Monday, July 5, 2010

California Trip

Ahhh...eating in San Francisco! We started our weekend with carnitas, carne asada and fish tacos (both grilled and fried) from Nick's Crispy Tacos, an all cash joint co-housed with a nightclub in a garnet red room festooned with crystal chandeliers. A bit of a disconnect for a casual taco lunch in plastic baskets with oilcloth tablecloths, but the tacos and guacamole were delicious. Late that afternoon, we boarded a cable car for Market Street and began our trek to Berkeley (cable car, followed by BART and then a walk) for dinner. It was only fitting that the round trip took longer than the dinner, I guess, as this was a pilgrimage of sorts.

When choosing a restaurant for our first dinner in San Francisco on what was also our twenty-first anniversary, Chez Panisse immediately came to mind. Despite many trips to San Francisco in the past, I'd never eaten there. I was somewhat concerned that I'd be disappointed - would the restaurant be worth the trek, would the food and atmosphere be as I imagined? Can any restaurant live up to such a build-up? But then, how could I be so close and not eat there? We decided to commit but to eat in the upstairs Cafe as it seemed more suited to our family of four. I made the reservation precisely one month prior to our dinner.

But how pleased we were. All of us. Maddy started with a pizzeta with wild nettles and ricotta cheese and continued with porcini mushroom lasagna. Paul and Ted each had a main course of crispy rabbit which was excellent. I was pretty impressed with my guys ordering that! I had sea bass (not Chilean) with fennel and potato puree. For dessert we shared an apricot tart with mulberry ice cream. We should have had two!

So, yes, it was worth it and the myth is not shattered!

All our meals were wonderful but one of the most unique was the kimchee fried rice topped with a fried egg from Namu at the Saturday market at the Ferry building. With offerings from all kinds of egg sandwiches on Acme bread to Mexican to all types of Asian food, we were overwhelmed by choice. We started out that morning with a steamed char shiu bao apiece from The Slanted Door's to go window "Out the Door" in the market itself. We then walked up one side and back down the other side of the interior of the Ferry building, oohing and aahing each shop. I noticed the Heath Ceramics that we'd eaten on the night before at Chez Panisse. After, we strolled through all the booths set up outside the building in search of the perfect breakfast. We ended up with a combination of egg and bacon sandwiches, kimchee, and fruit. We tasted the sweetest apricots I've ever had. In fact, we tasted everything that anyone offered us. Wonder what it is about artichokes that I never see them in markets in the DC area. I was speechless several times that morning at the abundance and variety of offerings. This felt like part II of the food pilgrimage that we had begun the night before in Berkeley.

We then had further food fun at Burma Superstar and Pizzeria Delfina and even squeezed in a Fathers' Day dim sum brunch at Yank Sing. Almost seems like too many meals for the number of days we were there! Burma Superstar has gotten lots of foodie press and was well worth the half hour wait for a table. Lunch ends at 3:30 and dinner begins at 5. We waited about a half an hour and were told we could stay and eat as long as we liked as long as our food order was in by 3:30. We got our food order in just in time and enjoyed delicious tea leaf salad, one of their specialities, along with a couple of Burmese noodle dishes, and some sauteed pea shoots. These were no ordinary pea shoots, though. The leaves were several times larger than what I buy as pea shoots. The menu says they are stir fried in wine and garlic and I think I ate practically the whole order myself. As we ate, we noticed the cooks entering the dining room, one by one, with steaming bowls of rice and toppings, to sit at a large, round table and enjoy their dinner before the restaurant's dinner service began.

Soon after our return to DC, I participated in the "DC Food 52-ers Canorama" - a full day canning extravaganza led by one of our most active and knowledgable participants, Mrs. Wheelbarrow, and hosted in Carlisle, PA by cheese1227. We came home with jars of cherry pie filling and stunning apricots in vanilla syrup to enjoy at some later date when it's not so warm and fresh fruit is not so plentiful. For our potluck lunch we ate banh mi sandwiches made from a food52 winning recipe. I brought sesame noodles as a side dish. These are flexible and you can sub in or add many different veggies, such as napa cabbage, cucumber or snow peas for the Chinese celery. Don't skimp on the Thai basil, though!

This dish does include honey and soy sauce and a goodly amount of oil, but it is enough to serve 8 as a side dish. I like to serve it alongside salmon, though tofu would work too. For vegans, you can substitute agave nectar for the honey, though I'd reduce the amount by a tablespoon and add a couple of teaspoons of warm water.

Sesame Noodles with Thai Basil

(serves 4 -6 as a main dish or about 8 as a side dish)

16 - 18 ounces udon noodles (you can also use soba or even spaghetti - I like to stick with a whole grain udon for this. The packages of udon don't seem to come in the typical 1 lb. package we're used to seeing with pasta. I have even used about 19 ounces of udon - two packages of 9 ounces each - and there was enough sauce)

3 shredded or julienned carrots (I use a julienne peeler). In a pinch you can use a few handfuls of pre-shredded carrots

2 cups Chinese celery, rough chopped stems and leaves

1/4 cup peanut or canola oil

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste

3 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

5 tablespoons honey

5 tablespoons lower sodium soy sauce

1 tablespoon sesame seeds

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions

1/2 cup chopped, unsalted peanuts

1/2 cup Thai basil - larger leaves roughly torn

1. Cook noodles according to package directions, leaving them al dente.

2. In a saucepan, lightly cook oils and red pepper over medium or medium-low heat for a few minutes, taking care not to let it boil. Stir.

3. Add the honey and soy sauce to the pot and stir well.

4. Place the carrots and celery into a large bowl and put the hot noodles right on top. Add the sauce over top and mix well.

5. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight. Let noodles come to room temperature for a half an hour or so and add the last five ingredients just before serving. Toss well.

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