Since moving into our neighborhood 2 1/2 years ago, mieko14 and I have become decent regulars at a local breakfast spot, The Village Grill. Every time we've gone I was always intrigued by the Traditional Irish Breakfast on their menu:
...but always opted for pancakes and a side of corned beef hash (which, in my opinion, is the best in town). I finally decided to try it a couple weekends ago and now I'm kicking myself for not doing so earlier. In hindsight, it should've been a no-brainer: eggs, three kinds of meat products, beans, etc. How could it possibly not be good? Here is what was presented before me:
And here is the same plate 20 minutes later:
Let's just say the corned beef hash now has some serious competition.
Oishiiiiiiii!! A few months ago, I grabbed drinks and dinner after work with a good friend at Hecho. We were intrigued by the restaurant's izakaya-meets-tequila bar concept, and we were not disappointed. The highlight of the meal was a dish called bakudan, meaning "bomb," and boy was it an explosion of flavors. The artfully constructed dish contained uni (sea urchin), amaebi (raw shrimp), ikura (salmon roe), uzura (raw quail egg), and natto (fermented soy bean) that you briskly stir into a delicious soup, roll up in a rectangle of roasted nori, and munch away for a beautiful bite of the sea.
One thing I've noticed about photographing food: you can't do it when you're hungry. Whereas blogging lends itself nicely to a grumbling belly (I tend to write my best work when I'm fantasizing about my next meal), it's incredibly difficult to conjure up the willpower to pause for a few shots before sitting down to a hot meal. Take last night, for example: I spent several hours preparing a dinner of jangjorim (beef and hard-boiled eggs simmered in garlicky soy sauce), and even took the time to plate several types of banchan, but then the world goes black, and the next thing I remember is sitting back in my chair with an incredibly full tummy and a grip of empty dishes. Today I whipped up some Swedish meatball sandwiches (based on memories of The Sentinel's glorious version circa Winter 2010) with rolls, Parmesan, mushrooms, and meatballs and sauce acquired during the latest trip to IKEA (for more on that, check out Yoo Can Do It in a few weeks) and was halfway through before marketman reminded me that I haven't posted here since July. Whew. Good save, marketman.
While my foolproof carnitas and salsa verde recipes are in progress, things have been rather busy lately, so cooking and writing has fallen on the backburner. In the meantime, I figured I would share a few foodie inspirations that I have encountered over the last few weeks. Who knows? They could inspire some upcoming recipes . . .
After having a lunch of dduk bokki and jjeol myun at Shin Toe Bul Yi on Taraval, we popped across the street to grab coffee at a shop quite unassumingly titled SW Coffee Station. On our way to lunch, we noticed the sandwich board out front advertising banh mi and "Vietnamese waffles," so I made sure to save a little room for dessert. And I'm sure glad I did. What is a Vietnamese waffle? you ask. As did I. According to the gal behind the counter, it's made with condensed milk and coconut. "It's quite delicious, and not just because I make it," she added. Well, you speak the truth, Miss SW Coffee Station Agent. Especially hot off the iron, the waffle was soft and chewy, almost the consistency of mochi which I'm clearly obsessed with, and not too sweet. Plus, you can grab and go without making a syrupy mess.
Now, Why is it green? you wonder. As do I. But I'll save that question for the next visit.
When I was a kid, we would go to Hawaii just about every summer because for us fogged-in San Franciscans, it was our opportunity to get consistent (warm) sunshine for more than one day. Most of the time, we stayed in condos because they were more economical, and I looked forward to breakfast because it meant one thing: Apple Jacks. Or Corn Pops. Or Cocoa Puffs, for that matter. I was never allowed sugary cereal at home, and vacations (or trips to Grandma and Grandpa's house) were the only chance I had to infuse my diet with more sugar than you'd find in the nearby cane fields. These days, the only time I eat that stuff is for dessert (and I do admit picking up a box at the grocery store from time to time just for that purpose), but I still have fond memories of the excitement I experienced waking up that first morning in Hawaii thanks to the Capt'n Crunch awaiting me in the kitchen.
It probably wasn't until I was about 10 that I discovered the other Hawaiian breakfast. You know, the kind that real Hawaiians invented and eat. Really, Hawaiian breakfast foods are quite diverse because of the richness of cultures that infuse the islands. In some households, kimchi may be a constant condiment. In others, a piece of raw or cooked fish is a fixture. Other folks can't do without some Portuguese sausage. In my heart, Hawaiian breakfast will always mean rice, fried eggs, and Spam.
My family has never had an aversion to Spam. Sure, we buy the low sodium variety (which is still off-the-charts high in salt...that's why it's so GOOD!!). But I guess having parents who are from the generation born around World War II means that we have never been afraid to eat mystery meat out of a can. I remember eating Spam, rice, and vegetables for dinner which usually meant finding Spam and mustard sandwiches packed in my lunch bag the next day. These days, we eat Spam in our kimchi jjigae or kimchi bokkeumbap (thank goodness I found a partner who shares my love for this delicacy). But the simplicity of a few slices of Spam alongside a scoop of rice and a couple of runny-yolk eggs is heavenly. I'm not providing a recipe, for as long as you can cook rice and open a pull-top can, you can have a hearty breakfast like this one in 10 minutes.
ManjuMar 25, 2011
Today I met a friend for lunch at Mifune in Japantown, and after my meal of tempura udon needed something sweet. There's a new cupcake shop in the center that I passed earlier on my way to Kinokuniya Bookstore, but I consider it a travesty to crave sweets in Japantown and not pay a visit to Benkyodo Co. This business opened over a century ago, surviving the WWII internment camps and the slow erosion of Japanese-owned businesses in and around Japantown. Its main attraction is manju -- sweet, pounded rice cakes often filled with sweet bean paste and traditionally served with tea. My parents began bringing me here when I was very young, and I have been manju-crazy ever since.
Despite the end-of-days monsoon we are experiencing here in San Francisco, it is spring -- technically -- so I was delighted to see sakuramochi! Pretty in pink, this little cake is a perfect representation of blooming cherry blossoms and will always remind me of our trip to Japan last year. Spring was particularly cold there, so despite arriving in Kyoto in late March, we had a very difficult time finding sakura in bloom around the city. When we finally came across one in Maruyama Park one drizzly afternoon, it was as though nature celebrated with us because the sun burst out from behind the clouds! Suddenly, I understood why these magnificent trees are such a national treasure. I imagine that this year's emerging sakura flowers must give many Japanese hope in light of the horrible events of the past few weeks.
Today I painstakingly selected a few different kinds of manju and mochi, and just as I walked out of the shop with my purchases, the sun very fittingly crept out from behind the fog. To see descriptions of what I bought, read on.
When we Americans have a big day ahead of us, what do we typically eat? Muesli. A bowl of steel-cut oats. An Egg McMuffin. Maybe a Clif Bar if we're in a pinch. What do the Japanese eat? Really spicy, rich, pork-based ramen. We discovered Ramen Dojo down in San Mateo because it was the big thing in ramen shop openings last year, and now it's one of our favorite spots...and we're perfectly happy to do the 30 minute drive to get there.
Ramen Dojo's sutamina (stamina) ramen consists of chewy noodles surrounded by a rich, garlicky pork bone broth, and sprinkled with plenty of chili flakes and topped with fried garlic, shiitakes, nari (chives), slices of chashu pork, and a boiled quail egg. I requested a helping of menma (bamboo shoots) and corn, Dave got menma and an extra helping of noodles.
According to the Japanese, sutamina ramen is spicy and hearty, so it gives you energy for the day's work. But we found ourselves fast asleep at 10pm, soon after we arrived home.
The first I heard of takoyaki was from my coworker Julie who threw a takoyaki-making and -eating party at her place one evening and came back to work to report that it was a smashing success. She and Sabs dubbed these things "octoballs" which I suppose is one step up the teenage boy humor ladder from "octopus balls" which is actually an accurate term but not usually a socially acceptable answer to the question, "What are you eating?"
Takoyaki literally means "grilled octopus," but it's a little more than just hunks of mollusk. You mix up some batter (not unlike pancake batter), pour it into these little ball-shaped mold pans, quickly add a few pieces of chopped octopus to each ball, and serve them piping hot with a drizzle of okonomi sauce and kewpie mayonnaise and a sprinkling of katsuobushi (shaved bonito flakes). In Japan, it's served as street food which we were happy to sample on our trip out there last spring. The tako doesn't really add much flavor -- you primarily taste the accompaniments -- but the springy chewiness gets your jaws going and gives the doughy bite some real textural interest.
I'm tempted to buy a special takoyaki pan. They sell them at Daiso and Ichiban Kan, and even the Korean supermarket near our house. But it has been hard to rationalize yet another single-purpose tool in my kitchen, both from a cost perspective as well as a space one. So in the meantime, we've found that Ramen Dojo in San Mateo does an awesome, authentic takoyaki in just the right serving amount for the two of us. Heck yeah, I eat octopus balls.
Last August, Melissa and Sabs introduced me to the marvelous world of Momofuku restaurants in NYC. We (plus Randall) had an awesome dinner at Ma Pêche, and afterwards we pored over the goodies at Milk Bar upstairs. We took back to the hotel about 75% of the store, and among the loot was this enormous, ugly-looking pastry called the Compost Cookie. I eyed it cautiously and then took a bite.
And it was AWESOME.
Aside from normal cookie ingredients, the geniuses at Momofuku threw in pretzels, potato chips, graham cracker crumbs, and coffee grounds, and then added your run-of-the-mill chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, and oats for good measure. The result is a delectable sweet-salty (yay!), chewy cookie that blows ol' Toll House out of the water. So when Dave was out in NYC for work last week, my one souvenir request was a single Compost Cookie.
He brought me 6.
I love that man.
Long before Krispy Kreme made its Northern California debut in Union City, I used to take walks with my dad up to the Winchell's on Clement Street for chocolate-dipped doughnuts. It was that kind of special outing that only fathers and daughters do, and I don't know if the best treat was the one wrapped in wax paper or the few minutes we shared, munching our doughnuts in the window seats and watching all the little old Asian ladies hurrying past with their pink plastic shopping bags. Winchell's packed up and left a long time ago, and while its successor All Star Doughnuts is apparently quite good, it doesn't hold the nostalgic charm that Dad and I remember.
Fast forward to sometime in the late 90s when the aforementioned Krispy Kreme had its grand opening at the Union Landing shopping center. It was a zoo. The drive-thru line wrapped around the parking lot, out the exit, and clear back to the freeway offramp. The poor, overwhelmed Krispy Kreme employees removed all tables and chairs from the interior of the shop and set up switchbacks for the restless mob, and the line still went clear out the door and around the corner. And this was at 2am...which was when Dave and I decided the coast would be clear to snag some warm delights right off the line. But we had just driven down from Berkeley, and there was no turning back. We had braved the Stormtroopers and light saber-armed fanatics outside the theater at the opening of the remastered Star Wars Episode IV, so we could weather this crowd, no problem. Or not: it's one thing to be surrounded by several hundred people reciting Yoda's greatest hits ("Away put your weapons! I mean you no harm!"), but it's simply medieval torture to be stuck in a slow-moving queue, inhaling the aroma of frying doughnuts and watching them glide past, glistening with glaze, on an endless conveyor belt. Biting into one at last was like that first breath above water after being a little too confident about how quickly you can resurface on one lungful of air. Gratitude, relief, satiation, all in one doughy, sugary mouthful. I have to say that each subsequent Krispy Kreme I have eaten since then has been somewhat of a disappointment without the hour-long wait.
So lately I have been surprised and delighted to see so many restaurants with doughnuts on their brunch menus. This weekend, my girlfriends and I shared a plate of cinnamon-sugar dredged doughnuts at Maverick (as pictured). They were warm and sweet, but not quite as soft as I had hoped. The weekend prior, a friend and I tried doughnut holes at Plow in Potrero Hill, and those were excellent -- just crisp on the outside (also sprinkled with cinnamon-sugar) but so light and fluffy in the middle, I could have eaten a bucket-full. And although not technically a "doughnut" but certainly a close relation, Tacubaya's churros are the perfect ending to a hearty, spicy huevos y chorizo, but you'll need the walk up and down 4th Street to burn it off. Keep those doughnuts a-comin', my friends, and perhaps they will inspire Dad and I to take a long overdue walk up to Clement Street for some chocolate-glazed ones.