Saturday, July 28, 2012

Australian Blood Lime (or the Red Centre Lime)

These are a cross between the red finger lime (which are deep red and finger-shaped) and the Rangpur lime (a cross between a mandarin orange and a lemon).


They end up being lime-sized and gold hued, with intense red specks.



They're incredibly sweet and tart with very little lime undertones. I think they're a lot tastier than blood oranges too – the flavors are stronger and I think the tanginess helps.


(I also think blood oranges taste sweaty but so far no one has agreed with me on this one.)

I got these from the Alemany Farmer's Market in June.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Portland Day 1: Omakase at Tanuki, pre-thunderstorm clouds

This is post #1 out of 5 about a recent trip to Portland. Other posts in the series: Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5.



I got back from a five-day trip to Portland yesterday. This might be the very first time that I've written about a trip not months or years after I went on it – I'm hoping this trend continues...it means I may actually remember things that happened.

Here's a shot out of the window on the descent to PDX. Mt. Hood is the tiny white-capped peak in the distance.









After landing and retrieving our rental car, we promptly drove to our first meal – dinner at Tanuki. It's a tiny, eccentric izakaya-style restaurant serving Japanese and Korean "drinking foods" – small plates that pair well with sake, shochu, and Japanese whiskey. (We stuck with Sapporo. Sake to me tastes like alcoholic soy sauce...so far nobody agrees with me on this.)

Tanuki is quite easy to miss. We drove by twice and didn't see it. Please note its "This is not a Japanese restaurant" and "No sushi, no kids!" signs out front.


Inside, it's dim and mostly unadorned. There are a few arcade machines in the corner and cult Japanese and Korean films playing above the bar (the ones I saw were pretty graphic). Everything was bathed in a red light, which makes for some horrific food pictures.

The reason why I chose Tanuki as a must-visit restaurant this trip: its unique omakase concept. You name a price between $15 and $30 (for each person at the table), and the chef will give you however many dishes based on how much you're paying. The waitresses bring them out one by one, and neither you or they know which ones will come out, or how many there are left.

It definitely made for adventurous eating. Here's the first spread:



Starting at the top and going clockwise:
- a bowl of edamame seasoned with lemon, sesame, and togarashi sea salt
- billowy kimchee + bacon + cheese brioche buns (a favorite)
- cinnamon scented tea quail eggs
- wakame salad with cucumber and lotus
- shredded dried squid jerky topped with Kewpie mayonnaise

And another favorite: a plate of chopped spicy hamachi, topped with tobiko and julienned cucumber. You spoon a bit of this onto the roasted seaweed, roll it up, and eat.

On the left: a dish with sweet fermented bean curd and wakame strips. On the right: a bowl of tender scallops in a sour citrus broth. On the top: a bowl of sliced steak and kimchee on rice. Not pictured: bowls of white miso soup to finish off our meal.

I really loved the "name your price" omakase concept.  We ended up going for $23 each and it was more than plenty – I was waddling post-meal and we also had leftovers.



After dinner, we went on a walk around the neighborhood – I think it's called the Alphabet District. There was an imminent thunderstorm, and the sky kept changing colors.

(Oh, and there's a slight rainbow in one of the pictures, if you look hard enough.)











Friday, July 20, 2012

Healdsburg: Scopa, Williamson Wines, Toad Hollow, Truett Hurst and more

Back in April, I went on a weekend trip to Healdsburg. I picked it primarily because it had cute B&Bs, good food and good drinks. It's part of wine country, but a lot less touristy than Napa.

Highlights of my trip mostly involve food and wine, but also a beautiful creek that we got to relax by.

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To start the weekend: Complimentary wine tasting (with food pairings!) at Williamson Wines. Apparently, complimentary wine tastings are the norm in Healdsburg. Obviously you tip at the end, but it's a very different model from Napa.



This small bite was a slice of cheddar, layered with a mound of bleu cheese, a pecan, and honey drizzled on the top.  (I can't stand bleu cheese, but if you like it, it would probably have been delicious.) Some of the other small bites included things like mango salsa and truffle salt – all paired with cheese.


A quick trip to Downtown Bakery & Creamery just a couple blocks away to pick up a couple sweets. A donut muffin...


And a sticky bun – my favorite of the two. Both enjoyed in the shade of Healdsburg Square.

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We had dinner at Scopa the first night.  I didn't make reservations until the day of, which means that there were no tables left, but we managed to snag a couple seats at the bar. It's a very classy and cozy place (I remember thinking that the restaurant looked like it was built from the alleyway between surrounding buildings, since it was so long and narrow).

 This was "Mozzarella Paradise," a huge creamy ball of burrata that came with arugula, grilled bread, and sweet and spicy calabrian pepper jelly (the red mound in the lower left – delicious).  Whoevever invented burrata is seriously a genius. If it's on the menu, I can't help but order it...

We also had a grilled calamari dish with white beans and picked onions, but I didn't like it as much. So it doesn't get a picture.

But...I did like (LOVED) one of their signature dishes – Nonna's tomato-braised chicken with sauteed greens and soft polenta. It was so, good. So. Good. The chicken was fall-off-the-bone and the polenta was buttery and flavorful with crispy polenta bits that you got when your spoon scraped the bowl.

I really loved this restaurant.

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The next day, for lunch, we split the pork cheek sandwich from Bovolo, a small cafe in the back of a bookstore.






Sandwich was also enjoyed in the square...

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After lunch, we went on what one could call a wine rampage. We walked to a few wineries (that's what's great about Healdsburg – you can try a ton of wines without having to get behind the wheel).

Where we went:
  • Toad Hollow, where got an amazing sparkling wine called Risque. It was amazing – light, slightly sweet, and very fruity – think apple cider, pear, and honey. While we were there, people were coming by to pick up boxes off the stuff. I should have done the same, siiiigh 
  • Selby Winery. The steward (sommelier?) was lovely but I don't remember much about their wines.
  • Roadhouse Winery. This place was very fun and casual. We only tried the chocolate port, which was raved about, but I don't remember it very well. This is what happens when you write about trips months afterwards.
  • Longboard Winery. I was here to try their dessert wine, a Late Harvest Semillon (per a recommendation from other wineries), but I remember it was too sweet and a little metallic.

Sadly, for all my trips to wine country, I still think I prefer sparkling and sweet/fruity ones...oh well, if you're plebian, you're plebian...

Lastly, we went to Truett Hurst, the most scenic winery of the bunch. We had to drive outside of Healdsburg to Dry Creek.

The estate was gorgeous – the tasting room was bright and airy. They had live music and a lovely outdoor seating area, a garden you could stroll around in, and mostly importantly, access to Dry Creek.


Sadly this is the only picture I took.



And then we had to drive home...at which point my Sunday blues took over.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Bay Bridge

Often overlooked when the iconic Golden Gate Bridge is so close by, but I think it's just as pretty. Especially if you're returning to the city close to dusk, and the fog is rolling in.





Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Saturn Peach

From the top, it looks like a regular peach...



From the bottom, it looks like a regular peach...



But then from the side, it nearly disappears.


This peach variety is very appropriately named the Saturn Peach, after the planet's rings. Some other adorable alternate names include: the donut peach, saucer peach, belly-up peach, UFO peach.

I used to think these were gimmicky, eaten only because of their unique shape, but they actually taste wonderful. They're white fleshed, low acid, and very sweet – they're almost candy-like in their sweetness, with a honeyed, melting quality. They're supposed to have almond top-notes, but I didn't taste those – I was too distracted by the sweetness.



They're also convenient to eat. The flesh comes away easily from the stone, and peach juice won't find its way onto your face when you bite into it.

I do think I prefer the substantialness of "regular-shaped" peaches though – how heavy they feel in your hands. These are a little too small and flimsy for my tastes.

Oh, and someone thought they'd be clever by making a Donut Peach Donut – i.e., a real donut made of a donut peach.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Sonoma: Girl & the Fig, Westwood Winery, Farm, and more

In late June, I went on a day trip to Sonoma. I've been to wine country a handful of times, but it was my first trip with Sonoma as the focal point, vs. Yountville or Napa.

This trip was really special because I had the best dinner of my life (no joke). Here are all the highlights from my trip:

Brunch at Girl & the Fig (only available on Sundays, as I discovered today...it was so good I went back! Will have to write about today's trip in a separate post).


Started off our morning with two fig drinks. The "fig kiss" is on the left. It's made with "figcello di sonoma", elderflower liqeur, and cranberry juice.  It was DELICIOUS – it kind of reminded me of a lighter, tropical port.

(The figcello is made exclusively for Girl & the Fig by Sonoma's Hello Cello. It's made with a blend of black mission figs, citrus, and anise. I'm going to have to get my hands on a bottle. Or a cellar.)

The one on the right is the "fig royale," a lighter aperitif that was basically sparkling wine and fig liqeur. Unfortunately couldn't really taste the figginess of this one.






I had two potato pancakes (each the size of a small jar lid), topped with thinly-sliced smoked salmon, dill crème fraiche, caviar, and chives.  A frisee-heavy salad on the side. Smoked salmon + dill = so good.



Because this place is known for their duck confit, Ryan ordered the duck confit & potato hash. The hash mixed in root vegetables and applewood smoked bacon, and was topped with two poached eggs. The duck confit was gloriously moist (sorry), pliable, and flavorful.






To max out on the fig-level of our meal, we finished it off with a neat line of "fig kisses" – dried black mission figs dipped in chocolate and drizzled with black mission fig syrup.

I don't like chocolate, so I can't say much for this dessert. Also, ahem, it's technically fig season, so not as excited about dried figs when they are being luscious and ripe elsewhere.

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We walked around downtown Sonoma after brunch.  The square is pretty peaceful, a mix of tourist-friendly shops, small gourmet food shops offering olive oil and chocolate tastings, and a couple bakeries.

It's quite different from Yountville and downtown Napa in that it doesn't feel as intensely manicured. It's more casual and at first glance, seems a little rundown, but the buildings that seem to need a fresh coat of paint are actually historical ones – former missions, military housing, hotel saloons, and even servants' quarters.


We also saw roses as tall as (shorter) giraffes.

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Wine Tasting at Westwood Winery 

The winery was closed when we arrived. But as we were ready to leave, a worker there returned to open up shop (apparently the manager/winemaker was away harvesting walnuts as part of an Italian national tradition that was taking place that day), so we got to experience a tasting with us as the only customers.


It's a really, for lack of a better word, cute place. To get there, you have to find a sign on the main street, then turn into a long and narrow alley that opens up to courtyard that with three small tables.

We shared a tasting, which consisted of three Pinot Noirs, a Syrah, and a Syrah blend. I'm not a wine conoisseur, so I'll leave the critiquing to the experts, but I thought they were very peppery. Super peppery, in fact.


We also got the taste of the Nocino, a walnut liqueur. This thing was STRONG and definitely an acquired taste (as absinthe is). It was very thick, and tasted like a blend of licorice and gasoline. I do NOT mean that in a derogatory way – my palate is just not...trained for this.

The process for making it is quite interesting. The walnuts are harvested when the shells haven't formed, then quartered and mixed with sugar, which draws liquid from them. Herbs, spices, aromatics, and eventually high-proof alcohol is added, and then the liquid is drained off and aged in casks to mellow out the flavors. (I probably would die if I had to drink it before it was "mellowed out.")

By itself, it's a big punch to the face, but I can see how it would be delicious as a part of something else – coffee or ice cream or cocktails.

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More wine tasting

We then drove around and did some tastings at Trefethen and Madonna Estate, which we chose for their lighter, sweeter whites. Trefethen had a beautiful tasting room, but felt a little factory line-like – pay, get in, quick blurb, taste, repeat, you're done. Their wines smelled lovely, very fruity and melony, but tasted kind of watered-down. Oh well.

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Dinner at Farm, at the Carneros Inn

Then, for dinner, I had very possibly the best meal of my life. It was so delicious and beautiful that my eyes actually started watering at some point during the meal. I'm a loser. But it was so good.

First of all, Farm is beautiful. It is one of the most airy and bright spaces I have ever dined at. I totally envy the people who get to stay at Carneros Inn. Just by entering the grounds, I immediately felt that on-vacation feeling – relaxed and pampered...happy and carefree...


They have a lounge area en plein air, with soft and lush seats surrounding fireplaces. So in love.


We started off with warm and freshly-baked bread rolls (decent) and an amuse bouche – I think tuna tartare atop a smear of creme fraiche.


Then came a beautiful risotto, made with lobster, preserved meyer lemon, parmigiano-reggiano, and carnaroli rice, which apparently has a higher starch content than arborio that helps it hold a firmer shape during cooking.

The presentation was gorgeous for a risotto. Look how colorful and spring-y it is. Usually the risottos I get are not at all photogenic, i.e. look like giant mushy blobby puddles.



This was one of our entrees. Again, so beautiful: the "Alaskan Halibut Crepenette," atop English peas, morels, garden rhubarb, fiddlehead ferns, and beurre monte, an emulsified butter sauce.





And here's a closeup because I'm creepy...

This was our other entree. This was my favorite part of the meal and I think when I began tearing up.

It's the "Potato Crusted Petrale Sole," assembled with a vidalia onion soubise, corn, basil, brown beach mushrooms, and pickled watermelon rind.

It was f-ing amazing. The potatoes slices were wisp-thin, so delicate and crispy. The corn was incredibly sweet and just the right level of smokiness. And I have no clue what's in the sauces, but it was light and creamy and caramely all at the same time.


Then came dessert, a whimsically titled "Farmer's 'Breakfast:'" zucchini pain perdu (a fancy french version of french toast), fresh blueberries and apricots, granola cereal milk custard, oatmeal brown sugar ice cream, and zucchini formage blanc mousse.

The granola really did taste like cereal milk. My favorite part? The thin, candied, dehydrated slices of zucchini.


And then we got these things with the check. Sorry, I have no recollection of what these are, but they were chocolatey and thus did not make it into my long term memory.



Bocce ball both preceded and followed our meal.

I think what I loved so much about Farm was not only the sky-high deliciousness level of the meal, but how intricate and interactive it was. Everything made sense together, and it was really FUN to eat, which is weird saying for such a classy place.




Until next time, Sonoma.