Monthly Archives: March 2008

Mezes, San Francisco

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On Saturday, we spent most of the day without eating. I know, it sounds crazy, but sometimes, those things happen. We don’t even know why. But by 4pm, we were like: oh oh, we need food.

Let’s put it this way – being very hungry at 4pm on a saturday opens lot of opportunities. You can basically go to any restaurant when they open without booking. On saturday, we decided to go Mezes, in the Marina, at Chesnuts and Divisadero, in San Francisco. We’ve been there a few times in the past, always a nice experience, nothing that made me go “wouah!”.

It’s a Greek restaurant. And yes, my wife is Greek… I let you connect the dots… Last time I had Greek food was for our wedding last summer. Since then, nada.

I let her order, even though i had a couple of requests, one of them being the traditional greek salad. If a restaurant doesn’t have a good salad, it’s a bad sign for what’s next.

The salad arrived, and I was very surprised. Perfectly dressed, very nice feta, thinly sliced onions, and green pepper, it was really nice. Then came the surprise of the evening: mussels in Ouzo & cream. That was by far the best mussels I ever had. I gave back an extra clean plate. The tastes in that dish were just so incredible. Cervil, cream, ouzo, onions. Very basic, but what a combination. I’m definitely going to try to make the same at home. If anyone has some more info about that recipe, don’t hesitate to comment on this blog!

The rest of the meal was great. Stuffed calamari, Prawns in cream and ouzo (again!) and grilled octopus. Very traditional, very Greek. Which is why we loved that place. The service (by a Greek waiter) was impeccable, and even extremely nice and professional.

It may sound weird, and I don’t know if this is because I was so hungry, but this was one of the top 3 meals in the last 6 months of my life. Would I go back there? Absolutely. And I will order those mussels!

Site:
Mezes, San Francisco, CA

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Whole food crabs suck part II

I’m still so disappointed by yesterday’s experience, that I’ve decided to go and buy some live crab tonight and cook them myself for a feast. Honestly!!!!!!!!!!! It’s just a matter of taste! Can’t they understand things like subtle tastes, delicacy, etc… No, it has to be f…. plain and BIG, so people think they have enough stuff for their money.

TASTE for god’s sake! TASTE! It is that hard to understand?

So just to make sure that it’s not me getting crazy, and that this whole thing is just a seasonality issue, I’m going to cook live crabs myself tonight. Of course I will blog about it. And of course, I’ll be totally objective… You know me! 🙂

[update]: here’s my post about cooking live crabs.

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Crabs from Whole Foods… suck!

I’ve been doing some experiments in the last weeks on crabs. Crabs. That’s quite basic. But you know what? Companies like Whole Foods still managed to screw it up. How it it possible? Easy! Just boil crab in water, and have them sit on the counter for several days before you sell them.

We just went to Whole Foods and bought two crabs, looking forward to eating them in a quiet and relaxing evening. After one bite, we knew it would be a disaster. Even the shrimps that I bought to accompany the crab were much better. Shrimps Vs crabs, the shrimps should never win. It’s like the 49ers playing the Patriots. Or the Red Sox playing the Giants for baseball fans. Well, today, the shrimps won. Big time. The loser? Whole Foods.

So, people from Whole Foods, here’s how you can actually make your crab good. Have them alive somewhere you. Boil them, but not in plain water. Cooking class 101. Boil water, and add tons of black pepper. If you can smell the water without your noise going crazy, it means there isn’t enough. Add some salt. You can also add carrots, onions, celery etc… Like you would do for a broth. Once the water boils a lot, throw the live crab, head first. It will kill them straight away, and yes, they won’t suddenly jump out of the pot to bite you. Usually, a bit less than 20 minutes is enough.

What happens when you cook a crab? The water gets into the crab, in the meat and sit around it. That’s why when you eat it, you have some water at the bottom of your plate! As you eat the crab, and break the shell, the water comes out. If that water is plain, your crab will be plain. If that water has some flavors, your crab will get the flavor as well. On top of that, if the crab is fresh, obviously, the whole experience will be much, much better.

So i’ve cooked live crabs for the last 5 weeks. It was the first time in the last month that I was buying pre cooked crab at Whole Foods. And probably the last.

You can easily buy live crab at the Ferry Building or in one of those Asian supermarket. I don’t think they’re more expensive than the pre-cooked one, and they will taste thousands times better.

OK – now back to my shrimp dish. There are some left and I don’t want to miss on them!

[update]: here’s my recipe on how to cook live crab

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Roast chicken a la Per

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There are many different ways to do roast chicken. One of my favorite is the slow cook method used by Heston Blumenthal in his book in search of perfection. I truly love the result of this very long process. And cooking for many hours has always been something that really gets a kick out of me.

But last sunday evening, we went to our friend Per, another food afficionados, with whom we’ve been talking for ages about the “perfect roast chicken”. We all have our tricks and methods. We also all have our failures stories which always make us laugh a lot. One thing we have in common with Per in our way to approach food: we always cook with a glass of wine in hands :).

So, last sunday, we were the first guests to ever taste Per’s roast chicken. Oh, and that was after some spicy tomatoe tartare on a sautee piece of bread which was damn yummy! So back to the chicken. It was really nice. Moist inside, crispy skin outside, and some interesting flavors like pinch of orange and lemon.

He mentioned that he brines his chicken. Ok, so that makes it official: when you roast chicken, brine it! No point not to. Second, he cooked it in two phases. Once to cook the meat inside, and once to make the skin crispy. Both times in the oven (sometimes, people fry the skin).

Third, he mentioned he’s stuffing the chicken with some interesting ingredients like oranges and lemon…

Fourth, like Jamie Oliver recommend, he puts butter between the skin and the meat.

That combination makes it really nice. I hope I didn’t reveal all the secrets but that was high class cooking from Per.

Links:
Per’s blog on TypePad
Heston Blumenthal’s book on Amazon

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Calf’s liver at Buckeye Roadhouse, Mill Valley

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In the US calf’s liver is probably the cheapest piece of meat you can find (some may not even call it meat). In France, it’s one of the most expensive ones, and in many cases, very hard to find because as soon as it hits the shelves, people buy it.

Every time I go to a butcher, I look at those calf’s liver, selling for $4-5 a pound, and think about my dad who loves them. I’ve tried to cook them a few times. It’s very straight forward and quite rewarding if you like them.

This post is not about how to cook calf’s liver (I’ll do another one for this) – it’s about how to eat them. I was very surprised when, one day, my friend Pascal asked me if I wanted to have calf’s liver for lunch. He kept on praising this restaurant called Buckeye just after Sausalito. I was really puzzled. Pascal is a food lover, owning a few bakeries in San Francisco, so how come he talks to me about calf’s liver in California? All that stuff is usually thrown away in a minute here (we eat it all in France!). He insisted: this is going to be one of the best calf’s liver of your life.

OK – so here we go. On our way to Buckeye. We order. The dish is brought to our table… WOOUAH! A real one, with fantastic crispy bacon, caramelized onions on top, and a very nice puree, with a vinegar sauce. And yes, the liver was pink, which is exactly how it should be! OMG… soooo good.

Every now and then, we return there. Yesterday, we were driving back from Napa after a day in the sun. We did a quick stop and once again were blown away by this dish. It was perfect.

Site:
Buckeye Roadhouse

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Perfect BBQ

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Our friend Lucas is a master at BBQ. So yes, he’s from Argentina, so one could expect it. But every time we go to his place, it’s just amazing. He cooked for us three type of meat: chicken, skirt steak, and short ribs.

In my opinion, his chicken is just unbelievable. I never tasted BBQ chicken like this before. Tender, moist, perfectly salty. He prepare it a few hours before, spreading lot of salt on it, with lemon juice. He let it marinate for a few hours before he cooks it.

His skirt steak is always good. I’ve already discuss on this blog how he slow cooks it on the fatty side.

The ribs… ah the ribs. I’ve spent 1 year of my life trying to cook ribs, and I only managed to make it work once (that was two weeks ago!). He cooks it on the bone side! And boy it’s good!

His main secret: slowly cook the meat. He creates his own charcoal by burning wood (dah!) and then cook the meat slowly (try it on a BBQ!) by strategically using bones, fat sides etc…

I think it would be an insult to think I could just explain here how he does it. Maybe I will do an interview soon to have the secrets from the chef himself!

Links:
Nice photo before the BBQ

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White asparagus

Andrew posted on his Twitter account that he just got reminded that he had asparagus for lunch. I then asked him if he had green or white asparagus. He was surprised by my question. He hasn’t seen anyone serving the white ones around here. That got me thinking I should post this recipe, inspired by my grand mother.

Every Christmas, when i was really young (so yeah, that’s actually quite a while ago), my grand mother was preparing white asparagus for us. I believe at the time it was considered as a delicacy in that part of France (Lyon). At least, it was for us. The recipe is dead simple, but if well done, it can turn really good.

Since white asparagus are easy to find in california at this time of the year, I’ve recently asked my mom to cook them for me, same style. It was delicious.

The key is to prepare the asparagus. You need to peel them and discard the end as it’s the tough bit. Some folks only keep the head, which are really nice and tender. Boil some water, add salt, pepper, and one bay leave. Simmer the asparagus until tender. Timing depends on how big the asparagus are. Don’t over cook!

Meanwhile, prepare the vinaigrette. That part is very important. For me, the best vinaigrette for lettuce salad or white asparagus is heavy on mustard. And the only mustard that’s worth buying is the “Maille” one (original). Mix 1.5 to twice more mustard than red vinegar in a bowl (don’t put too much of it, like 2 tablespoons of mustard and 1 tablespoon of vinegar will do). When well mixed, slowly whisk in some canola oil (5 times more than mustard). It will turn almost like mayonnaise. Salt, white pepper and you’re done.

Serve the asparagus warm, with some vinaigrette on top of it.

That’s all. And that’s delicious!

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Solstice, San Francisco

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Solstice, in San Francisco, is becoming very famous. Most people I talk to already know that place. It’s at the corner of California and Divisadero, in lower pac heights.

It’s a bar and a restaurant. This is actually an important distinction. Most places are either one or the other. Well Solstice is really both of them. Let’s start with the restaurant. They use the very trendy “plate to share” system. So you order a bunch of dishes to share with your guests. Yesterday night, we ordered beet salad, kobe beef sliders, prosciutto pizza, tuna tartare and fries. So it’s no michelin star restaurant, but it’s very good. As in *really good*. The sliders are my favorite, but our guests were big fans of the tuna tartare. It’s fresh, simple, and tasty. I’ve pretty much tried most of the dishes on the menu since i live very close by, and all of them are a good experience. My biggest surprise was probably the Brussels sprouts. Yummy.

And it’s also a bar. I can’t remember how many times i ended a night there (that’s usually a good sign isn’t it?). It’s a great place to hang out for drinks, and Vodka Red-Bull does the rest of the work. The staff makes the bar experience pretty cool – they’re really friendly. Note also that they have evening happy hour, and monday is 50% off all the wines!

Solstice is becoming a classic in San Francisco. I believe it’s here to stay (and hope!).

Site: Solstice Lounge

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Oysters in San Francisco

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A good friend, Per, just sent me that picture from his Iphone. He knows i love oysters. He knows i love Hog Island Oysters in the Ferry Building. He knows that this is always the thing i want to do: eat oysters! I’m going for dinner at his place this week-end, and now he has some pressure to deliver!

I even have oysters sometimes in the morning for breakfast! Nothing better than that. In San Francisco, the best place for early oysters is Oyster Swan Depot on Polk. They open quite early (8am) and you can have great oysters at 8:30am with some chilled sauvignon. Don’t even bother to book, you can’t. Don’t even bother to go there for lunch time, it’s way too crowded!

Sites:
Hog Island
Oyster Swan

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Brine pork chops

A friend of mine was asking me for a recipe of pork sirloin cooked in a honey and soya sauce syrup. As i was doing some research in my old recipes, i found this one, from one of my good friend, Brendan. I couldn’t resist posting it here as i believe this was the best pork chop i ever had, and it literally changed my vision of pork. I used to think it was a cheap, dry meat. Well, not at all. It’s actually super tender and really nice. Here’s the recipe:

the recipe for creating the brine is pretty simple:

1. you start with the base of the brine by combining 2 qts of water, 1/4 cup of salt, and 1/4 cup of sugar in a pot.

2. from that point you can pretty much add whatever else you want to flavor your chops with. i added some crushed garlic cloves, dried chili peppers, and come crushed corriander seeds.

3. bring the whole mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes. pour it from the pot into whatever bowl/tupperware you will be using for soaking the chops, and let it sit until it becomes room temperature.

4. take the pork chops of out the fridge, and put them out, uncovered, and let them come to room temperature too (about 15-20 mins).

5. add the pork chops chops to the brine, and refrigerate for at least 24, but more than 48 hours.

6. when you are ready to cook, take the porkchops out of the brine and let them rest on a plate at room temperature for about 25 minutes.

7. pre-heat the oven to 375 (you can also grill these, in which case, you can stop reading now)

8. in a heavy bottomed pan, add some vegetable oil, and put on medium-high heat. once the oil is hot, cook the chops on each side for 2-3 minutes or until brown and then set aside (this can be done in batches if need be – add more oil as needed too).

9. once all the chops have been browned, place them in a roasting pan, and put them in the over for 15-20 minutes based upong the thickness of the chop.

10. once they are done, remove the chops from the roasting pan and set aside.

optional:
11. set roasting pan to straddle both burners on the stove top and turn both burners on medium heat.

12. add 1/2 cup of white wine, and reduce by half.

13. add back any juices that have accumulated from the chops while they have been sitting.

14. add 1-2 teaspoons of butter and remove from heat.

its pretty simple rescipe and it produces some great pork chops. .. . enjoy!

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