Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Salad Days - Watermelon's Better Than You Thought, Especially With Feta

I remember, back when I was a kid growing up, me and grammy and grampy would sit out on the back porch, grampy having just harvested a big, old 30 pound watermelon. We'd just sit there, them in their rockers, me on the steps, with the sweet juice running down our chins, seeing who could send those pits the farthest, while meanwhile the hogs would gather round, cuz they really loved the rinds and any fruit we might share with 'em.

OK - not really. Grandma and Papa were in a 4th-floor walkup, off Gun Hill Road, in the Bronx. And watermelon was a real treat, if there was any at all (I don't remember any). More likely, it was helzel, or if we were lucky, chicken feet. And Grandma could make a mean potato latke.

And now, it's summer once more, my season of complaining a lot - and cooking as little as possible. So yesterday, when my local grocery store had cut watermelon on sale for a mere 49 cents a pound, I bought a big wedge. Normally, I just bring it home, and keep it in the fridge - it's a good dessert for Sig Eater and me, when we pretend we're trying to be healthy.   

But I wanted to make dinner, and without "cooking," that can be a challenge. Looking around the fridge, in addition to the watermelon, I noticed I had some organic parsley and cucumbers. Some feta. And on the counter some reasonably nice tomatoes. Bingo - salad time...
Watermelon and Feta Salad
Because the watermelon and tomatoes are so nice and juicy, the dressing can be kept to a minimum. A drizzle of good extra virgin olive oil and some fine Spanish dry Oloroso vinegar from Despaña, and we were good to go. Well, we did need something crunchy...
Za'atar Pita Crisps
So I cut a pita bread in half, cut the halves into triangles, brushed them with that olive oil, sprinkled them with za'atar and salt, and baked them in my toaster oven for about 7 minutes. Not a bad dinner, with (almost) no cooking.

Watermelon, Feta, Tomato, Cucumber and Parsley Salad 

All the above ingredients, salt and pepper, olive oil and vinegar.

Make a salad out of them.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Provincetown - The "Outer" Cape and Wellfleet Too

There's an old Woody Allen line, from his stand-up days, which goes something like this:  "I'm a little fair-skinned. When I go to the beach, I don't tan - I stroke." Which pretty much describes how I feel about a day at the beach, or just in the sun.

So, you ask, what the hell am I doing up on the Cape, (excuse me - the outer Cape) in Provincetown, in June? Fortunately, the weather was what some might consider miserable - cold, windy, damp, drizzly - in other words, perfect for me! 

And last year, Rebecca and Sean (hmmm - let's see - Rebecca is Sig Eater's niece, which means she's my niece too. Sean is her husband which means he's our nephew, right?) took their 5 or so years of Brooklyn food experience up to Provincetown, and bore this child (their parents are very proud)...
Pop+Dutch
Pop + Dutch is a general store/sandwich shop, in what used to be, ummmm, a general store and sandwich shop (I think). Lots of sweat labor went into making the place as lovely as it is now. Of course I'm biased, but we tried at least 6 different sandwiches and 2 salads, and I only wish I could get a sandwich as fresh and tasty down here in my neighborhood. Anything that can be prepared in-house is. They roast the beef; the turkey; the chicken for their chicken salad and mighty club sandwich (though it's called a "505" instead of a "212" - when you go in, they'll explain). They bake muffins and biscuits. They bake pies and cookies. They go through dozens of eggs for breakfast sandwiches and egg salad. And if you're a cooking geek, you should know that this gets a big work out...
C-Vap
In addition to the seriously delicious prepared foods, Pop + Dutch carries a bunch of unique grocery products. Duke's mayonnaise. Zapp's potato chips. Mr. Q Cumber soda - which happens to mix very nicely with gin, thank you. Mallo Cups and Whatchamacallits. Wiffle Bats and Balls. Milk, eggs, and fresh produce, too. This year, they are hooking up directly with some farmers, like a CSA kinda thing. Basically, everything you need for a day, week or month in Provincetown. And no bagels!

Go? Of course - it's in the "west end" of Provincetown, a bit away from the insane tourist part of the strip -   you'll be glad you stopped by.

Of course, heading up to Provincetown to visit the mishpucha didn't preclude us from various other endeavors. And since we arrived on a Sunday afternoon, it meant we actually got to spend some time with the kin. During the season, P+D is open daily, and they have no time for anything or anyone. But pre-season, they were closed on Tuesday, and with early-ish closing times on Sunday and Monday, we were able to sample some of Ptown's (and Wellfleet's) finest. 

Our first stop, on the drive up, was at Mac's Seafood On The Pier, in Wellfleet...
Mac's Lunch
The fried scallops, clam chowder and lobster rolls hit the spot after a 6-hour car ride, though I think there's a bit too much mayo in the lobster and oy vey with the lettuce on my lobster roll.

Checking in at the Red Inn, here's the view we enjoyed, right from our gorgeous room, for the next 3 days...
Provincetown Bay
We enjoyed that view and relaxed for a while, while our erstwhile hosts closed up shop. Since their apartment is literally across the street from the Red Inn, we met there for cocktails - gin and Mr. Q Cumbers all around! Looking for a nice, local, relaxed dinner, Rebecca and Sean suggested Devons Food Bar, and we were soon ensconced at the bar, enjoying some nice wines and beers by the glass, bar snacks and a small plates-y dinner. But not just any bar snacks - salt cod fritters, excellent linguica with figs, a fine littleneck clam ceviche, and my favorite - the crispy fried pig ear strips - oh yeah. Then my small-plate main really knocked me out; a butterflied quail, buttermilk basted and deep fried - one of the best versions of this dish I've had in a while.  Everyone else enjoyed their mains as well, though i have no idea what anyone else had. Oh - before we left their apartment, I was able to snap a quick shot...
Pop + Dutch People Sean and Rebecca
The next morning we awoke to a bit of a chill and breeze. But no matter what, Sig Eater was getting in her deck time...
Hanging on the Deck
It got a little sunny and Monday turned out to be perfect for checking out some of the other stuff Ptown is known for: you know - the Cape light, landscape, beaches, wildlife - all that stuff I can take or leave. (It happened to be quite beautiful)...
Race Point Lighthouse
Nature - AKA A Fox
One of the beaches. It's all beaches.
After all that outside stuff for Significant Eater and me, Sean drove us down to Wellfleet for dinner - lobsters - at PJ's Family Restaurant. It's...well...a family restaurant, so buy your beer next door at the gas station, or bring it from home. Bring a flask, too, if you feel like it. Sig Eater went for the clambake, including a pound of steamers...
Clambake Dinner
Bigger lobster
While I opted for the simple 2-pounder, since I've never been a huge steamer fan. Stan, my dear old dad, loved steamers - me, I never really got a taste for those sort of slimy, sort of sandy, sort of like swallowing a mouthful of funky beachwater piss clams. That said, my lobster was perfectly cooked. Thomas Keller can butter poach all the lobster he wants; me - gimme a few people who've been cooking lobster all their lives to prep mine, and I know it'll be okay...juicy, sweet, briny, luscious and messy. As it was. Early lobster-dinner means you get to head back into Ptown in time for a few drinks. And while a few drinks can be had most anywhere in Ptown, for a real, honest-to-goodness cocktail (both my on-menu and off-menu drinks were great), head to the Nor' East Beer Garden, right smack dab in the middle of the action on Commercial St. Oh - one little thing - don't go if it's raining. There's no roof on the place, and they evidently are only open "weather permitting." Fortunately, it was "permitting" the night we went.

Tuesday morning we woke to a slightly different view...
Provincetown Bay Low Tide
Tide's out - which evidently happens 2x a day - but even I remember that from my science class in 5th grade or so. That big, tall thing in the background is called Pilgrim Monument Provincetown Museum.  It's on a a hill. It's like 250 feet up after you get up the hill. You can climb to the top via stairs and ramps. Even on a day when the winds were about 50 mph up there, we did - though I'm still trying to figure out why. Other than the view, I guess...
Provincetown Harbor
There's a fantastic museum at the base of the monument. Both worth an hour or two of your time. So we spent an hour or two of our time there, did a little more sightseeing and ended up back at the Inn for a nice, lazy afternoon looking at the water...
Niece/Aunt
It also gave us time to get ready for the fanciest dinner of our trip, a 7-course tasting menu at Ceraldi, in Wellfleet. Chef Michael Ceraldi's restaurant is basically his ode to the Cape and its ingredients (including, of course, some locally foraged stuff) in the same sorta way that Sean Brock's is to low-country cuisine and its ingredients. It's good. It's raison d'être is good. Chef does his plating right in the middle of the big, comfortable U-shaped bar...
Chef Plates Oyster
We started off with a single smoked Wellfleet oyster, and moved into a fabulous escarole soup with tiny meatballs. Wild milkweed tempura came next, and we were off and running. Lobster and scallop sauced Michael's fine gnocchi, and the halibut course, accompanied by wild rice and local greens, showed a great hand with fish - and that's what a Cape Cod cook should have. Dessert was a textbook perfect panna cotta finished with honey-roasted nuts and rhubarb syrup.  There are some excellent wines to be had by the glass or bottle. If I remember correctly, there are 2 possible pairings, but we chose some stuff on our own. That 7-course meal - $70 (before wine, tip, etc.).

In my mind, chef's time at places like Metamorfosi in Rome, Felidia and Del Posto in NYC, and, most importantly, in his mom's kitchen that he grew up in, really serves him well...bringing those experiences to develop his own philosophy and using excellent ingredients and letting them shine. Nice job.

When we got back to the Red Inn, we spent an hour or so enjoying the night time sights from our room...
Provincetown Night
Heading back out of town the next morning, on our way back to the big city, our final stop was at -  you guessed it - Pop + Dutch. After all, we wanted two more sandwiches for the ride home - and the iced coffee was great too!

Pop + Dutch on Facebook

Pop + Dutch Instagram

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Paella - It's Only Rice, Right?

Rice. Many food cultures have their special rice dishes. Others eat rice at literally every meal. There's risotto in Italy. Red beans and rice in New Orleans. Congee in China. Chelo, pilaf and pulao in the Middle East. Sushi rice. Jasmine rice. Red rice and black rice. Thai rice. Sweet rice. Sticky rice. White rice. Brown rice. On and on. And then, in Spain, there's paella.

So, this is a quick post about paella. Specifically, the paella I make at home, the dish I've been trying to master for years. When done well, a thing of beauty - the rice taking on the flavors of the rest of the ingredients, without any one of those flavors overpowering another. Texture is important; gummy or overcooked or undercooked - not good. You also want a bit of socarrat at the bottom of the paella - the wonderful, crusty and crunchy bits that form from cooking paella on an open fire - or, as in my case, on my stove.

So, where to start?  First off, paella is about rice. I've tried a bunch of different rices, all claiming to be "the best" for paella...
Paella rices from Spain
What my experiments have shown me is that the best rice for paella is also the most expensive, coming in at about $15 for a kilo, but hey - you get what you pay for. (Oh, it's the one in the upper left hand corner, Calasaparra Bomba rice). And if you think that's expensive, wait'll you see the price for saffron, the most expensive spice in the world, and that which is necessary in any fine paella.

I also use a traditional paella pan, which can be a pain in the ass, as they're meant to be used over an open fire, or on a specially built paella burner. In my kitchen, there are 2 paella pans - a small one, which is good for 2 or 3 servings (or, for Significant Eater and me), and a larger one, which will easily serve 6. Here's an early attempt, in a 2-serving pan...
Chicken and chorizo paella
Generally, paellas start with a base, called sofrito in Spain. Other than in Catalan areas of Spain, where it's a sofregit, which is like an Italian battuto, which is like a French mirepoix, which is like the holy trinity in New Orleans, which is -   oh, forget it.  You sort of start with sautéing the base, gently and for what can seem like a long time, if you do it right. The base, in this case, is olive oil, tomatoes and onions, with an addition of garlic and maybe some pimenton, which is smoked Spanish paprika. Then you add the liquid, (i.e. stock), which had better be good, otherwise your paella will suck. Unless, of course, you add the rice before you add the stock, into which the saffron has infused (who said this was gonna be easy?!). You'll also add back maybe the chicken, which you've already browned, along with the chorizo, if you're using that, but no one said you have to.

Then it cooks; quickly, at first, and then more slowly, as the liquid reduces. Some people (heathens) and some recipes (meant for heathens), call for cooking paella in the oven, after its initial phase. Bull. It's meant to be cooked over fire. (OK - you can cook it in the oven - it's easier.)  For me, I go the stovetop route, which involves rotating the pan every other minute, so that it's all exposed equally to the heat of the flame. Basically, you're not leaving the kitchen while you're cooking - so make sure your guests already have drinks and other stuff to eat...
Snacks for guests
And make sure you have your booze in the kitchen with you. You probably also want to make sure you've tried your hand at paella a few times before you serve it at a dinner party. But you already knew that - anything you're serving at a dinner party - you should've already tried to prepare once or twice, right? What if it sucks...
Sucky paella - only for me
Paellas can be made from seafood. Or chicken. Or vegetables. Or, I guess, other stuff. But Valencia's traditional paella, called, ummm, paella Valenciana, is made with rabbit, snails, a few kinds of beans, and other stuff. It was a dish prepared by rice farmers, and they used what they found in the fields, hence the rabbit and snails.

So - are you ready to make paella? Are you waiting for a recipe? Well, you're not getting one here - I'm not exactly the Julia Child of paella. I can point you to Despaña, which is where I shop for great Spanish ingredients and cookware. La Tienda's another good resource for the above. To start, you can read a David Rosengarten article in Saveur. And there are plenty of paella cookbooks at Amazon.

Then maybe, just maybe, after you've taken in all the above, bought a paella pan, bought the right rice, saffron, pimenton, etc., and practiced making paella a few times, you can impress your guests - or even just your signifcant other. Because believe me, when done right, paella is one of the world's great rice dishes...
Chicken and seafood paella for 6
¡Buen apetito!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Not-So-Instant Ramen

New York City is loaded with ramen-yas. Barely a month or two goes by without a new one opening, and a quick scan of yelp shows pages and pages of them. No publication can avoid writing about them either; yawnthrillist might actually write something every other week.  For instance, their 10 Absolute Best Ramen Spots in NYC (SEP,  2014). Their 8 Best Under-the-Radar Ramen Spots in NYC (JAN, 2015). Things change dramatically in 4 months, I'm guessing. Don't forget their Secret, Late-Night Ramen (MAY, 2014)...and shhhhhhh...they're a secret...or at least they were.

The Village Voice can't help itself, with The Ten Best Bowls of Ramen in NYC (FEB, 2015). Can Business Insider?  Nope - they found The 9 Best Ramen Spots in NYC (JAN, 2015). Serious Eats was in on it, way before the above yutzes, writing about The Best Ramen in NYC, back in SEP, 2010! Of course, that had to be updated, so The Best Ramen Shops in NYC was published 3 years later (and I think it's time for an update, SE). You don't think the paper of record was going to let this pass without weighing in, do you?  No way - the NY Times was on it, sending out their numero uno food critic, Pete Wells, who wrote: Slurp Worthy: The Top 10 Ramen Destinations in New York (MAY, 2014). And now, we can all rest easy. Many credit David Chang for helping to grow the ramen craze - I'm sure that's debatable, but why argue?

One of my favorite ramen joints has always been Rai Rai Ken, in the East Village, on 10th St between 1 & 2. It opened years before Chang's Momofuku Noodle Bar, for those who care. And I seem to remember ramen places in midtown, even years before that. So, while the craze may die down, ramen was around long before the craze, and will be around long after people are done chasing the next ramencronut.

But what if you don't want to go out for ramen? Obviously, there's always Top Ramen, or one of its close competitors. Might even make you think you're back in college.  Though at 25¢ a package, how good can that stuff be for you, or even just be, for that matter? Yeah, yeah, I know how Mr. Chang likes to eat it right out of the package, and that ramen burgers are great - but...no.

So...how about making a little ramen at home? I'm not talking about making a 12-hour broth, with pork and chicken and dried herring, or even using that little package of flavoring that comes hidden inside your Top Ramen, like some weird Cracker Jack-y prize of sodium and chemicals. It's easier than you think - and even Significant Eater, a salt-lover if ever there was one, likes my homemade, somewhat healthier version.

First - the noodles. 'Cause let's face it - ramen's mostly about the noodles. I'm lucky enough that I can score fresh ramen noodles made by Sun Noodles - the same Sun that supplies many of the ramen places in NYC with noodles. But if you can't, then it's ok to use just the noodles (not the dried chemicals) from an instant ramen package; that way, you can even pretend you're David Chang.

A great thing about ramen - it's a way to use up those fridge leftovers you might have hanging around.  Roasted chicken, a piece of steak or half a pork chop, a carrot or two, some celery, a scallion, ramps (!) - and you're ready to go. Here's part of the mise en place for a ramen I made last week...
Ramen Mise En Place
I started by sautéing a few sliced cremini mushrooms (good umami!) and an onion in a bit of oil. Once they were cooked, I added a cup of chicken stock (homemade if you have it, or your favorite store-bought brand). That simmered for a few minutes, and then I added the rest of the vegetables. While they were simmering away, I cooked the noodles per package directions, and shocked them when they were done.

Now you've got cooked noodles and cooked vegetables in a bit of broth. I don't always want a ton of soup, but you might - be my guest and add more stock or water as you see fit. Season the broth as you like - I don't eschew the chemicals altogether, as that Kikkoman stuff up there might have a bunch of unpronounceable things in it.

Put out a bunch of condiments like hot sauces, Japanese pepper blends (Shichimi), soy, vinegar, etc. on the table. Chopsticks and spoons, too. Portion the cooked noodles into your bowls and pour the hot stuff over. Not-so-instant ramen is yours...
Not-Instant Ramen
Don't forget, you can get really creative with this stuff. A few years back, I even made this ramen on Passover...
Matzo Ball Ramen
Just don't tell my grandmother. Or Chang.

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Hass Avocado - How Hard Is This?

Has this ever happened to you?  You decide you're going to make some guacamole, so you head to the store to buy a few ripe avocados. You get to the display, fondle a few, pick out some soft ones, pay - and you're on your way. Then, you get home, start opening up those same avos, and find them pretty much disgusting on the inside, all bruised and mushy (but not in a good way); guacamole plan foiled.

You know why?  'Cause everyone else has been picking up those same damn avocados, squeezing them, deciding which ones they want, and then tossing the rest back onto the pile, as if they were baseballs. And that, as Martha My Dear won't tell you, is not a good thing.

Interestingly, they don't have that problem with fruits and other highly perishable stuff at the markets in Europe...
Bologna Market Self Explanatory
Because they tell you to keep your grubby little hands to yourself! Watch people the next time you're produce shopping, and see how they handle things. It's not in the best interest of the produce, that's for sure - and besides, most people have no idea why they're doing what they're doing to that tomato, or peach, or avocado - they just can't keep their hands off.

But back to avocados - and the reason I'm here - to show you how to buy an avocado, and always get a good one.  Now let me make the first disclaimer - I'm talking Hass avocados here, those Californian/Mexican avocados, the ones that turn purple/black when they're ripe, and are loaded with delicious, healthy fat and flavor. First discovered and grown by a California mailman, in my opinion much tastier than the big, green ones, which grow in more tropical climes.

Quick story - when I first moved to Santa Barbara, my friends and I would go to a fancy neighborhood, that at one time had some avocado orchards, but by then was basically just a bunch of mansions. Avocado trees were everywhere, and the fruit would be left to fall to the ground and rot.  In any event, we'd make the occasional avo run, and come back with bags full of them. Ahhh - the folly of youth.

Oh yeah - how to buy. The second disclaimer is - don't buy ripe Hass avocados here. I mean, they've already travelled thousands of miles, and more often than not, you'll simply be disappointed. Oh yeah, if you can get them at 3 for $1, go right ahead.  But even at my local grocery store, catering to a demographic that's not exactly the 1%, they're $1.50 to $2.00 each. You don't want to be throwing those suckers away. You're gonna have to plan ahead a bit - if you want ripe avocados for next weekend when you're watching the NY Rangers (because nothing says playoff hockey like guacamole and chips), buy them now (on Monday). And buy them like...
Unripe             Halfway Ripe             Ripe 
The one on the left. Green and hard, so even if 50 mooks have picked it up and played with it and squeezed it, it'll still be okay when it ripens. Leave it on your counter (screw the paper bag trick), in 2 days it'll look like the one in the middle, and in 3, 4 or 5 days, it'll look like the one on the right. If you pick up that one and squeeze it ever so gently, it'll have a slight give at the stem end - it's ready. Now, it can go into the fridge, in a plastic bag, and it will stay good for a week or more. When you cut it open, it'll look like this...
Perfectly Ripe Hass Avocado
All ready to be made into avocado toast guacamole. Significant Eater says I make her favorite guacamole, by the way. But sorry, you're not getting the recipe from me; all I'll say is that there are no more than 5 or 6 ingredients, including the beautiful avocado above. With not a bruise in sight.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Rebelle - A Touch of Paris on The Bowery

You know, if it weren't for the Bowery Mission directly across the street, or the traffic heading to and from the Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges, or the fact that Significant Eater and I walked to the brand-spanking new Rebelle in under 15 minutes, we could've sworn we were in Paris. I mean, not on the Boulevard Saint-Germain or anything, but maybe, just maybe, somewhere in Paris.

Originally, our plan was to walk by Rebelle, see if if was slammed, and continue walking north on the Bowery to another destination. But when we peeked in, we saw two seats open at the bar, and decided to at least stop in for a drink. Once seated (and it's worth mentioning that Rebelle actually has comfortable bar seats), cocktails in hand, our plans changed and I asked one of the très chic hostesses about a table in the dining room; the next thing you know, we're being escorted to a table into the skylit (well, during the day, anyway) back room, sitting and looking at one of the très gorgeous open kitchens I've seen in New York - like...ever.
Rebelle From Their Website
Rebelle's from the team that also runs Pearl & Ash, right next door. Good start. The chef is Daniel Eddy, who was chef de cuisine, at Spring in Paris, for a few years - yep, he really cooked there, as opposed to showing it on his resume, a la every cook and his brother claiming a stage at noma.

So what does a chef, whose been cooking with great ingredients in Paris, do when he or she gets to New York City? Well, how about cooking in that style, but using many of the great ingredients we have available? I'm certainly not one who insists that ingredients have to be local or grown on the roof; that's fairly impossible here over the winter. And now it's spring, so even if the asparagus or leeks are from California or Mexico this month, I want them. And Daniel's way with these vegetables is damn good. The juicy asparagus, served with charred young (okay, spring) onions, fiddlehead ferns, and roasted hazelnuts, are just fine - especially when they've gotten an unexpected hit of sweetness - from maple. And Significant Eater barely let me have my half of this leek dish, a delicious take on a classic (with ash!)...
Rebelle Leeks Vinaigrette
Chef Eddy's fluke (local) dish was fine, but the scallop dish was a real winner in my book. I'm pretty sure these scallops are local (they should be - we have the best), though the uni that sneaks in the dish is probably from, maybe, Maine? Who cares...
Rebelle Scallops With Sea Urchin
Main courses for us were a duck breast, perhaps a play on duck à l'orange, served with endive, orange sauce and smoked almonds. Once again, showing fine cooking chops, my magret was plainly and perfectly cooked...
Rebelle Duck Breast
Significant Eater ordered the "beet bourguignon;" not totally satisfying to two carnivores, but at least we thought it was good for us. Unfortunately, we didn't notice the menu said "beet" instead of "beef" - that's what happens when you start looking at the food menu after cocktails and that first glass of wine - and I think it would be nice if your waitperson mentioned the fact that you've just ordered beets, not beef!

This being Paris New York City, we figured why not have the special cheese course before dessert?  A big plate of sliced Comté was ours - again, it would be nice if they let you know what you're in for with the Comté - that is - $21.

Desserts are the from the hands of Jessica Yang, who has cooked at some fairly heavy-duty spots. Our Paris Brest, a dessert that is not easy to make (if my attempts in cooking school were any indication), was fantastic - and averaging the cost in with the Comté, we're talking under $15 each - you can do the math.

As reported in all the food media, and as to be expected from the Pearl & Ash crew, the wine list is, shall we say, deep. After cocktails, we enjoyed a nice half-bottle of Alsatian Riesling to go with our first course or two, and then a few by-the-glass suggestions to go with the rest of our food. Any wine geeks - this is the place for you. And on my next visit back, I plan on sitting at the bar and having some "snacks." There's a beef dish that's calling my name.

Go? Are you kidding - of course! Beautiful room, great food, great wine list, nice staff - what are you waiting for? In my opinion, Rebelle's already running on all cylinders...it should only get better.

Rebelle

Thursday, April 16, 2015

California Dreamin'

Every once in a while, California pops into my mind.  It's not because I lived there for 18 years, back in the go-go days of the 80s and 90s.  Maybe it's because every day I read another article about the coming droughtpocalypse; when I first moved out west, it was to Santa Barbara - then in the midst of a 100-year drought - I think those happen every now and then (in what's basically a desert).   And believe me, when you're standing in downtown Santa Barbara, watching the hills burn, smelling smoke and feeling the heat, it's weird.  So don't get me wrong - I think we're fucking up the earth really badly, but there are already enough people talking about that, and "food" blogs are supposed to be somewhat fun, no?

Where was I?  Oh yeah, California. Specifically, San Francisco and the Bay area. Since I ended up spending a long time in Silicon Valley, after 2 years in Santa Barbara, I like to return to the city by the bay, whenever I get a chance. So we jumped at the opportunity last month, to celebrate Significant Eater's b'day and our belated anniversary, and found ourselves in a rental car at SFO, on a beautiful, sunny Wednesday afternoon.

Here's where we head first - at least when it's dungeness crab season...
Swan
Because there's nothing quite like this...
Crab Louie
Just a big old pile of freshly steamed dungeness crab (maybe my favorite crustacean), topped with what's called Louie dressing,  and a big hunk of sourdough bread...ahhhh. There'll be a line, most likely, but it's worth the wait for Swan's impeccable seafood. They were out of uni this afternoon, but there were still some excellent oysters to be had, and those, along with the above Louie, should help you forget about your early morning flight.

After a nice break at our Union Square hotel (The Rex), and a couple of rye old fashioneds in their cute little bar, we were off to find Kin Khao, Pim Techamuanvivit's lauded Thai eatery. Pim is an old web friend from the early days - she posted on some of the first food boards and also Chez Pim; now, she seems to be busy running a restaurant. And a damn good one, too...
Kin Khao
Those chicken wings were great, but the highlight for me was the curry, with rabbit and rabbit meatballs. It's spicy, so be careful.

The next morning, we got an early start, since we were headed to Pescadero for lunch.. But we wanted to make our traditional visit here...
The Gate
Amazingly, I got Significant Eater to walk almost halfway across the bridge. I pretend I'm not scared of heights, so this was a first for both of us, and it goes to prove that it's never too late to try something you never thought you'd do.

Birthday dinner this night was at Chris Cosentino's new place, Cockscomb. We've been Cosentino fans for a while, at least since eating at the now-closed Incanto several years ago. Cockscomb's a big, high-ceilinged space, in a much friendlier location than Noe Valley, at least if you're staying in North Beach/Union Square, etc. It's got a great open kitchen, and chef was working the pass. A nice selection of oysters led into this bruschetta topped with uni and Iberico lardo...
Cockscomb Uni Bruschetta
I could easily eat the quail I had as a main on a weekly basis, and Sig Eater proclaimed her steak to be one of the better ones she'd had in a long time; must be that big, open fire they cook on.

Breakfast the next morning was at another one of our favorites, Plow. Plow's up on Potrero Hill, and if you're sporting a vehicle (it is California, after all), breakfast or lunch here is a must. It can be healthy or not - that's your choice. We usually go half and half; that is, we shared avocado toast (it is California, after all), and also a delicious house-made sausage with eggs, home-fries, and coffee cake to top it off. The service is sweet and earnest, and you'll thank me for this recommend.

We kinda skipped lunch; okay, not really -  lunch became a sandwich and snacks from here...
Ferry Market Building
Which actually was a sort of disappointment, only because I couldn't cook with these...
Morels
Oh well, maybe next time.  For now, these loomed ahead...
Filbert Steps
390 steps up - a good way to burn calories, right? The views are also pretty spectacular as you make the climb. There's the Malloch Building, used by Bogey as a refuge in the classic film noir, Dark Passage...
1360 Montgomery Street
And there's also...
Coit Tower
Bring water for the climb, and if you're lucky, the parrots of Telegraph Hill/ North Beach will be out and about - they often cavort in the trees on and around the Filbert Steps. From the top of Telegraph Hill, we made our way, walking, back to the hotel, first passing this locavore fish seller in Chinatown...
Stockton Street
I guess San Francisco's not that much different from NYC after all. Though I'd sooner eat a fish from the SF bay or ocean than I would one from the East River, but that's just me; YMMV. A shower, a nap, a cocktail - and time for dinner at - The Progress.

The Progress is the sister restaurant (and right next-door) to James Beard winner, State Bird Provisions. They offer a prix-fixe menu in the dining room, and a la carte service at the bar...we chose the bar, because, well, we like bars.   Long-time San Francisco restaurant critic Michael Bauer reviewed The Progress, with much better pictures, back in February. I'll defer to him, but I sure wish we had a place like this (or like State Bird, for that matter), here in New York. We had a fine time, with fabulous people working behind the bar - and great food.

Don't forget coffee; San Francisco is a damn good coffee town. We always hit up one of our favorites, Four Barrel, on Valencia Street in The Mission. Sig Eater will have one of these...
Macchiato at Four Barrel
While I go straight for the double espresso. I also bring home a couple of bags of beans, which I'm just now finishing.

This trip, we discovered a new (to us) great view spot at, you guessed it - Buena Vista Park. We approached from the back side, the entrance at the top of Duboce Avenue; if you're willing to schlep up a bit, and you're lucky, you might see this...
Golden Gate Fog
And what do you know? As we headed to our next stop, look who showed up...
Parrots of Duboce Triangle
The parrots of North Beach now appear to also have spun off a flock in the area of Buena Vista Park. This guy was giving me the eye...
Wary Parrot
Our next stop - a little time enjoying the views from the Marina Green...
Marina Green View
And...
The Rock
Don't forget, even though it's beautiful and sunny out, it may also be...
Sig Eater Enjoying the Weather
Chilly and windy. It's San Francisco, dammnit, but Sig Eater is well prepared...layers are important here.

Our final meal (well, we did have breakfast the next morning) of this whirlwind trip was at Trou Normand, located in the classic 1925 Pacific Telephone building. Trou Normand does the in-house charcuterie thing, butchering whole animals, so along with a nice roasted pork shoulder and a fine Tagliatelle Bolognese, this "small board" hit the spot with our cocktails...
Trou Normand Charcuterie Assortment
On the way back to our hotel, we popped into North Beach fave Comstock Saloon, for a well-made Sazerac. After all, we deserved it, don't you think?
Until next time, San Francisco.