Thursday, May 22, 2008

Bakesale Betty

Fried Chicken know you want it

Now that my classes are over and my job doesn't start for another month, I really have no need to go anywhere. With the exception for Trader Joe's, I don't go outside. I've become agoraphobic.

In spite of my aversion to the great outdoors, I ventured over to the East Bay in search of the fried chicken sandwich at Bakesale Betty. The owner was the former pastry chef at Chez Panisse and she was profiled in the SF Chronicle last year. The article includes the recipe for the sandwich.

Since it was a beautiful day and I had some free time, I went off in search of the elusive sandwich. Sure, I really don't need to eat anything that has over 1,000 calories. I did walk from the BART station to Telegraph, which helped to offset the caloric intake.

The bakery was a tiny operation on the corner of Telegraph and 51st. The sidewalks were lined with old benches and ironing board that doubled for dining tables. People were lined up out the door. That gave me time to peruse the menu selection. I passed on the strawberry shortcake, but I gladly accepted a ginger cookie that was handed out to waiting customers.

I waited for my turn at the counter and I was soon seated outside on a sunny street in Oakland eating a friend chicken sandwich. The verdict: it was pretty good. It's hard to go wrong with fried chicken and cole slaw on Acme bread. I may even venture back to East Bay for another sandwich run after I overcome my agoraphobia.

Bakesale Betty
5098 Telegraph Ave.
Oakland, CA

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Elevating Spring Vegetables

The Memphis Farmers Market is in its third season and has added a dinner tour once a month during its market season of May through October. Its first dinner was held at the Brushmark Restaurant located in the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. Chef Andrew Adams of the Brushmark is organizing the 2008 MFM Dinner Tour and led with five courses that featured Spring vegetables. Let me just say that my dining companions and I were impressed with the expert preparation of fresh, seasonal, local vegetables. The produce for this dinner came from various farmers from the Memphis Farmers Market. They include Nora Farm, Gracious Gardener, Whitton Farm, Bonnie Blue Farm, Dodson's Farm, Downing Hollow Farm, Jones Orchard, and West Wind Farm.

Our first course focused on Broccoli Rabe with gnocchi, braised baby spinach, and spring garlic. The NY Times magazine had an article on spring garlic the Sunday following this dinner. This course was paired with a 2006 The Wolftrap Rosé from Cape of Good Hope in South Africa. The dish was very refreshing and the spring garlic gave it a nice zip.

The second course focused on Spinach which was topped with a block of tofu that had been braised in a butter stock, seared, then topped with a quail egg, and sprinkled with sugar snap peas. This course was paired with a 2006 Pinot Gris-Pinot Blanc from Santa Barbara. I loved the sweetness of the sugar snap peas, and wondered why the tofu tasted so good...butter baby!

The third course focused on baby Spring Root Vegetables. One component of the dish was breakfast radish and baby turnips braised in white wine stock mixture. The baby carrots and sweet potatoes were pureed and topped with fried basil. This was paired with a 2006 Morgan 12 Clones Pinor Noir from Santa Lucia Highlands. My favorite element of this course was the fried basil.

The fourth course focused on Cheese. We have Tomme, Parker, and Chevre in puff pastry with a lemon syrup reduction. This was paired with a 2005 Ferrari-Carano Sienna from Sonoma County.

The last course focused on Strawberry. The dish came with freshly made strawberry ice cream, and a strawberry shortcake make of almond cake and strawberry crème-fraîche, and a side of stewed Rhubarb. The emphasis in the ice cream is CREAM!

The servings were of French dining portions so the men at our table were plotting the fast food places to stop at on their way home. That was not needed as Chef Adams brought out more ice cream for all of us to consume. I was very impressed with the skilled preparation of simple vegetables. Each element of each course was cooked to perfection and with proper respect. I'm going to give frying herbs a try and see if I get the same results as Chef Adams.


Orson is the new restaurant by Elizabeth Falkner of Citizen Cake. The food is described as "edgy Californian cuisine." The place is one of those high concept restaurants. I went twice since the restaurant opened and I came away with the same opinion: it was weird, but in a good way. Some of the items were very good, others were just weird.

Orson is named in honor of Orson Wells. The menu had references to many of his movies. The restaurant looks like a cross between a movie set and a modern loft. This is another small plates restaurant. I thought that Orson was pretty expensive, given the amount of food that you actually get. For example, the special was a sous vide rib eye for $58.

The menu was hardly descriptive. They can't be bothered with things such as articles or even nouns at times. However, the staff was very helpful and knowledgeable, which was necessary when it came to picking out menu items.

Many of the drinks were named for Orson Wells movies. I started with a Lady from Shanghai cocktail, which had gin, passion fruit puree, ruby red grapefruit juice and osmanthus flower foam.

These were some of the dishes I tried. All the portions were very small.

Duck fat fries with brown butter bearnaise sauce: The fries were very good. But if I didn't know that they were fried in duck fat, I wouldn't have been able to tell.

Asparagus and cardoons with black garlic sabayon: The dish only had 3 spears of asparagus and few thin slivers of limp cardoons. If the menu didn't say cardoons, I would have thought that it was celery. It was $9.

Black cod with butter beans and pimenton: The fish was nicely cooked, but not extraordinary.

Parmaggiano pudding with pepper jam and cocoa nib explosion: The pudding was very rich and almost buttery. The cocoa nib explosion made the dish, it was like eating pop rocks. It was kinda cool.

Chocolate pizza with piment d'espelette, sea salt and olive oil: This was a big surprise and the highlight of the dinner. It was delicious. The pizza drizzled with Scharffenberger chocolate and olive oil. The pepper and sea salt cut the richness of the chocolate and made it a savory dish. It was weird, but in a good way.

Carrot dumplings with blood orange and ricotta salata: This dish was weird, but not in a good way. I know that sous vide cooking is trendy, but it doesn't work for everything. I wouldn't want a steak cooked sous vide, since I like a nice seared crust on my steaks. But the carrot dumplings were cooked sous vide and they were very soft and silky. Unfortunately the dish had a strange flavor of Chinese herbs that just ruined the flavor of the carrots for me. I asked the waitress and she said it was an Indian five spice. Whatever it was, it was not good.

Pigwich: This was the dessert item. It consisted of maple bacon ice cream between two chocolate pizzelles. The dish sounded so strange that I had to try it. I like bacon, I like ice cream and I like maple syrup. But I don't like all three at the same time.

It looks like the menu had changed since I went to the restaurant. There are now tasting menus. Perhaps the diners complained about the size of portions.

508 4th Street
San Francisco, CA 94107

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Discovering Latin Cuisine at OLA Miami

I was in Miami recently and stumbled onto an exciting restaurant named OLA. It stands for "Of Latin America." The meal we had was so astounding that I wanted to start a blog to journal this taste adventure. I had recently joined the James Beard Foundation and saw that the chef of OLA, Douglas Rodriguez, had just been nominated as one of the best chefs in 2008 for the South region. Chef Rodriguez, also known as "El Jeffe," is author of three Nuevo Latino cookbooks.

Restaurant OLA is housed inside the Sanctuary hotel. It has a restored 20's era modern feel similar to the Avalon hotel in Beverly Hills, California. One look at the menu and I knew I was in for a treat. I started off with a lovely coconut mojito called the "Cojito." This is definitely for the coconut lover since the flavors are intense and on the sweeter side. Then the wonderful wait staff came by with these donut-hole sized Colombian rolls. The texture of the rolls was a bit chewy and nutty. Turns out it is made with yucca flour, tapioca flour, and dusted with white cheddar powder. I even took a picture of it. I'm in search for the recipe and will post it when I find it.

My husband and I shared several appetizers. OLA is known for its inventive ceviches. After studying each ceviche combination I went with the Rainbow, which was made up of tuna, corvina, salmon, white soy sauce, citrus juices, sesame seeds, sweet potato & cilantro. My husband went for the short rib empanada and the tuna tacos. The tacos were comprised of diced tuna, crispy shallots, diced jalapeno, paprika, lemon oil, roasted garlic & ginger aioli; and arrived in a custom made wood block to hold each taco perfectly in place.

By now my husband and I are in taste heaven. But wait...there's more. For our entrees, my husband had a delectable beef tenderloin cut in a Churrasco style. It came with grilled asparagus, crabmeat, and chimichurri sauce. I had the Pescado A La Mocha, which is the fish of the day cooked a la plancha. I had red snapper and it came with sauteed baby spinach, clams, mussels, calamari, and shrimp; all in a wonderful aji amarillo sauce.

With all this wonderful food, my husband was the only one with room for dessert. He chose the chocolate cigar, which was presented with great whimsy. I took a picture of that as well. It was an almond cake rolled up in the shape of a cigar and coated with chocolate mousse. It was accompanied by coffee ice cream and a candy book of matches.

OLA is a place where your taste buds come alive and bombarded with a wide range of Latin flavors. I have not had an experience in a long time where I discovered new flavors. This was a dining experience to remember.

1745 James Ave.
Miami Beach, FL 33139

James Beard Foundation