Thursday, September 27, 2007

Pizza Party for My Nephew & Pizza Snob Friends

Taylor's First Pizza

As a kid growing up, I looked forward to Sundays when the Times would be delivered to our doorstep. I'd get up and run to the door and grab the heap of freshly ink-pressed paper and toss it onto the living room floor. I would then grab scissors and hastily cut the bra and thong off the newspaper with two quick snips. And on my hands and knees, I would quickly shuffle through the stack like a college intern in a file cabinet on a busy day. There it was. Exactly what I was looking for.

No, it wasn't the comics.

Coupons. Pizza coupons.

During that time, the powerhouse pizza companies were Domino's, Pizza Hut and Little Caesar's and were constantly offering deals with soda, an extra pie for X amount of dollars or some weird culinary invention. But it was Little Caesar's who kept it real. For $15, you could get TWO pizzas with TWO toppings, while the other two offered ONE pizza for nearly the same price. Coming from a frugal, Chinese family, we'd be lucky to even get the $15 deal. Domino's and Pizza Hut was for the rich... and plus, they make such damn greasy food. I still refuse to eat that stuff to this day. But Little Caesar's? Yes please! Anyway, it was easier to push a cow off the road than it was to convince my parents to buy us pizza. They just didn't see the point of bread, cheese and sauce cut into triangles? Why? For $15, they could get a whole roasted duck at the Sam Woo bbq zoo. They could buy 7 of those face-sun visors if they made them back then. Thank god they didn't. Sometimes, we'd get those cardboard-like pizzas that came wrapped and stacked on top of each other. One look at it and you knew that it wasn't going to be very good.

My sister and I devised a plan to obtain more pizzas... simply by being on our best behavior. We showed homework, cleaned the house up every chance we could and blew MAJOR smoke up their asses. Most of the time, we failed. But for every 15 tries, we got our pizza. And it was heaven. For some reason, my story wasn't far off from Charlie & the Chocolate Factory. We weren't very wealthy but we had hopes and dreams... of getting pizza. I still remember what it was like holding $15 buck in my pocket and happily crossing the street. The all-too-familiar sign with the cartoon Greek guy would widen my eyes. I could see the oompa-loompas walking back n' forth behind the counter processing goodness. A smile cracked on my face and wielding that fabulous coupon that would grant me access into delicious cheesiness. If you remember, Little Caesar's used to package their double goodness on a cardboard and large white 'envelope'... much like Charlie's winning ticket in the chocolate bar. A simple tear in the 'envelope', and wafts of goodness seaped into your nose. Those days are long gone. Now Little Caesars pack their pizzas in boxes and are selling two types of pizzas for $5 each. You've seen their human billboards... spinning and tossing their signs on the corner of the street. Definitely not the same.

I still love pizza to this day, but really, who doesn't? My favorites being Fat Slice in Norcal, Abbot's in Venice Beach and Greco's on the corner of Hollywood & Cahuenga. And for a frozen brand, I absolutely love the 5 for $5 Jeno's pizza – my official poor-college-guy staple, amongst Del Taco and Sriracha-sauce hot dogs. But the more you cook, the more you stray away from eating out and I definitely can't eat the pizza from Domino's and Pizza Hut. The sight of that greasy bread and orange puddle of oil laying on top... man. It's inevitable that you'll try making your own pizza.

Finally, after a long hiatus, I got called for a catering gig that requires making pizza in a woodfire oven. I freaked because (1) I cannot stand baking and (2) how the hell do I work a woodfire oven. Why do I hate baking? Because it basically requires a lot of patience, standing around and precise measurements. Once you've done exactly what the book tells you to do, you loiter in the kitchen area. I prefer cooking savory food because it triggers the human senses and requires full attention. I see it as a high maintenace girl that needs love, care, attention, gifts, massages and affection. If something's not right, she'll react and blow up. Such is the case with sauces that break... meat that is overcooked. Very temperamental but I love it.

J and I borrowed her mom's Kitchen Aid mixer and one look at that thing ensures that your food will be good. Tokyoastrogirl sent me a link to a recipe by Heidi of 101 Cookbook's, who now has her first published cookbook. (Congrats to her on a huge achievement – she deserves it). I decided to throw a pizzafest slash practice for the catering event, and to celebrate my nephew's first birthday. Since he has four beaver teeth coming out, he'd be able to eat his first pizza. I tried out the recipe Heidi used and man, this was some GOOD pizza dough. My mom, who never let us have pizza, loved the bread. J called me 30 mins after she tried it, and asked that I save some dough for her. I myself hate eating pizza crust, but couldn't resist. So far so good. The best way to find out if this pizza was really good was to call on my friends ME & EP. These two are pizza snobs slash whores. They eat pizza once a week. They've DRIVEN to the famous Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix TWICE, where people wait for 2 hours in line to get in to this spot. I've seen the photos of their pizza and wow, amazing. If you like the pizza at Batali & Silverton's Pizzeria Mozza, you'll like Pizzeria Bianco because the head chef, Chef Matt Molina, was trained in that same restaurant.

Australia-looking Pizza

These hairy arms are not mine. They belong to my friend ME. Here ME is rolling the dough out for our first pizza. A great dinner party to have is a pizza party, where you buy a bunch of pizza toppings and let everyone make his own pizza. I watched as he rolled the dough, and he looked very happy. Almost with that perverted, sexual offender look. Don't worry if your dough starts to look like Australia like it does in the photo, simply roll it back into a ball and start over. It's a good thing also to roll a few times because you want air to get in there to add some puffiness to the pizza.

Baby Cheese Pizza

Baby Cheese Pizza
For the birthday boy, my sister and I made him a 6" pizza with delicious marinara and mozzarella cheese on it. We then sliced the pizza into 1/2" x 1/2" cubes and laid them out on his baby chair (pictured above). He went to town on it and gobbled it up in about 7 minutes. This pizza reminded me of larger Bagel Bites and was very very fun to make.

Pepperoni Pizza

ME's Double Pepperoni Pizza
First ME laid out 5-6 pepperoni slices on the cheese. I looked at him with a puzzled look. C'mon man, I thought you were a pizza whore... double down on it! He pretty much covered the whole pizza up w/ pepperoni... not a chance for the bread to see the light of day. A classic, delicious pizza!

Marguerite Pizza

My Sister's Marguerite Pizza
She likes simple food and this pizza is a classic representation of food that doesn't need to be complicated. The Italians first devised this pizza as a way to promot patriotism. A marguerite consists of only red sauce, white cheese and green basil... the 3 colors in the Italian flag. I cut the slices of tomato rather thin because 10 minutes in the oven really doesn't cook the tomato fully. Everyone loved this.

Sausage & Zuccini Pizza

Spinach & Fontina Sausage with Zuccini and Red Onions
My favorite pizza has to be a veggie pizza, but the consensus insisted on adding sausage to this pizza. You can use any kind of sausage, it'll taste perfectly fine. I did a quick sauté with the zuccini and added garlic and smoked paprika. This combination was very good.

Portobello & White Truffle Oil Pizza

Portobello & White Truffle Oil Pizza
I made this for the client and she absolutely loved it. I quickly sautéed the portobello mushrooms in garlic and thyme and added it to the pizza. After it came out, I lightly drizzled some fantastic White Truffle oil. If you plan to buy White Truffle oil, try to fork out the money for a pure bottle of truffle oil, not the truffle-infused olive oil crap you see at Trader Joe's. If you don't use it quickly enough, the oil goes bad and tastes nasty. For many this was the 2nd favorite.

Heirloom, Basil & Burrata Cheese Pizza

Heirloom Tomatoes, Basil & Burrata Cheese Pizza
I think for this election, I'm not voting for Hillary, Obama nor Edwards, I'm voting for Burrata Cheese for President. This stuff is stellar. Tokyoastrogirl gave me the idea for this and I really have to say THANK YOU. The combination of sweet, juicy heirlooms, fragrant basil and soft & milky burrata is heavenly. After I baked the pizza, I dropped globs of the burrata cheese (it comes in a water-filled tub, in some sort of 'casing') all over. I watched as it melted slightly on the surface. Beauty. This was everyone's favorite and definitely mine.

A note to those that wanna try out the pizza recipe. With exception to the Baby Cheese and Pepperoni pizzas, I simply used olive oil on the dough as a 'sauce' base. I'm not much of a tomato sauce person, so I refrained from using it – and it turned out wonderful. Always salt and pepper the pizza after you've added your toppings. You can even add some more olive oil on top of the pizza before you bake it. Pizzas were baked for about 12 minutes, at 450 degrees without a baking stone. I've heard a baking stone does wonders, so I'll try that next.

Here's the link to Heidi's tasty recipe again. Happy belated to my little nephew, you rock. And thanks to everyone for reading.
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Monday, September 03, 2007

San Francisco - All Work, No Play... But Definitely Good Eating

The comedown from such an eye opening experience in China resulted in periodic wakeups every 3 hours in the night, slight headaches from basically being hung upside down for a good week and a half and constant cursing from being completely exhausted. J and I did a lot in only 10 days, 2 lost from flying... Hong Kong, Macau, Zhuhai and Yangshuo. And when I thought I could finally slip back into my Los Angeles mode, I was abruptly shuttled to our San Francisco office for a week of work. There's something frustrating about emptying a suitcase, and then having to repack again.

Argh.

*Bing* But wait, a business trip entails business meals. Oh yes.

I take that 'argh' back.

The Clift Front

I was put up in another one of the Morgans Hotel Group properties, the Clift. Back in February, I got to stay at Ian Schrager's beautiful Hudson Hotel in Chelsea, New York. Both are truly sleek, conceptual boutique hotels. I could only dream of affording a night there.

The Clift Lobby


The Clift Bar

The Clift Hotel is well-known for its bar, which is built with the wood from a single redwood tree. May not sound astonishing, but this place is huge. I'd have to guess the ceilings are at least 40' high. There are picture frames with portraits of people all over, and when looking closely, you can see that it's not really a still image. It's a looping pre-recorded video. Kinda creepy when you catch one of the models gazing at you. J's brother and I came here after dinner and soon found out the hard truth with boutique hotel bars, you're gonna get ripped off. 8 shots of tequila and 4 beers, we were happy. But immediately sobered up upon receiving the $150 tab. Looks like we're eating cheap the rest of the week.

Bar Crudo

Before landing in SF, I did all my restaurant research on Chowhound and Yelp! Bar Crudo was one of the places many of the posters and reviewers had mentioned. 'Crudo' is spanish/italian for 'raw' and you might catch yourself getting some cold stares if you even refer to this place as a sushi bar. No rolls, no nigiri rice, none of that. Just plain old cuts of delicious, super fresh fish presented in a way that gives San Francisco bragging rights. Chef/owner Mike Selvera is extremely talented. Guest-eating with J's brother and I was another one of my foodie friends EW. If you had read about my awesome trip in Taiwan, she was the tour guide for all the nuggets of goodness available only at the night markets.

Bar Crudo Jellyfish

Selvera has a taste for art as much as he does for his culinary creations. We sat there for about 15 minutes trying to figure out how that jellyfish piece was constructed and when Ikea would steal the idea and put that out on the shelves. I'd buy one though, maybe even 15.

Bar Crudo Raw Bar

We grabbed a front row seat at the bar like teenagers with fake ID's at a nudie bar. Our eyes admiring, no STUDYING, the many types of shellfish available. Chef Selvera saw us and gave a smirk. He could tell that we were total food perverts. Patience, perverted ones.

Bar Crudo Kumamoto Oysters

Kumamoto Oysters
Unless you're an ogre or Paris Hilton, I don't understand how one can swallow the tongue-sized oysters that are usually listed on menus. The first time I tried an oyster, it had to be the size of a human tongue. I started tearing and had to spit it back out, and so did my friends haha. But then comes the wonderful midget of oysters... the Kumamoto. It originated in Kyushu, Japan but is now harvested in the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia region. And with the best coming from Humboldt Bay. The oyster is only about 2" long in its shell, but when carved out, it's thin and easy to chew. But its the taste that's so amazing – sweet with very little brininess. Absolutely no soapiness to it. It's a good thing we asked Selvera if he had Kumamotos because he rarely gets them. J's brother, Jeremy, had never tried Kumamotos... and after 1... we each got 1/2 a dozen for ourselves. Chef Selvera serves them the traditional way with mignonette and cocktail sauce. Delicious.

Bar Crudo Scallops

Day Boat Scallops with Corn Puree, Lobster Mushrooms & Terragon Oil
Scallops, the tater-tots-of-the sea. No meal for me is complete without some sort of scallop, whether it's seared or in ceviche form. Scallops are delicate and texture and taste and the addition of the cubed lobster mushroom makes perfect Yinyang. I've never had sweet corn puree on anything but love how this is a great substitute for sugar.

Bar Crudo Tuna

Tombo Tuna with Lobster Oil, Pineapple Vanilla Vinaigrette & Himalayan Pepper
One look at this tuna and we knew it was superfresh, not to mention the beautiful pink hue. I loved this dish! Where can I find Himalayan pepper?!

Bar Crudo Hawaiian Ono

Hawaiian Ono with Lemongrass, Chili, Citrus, Mint & Yuzu Tobiko
This one was the winner for me. I've only had seared and broiled ono... and now prefer it completely raw. Selvera basically made a Vietnamese-style vinaigrette with chili, lemongrass, fish sauce and sugar. I'm sure the sauce used would even work well with spring rolls.

Bar Crudo Fluke

Rhode Island Fluke with Jamon Serrano & Soft Quail Egg
Of all the dishes tonight, the fluke was the most tender. It reminds me a lot of the sushi prepared by the wonderful Keizo of Sushi Zo in Palms. The quail egg was pretty much a bonus to me since I'm a sucker for them.

Bar Crudo Arctic Char

Arctic Char with Creamy Horseradish, Wasabi Tobiko & Dill
I was excited to try this dish because I had heard a lot about Arctic Char. It belongs to the salmon family and even possesses trout attributes. It is also the only freshwater fish found so far North in the Arctic region. This guy has no trouble frolicking in icy water. I loved this dish as well. You can totally tell Selvera used freshly-grated horseradish, because you might tear from its robustness.

Bar Crudo Lobster Salad

Maine Lobster Salad with Sweet Corn, Heirloom Tomatoes & Burrata Cheese
Peanut butter & jelly. Spam & eggs. Midgets & strippers. All pairings that I like, JK on the last one. And thanks to Mike, I'm adding this one to the books. Chunky pieces of butter-poached Maine lobster with whole peaches and watercress. Seriously, if you served a scoop of ice cream on top of this, I would nod my head and agree that this is... DEFINITELY dessert.

Bar Crudo Seafood Chowder

Seafood Chowder with Applewood Smoked Bacon & Potatoes
More like bacon soup with a garnish of squid, fish, lobster and clams. It's a good thing the three of us shared this because it was sooooooo rich. But my god, this had to be one of the tastiest nouveau chowders I've had. I say 'nouveau' because I know this may not be as good as New England's chowder. But damn it's good.

This is the first time I've ever used this word when speaking about food, but the food at Bar Crudo is simply SEXY. Bring a date and you'll have her/him/it in no time. And not to mention Selvera's interest for fish and art, he's got a good palate for microbrews and imports. I highly recommend Norcal's Racer 5 beer. Bar Crudo for president!!!

Incanto San Francisco

When it comes to offals, the 'unused' parts, one might think of Mario Batali and just about every single Chinese chef in the San Gabriel Valley with their bbq zoo on display. But thanks to the people on Yelp! and Chowhound, I learned about an Italian, Rhode Island-native named Chris Cosentino. Chef Cosentino has worked at Alice Water's Chez Panisse in Berkeley and SF's Rubicon and has appeared on Iron Chef America against Mario Batali in Battle Offals. At his restaurant Incanto, you might want to inquire about the group dinner special. It's definitely prix fixe but it's not a 9 course menu... it's one whole roasted pig or lamb at a whopping $1500... enough to feed 20 according to the staff. And every part of that animal is served. Being an offal eater, there was no hesitation in paying Noe Valley's Incanto a visit. And before I start to ramble on, I want people to know that Incanto serves half portions of their appetizers and wine, allowing you to get a tasty glimpse of Cosentino's secret weapon(s). How many restaurants out there will offer 1/2 orders of anything? I really like how Cosentino encourages people to try things they haven't tried before.

Incanto Pig Head

This is one of those things you might find at a garage sale or swapmeet, but for Incanto, it makes a lot of sense – it's their brand image.

Incanto House Olives

House-Marinated Olives
I started out with some house olives. Olives... I love them but how exciting can they be if there served as appetizers. It wasn't until I saw the pantry cook toss these in dark olive oil and probably some kind of herbal vinaigrette that I knew something was up. To top it off, he put them on a plate and threw in what looked like a toaster oven. Whoa, toasted olives. For many people, olives are too earthy and much to tannic. But the simple task of infusing heat into these seeded beings takes them to another level, like kimchi thrown on a korean bbq grill. These were excellent and perfect with the pre-dinner drink.

Incanto Heirloom Tomatoes

Heirloom Tomato & Melon with Vanilla Salt & Basil
Heirloom tomatoes are in season and I recommend eating them while they are hot. Tomatoes are fruits, but do they really taste like fruit? Not really. But things change when heirlooms come into the picture – they are sweet and succulent. And the addition of very expensive olive oil and vanilla-infused sea salt enhances the dish. Like the Maine lobster and peach salad I had, a simple scoop of ice cream would've slotted this dish in the dessert category. It was THAT refreshing.

I was done with the appetizers and picked up the menu again. For some reason, my mind is only picking out the bizarre nouns... like brains and hearts. And its exactly what I had.

Incanto Beef Heart

Grilled Beef Heart, Pickled Watermelon & Pistachio
I'm used to chicken hearts but I didn't expect the beef heart to be... well so beefy. If I was told that this was a steak, I would've believed so. I was expecting to see valves and veins but the beautiful searing covered it up. What brought this dish together was the pickled watermelon... I can eat them like candy all day long – so good!

Incanto Calf Brain

Calves' Brains with Porcini, Capers & Lemon
Now just imagine egg tarts at dim sum. Imagine the steamed egg at korean restaurants. Imagine panna cotta but with a beefy taste to it. And that's calves' brains. I loved loved loved this... partly because it wasn't as rich as I had imagined it to be. When I had brain tacos in SF last year, all I could taste was FAT. Although good, I couldn't imagine anyone pounding more than one of those. I had read somewhere that the cow brain contains anywhere from 2,000-3,o00 calories because of all the colored matter. Not good for you. Anyway, the sauce that accompanied this couldn't be more perfect. The brain is so delicate and rich that you need nothing more than a beautiful, buttery, lemony stock to wash it down. I guess the only thing creepy about this dish really is the cloud-like shape of the actual calf brain. Other than that, Cosentino has made a stellar dish.

Incanto Tuna Heart Pasta

Sardinian Cured Tuna Heart, Egg Yolk & Parsley Spaghettini
The bartender, server and guy sitting next to me recommended this dish. Three people can't be too wrong. I knew this dish was up next because I could smell the strong waft of sardines... but it was immediatly followed by a slap of garlic. Wow. I had to sit there and enjoy the aroma for a few seconds before digging in. I mixed the egg yolk with everything on the plate, and the result was a golden hue with little freckles of shaved, fried tuna heart. I ate this in approximately 3 minutes without one sip of water or wine. I wanted more and more. Why did they tell me that I could order a 1/2 order of this?! Excellent!!!

Incanto Lamb Ragu

Lamb Ragu with Handkerchief Pasta
I didn't have to taste this to know that this was going to knock me over. Braised-to-death slivers of lamb, velvety ribbons of fresh pasta swimming in a golden river of cholestorel. Oh man. Again, I killed this dish.... scratch that.... inhaled it in 3 minutes.

I'll be honest with you, I can't justify spending $20+ on pasta because it's something that I attribute to home cooking. It just seems so expensive for what it is. I would eat pho WAY LESS if it was $25 a bowl, even if it had braised short ribs or kobe beef in it. Wouldn't you? But thank you to Chef Cosentino, I am craving more freshmade pasta now. And I cannot wait to go back here. *Applause*

I had only eaten two of SF's best places, and I was already feeling spoiled. But it seems that the Gods of Employment saw that I was having too much fun... they threw a big thunderbolt of work at me. Approximately two days of 16+ hour workdays and a 30+ hour all nighter of work at me.

Thanks, Gods of Employment.

And on the last day, after 30+ hours... I ended up here in the streets of San Francisco. Completely exhausted, delirious, with stinging eyes... wandering the streets for some sort of reward.

San Francisco Tsingtao Billboard

I saw this sign while walking around aimlessly. I found it funny at the time and laughed out loud like a madman, maybe it's not as funny now... especially if you can't read Chinese.

My flight was in 2.5 hours and I needed to redeem the last few days of vacuuming and polishing Satan's basement. My friend, Immaeatchu's man, had told me about a great spot called City Beer. At this point, it was 11:45 and I found myself staring at the shop from across the street. They weren't opened yet. It was either I go here for a liquid lunch and look like an alchy, or head out to Burma Superstar for one of SF's favorite joints. With my backpack and raggedy carry-on, I looked at my cellphone for the time again.

11:54 AM.

11:57 AM.


You see, the biggest problem and guilt comes from the fact that AM is showing on my phone, not PM. Any big drinker will tell you that it's NOT a drinking problem when you drink in the PM. What's one beer? I'll go to Burma Superstar after that ONE beer.

City Beer San Francisco

12:05 pm. I walked in to City Beer. Like a kid in a candy store, I was suddenly awakened by the sight of something so beautiful. Just hundreds of colorful beer labels beckoning me to pick them up and caress them. Hold them and love them and cherish them. See them grow, graduate and have their own families.

I met the owner Craig, a mid-30's guy, who is so passionate about beer he'd kick you out if you even asked the question, "do you have any wine coolers?" City Beer offers a weekly selection of beers on tap and only charges $4 for an 8-10 ouncer. You can try any beer on the shelves or fridges for only $1 corkage per bottle.

City Beer Hops

These are hops used for making beer. I was buzzed and popped one in my mouth and you kno what, not a bad snack. I'm sure I would've said the same thing if I had eaten grasshoppers.

2.5 hours later, 5 beers and $35 worth of beer, I had forgotten about my lunch plans and found my new batcave. Quite simply, I was drunk. And this couldn't be a more perfect way to end the rough week. Drop by and have a beer with Craig, you'll learn a lot. He's a great guy.

But the fun doesn't stop... I'm currently writing from a hotel in San Francisco... again for the 2nd week. Stay tuned...!

Thanks for reading.

Bar Crudo
603 Bush Street
San Francisco, CA, 94108
(415) 956-0396
www.barcrudo.com

Incanto
1550 Church Street
San Francisco, CA, 94131
(415) 641-4500
www.incanto.biz

City Beer
1168 Folsom Street
San Francisco, CA, 94103
(415) 503-1033
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