Sunday, July 18, 2010

Mission Chinese Food

Good stuff! And hipster hilarious. See the other photos on Flickr.

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Monday, July 12, 2010

Sooo, a lot can change in one year.

Like, I can become athletic.

Who knew?

Well, I suppose 15 years ago I was respectably athletic, but those days are clearly long since passed. Today I survived my first triathlon, just a sprint one, after many grueling weeks of good intentions to train (and subsequently not). Ok, I trained moderately in swimming, which was -and is- my weakest sport by far. I do take small solace in the fact that I was not in actuality literally the last one in the water from my modestly sized wave; Abe claims that I was 4th to last. I even passed a poor, struggling guy from a previous men's wave. I'm not saying it made me feel better, but at least I did not feel utterly alone in the struggle of it all.

Through my own mistake, it seems that I may not receive official race times from my chip. I took it off when removing my wetsuit, and forgot it for the bike, only to put it back on for the run. But, I can at least deduce my overall time, which appears to be 1:32:19, pretty much median in my age group. So not too shabby! ESPECIALLY given that I have biked on the real road all of, I don't know, 6 miles in the last 3 months, and ran precisely one time, maybe 3-4 miles. I'm not so much boasting my lackadaisical nature as reveling in the fact that I somehow managed to pull it off so... passably.

Due credit goes to: Merritt Lander, my *wonderful* swimming coach without whom I never even could have even flailed, gasped, backstroked and limped my way through the first leg of the race as I did (and, as promised, I did NOT dog paddle!); my friends, family and co-workers for their many words of encouragement; Bootcamp SF, specifically Chris and Brooks, for really helping me get more fit but far more importantly grow confident and enjoy being active, from January til April or so... I truly hope to rejoin BCSF in some capacity when my schedule and funds allow. And last but not least, huge thanks to Abe, my roadie, groupie and sole cheerleader/ photojournalist on race day... it really meant a lot to me to have you there :)


Friday, July 03, 2009

Minneapolis Dy 7: BBQ Fest

These pictures were taken chez Flicker, where we (and by "we" I mean mostly Doug and partly TJ) staged a meat feast to rival even that of Fogo de Chão. Alongside the carnage we also had tuna & shells, two types of coleslaw, sweet corn, and of course Doug's patented BBQ sauce. Not to mention optionally spiked Koolaid (of the non-suicidal variety) and TJ's home brews, including Chimp Attack. It was exactly the perfect kind of chill backyard affair I needed to do while home for a visit. Thanks again y'all!!

The representing proteins: pork belly, short ribs, veal tongue, merguez à la Rawitzer, chicken and filet mignon.

For dessert I patched together a mille feuille of sorts with sheep's milk yogurt mousse, rhubarb compote and pistachio brittle.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Minneapolis Day 7: The Saints

Karate Night with the St Paul Saints

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Minneapolis Day 7: lunch at Jasmine Deli

Going against my intuition, I had a late lunch at Jasmine Deli due to the fact that Quang's is closed on Tuesdays. Sure enough, it was merely serviceable. The pork was wafer-thin and dry, there was little cilantro and no mint in the salad, and the nuoc cham was sweet and one-dimensional. I probably should have gone to Pho 79.

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Monday, June 29, 2009

Minneapolis Day 6: Fogo de Chão

The Minneapolis outpost of the Brazilian Fogo de Chão chain is situated in one of the massive downtown spaces where no restaurant seems to last for too long. As such, I feared that I had missed my chance to check it out when I moved away. But it's still there, and must either be doing quite well or digging itself very deeply in debt, as it seems to employ a massive armada of meat-wielding "passadors," bussers and other staff. Plus I can't imagine the scale and cost of waste from overcooked or excess meat. Meat-fest aside, I had long heard about the salad bar, a title which may normally imply a forgettable array of wilted vegetables, stale croutons and maybe some sad antipasti if you're lucky. No, this salad bar is epic, not so much in size but in its offerings.

The prosciutto, salami, smoked salmon and manchego zone.

Snazzy salads filled with... more salad!

Green beans bordered logically by... pineapple and mango! Wait, huh?

My somewhat modest salad plate containing cured meats, smoked salmon, steamed asparagus, green beans, beets, peppadew peppers, pickled cippolini, marinated shiitakes, hearts of palm, a little basil dressing and tabbouleh. First of all, the salmon was pretty outstanding for a buffet. Give me a bagel and some capers and I would go to town on that stuff. Everything else looked fresh and attractively maintained, not to mention bountiful, an essential part of any buffet. Did I mention they even had one of those ginormous hollowed out wheels of parmesan, filled (obviously) with its crumbled insides? And I'm not talking about a plastic ginormous wheel of parmesan. And there were whole bocconcini. And a heap of good-looking artichoke hearts. And even waldorf salad for posterity.

The beginnings of meat-fest. A lamb chop and a slice of picanha, which is the cap of top sirloin (fat attached).

Meat-fest in full effect. All told, I also had pork ribs, ribeye, bottom sirloin, yet another sirloin of some kind, ambiguously titled garlic beef (some part of the chuck?), bacon-wrapped filet mignon, sausage (dubiously billed as linguiça), and maybe even some other stuff. My favorite was surely the garlic "mystery" beef, but really hardly anything was not good (a notable exception being the sausage, which my dad had previously raved about, but this time was utterly forgettable). The meats were also seasoned properly, as their surface area was proportional to their mass. I never found the need for any additional salt, which is usually not the case when I eat beef.

You also get unlimited sides of fried polenta sticks, rice, black beans, deep fried bananas, farofa, mashed potatoes, and plenty of pão de queijo. But don't be fooled! These things are all good (well, at least while they're still warm), but the key to the churrascaria experience in my opinion is to stay focused and not be led to distraction from the true, carnal heart of the matter. I limited myself to mere bites of the starchy sides so as to save maximum prime "real estate," as my parents put it, for the good stuff.

A glass-enclosed corner of the dining room, visible to the street, showcasing some beef ribs slow-roasting around the fire.

Service was attentive and friendly, and we truly were bombarded incessantly with meat at all times that we displayed the "green light" token. Although my colon surely doesn't thank me, I thank both Fogo and my parents for the protein bonanza!

Minneapolis Day 5: Chef Shack

Soft shell crab sandwich with ramp tartar sauce and pickled ramp. Perfectly fine, but not worth $10. Possibly-maybe if it came with an accompaniment, but it would need to be something at least psychologically "substantial" like fries or slaw or something. And then I saw a kid get a small scoop of ice cream for FIVE BUCKS... sorry, but that makes even Crema Cafe look like a steal (don't get me wrong, I'm happy to splurge on my Sonny's i.c.). I like the Chef Shack and what they're doing, and I appreciate as much as anyone in the industry the need for sufficient mark-up to create profit. However, some of that pricing seems way out of whack. What impressed me most, actually, was their sexy and bountiful condiment bar, photos of which I will post soon.

A glimpse into the galley.

I also stumbled into the very tail end of the Pride parade, and the trash-strewn aftermath left in its wake along Hennepin.

Minneapolis Day 4: Bewiched, plus the last night of D'Amico Cucina

Stopped by Bewiched to say hello and grab lunch, and naturally could not resist the tuna confit sandwich. That tuna, it haunts my dreams and whispers of sacred spices from a land of mythical fish gods anointed with aïoli from the land that time forgot!

Or something like that.

Anyways, it's freakin' delicious.

I could likewise not resist a daily special soup of roasted cauliflower, white cheddar and house cured bacon, which was very nice even in spite of the fact that usually can't stand eating (hot) soup in hot weather. It reminded me of a classier version of the beer cheddar concoction, minus the popcorn (who came up with that one, anyhow?).

Later I dropped by D'Amico Cucina for what I thought would be a brief few courses by myself in the bar but turned into a veritable smorgasbord of hedonism, which ran to such an extent that we were in fact recipients of the The Last plates ever to be sent out of the kitchen (as it was their final service). It was an historic night in Minneapolis (and Minnesota) fine dining that I feel very honored to be a part of. It's incredible that so many of today's well regarded local chefs came out of that restaurant and/or organization. And now the continuity in fine dining that Cucina has represented for these 22 years has shut its doors. But I've been hearing the rumors about the staff's iminent takeover of a certain restaurant downtown, so I suppose it will just be the next evolution (...or some may argue devolution) in the scene.

Wickedly good grilled foie gras and figs with mugolio syrup on a crostino. Nice one, TJ!!

Bigarò, a terribly good blend of moscato d'asti and brachetto, with a pretty rosé hue. Big thanks to server Jeff for his thoughtful gesture of bringing me this to pair with the surprise arrival of the foie. They went together beautifully.

Kumamoto oyster with Red Ice granité and mignonette (only those who closed Auriga will get the Red Ice joke). The oyster was plump and briny, but I stayed away from that granité.

Gently cooked white tuna (poached in olive oil, I believe) with wild fennel pollen and arugula believed to be from Doug's garden. The fish was moist and accentuated nicely by the sweet and aromatic pollen.

Piadina with gorgonzola, prosciutto and warm rosemary honey. This was addictive... what's not to like about fried flatbread, drizzled with honey and topped with sweet-salty ham and cheese?

"Scotched" pheasant egg (we agreed the sausage must have been merguez) with grilled eggplant and roasted peppers. This was probably my favorite course, which was spicy, juicy, salty, sweet and creamy all at once. The sausage and vegetables played off each other very well, while the perfectly cooked egg brought it all together nicely.

Agnolotti of veal braised in white wine with olives and parmesan. Oddly, this reminded me strongly of the church-basement-casserole-style turkey tetrazzini from the Byerly's deli I loved as a kid! Then: bowtie pasta, shredded turkey, cheesy sauce, sliced green olives. Now: Pasta stuffed with shredded veal, parmesan (recalling the cheesy sauce), slivered green olives. Coincidence?...

Somewhere in here we also had a course which I did not photograph of seared foie gras with sautéed morels. This sent our server literally running for a wine to match, which turned out to be a 1927 Bastardo madeira. It was nice, but not a terrific match for the dish. This was a rare night where my cup overfloweth with foie gras... a little morbid, but you gotta get when the gettin's good. And it was good.

Seared black bass with a fennel (if I remember correctly?) and porchetta sauce. This dish had interesting things going for it, what with its surf-and-turf theme, but could have used some tweaking. It wasn't bad, but it was somehow just a bit lacking.

Our final savory course was veal tenderloin cooked sous vide, with braised celery and black truffle. This was flavorful and, of course, earthy, a satisfying "meat" course to end the progression of dishes. Simple elements done well.

I neglected to take pictures of our dessert, a sautéed crêpe filled with frangipane, with vanilla mascarpone mousse, orange flower water croquant, and dried (billed as "candied") apricot. Mignardises were tiny caramel chocolate tartlets with fleur de sel and praline truffles.

I will also mention that we drank excellent wines throughout the evening in addition to those I've already mentioned, including a pinot grigio and a Brunello di Montalcino... but I don't know the details beyond that. The Bigarò was really the discovery of the night for me.

It was a very significant evening, but also very fun and convivial, so once again a huge thanks to my friends for letting me crash their party and join in, TJ and all the rest of the BOH crew for the excellent food, the FOH for attentive and personable service even in spite of the chaos, and of course the D'Amicos for having begun the restaurant in the first place. Yet more additional thanks to Chef John Occhiato and Richard D'Amico for being so extremely gracious.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Minneapolis Day 3: Cocktails and Weiners

Random happy hour cocktails at Zeno, semi-late night dog from SA (and yes, those are jalapenos)
Not pictured: mango sorbet at Ben & Jerry's

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Minneapolis Day 3: lunch at Sea Salt

Gazpacho with shrimp and crab and fried calamari

The gazpacho (which I had accidentally ordered with the additional shrimp and crab) was pretty good but decidedly salsa-like, a fact which was reinforced by the side of tortilla chips which I didn't eat. The shrimp were decent but not exceptional, and the crab was watery and tasteless--- which is essentially why I had meant to order the soup plain. But the calamari was great, crispy but not excessively battered, and perfectly tender. The accompanying "remoulade" type dip was kind of ghetto but tasty nonetheless. It also came in a morbidly large portion, which made me wish I had somebody to share with (yes yes, of course I scarfed it all regardless) . All in all, I still find it a bit pricey for what it is and for the fact that it's served more or less like take-out. I guess it validates my original thought which was "why would I eat seafood in Minnesota when I now live on the ocean?" Yet I like Sea Salt for what it is, and it's nice on a gorgeous day like this to be able to grab some fish and chips and a pitcher of Surly to enjoy out under the oak trees in the sun.

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When it's gotta be DQ

Two very hungry caterpillars

Nothing like a cherry slushie (er, Arctic Rush, that is) when biking the trails while it's 90 degrees.

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Big Bunny!

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Minneapolis Day 2

Lunch at Common Roots: beet and wheatberry salad with apple and chevre, toasted onion bagel with veggie cream cheese
Very tasty salad, with all around good flavor and texture. The bagel lived up to the hype I'd been hearing, which is to say that it was very good. With a blistered, very crisp exterior and a nice chew, I'm pleased to finally find a bagel that's got some substance--- unlike the donut-shaped Wonderbread that one usually finds. I would say, however, that some of the pricing seems a little fuzzy... If a bagel costs .95, how does a small swipe of cream cheese work out to $1.55 in addition?

Dinner: pink lemonade and popcorn (with real butter!) at the Riverview, mango-habanero ice cream and strawberry sorbet at Crema Cafe

Late night snack discovery: Turns out HKN's beef with celery is quite tasty the day after, cold.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Minneapolis Day 1: Hong Kong Noodle

Stopped by good ole HKN. The so-called "kimchee" is as good as always with its whole coriander and pronounced sweetness, and the watercress with garlic was a big yarn-like ball of tasty greens. For some reason I went off my usual beaten path of "weird" stuff and ordered the comparatively mundane beef with celery, which was fine but probably not something I'd get again. My dad polished off an entire Mt. Everest of lo mein, and my mom navigated a huge rice plate of BBQ duck and bok choy. Makes me wish HKN was still right around the corner from home! And as far as a late night joint goes, what it lacks in Sam Wo's kookiness it makes up for in spades with pretty cheap and very tasty eats.

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Minneapolis Day 1: Brasa

12 Hour slow cooked heritage pork, jalapeño creamed spinach, curried
chickpea salad, lemonadeThe pork was tasty enough, but completely plain and like any other
carnitas or confit I've ever had. I have been to the mountain top
and looked down upon mere mortal pigs... All other pork has been
ruined for me by Roli Roti! A blessing and a curse.
The creamed spinach was luscious, with a nice subtle heat. At first I found it to be a bit undersalted, at least in relation to the rest of the plate, but eventually a mere squeeze of lime balanced it out perfectly.
The chickpea and barley salad, which came recommended by my server (who curiously kept calling me "ma'am"... I didn't think I came off as so old..?), was quite delicious--- even in spite of the chickpeas being noticably undercooked.

So, not perfect, but still quite tasty and generously portioned: I left quite full (even overly so) and with a small box of leftovers. The damage? $18 bucks with tip, not bad, but I think maybe next time I'll just stick with the side dishes.

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