Saturday, September 01, 2012

Cooking Demo from Chef Lori Baker, Banker & Baker

On Saturdays, along with shopping at the Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market, I often attend cooking demos,  either at the Ferry Building, Macy's, or Williams-Sonoma.  Each venue has a different focus, but all host excellent local chefs, or chefs in town on book tours.

I don't often write up posts on the demos, but this one was particularly amazing, so it warranted a post!

This week, Williams-Sonoma hosted chef Lori Baker, the pastry chef from Baker & Banker.  I've been to the restaurant a number of times, once for an awesome dinner about 2 years ago, once for one of the best brunches of my life, once for a good, but not as amazing, brunch, and once for some pâté that I really can't stop thinking about.  I've also really enjoyed some treats from their adjoining bakery.

It should come as no surprise then that I was very excited for this demo, as I know chef Baker's work, and know that she makes incredible baked goods.  And ... the description of the item she' d be preparing sounded absolutely amazing (or, potentially horrible, but I gave her the benefit of the doubt!): Candied Bacon Doughnuts with Bourbon Cheesecake Filling and Maple Glaze Dipping Sauce.  ZOMG.

Chef Baker was a good speaker, and provided a number of tips naturally throughout her presentation.  I loved how adaptable the recipe was, as she encouraged that you could fill the donuts with whatever you wanted, or even use the cheesecake filling recipe to make a regular cheesecake, flavored however you wanted.  I've tried several varieties of her stuffed donuts at brunch in the restaurant, so I know she experiments with these adaptations herself.

I also had a few minutes to chat with her husband, the savory chef from the restaurant, as he was there in the audience.  He delivered some amazing news: since he can no longer serve his signature foie gras and shiitake sticky rice (which I greatly enjoyed on my first visit), he's replaced the foie gras with the next best thing, another passion of mine: uni!  I think that sounds potentially even better, as I could see the uni going really well with the cod that makes up the primary component of the dish.

I can't wait to get back to Baker & Banker.  I can't decide if my next visit will be for dinner for the new cod and uni dish, or if it will be for brunch, since they serve the best french toast I've ever had.  Decisions, decisions!
Candied Bacon Doughnut with Bourbon Cheesecake Filling and Maple Glaze Dipping Sauce.
Just reading the description of this causes the mind to race.  These are all amazing things - bacon!  doughnut! bourbon! cheesecake!  maple syrup!  But ... could they possibly all come together, into a single little magical bite?  Spoiler: Yes, yes they could.  And was this a breakfast item, or a dessert?

I was a little bit skeptical, as it sounded like too much awesomeness to pack into a donut hole, with too many competing strong flavors.  And bacon, while it can make everything better, can also just be a gimmick.  But, this totally worked.

The donut itself was studded with the chunks of candied bacon.  They added a crunch which I really enjoyed, but also some saltiness which balanced the entire dish.  The samples were given to us fresh out of the frier, so it was piping hot, and just downright amazing.  I liked this much more than the donut holes I'd tried at the restaurant, partially just because of how fresh it was.  There really is nothing like a donut fresh out of the frier.  It was also rolled in sugar, which of course, just makes a donut hole that much better :)

The filling was the bourbon cheesecake.  There was no guessing if there was liqueur in there!  There were some children in the row behind me, I'm curious if they liked this, as the flavor was intense.  I thought it went really well with all of the other flavors.  It didn't really taste like cheesecake however, more just like creamy bourbon filling.  But I'm not complaining.

And then, as if that wasn't enough, there was a maple syrup based glaze to dip the donut into.  It wasn't necessary, but just added to creating the perfect bite.  I've always dipped my bacon in maple syrup, so I found this pairing spot on.

I just saw that these are currently on the menu at the restaurant.  If these ingredients all sound awesome to you, I highly recommend checking them out!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Cold Stone

I love ice cream.  And I love birthday freebies.

So, when I got a BOGO for Cold Stone for my birthday, I just had to hit it up, as it had been years since I'd been.  We used to go all the time with my teammates at work to celebrate birthdays, but somehow stopped that tradition.

I think that magic has been lost.  The ice cream just seemed fairly low end, not creamy, just not very good.  The mix-ins, likewise, just aren't very special.  And it is really quite expensive.

Service on all my visits has been surly.

I doubt I'll be going back, unless someone has a BOGO and wants to treat me :)
Peanut Butter Cup Perfection (with sweet cream ice cream rather than chocolate).  Sweet cream ice cream, Reese’s peanut butter cups, peanut butter, fudge.
I love chocolate and peanut butter.  This is what I always used to get at Cold Stone.

I've never been a big fan of chocolate ice cream, so have always subbed out the chocolate ice cream that normally comes with this for the sweet cream one.

This really didn't live up to my memory, although there were a number of execution errors that I partially blame.

I think she forgot the fudge, which I didn’t realize until I’d already left.  It really took away from the experience, as it is all about the chocolate and peanut butter!  Perhaps she thought since I wasn't getting the chocolate ice cream that I didn't want any chocolate?

She also put in way too much peanut butter, with many spoonfuls containing only peanut butter, no ice cream!  The peanut butter was pretty generic.

The base ice cream was fine, but not very creamy.

The peanut butter cups were … exactly Reese’s peanut butter cups, chopped into a couple pieces.

I loved this so much in the past, but this time it all just seemed like something I could easy make at home with any old plain ice cream, a jar of generic pb, and some pb cups.  Meh!  And normally ~$5?  Very not worth it.
All Lovin’ No Oven (with mint ice cream rather than cake batter).  Mint ice cream, cookie dough, fudge, whipped cream.
I'd never had this one before, but cookie dough, fudge, and whipped cream all sounded great.  My friend who was with me commented on how he thought the cake batter ice cream was way too sweet, so I sampled it first.  I'm glad I did, as I agreed that it was way too sweet.  So I subbed out the ice cream for mint instead.

The mint ice cream I sampled had a decent mint flavor, but it was lost once all this was mixed together. I couldn't really taste the mint at all.

The fudge provided a decent chocolate backdrop, but was also fairly lost.

Dominating the creation was the cookie dough.  There was a ton of it, and each of the chunks were huge.  I really liked the flavor of the cookie dough, but it was too much.  I wanted ice cream, not just cookie dough!

Also dominating was the whipped cream, which was mixed it.  It caused the whole thing to become too sweet, which is what I’d been trying to avoid by swapping out the ice cream flavor.  It did create a rather fluffy consistency that was kinda fun though.  I wouldn’t get this again.

[ Not Pictured ]

Just my notes on tasting the base ice creams, over assorted visits.
  • Banana: Not much banana flavor, not creamy.
  • Cake Batter: super sweet meh [ way too sweet, not very good ]
  • Cheesecake: not much flavor [ sweet, very cream cheesy ]
  • Oreo Cream Filling: kinda just sweet [ way too sweet ]
  • Sweet Cream Sinless: no flavor, not creamy
  • Mint: decent mint flavor, not very creamy

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Mariposa Bakeshop

I always have a pile tasting notes, from a variety of events, laying around.  Since I only publish once a day to my blog, and I like to do real restaurant reviews within a day or two of my visit, things like my reviews of chocolates, ice cream, bakeries, and whatnot tend to just get queued up, until something inspires me to post.

The other day, a friend asked what my favorite flavor of ice cream at Mr. & Mrs. Miscellaneous was.  Instead of a simple short answer, I wrote her a post.  I have two friends who are now gluten free, and I wanted to give them some tips on gluten free places in the area, and thus, this post.

A few years ago, Ojan was experimenting with a gluten free diet.  A couple weeks in, he was certainly missing gluten, so I set out on a mission to find a replacement.  I didn't have to look far.  Just a few feet away from where I normally picked up bread (Acme bakery, in the Ferry Building), was a tiny little kiosk selling some gluten free goods.  We tried a number of assorted items, and although most were pretty obviously gluten free and not particularly tasty, the sour cream coffee cake was surprisingly good and memorable, to the point where I continued getting it long after he stopped avoiding gluten.

Since then, they've expanded into a full storefront and carry many more items, ranging from basic breads, to bagels that they'll toast and top, to muffins and other breakfasty goods, to cookies and pies and even frozen pasta and pizzas.

I don't really have a reason to go there anymore as I have the choice to eat gluten, but if I were avoiding it, I think they are probably the best bakery in the area, and they certainly have a large selection.
Storefront in the Ferry Building.


Baked Goods
    • Bear Claw: Tasting notes: very dried out and not very good at all.  Almond filling was unremarkable.
    • Cheese Danish: Tasting notes: Moist danish, sweet cheese filling, slivered almonds.  I loved the addition of the almond to this classic pastry.  Quite tasty, and I'd gladly get another.
    • Chocolate Donut with Vanilla Frosting: Tasting notes: Chocolately, moist, would never know it was GF.  [ Great deep chocolate flavor, moist, nice frosting, good crunch from sprinkles.  Very good, and certainly didn't taste gluten free! ]
    • Cinnamon Roll:  Tasting notes: Didn’t like the mouthfeel of the roll, not much cinnamon flavor, but good icing on top. [ Great cinnamon flavor, moist, good icing ] [ Roll was kinda gummy and strange, clearly GF ]
    • Sour Cream Coffee Cake: "Layered with a sweet and crunchy walnut and cinnamon brown sugar streusel".  Tasting notes: Moist, buttery, absolutely delicious streusel topping.  I'd never know this was gluten free, and would gladly get it again.  Favorite item they carry, by far.
    • Banana Chocolate Muffin: “A fluffy banana muffin with sweet mini chocolate chips”.  Tasting notes: Incredibly moist, tons of banana flavor.  Really quite good, would never, ever know it was GF.
    • Pumpkin Muffin: Tasting notes: Really great pumpkin flavor, nicely spiced.  A little dry. [ Really nicely spiced, raisins inside. ] [ Dry, but nicely spiced ]
    • Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffin. Tasting notes: kinda dry.  Very spiced.  Chocolate and spices worked well together.  Didn’t really taste pumpkin.
    • Baguettes, rolls, etc.  Tasting notes: I've tried a number of the standard bread items, and they were all pretty bad.  Stale tasting, strange consistency, etc.  Clearly, gluten free.  I wouldn't get them again, but I have the choice to eat gluten, so I can't really say how I'd feel if I had no other choice.
    • Bread with cinnamon and sugar on top: Tasting notes: good cinnamon sugar, but meh overall.
    • Sesame bagel with cream cheese and cucumbers: Tasting notes: Nice chew, nice seeds on crust, wouldn’t know it was GF at all. [ Bagel ok chew, decent cream cheese, crunchy cucumber slices ]


    • Spinach and Ricotta Empanada.  Tasting notes: Surprisingly tasty, good spinach flavor, nice ricotta, hearty tasting dough.


Polar Bear: Cross Section.
"Cream-filled vanilla cupcakes with a hint of orange. "

The cake to this was fine, a moist cake, not particularly "OMG, I'm gluten-free" seeming, but, it was more than just a hint of orange for me, and I don't care for citrus in my desserts, so, the citrus ruined this for me.  The cream was boring and not generous enough.

The Penguino is the chocolate version, not remarkable nor memorable in any way.

Other desserts:
  • Pies
    • Cherry Pie: Tasting notes: This was really good!  The crust was really hearty tasting, not at all a typical pie crust, but I liked it.  It went really well with the cherries.  The whole thing wasn't very sweet, and I could even imagine having it for breakfast, like a cherry pot tart or something.
    • Pecan Pie: Tasting notes: I adore pecan pie, but this wasn't that great.  The pecans were a little soggy, the filling didn't have that classic sweet taste.  The crust was really not very good, not flaky, not buttery, and reminded me of crackers more than pie crust.  Maybe it was good for a vegan and gluten free pie, but I didn't care for it. [ The pie filling was ok, fairly sweet, lots of pecans.  The crust was awful, like cardboard, clearly gluten free! ]
  • Cookies
    • Coconut Macaroon: Not good.  Just a pile of coconut with strange binding.
    • Italian Wedding Cookie: Buttery shortbread rolled in powdered sugar.  Pretty good!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Brownie Sundae from Buca di Beppo

Update Review, August 2013

Last year, you may recall that I went on a little journey to Buca di Beppo to enjoy a free birthday brownie sundae.  I didn't think any component of the sundae was all that successful, but all combined, and enjoyed while sitting in the sun at Yerba Buena Gardens, it was pretty enjoyable.  I sought to replicate that experience again this year.

Since I've reviewed it before, I'll skip the general details and focus only on what was different this time.  Summary: even though this was free, and I love my birthday freebies, I see no reason to return next year.  The staff was again very friendly though!
Birthday Brownie Sundae.
I laughed when I opened my togo bag.  You can't tell the scale in this photo, but this bowl was absolutely enormous!  Seriously, hugetastic.   Last year, my sundae came in a slightly more reasonable size container.  I guess Buca di Beppo doesn't serve anything in standard portion sizes, so it somewhat makes sense that they wouldn't have a regular size container.  But still, quite hilarious that this was the smallest container they had.

As I mentioned last time, the birthday sundae is a scaled down version of the Colossal Brownie Sundae.  Instead of 12 chunks of brownie, it has 2.  Instead of 6 scoops of both chocolate and vanilla ice creams, it has only 1 of each.  Basically, 1/6th the size of the colossal one, this one is designed for a single person, whereas the other is listed as "sharable".  Lols.

My brownie sundae contained two chunks of brownie, each large enough to be considered a full serving of brownie on their own.  The menu said "freshly baked", but I have my doubts.  The brownies were again not served warm.  Seriously, this dessert would actually have potential if they just heated the brownies up!  But as they were, the brownies were unremarkable.  They were loaded up with chocolate chunks, which gave a nice texture, but still somehow weren't that chocolatey.  They were dry both on the inside and the outside, except for strange little blobs that were a bit gooey.  I have no way to explain this strange inconsistent texture, other than to suspect that the brownies were pressed up against something and sweat a little, causing this.  They didn't look, nor taste, very good.

And then, just like last time, two tiny, tiny scoops of ice cream.  I honestly do not understand why the ice cream scoops are so tiny, given the size of everything else.  I think they must use a melon baller not an ice cream scoop.  There was a vanilla scoop and a chocolate scoop, both generic, not very flavorful, kinda icy, and they melted rapidly.  A bite of brownie with the ice cream wasn't bad, but it also wasn't particularly good.

And again, just like last time, tons and tons of whipped cream, clearly the kind from a can.  It was what it was.

Sprinkles on top were fun, a maraschino cherry topped it off, but ... yeah.  Brownie, two ice creams, whipped cream, sprinkles, a cherry ... should have been delicious, and I kept eating it hoping it would be, but it just really wasn't that good.  I almost brought one brownie home with me to try heating up and topping with my own ice cream and whipped cream, but decided it really wasn't worth it.  Meh.

Original Review, August 2012

Buca di Beppo is known for being a good place to go with large groups, since everything they do is family style and over the top huge.  I've been to wedding receptions, birthday parties, etc there, but I've never gone just to eat.  I remember somewhat liking their garlic bread and ravioli, but it has been years since I've been.

Anyway, for some reason or another, I'm on their mailing list, and I got a coupon for a free birthday brownie sundae.  So, I continued my quest of redeeming birthday freebie coupons, and went to get my sundae.  I couldn't convince anyone else to go with me, so I got it togo, and went to enjoy it in Yerba Buena Gardens nearby.  I don't have much to say about the actual restaurant, since I didn't stay long.  They do have a dedicated togo ordering area, which I'm guessing is sometimes busy, but I was the only one there.  The guy was nice, and wished me a happy birthday.

This was a scaled down version of the Colossal Brownie Sundae from the regular menu, which is designed to serve 4-6 people.  That monstrosity is composed of:
"Twelve decadent chunks of freshly-baked brownies layered with six scoops of vanilla bean and chocolate ice cream, topped with caramel and chocolate sauces then buried in mounds of whipped cream - and we won’t forget the cherry!"
ZOMG.  Like I said, they are known for big!
Birthday Brownie Sundae, togo.
I was very excited for this, as I love sundaes.  But ... there were a number of issues with the composition of this sundae.

The brownies were not warmed up.  Doh!  Key to a delicious brownie sundae is a warm brownie!  The brownie chunks were very fudgey, and loaded with chocolate chips.  Not particularly good, but not bad.

Then, there were tiny scoops of vanilla and chocolate ice cream.  Totally generic ice cream, nothing notable, except that there wasn't nearly enough ice cream to distribute amongst the brownie.  I wanted all my bites to include both ice cream and brownie!

The whipped cream was also just generic whipped cream.  Unlike the ice cream, there was a ton of it.  I was a little surprised that I ate it all, as there seemed to be far too much, but somehow, it disappeared :)

The sprinkles were fun and the generic canned cherry on top completed the package.  It didn't have the promised chocolate and caramel sauces.

Overall, this was about as generic as it gets, and nothing special at all, but put together, it was greater than the sum of its parts.  Who doesn't love a brownie sundae, and a free one at that?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Dinner at Pläj

Pläj is a Scandinavian restaurant that opened recently.  I normally wait a while longer before checking out a new place to give it time to work out kinks, but the reviews I've seen so far have all been very, very positive, from both the critics and the Yelpers.  And my frequent dining companion, Emil, is Swedish, and has been very excited about the menu.  And they have a deal on Scoutmob for $10 off, and you know how I like freebies these days.  And they are open on Mondays, and have a menu that won't suffer from typical Monday lack of fresh stuff issues.

So, last Monday night, I got together a group to check it out.

The menu has several categories: hagen, fjord, beta, and godis.  Everything is described as bigger than small plates but smaller than entrees, designed so that you order a few things.  Every review I read beforehand said to share a bunch of things.  So, we did, basically ordering everything that anyone in the group wanted.  For some of dishes, it was quickly apparent when they arrived on the table that our group of 5 couldn't possibly share them.  Since we said we'd be sharing everything, and the server brought us share plates and put everything in the middle of the table when it arrived and clearly understood our plans, I wish she'd pointed out in advance that some of them wouldn't be sharable with so many people, and advised us to order two of those.

Service in general wasn't great.  My water glass was empty more than it was full.  There was a jug given to us to be able to re-fill our water glasses, but when she found it empty, the server just took it away and never replaced it.  One person did not have a bread plate.  When we ran out of bread, she came to clear the bread plate, and didn't ask if we wanted more (which we did, to soak up sauces!).  There were some very long lags in the service at numerous points, from initial time to order, to time to receive drinks, time to order dessert, etc.  The restaurant wasn't busy, so I'm really not sure why there were so many delays.  It turned into a much longer meal than I expected.

The restaurant is on the smaller side, with six seats at the bar, and 44 seats in the restaurant, made up mostly by a bunch of 2-tops, a few bigger tables, and a large table in the back of the room.

The most interesting moment of the evening for me came when I went to use the bathroom.  I washed my hands, and then looked around to find a paper towel or hand dryer or ... something to dry my hands with.  I didn't see anything.  Hmm, was this the Swedish way?  I continued looking around the lovely bathroom, baffled.  Finally, I went to just attempt to use a tissue, when I realized that there were two Kleenex boxes on the shelf, one larger than the other.  Aha!  One box was Kleenex brand paper towels!  I had no idea that they made these.  The box looks exactly like a Kleenex tissue box.  It is totally crazy.  Anyway, sorry for the digression, this just amazed me.

I don't have photos or formal tasting notes from any of the (many) drinks that the group consumed, but the cocktail list was really interesting.  Drinks included ingredients like dill simple syrup, thyme, and lavender.  I scored Emil's Tulip cocktail (sparkling wine, ligonberry concentrate, angostura bitters, lemon twist, $11) when it was far too sweet for him.  I thought it was refreshing, and the ligonberry flavor paired well with many of our dishes.  Emil and one other member also had to try every offering on the aquavit section of the menu.  They seemed to enjoy them.

The food was all good, although I think mostly just not my style.  Many of the dishes were just not things I'd normally order, and I didn't care for most of them.  That said, the two dishes I was most excited about (a savory and a dessert) were really quite good, and the prices were really reasonable.  The ingredients seemed high quality, the execution was fine, so my dislike really was just personal taste.  The others in my group seemed to really like the restaurant, and are already talking about going back.  And Emil gave it his seal of approval in authenticity, although, obviously upscale and modernized.  I'd go back, but I'm not in a rush to do so, and next time, I'd probably stick to just ordering what I wanted.
Potato dumpling kumla, onion ragout, lingonberry, brown butter, lardon. $12.
I'd read a lot of positive reviews of this dish, so we ordered two of them, which was a good decision, as each dish contained two dumplings and two onions, which would have been very hard to split 5 ways!

The dumplings were really interesting.  I was expecting something more like a gnocchi, whereas these were more like potato cakes.  They were crispy on the outside and very creamy and like mashed potato on the inside.  Really fun textures.

The pieces of onion were highly caramelized and delicious.  I'm a sucker for caramelized onions, and potato and onions go together oh so well.

The ligonberry sauce added both sweetness and tartness, and reminded me somewhat of spreading cranberry sauce on mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving (everyone does this, right?)

The little pieces of lardon were smokey, and added a good salt component.

The only part of this dish that didn't come together for me was the brown butter sauce.  It just seemed oily and flavorless.

I didn't love this dish, but the inside of the dumplings, with a little of the ligonberry sauce, was pretty tasty.  My 5th pick of the night, 3rd for another, 4th for another, but second to last for two others.  I probably wouldn't order again.

$12 was a fair price for an appetizer of this size.

Taste of Herring: saffron tomato, coriander chili, lime, ginger smoked soy. $12.
This dish falls solidly in the category of things I'd never normally order, but Emil was very excited for it.

I missed some of the details when the server described it, but there were three different preparations of the herring, three different colored baby potatoes, rye crackers, and a bunch of other edible garnishes.

I really liked the flavor of the rye crackers.  One of the herring preparations tasted really fishy to me and I didn't like it at all, but the other two seemed fairly fresh.  But, this just really wasn't my sort of dish.

My 8th pick of the night, but the clear winner for everyone else - the favorite dish for 3 of the other diners, and the second favorite of the other.  I certainly wouldn't order again, but this is clearly just personal preference.

$12 was a very fair price for the amount of fish.
Cured Norwegian salmon belly gravlax, spicy grain mustard, dill puree, lemon crème fraiche. $11.
The salmon in this dish was pretty good, flavorful, fresh tasting.  But, being the sauces lover that I am, what really wowed me was the accompaniments.  The dill puree was fantastically flavorful.  The lemon crème fraiche was slightly tart, creamy, and had a strong lemon flavor.  The dill, the lemon, and the salmon all combined very well.

Once the salmon ran out, I eagerly used my bread to soak up the rest of the sauces.  There was nothing earth shattering about this dish, but it was solid.  We all placed it pretty middle of the pack in our ratings: my 6th pick of the night, 4th for two others, and 5th for the other two.

And again, a good value, $11 was a very reasonable price for 8 pieces of salmon.
Krondill poached lobster Skagen, white fish caviar, horseradish, avocado, chili. $18.
When this dish arrived, we quickly realized that there was no way for 5 of us to share it, and ordered a second one.

This dish went the way of pretty much all lobster dishes for me.  I wanted to love it, but I am underwhelmed by lobster.  Sure, it is good, but I find fresh crab to be soo much tastier.  I basically always just want the lobster to be crab.  But that isn't the fault of this dish, nor Pläj.

Anyway, the lobster was tender, well cooked, with a variety of different types of meat.  The sauce was creamy and flavorful.  I skipped the little avocado cubes because of my allergy.  I again used my bread to lap all the sauce up.  This sauce is what prompted us to request even more bread!

This was was top pick for one diner, the second for another, the third for another, my 4th, and the 6th for the other.

$18 did seem a little high given the fairly small amount of lobster in the dish.  I probably wouldn't order again.
Swedish meatballs, potato puree, pan gravy, lingonberry, pickled cucumber. $15.
You can't go to a Scandinavian restaurant and NOT get the Swedish meatballs right?  I'd actually read a lot of negative reviews of these, but everyone really wanted to get them, so we did.  Of all of the courses, this was the easiest to split, coming with exactly 5 meatballs.

The meatballs had a good crust on them, and a really great flavor, reminding me more of sausage than of meatball.  I believe they were made from ox.  I did think they were on the dry side, although that wasn't too big of a deal given all of the other elements on the plate with which you could coat the meatball.

The potato puree was very creamy, basically just liquid mashed potatoes.  Meat and potatoes?  Check!

The lingonberry sauce was again an interesting component, bringing in tartness and sweetness all at once.  Like with the potato dumplings, I liked the ligonberry and potato pairing.

The pickled cucumbers were surprisingly tart.  They didn't really seem to go with the dish, but I really liked them.

I'm not sure why reviews of these were so negative, although none of us loved the dish, they weren't bad.  I'm glad we tried them.  Four of us ranked this 7th of the evening, and the other ranked it 8th.

Again, price was right, but I doubt I'd get again.
Caraway smoked salmon, roasted radishes, shaved fennel, watercress, lemon aioli. $18.
This was the dish I was most looking forward to (besides dessert of course).  I've been loving salmon lately (well, I've been loving very specific salmon dishes lately).

The moment I cut into the salmon, I knew we were in for a treat.  It was beautifully medium rare.  Tender.  With a fantastic smoky flavor.  Just delicious.

And then, there was the lemon aioli to drag it through.  Another incredibly flavorful, absolutely delicious sauce.  And of course, salmon and lemon go together perfectly.

There were also some roasted radishes.  I'm not entirely sure I'd ever had cooked radishes before, and I didn't really care for them.  They reminded me of turnips.

There were more little baby potatoes on this dish, well cooked, but just potatoes.  They were tasty with the aioli.  The shaved fennel and watercress were fairly forgettable.

This was by far my favorite dish of the night, and besides the herring that everyone else loved, clearly the winner for the night, as two others ranked it second, and the other two ranked it third.  It was a really amazing piece of fish for $18.  Would certainly order again.
Charcuteri: fennalar-salted lamb, syltrulle-cured pork belly, wild boar salami, lamb belly, spicy gooseberry jam, grilled rye.  $16.
I was pretty stuffed at this point, and don't really love charcuteri, so I mostly skipped this.  The chili spiced gooseberry jam was really interesting and delicious, I loved the spice in it.  The grilled bread was also really good.  The others were avoiding it because it looked (and was) incredibly oily, but I wanted to soak up more sauces from the other dishes, and we'd run out of plain rye bread, so I tried it.  It was indeed oily, but also rubbed with garlic, and was slightly crispy, and quite tasty.  I'm not really sure how it would have paired with the meat, but it was very good with the sauces!

The others didn't love this, with 3 of them ranking it last, and one ranking it 3rd to last.
Rhubarb lavender crumble pie, strawberry ice cream, vanilla sauce.  $8.
There are few things I love more than warm pie|crisp|cobbler|crumble|etc and ice cream.

This was an interesting take on a pie, fairly deconstructed.

The vanilla sauce was warm, creamy, and fun to drag everything through, but didn't have a particularly strong vanilla flavor.

The strawberry ice cream was creamy, and had a nice fresh strawberry flavor.

And the "pie" ... this was some tart, cooked chunks of rhubarb and some absolutely delicious, buttery, chunks of crumble.

I loved dragging a chunk of crumble through the vanilla sauce and scooping up some ice cream with it. Sweet yet tart, hot and cold, crisp and creamy, just everything coming together at once.  Not mind blowing, but very enjoyable.

My favorite of the desserts, and second favorite dish of the night.  4th pick for one other, but 3rd to last for another (the other two didn't rank as they didn't really have any).  I'd get again.  $8 was a good price for a dessert at a restaurant of this calibre.
Cardamom spoon crème brûlée, lime-mint marinated strawberries.  $8.
Oh yes, they had a crème brûlée on the menu.  Clearly, I had to get it, no matter how full I was.

You know me and crème brûlée.  I have very specific desires from a crème brûlée.  This one passed the first test with flying colors.  I tapped on it.  Solid.  I tapped even harder.  Still solid.  Yes!  It had a really thick hard shell on top.  One of the best top layers of a  crème brûlée that I've ever had, with a really deeply caramelized flavor to it.

The custard itself however was very, very watery.  Even more runny than a pudding.  I'm not really sure what was going on there.  It was pleasantly warm, and had a nice subtle cardamom flavor.

The lime-mint marinated strawberries on the side were absolutely delicious.  They were sweet, but in a great way.  They were soft.  The mint added a freshness.  Delicious.  I'd love a strawberry shortcake made with these!  I'm really not sure how they were supposed to go with the crème brûlée, but they were so tasty, I didn't really care.

Overall, this was a mixed bag.  The strawberries on the side were awesome, but this was supposed to be about the crème brûlée, which had a fantastic top, but strange consistency.  My second favorite dessert of the night, and third favorite overall.  The others were less into it, with one ranking it second to last, and another ranking it right in the middle of the pack.  The other two refrained from ranking as they didn't really have any.

I'd get it again, and $8 again seemed about right for a dessert here.
Cloudberry sorbet.  $3.
One of the other desserts came with cloudberry sorbet on the side.  We were intrigued by the sound of it, but didn't want the full dessert.  So we asked just for a scoop of the sorbet.

This was the worst dish of the night for me.  Cloyingly sweet.  I like ice cream, I like sweet, but this was just not very good.  I'm also confused by the term "sorbet" as it seemed to clearly contain dairy.  It was full of gritty seeds.

Would not get again.
Scandinavian and local cheeses, rye bread, pumpernickel and current flatbread, orange elderflower jam, honey apricot jam.  $14.
I'm a dessert girl, and was too busy eating the "real" desserts to pay much attention to the cheese plate.  I did try the different jams, but I didn't take any notes on them, and don't really recall much about them.

The others all had this, and all ranked it 4th to last.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Ice Cream from Mr. & Mrs. Miscellaneous

I'm a huge fan of frozen desserts, but regular ice cream isn't what I normally gravitate to.  That said, when I want a scoop of hard ice cream, Mr. & Mrs. Miscellaneous is where I go.  They are my favorite ice cream shop in the city.  For once, the Yelpers aren't wrong: there is a reason they have 600+ Yelp! reviews and a 4.5 star rating.  

The ice cream is all made fresh daily from high quality ingredients (local, organic Strauss dairy is the base, the mix-ins are all made in house, etc).  Flavors change daily, featuring both traditional flavors and some more adventurous ones.

They also make fresh waffle cones, but have always been sold out when I've gone.  I sorta think they are a myth :)  I've never tried them, but they also make their own fudge, caramel, and other sundae toppings.  And a selection of cookies, caramels, malted milk balls, marshmallows, and other candies.

San Francisco has a number of ice cream shops that meet all of the above criteria.  So what separates Mr. & Mrs. Miscellaneous from the rest?
  • Indoor seating.  Plentiful indoor seating.  No eating your ice cream outside on the freezing cold, windy streets of SF.
  • Samples! They not only don't act annoyed when I want to try flavors, but they encourage it! When I apologized for being indecisive once and asking for so many samples, the server responded with a smile and told me to sample away, that is what they were there for. Also, samples are given with full size real metal spoons and generously loaded up so you definitely get to taste it and see if you like it.
  • No lines (ok, this is less true these days, but the lines aren't nearly as long as other places).  And no hipsters.  The crowd is mostly just super cute kids loving their ice cream.
I'll certainly return.  The hardest part is just deciding what flavor, when they are all soooo good!
  • Banana Graham: Tasting notes: Subtle banana flavor, little chunks of graham, not very good somehow.
  • Black forest: Vanilla ice cream with huge chunks of chocolate cake, Kirsh soaked cherries.  Tasting notes:  I liked the components of this, but would have preferred to just have a nice chocolate cake with ice cream and cherries.  That is, the cherries and cake being IN the ice cream didn’t really add anything to it.
  • Brown Butter: Tasting notes: Super sweet, nice flavor.
  • Brown Butter Sage: Tasting notes: nice complex flavor and sweetness, but didn’t really taste the sage.
  • Cake and Cream: Sweet cream ice cream with chunks of chocolate cake.  Tasting notes: Cake was decent chocolate cake, but mixed into the ice cream just wasn’t that interesting.
  • Candied Violet: Tasting notes: Beautiful, subtle, balanced flavor.
  • Caramel with Sea Salt: Tasting notes: Sweet caramel flavor, not much saltyness.  Was good but couldn’t imagine a whole scoop of it on its own.  Would probably be really good with a scoop of another flavor and hot fudge/whipped cream [ Very sweet, nice caramel flavor, but can’t imagine eating a whole scoop of this on its own, would need something to cut the sweetness. ]
  • Chocolate Malt: Tasting notes: Just kinda standard chocolate, didn't get any malt in my sample.
  • Cream Cheese & Carrot Cake: Tasting notes: really rich cream cheese flavor, nice size chunks of really delicious carrot cake.
  • Crema Catalana: Lime ice cream with burnt caramel.  Tasting notes: subtle lime flavor, didn’t really get much of the burnt caramel, meh.
  •  Croquantino: Carmelized hazelnuts, hazelnut base, orange peel.  Tasting notes: super creamy with nice chunks of the carmelized nuts.
  • Flan: Tasting notes: Sweet, nice caramel swirl.
  • Halva: Sesame ice cream with sweet sesame swirls.  Tasting notes: Very sweet, lots of sesame flavor.  Bites with the caramely/sesame swirl were really quite good.
  • Jasmine Green Tea: Tasting notes: Lovely flavor, not too sweet, winner of the day.
  • Lemon Verbena: Tasting notes: Nice lemon flavor but not very interesting.
  • Peanut Butter & Jelly: Vanilla ice cream with big swirls of peanut butter and jelly.  Tasting notes: Was ok, but flavors weren’t that strong.
  • Pink Squirrel: Almond and creme de cacao.  Tasting notes: A nice sweetness, my favorite, but I was pretty sick of it by the end of my scoop. [ Nice and sweet, good almond flavor, would go well with hot fudge? ]
  • Peanut Brittle: Tasting notes: Decent peanut butter flavor, little chunks of brittle, sweet.  Definitely would have been better with more chunks of brittle, and larger chucks of brittle.
  • Rocky Road: Chocolate ice cream with almonds and marshmallow.  Tasting notes: fairy standard chocolate ice cream, almonds were nicely toasted, good marshmallow but kinda chewy and hard inside ice cream.
  • Salted Mango: Tasting notes: Nice mango flavor, not too sweet, didn't really get salty flavor though.
  • Sweet Cream: Tasting notes: Exactly what you'd expect, boring flavor on its own, would be good in sundae.