Tag Archives: sardine chips

SPECIAL BIRTHDAYS – SPECIAL FOOD

Our de-cluttering project extends to computers and computer files. In reading the drafts for the blog, I stumbled upon this post that I had written in 2012. I don’t remember why I didn’t publish it, but with a re-reading, I thought it deserved to see the light of day. The event was a very special occasion, and all of our children pulled out all of the stops to make it memorable.

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(original date: August 12, 2012)

Recently we traveled to San Francisco, ostensibly to help Sarah and Evan with babysitting during their early days of getting their new restaurant, Rich Table, up and running.  We did that because both of them were at the restaurant from 10 in the morning to 3 in the morning.

But there was another reason for our trip. Our children had planned a surprise weekend for Susan, with everyone coming from Los Angeles and Silicon Valley to share a family weekend, complete with three children, their spouses, and five grandchildren.

The occasion was the celebration of one of those special decadal birthdays. The highlight of the celebration was a dinner for all the adults and a preteen at Rich Table. Sarah and Evan went out of their way to send out one fantastic dish after another. I would not be speaking in hyperbole to say it was the very best meal – and the very best celebration – I have every enjoyed in my life.

No recipes this time. The dishes were all too complicated and refined for me to try to copy. However, I will do my best to describe my impressions of the food. I can’t even begin to say what my “favorite” was, as every dish stood on its own and was complete in itself.

After a toast with Iron Horse sparkling wine, we ordered drinks. They were all riffs on classic cocktails, but they were all distinctly different. The Barnwood was Bourbon with a dash of bitters and a slice of fresh peach. The Land’s End was gin flavored with a sprig of fresh Monterey cypress.

With the drinks we got corn fritters and sardine chips. Both of these are destined to be signature dishes, and  they will probably soon be showing up on menus throughout the Bay Area.

The corn fritters came as a stack of perfect globes with the thinnest, crispest shell imaginable, dusted with powdered yeast. When I broke the crust, a liquid center filled with kernels of grilled corn spilled out to mix with the cilantro salsa verde.

The sardine chips were big potato chips with a slim sardine fillet woven through and the whole thing fried to a crunchy, crisp texture. I could have made a meal of these, and ordinarily I don’t even like sardines.

Italian peppers  so sweet that they tasted almost like candy were grilled to perfection and then stuffed with slivers of succulent duck. We fought over who got the last of this dish.

Plancha bread was served as an anvil-shaped flat bread topped with burrata, summer squash and squash blossoms with a hint of shiso.

Who would believe that watermelon and squid would go together – along with black olives and crispy onions? My daughter, Carol, and her daughter, who don’t eat onions, were dueling each other for the last of the crispy onions that came on the top of this dish.

Beef tartare with cucumber yogurt was delicious, but I was more partial to the tagliatelle Bolognese with marrow and crispy leaves of kale.

The Pacific halibut with crisp pork belly and transparently thin Tokyo turnips was as beautiful to look at as it was to eat.

Throughout the meal we feasted on chunks of levain scented with wild fennel pollen and served with butter churned in-house after it had been cultured for several days. This was definitely not your ordinary restaurant bread.

I liked the spaghetti with yellow tail tuna and broccolini espellete. The sauce was so smooth and buttery that it coated your mouth with a taste you didn’t want to give up.

We had one dish that was not on the menu – rabbit cannelloni served with tiny, sweet tomatoes. Another dish that I could have easily had seconds and thirds.

Our dessert was also off the menu. Sarah had made a “birthday cake” of Hyde Park Café peach pudding. Susan and I had enjoyed the tasty dessert many times with Sarah when she was in Austin. Susan had managed to talk the cafe out of the recipe, and she had baked it for Sarah on special occasions. This was turn-about at its highest level. The cake capped the end of a warm and wonderful family celebration.

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SHAMELESS

We are back in San Francisco awaiting the birth of our new grandchild. It will be Sarah’s second child, and she is more than ready for her pregnancy to be over. While we wait, we are trying to give her a hand as well as helping our son and his family in Silicon Valley. This seems like an opportune time to visit Rich Table. Sarah is not going in, and Evan is working full throttle. The three-year-old will soon learn he is not the center of the universe.

Last night we had a wonderful feast with delicious offerings from the menu.

Rich Table is well known for its inventive, modern cocktails, but we settled on traditional standbys – an Old Fashioned and a Manhattan. Both were very well made, and they were even better with a few  sardine chips (potato chips with sardines woven into slits and served with horseradish creme fraiche) and radishes with toasted fresh yeast. The radishes seem appropriate as the Rich Table menu is festooned with a red radish drawn by Evan’s father.

For starters. we both chose the chilled spring onion soup sever over bay shrimp and green strawberries that had been lightly pickled. Who could believe that a green strawberry could taste so good.

Chilled spring onion soup, bay shrimp, green strawberries

Chilled spring onion soup, bay shrimp, green strawberries

For my pasta course I chose cappellacci (full name: cappellacci dei briganti – literally, brigands’ hats – shaped like little caps) with beef tongue, escarole, and sun dried tomatoes. Rich with butter, the dish was delicious and everything worked together so well. The tongue was tender and flavorful.

Cappellacci, beef tongue, escarole, sun-dried tomato

Cappellacci, beef tongue, escarole, sun-dried tomato

Susan chose black onion chitarra, a sort of pasta made with a form of tight, parallel wires nicknamed a chitarra or “guitar”. The pasta was dark with the black onion and served with manila clams, almond, and spinach. Another delicious dish.

Black onion chitarra, manila clams, almond, spinach

Black onion chitarra, manila clams, almond, spinach

For my main course, I ordered glazed pork cotechino (a traditional Italian sausage) served with asparagus diamonds, sour orange, and a sunchoke coulis. Susan had the swordfish with artichoke and seaweed barigoule, and fava greens.

We could not pass up dessert; we didn’t really try. My choice was panna cotta with a burnt sugar sauce. Susan chose white chocolate cheesecake with fennel and pomegranate  seeds. We both got California creamsicles as an amuse bouche, and Susan finished off with Rich Coffee containing house made Irish Cream!

No shame with any of that. Here that comes. Sarah and Evan are in the running for Food and Wine’s Best New Chef contest. They are in the list of California contestants. You can vote early and often by logging in to the website and casting your vote. Here’s the link:

http://www.foodandwine.com/blogs/2014/03/24/the-peoples-best-new-chef-california-chefs 

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YOSEMITE AND THE AHWAHNEE HOTEL’S CHEFS’ HOLIDAY

One of my activities during the recent hiatus from my blog was a child-sitting assignment in Yosemite National Park. (A rough chore, I admit.) Our daughter and son-in-law had accepted an invitation to participate in the Ahwahnee Hotel’s annual Chefs’ Holiday. They did a cooking demonstration of two of their most popular dishes and then cooked a sit-down dinner for around 150 enthusiastic diners.

Of course, everyone knows about the magic of Yosemite National Park. The scenery is so gorgeous that you cannot avoid a gasp when you first see it. The crashing cascades, still water, towering monoliths, and beautiful meadows are spectacular.  Ansel Adams’s  black and white images are classics that less talented photographers like me try to imitate.

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The Ahwahnee Hotel is less well-known although it has been there since the 1920s. The story goes that an aristocrat from England came around the turn of the twentieth century to take in the beauty of the Valley, and there was no lodging up to her standards or expectation. Thus, plans were developed to build a hotel that would suit the most discriminating visitor.  The hotel was built in a secluded meadow with a singular view of Half Dome; it was built of redwood-stained concrete so as to avoid the fires that had destroyed so many of the classic national park lodges of the time. There were lots of amenities, too, with a large staff, beautiful dining room, and comfortable guest rooms. Over the years, the hotel has been well maintained and remains the place where park visitors go when they want to feel a little pampered.

Our first night arrival was late, so we ordered drinks and bar food in the handsome Ahwahnee Bar. The food was good, but inexplicably the chili (in the western United States) was served Cincinnati-style with lots of cloves, cinnamon, and allspice. OK, but not my favorite.

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During the tourist season, Yosemite is well known to be a crowded place, but in the winter there are many fewer visitors. This makes it wonderful to see and photograph the various sights, and it also affords the hotel the opportunity to sponsor some special events. The oldest is the Bracebridge Dinner which is held during the Christmas season and features an English banquet along with costumed players and singers. The Vintners’ Holiday highlights some of the most famous California vineyards and wines. The Chefs’ Holiday attracts well-known chefs and food experts from all over the country for cooking classes and unique dinners in the beautiful dining room.

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Sarah and Evan demonstrated two of the most popular dishes at their San Francisco restaurant, Rich Table: porcini-dusted donuts with a fluffy raclette sauce and sardine chips accompanied by horseradish sauce. Then with the help of the kitchen staff rom the hotel, they prepared a several-course dinner and wine-pairing for 150 people.

Click on image to view gallery

While Sarah and Evan were working, Grandma and Grandpa were obliged to take care of the three-year-old. That meant walks to landmarks, playing in the fresh snow, and observing a herd of beautiful – and tame – deer. It was a most enjoyable task in a beautiful place with few tourists.

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RICH TABLE – VERDICT IN; THE CRITICS APPROVE

Rich Table in the Hayes Valley section of San Francisco has only been open for a little over 2 months, but already the food and service have impressed the local critics. Michael Bauer in the San Francisco Chronicle has said, “It was ironic and symbolic that my first visit to Rich Table was the night of the blue moon, because only once in a blue moon does a restaurant like this come along.” ( 3½ stars, September 30, 2012) In San Francisco magazine, Josh Sens says, “Elements of surprise…Rich Table might sound like every other joint in town, but it’s not.” (3 stars, October, 2012)   7×7 San Francisco has selected Sarah and Evan as the chef representatives in their annual “The Hot 30”. (October, 2012)

With all that publicity, it may not be a surprise that the reservation book is filled for the next three months, but even if you can’t get a reservation, don’t despair. There are a few seats at the communal table deliberately left open for walk-ins. The bar is always humming, so you may need to sit on an outside bench to wait your turn.

How did a new restaurant get up and running so smoothly in such a short time? Only part of the answer is the talent of the chef-owners, Sarah and Evan Rich. The other part is the professional staff who work together comfortably, more like a family than a restaurant crew.

Maz has taken on responsibility for running the front of the house after working in the wait staff and as beverage manager for years at Coi. He has put together a menu of creative cocktails and an excellent choice of wines and beers that complement the food.

James and Nick have worked as cooks with Sarah and Evan for years, and so watching them in action is like watching a well-practiced athletic team. They have been joined by Bayoni, Miles, and Andrew. How all these folks fit in the tiny open kitchen is a mystery, but without a misstep they work with one another to turn out the orders beautifully composed and on cue.

Michael and Charles left good, long-time positions in high-end restaurants to join the team. Rachel and Jamie, the runner, have also become team members. This makes a first-class, friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable front-of-the-house crew.

We visited San Francisco a few days ago with plans to eat at Rich Table. As parents of one of the chefs, Sarah, we thought that would not be a problem, but in a text message, Sarah gently reminded my wife that we need to let her know our plans , otherwise she could not guarantee a space.

We wound up sitting at the communal table with a party of five from France. They were making the “Great Circle Tour” of the American West. Even with limited English on their part and non-existent French on ours, we enjoyed a chat and wound up sharing some food.  They cleaned their plates and enjoyed the restaurant. I heard  one  say, “Magnifique.”

We spent three hours eating everything that Sarah sent out to us. Here’s what we ate:

SPANISH CAVA WITH BEAU SOLEIL OYSTERS FROM NEW BRUNSWICK, CANADA

Canadian oysters in California! Delicious and ocean salty. Still, the highlight is the crushed squash blossom mignonette. The sauce is beautiful with green and yellow-orange confetti. It is also tasty with an acidic base that complements the salty oysters.

SARDINE CHIPS WITH HORSERADISH ANCHO CRESS

This is rapidly becoming a signature dish of Rich Table. Big, crisp potato chips have a slender sardine fillet woven in the middle raising the question, “How do they do that?” The horseradish sauce is a perfect foil.   CAUTION: you can’t eat just one!

WINTER SQUASH FRITTER WITH PRESERVED LEMON AND ARUGULA SALSA VERDE

Another signature dish, corn fritters, has been transformed for the fall season into winter squash fritters with the sweet, creamy filling, crispy crust, and salty toasted squash seeds as a garnish.

HOUSE-MADE BLACK GARLIC MORTADELLA WITH HOT MUSTARD

This in no way resembles the usual bologna-like mortadella. The sausage is a silky mousse of pork laced with lardons of pork fat and bits of black garlic, a smoked and aged garlic that has a nutty, woodsy flavor.

RAW KING SALMON WITH CUCUMBER AND DOUGLAS FIR TOPPED WITH SALTINE TUILE DOTTED WITH YOGURT AND FORAGED PURSLANE

Almost too beautiful to eat – well, almost! The salmon hides below a paper-thin tuile of saltine decorated with polka dots of yogurt and “bows” of foraged purslane. The decorations are delicious. The salmon and cucumber are superb.

HEIRLOOM TOMATO SALAD WITH BURRATA AND TOASTED SEAWEED

Sort of a sophisticated caprese. The tomatoes multi-hued, each with its own synthesis of sweet and tart. The burrata is creamy and a notch above the usual mozzarella, even the house-made, fresh variety. Seaweed  for basil? So Japanese and so different.

PLANCHA BREAD, RABBIT SAUSAGE, CORN, AND RED FRILL MUSTARD

Toppings for the plancha bread, done on one of the flat-top stoves, change frequently For our visit, rabbit sausage and corn were a perfect balance. Mustard served as both greens and sauce.

GARGANELLI WITH LAMB SAUSAGE AND ARUGULA

This unusual and beautiful pasta originated in Romagna and was rolled on a weaving comb to produce indentations before it was formed into cylinders resembling the breathing tubes of chickens (hence the name). Here it is topped with a light brown sauce faintly seasoned with tomato and the juices from lamb sausage. The sauce is perfect for dipping with bread.

WILD FENNEL LEVAIN AND HOUSE-CULTURED BUTTER

The perfect bread for dipping – but also for eating by itself or with the house-made cultured butter. There are lots of excellent, famous bakeries in San Francisco – Acme, Grace, and Tartine to name a few – but this house-made bread has become another signature dish. The bread is made with a sourdough starter that has been maintained for years. The scent and subtle taste of foraged wild fennel pollen makes it unique. The butter is made from milk and culture that have been aged together for two days. Then the mix is churned. The butter is pressed and aged for another several days while the pungent buttermilk is saved for other uses. (You’ll see more about that later.)

TAJARIN WITH CUITLACOCHE

The pasta originated in the Italian Piedmont. It is thicker than capellini but thinner than spaghetti. In Alba, a traditional dish is tajarin served with a sauce of black truffles. Thus, it is appropriate with cuitlacoche (corn smut, maize mushroom), a fungus that sometimes develops on ripening ears of corn. In Mexico it is a great delicacy and has been called “Mexican truffle”. Small wonder because it brings a chestnut color to the sauce along with a complex earthy aroma and taste which are clearly reminiscent of fresh truffles at the peak of the season.

RABBIT CANNELLONI, NASTURTIUM, SUNGOLD TOMATOES

An elegant pasta roll filled with tender rabbit and bathed with an herbal, slightly sweet sauce that makes you want more. The nasturtiums with their delicate blossoms and showy tiger stripes look too beautiful to eat, but they’re not. An elegant dish.

KING SALMON, BOK CHOY, TOASTED BUCKWHEAT, YOUNG GINGER

The bok choy and subtle ginger set an Asian note while the crunchy toasted buckwheat kernels offer an interesting contrast to the tender salmon fillets.

SWEET GLAZED PORK DUMPLINGS, BRAISED ESCAROLE, RADICCHIO

Delicate  rolls if pasta stuffed with a fluffy farce of pork augmented with airy egg whites and unctuous pork fat. The sweet glaze is caramelized so that the dish becomes a sophisticated pot sticker.

That’s it – only thirteen savouries, and we finished all of them. Then came dessert.

MUSKMELON GRANITÉ

The dish came to the table resembling a drift of melon-colored snowflakes, and the first spoonfuls added to the image. Then the surprise: buried in the bottom were perfect cubes of ripe melon and a ball of melon-flavored cream made with a siphon.

PANNA COTTA WITH PLUMS AND ALMOND CRUMBLE

So good that Susan started eating before I could take a picture, so here is an image of the fresh peach version from earlier in the season. This has become another signature offering.

PLUM CAKE WITH BUTTERMILK ICE CREAM

The cake oozes moisture and flavor. Not too sweet, but sweet enough with the subtle flavor of seasonal plums and a poached plum on the side along with a quenelle of buttermilk ice cream, tangy and smooth as silk. The buttermilk comes as a by-product of the house-churned butter. Some by-product!

That was it! No more, though no more was needed. Clearly a tour de force of creative American cooking with overtones of French, Italian, and Japanese. Can’t wait to visit again.

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