Sunday, December 30, 2012

A Popover Re-do

Happy Holidays!
I've been threatening to re-make and re-write about my all time favorite breakfast/lunch/dinner bread - the amazing popover - and maybe even sneaking in a savory filling or two to mix things up. After agonizing all week about my failed and overcooked Christmas popovers and why the hell I tried a different recipe that had them in the oven for 35 minutes (wtf?), I decided to whip some up this morning.  Why I tried a new recipe for Christmas, I'll never know, as the recipe published in this blog is really pretty foolproof and fast.  Most say to bake them for 30 minutes or more.  These are done in just under 15, which means as your hungry family laps them up with jam and butter, or better yet, bacon and eggs (!), you can already be whipping up and baking batch number two before they're done!  To make them extra special, I used bacon drippings instead of butter in the muffin tins.

A word though, these "popovers" don't blow up into a dome of air, but have puffy sides and a nice custardy center - more of a preference of mine for filling with savory and sweet goodness.  I suppose a glass door on my 1970's era electric oven could have prevented the overcooking on Christmas.  Remember, don't open the oven door while they're in (well, you can take a little peak...).  Please see my posting from  December 31, 2010 for my favorite version!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Ippuku, a trip to Japan in Berkeley

Ippuku, Berkeley
Yesterday i stepped out of the U.S. and straight into a Kyoto Gion District eatery when I entered Ippuku on Center Street, in Berkeley, just a block south of the U.C. Berkeley campus.  I needed to hit a couple of stores in the east Bay, so planned on a Berkeley pre-shopping lunch.

I had remembered reading about this soba/yakitori house a few years ago when working on my business plan.  In fact, I referenced them as one of the newest non-sushi serving Japanese restaurants to open in a sushi denominated scene.   So let's just say, I knew to expect excellent dashi (broth) and other cooked dishes, but had no idea I would be stepping into a cultural space warp when i approached the wooden front door, with the requisite noren curtains wavering over the threshold and heavy wooden interior.

Almost immediately I knew i was in for something special.  Expectations aside, the stand up only sake bar with an opening facing the street for a quick sip of sake, soju or plum wine would have been enough to draw me in.   Pleasantly surprised by the ambience is an understatement.

Tatami matted climb-in seating with small families and kids crawling around lined the right wall, and private booths occupied the left side of the long narrow room.  A few seats were available at the tiny noodle bar in the back, the place where one would expect to see a sushi counter, but instead, was teaming with a few young Japanese looking guys sweating below a large hood sysem that is only meant to cover a smoke and steam producing cooking surface.   Yup, no sushi here!

The menu look was completely japanese, written simply in english but with Kanji characters as well.  I actually needed to consult the "menu explanations" on the reverse side of the sheet to know which soup topping I wanted.  I have to admit I was a little disappointed that the only "meat or fish" option was the Ebi-Ten soba (tempura shrimp) - so I decided on the Tsukimi Soba: Soba with a raw egg cracked on top.  My cutie server (sporting the oh so Japanese look of multi colored leg warmers over her skinny jeans) suggested that  I get the tori shiso-maki to complete my protein urge (chicken wrapped in shiso leaf then tempura fried).  I also ordered the cucumber-wakame salad - a standard I wanted to compare to my own.

I was already "in love" before the food arrived.  The rough hewn booths, naked wood, funny wicker lampshades, long skinny bowling alley feel, dark and timeless - could have been 50 years old or just opened last week - right up my own "alley."

The soba set arrived, with pickles and shichimi, as well as the tori-shiso maki, with tempura dipping sauce.  The cucumbers made it to my table a few minutes later, which was all fine, since i was in lust and this restaurant could pretty much do no wrong - all predetermined before any food morsel had even hit my tongue.  Such a sucker for ambiance!

The food, however, did not disappoint. It's two days later and I can still imagine the taste of the dashi marinated chicken breast and perfect crunch of the tempura outer crust.    Its simplicity partnered with originality and succulence  would call me back for that dish only.  

Infatuation was turning into full fledged love as i bit into the hearty, yet tender soba noodles (made with special flour from the northern island of Hokkaido) (which I'm pretty sure were the 100% buckwheat kind) The perfectly briny sweet broth and unctuous egg yolk slid across my tongue and was again simply satisfying.  There was another flavor in the broth that I still have yet to identify - earthy, familiar and still mysterious. Yes, it was good.    I was already full but forced myself to gnaw on the cucumber-wakame salad, with just a hint of shiso leaf snuck in to make it interesting.  The cucumbers were most likely marinated overnight as they almost had a pickled quality, but without the cloying saltiness that often comes with that sort of preparation.  Delicious in their own right (and totally different from my own chunky, barely marinated version).

I found myself not wanting to leave, but unless imbibing in their great sake and soju list was on the agenda, there was no solid reason to stay.  I visited the bathroom on the way out, to find cool LED lit bottles the only light source which made the area outside the bathroom sexier than any bathroom area should be in the light of day...    Once inside my trip to Japan was complete, as the warm Toyo toilet seats, replete with a warm front and back wash bidet, pretty much put me over the top.  For $28 bucks, less than the cost of a round trip shuttle ride to the airport, the trip to Japan in Berkeley was worth every cent.

Tori no shiso

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Bahn Mi - a first foray

I know, me miss "eats everything everywhere as much as possible" found herself at a loss when a budding restaurateur approached me a few weeks ago asking for some consulting on an asian style cafe menu.  After a little coaxing, I got some information of what type of menu she was looking for, as "asian" could mean anything from chinese stirfry to korean style kimchi.  My specialty is Japanese, and as much as I hate the idea of, and even the word, "fusion,"  it is pretty much here to stay.  Even my own Tatsu menu has some gringo-esque undertones...
So when said cafe owner mentioned vietnamese sandwiches, I suddenly felt at a loss.  I mean, I've heard of these wonders: layered meats with pate and some sort of greenery on a traditional sandwich roll, and read some great reviews of some places off of Clement in the City, but felt sort of  ashamed that I hadn't yet partaken of one,  being the self proclaimed eater that i am.    However,   since moving (way up) to Petaluma almost 2 years ago, my culinary experiences have taken a bit of a nose dive, often even giving way to late night snacks at Applebees.  Yes, Applebees (and only because the sidewalks roll up around her at 9pm).
Wanting to try a Bahn Mi from the City instead of busting my cherry on a potential lesser version from the only Vietnamese restaurant in town, I popped down there a few weeks ago to get a firsthand taste of this eponymous sando.
A chef friend suggested I try Saigon Sandwich on Larkin Street near Turk.  As I was en route to a catering gig and didn't want to risk the line, I called ahead.  That proved sort of ridiculous.  They asked me what kind and I said, "the most popular."  She gave me the Vietamese version of "do not understand" - and so because I had no idea what was on their menu, and was scrolling through yelp reviews while driving on Lombard to try to make a quick decision, I settled on the pork.  I wanted to make sure it had the pate, cuz' please understand, I have never ordered one of these buggahs and wanted to be sure to get the whole shebang.  Unfortunately though, my non-english speaking phone companion "computed"  my request as "no pate?" Then I said "yes, pate" and then another "discourse" ensued on mayonnaise vs. no mayonnaise.  I said "yes, mayonnaise" and she responded "no mayo?"...  By the time I got off the phone, I had no idea what the hell I would be getting but was okay with that.
I zipped up and around the block (because Larkin is one-way for most of Russian Hill) and as luck would have it, found rock star parking right out front.  Luck would also have it, because it was a little too late for lunch and a little too early for dinner, that there was no line.  In fact, upon entering the little shoe boxed sized place, I was quick to discover they hadn't even yet made my sandwich!  So much for planning ahead!(my friends would laugh at that one, as one of my nicknames is "planny janny").  And it didn't really matter, because the "fanci pork pate" sandwich took all of 30 seconds to toss together:  sweet braised pork slices au jus from a crock pot, a squirt bottle with pate and some mystery ingredient in it (because in my world, pate has never been liquid enough to come out of a squirt bottle) and then of course, the required mayonnaise.  Topped with some cilantro, some slightly spicy pickled carrots, slices of jalapeno and stuffed into a french style sandwich roll, my sando was done!  And at $3.50, apparently that stop at Wells Fargo off Union wasn't at all needed!
Wrapped up in a tight paper wrapper with a red rubber band to hold it all together, I was out of there and on my way for a quick last minute Christmas shopping jaunt in Japantown.
Eager to try this while it was still hot, that wrapping proved to be a pain in the ass to unwrap while driving (yes, I am one of those people) - but there were enough traffic signals to allow me to catch a few bites before I found parking in Japantown.  A word to the wise, not the best way to eat this, as the pate squishes out of the crunchy yet still soft roll.  It wasn't cut in half, so picking up the whole thing while shifting on hills in SF, without spilling the contents into my lap or crashing into the car in front of me was a bit of a challenge.  The pork was sweet and soft, the carrots sweet, spicy and vinegary.  The jalapeno just hot enough to offset the sweetness and the cilantro added the extra dimension that only cilantro has the knack of doing.  I would have hoped the pate was a bit more prevalent, and somehow I imagined a slaw instead of just carrots and a few pieces of pickled cabbage, more meat etc, but that is probably the American in me.  The photo makes it look a bit more opulent than it was.  All in all however,  a sandwich I would try again.  Stay tuned, as I will be trying my local Petaluma version this week.