Holy Smokes

5 03 2011

Every now and then you come across a cocktail you just have to try. We found this one at Lafitte, a Califonia style eatery with bit of French technique thrown in. We’ll call it Ameri-french. The food is definitely noteworthy and bring a serious appetite because the portions are huge, but we’d really like to focus on the cocktail for dis or del because it’s much less often that we run into drinks that are interesting and weird.

On the bar menu at this watefront resto is, drum roll please, The Mohawk. This drink is bad ass in a glass. Made with Russell’s six year rye, sweet vermouth and bitters it is essentially a manhattan. But don’t call it a manhattan. It’s secret ingredients, a tobacco leaf infused simple syrup and star anise, make The Mohawk a unique drink in a class all its own.

Just the right amount of smoky and sweet this drink should be garnished with a piece of nicorette chewing gum. At first sip it tastes just like a manhattan but when you swallow you can feel the tobacco linger in the middle of your pallet. Oddly enough when you get to the bottom of this drink you’ll not only feel an alcohol buzz but also a bit of a tobacco buzz, like you just smoked a cigarette. For all you cigarette smokers out there, The Mohawk is a multi-tasker’s wet dream. Be careful though, the surgeon general warning is apparently true. Tobacco is addictive, at that’s the impression that get at the bottom this glass. The Mohawk left us jones-ing for more liquid tobacco.

Octopuses, Octopi or Octopodes?

26 02 2011

When you learn a good friend is about to move out of the state the natural reaction is to spend as much time together as possible. That is how it’s been for my dear friend Angela Nunes and I. In one week she is moving to Philadelphia to accept a position with BHLDN, a new line of bridal garb from the folks at Anthropologie.

We lunched together when she was in town, after some pretty standard San Francisco moments. After a parking debacle, being complimented/hollered at by a group of young men standing on the street and traversing a maze of crackheads while being careful not to step in any human refuse around 6th street and Mission, we decided on 54 Mint, an Italian restaurant in the alley behind the old mint building.

I  forget there are some pretty amazing establishments in this little square. 54 Mint holds it down for the Italians in this part of town. Despite its close proximity to Union Square, the Westfield Center and some of the most touristy parts of our town, it’s alley location keeps it out of view from most people who don’t pay attention to detail, much less their surroundings, and makes it feel a little more SF for me. After all some of our best restaurants are in alleys.

We order the Carpaccio di polipo (octopus carpaccio) which comes dressed in a citrus olive oil, dusted with some red powdery substance, my guess is paprika since there is no real spice in it and a little shaved fennel and celery salad. The carpaccio was delicious, not a decision I associate with feelings of regret. The octopus was fresh–thanks seasonal menu– the citrus flavor in the olive oil perfectly complimented the cephalopod without overwhelming it and the dish was beautiful when it arrived at the bar, where we always prefer to sit. Coincidentally, our bartender was also not very hard to look at. His charm and hospitable manner only reaffirm my love for European men, and make me want to go to Italy.

Monkfish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish

13 04 2010

Chicken liver is pretty standard in the States. Kids hate it, parents make them eat it because it’s rumored to be good for the body. Monkfish liver, however is largely unknown to most people, unless you’re an avid sushi eater, which makes it exotic and makes me want to try it. Dining at Tokyo Go Go’s sushi bar, we are treated to this Japanese delicacy. It is sliced and placed atop a bed of julienned cucumbers, drizzled with Yuzu ponzu sauce and sprinkled with scallions. To get in the Japanese spirit I, of course, have a few sakes before putting this in my mouth.  It is happy hour after all. The aromas are pungent, though not necessarily bad. I try to anticipate what is coming but am completely off. Ankimo, it’s proper name, is not chewy nor gamey. It is mushy but tastes just like eating a fish, the flavor is superb, and the sauce complements the flavors of the liver very well. The sushi chef is laughing in my face as he notices my confused/kind of disgusted but not really look. The texture is hard to pin down, but best described as creamy, mushy, fishy. The mouthfeel of this dish is all wrong. Which is a shame because the flavor is umami, the fifth flavor that can only be described as part salt part sweet. Next time I will be sure to incorporate cucumber into each bite for a better texture experience. Overall Ankimo, disgusting. The only thing holy about this fish’s liver is the words that are sure to escape your lips shortly after swallowing, “Holy crap, wtf?” 3174 16th St. (415)864-2288

Gefilte Fishy

6 04 2010

Since passover is almost well, over now feels like an appropriate time to write about gefilte fish, a traditional jewish food which we have just tasted for the first time our first seder dinner. Gefilte fish are fish patties usually made of white fish and matzo meal and poached in a fish broth. I always thought the ground fish seen in jars at supermarkets was pickled, but my Jewish friends corrected this misconception.

A seder dinner is quite a production and there is a lot of ceremony involved when attending one. The version we went to wasn’t completely traditional, since it was with a bunch of friends and not a Jewish family, but still informative. I am not a descendent of the chosen tribe so everything about this dinner was new to me. My friends in their infinite wisdom anticipated the potential ignorance of non-Jewish guests and printed out packets explaining the elements of the meal, the reason for the seder plate and prayers we were to recite in Hebrew before eating.

Before we sat down to feast. We were told the story of the exodus from Egypt, why Jews are only allowed matzo for starch, why we were dipping bitter herbs in salty water and drinking so much wine before dinner, which was fine by me.

And then we got to eat. First up was the gefilte fish and almost everyone reacted with a foul expression, some skipping it all together, which only deepened my interest in it. Sure, I was put off by it’s strange color and the fact that it had probably been sitting on a shelf in Safeway for months, but none of that was enough to deter me. Hell I was starving and tipsy by that point.

So I pick up a matzo cracker, a slice of the gefilte fish and a piece of horseradish for texture. Aside from the slice horse radish being way too big for that portion of fish it was really tasty. The texture is kind of weird, it’s really mushy because the fish ground but it tastes like chicken.

Forking with Food Injustice

23 03 2010

Driving down Oak street for the ten millionth time this week I finally notice the Hayes Valley Farm. I couldn’t be sure that it was actually a farm because the city block it’s on is probably one of the most high traffic areas in the city–on the block formed by Oak and Fell between Octavia and Laguna, and not in the burbs but low and behold it is indeed a farm. I am not sure if produce can even survive in an area inundated with car emissions and grown in soil where a freeway once stood but we shall see.

What a great idea. Recently there’s been a lot of talk about living a green life. Shopping locally and eating seasonally is great for the environment as well as the body, which explains the recent explosion of farmers markets and why they’re so damn trendy. But bringing fresh produce to the inner city also makes it affordable and accessible to low-income residents who may not have a car or may otherwise have limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

Besides eating green, another issue in the food community not discussed enough is food injustice. The term food injustice refers to a scenario that is familiar to many low-income city dwellers. Imagine that you and your family are on a limited income, money is really tight. The nearest grocery store is 2 miles from your house. But you don’t have a car and can’t afford zipcar, so you depend on Muni or Bart. To get to your house, let’s say in Bayview, to the nearest grocery store with fruits and veggies that aren’t minutes away from molding , you have to get on the T-line and transfer to the 22 to get to Safeway on 16th and Portrero since the Whole Foods on 18th is slightly out of your price range.

On the way to Safeway you notice there are plenty of options for food that is already prepared, much cheaper than a grocery bill and you don’t have to lug heavy paper bags back home on Muni hoping they don’t break. McDonalds–there are three in the 94107, serves burgers for a dollar; so you can get five of them for $5 dollars or make the trek to Safeway and get 5 ounces of organic salad greens. The choice is obvious when the budget is small and there are multiple mouths to feed. Health takes second place.

*This is a disgusting reality for many people who live in cities all across the nation.

Hopefully, the Hayes Valley Farm is the first up in starting a nationwide trend. City farms can bring food costs down by cutting out the middle man (supermarkets), make fresh foods accessible and if they have a farmers market bring some equality to a town with an uppity farmers market scene.

A Shucking Good Time

16 03 2010

Oysters bring to mind different memories for different people. Some good, they put lead in your pencil (wink); others not so much,  food-borne illness or mercury poisoning. Rumors aside, oysters are served on beds of crushed ice all over the country. They have been part of American cuisine for a long time. Today they are considered a bourgeois food today, usually served with dainty forks and champagne if they occasion calls for it, but they weren’t always considered so. In fact, oysters in the 19th century oyster bars were seedy places, hangout spots for the bottom feeders of society. Widely available and dirt cheap, a stew was invented with them, since stews are what most poor people ate in those days. The broth masked the flavor of days-old food and easily softened hardened bread.

Well, were fortunate enough to be able to afford more than just stew, but were not happy about the price point of oysters nowadays. Even at dollar oyster happy hours– there are quite a few in the city — a dozen will cost $12.00 before tax and tip and one dozen is never enough.

Absinthe Brasserie and Bar doesn’t host dollar oysters any time of day, but they do have an impressive oyster selection given they are not a raw bar. We go for the Kumamoto’s. They’re harvested locally in Point Reyes and you know how we San Franciscans just love supporting local businesses. They moderately sized, slippery on the tongue and delicate on the palate. I’ve been told not to eat oysters on Sundays because they’re not fresh, but you wouldn’t know it from tasting these. Biting into one, I notice it still has its crispness and the flavor is superb, complemented by a drizzle of mignonette . Some rumors are true. These mouthwatering mollusks always give me a figurative hard-on, that is only appeased by more. Absinthe Brasserie and Bar 398 Hayes St. (415)551-1590

Foot In Mouth

8 03 2010

Taking a trip to Millbrae for dim sum might seem excessive. But, when you’re on El Camino Real scarfing down excellent chinese cuisine, the BART ride suddenly seems worth it all. Known for having strange things on the menu The Kitchen has drawn us in with their braised chicken feet. The potions here are hearty so, but we are eating dim sum so we order some other things, like duck tongue and chinese style tripe, but we’ll save those for some other post. The chicken feet are braised in a claypot with  some sort of dark soy sauce.  The talons are pulled out but where the foot has been cut off you can still see the bone which makes them funny to look at. Beneath the chicken skin, complete with little bumps that look like goosebumps, there is a lot of cartilage and soft bones which make the feet  a lot of work to eat. The best strategy? Hold the part where the leg used to be and pull a toe off first. Grossed out yet? Suck the skin and meat off the bones and spit out the bones and cartilage. Next eat the padded foot area. Though they are delicious they’re probably not the best thing to if you’re on a date. It’s not really considered graceful to suck chicken feet and depending on who the date is, they probably won’t want to kiss you after you’ve been sucking on chicken toes. Eeny meeny miny moe, grab and suck a chicken toe. (650) 692-9688, 279 El Camino Real