thick enough to hold the filling. The cream of green chile soup was incredibly rich and the flavor was slightly reminiscent of nacho cheese sauce, but without the cheese. That sounds a little odd, I know, but trust me, that's what we all thought of.

That wraps up my trip...I probably won't be out there again until next summer so these memories will have to last until then!

le diner

I left Chikalicious wishing we had ordered another dessert but it's not the time to be greedy because I made plans to dine at Blue Ribbon restaurant that evening. We sadly said good-bye to Chika, Don and Sofia and headed over towards Soho. We split up right around Rice to Riches to meet our respective friends. I began navigating my way towards Spring Street and passed by the superlative Ceci-Cela and Balthazar bakeries. Let us not forget Sullivan Street Bakery as well. What a minute, where is Sullivan Street? Yikes, I am completely turned around and now I am in Chinatown. Have I been away that long?

My poor sense of direction never fails, but I do manage to actually arrive at the restaurant in one piece. Lily, a former co-worker, is waiting patiently in the bar area with a cocktail in hand. I am pleasantly surprised by the fact they we do not have to wait for a table. The restaurant is already abuzz with diners sharing drinks, gossip and tiers of fruits de mer. I have had the privilege of dining at many Blue Ribbon establishments (thank you Dave and the cycling team), but Lily will experience eating here for the first time. It has garnered a reputation for being a favorite with chefs. Partly because is stays open until 4 am but more importantly it is the execution of the food. The menu is wildly eclectic and never disappoints. You will discover fried chicken made from matzo meal next to tofu ravioli. Each dish comes out exactly as you want it to be.

Lily has a sophisticated palette and adventurous spirit, and I feel lucky to be dining with her.
My starter of a goat cheese salad is quite boring and wimpy next to the bone marrow and oxtail marmalade she chooses. Her motto this evening was to order something she wouldn't normally eat. She goes the distance with her main course as well, duck breast with turnip puree. After mulling over the wine list we decide upon a Domaine Ott, Cuvee Cote de Provence. I am quite impressed with the bone marrow and its presentation, but it is not for the faint of heart. It arrives on a platter with thick slices of toasted brioche and could easily serve 2 or 3.

We are seated in the middle of the dining room amidst the bustle of a typical evening. The front of the house staff never rests, yet they approach your table with a calm and cheerful manner. Even as we linger and chat, our server does not rush us out. Certainly our 4-top is valuable property at this hour? The Bromberg Brothers are definitely doing something right. From the slightly scruffy servers to the well-prepared food, an evening in one of their restaurants is always delightful. As we make our way towards the exit, the host makes sure to inquire about our meal. C'etait impressionnant.

Blue Ribbon Restaurant
97 Sullivan Street
New York, NY 10012

Friday, June 23, 2006

A Piece of My Heart (Part One)

I can't say that I left my whole heart in San Francisco when I moved away three years ago. Over the years bits of it have been scattered all over the world. A part of it will always be in Los Angeles, where I grew up, and a majority is definitely here in New York now, but a good sized piece will always be found in the Bay Area. It may be because it's where I really grew into myself, first in college at Santa Cruz, and then through my twenties in San Francisco. It's where I fully realized my passion for food and cooking....Or it may just be because it's so darn beautiful and the vibe is laid back and easy going. Whatever the reason, I will always think of it as one of my primary homes, whether or not I ever live there again.

Dora has been doing such a wonderful job recounting our adventures during her visit to NYC that I am going to let her continue on that track. (Although I will be posting on a few new -to me- finds and a recipe in the near future.) I am going to fast forward to right after I left Dora. I said good-bye and was almost immediately on a plane to the West Coast. I had so much fun and ate so many tasty things there that to write about it all would take more time at the computer than I've got. Instead, I am dividing the highlights into two posts. Here are a few of my favorite things:

**Tacos, tacos and more tacos at two of my favorite taquerias: El Toro in the Mission in SF (598 Valencia Street) and Taqueria Vallarta in Santa Cruz (1101 Pacific Avenue). I always feel the ingredients at these places are super fresh because of the amount of people constantly streaming through. I especially love the marinated carrots at the condiment bar at Vallarta. They are just spicy enough to light a little fire on my lips. I think they are best eaten stacked on top of a tortilla chip. One of the great things at El Toro is that you can choose from two kinds of rice, beans and salsa. There is also a whole list of meat and non-meat fillings. Only in California do you have the choice of tofu for your burrito!

**Cocoa nib rocher at Tartine Bakery. A rocher is a meringue cookie and means "rock" in English. The rocher I had at Tartine had a crisp exterior while the center was soft and slightly sticky. The cocoa nibs added chocolate flavor and crunch without any extra sweetness. It seems that cocoa nibs are the ingredient du jour. For the first time I also tried one of their tartlets: banana cream. It looked beautiful and was surprisingly light. I think they use a puff pastry for the shell since it was so flaky.

**Cocktails and dessert at Range. This is a sleek little addition to the restaurant scene on Valencia Street in SF. My friend J., a fellow pastry chum, knows many of the people working there, including the pastry chef. J. hadn't been in yet to try the desserts, so a visit was definitely in order. We started with tasty cocktails. They have a very tempting list and after some debate I orderd a Hemingway. It was a refreshing mix of flor de cana rum, maraschino liqueur, grapefruit juice and lime juice. We ordered a couple appetizers, which were delicious, and then went on to main event...dessert! The choices were all seasonal and incorporated many of the summer fruits beginning to become available. Range always has a souffle on the menu and that night it was chocolate with cocoa nib (what did I just tell you ?) creme anglaise. We also tried a pavlova with strawberries and lemon ice cream and a pluot tart tatin with cardamom ice cream. The tart tatin was my favorite. This place has gotten a lot of positive press and rightly so. Their dishes show off the main ingredients by adding flavorful accents that don' t take over.

**Blue Bottle Coffee Roasting Company (specifically their Hayes Valley spot). Individually prepared drip coffee seems to be all the rage these days. While a cup of this joe is generally more expensive than your average house coffee, it is so worth the extra dollar. Blue Bottle offers just this, plus lattes to die for. They have other spots where they sell coffee, such as the Ferry Plaza, but this one is my favorite. Not only is it in my old neighborhood (if only they were there when I was living there!) but they have a neat little set up on a side street in a garage, right in front of what I think is a furniture (?) making shop. Get your coffee fix while watching someone saw and hammer away!


Wednesday, June 21, 2006

le gouter

You should always save room for something sweet. If you are feeling very special begin your meal with dessert. And if you are feeling extra special enjoy a wonderful 3-course dessert menu. One of my favorite places in New York is Chikalicious. Located in the East Village and barely the size of a studio apartment, it serves up whimsical, jewel-like treats. I had the good fortune to work alongside Chika Tillman where I was able to observe her creative process and sense of humor. Before we even sat down Don, Chika's equally passionate husband, poured us glasses of champagne. Ahhh...aperitifs in the afternoon. What could be better?

My original intention was to just stop by and say hello but I convinced Karen to share a dessert after perusing the menu. It is difficult to choose just one. Should we get the signature fromage blanc "island" or try the caramel soup with blackberries? I know whatever we choose we will not be disappointed. The first course was a black pepper gelee and a quenelle of strawberry sorbet. The texture of the sorbet was perfect, yet the flavor was not overly sweet. The main course consisted of a superstar tiramsu-Marscapone custard, espresso granita and 3 perfect squares of lemon pound cake. Our meal ended with an exquisite petit fours plate of coconut marshmallow, chocolate truffle and a hazelnut tartlette.

If you are unable to make it to Chikalicious, you can still make le gouter a part of votre vie quotidien. Try the following recipe of Breton sable and enjoy them with cafe, the or a pot of confiture. These cookies have a wonderful texture and rich, buttery flavor. They are also quite versatile. Try adding citrus zest, ground nuts or spices for a twist on a classic biscuit.

8 oz. unsalted butter (room temp)
3/4 C. and 2 T. sugar
5 egg yolks
21/3 C. all-purpose flour
1 T. baking powder
1 t. salt

-sift the dry ingredients in a medium mixing bowl and set aside
-with a paddle attachment on your mixer, cream the butter and sugar at medium speed until
light and fluffy
-add the yolks one at a time, scraping down the bowl after each addition
-slowly add the dry ingredients and mix on low speed until it is incorporated
-divide the dough into quarters and roll each piece into a log about 1 1/2 inches wide
-wrap each log in plastic wrap and chill for 3 hours (the dough can be frozen for 2 months or
refrigerated for 2 more days)
-after the dough has rested, preheat the oven to 350 degrees
-lightly butter or spray a muffin tin and slice the cookies about 1/4 inch thick
-place each slice in the muffin tin
-bake for 5 mins, rotate the tin and bake for 5 more mins
-the sables will be a nice golden color around the edges and allow them to cool slightly in the
muffin tins before transferring them to a cooling rack
-this will yield approximately 4 dozen cookies

203 East 10th Street
New York, NY 10003

Thursday, June 15, 2006

New York, je t'aime

I think I have always loved New York City. As a child, I longed to escape the suburbs for the dense, urban environment of the city. What was it that captivated me so much? It represented endless possibilities, diversity and gritty excitement. As my plane began its descent, we were given a spectacular view of the skyline. No matter how many times I have seen it, it remains breathtaking in its size and scope. How nice to be back!

My blog sister, Karen, generously hosted me in her lovely, new apartment. As soon as I arrived we seemed to hit the ground running. Who needs sleep? There are too many places to explore and old haunts to revisit. We started our weekend with some favorites--the greenmarket at Union Square and Le Pain Quotidien. As we walked over towards the West Side, we were tempted by every small wine bar and cafe that dotted the streets. The buzz of activity is intoxicating. It's not just the fast pace, but the fact that New Yorkers live to the fullest. Every space is utilized and every minute of the day is filled--I want to take it all in.

The next stop is Brooklyn Brewery. I am relieved to see that the hipster is alive and well in Williamsburg. My dear twenty-something friend, Stephanie, suggested the place and as we walked around the neighborhood, I couldn't help but think, "I am so old." Happily as we settle in to our table, I notice the crowd is represented by all ages and even a few families. As the evening and beers progress, we find ourselves craving the perfect accompaniment--pizza. Everyone has their favorite style (NY bien sur), topping (Margherita) and local favorite (Lombardi's), but it's hard not to get a decent slice here. Maybe it was the yummy beer, but the pizza was quite good in all of its greasy goodness. I refrain from another slice because I know a different slice is waiting for me, strawberry-rhubarb to be exact. Pie making requires a skill and instinct especially when using market fruit. K and I are still haunted by the "applesauce" pie. This one is neither too sweet nor too tart and the natural flavors of each fruit come through. All of this is surrounded by a flaky and light lattice crust made lovingly by Karen, the pie queen.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Two Tarts Together Soon

This weekend Tart #1, Dora, will be back in NYC for three days of fun, food, and lots of just plain hanging out. I can't wait! I hear she has quite a To Do list which includes, of course, a number of places to eat. It looks like three meals a day may not be enough. I know one restaurant on the list is Blue Ribbon, a place I have heard much about but have never been to. There will definitely be a full report from both of us. It has been raining all morning...I hope the sun is back by Friday as I think a walk through Central Park may be in order (have to work off all those meals, you know!).

If the the weather actually does clear up today, I was hoping to make my way to the Union Square Greenmarket. I heard that rhubarb is finally in season and I realized I have not made a pie since Thanksgiving, ack! I've seen nice strawberries around and if I can find some decent red rhubarb, well, the pie practically makes itself. There are so many other pies I want to make as well, but I feel like I have to officially start this pie making season with strawberry-rhubarb or it just wouldn't be right. And having moved into my new apartment, this will be a way for me to test out my oven. RFC will be coming by to see my place, and then Dora, so it will also be a tasty way to welcome my first guests into my apartment. (S. was technically my first guest, but she only saw the apartment filled with still-packed boxes...I will have to have her over again soon for a proper visit!)


Friday, June 02, 2006

Le deuxieme jour

I know that 2 days in Paris is completely inadequate, but it is a challenge I gladly accept. We awoke pre-dawn feeling surprising well rested, but still a little disoriented. I attempted to do a little yoga in our miniscule room. Maybe a few twists and a reviving sirsasana will be a nice start to the day. We left the hotel to discover a perfectly crisp morning, and the city appeared to be still sleeping. We took this opportunity to walk around Saint Germain-des-Pres We felt as if the city belonged to us. The stillness and quiet was delicious. We were happy to find Patisserie Paul open at 7:30 and decided to begin our day with café crèmes and viennoiserie. I had the privilege of having a view of the daily offerings as they came out. I think I frightened the bakers and Dave as I sat mesmerized by the sight of canele, chaussons aux pomme, pains aux raisins… Can one eat their weight in pastry?

Dave and I continued our “walking tour” to the open market on Boulevard Raspail. With my canvas “Whole Foods” bag and cheese knife, I felt properly equipped for a midmorning picnic. The first stop was Maison Kayser bakery for a baguette Odeon. I was tempted to nibble off the crusty, seedy corner as we strolled along. Maybe Dave wouldn’t notice if I tore off a little morsel. My favorite part about open-air markets is that it remains a constant source of inspiration. How sad not to have a kitchen at our disposal. We would have to keep the purchases simple—a wedge of Bleu de Bresse, plump cherry tomatoes on the vine, jambon cru de pays, and a fragrant container of strawberries. The Jardin du Luxembourg makes the perfect backdrop for our snack. It was a great coincidence that we sat down opposite 18 rue Vaugirard. For those of you who don’t know, it is the home of the Belleau family in the sometimes silly yet useful “French in Action” series. The show is not only educational but also frozen in 1981.

Sadly, we slept through most of the afternoon and our 6:30 reservation at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon. The evening was saved with the delightful restaurant Le Timbre. We were quite lucky to dine without a reservation. The atmosphere was convivial and merits all of its praise. To call this place cozy is an understatement. You will find yourself shoulder-to shoulder, but you will quickly relax into its charm. Our hostess impressed us with her ability to assume the role of server, busser, maitre d’, and dishwasher. She seemed to anticipate our every need even as the restaurant reached full capacity. I began the evening with the asparagus salad. The creamy white stalks were highlighted by thin shavings of Parmesan, tangy grapefruit and lightly bathed with olive oil. The crisp texture of the earthy vegetable, rich nuttiness of the cheese and bright citrus created a fresh harmony on the plate. The mille-feuille dessert was equally striking and lovely. Light as air layers of pate feuilletee layered with crème patissiere. Can I serve something so simple back home? Chef Chris Wright works around his diminutive kitchen with great precision and care. He impresses with his ability to create dishes that are in perfect balance. I admit I didn’t want the evening to end. The restaurant was buzzing with friendly chatter and diners continued to arrive. If I were ever to open a restaurant I would want it to be exactly like this.

Le Timbre
3 rue Saint Beuve Montparasse
tel: 01-45-49-10-40
metro: Vavin

Maison Kayser
10 rue de L'Ancienne Comedie
tel: 01 43 25 71 60
metro: Odeon
(several locations throughout Paris)

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