Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Market Recap: Week 16

It's been about a month since I've posted a Market Recap. This past weekend there were a lot of summer fruits and vegetables to be had at the Grand Lake Farmer's Market. Two weeks ago a single stand was selling cherries for $4.00, now there are a handful of stands selling them for as little as $2 a pound. We were particularly happy to find cherries at the Lagier Ranches stand; the first fruit they'd had in over a month. I would have photos of these cherries, but we have eaten them all.

Likewise the small ufo-shaped peaches we picked up. My wife and I both feel as though we've been burned by stone fruit in recent summers. These were great though, deeply flavorful and intensely sweet. The only indication that it was May and not, say, July was a slightly mealy quality to the flesh. At the same stand, we picked up squash blossoms.

The Tip-Top Farms folks had what looked like the last of this year's Cardoons and also Garlic Scapes. Scapes, which I think will be next year's green garlic, are supposed to be at their curly and tender best between mid-June and July.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Coming and Going: Volume 02

A few months ago I posted my first Coming and Going entry - a kind of minor-league Inside Scoop. This time around I met my sources at a grand opening party for Mignonne, a new store in downtown Oakland. Here's what they had to say:
The folks who run Dona Tomas and Tacubaya, will be opening a Tequila Bar on the New Amsterdam stretch of Telegraph Avenue, not far from Uptown. While these details are new, I first heard about this from our friend Penny early last month.

The rights to open a restaurant in the boat house on Lake Merrit have gone to the owner of Luka's, who intends to open a steak house there. Incidentally, Oakland institution Everet and Jones appears to have missed out on the spot, following a rare City Council vote by outgoing Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown.

The owners of B will open a third restaurant in the space formerly occupied by Clouds, in San Francisco's Yerba Buena Center. They also operate the Boxed Lunch Company.

Tamarindo Antojeria will feature more seafood dishes as summer picks up, including a dish they sampled the other night of raw shrimp marinated in citrus juices and chiles, served with cucumber and avocado slices.

Orlando, so much to answer for.

Been a bit since I've posted. There was a winter's worth of neglect to undo in the backyard, then work led me to Orlando for a week. We stayed at the Omni Hotel. There were five restaurants on the hotel grounds, each with a distinct ethnic focus. Not a frequent domestic traveler, I first noticed this phenomenon in Las Vegas — the hotel as a kind of culinary microcosm of the world. At the Omni, there were American, Italian, and asian fusion restaurants. — each had the same wine list.

Each restaurant also seemed to get a piece of the equation for success right. Zen was intriguingly designed, Trevi's had just updated most of their menu to eliminate food that was more American than Italian, David's dished up intensely flavorful plates. By day four it added up to well less than the sum of its parts. This wouldn't have been so disconcerting, but they were clearly trying hard to do serious food.

Back safe in our culinary bubble, we're looking forward to the Farmer's Market this weekend. My tomato plants are starting to take off, the citrus trees out front have tons of new leaves and blossoms. I've almost completely blocked out the memory of a tempura-fried crab wrap that was fried whole rather than stuffed with deep-fried crab.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Aziza Restaurant in San Fracnciso

Went with a friend to Aziza last night. In light of my New York Times reading habits, I'd somehow missed the considerable local buzz over this place. I had, in fact, never heard of it. As we approached I was convinced that the place was closed. The front door is made of an exceptionally dark glass that obscures light.

The food was good, and we ate a lot of it. There was an unusually long pause between our starters and the main courses. Long enough that our server felt compelled to bring us one of the desserts as a "palate cleanser" - a roasted meyer lemon sorbet. He attributed the wait to our having ordered one of four dishes that the chef plates himself. The table behind us apparently did too, but worked the system for a free dessert during the dessert course as well.

All told we ate:

• mariquita's cardoon
• marin roots farm wild arugula
• prather ranch kefta skewers
• grilled spicy lamb sausage
• paine farm squab
• devils gulch ranch rabbit

The specific preparation of each dish is available on the Aziza website's menu page. The sides, sauces, and seasonings did generally have a mediterranean aspect that wouldn't necessarily be evident looking at the dishes themselves.

We also ate dessert. I brought my wife home two of the most delicious dates I've ever tasted, and a perfectly ripe Pixie Mandarin. I even managed to bring home some of my rabbit.

The wine list tended to have several reasonably priced bottles ($70.00-$40.00)in a variety of styles, and one decidedly more expensive bottle ($70.00+/-) in each style. This seemed like some kind of trap.

Something about our experience prevented me from actively wanting to head back with my wife. I'm not sure that Bar Crudo is really operating on a similar plane in terms of sheer culinary sophistication, but after my first visit I was eager to head back.

The Aziza leftovers made a pretty strong case though. I expect to be back soon.

Berkshire Pork Shoulder-cut Chops

Berkshire pork is enjoying a lipid content-fueled vogue, at places like Momofuku in New York - where two re-interpreted Berkshire Pork belly Pork Buns will set you back $8.00. In addition to the amount of marbling it exhibits, the meat is also incredibly rich in pork flavor. Jonathan Kauffman over at East Bay Express, describes it as the foodie breed of the moment in his review of B.

We buy ours from Doug Stonebreaker of Prather Ranch at the Grand Lake Farmer's Market, though I supsect you can also get it at the Prather Ranch retail shop in the Ferry Building in San Francisco.

My wife is not a big fan of fat, and will purposefully separate meat from fat no matter how much I dim the lights before dinner. How then did we come to purchase two shoulder-cut chops, weighing nearly a pound each?

When I asked for two chops I was buying mostly out of Berkeley Bowl habit. The shoulder-cut chops were relatively cheap, and Doug had indicated that they were his favorite on the dry-erase board that he uses to list available cuts of meat.

When he set them down on the counter for us to look at, I knew that the marbling and large band of fat along one side would not go without comment. Still, Doug insisted that most of the marbling would "cook out".

After grilling, the meat was predictably moist. The sheer pork flavor of the chop was intense, and brought to mind bacon or even sausage. Searing the band of fat over high heat, allowed slow cooking to reduce the fat to a liquid-like state trapped inside a crispy outer shell.