Thursday, December 27, 2007


I spent a lot of time and thought looking into what brand of knives I wanted for my knife set. I looked at many different kinds. Wüstof has a great reputation. German knives in general are thought to be the top of the line. Many friends of mine own these knives, and I have always enjoyed using them. At the same time I have never been terribly impressed. It's not that they didn't work well, but I always felt that even some of the top of the line Wüstof's were not much better than the Henkels that I grew up using. While these knives seemed good, I wanted something really special for my first set of knives.

It was time to turn from the Western style of German knives to the beautifully crafted Eastern style of Japan. I have heard more and more about the precision of Japanese knives over the past couple of years. I knew it was worth a shot, but I had no idea what brand of Japanese knives would be the best. In the end I put "Japanese knives" on the list of things I wanted for my birthday and Christmas.

My birthday came, and the only knife I received was an 8-inch chef knife from Henkel's Twin Cuisine line. It looked like a nicely weighted, sharp knife, but I really wanted a set of Japanese knives. I went to bed that night looking forward to the knives I hoped to unwrap the following morning.

Christmas morning came, and I noticed a bag from Williams-Sonoma sitting beside the tree. This was from my uncle, who had arrived the night before. He was one of my major culinary influences, so it seemed appropriate that he might be getting me some knives. I couldn't wait to open that white and green-trimmed bag.

I pulled two long thing boxes out of the bag, now I was trembling with excitement. There was only one thing that could be inside these boxes. I undid the bow and quickly unwrapped the smaller box first, and I was holding in my hand the 4-inch paring knife made by Global. The other box contained the 8-inch chef's knife, also by Global.

These were the knives I had been looking for. Beautifully shiny stainless steel, these knives look like miniature katanas. This is no coincidence either. These knives are made using the same ice-hardening process that has been used in Japan for over a millennium to make samurai swords. Needless to say, these knives look very sharp. Their stunning handles are silver steel spotted with black, and fit perfectly into my hand. In the traditional samurai way, the knives are perfectly balanced, and unbelievably light. I knew I needed to try the Global knife out immediately. I ripped the chef's knife out of its box and ran to the kitchen where I saw half of a Bermuda onion sitting on a cutting board. How perfect is that? I put the knife up the surface of the onion, and before I knew what was happening there was a thin slice of onion on the cutting board. I gasped with pleasure and quickly cut the rest of the onion into paper-thin slices. The knife was so sharp it went through the onion with no resistance whatsoever. The knife was so well balanced that I hardly had to put any pressure on the blade in order to force it through the onion. Cutting was now effortless. I had soon chopped, sliced, minced, and diced as many vegetables and fruits as I could quickly find between the chef's knife and the paring knife. The paring knife, though much smaller than the chef's knife, was still as useful for cutting as its big brother, and pleasure to use for cutting small things like garlic and shallots. I knew that I needed more of these knives.

After returning my Henkel, I decided on buying the 5.5 inch fluted vegetable knife, and the 6-inch serrated utility knife. These knives are just as satisfying as the others. The hollow-ground vegetable knife is big enough for just about every vegetable that comes in its way, as well as almost anything else that a utility knife normally accomplishes. It is easily one of the most useful knives to have around because it is big enough to handle the big things, but still very maneuverable for chopping herbs and other small spices. The fluted sides work wonderfully for preventing things from sticking to the sides. As for the serrated utility knife, it cuts any kind of bread with ease, whether it’s a crusty, fresh baked loaf, or several day old sandwich rolls. It also slices things like tomatoes and lemons into any size needed without squeezing out any of the valuable juices. This knife is incredibly useful for just about any fruit or vegetable with a tough outer layer, but soft and juicy insides.

I can't wait to continue adding to my collection of Global knives. I love these knives, and highly recommend them to anyone looking at buying new knives. They are completely worth the money.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

My Return to Gary Danko

I went back to Gary Danko last week, but this time I was in the back of the house instead of the front. I did not mention in my first post about my dinner at Gary Danko that I was invited to return to the kitchen. It all started when I was given a tour of the slightly small, yet fully efficient and well-organized kitchen at Gary Danko. I was led from one end to the other. The kitchen is divided into four different rows. The row on the far left is for preparing the cold appetizers, such as salads. The row to the right of this is for hot meats and poultry. These are almost all cooked on the stove. To the right of this was the seafood row. This is where all of the hot seafood was cooked, like the seared scallops, the salmon, and steamed shellfish. The fourth and final row is where the specialty meats, poultry, and seafood are assembled, like the foie gras, and the glazed oysters. In the back of the kitchen there is a counter for all of the desserts to be prepared that runs in between the two walk-ins. Though it is small, it has everything needed for a high-quality restaurant. As I was led through the different sections I asked many chefs what they thought of being a chef, and whether or not it was a path I should follow. I was greeted with a very enthusiastic "yes." Everyone I spoke with was very friendly and encouraging about my culinary hopes. Then the sous chef, Kolin, approached me and asked me about my cooking experiences. We spoke for several minutes, and to make a long story short, he told me that I was welcome to come and visit the kitchen for a day if I wanted to. Now it was my turn to respond with an ecstatic "yes."

I got to the restaurant at 2:00 last Wednesday, around the time that the chefs were arriving. After meeting a few of the guys, I got right to work by helping with whatever prep work I could. After set-up I got a chance to walk around the kitchen and watch what all the different chefs were doing to finish getting ready for dinner. Then the restaurant opened. Soon the expeditors were yelling out orders at the end of the meat and fish lines, and runners were headed back and forth between the kitchen and the dining room. The air became thick with the scents of searing meats, frying cauliflower, slow roasting lobsters, and steamed shellfish. The remarkable thing about this kitchen however, is that through all the chaos of making around 175 dinners in one night, the kitchen never became loud, angry, or rushed. In fact, the chefs were so well organized that they were even able to make some of their amazing food for me to taste. I would be watching the scallops cook and someone would pop up behind me saying, "Try this, it's the seared ahi." I would be asking the pastry chefs about the huckleberry butter cake, and someone would magically appear beside me offering me pancetta wrapped frog's legs, only to disappear a moment later to continue manning their station. Though I thought that all kitchens must get wild and crazy, I saw that the meticulously run kitchen and Gary Danko always seems to keep their cool.

During set-up I must have picked and minced herbs for hours, yet I was so happy to do it. How often does someone get the opportunity to work in the kitchen of such a prestigious and well-known restaurant? The fact that I was even allowed to touch a knife in that kitchen showed me the remarkable generosity of the people at Gary Danko. Not a single person in that kitchen owed me a thing. They did not have to offer me the chance to get to see what it was that they did there. To them I am a very amateur cook who is years away from knowing half the things that they know about cooking. And yet there they were, teaching me to make the rich scallop dish I had tasted there. Though I know that I still have much to learn and do before I will ever be on a level with the people in this kitchen, I am deeply grateful for everything that I learned from the kind people at Gary Danko.

Friday, December 21, 2007

West Coast Clams

Back in October I wrote about the succulent, golden fried clams that I enjoyed so much in Boston. I said that fried clams could not be found on the West Coast. I'm sorry to say that I lied. I was on my way to In N Out burger in Fisherman's Wharf on Wednesday when I smelled the strong, sharp, fishy scent that is associated with seafood. When I followed the scent to the row of sidewalk crab stands I was enchanted by the massive quantities of fried fish, golden-brown and yeasty bowls of sourdough filled with thick, creamy clam chowder, and crabs so fresh that they were still creeping and crawling around only minutes before being devoured by the loads of tourists who flock to the famous section of San Francisco. Then I saw it. "Clams and chips" was listed on a sign under fish and chips, and above fried calamari. I was ecstatic. I was finally going to get to compare the juicy, briny clams of New England with Californian clams. In N Out would have to wait for another day.

I was given a container of crispy curly fries that were topped with a mountain of small, crispy clams. I found myself a bench near the boats docked by the wharf, and I began munching on the popcorn-sized shellfish. They were crunchy and chewy, but they did not compare to the ones that I had had in Boston. These were littlenecks, they were small and chewy with very little belly. Personally, I enjoyed the salty burst of clam juice that would explode from the clams in Boston. These tiny clams that I tasted here were much milder. Because they had no large belly, they did not release any of the clammy juice that many people may consider too fishy. While I understood that these small, less fishy tasting clams are probably much more popular with the thousands of tourists that travel throughout Fisherman's Wharf each day, I was still disappointed. I guess my first impression was right; the fried clams out here just aren't the same.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Potato Latkes

Though Chanukah has sadly come and gone, it would not be Chanukah without some potato latkes. I was lucky enough to enjoy these wonderful treats several times over the eight nights. These latkes can be thick or thin, crispy and chewy. They hold up well to sour cream and applesauce. They are filling, but not mealy or doughy. I've tried many different latkes but these are always my favorite. This is my mom's original recipe, and it has never failed. Though time consuming, it is easy enough to figure out. The key is to make sure that while processing the potatoes in the Cuisinart, use two different blades in order to vary the textures of the potatoes. This recipe makes about 16 latkes, but it can be easily adjusted to make more than that. Doubling this recipe, or using large potatoes works well. You'll never eat conventional hash browns again.

Potato Latkes

5 to 6 medium potatoes
6 eggs, well beaten
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 medium onion
Plenty of vegetable oil for frying

1) Peel and coarsely shred potatoes using a food processor.
2) Squeeze out excess water from the shredded potatoes. Do this with your hands in a sink. Cheesecloth can be very useful for this.
3) In a separate bowl, beat together the eggs, flour, onion, salt and pepper until smooth.
4) Stir the potatoes into the egg mixture.
5) Heat a pan and add about 1/2 an inch of oil. Once oil is very hot, begin adding batter in scoops about 1/4 of a cup. Flatten and round the scoop into a pancake.
6) Fry pancakes on each side until the sides are golden brown. If the oil is hot enough this should only take 3-5 minutes on each side.
7) Preheat an oven to 200 degrees, and keep the latkes warm in until all the latkes are cooked.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Perfection... Gary Danko

On Sunday I had my first meal at Restaurant Gary Danko in San Francisco. All other meals in my life fall short. Every single taste was exciting and new because I was introduced to different combinations that I never realized existed before. The originality and ingenuity that was displayed by the different flavors and textures was stunning. I don't know if any one meal was ever as daring or innovative as this one.

The service was the first jab made by Gary Danko in its one-two knock out combo. The staff knew exactly how to act, what to do, and what to say. Each and every one was poised and extremely helpful when it came to the food. They all seemed to have an immense knowledge of the menu, and somehow they seemed to know exactly what it was that I was looking for. The entire night I had this strange sensation that the waiters were reading my mind. Want to try a fish and a meat? (Yes.) Get the four-course dinner. Want something light but flavorful for the first course? (Definitely.) Try the oysters. Need something sweet, indulgent, and rich for dessert? (You know it.) Have the flambéed apples. The second a diner would leave to use the restroom, someone would pop up to fold his or her napkin. As soon as someone's water was running low, they were there to refill it. The waiters were everywhere, and yet they were nowhere. They managed to make sure that everything was going well, and yet they did not seem bothersome or overly present throughout the meal. It was as if they were trained to pick up signals from customers letting them know when they were needed. They were all very personable and friendly, and none of them were pretentious. To put it simply, the waiters were able to add to the meal without working too hard to do it.

The haymaker of the meal was definitely the food. I now understand what Dante meant when he said that words are not descriptive enough to illustrate the beauty in life. There is no way I can fully do justice to the flavors that I tasted that night. While it was already over a week ago, it is still fresh in my mouth. My mom and I essentially shared everything we tried, this way we each got to have about eight different courses.
First we had the glazed oysters, and a lobster salad.

The lobster was fresh, juicy, and soft on the inside, and served with a fruity, tangy puree. It was a very light dish that mixed textures like soft and juicy along with crunchy and goopy like a masterpiece. The subtle and buttery flavor of the lobster was succulent and played well with the bright flavors of the puree.

The glazed oysters were warm and creamy with a slight hint of brine in a thick glaze. Caviar was dolloped on top of each oyster. The sweet, creamy flavor of the glazed oysters was perfectly balanced with the salty chewiness of the caviar. It was presented in a stunningly white bowl and the light, creamy, pink glaze filled the bowl about a half of an inch up the walls. It was nice to look at as well as to eat. This was one of my favorite dishes of the night.

Next we split the pan-seared scallops. This was definitely another favorite! The scallops were simply done by searing on the top and bottom in oil and served with a butternut squash puree, roasted cauliflower, pistachios, and pomegranate seeds. The scallops were placed on top of the butternut squash puree and were then sprinkled with all of the other accoutrements. The scallops were chewy and succulent on the inside, but had a crisp outer layer. The squash and pomegranate mixed perfectly with the pistachios and cauliflower to create and sweet and savory dance for the taste buds. The cauliflower, pistachios and pomegranate seeds all added a crunch to the scallop and puree. Nothing about this dish was overly fancy or intricate, and yet the flavors and textures were all thought through to the point of food bliss.

For our entrées my mom had the pan steamed shellfish with a Thai red curry sauce, and jasmine rice. I had roasted quail stuffed with foie gras and porcini mushrooms. I tasted the shellfish and it was a wonderful curry, sweet with a spicy undertone that didn't overpower the shellfish. All of the shellfish was cooked to perfection. I won't go into long detail about this dish because I did not get to taste it thoroughly. I will talk about my quail, however. Anyone who thinks that quail tastes just like chicken has to be crazy. The quail was juicy and tender in a way that chicken can rarely achieve. While chicken can most certainly be delicious, the size of the bird makes it more difficult to cook so that parts of it are juicy without other parts becoming dry. With the tiny quail, it seemed that roasting allows all of the poultry’s own flavors and juices to remain sealed up within the skin throughout the entire bird. Also, I think that the quail must be raised in a way that keeps the meat fatty and tender, as opposed to some chickens that develop more muscular tones. There’s no doubt in my mind that the quail has an advantage over the average chicken. This particular quail was roasted so that the outside was just browned with crispy parts, but the overall texture was very soft and moist. The inside was the best part, because this is where the juices of the quail, foie gras, and mushrooms all combined. The smoky, earthy flavors of the mushrooms complimented the quail, and the foie gras' soft, buttery texture made the whole dish perfectly tender. It is hard to go back to chicken after this quail.

For our dessert course we shared the apple flambé for two. This is prepared tableside, and is truly a treat to watch. A tableside cart was wheeled out, a stainless steel pan was brought to temperature, and then the brown sugar was slowly melted. One of the smart and talented waiters whipped up the caramel and flambéed apples right in front of us, and a crisp and warm funnel cake was brought out with creamy, sweet cinnamon ice cream. While making the caramel and apples the waiter entertained us with anecdotes about the waiters with the best caramel, and soon his pan was sizzling with goopy, thick caramel. The apples were warm, sweet, and soft enough to cut with a fork, yet strong enough not to turn into mush. The funnel cake came in a satisfying cube, the dough fried to a golden crisp. While funnel cakes are generally found in fairs, ballparks, and IHOP, this was the gourmet’s version. It was crispy and strong on the outside, perfect for standing up to soft apples, gooey caramel, and ice cream. Yet the inside was soft and chewy. The flavor was not overly sweet. It did not need to be; the apples and caramel did the job. This dessert was the culmination of the entire meal. It was another example of the innovative way that Gary Danko mixes textures and flavors, as well as a beautiful presentation, to impress his audience. This was a very sweet and satisfying way to finish off the meal.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Chemical free coals

As a quick follow up to my recent post about cooking meat, I did have a MEAT club meeting this past Friday. I used a cone to help light the coals this week instead of using lighter fluid. Wow was I happy! I had no idea that having chemical free coals at my first meeting was going to release that many endorphins.

There was a clear difference between the tastes of the meat. I know this because my good friend, and co-leader of MEAT club used lighter fluid on our second grill. I know, I feel guilty that I wasn't able to completely outlaw lighter fluid from the MEAT fires, but I'm well on my way! While both of our grills had powerful heat emanating from its coals, I took pride in the fact that mine had been lit without the use of lighter fluid. Those who chose burgers and steaks from my fire seemed to be happy as well. While the meat on both grills was coming off of the fire juicy on the inside with a crisp brown outer layer, the product from the other grill still seemed to have the sourish, gasoline-like flavor that can be associated with lighter fluid. Not to mention, I still think I may have heard a few grumbling tummies... not a good sign.

I was happy to say however that everything cooked from the fluid-free grill seemed to taste simply like meat should, smoky and salty with the savory juices that go so well with cheese on top. From now on I will be lighting my coals without lighter fluid, for a much purer taste. Maybe soon I will be able to try out a wood fire!

Monday, November 26, 2007


I was very disappointed when I learned that I would not have the priveledge of cooking for Thanksgiving this year. Generally my family comes together for the day, and everyone is assigned a certain dish to cook. This year, however, my family went to spend the evening at a friend's house where the cooking was done for us.

I will not say anything against the meal. Every last dish was flavorful and heart-warming. The turkey was moist, juicy, and had a salty, smoky, flavor. There were vegetarian, and non-vegetarian stuffings. While I tried both, the non-vegetarian was clearly my favorite. No surprise there! It was a great blend of flavors and textures. It was crunchy and chewy, salty and spicy and sweet. All the things you could ask for from a great stuffing. The mashed potatoes were fluffy, creamy and chunky, and the roasted vegetables were all soft, yet firm enough to stand up to a fork. Like I said, it was one of the better Thanksgiving meals that I have ever had.

I was still very upset that I didn't get to cook anything myself. In honor of one of my favorite parts of the Thanksgiving meal, I would like to share my recipe for mashed potatoes. I have been working to perfect this recipe for a while now, and I think it has gotten pretty good. It's a great part of the Thanksgiving tradition, even when the tradition is broken. Hopefully it will be a part of my Thanksgiving dinner next year.

Happy Thanksgiving, and Happy Holidays.

Mashed Potatoes

2 pounds Yukon Gold or russet potatoes - make sure they are unpeeled! This keeps the potatoes from absorbing too much water.
1/2 cup half and half
1/4 cup - about a half of a stick - butter
salt and pepper to taste

1) Put potatoes in a large pot or dutch oven. Cover with cold water, and bring to a boil. Once boiling reduce the heat to medium and simmer until potatoes are very tender. This should take about 20-25 minutes.
2) Drain the potatoes.
3) Let potatoes cool for 5-10 minutes.
4) Peel off the skins of the potatoes. This should be easy after cooking.
5) Over medium heat let the potatoes dry for about 2 minutes. Stir every so often.
6) Heat the half and half in a small saucepan briefly. Make sure it is warm, but not too hot.
7) Stir butter into the potatoes directly in the pot.
8) Add the half and half while it is still warm and stir until everything is absorbed.
9) Add salt and pepper to taste.

Sunday, November 25, 2007


In order to continue my addictive relationship with the highly esteemed Mission Beach Café I feel that it is finally time for me to return to the restaurant, both for a meal, and in my blog. It has been several weeks since I have stopped by the café, and I have heard that the menus have changed, and new pies have been added. I absolutely must get there to try the pumpkin pie before it goes out of season!

A huge part of my attraction to this restaurant, besides the food, atmosphere, and personnel, is that the philosophies of the owner, Bill Clarke, are so dead on with my own ideas about food. It was almost a month ago already since I sat down and met with Bill to discuss what it was that he was trying to do at Mission Beach Café, and his thoughts have stuck strong to me ever since. I am even more impressed by this place to see how well thought through the entire production is.

There were two main ideas that Bill touched on that made lasting impressions on me. His words were so meaningful to me because they reiterated many of the ideas I had been discovering on my own at the same time. It was almost as if Bill had read my blog and my mind before our meeting because he seemed to agree with all of my beliefs. I can’t tell you how wonderfully reassuring it was for me to realize that people who were successful in the restaurant business shared my ideas. Maybe I can make it in that world as well.

He talked a lot about how not only food, but also the atmosphere, and the experience in a restaurant affect the meal greatly. The ideas he spoke of reminded me of my post about service. Bill said that there are many different ways that we are “fed” by a restaurant. Food is clearly one of these ways. The meal itself is definitely important, but there is also the ambience of the restaurant, the presentation of the food, the comfort that the patron feels in the restaurant, even the person’s company all greatly determine a diner’s opinion of a restaurant and the dining experience. The customer’s sense of taste must be pleased by the restaurant, but their sense of smell, sight, sound, and touch must also be tended to.

It is for this reason that Bill put so much time, effort, and money into making Mission Beach Café as delightful as it is. He spent almost an entire year picking out the perfect wood for the tables and chairs. Because of this, all of the furniture is gorgeous, and comfortable. He tested hundreds of restaurants in San Francisco to find which level of noise is the most suitable to having a calm conversation. He also chose to use very mellow and warm colors to paint the interior of the restaurant, and he picked some beautiful pieces of art that complement the colors of the walls. To set the mood, the lights are kept just above a flicker so that the dining experience seems very classy and elegant. I can’t say enough about how satisfying and relaxing a meal is at Mission Beach Café.

Another idea that Bill spoke to was that the best part of his work at the Café is to see all of the people in the community have a special place to get to meet, relax, eat, and enjoy themselves. I have always felt that one of my favorite parts about cooking is to see the reactions of the people I’m serving. It is a great feeling to see how happy someone can be when they taste something truly delicious. I fully understand how Bill feels. When I see the great interactions between the community and the restaurant, I know that I love being a part of something that can make many people so joyful.

Once again, I love Mission Beach Café.

Monday, November 19, 2007


Considering that this blog is called "The Grill" I figure that it is finally time for me to write a post about my experience with one of God's greatest creations... meat. Meat plays a very important role in both my life, and my young culinary career. Let me start by stating that I love eating meat. All different kinds. Beef, steak, pork, lamb, ground meats, ribs, it doesn't matter. If it comes from an animal, I will try it. If it's cooked well, I'll like it. It's as simple as that. I am a carnivore.

When it comes to cooking meat I have tried many different styles. I often braise, roast or pan-sear a nice roast or a steak, but for the most part I seem to be connected at the hip to a good grill.

I am still searching, however, for my favorite type of grill. At home I have a gas grill, not necessarily to my liking. I do enjoy the control that a gas grill offers, but I don't always like the way that the meat is cooked. I feel like it loses some of its flavor, and that a lot of the juices are sucked out of the meat from the flame. I find that if I'm not careful I can end up with a piece of leather for dinner on a gas grill.

At school I am the head of MEAT club. We meet as a community to grill different kinds of meat together every other Friday. At school we use charcoal, which I tend to like much more than gas. The flavor of the meat is generally kept intact. I find that when charcoal is used the meat sears better, with a crisper outer layer. This crispness seals in many of the juices and smoky, salty flavors that the meat has on its own. It also helps to keep in whatever flavors may be added to the meat through a marinade. There are two problems with this method, however. One problem is that it takes a very long time to get the charcoal fully fired up. At school there is only so much time during lunch, and I need to get as much meat cooked as possible. Because of this I sadly turn to the help of a slightly lesser evil... lighter fluid. I know, I know, lighter fluid is the marijuana of cooking. It is the gateway to other culinary blasphemies, but there are times when it comes in handy. School lunches are one of those times. I am trying to cut out the use of lighter fluid by using a cone for my coals, but until I get it fully figured out I may continue to use the terrible substance. Hopefully this changes soon.

My favorite way to cook meat on a grill would have to be by using wood to fire the grill. The biggest problem with this method is controlling the flame, but overall it gives the best overall taste to the meat, and is not too much harder than using coals. I hope that I will get to cook using this method more often in the future.

I’m not sure what the solution to my grilling needs will be. I am going to continue experimenting with many different cooking methods until I find my favorite way to make my favorite food. I want to be able to find an answer to the issues that I have with my current barbeques so that I can continue enjoying meat to the fullest.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


I went to Brenda's on Monday! I had a lunch that tingled, surprised, pleased and disappointed my tongue. I finally got to try my beloved Po' Boy. I am still undecided, however, as to how I felt about this sandwich. The fried oyster Po' Boy was definitely exciting, but I can't tell how it compared to those I had in New Orleans.

The oysters were soft and chewy with a thin but crispy fried batter around the edges. The sandwich was filled with these tasty little morsels. The oysters were stuffed into a soft, grilled French roll. My favorite part must have been the remoulade sauce. This is a very creamy topping, similar to an aioli, but with more of a kick to it. It's creamy, tangy, spicy flavors complement fried seafood far better than tartar sauce in my opinion. These essential ingredients of a Po' Boy were very well done and helped to impress my taste buds.

Still, I'm not sure what it was, but it just didn't feel like it lived up to the memory. Maybe it's just been too long since New Orleans for the comparison, maybe the necessary ingredients aren't as available outside of the Big Easy. Whatever the reason is, I wasn't as thrilled by my lunch as I had been hoping to be. I spent the entire meal comparing it to the flavors of Po' Boys of the past. The flavors and tastes just didn't match up. To tell you the truth, I think that the reason for this may actually be that the ingredients here are of higher quality. Don't get me wrong, everything in New Orleans tasted fresh and local, but it just wasn't like the California Po' Boy. At Brenda's the French Roll tasted like it may have actually been baked earlier that day, and it was toasted so that it was golden brown on the inside. In New Orleans the bread was generally slightly harder and chewier, and rarely toasted. Here the oysters were succulent and juicy, there they were often drier and smaller. Even the remoulade sauce here seemed to have more of a prominent bite. All of the veggies seemed more organic here. For example, the pickles here seemed like they were fresh, crunchy, sour, and slightly bitter dill pickles. In my Po' Boys in New Orleans they were generally filled with the sweet and sour, yellowish-green sandwich pickles general found in supermarkets. It seemed that the majority of the ingredients in the Po' Boy here simply had more of a "California" organic feel.

I don't say this to take anything away from either sandwich. I only say it because after trying my first Bay Area Po' Boy I have developed the theory that a "California Po' Boy" will never resemble a New Orleans creation. This is due to the growing emphasis on the freshest and most organic ingredients here. In New Orleans this is different because this is not nearly as much of a priority in Louisiana. While attempts will be made to replicate the famous lunchtime meal, I'm not sure I will find anything that reminds me of the original Po' Boy. We shall see.

My next stop, Jesso's in Oakland...

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Po' Boys

I went to Brenda's for breakfast on Monday morning and I was pleasantly surprised find a very good New Orleans style restaurant. The breakfast was wonderful: buttery, creamy grits, flaky, crusty biscuits, sweet beignets that were crispy on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside, plus great eggs filled with chewy, briny oysters. While this was very stimulating, all I could think about was going back to try the fried oyster Po' Boy. The place strongly reminded me of my time in New Orleans this past summer. I spent two weeks in New Orleans volunteering with Habitat for Humanity back in July. This was my first, but certainly not last, visit to New Orleans. It was a great city. Besides the friendly people and beautiful parts of the city, my favorite part had to be the food. What an unbelievable food city! There are flavors and dishes there that don't exist in any other part of the world. I loved getting coffee and beignets from Café Du Mond in the French Quarter for breakfast and snacks, Po' Boys for lunch, and fried seafood, gumbo, jambalaya, and red beans and rice for dinner. The most exciting of these however had to be the Po' Boys.

During my lunch breaks while working at Habitat I would explore the city for great Po' Boys. For those who are unfamiliar, these are unbelievable sandwiches that originated in New Orleans. They start with long French rolls that are supposed to be crisp and flaky on the outside but very soft on the inside. Then they are topped with mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato, pickles, and gravy if you get it dressed. The final topping will be your choice of meat, seafood, poultry, or vegetables. While in New Orleans I tried Po' Boys of all sorts. I had everything from innovative creations like rabbit, slow roasted duck, fried green tomatoes with grilled shrimp and a remoulade sauce, to the normal sandwiches like fried oysters, fried shrimp, soft shell crab, and even alligator sausage. Each and every sandwich was unique, and each sandwich was gave me a new way to look at the average lunch.

I have wanted a Po' Boy since the day I returned from the Big Easy. I have not been able to find one anywhere except for Popeye’s, and let's face it, it's not the same. I will not rest until I find something that might be able to take me back to my days in New Orleans. Hopefully Brenda's might be able to do it.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Pleasure Cooking

While there are times when I most certainly love the hectic, fast-paced, crazy lifestyle of cooking in a professional or semi-professional kitchen I spent my Sunday cooking a meal for some family and friends at a slow, leisurely pace. It was remarkable how pleasant the whole experience was. I was cooking with a very good friend that I met through my uncle. He is great cook and very knowledgeable in the kitchen. He also has a talent for planning out the cooking process so that all goes well.

Together we made a crispy, juicy, perfectly succulent, and magnificently cooked standing rib roast served along with carrots, celery, and pearl onions roasted until they were just soft around the edges and aromatic, creamy and buttery mashed potatoes, and soft yet durable miniature Yorkshire puddings that held it all together. To top it all off I made merlot reduction gravy that gave the dish a sweet and tangy finish. To end the meal my friend taught me to make a sachertorte. This is something like a chocolate cake except that it is superior in that the cake portion of it is light, fluffy, and chocolaty without being overly dense or overwhelming. The chocolate glaze that it is then covered with is creamy and thick and after spending several hours in the refrigerator it hardens just slightly so that the texture is similar to a soft candy bar. I have to say, this may have been the best chocolate cake I have ever had!

What was most incredible about my afternoon was that everything went so smoothly. I make big dinners similar to this often, and yet even with more than one person it can be a rush in the kitchen over the course of the afternoon which, in my family, has led to screaming, fighting, and the occasional small-scale kitchen fire. This meal however, was different from Thanksgivings, Christmas, Hanukkah, Easter, and Passover in the past (yes, I realize I just mentioned days celebrated by two different religions, but I was raised in Jewish and Italian families and therefore Judaism and Catholicism was often mixed). The difference was that the entire day went without flaw, without chaos and without any stress or anxiety. How wonderful it is to cook without stress! This was the way to cook when it comes to family dinners and special occasions. While the idea of cooking professionally is still a thrill, this was a major draw to cook for pleasure. While a little bit of la Vida Loca can always be fun, in the long run cooking when it's convenient, and in a manner that suits the chef, is never a bad way to enjoy a meal!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Pumpkin Spice makes Halloween nice

I have these muffins every year for Halloween. They are unbelievable when fresh, and can be reheated in the microwave or oven very quickly and easily. Nothing puts me in the Halloween mood more than these muffins.

1.5 cups all-purpose flour
1.5 cups whole-wheat flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
4 large eggs, beaten a tad
2 cups granulated sugar
1 can (15 oz.) 100% Pure Pumpkin, Libby's
2 cups (12-oz. pkg.) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels, Nestlé Toll House
1 cup vegetable oil

1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
2) Combine all flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and salt in a bowl.
3) Put eggs and sugar in a large bowl.
4) Mix in the pumpkin and the oil.
5) Mix in the original bowl with the flour. Stir until the entire mixture is wet and consistent.
6) Carefully put batter into ready muffin cups.
7) Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool

Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Bargain Bites

I have been reading Bargain Bites from The Chronicle for the last several years now. For those who are not familiar, The San Francisco Chronicle's food section puts out a Bargain Bites section each year where their food reporters travel throughout the Bay Area trying almost every cheap restaurant that they can find. In the end they publish a list with recommendations of the best meals at the best restaurants for the best prices throughout the Bay. This is a great way to get to find new, affordable places that you may have never thought to try before. Each year I find this article to get better and better.

This weekend I was actually able to try a new place from this year's edition on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Each time I was unbelievably happy when my meal was finished. I tried pupusa's from Balompie Café, a burrito from The Hot Shop, and Mongolian Beef and Mu Shu pork from Shan Dong. The pupusa's were made from the freshest corn tortillas, grilled until the edges of the tortillas were just crisp; the gooey, cheesy insides filled with deliciously fried zucchini and grilled chorizo. The burrito, possibly the most interesting part of the weekend, was oozing with the most delicious sweet and tangy lamb curry. Tonight the Mongolian beef was hot and spicy with a salty finish and the beef was as soft and tender as slow roasted vegetables.

The most amazing part about these three meals was probably that I never paid more than $10.00 for an entire meal. A good friend of mine read this blog over the weekend and sent me an email in response. She reminded me of the idea of over-priced food from my first post. She is an unbelievable cook. Every time I've been to her house for dinner I am blown away by the quality of the meal. She said that she understands not liking to go out for food and pay for something that she feels she could have made herself. That is why when she goes out it is generally for ethnic food, something she cannot make normally on her own. I noticed that of the three meals I ate this weekend they were all ethnic. Salvadorian, Mexican, and Chinese. All things that I know I could not reproduce on my own. What makes this even more interesting is that the majority, if not all, of the restaurants in Bargain Bites are of some ethnic background that isn't of American or European decent. It makes me wonder what it is that they do that makes there prices that much cheaper than the Italian or French places throughout the city.

So what is it about ethnic food that makes its prices so much cheaper? Is the quality actually that much lower, or are the people in contemporary restaurants just ripping us off? If so, can they really get away with that? More on this thought later...

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


Just as a small note I would like to share my feelings on service at a restaurant. I went to a place in the Mission last night that I had read about in this year's edition of The Chronicle's Bargain Bites. I will admit that I went with expectations only pertaining to food, and I wasn't let down. The food was very good. It was the service that struggled, and therefore left me with a bad taste in my mouth. I realize that maybe I shouldn't have expected much more from this low end, hippie-ish fish restaurant, but they could have been a little bit friendlier and tried a little bit harder to satisfy the customers. I thought about how a meal, or a dining experience, can be altered by so many different things. Food is not the only important issue. Yes the food may taste good, but if you don't have enough time to eat it, or you're forced to try and enjoy it while sitting next to some large, sweaty guy on the bus who keeps looking at you and forces you to ask him, "Can I help you, or do you just want some of my food?" the meal won't be as memorable. Not for the good things anyway!

Now some of you may read this and think, "So what?? I always knew that." Well it's wonderful that you figured that out all by yourself, but I am someone who normally reads a food review and only looks at how they rated the food, and maybe how expensive it was. The "atmosphere" or "ambiance" category was always overlooked. So for me this "breakthrough" was a big deal.

That's all. I just wanted to share my idea that while the tastes of food itself may be the most important thing in a meal, it is truly the overall experience that draws us together around the same table. Without a pleasant atmosphere it becomes much less of a passion, and much more about shoveling food into the gaping hole below your nose and above your neck.

Monday, October 22, 2007


I have made pizza since I was little. My mom first taught me to make it. It was always such a treat to wake up early, start making the dough, get the ingredients together, and then finally roll out the dough and bake the pie. I guess I can see why I love cooking so much now that I'm older. I am NOT a morning person, therefore the fact that I actually ENJOYED getting up early to cook is very interesting. Anyway, originally pizza was only made for special occasions. It was too labor intensive to do otherwise. As time went on, however, it became more and more common. Then for some reason a year or two ago I just stopped. I don't know why. I simply did not make a pizza for what felt like a very long time.

A couple of weeks ago an article came out in the food section of the chronicle about pizza, thus inspiring me to make pizza again. I have been on a pizza binge ever since.

I made pizza last night for dinner. I made two 12" pies. One with a thin layer of pesto, a layer of mozzarella, very thinly sliced zucchini, and then topped with dollops of pesto. The other pie was a very simple tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella with basil. While the toppings of both pies turned out very well, I was painfully reminded of the difficulty that comes with making the crust. The dough I made was good, and it rolled out nicely into two very thin crusted pies. But when I popped them in the ovens they did not cook the way I had wanted them to. They simply didn't get crispy enough. The toppings cooked through, but the crust just didn't cut it.

What this made me realize is that cooking is a process that is never ending. You can't just drop it, or do it less frequently. While the instinctive sense of what to do in the kitchen will probably never leave you, the tips and tricks that you once learned may have been forgotten. It's like driving a car. If you stop for a while and start again, you will remember how to do it, but it will take a little while to remember what to do when you may encounter dangerous or difficult situations. I now realize that I have got to keep making pizza because it is one of my favorite things to cook, and I will never fully master it until I have done it enough.

Because pizza blogs seem to be all the rage now-a-days, I think I will keep this thread going as my young pizzaiolo career continues. Hopefully I will master this tricky, but beautiful art form.

Friday, October 19, 2007

This one's for you Joe

In my house baseball is of the highest importance. To us the Yankees are like one of those girlfriends that you always fight with, but you can never break up. Through all of the ups and downs over the past few years (and yes, I realize we haven't had nearly as many downs as other teams or fans) we always continue to love the Yankees like no other. Yesterday I was unbelievably sad to hear that Joe Torre did not accept the ridiculous contract that was offered to him by Mr. High and Mighty and the rest of the gang in the Yankee management. It is not that I think Joe was wrong, I understand his decision completely. The deal he was offered was disgraceful and rude. Nonetheless I am devastated to hear that Joe Torre will no longer be the manager of the New York Yankees. He was a classy man, and a great manager.

(Moment of silence)

Anyway, I was so upset that I needed to make some sort of comfort food. I thought of what I wanted, and it seemed like the most logical choice, pasta! I've grown up with great pasta being a very common part of my diet, and it is something I have loved since I was a baby. Though I was too upset to write this post yesterday, I figured that I would share my recipe for a great gravy, or tomato sauce, for all you pasta lovers out there.

If I have enough time I love to make this sauce with fresh tomatoes, but since I usually don't I tend to use Pomi strained tomatoes. You are welcomed to use any type of strained tomatoes if you don't have enough time to go with fresh, but I highly recommend Pomi if you can find it...

8-10 fresh Roma tomatoes, pureed or 2 26.5 oz containers of Pomi strained tomatoes
5 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 medium onion, chopped
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 tablespoon red pepper (I like things spicy, if that's not for you add less red pepper.)
3 italian sausages, sweet or spicy, cut into 1" pieces
2 tablespoons salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup red wine, drier wine is better

1) Heat oil over medium-high heat in a large pot. Once it's hot add the garlic
2) After cooking the garlic for about 2-3 minutes add the onion. Fry these together in the pot for about 5 minutes, or until the onion becomes slightly translucent.
3) Add the sausage and cook for another 5 minutes, or until the sausage is cooked around the edges. Don't fully cook the sausage!
4) Add the tomatos and red wine. Turn heat down to low
5) After about 10 minutes add the basil, salt, pepper, sugar, and oregano. Let slow cook for about 30 minutes.

I normally don't use exact measurments when I make this sauce. This is a pretty accurate way to describe it, but be sure to taste this often and adjust to your liking! Serve it with grated parmesan if you like it.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Fried Clams... mmmmm

I was in Boston this past weekend and I was able to experience some highlights of the New England cuisine. While I love a good bowl of New England clam chowder whole-heartedly, the prized dish of the weekend had to be the fried clams. I had never tried them before, due to the fact that they are NON-EXISTENT on the west coast, and I was not let down. These are a great way to eat clams, and a real treat.

Let me back up here for a minute. It wasn't until not too long ago that I even knew about the famous fried clams of New England. Because of growing up and living in the Bay Area, I had never seen them on menus around here. I've traveled a fair amount, but for some reason my trips to New England have only included visits to family in Connecticut. Unfortunately for me, I have never had the chance to really experience the food. So anyway, it was a couple of weeks ago when I was reading a food blog on the New York Times website. The author wrote about his journey up and down the coast of New England looking for the fried clams of his youth. This article made the clams sound so good that I knew that I needed to find the same kind of satisfaction from fried clams when I was in Boston.

I looked pretty hard. Though I was trying to get a feel for all different types of food in Boston, I tried the fried clams at several different locations. They were all delicious, however it was at a small, cozy, contemporary seafood restaurant in the North End called Neptune Oyster where I found paradise. Living up to its name, the oysters were delicious. 12 different kinds. Salty, plump, juicy, briny, cucumbery, buttery, chewy, anything you could think of they had. It was the fried clams though that took the cake. When they arrived the pile of clams were just perfectly golden, and I could smell the tangy, saltiness of the batter with a lemony finish, and the subtle fishiness of the clams. Thinking of the smell alone makes my mouth water. I could not wait to take my first taste. As I bit into the first clam my taste buds went wild. The first thing I noticed was the burst of salty clam juice that erupted as soon as the fat belly of the clam had been punctured. Next was the slightly chewy neck of the clam. The combination of fat, juicy belly and thin, chewy, and buttery neck went together perfectly. Then I noticed the batter. Thick, but still very light. Extremely crunchy, and yet silky. Salty, but also acidic from the lemon. The flavors were meant to be. Plus, the most amazing part, not the least bit greasy! The wet juice of the clam mixed together with the crunchiness of the batter and helped it melt in my mouth. These clams had been done excellently. Some of the other clams I had tried were either too chewy, too covered in batter, not juicy enough, or not flavorful enough. These clams had just enough flavor to stand out even with the delicious, golden batter, and they were just juicy and soft enough to interact mutually with the batter. Unlike at other venues, the flavors did not have to compete over which was more powerful, the clam or the batter. These were one of the highlights of my trip. They were heavenly.

Hopefully we can find away to bring these to California!

Sunday, October 7, 2007


I tried this great new restaurant/ café in San Francisco on Wednesday called Mission Beach Café. I hadn't heard much about this restaurant before going, but a friend took me after hearing great things about it through someone else. As a small plug for this place I will say that my meal was unbelievable. Every single dish that I had was exceptional. Mission Beach Café has gotten very little recognition thus far from food critics, but great reviews are soon to come. The ambience is great, the service was wonderfully friendly, and literally every dish was out of this world. The pastries, the pie in particular, were some of the best I have had in San Francisco, and maybe ever. I highly recommend this restaurant.

The main reason for this post is to describe the differences between my experiences at Pizzaiolo and Mission Beach Café. As I said in my previous post, my meal at Pizzaiolo was good but too simple. Mission Beach Café however was the exact opposite experience. What better way to prove my point! Every dish on the menu is perfectly simple, and yet each item was unbelievable. My friend and I shared a Cesar salad and crab cakes for appetizers, we split the pappardelle pasta for a second course, and the rabbit pot pie for the third course. We finished our meal by splitting a piece of coffee cheesecake, and a piece of strawberry nectarine pie. I realize that that list does not sound anything other than simple. They are all very normal, classic choices. The difference however is that each recipe has a little flair to it. The Cesar for example had a slight hint of fig, and was served with slightly roasted figs. This was something that I have never tried before, and it was an incredible addition to the average Cesar salad. A wonderful heirloom tomato "sauce" accompanied the superb crab cakes, and the rabbit pot pie had a great binding sauce, and one of the best crusts I've ever tasted. Both the crust and the filling of the pie was deliciously fresh, and the cheesecake was creamy, smooth, and light all at the same time. Everything was done to near perfection.

After my meal I couldn't stop myself from comparing it to my dinner at Pizzaiolo. Each dish here was basically a simple, easy, and tasty course. What made my dinner so special however was how impressed I was by the small but crucial additions the chef made to these classic recipes. It was this type of cooking that I said I love so much. All of the food was simple in essence, but amazingly original at the same time. In my opinion, this is one of the most important skills it takes to be a successful chef. Skills in the kitchen are clearly important, but it evident when a cook knows what flavors go well together. The people at Mission Beach Café clearly displayed their knowledge of interesting combinations of flavors, but they also were able to put this into a menu without being too outrageous or risky. Just because one person may like two very contrasting flavors being put together doesn't mean everyone is going to. At Mission Beach they somehow were able to use intriguing and new flavors without taking risks that might not be successful.

How is it that they were able to figure out these great combinations? After mulling this over, I came to the conclusion that this talent must have come from a lot of taste testing! Though there must be some degree of an inherent sense of good tastes, the ultimate sharpener of this skill must come from simply loving to eat, and loving to try new things. Maybe this is just how I feel, but I think that loving the feeling after you discover a great new taste must be one of the underlying things that draws people to the kitchen. Whether it is to cook, or just to eat, people who are truly attracted to the kitchen have to love the prospect of finding some new tongue-tantalizing flavor.

For me, I would have to say that I love not only tasting new, exciting things, but also sharing them with my friends and family. Food plays a huge role in my life because I love enjoying meals with people who are important to me. Whether I make the food, or someone else does, I find that sitting at a table with people that you care about talking, enjoying the company, and exploring new tastes together is one of the easiest and most traditional ways to spend time with people. Whether we are eating things that we are used to, or things that we never imagined we would try, it is the act of getting to explore with others that plays a huge role in my life. I don't know whether or not this means that I should be cooking for others all the time, or if it solely shows that I enjoy food, but either way I know that the thrill of new flavors is one of the main things that draws me to the kitchen. Now the question that this conclusion leads me too is, how does that fact change my thoughts about what cooking means in my life?

Is my love of food and new tastes enough to lead me to a life in the restaurant business?

Sunday, September 30, 2007

My first post/ disappointment

As my first post I feel that I must talk about my ideas about one of my core questions which arose after a meal I had last week.

On Friday night I finally got to go to the restaurant Pizzaiolo in Oakland. This restaurant opened a little bit more than a year ago, and upon its debut it received great reviews. Friends and family all went and came back raving about their meal. Needless to say it became a restaurant high on my list of "must try's." For some reason however it wasn't until just the other night that I finally got to try it. I had been looking forward to dinner all day. When I finally arrived I was starving. For the first course I tried the pizza, their specialty, and was not let down. Their Neapolitan style pancetta, cherry tomato and Calabrian pepper pizza was delicious. This was pizza! As I finished this I was only more excited for the rest of my meal.

This is where the disappointment came in. Though the rest of the meal was good, my complaint is that I felt that the dishes were almost too simple. Sometimes simplicity is key. There are restaurants that are so good at making something simple that it tastes as if it were exotic and rare. Then there are restaurants that I go to where I have a good meal, but afterwards I catch myself thinking, "Wow, I could have made that by myself at home!" This is where I feel like the question about what makes us decide between cooking professionally and cooking for pleasure comes into play. I thought that the spaghetti and clams, the rapini, and the canneloni at Pizzaiolo were all good, yet because I was raised in a family with many Italians I have learned to make these dishes myself. Not only that, but I consider them simple recipes! When I go to a restaurant and pay for someone else to cook for me, I want to be surprised by how wonderful something tastes. When I leave thinking that I could've done it myself, it makes me feel like the meal wasn't worth it.

So here is the question... what is the deciding factor between profession and pleasure? Is it simply whether or not one wants to? Is it purely skill in the kitchen that allows someone to do it for a living? Or is it something more? Must a chef have to possess some extra flair, something special, if they want to cook in a restaurant? What does this mean for me? Do I have something special? Are you born with it, or can you develop it?

At this point in my journey I believe that a combination of these things is necessary to be a chef. Passion, skill, and a little something extra are all necessary to cook. How much of each is what I am trying to find out. I feel like the most important of these three things is passion. Without it there is no reason to be interested in cooking in the first place. It's not as if cooking is the easiest thing in the world to do, and doing it professionally is much harder. If passion, a love for food, and preparing food for others is not present then there is no point. Besides that I think that the something special is simply a sense for what tastes good. Risk taking is always good when it comes to cooking, but it doesn't always mean things are going to taste good. It takes creativity, and sometimes even daring, to make wonderful food in the kitchen. Some chefs have it, some don't.

I'm not sure where my ideas will take me, but over the next couple of months I will follow my own sense of creativity in the hopes of finding the answer to the question, where do I fit in to all this?