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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ramen Parlor

So last month, in a moment I should file under "what was I thinking," I made a new year's resolution to eat less carbs. It lasted all of 2 1/2, maybe 3 weeks, until I heard about about Ramen Parlor, the newest member of the uber-popular ramen family that includes the crazy crowd-drawing Santa Ramen and Ramen Dojo.

Driving up to the busy San Mateo spot for lunch, I liked it better already, since RD already had a line about 25 people deep. RP is located just down the block and while it was bustling, the wait wasn’t nearly as long.

The menu is a bit limited at lunchtime, especially for our friends with kids who weren’t able to order dinner-only items like miso soup (come on, really?) or chicken karage. But I guess that's what happens when you're very, very focused. Ramen is definitely the draw here, boasting rich, complex broths and chewy, toothsome noodles. Oh, and did I mention lobster oil?

At RP you have your choice of three broths: miso, pork or soy. Each bowl comes standard with roast pork, diced onion, shrimp, a quail egg, mushrooms, lettuce and ground chicken, as well as a generous drizzle of lobster oil.

I choose the regular ramen with the soy sauce-flavored broth, which was a salty, savory and unctuous (without feeling heavy) delight. The noodles were flavorful and chewy, and the lobster oil added a subtle seafood-y luxuriousness (plus, it just sounds super fancy!)

There were a few specials that day, including a spicy tan men that included soft shell crab which MFM raved about, while others at our table added a variety of the extra toppings, which included corn, mushrooms, and spicy cod roe.

If I compare it to its siblings, I have to say I liked it more than RD (which was wasted on me since I couldn't handle the spicy, "stamina" style ramen) but slightly less than SR, which to me is a bit simpler and purer (plus they have that yummy stewed pork belly).

But I'd have to go back at least once or twice to be sure. At least.


Sunday, February 12, 2012

Fat Fluffy Snickerdoodles

makes 16-20 cookies
recipe adapted from How Sweet It Is
total active prep time: 20 min / cook time: 10-12 min

1/2 c unsalted butter, room temperature
1 c sugar
1 egg, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 3/4 c all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp milk

1/4 c sugar
1 tbsp cinnamon

• Cream butter and sugar with an electric mixer until smooth.
• Add egg and vanilla, mixing well until combined, about 2 minutes.
• Stir in flour, salt, baking powder and cinnamon. Mix until dough comes together.
• Add in milk.
* If dough is still crumbly, add milk 1 tbsp at a time until it comes together.
• Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375°F while dough is chilling.

• In a bowl, combine remaining sugar and cinnamon.
• Remove dough from refrigerator and roll into big 1 1/2" balls.
• Dip in cinnamon sugar mixture and place on a baking sheet prepped with parchment paper. Lightly press down on dough to flatten.
• Bake for 10-12 minutes.

• I used a medium cookie scoop to scoop out the dough.



Thursday, February 09, 2012

Baker & Banker

“Your party will be dining at our special Chef’s Table.”

What I envisioned: A posh, private, and ultra swanky dinner in a posh, private and ultra swanky secret location.

What we got: An arguably posh, semi-private table set up in the restaurant’s adjoining bakery that you have to tromp through the dining room and kitchen to reach.

Okay, so I didn’t mean that to come off as snarky as it did (and who am I to talk, since my only previous private dining experience has been at the Pope’s Table at Buca di Beppo). In truth, the delicious food, cozy atmosphere and warm service at Baker & Banker made for one of the best experiences I’ve had in a long time.

To make sure we reached the chef’s table minimum (which was $750), my dining companions and I ordered their 8-course tasting menu, with a few adding on the wine pairing as well. And for the next 3 1/2 hours, the gracious chef and friendly waitstaff delighted us course after course with exciting food, warm hospitality and great conversation.

Maybe I can blame it on too much Top Chef (oh wait, that's Judges Table, not chef's table) but as I said, I was expecting something a little more that a table set up in its only-open-during-the-day bakery. Still, it was a cozy, charming space with lovely, lingering bakery smells, and hustle and bustle of the pastry chefs busily preparing desserts nearby.

It began with a spicy tuna spring roll amuse bouche and then went on to a delicate, flavorful butternut squash soup. Next came a rabbit sausage and foie gras salad with lentils (tasty, but perhaps not my favorite way to enjoy foie) and seared scallops with chanterells and brussel sprouts.

Speaking of Top Chef, there were plenty of Top Chef moments, including duck confit with smoked almonds, dates and some kind of foam, and a chorizo-crusted flounder in garlic saffron boulibasse, Israeli couscous and fried parsley. There was definitely a lot of wow factor going on here.

My favorite dish was the soft, tender and melt in your mouth wagyu beef that was served with winter vegetables and short rib canneloni. Or maybe it was the dessert of custard filled lemon meringue donut holes which was an amazing combination of some of my favorite things.

The chef (Mr. Banker) brought many of the dishes to our table himself and both he and our server, Brian, made us feel at home while serving us these beautiful, delicious dishes that felt truly special. Our last dish was a spiced apple sorbet that was brought to the table and doused with sparking wine before serving.

So despite my prior snarkiness, I can say nothing but good things about this dinner, which turned out to be one of my favorite dining experiences ever. And that pie-in-the-sky notion of a chef's table I had seems so not the point after thoroughly enjoying myself here.

But I'm still a bit curious. Has anyone else out there had a memorable chef's table dining experience?


Sunday, February 05, 2012

Brown Butter Bittersweet Chocolate Cookies

makes 1 1/2 dozen cookies
recipe adapted from Lauren's Latest
prep time: 25 min / cook time: 7-8 min

1/2 c unsalted butter
1/2 c sugar
1/2 light brown sugar, packed
1 egg, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/3 c all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp baking soda
1 c bittersweet chocolate, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350°F.
• Line baking sheet with parchment or silicone baking mat and set aside.
• Place butter into small pot or pan over medium heat. After butter has melted, start swirling pot/pan gently until it starts to brown and become fragrant. Once butter is a golden amber color, take off the heat and pour into the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.
• Add in sugar and brown sugar and beat for a few seconds to mix.
• Add egg and vanilla, beat to combine.
• Add dry ingredients and mix slowly until combined.
• With a spatula or wooden spoon, fold in the chopped chocolate.
• Scoop by the teaspoon into pan and bake for 7-8 minutes or until lightly golden around the edges.
• Remove from the oven and cool for 5 minutes then transfer to a cooling rack.

• For tips on freezing cookie dough, check out The Pastry Affair.



Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Ferry Building Farmer's Market

I was listening to something on the news about Groundhog Day – the actual day, which made me think about the movie, which started my wondering what my ideal/perfect day would be if I had to re-live it over and over. And while I’m still figuring out what the majority of that day would look like (so far I have Milo (my dog) time, a Storage Wars marathon, playing Words With Friends in peace, and a nap) – a visit to the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market would be nice to add onto that list.

Which is why it’s crazy that it’s taken me this long to actually go. Happening on Thursdays and Saturdays, the Farmer's Market at the Ferry Building is definitely a destination for foodies and shoppers alike - a gourmet's paradise against the picturesque backdrop of the bay. Add to that clear skies and sunshine, and you have one of those perfect, why-would-you-want-to-live-anywhere-else San Francisco type of days.

I was first drawn to Roli Roti, this ridiculous food truck-slash-rotisserie on wheels, as were a ton of others as I joined a line that was probably 50 people deep. I didn't even know what porchetta was - but quickly learned it's pork loin wrapped in pork belly and herbs and roasted to a juicy, glistening perfection. Add some fresh greens, onion marmalade and a chewy Acme roll and you have # 12 on 7x7's 2010 list of things to eat before you die.

Next I siddled up to Blue Bottle Coffee's stand for one of the Bay Area's strongest, purest hand-pours. At $4 a cup it's a bit steep, but experiencing the near-science experiment skill and precision of the barista is almost worth it.
I was a bit torn at my next stop, Mexican food spot Primavera, between ordering one of my all-time favorite dishes, chilaquiles - or chicken tinga, something I never had before. The chilaquiles won out and me over - as I dug into a warm, spicy plate of soft eggs, beans, tortilla strips, cheese and fresh avocado covered with a gorgeous red chile sauce.
I'm already a big fan of Namu, but couldn't pass up a chance to try their version of loco moco - a comforting bowl of rice with a grass fed beef patty and fried egg and topped with a luscious dashi gravy. And while I'm still not 100% sold on a sheet of nori being an adequate taco shell stand in, Namu's taco with tender short rib meat, pickled daikon, seasoned rice, kimchi remoulade and a drizzle of homemade teriyaki was pure yum.

Finally, I stopped at 4505 Meats and while I sadly didn't have any more room (their bacon hot dog sure sounded enticing) - I bought a couple of bags of chicaronnes. For the uninitiated, these fried pieces of pork skin aren't quite like the stuff you get at 7-11. An article I read referred to them as "pig candy" and they will simply amaze you. One bite is a crunchy, crispy, slightly sweet, spicy, melt in your mouth combo that will make an instant addict out of you. (And it's not just me, SFoodie ranks it #76 on their top local foods list).

So yes, an hour at the Ferry Building Farmer's Market is defintely something I could re-live over and over. So what does your ideal/perfect/Groundhog day look like?


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