Closed Captioned For The Thinking Impaired

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Restaurant Review: Epic Roasthouse, A Preliminary Report

The Epic Roasthouse Bar Area & Open Kitchen

It was a beautiful Tuesday afternoon; so despite having reservations to another "see and be seen" hot lunchspot as well, (I confess I double book everything but I always cancel the unwanted reservations at least an hour before) yours truly and a friend decided to go and investigate San Francisco's most controversial steakhouse, Epic Roasthouse. This posting is not intended as a critique but only an initial peek at the city's latest waterfront dining experience. It's too early to pass judgment; but, if the crowd is any indication, Epic Roasthouse is already a raging success.

View of restaurant from the bar area

When you are bold enough to emblazon the word Epic across the front of your door, you'd better be prepared to back it up or expect a few slings & arrows of outrageous critiques shooting at you. Time will tell if there's truth in the advertising but one thing's for sure: Pat Kuleto, as usual, pulled out all the visual stops.

While the decor does verge on the kitsch, its fantasy of a pumphouse whose water could have saved San Francisco from the 1906 fire is far from objectionable & much less obtrusive in person than in photographs. The wall finishes are hard, but the seats are soft and the bay views are spectacular. It's a great space.

I wish I could say the same for the service & the food; but, it's early yet. Chef Jan Birnbaum & company must be given some latitude to right the wrongs.

While Waterbar restaurant, the yin to Epic Roasthouse's yang, already seems to have a handle on both the customer & culinary service front; Epic's staff and food still has some growing pains to undergo.

A 1:15 reservation turned into a 1:40 seating. Nowhere to wait without stepping on other toes proved less of a challenge that it might have because of the lovely weather & location which allowed us to wait outside by the bay. If, however, the weather had proved inclement, we would have been very unhappy with the 20 minute wait, particularly since both the waiting area & the bar area were crowded and rather small for a restaurant of this size.

Our inattentive server who forgot a side dish (we never did receive it) & failed to refill empty glasses was ably assisted by other servers who proved the ability to rise to the occasion & seemed more willing to attend to us.

The Signature Pump House Wheel

View of the Bay Bridge from our table

The lunch menu covers a wide range of midday meal classics: soups, salads, burger, fish, chicken, steaks with prices ranging from $1.75 per oyster in mignonette or cocktail sauce to $38 for a 14 oz cut of Prime Rib. Most entrees are in the low $20's. Sides ($8) are cheekily named "Things You Want In a Steakhouse" and include the usual suspects: garlic fries, onion rings, mac & cheese, etc. Desserts ($10) include Epic cookies, beignets, bread pudding, creme brulee & a sundae.

There is also a 3 course pre-fixe "Multi Tasker's Lunch" for $29 or $32 which promises to expedite service to 50 minutes ( I assume that doesn't include the time spent waiting for your table) with a dessert of Epic cookies to go. A good idea considering how many business power lunches are likely to take place here with the Embarcadero Center in such close proximity & a valet to park those Mercedes-Benz's.

A 4% surcharge is added to the bill to provide for "the very best health benefits" for Epic employees. A laudable sentiment but why should patrons bear the burden of Epic Roasthouse investors costs; we won't be receiving any of the profits, will we?

French Onion Soup

Clam Chowder

The Fixings for the Epic Burger

The Epic Burger

Chocolate Souffle with Warm Chocolate Ganache & Sea Salted Caramel Cinnamon Scented Ice Cream

As to the food itself:
Both soups were flavorful & plentiful for $3.50 per cup.

The Roasted Onion Soup with Raclette cheese was a deconstructed French onion soup with a rich broth and a large crusty crouton with unctuous raclette cheese melted over it.

The Clam Chowder with Hobb's Bacon & Classic Mire Poix had neither the bacon nor a truly classic mirepoix (just a few carrot cubes cut by someone with inadequate knife skills); but, it had great flavor, plump juicy clams & a savory broth with a slight hint of cream to round out the soup &, happily, none of the roux that usually mars a Boston clam chowder. It's a light riff on the classic. Yummy!

Unhappily, the house breads, which arrived well after our first courses, instead of before them, were tiny leaden bricks purported to be a cornbread madeline, a gruyere popover & a slice of ciabatta. Needless to say, I didn't eat them but then again I didn't need to.

Lunch was a rather lackluster Roasted Chicken Salad ($15 ) with a suspicion of walnuts, a few slices of apple & dark chicken pieces that included the hip joints, tendons and other unsavory chicken parts. The simple vinaigrette & seasonings were balanced which is about the best you can say about the dish.

The Ultimate Burger ($20) was far from epic but was perfectly cooked to medium rare, I thought I detected breadcrumbs in the meat but I can't really be sure. I hope I'm wrong. it would be silly to stretch a burger that way; especially an "ultimate" one. The burger was accompanied by excellent house-cured pickles with a hint of sweet spice (cinnamon, allspice?), crisp house-made waffle chips & an array of trimmings (bacon bits, mushrooms, corn relish, coarse-grain mustard & mayo) artfully presented on a separate wooden tray in porcelain cache pots. A side of a chili-tomato paste was served in lieu of ketchup. I must say I missed the cheese but the brioche bun was flavorful & sturdy enough to hold it all together.

Dessert was a warm Scharffenberger chocolate souffle ($10) accompanied by warm chocolate ganache & sea salt caramel (& cinnamon, according to our server) ice cream. The souffle was too dense & rich for my tastes especially with the unnecessary addition of warm chocolate ganache. It was less souffle than puffy molten lava cake. The ice cream, however, was luscious. A hint of salt with the creamy caramel flavor (cinnamon was barely detectable to this palate) was like manna from heaven. I would order that ice cream again & again & again & again! Would you say I like it?

Overall, food underwhelming but not completely disappointing. Wine list looked okay with many varietals from excellent wine producers: some wines by the glass & several bottle format options. Good atmosphere. Some servers committed, like the fabulous Felix who rescued us from restaurant purgatory; some not so committed, like our table's server, the M.I.A. British ex-pat whose name escapes me.

So far, I prefer Waterbar to its brother, Epic Roasthouse for it's stellar service, fresher than fresh food, free filtered tap & sparkling water, and great variety of non-alcoholic drinks at lunch; but, hey, it's early yet & too soon to tell. Hopefully, Epic Roasthouse will rally & deliver more fully on the promise that the magnificent site & early hoopla offers.

Damn it, guess I need to visit them both a few more times over the next few months!

Oh woe is me, woe is me! These trials are meant to test our mettle; we must rise to meet the challenge!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A Few Ingredients, A Preheated Oven, A Simple Recipe = Dinner for One

I'm a Vegas widow tonight. The hubby is in Sin City on business (it's amazing how much "business" is conducted there these days). Whatever.....

I'll be out with girlfriends for lunch & dinner the next few nights. I wanted to be sure to cook myself a simple healthy meal tonight so I put on my sneaks, headed out the door and took a long walk down to the Marina on Chestnut & Divisadero where a new meat & seafood market opened a couple of months ago called aptly enough, Marina Meats.

It's a great small neighborhood market & I urge you to go. The owner, Joey Gandolfo, was one of my favorite butchers at Bryan's Quality Meats & I wondered where he went since I hadn't seen him in some time. Then one day, I was walking down Chestnut & who should I see dressed in his butcher's whites but Joey! After a quick hello, what are you doing here?, he told me he opened his own shop on Chestnut Street.

It's a great place, friendly guys just like Bryan's but without all that Presidio Heights riff-raff that shopped there!

Here's the website, go there. I picked up everything I made tonight right in his shop. They sell Loch Duart Scottish Salmon which is sustainably raised & what I decided to buy. They stock all kinds of great foodie finds. I picked up a nice veal demiglace for a great price, too. Yaaaay! A 30 minute walk back home & I was ready for dinner.

The pomegranate jam comes from Stonewall Kitchen; they also make a pomegranate grill sauce that could work well here, instead. Most quality grocery stores in the Bay Area sell it. Cowgirl Creamery in the Ferry Building sells pomegranate jelly from Oregon's The Wild Pear Co.

Of course, you could always reduce a cup of pomegranate juice with a 1/2 cup of sugar, a 1/4 cup of balsamic vinegar, a thinly sliced shallot until it is syrupy. Then add a teaspoon of cumin & a little blueberry jam for texture. But, I am trying to make this a super simple one pan meal; hence the shortcut of pomegranate jam mixed with cumin powder & balsamic vinegar to thin it out.

Pomegranate Glazed Salmon, Crispy Salmon Skin, Roasted Asparagus with Meyer Lemon Oil, Roasted Garlic & Thyme Scented Fingerling Potatoes

Note: Sometimes the best recipes are the simplest. A quality protein, some fresh veggies, an herb, an aromatic, a great olive oil (I used O Meyer Lemon Olive Oil, click here for more info), sea salt & fresh cracked pepper, a 350 degree oven & 30-40 minutes later... dinner!

You start with this:

Add a little to it olive oil, a few slivers of garlic, freshly ground sea salt & pepper

I like to halve the fingerling potatoes lengthwise and toss them with the olive oil, minced thyme, sea salt & pepper into a ziploc bag, mix them together well between my fingers, allowing the slivers of garlic to give up their essence and marinate with the potatoes for 10 minutes before tossing them onto one side of a foil-lined baking sheet to cook for 15 minutes before adding the asparagus & salmon which both, separately, receive the same ziploc treatment, before being added to that same baking sheet.

I place the salmon in the middle of the baking sheet with the potatoes on one side & the asparagus on the other side of it.
The salmon is lightly brushed with a little (about a tablespoon) fig or pomegranate jam that has been mixed with a pinch of cumin & thinned out with a little broth, balsamic vinegar or water. The pan is then placed back in the oven for an additional 15 minutes or until everything is done to your taste; depending on the thickness of the salmon & the asparagus, of course.
I like my salmon done somewhere between medium and medium rare.

Then we have this for dinner:

If you use a good fish spatula, you can remove the salmon by separating it from the skin and leave the skin behind to cook until it is crisp and bacon-like (about 10 more minutes). Crispy salmon skin is a real treat for the cook but it's not everyone's cup of tea (since it does tend to leave the house smelling like an old fish & chips joint).

See what I mean about that crispy salmon skin?
Like bacon but, hey, it's healthy fat!

Monday, February 25, 2008

And The Oscar Goes to....... Ratatouille!

Congratulations to Ratatouille creators & Pixar Studios for its Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film!

Is this the first time a movie about a restaurant & the love of food has won an award?
I know Mostly Marta, Tampopo, Eat Drink Man Woman & Big Night were critically acclaimed but it's probably the first time a lovable rat with Top Chef aspirations has won.

Way to go, Remy!

Here's a link to the N.Y. Times article on Ratatouille featuring Thomas Keller who worked with Pixar's crew to give the restaurant scenes verisimilitude: Click here for the June 2007 article.

This recipe is dedicated to the little Remy in all of us who aspire to be better at whatever we love most.

(Thomas Keller's Confit Biyaldi)

This is Thomas Keller's original recipe for the movie, Ratatouille, originally printed in the New York Times. It is a more refined Turkish version of the dish with similar flavor profiles called vegetable byaldi and an excellent vegetarian main dish for the midwinter veggie blahs.

Of course it would be fab in the summer when tomatoes are their most luscious; but, if you use cherry tomatoes or quality canned tomatoes for the piperade & roma tomatoes for the sliced vegetables the oven roasting will bring out the tomato essence, even now.

If you're really averse to using hot house or imported tomatoes then substitute slices of fennel bulb for the sliced vegetables (but not the piperade, used canned tomatoes there). It will impart a different but equally delicious flavor and texture to the dish. This would be a stellar side dish for a simple grilled fish or roasted chicken.

It differs from the French version by slicing instead of dicing the veggies & uses a piperade & a vinaigrette over the vegetables instead cooking them in a tomato ragout. It makes for a very elegant presentation in its casserole dish & offers more subtle flavors. I'm posting the picture of Remy's ratatouille from the movie.

In the article, Chef Keller calls it Confit Byaldi but a ratatouille by any other name would taste as good.... (Okay, now I've paraphrased both Thomas Keller & Shakespeare. Hot Dog, I'm on a roll!)


  • 1/2 red pepper, seeds and ribs removed
  • 1/2 yellow pepper, seeds and ribs removed
  • 1/2 orange pepper, seeds and ribs removed
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1/2 cup finely diced yellow onion
  • 3 tomatoes (about 12 ounces total weight), peeled, seeded, and finely diced, juices reserved
  • 1 sprig thyme
  • 1 sprig flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/2 a bay leaf
  • Kosher salt


  • 1 zucchini (4 to 5 ounces) sliced in 1/16-inch rounds
  • 1 Japanese eggplant, (4 to 5 ounces) sliced into 1/16-inch rounds
  • 1 yellow squash (4 to 5 ounces) sliced into 1/16-inch rounds
  • 4 Roma tomatoes, sliced into 1/16-inch rounds
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1/8 teaspoon thyme leaves
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • Assorted fresh herbs (thyme flowers, chervil, thyme)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.

1. For piperade, heat oven to 450 degrees. Place pepper halves on a foil-lined sheet, cut side down. Roast until skin loosens, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let rest until cool enough to handle. Peel and chop finely.

2. Combine oil, garlic, and onion in medium skillet over low heat until very soft but not browned, about 8 minutes. Add tomatoes, their juices, thyme, parsley, and bay leaf. Simmer over low heat until very soft and very little liquid remains, about 10 minutes, do not brown; add peppers and simmer to soften them. Season to taste with salt, and discard herbs. Reserve tablespoon of mixture and spread remainder in bottom of an 8-inch skillet.

3. For vegetables, heat oven to 275 degrees. Down center of pan, arrange a strip of 8 alternating slices of vegetables over piperade, overlapping so that 1/4 inch of each slice is exposed. Around the center strip, overlap vegetables in a close spiral that lets slices mound slightly toward center. Repeat until pan is filled; all vegetables may not be needed.

4. Mix garlic, oil, and thyme leaves in bowl and season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle over vegetables. Cover pan with foil and crimp edges to seal well. Bake until vegetables are tender when tested with a paring knife, about 2 hours. Uncover and bake for 30 minutes more. (Lightly cover with foil if it starts to brown.) If there is excess liquid in pan, place over medium heat on stove until reduced. (At this point it may be cooled, covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days. Serve cold or reheat in 350-degree oven until warm.)

5. For vinaigrette, combine reserved piperade, oil, vinegar, herbs, and salt and pepper to taste in a bowl.

6. To serve, heat broiler and place byaldi underneath until lightly browned. Slice in quarters and very carefully lift onto plate with offset spatula. Turn spatula 90 degrees, guiding byaldi into fan shape. Drizzle vinaigrette around plate. Serve hot.

Yield: 4 servings

Sunday, February 24, 2008

A Tribute to Kara's Cupcakes

I know I've gone too far with this Kara's Cupcakes obsession.

After all, they've been around 2 years now. Why the sudden enthusiasm?

Well, if you must know, both shops are now in close proximity to me.
One shop, in Ghiradelli Square, is practically visible from my apartment (with a telescopic lens & a little cooperation from the weather); the other shop, just off Chestnut on Scott, is right near one of my favorite places to walk, Crissy Field. It's a win-win.

I always walk to and from the shops so that helps burn a few calories & allows for the consumption of one of these delicacies, doesn't it? I'm just doing my best to support a local product which is made with ingredients that are virtually all sourced locally.
Don't believe me, read this, then you'll see! I buy these not for myself but for the good of the environment!!!!!

Go to Kara's; be a part of the solution, and take pleasure; not only in doing your bit for our ecosystem, but, also, in eating something scrumptious & yummy. They even have mini-cupcakes. So cute & great for parties, too. You may have to throw one just for the sake
of buying multiple minis. It's like multiple orgasms though slightly more caloric.

I guarantee you this... if Marie Antoinette had said, "Let them eat cupcakes!", she might have kept her head and her jewels. The French can forgive anything as long as they have something beautiful to eat!

Let's take a look at what all the fuss is about. I bought my three favorites: Fleur De Sel, Banana Caramel & Meyer Lemony Lemon.

Purely for blogging purposes, of course.

Unfortunately, the Fleur De Sel was not able to be photo-documented due to a sudden need for yours truly to devour it as soon as she bought it. But fear not, my strict dietary regimen allows for only one cupcake to be consumed a day so I was able to take a few beauty shots for posterity.

My, what a pretty box!

Let's have a closer look, shall we?

There, that's better!

Let's take a little peek inside... wow!!!

I must free them from the confines of that box...

Aren't they pretty?

Ahhhh.... the Meyer Lemony Lemon

Can't you smell it's sweet lemon perfume?

No? Get closer!

Closer, dammit!!!!

There, now, isn't that better?

Saturday, February 23, 2008

San Francisco: After The Rain

Yesterday's respite from the rain brought dramatic skies and yummy treats. The brief break in the weather allowed yours truly to test her bum knee (still inflamed, boo!) and take a fast walk (well a walk anyway) along San Francisco's beautiful Golden Gate Promenade at Crissy Field & use her iPhone to capture a few moments in time. If my iPhone didn't have so few pixels (more pixels makes the shots look better) I could probably use it more; but my Sony Cyber Shot, obviously, takes much better photos. You'll see the difference here.

Since I just happened to be in the neighborhood, I had a little lunch at Pacific Catch on Chestnut St. ( Two Baja-style Alaskan Cod tacos with avocado lime crema, cabbage & drop of sriracha, a side of Wakame salad, and some of the Lemongrass Iced Tea, all for $12 & heavenly). Dessert was purchased at.... where else?... Kara's Cupcakes. That Chocolate Fleur de Sel is out of this world.

Wish I could stay & chat but I'm preparing for the dreaded....................... in-law invasion.

Actually, it's my hubby's very dear uncle & his lovely wife from the east coast. Should be fun. Love an opportunity to show off the city. If only the rain would hold off a little longer. Oh no, the skies are darkening as I write this.... oh well, gotta go.

Here are some shots that show why San Francisco is such a great place to live:

Love Them! (iPhone)

Tulips bought from Real Foods on Polk St. (Sony)

Crissy Field, oh oh... is it gonna rain on me now?

Nope, no rain.... (iPhone)
The cloud passed as quickly as that freighter in the distance

Wow, looks beautiful out now! (iPhone)
See the guy with the feathers going through his hard hat?
He's not concerned about the weather. He's obviously got other issues to grapple with.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Hungry? Don't Really Wanna Cook? How About Some Fast Food, Homestyle

There are days I just don't want to cook.

Maybe I'm tired, maybe I don't feel like shopping ( I usually shop every day for my proteins & whatever produce inspires me), maybe I just can't face another sink full of dirty dishes. Somehow, going out to eat isn't the answer for me on days like this; it's rainy, it's cold, I'd rather stay at home, curl up with a glass of wine and watch an old movie or maybe the poor hapless Golden State Warriors (Go Monta Ellis! Please get better.. we NEED you, desperately).

These are days when I'm likely to reach for the take out/delivery menus.
We always opt for the delivery option.

There are three categories of go-to's for us: sushi from Osome, red curry (with either eggplant, pumpkin or chicken) & rice from Little Thai, or pizza (with subcategories of its own):
  • from Amici's the Boston with sausage added to it (my hubby's #1 option) or with spinach added to it (my idea)
  • a Potesto with sausage added from Za's, or
  • the Menage a Trois from Pizza Orgasmica with spinach added (I have a thing for spinach, olive oil, dairy & dough, don't ask)
However, after my trip to Canyon Ranch, I realized these seemingly innocuous occasional meals were sabotaging my attempts at weight loss. Particularly because I was ordering in so frequently these days.

We sold our Presidio Heights home last December, & with it, my 900 square foot dream kitchen, outfitted for and designed by me (with the help of my fab architects & contractors, of course). This tragedy is posted elsewhere in the archives.

(View of my former kitchen.) Left this........

Since the sale, we've taken temporary shelter in a rental on Russian Hill with fantastic unobstructed views of the bay and a 70 square foot kitchen fully equipped with a vintage 4 burner electric range from the late 1980's and the first Subzero side by side refrigerator ever sold .

.... for this (View of my current kitchen)

But at least I see this when I cry into my Riedel glass

While, things could be worse (there's an ok sized pantry, large drawers & some counter space), cooking in this kitchen was not something I looked forward to; so I didn't (except the holidays).

Not for 6 long weeks and a few extra pounds.

It was either learn to enjoy cooking in this kitchen or buy stretch pants from Chico's where the very chic overweight, middle-aged harrigan chooses to shop. Guess what I chose?

These days when I don't really feel like cooking, I survey the kitchenscape & see what I can scrounge up in 15 minutes or less.
It becomes a game & a fun food challenge for me. I channel my inner Top Chef wannabe & see if I can make something tasty to eat & pretty to look at with whatever the contents of my refrigerator and pantry have to offer.

It's easier than you think.

All you need are high quality items that are staples in your kitchen. Items that you consistently replenish as you use them to have on hand when you need them.

For me, they are pasta (dried or fresh), a couple of types of rice, panko, balsamic vinegar, jerez vinegar, rice wine vinegar, mirin, extra-virgin & light olive oil, toasted sesame oil, grapeseed oil, a block of parmigiano reggiano, creme fraiche, mascarpone, greek yogurt, some kind of chevre, some kind of aged cheddar, white truffle oil &/or white truffle butter, unsalted butter, dried lentils, canned cannellini, canned black beans, soy sauce, thai fish sauce, red curry paste, coconut milk, sriracha sauce, eggs, frozen peas, half & half, baby spinach leaves, a head of broccoli, baby carrots, chipotle paste & or canned chipotles in adobo, frozen veal stock, frozen veal demi, frozen berries, frozen edamame, frozen leftover meat ragu, Wolfgang Puck's organic boxed chicken & vegetable stock, dried porcini mushrooms, macadamia nuts, sesame seeds, almonds, walnuts, pine nuts (in the freezer), dried cranberries, oatmeal, cornstarch, a feww types of flour, arrowroot, Italian san marzano whole tomatoes & a tube of paste, canned whole fire-roasted tomatoes, capers, shallots, garlic, onions, various dried herbs & spices, whole nutmeg, fresh black & green olives, French Picnic's frozen pastry circles, scottish smoked salmon, avocado, lime, lemon, prosciutto, fig jam, mayo, dry tablewines in our Le Cache, Peets coffee beans & cocoa powder, whole wheat bread, corn tortillas, whole wheat pitas.

Looks like a long list, huh? If it were in your pantry & fridge, it wouldn't take up as much space as you'd think and from it you can create a multitude of dishes in any vernacular, anytime you want to eat. Of course, your pantry could look much different. Just stock things you like, some things that have a longer shelf life, some things that are fresh, some frozen, a cooking oil, a drizzling oil, something acidic like vinegar or citrus etc. Just be sure to buy butters and oils in small quantities; oils can get rancid & butter can pick up refrigerator odors that may not lend them a beautiful bouquet.

Here's what I scrounged up last night; took 15 minutes with most of the time spent waiting for the proverbial pot to boil ( I swear I wasn't watching it):

Porcini Mushroom Tortellini with White Truffle Butter, Baby Spinach

Note: Told you I had a thing about spinach, olive oil, dairy & dough! This is hardly a recipe so I'm not going to approach it as one. I'll just talk you through it.

There are six ingredients plus seasoning. It's more like an assembly of ingredients than a recipe which is almost all you usually need to do when you're foraging for dinner from your fridge. It all gets cooked in one pot. The pasta pot. You'll need:
  • a Chinese style bamboo-handled wok strainer or rough equivalent.
  • A microplane for the cheese.
  • A tablespoon.
  • A pair of tongs for the spinach.
  • A wooden spoon.
  • A pair of potholders.
  • Clean hands.
  • A kitchen towel
  • A large heat-resistant serving bowl, placed near the pot with the truffle butter in it.
  • All of your ingredients assembled in front of you near the cook surface. There are not many & they do not require measuring just have all the lids & caps off. Unless you like to stage things for better organization, then by all means, meez away! It's what the pros do (mise en place, "set in place", that is)
  • Be sure to have red pepper flakes & sea salt handy
Let's discuss the ingredients, mostly local & worth seeking out to have in your pantry. Click on their producer's names to read more about them.

  • I had 2 packages of nice porcini mushroom tortellini made with fresh egg pasta from Bologna's Bertagni, "the oldest manufacturer of tortellini" available at Whole Foods. You can use any good dry pasta, too, like Cipriani's extra thin tagliarelli egg pasta or Rustichella d'Abruzzo's luscious parpardelle or farfalle, all available at Marina Meats, Cal-Mart, Whole Foods, Bryan's or Cheese Plus.
  • about 2 -3 Tablespoons of truffle butter. The truffle butter comes from Fabrique Delice out of Hayward, Ca. It has real truffle in it & true truffle flavor. (or as close as you can get 5000 miles away from where they are foraged). I prefer it to the truffle oil I had on hand for its warm, round truffle essence (also available at Whole Foods). Some truffle oils get too astringent or acrid tasting which would have marred the luscious creamy flavor I was looking for in this dish.
  • I put about 3 Tablespoons of creme fraiche from Kendall Farms, located in the heart of California's Central Coast, Atascadero; not too far from a dear friend of ours, Greg Lynn, owner of Ambullneo Vineyards, one of the best, if not the best, domestic pinot noir & chardonnay in the country. A stellar wine to have with this dish (and we did) if you can get it (and we can, yaaay!).
  • The fruity e.v.o.o. is also a Central Coast California product, Balzana, out of Santa Ynez. You'll need enough to coat the bottom of the pan plus more for drizzling on the pasta after its cooked.
  • The cheese is the king of cheeses, Parmigiano-Reggiano, accept no substitutes. Shaved not grated. As much as you like. I love to see those shards of cheese slowly melt over my pasta & spinach. Look at the Parmigiano-Reggiano official website, it's fabulous!
  • Two or three handfuls of baby spinach (depending on the size of your hands). The baby spinach is organic but came out of a box from Safeway's O Organics. I buy bulk items like water & detergent from Safeway & every once in a while, I'll throw in some produce like bagged spinach.
  • 1/3 of a handful of sea salt for the boiling pasta water
  • a pinch of herbes de provence
  • a pinch of red pepper flakes
  • a pinch of fleur de sel
  • a couple of grinds of freshly ground pepper
Bring an 8 quart pot of water over high heat to a rolling boil (obviously, we are only filling that pot 3/4 of the way up before we set it to boil).
  1. Add salt. Stir it in with your wooden spoon to help dissolve.
  2. When water starts to boil again, carefully add pasta, give it a gentle stir & reduce to medium high.
  3. Cook according to manufacturers directions. Fresh pasta, depending on it's thickness & composition, cooks quickly (2-3 minutes) so be vigilant, when tortellinis float to the top they are usually done. Taste them to test them, they should be soft but still have a little resistance to your teeth ("al dente"). Usually I say it's a matter of individual preference but tortellini & ravioli lose their precious filling, if you overcook them. So don't overcook them.
  4. When pasta is done, remove the pot from the heat & extract the pasta one ladleful at a time with the Chinese strainer; carefully allowing the water to drain over the pot before placing them into the waiting serving dish already filled with truffle butter near the stove. (This will keep them from breaking apart as they might if you just dumped them in a colander in the sink; & it has the added bonus of warming the serving bowl.)
  5. As soon as you have placed all the pasta in the bowl, shave a layer of cheese on it & give it a gentle stir with the wooden spoon to evenly coat the pasta with the truffle butter. Place the serving bowl on empty burner that has no heat on it to keep it warm while you cook the spinach.
  6. Drain the water out of the pasta pot into the sink. Wipe down any spills that may have occurred on the bottom surface or sides of the pot and place pot over medium high heat.
  7. Add enough oil to coat the bottom of the pot, add a pinch of salt, a pinch of red chili flakes & a pinch of herbes de provence to the oil. Give it a stir & add the spinach, using metal tongs to saute spinach until it cooks down, absorbs the oil & begin to give off liquid. (about 1-2 minutes)
  8. Then add the creme fraiche, incorporating it into the spinach, until a sauce forms (about 1-2 minutes). Turn off heat. Adjust for seasoning (salt, pepper) & add on top of the pasta (or you can add the pasta to the pot to mix it with the spinach if you need to gently rewarm the pasta).
  9. Shave additional parmigiano over the spinach mixture to taste. Gently fold the spinach into the pasta, mixing without mashing. Add additional truffle butter or olive oil if pasta seems dry to you but remember this is not a "saucy" dish. It is meant to be a light creamy coating over the pasta but also restrained & elegant enough to taste the truffle in the butter & the porcini in the filling. Add an additional dusting of cheese if you like but don't drown it. Hubby & I usually eat this kind of dish out of one bowl with two forks. It forces us to sit closer, focus on each other as well as the food.
  10. Serve with a Pinot Noir or a little Brunello di Montalcino; a crisp French white burgundy like the '02 Bourgognes or other village wines from quality producers like Coche-Dury, Leroy are relative bargains & would be a different way to go by cutting through the richness of the fungi and the butter instead of complimenting them. Central coast chardonnay or sauvignon blanc can have the same effect as the white burgundies. Just stay away from the big oaky wines. You'll need a wine with more subtlety. Mangia, my darlings, mangia!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

In Defense of Recipes: They're Guidelines Not Commandments, Silly!

In the great worldwide blogosphere this past week, I have found several high profile bloggers providing links to a curious article (click on this post's title for a link to that article) written by a former journalist for the London Independent (who is now plugging his new book) about cooking with recipes & how they doom us to failure. I will not name the author because I do not wish to promote his book. Said bloggers seem to agree with this writer/recent culinary school grad; and his new found disdain for the recipe as a means of providing useful information to the cook.

He states quite bluntly that recipes don't work & tells us his woeful tales of failure after failure while faithfully following the precise directions of every renown cookbook he owned and has now tossed in the trash.

Shame on him!!!

All I can say is that cooking was obviously not this man's passion nor was it a hobby he practiced with any frequency until he realized he could get a book deal out of it.

If it were he would have implicitly understood the relationship between the cook and the recipe. Recipes can provide a point of departure. A place to begin the odyssey. An organizational tool. A record of progress. A diary.

Cooking requires some intuition, the ability to improvise & adjust, a good memory, the understanding of technique and a whole lotta something more.

Recipes are a road map to a new place. They guide, they don't drive. They don't buy your car. They can't teach you to drive it, make sure you filled the tank, kicked the tires, had a recent tune-up, can read road signs or break for animals.

Because I am of the school of philosophy whose credo is "If it ain't broke don't fix it!", I will take an excerpt from the beautifully written and absolutely essential book, The Elements of Cooking by Michael Ruhlman, which should be required reading by anyone who professes an interest in the culinary arts or just plain cookery, baby.

His definition of the recipe is so eloquently described here that there is no improving on it &, by itself, offers a rebuttal to those who would claim that the recipe as such is a waste of time.

Here it is on page 200:
"Recipes are not assembly manuals. You can't use them the way you use instructions to put together your grill or rec room Ping-Pong table. Recipes are guides and suggestions for a process that is infinitely nuanced. Recipes are sheet music. A Bach cello suite can be performed at a beginner's level or given extraordinary interpretation by Yo-Yo Ma ----same notes/ingredients, vastly different outcomes.

How to use a good recipe: First read it and think about it. Cook it in your mind... try to know the outcome before you begin. Read a recipe all the way through...... Taking a few minutes to read a recipe, acting out each step in your mind as you do, will save you time & prevent errors. Measure out or prep all your ingredients before you begin..... If you're unsure about an instruction, use your common sense.....

How to perfect a good recipe: Do it over again. And again. Pay attention. Do it again. That's what chef's do. Often great cooking is simply the result of having done it over and over and over while paying attention. Great cooking is as much about sheer repetition as it is about natural skill or culinary knowledge."

Take that snarky pretenders!

There's a great saying in golf that is very un-P.C. but true nonetheless, "It ain't the arrows, it's the Indian!". It's true in golf and it's true in cooking. There are good recipes and there are bad recipes but it's up to the individual cook to make that proverbial pot of broth taste good.

By the way, how about Michael Ruhlman? The man is a genius with his economy of words on a subject that someone could pontificate on endlessly! He's written classic books with and about some of the greatest chefs of our time.

Buy his book if you care about cooking.

Click here to buy Michael Ruhlman's, The Elements of Cooking.

(OK, this is not the cover of Michael Ruhlman's book but I want you to treat it as though it were mandatory reading; hence, the photo-op of former hottie Chucky Heston as Moses handing down the commandments from atop Mt. Sinai)

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Restaurant Review: Waterbar Preliminary Report

Now, I know it's silly to post a review on a brand new high profile restaurant less than 3 weeks after it opened. BUT, today's Chronicle splashed Waterbar & it's land-locked brother, Epic RoastHouse all over it's front page (guess it was a slow news day), wasting no time in lambasting it for devastating the San Francisco waterfront with its atrocious footprint and architecturally grotesque proportions that, according to the articles author, would be better suited to the wine country than the city.

A blight on the San Francisco landscape would be perfectly suited to wine country? HUH?? Guess he doesn't think much of Sonoma County, either.

The author also snarked about the prices charged in this new venture by mega-restauranteur, Pat Kuleto, without, of course, ever entering the restaurants & eating there. Can't let the facts get in the way of a good slam. (Click on this post's title to read the original article.)

I was incensed & even though I know nobody but friends will read this I felt a need for a balance in the press. So here we are..... The hubby & I happen to go for lunch there this Sunday because it was a beautiful day, we were hungry & I wanted to see the latest greatest. While traffic along the Embarcadero is as congested as ever & we crawled along at a snail's pace, the sight of a valet ready & waiting for us once we got there was an incredibly welcome one as we pulled up to the curb.

Both restaurants are set well back from the street as well as the waterfront, so passing pedestrians need not ever feel as if they are being imposed upon. While the location of the front entrance was not immediately apparent to me, we found it quickly enough.

View of the saltwater tanks from our table in the Main Dining Room

We entered sans reservations and were immediately greeted & seated by warm, friendly hostesses. It's a handsome space with Kuleto's usual sense of style & whimsy. Two floor to ceiling, tubular aquariums filled with live coral reefs, wolf eel, lobster, perch, sea urchins & other aquatic wonders anchored the main dining room which is where we were seated in a comfy two top, adjacent to the first aquarium. The entire west wall is a large tank where Dungeness crabs swim and spend their last few remaining hours before becoming one of Chef/owner Mark Franz and Executive Chef Parke Ulrich's culinary creations. There's the now obligatory open kitchen where you can see the staff give each other back rubs as they churn out lunch. There are several bar areas (& outdoor patios) but the only one I saw this visit was the raw bar just off the main dining room where a few tables & counter seating are available.

A few of our dining companions

As I said, this a preliminary review posted as a response to the unfairly negative press this restaurant seems to have garnered, so I'll keep it brief because I intend to more fully review this in a month or two. I'll just post my notes:

Lunch was great.

Chopped Lobster salad with green goddess dressing

Professional yet personable, knowledgeable service; beautiful room, noise level surprisingly tolerable, carafes of free filtered tap water served still or sparking, yummy lychee iced tea, Izze sparkling drinks, fantastic wine list, fabulous cappuccinos.

The starters:

Pristinely fresh Kampachi sashimi (drizzle of olive oil) with julienne of radish served on beautiful slab of thickly cut Himalayan Rose salt. Salt slab definitely imparted saltiness but didn't overwhelm. Impressive! $12

A white bean soup pureed with red wine & truffle oil; too much, unreduced, oaky red wine ( a chianti maybe?) overwhelmed the bean & black truffle flavor. Someone will probably realize it soon. (Hopefully) $9

The entree:

An enormous chopped salad with at least 6 -7 oz. of sweet succulent lobster meat (lots of claws, yaay, my fave) perfectly steamed (did they poach it in butter, too?) good crisp veggies that taste like they've been mildly pickled, little gem lettuce, nice green goddess dressing but would like less of it. Still a good balanced dish. $25

Waterbar offers smaller format options. We each chose a larger salad, a smaller one could be had for $15. This was true of all the salad options for lunch.

Waterbar's mission statement is to serve the freshest, seasonal, sustainably raised seafood available with simple preparations that allow the main ingredient to shine. Can't wait to have a few dinners, maybe sit at the bar a few times & add some additional lunches so I can weigh in my opinion but so far so good!

Go and see for yourself; it's definitely not just for tourists!

399 The Embarcadero
San Francisco, Ca. 94105