Saturday, October 06, 2012

Demo by Pam Mazzola, Prospect

As you know, I often attend the demos at the Ferry Building on Saturday mornings.  Since I've talked a lot in past reviews about the cooking demo program, I'll skip those details here.  You also know that I don't tend to write up the demos, unless they are exceptional.  And this one was.

I was very excited when I saw that chef Pam Mazzola from Prospect/Boulevard would be doing the demo this week.  Even though there were a slew of things going on in the city that I planned to attend, I knew I had to somehow fit this in, as I'm always interested in what they are coming up with at the restaurants.  I love their approach to Californian cuisine and seasonal cooking, and they are always mixing up the dishes slightly, although continuing to somehow feature my favorite ingredients all of the time (and I'm not just talking about foie gras, although the last time I had it there, before the ban, was incredible!).  Since I live right above Prospect and walk by Boulevard all of the time, I'm constantly drooling over their menus.

When I sat down and looked at the recipe I was a little surprised.  Normally the recipes are a single page, sometimes spilling onto the back page.  This one continued on to a third sheet!  And it contained a bunch of separate components.  It seemed very ambitious to demo all of that in a short time, and I worried that it was going to be too complicated for me to consider trying on my own.  After all, part of the point of these demos is to inspire us in our own kitchens, right?

But I shouldn't have worried.  The demo did not run over, and she finished all of the components.  And ... amazingly, I do think I could perhaps pull off every single one of them.  What I absolutely loved about the demo is that for each component, she also told us other uses for it.  I could imagine either tweaking the composed dish somewhat to suit my tastes more, or making every component in it and then re-using them in other dishes on the following days.  For a dish that had so much going on, this was surprisingly versatile.  In addition to sharing other uses for the components, she also provided adaptations, for example, a way to make romesco sauce using pine nuts for those with nut allergies, or with beans instead of bread to make it gluten free.

The chef was clear and well spoken.  Her demo was very informative, and her enthusiasm for the city and the market came though.  Also at the event was Kathy King, the general manager.  She spoke a little at the end about the history of the two restaurants and the differences between them.

The thing I took away most from the demo is that it is possible for the home cook to work with squid.  I would have never considered that before seeing this demo.  It has always just seemed far too complicated, as I didn't know how to clean it, and since it is so often poorly done in restaurants (rubbery, over cooked, etc), it seemed unfathomable that I could ever do it myself.  She showed us how to clean the squid, cutting off the tentacles, removing the beak, and ripping out the guts.  I am still a little weary of that part, but far more confident that I would have been before.

But the best part, and why I'm writing this post: I think this was the tastiest demo dish I've ever had.  I can't wait to go back to Prospect.  Or Boulevard.  Or ... both!
Grilled Monterey Calamari with Shelling Beans, Pepper Salad, Arugula, and Sauce Romesco.
This was absolutely delicious!

The squid was perfectly executed, with a fantastic smokiness from the grill.  If all squid tasted like this, people would eat it more regularly!  Other than the step of cleaning it, it was also really simple to prepare, just brushed with olive oil, salt, pepper, and put on the cast iron griddle for about 3 minutes.  Simple treatment of the star ingredient, and so tasty.

There were a variety of types of beans, all decent, but not really my thing.  Served warm, and a somewhat unique aspect to the dish.  Pam mentioned that they could also be served alone as a side, or dressed up with some vinaigrette and turned into a salad.  Not what I'd be interested in, but if you like beans, I could see how versatile they would be.

The fresh tomato sauce was incredible.  Again, it was so simple!  The dry farmed Early Girls really just shined.  She simply grated the tomatoes, cooked them with a little garlic and shallot for a few minutes, strained the sauce, and was done.  And it was tastier than pretty much any canned tomato sauce I've ever had.  It was another component that you could do a lot with: use it as a pasta sauce, a pizza sauce, serve with fish, etc.  And it freezes well.  A wonderful base recipe to have in your recipe box, and one I'll certainly consider making myself.

It was also topped with a little fresh arugula and crispy shallot salad.  I'm a sucker for crispy shallots and think they are one of the tastiest things on earth.  They didn't disappoint here, and the crispy texture was a nice component.

And finally, the romesco.  So delicious.  In general, I love romesco and will coat just about anything in it.  So it comes as no surprise that I loved this part.  It went incredibly well with the squid, with the slightly smoky charred flavor they both had mirroring each other.  Absolutely delicious.

I would have loved to have a crostini with this, to soak up the remaining tomato sauce and romesco.

Definitely one of the tastiest demos I have ever been to!
Caramel corn, cocoa nibs, salt.
As if I wasn't happy enough at the end of this demo, Chef Pam came around with a special treat for everyone: bags of their caramel corn!  OMG.  You know what a dessert girl I am, so this was particularly up my alley.  I've of course had it at the restaurant before, so I knew what a treat I was in for.  I couldn't even wait a minute before breaking into the bag.

This is very good caramel corn!  Each kernel is coated in the caramel, there are some cocoa nibs adding additional flavor and some bitterness, and salt to balance it all out.  The popcorn is fresh and crispy, and in various size clumps.  Oh so good.  I've normally had this as a bar snack, but found today that it pairs perfectly with coffee too.

What a great additional treat, thank you!

Friday, October 05, 2012

Hapa SF

For some reason that I don't really understand, Dos Equis has teamed up with Hapa SF for the Mobile Academy Food Truck, a food truck sponsored by Dos Equis for two weeks, cruising around SF and giving out free food.  Hapa SF is a Filipino food truck that normally appears around town, but for this event, they were running a very limited menu: chicken free, pig's head sisig, or pickled duck eggs.  Interesting stuff!

I stumbled upon it while walking around town, drawn in by the folks wearing rather unusual costumes. I'd just had lunch, so I didn't want much, but tried out the least adventurous of the dishes, the pickled duck egg.

I can't say I'd go back, but I know this wasn't anything like their normal menu, so I am curious what they normally serve.  Follow @HapaSF on Twitter if you want to find them during this promotion ...
Itlog na Maalat: Pickled duck egg with fresh heirloom tomato.
I was a little surprised when I received a salad.  The description didn't say it had greens!

Anyway, the greens were fresh enough, but pretty generic, as were the sliced little tomatoes.  It was lightly dressed with an unremarkable dressing.

The highlight was obviously the duck eggs.  I'm sure I've had duck egg before, but I think they were likely fried or poached then.  The most surprising thing to me was how flavorful the yolk was.  It had a much stronger flavor than a chicken egg!  The eggs were very lightly pickled, with a slight saltiness to them.  I'm glad I experienced the duck egg, but meh, this wasn't that exciting.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Falafel from Oasis Grill

Sunday nights are always hard food-wise, so I used GoPago as some inspiration to try out a new place, preferably one where the lack of availability of fresh seafood and off-duty executive chefs wouldn't matter.  And since I'd already used up all of my GoPago credits, I needed to find a buddy to treat me to dinner using theirs.  I decided to tempt Ojan with the promise of some good falafel at Oasis Grill, as I know it is something he likes, it was only a few blocks away, and I've heard great things about the place.

So we went, ordering from his phone from a few blocks away.  As always, GoPago worked like a charm.  He put in the notes to have it cut in half so we could share, and they saw the note and did so.  I love how easy special requests are with GoPago!

One amusing thing is that we had the option when ordering of dine in or take out.  We hadn't been to the "restaurant" before, so selected dine in.  When we arrived, we saw that there was exactly one table, and it was occupied.  Whoops!  Luckily, there was plentiful seating in the courtyard across the street.

I don't think I'm likely to go back, at least not for the falafel, but Ojan liked it, and said he was glad to have found a new quick option for lunch or dinner in the neighborhood.  GoPago wins another fan!
Falafel Lavash Wrap: Fried chickpea patties with hummus, mediterranean salad, topped with tahini, wrapped in a lavash.  $7.86.
Since I was splitting with Ojan who can't have spicy food, we got it mild.  I would have ordered it hot, but I was able to get the hot sauce on the side, which I used to jazz it up.

And jazzing up it needed.  There just wasn't really any flavor to it.  Very bland.

The description listed in GoPago said there was hummus, but I didn't find any, and the online menu doesn't list hummus as an ingredient.  I kinda think there wasn't any.

There was tahini, but it didn't really add much flavor.

The mediterranean salad was lettuce, cucumber, and some herbs, that mostly just seemed like mediocre quality filler.

The falafel was the best part.  The wrap contained several falafel balls, all nice and crispy.  Speaking of crispy, the lavash was grilled, which gave it a great crisp exterior.  Actually, that might have been my favorite part.

I just didn't really care for this, but a falafel wrap isn't something I normally pick.  Ojan, who does like mediterranean food, liked it.  He said it wasn't amazing, but better than a lot of falafel he has had around here.

$7.86 was a random price (that was pre-tax), but pretty decent for a sandwich in this part of town.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012


Tropisueño is one of my favorite Mexican restaurants in San Francisco.  To start, it is an actual restaurant, not a taqueria.  Except ... that isn't really true.

Let me rewind.

Tropisueño opened a few years ago, and I stumbled into it during their very first few days open, as it is located near where I used to live.  I loved it instantly, as I like Mexican food, but I'm a bit of an ingredient quality snob, and just don't really ever like the meats or vegetables used at pretty much everywhere I go in the Mission (except Papalote ... mmm, love their soyrizo!).   Besides the quality ingredients, what really struck me during my initial few visits was how much love and care when into the cooking.  It reminded me of home cooking, just obviously not the cooking I'd get at my home.  The servers were friendly, the quality was high, and the price was remarkable, particularly given the location.

The restaurant quickly got very popular, and I could no longer just walk in anytime.  Reservations became required, otherwise waits were always over an hour.  Prices went up, the homey feeling somewhat disappeared, but it did stay incredibly tasty, and everyone I've ever brought there has really enjoyed it.

They also have a decent sized bar area and make a wide variety of interesting margaritas, all with different flavored salts.  Even if you aren't up for a full meal, it can be a nice place to chill for happy hour and eat some delicious fresh chips and salsa.

So as I mentioned, this is a full service restaurant ... at night.  But during the day, they actually operate taqueria style.  It is really incredible to see how they transform the entire space every day!  During the day, there is a menu on the wall, and a long counter where you order with all of the meats, veggies, sides, etc all lined up, and a cashier at the end.  You order, seat yourself with a little number on your table, and your food is delivered very quickly.  Chips and salsa are of course included.  Many people also get their food to go, and they have a very large salsa and condiments bar equipped with takeout containers.

I've been wanting to go during the day for ages to check out the casual style, but I eat lunch at work during the week, and I'm usually brunching on weekends.  But ... they are on GoPago, which of course finally pushed me over the edge to try out the daytime menu.

The seating area is the same whether you go for lunch or dinner, except that during the day you seat yourself, and in the evening, you are seated by a hostess.  And of course, you order first at the counter during the day, and have regular table service at night.  The decor is somewhat hard to describe, basically, as rustic and Mexican as you can get, while still fitting in the with SOMA vibe, if that makes any sense.

I really like Tropisueño for dinner, Happy Hour, and now, for lunch as well.  I wish they operated the casual side in the evenings too, as I'd love to be able to get a high quality, cheap, fast taco in the area at night too!  I'll be back, just not sure what time of day ...
Baja Fish Taco: crispy, battered tilapia with salsa verde, sour cream, house slaw,  served taco truck style on soft corn tortillas. $3.95.
This was a very large taco, particularly for the price!

It was delivered to my table, nice and hot.  The presentation was much better than other tacos I've had.

The corn tortillas were soft, but didn't have a very strong corn flavor.  They reminded me of a cross between the two different types of soft taco shells from Rubios.  Even though the flavor of the Rubios corn tortilla was much stronger and better, I preferred these for their softness, warmth, and overall consistency, as the Rubios ones were a little soggy.  I was a little confused when the menu said "soft corn tortillas" and thought it was a type-o, but it did indeed come wrapped in multiple tortillas.  I'm not really sure why.

The fish was a fried and battered tilapia, a decent size chunk.  A few bites had a bit of fishiness to them, but others didn't at all.  The fish was flaky and nice and buttery, seemingly high quality, better than the Rubios fish.  The batter was ok, but got very soggy quickly from the other things in the taco.  I'm not sure how crispy it was to begin with.  I actually think I'd have preferred this just with some grilled fish, as the batter was lost with everything else going on the taco, and in particular, the crispiness wasn't there, and that is what deep frying is all about!

The house slaw was what really made the taco.  It was crisp, fresh, and delicious.  There was a generous amount of it.  It really just tied everything together.  Much better than the cabbage or spring greens that Rubios used.

The salsa was their tomatillo-avocado salsa.  It was creamy and had a decent flavor, but not much kick. Since I have a mild avocado allergy, I mostly scraped this off when I realized what it was, the menu had said "salsa verde" and I knew they made another green salsa, and was expecting that instead.  Whoops!

The sour cream added another creamy component, and I appreciated it.

Also included was a fresh slice of lime.  It was incredibly juicy and provided a nice flavor.

I went to the amazing salsa bar and added some salsa fresca and some pickled jalapenos as well.  They added some great additional freshness and kick.

I'd definitely get this again, although I'd have them leave off the salsa, and I'd just dress it up myself using the salsa bar.  $3.95 was a fantastic price for quality ingredients.

Compared to Rubios, this was a much higher quality taco, and the price was the same.  It was about twice the size, the tortillas were far better, and the fish was better.  But Rubios definitely wins on the creative, delicious, sauces, although that also makes them far less authentic.
Barbacoa Taco: braised shredded beef, fresh onions and cilantro.  $2.55.
I went back a second time when I received more GoPago credits.  This time, I only had a $3 credit, so I couldn't afford the fish or shrimp tacos, which is what I'd normally order.  A plain taco was my only choice if I wanted to stay within my freebie budget!

They offer a slew of filling choices: 3 types of chicken, 3 types of beef, 4 types of pork, tofu, or veggies.  Since none of them are things I normally would pick, I asked the staff member for advice.  She recommended the barbacoa, the braised shredded beef.  So I went for it.

The preparation of this was very different from the fish taco.  The fish taco seems to be more of a special case, and they prepare it in the back kitchen, presumably because they are frying the fish, whereas this was prepared standard assembly-line taqueria style.  Like all of the standard meat options, there are just containers of the meats sitting there that they scoop out of, etc.  As such, it was ready before I even had time to get my salsas ready!

The taco shell was the same as the fish taco, soft, corn, pretty decent flavor, nice and warmed up.  And doubled up again.  This time, it made sense to me why it was doubled, as this was a big juicy mess!  The meat was swimming in liquid and the shell got soggy pretty much instantly, even with two layers.

The meat was tender, well cooked, and seemingly high quality.  I didn't find any fatty bits or gristle.  And there was a very generous amount of it.  Unfortunately, it didn't really have much flavor.

The onions and cilantro were pretty boring, and nothing compared to the slaw from the fish tacos, or the cabbage or greens that Rubios used.  Perhaps if I'd made it a super taco, which includes lettuce, cheese, guac, and sour cream, it would have been better, but I'm allergic to the quac, and that was over budget!

I did dress it up at the amazing salsa bar again.  I added pickled jalapenos for some kick, radishes for some crunch, some creamy green sauce (I have no idea what it was, it was fairly flavorless, but I think it might have been sour cream based), salsa fresca for some more veggies, and some regular salsa for more flavor.  It was much better with all of these additions, but overall, still wasn't anything remarkable.

I wouldn't get this again, but it was again a good price for a high quality taco.
Fresh, hot, chips!
Chips are $1.95 for take-out, free with in-house orders.  This makes no sense to me, as the price for food is the same, and it seems like you are using fewer of their resources for take-out.  They are also free at bar and at dinner.  During lunch hours, you can enjoy your chips with a slew of different salsas from the salsa bar, but at dinner time, they only provide a trio of salsas (although you can always ask for your favorites and they'll bring them).

The chips are served hot.  They are thin, crispy, salty.  Always enjoyable.  Sometimes greasier than other times, but always very fresh tasting.
Assorted salsas from the salsa bar.
The salsa bar contains 8 - 10 different salsas, along with other condiments like radishes, cilantro, lime wedges, and pickled jalapenos.  This photo is just a sampling of a few of them.

(Clockwise, from top left)
  • There is one salsa that I just adore.  Honestly, you can put this on anything and I'd eat it.  It is orangeish in color, and incredibly creamy.  I think this is the chili de arbol salsa.  It has nice spicing, and the creaminess is just to die for.  By far my favorite of the salsas, and I always take any leftovers home with me to slather on anything I can find.  They sometimes serve it warm when you get it at the bar or at dinner.  So amazing.
  • Salsa fresca/ pico de gallo:  Mix of tomatoes, onions, herbs.  Fresh, light, but no spice. [ Fresh, nice tomatoes, not spicy ]
  • Avocado-tomatillo salsa (light green): not spicy, creamy, avocado in it. [ Creamy, slight avocado flavor ]
  • Light red, standard salsa: Spicy, fresh tasting, but almost too spicy. [ Spicy, fresh, serious kick. ] [ creamy and decently spicy ] [  nice spice and creamyness, my fav of the red salsas ]
  • Salsa verde (dark green): Really great flavor, not spicy, I really like this one. [ Good flavor, second favorite salsa ] [ I love the smokiness in this, really intense flavors ] [ great smoky flavor, second favorite ]
(Not pictured)
  • (dark red): Not spicy, really boring, more like enchilada sauce.
  • (light green creamy one): was it sour cream based?  Not much flavor.
  • Habenero: just hot, not that great.
[ Not Pictured ]
  • Tropisueño: House signature drink.  Good ginger flavor, nice balanced drink.
  • Virgin: Meh.  Not very strong lime flavor, just sweet.  [ Note: I remember loving these when they first opened and didn't have a liquor license, and thus they could only serve virgin margs.  They gave them out complimentary then to show off their fresh squeezed marg base and fancy salts, and to apologize for not having the ability to serve the real deal then ]
  • Cena del Oso: Pink!  ok ...
  • Duende: Awesome anise flavor
  • (spicy one ... forget what it is called ): very spicy, decent.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Kasa Indian Food Truck

Several of my friends have been raving about the Kasa Indian food truck since they first discovered it a year or so ago.  Given that I love indian food and I'm on a desperate quest to find some in San Francisco that I really like, I was excited when I came across the truck when I was hungry.

Unfortunately, I didn't like any of this.  I am unlikely to try it again.
Vegetarian samosa ($2.50), mint chutney, raita, chicken tikka malasa kati roll ($4.50).  
I was planning to just get a kati roll, but when the person taking my order asked if I wanted to add on a samosa, my hungry stomach answered "yes", even though I don't generally love samosas.  It was a  basic potato and pea filled samosa, nothing special, no standout spicing. The dough was incredibly oily, as you can see in the photo.  It was served with some pretty generic mint chutney.

The kati roll is what I was looking forward to.  Basically a burrito, but made with roti and filled with spicy indian goodness?  Yes please!  It was described as: "A flaky, buttery roti (handmade bread) wrapped around char-grilled and marinated naturally-raised chicken in a spicy, creamy tomato sauce with marinated onions and chutney. Served with raita."  Sounded great.  But ... it really wasn't good.

The roti, like the samosa, was way too oily.  The chicken was low quality and all dark meat.  And there were way too many onions, perhaps more onions than chicken even.  I was impressed by the $4.50 price tag, until I tried it.  There is a reason it was so cheap.

Would not get any of this again.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Ritter Sport Chocolate

I've never purchased Ritter Sport chocolate myself, yet I seem to keep encountering it.  They are a German company, and produce bars that are broken up into 16 little cubes, perfect for sharing.  Which, perhaps, is why I keep getting to try so much, as co-workers keep having some.

Most recently, one of the shops available on GoPago had a large selection of Ritter Sport, and so one co-worker went to use up his credits there before they expired.  And being the great co-worker he is, he shared :)  Below are my notes from assorted tastings.

Dark Chocolate
  • Edelbitter: Plain dark chocolate, 71% cacao: Tasting notes: Very dark for a 71%.  Rich, creamy, really like an intense brownie.  Quite good.
  • Dark Chocolate with Marzipan: Tasting notes: Dark chocolate with sweet marzipan filling.  Filling a little gritty.  Not very interesting.
Milk Chocolate
  • Voll-Nuss: Milk chocolate with whole hazelnuts.  Tasting notes: creamy milk chocolate, soft, decent whole hazelnuts, chocolate + hazelnut combo is classic and tasty. [ decent creamy milk chocolate but not too much it.  Hazlenuts are great though. ]
  • Knusperkeks:  Crisp butter cookie teamed up with cocoa cream in luscious milk chocolate.  Tasting notes: Creamy milk chocolate ... with a biscuit in the middle.  Big crunch.
  • Bourbon Vanille: Tasting notes: Creamy milk chocolate, very sweet filling.  Didn’t taste bourbon at all (heh, was this just a special type of vanilla, not the liquior we were expecting?).  Very, very sweet.
  • Ganze Mandel: Milk chocolate with whole almonds.  Tasting notes: Decently creamy milk chocolate, nice almonds.
White Chocolate
  • Weiße Voll-Nuss: White chocolate with whole hazelnuts.  Tasting notes: Sorta sweet white chocolate, nice whole hazelnuts.  [ Just sweet white chocolate, nice crispy bits, hazelnuts good roasting, but meh ]