Monthly Archives: October 2006

Dissident Chef

mysterious dining, originally uploaded by c(h)ristine.

I picked up this business card while on errands (and weirdly at a non-food venue) a few weeks ago. “Reject Dystopian Ways,” it said, and the reverse, while no more clear, introduced the url for the Dissident Chef. The accompanying flyer described this venture (named “Sub Culture Dining”) as an underground restaurant with roving meals. Invite only. Not open to the public.

Hrm. “Why,” I said to the salesperson packing up my dog’s Halloween costumes (“hot dog” outfits for my dachshunds if you must know), “would you advertise something and then say it’s referral only, and not open to the public?” I was waving the card. “I MUST know! I want to do this!” Thank goodness no one else was in the store, I must have looked like a zealot lady. (okay, I’m a zealot when it comes to food).

I was so insistent that the employees called the owner of the store who enlightened us all. I took a card and went home to check out the website. There’s plenty of protocol, and a limited amount of dates. I had to wait until November and December opened up with availability (when I checked only September and October dates were posted).

The long and the short of it: I have a reservation. I am overwhelmed with curiosity and excitement. I have to get a new cellphone, because mine does not ring when people call; a working cellphone is necessary because they call you with the location of dinner the same day as your reservation.

Preliminary reviews at Yelp where user June W. says, “Possibly the best evening and dining experience I have ever had!!! ” and OMG Food! indicate that this is something I ought to be excited about. OMG Food! has a bit of a bio on the chef and possible reasons for this venture (he is raising money for his next restaurant, clever boy). A 25 year veteran of the Los Angeles restaurant scene, he was profiled (and outed) by the LA Times.

Down in the comments thread of a recent post at Becks & Posh, there’s discussion about the Dissident Chef. How to get in? Is it worth it?

I’ve gotten past the first question–now I’m waiting to address the second: Is it worth it?

My third question is: I wonder if I can bring a camera and take pictures of my dining experience there.

Update: My write up on the experience is here on Muffin Top

Ici-la (or Ici tasting part deux)

I’ve had this post cached since Christine published her write up of Ici, but I’ve just been too busy to edit. So here goes:

I think that I can always eat ice cream, no matter what the weather. The way I look at it is, if the weather’s cool and cloudy, there’s less of a line at the ice cream parlor! After all, I trudged to Berthillon in 30 degree weather on my first day in Paris… but there was still a line going out the door! (I had the salted butter caramel and the marron glace flavors) And a few weeks ago, I caught my coworkers giving me incredulous looks when I returned from a rainy lunch with a Jamba Juice. Luckily, the clouds dried up the weekend of our tasting and our Indian summer began.

I have to admit, I was a little disappointed when I’d arrived, because I’d been looking forward to tasting the fig flavor, which I’d noticed on my first visit. Ici always has chocolate and vanilla, but most of the other flavors are seasonal. Fig was no longer on the menu, but there were ten other flavors, and there’s nothing like ten scoops of ice cream to cheer you up! I surprised myself – my favorite ice cream was the chocolate. If I were just picking out a single scoop, I’d go for something a little more unusual, like the rose or the earl grey, but if I were taking home a quart, I’d choose the chocolate. Under normal circumstances, I would pick rocky road over plain chocolate, but this chocolate was rich, full flavored, smooth and creamy. It was really well balanced – not too sweet, but not too bitter or grainy. It was so good that the rocky road (usually my favorite ice cream flavor) paled in comparison. We suspected, and upon further inquiry confirmed that the chocolate used in each flavor was a different one. I think that if I hadn’t tried each of the flavors available, I probably would have been satisfied with the rocky road.

The concord grape sherbet was also very unique. No one chose it as a favorite, but we were all wowed by the sheer grapy intensity of the flavor and color. It almost tasted artificial. I was reminded of Barney, and Susan commented that it tasted just like grape juice. I think this is exactly the sort of flavor that little kids would like, sort of like bubble gum ice cream or rainbow sherbet. I’m sure if you ate enough of it, your tongue would be dyed purple!

The ice cream sandwiches have gotten a lot of press, so of course, we had to try them. Two were available – one was malted vanilla ice cream with a chocolate cookie, and the other was lime ice cream with a gingersnap. The vanilla and chocolate combo was yummy, but we really loved the lime and gingersnap combo. Instead of using the sherbet, Ici actually used a lime ice cream which also had a faint gingernote that was really highlighted by the lime gingersnap. Somehow, the cookie didn’t get soggy and retained its crispiness.

Sooooo since Ici rotates it’s flavors, I think we should do another tasting soon! Or we could try one of each flavor at Gelateria Naia…

Santa Ramen

Santa Ramen, originally uploaded by c(h)ristine.

I haven’t been doing a lot of cooking, so there haven’t been many posts here. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been eating some great meals!

I’m looking for some tasty ramen,” I asked a friend at work a few months ago.

“Oh, then you have to go to Santa Ramen,” he said.

“Santa Claus Ramen?” I joked.

“No, Santa Ramen, and you won’t be joking about the name after you taste it.”

Hrm. And then I had to go into a meeting and promptly forgot about the conversation. But last week, he nabbed me in the hallways. “We are going to Santa Ramen, want to join us?”

“Hold on, let me go grab my purse!” And away we went.

Apologies for the fuzzy cameraphone picture above, but that’s a picture of a bowl of tonkatsu (pork flavor) ramen at Santa Ramen (805 South B Street, San Mateo, CA 94401). I make it a rule not to eat pork, but I was convinced after my dining companion said, “They are known for their pork flavor ramen, it’s the BEST. You’ve got to try it.” Well, he said it with much more enthusiasm and fervor and a description that sounded like heaven.

He had about 30 minutes to sing his praises of Santa Ramen, because that’s about how long the wait was to get seated. Just to tell you how long the wait usually is, he remarked, “Wow, that was a pretty short wait,” as we plopped ourselves down, salivating for this heavenly ramen.

There were six of us at the table (a bunch of us from work drove down to San Mateo for ramen), and we let him order for us: Pork flavor ramen extra spicy with stewed pork with a whole egg, garlic, and extra noodles. Woo! We looked up at the wall to decipher what he’d ordered (the menu is on the wall and resembles a bingo board of ramen flavors and concoction–one of them is “corn”–corn ramen sounds good).

Santa Ramen

When that bowl arrived several of us said, “There is NO way we can finish this bowl!”

Ha. All of us finished our bowls.

I tasted that ramen for a week, and I’ve been dying to go back, if only to get a better photograph of the food. Oh, what the hell, who am I kidding? I want another bowl! It is the BEST ramen I have ever had outside of Japan.

After having read some reviews on the place, I’m just so sad I didn’t know about this place before the crowds all discovered it; it must have been such a gem to eat her before it was “discovered.” To have it all to yourself!

Update: I went back for another bowl and took a proper picture:

my ramen at Santa Ramen--is it telling me something?

ice cream tasting at ici

ice cream tasting at ici, originally uploaded by c(h)ristine.

Connie’s post on Ici’s opening earlier this month was so inspiring that we (Susan, Connie, and I–given that dear Melanie is out writing her heart out at Hedgebrook, and Eric as our “token Canadian” doesn’t live in the Bay Area) decided to go on a Muffin Top field trip and taste ALL of the flavors. For you, dear readers, we would make the sacrifice. And for awhile, it DID look like it might be slightly painful, given the cold and rainy weather this past week. But there is something to eating ice cream in wintry weather (well, that’s what I told myself).

However, we woke up today to clear skies and weather like Spring (and not Autumn) and jovial crowds of Cal football fans heading to the game–a perfect setting for a mid-day ice cream treat.

Susan, Connie, and I happily gathered in front of Ici ice cream and walked right up and said, “We want one scoop each of ALL your ice creams.” Oh, that felt SO good to say that. I have ALWAYS wanted to get a scoop of every damn ice cream in an ice cream parlor. That is like, one of my fantasy scenarios.

Apparently, no one has ever filled that scenario at Ici, because the employee behind the counter said, “We’ve never had that request before!” Then I whipped out the camera and started taking pictures, just to make things more conspicuous.

There are no places to sit at Ici. The place is small and focused on ice cream and kind of reminds me of a French-styled bathroom (the sterile mint green walls + tiles + marble give off a bathroom mien). I think it’s charming but not all that comfortable (this ice cream is certainly “to-go.”) But we eyed a little marble ledge that was just big enough to hold a biodegradable cup of ice cream. There, we laid down all 10 flavors in the current rotation: lime sherbet, maple-pinenut praline, chocolate, vanilla, rose, green tea, rock road, earl grey tea, cinnamon, and concord grape sherbet.

ice cream tasting at ici

The ice cream was wonderful. We ate in no particular order, just whatever struck our fancy. There was not one ice cream that was unanimously favorited (a good sign, I think)–and so for my post, I’ll discuss my favorites (I’ll leave it up to Connie and Susan to post their own opinions and experiences).

ice cream tasting at ici

Notable for me were the lime sherbet, rose ice cream, and earl grey ice cream. All the ice creams were good, but these stood out for me as unique and particularly tasty (the vanilla was the least remarkable–I think Haagen Dazs makes a better vanilla ice cream…and Connie remarked that she could make a better vanilla ice cream herself). The one ice cream that was very unique but not a winner in my book was the cinnamon ice cream–“On Apple pie!” we shrieked, but none of us were really won over by its strong and singularly cinnamon flavor.

The lime was (for lack of a more distinct descriptor) VERY LIME-Y! With a bit of a gingery kick (very very faint but distinctive) at the end. This sherbet has a full flavored zing that could work as a brilliant palate cleanser after entree, or just on its own. It is possibly the most refreshing sherbet I have had in a long time.

I am very picky about my rose ice cream. I’m always on the lookout for a good rose ice cream, but I’m usually disappointed by how “icy” and “watery” rose ice creams often are (including the venerable mashti’s). Ici makes a wonderfully creamy rose ice cream. Connie, an expert on so many culinary matters, thinks they use rose syrup as opposed to rose water for this kind of result. I am totally in love with this rose ice cream–and I especially love its faint peach color.

The earl grey tea ice cream was just so unusual, I’m inspired to make something similar with one of my Mariage-Freres teas at home. Could I pull off a rooibos ice cream? Ici’s earl grey tea ice cream has just the right balance earl grey flavor, we joked, “We should eat this with cucumber sandwiches!”

There are 7 more flavors plus 2 wonderful ice cream sandwiches we tasted–I’ll leave it to Susan and Connie to cover the rest of the bases!

Update: Connie’s Ici Tasting Part Deux here.

malted vanilla ice cream sandwich with chocolate cookies at ici

Marsha, Marcia, Martia!

I’m a bit of a chocolate freak.  Like Christine, I squirrel away stashes of dark chocolate  in my kitchen.  I often keep carres (those little squares) of La Maison du Chocolate Dark in my purse, and on an especially bad day, I’ve been known to purchase a pound of Michel Recchuiti’s Fleur de Sel Caramel chocolates and consume half of it in one sitting.  I’ve done the Scharffenberger tour, and every few weeks or so, I’ll treat myself to a bar of Amadei Porcelano.  But I still looooove See’s Candies.  I love the pristine white shops, the ladies in uniform and hairnets, the way it smells like a freshly opened box, the popping the bubble wrap that lays underneath the box lid and the familiar flavors they offer.  I especially love the free samples you get even if you only buy a 20 cent (or however much they cost nowadays) sugar stick.  I don’t like the marzipan filled chocolates, or the rum raisin one.  Yech. 

 

My favorite of their chocolates is the Scotchmallow, which I would pick out immediately whenver my mom opened up a box of Nuts and Chews (my family always got Nuts and Chews).   If you are unlucky enough not to have have had the opportunity to experience the Scotchmallow, it’s a layer of caramel on top of honey marshmallow covered in dark chocolate.  The fluffy sweet marshmallow and the buttery caramel are balance out really well with the bittersweet chocolate. 

 

But recently, I’ve become enamored of the Scotch kisses, which actually take the chocolate out of the equation.  They’re just the caramel and marshmallow wrapped up in wax paper.   Don’t worry about the chocolate subtraction – I’m usually having a bar of Porcelano on the side.  When I received my copy of Nancy Silverton’s La Brea Pastries several weeks ago, I spotted a recipe for scotch kisses and decided that it was time to overcome my fear of molten sugar.  

 

Making the marshmallow wasn’t that difficult.  It’s not unlike making buttercream.  You cook the sugar with light corn syrup until it reaches hard ball stage (240 degrees F), add “bloomed” gelatin and vanilla, then carefully pour the syrup into a stand mixer set to medium with stiffly beaten (but still glossy) egg whites.  I overbeat the egg whites a smidgen.  They were a little bit on the dry side, so when I poured the candy out to set (on parchment sprinkled with powdered sugar, they deflated a little. 

 Next up was the caramel.  It was a bit trickier.    I’m never entirely sure when to turn the heat off cooking caramel, because it continues to cook and darken after you’ve taken it off the stove.  This recipe called for bringing the corn syrup and a bit of sugar to a boil, and incorporating more sugar a few tablespoons at a time, then allowing it to darken before pouring in hot cream and melted butter.  The first time around, I cooked it too long and too high, so my candy was more like toffee, hard and crunchy, not soft and chewy.  I tried it again, and it was still too hard, but slightly malleable.  I went ahead and sandwiched the marshmallow between two layers of caramel, then cut them into bite sized pieces with kitchen shears.   The caramel was just very dense and chewy, like a jujube or now and later.  But because of the sugar’s hydroscopic tendencies, they softened up a little after I let them age for a few days.  I’ll try it again, though I may just go for a egg white free marshmallow recipe, and definitely cook the caramel for a shorter period of time.

Sick of hearing about it yet?

Michelin released its second guide guide for the States on Monday (the first was for New York) and Bay Area foodies are up in arms.  Not since Daniel Patterson issued his manifesto, “To the Moon, Alice?” in New York Times Magazine last year has the local restaurant scene been in such an uproar.  Only French Laundry received Michelin’s highest accolade, three stars.  Frankly, I’m not surprised that only French Laundry received three stars.  No one will dispute that FL deserves them.  In fact, Michael Bauer goes on to wonder if “our restaurants are being handicapped because  it’s much better than any of the other restaurants here and the three stars in New York, including Per Se [Thomas Keller’s other haute cuisine restaurant]”.  A three star restaurant is something of an entirely different caliber than what we usually get here in the Bay Area.  If you every have the opportunity to dine at the French Laundry, you’ll see what I mean.  But people are getting mightily offended over the lack of recognition for restaurants like Slanted Door, Zuni Cafe and Delfina.  Besides the food itself, service, decor, the wine list and ambience are considered in the Michelin rating systems.  While I love the food that these three places serve, I’m afraid that all three of them are LOUD and the service is wildly inconsistent.  Because I’m a big Alice-phile, I do believe that Chez Panisse deserved two stars, but I can sort of understand why it received one.  I think that Waters deserves all the praise she gets, but when you break it down, her food is very simple and rustic.  And that’s okay – I like simple and rustic, but serving a plain, unadorned (unsliced and unpeeled) but perfect peach as dessert doesn’t require much skill.  “That’s shopping,” someone once said.  I do not understand why Aqua and Michael Mina each received two, while Gary Danko received one.   I ate at Aqua when Mina was still the head chef.  The food was excellent, but the restaurant itself was LOUD.  I don’t think the noise level has changed since Laurent Manrique took the helm.  I like an energetic and celebratory atmosphere, but not while dining on haute cuisine – that’s why we go to Zuni and Slanted Door.  I have not yet eaten at Michael Mina, but by all accounts, the service is cold and the food uninspiring.  I loved Gary Danko – the service was warm and hospitable, and the food was excellent.  The only downside to my experience was that we were seated next to an obnoxious family, but I can’t place fault with the restaurant for that. 

 In the article I previously mentioned, Daniel Patterson began “To the Moon, Alice?” by lauding Alice Waters for starting a sustainable revolution.  He goes on to criticize Bay Area restaurants for getting stuck in the Chez Panisse rut (calling it the “tyranny of Alice Waters,”) – the dogma of excellent and locally produced ingredients prepared in a simple or tradional manner.    That revolution began in the sixties, and by now, according to him, is antiquated.  He asserted that Waters’ hegemony stifled creativity and promoted a certain homogeneity.  To some extent, it’s true.  How many Cal/Med French-Italian places (sometimes with a fusion/Spanish/Latin twist) emphasizing locally produced organic ingredients have you eaten at?  You also have to consider that many food establishments, from Acme Bread to Zuni are run by Chez Panisse alumni.  But honestly, after a tough day at work, I’d rather have a “rustic” dish of braised short ribs over polenta (permutations of this dish can be found at any CalMed place) than cucumber mint gelee with candied raspberries and miniature marshmallows (which I was served at Pierre Gagnaire).

 I think there is more at play here, and that has to do with our critic at large, Michael Bauer.   Though I don’t agree with everything he has to say, I don’t think he’s a bad critic.  But after I read Garlic and Sapphires, I got the impression that new blood on the critic’s circuit fuels the restaurant scene.  Bauer has been with the Chronicle for almost twenty years.  I know there’s plenty of other good critics in town, but Bauer is by far the most influential.  So just imagine – twenty years of accomodating the tastes of one person.  What kind of impact will that have on the dining scene? 

your face on the side of a box

box5.jpg

how cool is this? slashfood spots a way to make your own customized photo lunchbox from Ogg Studio

Now I gotta go rummage through my flickrstream for some possible lunchbox designs!