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Grappa Galore at Bar 888

15 Sep

There are 3 things you should know about me: I like grapes, 8 is my favorite number and I like hard alcohol. Pull the slot machine of luck and we have a winner at Bar 888. A few weeks ago, I got a message on Twitter from the InterContinental Hotel asking me to follow them so they can DM me an invite. It sounded mysterious, so I followed and they hit up my DM box with a grappa tasting invite. Done! I like the word grappa and I knew involved grapes and alcohol. I remember it listed as an ingredient in a few cocktails that I had and I knew it alone was very strong. But that is where my knowledge stopped. I will save you all a Wikipedia visit by saying that grappa is made from distilling the pulp, seeds, skins, and stems from grapes. In other words, the waste product from winemaking.

I arrived at the hotel lounge and was escorted to Luce where the grappa bottles were hand selected from the Bar 888 bar to try. The rest of the evening went something like this: a welcome grappa cocktail, two grappas made from muscat grapes that tasted very different, some light bite food consuming, another grappa cocktail, and more straight grappa samplings. The Luigi Francoli muscato grappa was one of my favorites of the evening. It was floral and easily as complex as wine as each one poured gave off a completely different aroma and taste.

Some were aged for a long time and almost bourbon like, others were more like a high quality vodka that had been flavored. Normally, I would have thought Tagliatella to be a pasta, but it was a flavored grappa by Nardini with a fruity and bitter taste that the sommelier explained was a bit like Fernet Light. Ugh please, I have lived in SF for more than a year, I don’t even ginger back anymore; I go straight…and hard.

I spent a good amount of time really delving into the grappa menu that is endless. First there are more than 10 grappa cocktails and there is a list of bottles that simply never ends. I asked the som if this was the biggest grappa list in San Francisco, he nodded and then said, “Probably the biggest west of the Rockies.” It’s pretty incredible. I am now at that point in my life when I can see an item on a menu or a dress in a store and without tasting it or trying it on I can be right about 90% of the time that it will be a Cinderella fit for my body/palate and that I will love it. I read the word chamomile on the grappa menu and I knew I just had to have it. I am a sucker for tea infusions it accounts for all of my favorite desserts, macarons, and ice creams so it may as well work for my grappa. I begged to try it and I was right, it was my dream spirit. Smooth like honey and tasting of honey. One sip and I was transported to my childhood, picking the yellow buds of chamomile off the field. Squashing it on my fingers and putting my nose as deeply into it as possible to pull out the tea scent that I knew. My cups of tea that I would make around this single digit age would have so much honey and sugar at the bottom that the first few sips were watery torture while I waited for the thick sweet stuff that could hardly make its way down the cup. Yeah, this bottle of Marolo Grappa & Camomile was pretty incredible.

I recommend you save the grappa cocktail drama for your mama, and head to Bar 888 for some serious straight up grappa tasting.

My Six Top Bites from SF Street Food Fest

29 Aug

In the Mission district of San Francisco a couple of  Saturdays ago, an expansive variety of street food was served at the 3rd annual San Francisco Street Food Festival, put on by La Cocina. Food carts, trucks, stands, coolers, grills, and brick-and-mortar restaurants showcased their offerings of food and drinks priced from $1-$8. People carried cash or special event passports in search of all the best food they could find. I was on the scene scouting local foodie goodness.

Here are the top picks from this indulgent day:

#6 Watermelon Gazpacho from Commonwealth

In several years of covering food events, I like to think that I have reached some kind of method for the madness. For instance, after judging a cupcake challenge, I go straight to a vegan restaurant for some on-the-fly cleansing. Rational? My approach perhaps makes no nutritional sense, but it’s what I do. Another well-honed tactic: There is something to be said about starting an event off with a shot of liquid courage, so that is another food fest rule. For this afternoon, I started with a shot of watermelon gazpacho with lemon verbena oil artfully decorating the top. It was sweet and tart as I shot it down, prompting a handful of fellow foodie goers to ask, “That looks so refreshing, where did you get?”

The answer was Commonwealth, a top Mission restaurant who had a stand for this event and offered the shooter for $2. It was an inexpensive way to coat my stomach with something ostensibly healthy before the delicious abuse it was about to endure.

#5 Thai Grilled Chicken with Sticky Rice from Lers Ros

Next up was the most beautiful-looking chicken and sticky rice I’ve ever seen. I was on the prowl for something substantial but not too heavy (read: fried). I was excited to encounter Lers Ros, a top Thai restaurant in San Francisco. The restaurant features a diverse menu including items such as frog legs and alligator. I have yet to visit and try these exotic meats that “taste like chicken,” so it was beneficial to see how they actually prepared their food. They do it very well. It fell off the bone. I generously rescued it with a spoon and grabbed some sticky rice for a full dip in the sweet and spicy chili sauce. My first thought? Oddly enough, that this is how mall food should taste.

#4 S’mores from Kika’s Treats

In an interview I did with San Francisco local and Top Chef: Just Desserts winner, Yigit Pura, he confessed that Kika’s Treats were one of his favorite sweets. I endured the long line to see what spell the chocolate-dipped graham crackers held over a master pastry chef. One look at the torch turning a marshmallow and a graham cracker into a S’more and I got it.

#3 Banh Mi and Pad Thai Taco from The Peached Tortilla

Some out-of-state vendors were present and I was so intrigued by one menu that I had to try all of the offerings. A food truck from Austin, Texas that was serving a Pad Thai taco and a Banh Mi taco? Obviously I had to try both. I got the Pad Thai taco with tofu and was a little turned off by the look it. Noodle-free, essentially a mash-up of toppings, I had my doubts. One bite in and I realized the best part of pad thai: the sauce, the crushed peanuts, the bean sprouts and the lime wedge. The tortilla was just the vessel for this flavor powerhouse. The Banh Mi taco was similarly fashioned, but had Vietnamese braised pork belly with pickled Daikon and carrots topped with Srichacha mayo and cilantro. Once again, the toppings were supreme. If I lived in Texas, you can guarantee this would be my go-to truck after a night of cocktailing.

#2 The Yes Please! from The Crème Brulee Man

Living in San Francisco, the Crème Brulee Man – and his Twitter feed – is one of my regular haunts. For the festival, I had a mouthwatering brulee featuring Nutella and balsamic strawberry. I can now die and go to heaven.

#1 Arepa de Queso from The Arepa Lady

I do not recall when or where I first heard about The Arepa Lady, but like a mythical creature, I knew she existed. Hailing from Jackson Heights in New York, she also goes by the nickname “Sainted Arepa Lady.” As part of the visiting vendor program, she graced us and gave us all a great Arepa gift. It may have the same appearance as a Salvadorian Pupusa, but the Arepa version is much denser and sweeter. Summed up? Imagine tender dough cheese-filled, buttered and grilled to a brown and crispy sweet perfection – and then topped with more cheese. This was, without question, the best thing I ate at the festival. Possibly ever. (Butter! Cheese!)

For the final paragraph, please see the full article on EcoSalon.

Side note: My whole life I’ve wanted nepotism but despite the awesome editor and I having the same last name, sadly, we are not related.

Top Three Spring Forward Dishes in SF

20 Apr

The bunny has hopped on, your clocks have sprung forward, and now it is time for your springy palate to do the same. I’m anti-wearing pastel but pro-rabbit and vegetable eating. I may be Jewish but I have a special place in my heart for the Easter bunny. My favorite spring time dishes include: rabbit, asparagus, peas, and eggs. Because asparagus leaves behind an unpleasant odor, I am ignoring it from the list. Deal with it.

#3 Deviled Jidori Eggs at Wayfare Tavern

It’s the season of crucifixions and rebirth, of ying and yang, of the white and the yolk. And while hard-boiled and creme-filled might be good enough for some, what if you want to delve into the darker, dare we say more devilish side of the egg? The egg dish that’s so controversial that when it appears at church potlucks it has to go by an alias?

Deviled eggs just don’t have the same ring when they bear the euphemism “salad eggs” or “dressed eggs.” The “deviled” part comes from the spice, mustard and paprika mainly, though those can seem way too vanilla these days. If you’re looking for a heightened level of devilishness, head to Wayfare Tavern. Its deviled Jidori eggs ($9) feature mustard- and crème fraiche-whipped yolks, radish, celery leaves, and bottarga.

That’s what we like about TyFlo: He could go all out and give us caviar on our deviled eggs, but like Jesus he’s a man of the people, so he features roe of the peasant variety. It’s the salty edge to the sinfully delicious yolk concoction, filling the cavity of the otherwise pure egg white. That’s hot. [Read SFoodie post]

#2 Chicken-Fried Rabbit, Rabbit Toast, and Celery Salad at Comstock Saloon

I have written about this dish in such length because I absolutely adore it, it is one of the best things I ever ate. Rabbit several different way, a hot sauce to pour over it, and a fresh and crisp celery salad…sign me up! This is the year of the rabbit, this is the season for rabbit, and as a single girl living in SF rabbit is always in season. Pair the rabbit with a whiskey cocktail at the saloon and I can guarantee that you will be all bright eyed and bushy tailed.

#1 English Pea Flan at Fifth Floor

Peas, the shoots of life, have never been presented in a way more beautiful than the flan that The Baz created. David Bazirgan has brought a new level of hotness to Fifth Floor, he was even voted the hottest chef in America by Eater reader votes. The savory custard has snap peas, pea shoots, cumin, and carrot air. The aroma is intoxicating and the texture is so decadent. I am an uni fanatic, I even own the URL Looney Uni dot com, and I was under the impression that nothing could top the uni flan that The Baz created his first month in at Fifth Floor, but he outdid himself. The pea flan is where it’s at, so get it before it is out of season.

Cupcake Challenge Coming to San Francisco

23 Feb

It’s award season and it is also my first February in many years not living in LA. I miss the excitement of Hollywood during the Globes, Grammy’s and Academy Awards. Thankfully, I just got word that one of my favorite events has followed me up to San Francisco and that is the Cupcake Challenge. I was a judge last year in LA and it was some serious business. I have never run a marathon but I am sure the experience is similar. Exciting build-up, adrenaline rushing, a sugar high peak, extreme exhaustion, wondering if you can finish, and then a disbelief that you made it through. That’s right, I am a food baller.

Last year, I tried bites from 40 cupcakes. I left in a sugar coma and wanted nothing more than vegetables and meat. I kept telling everyone: “I survived.” I had a dumb grin on my face and kept repeating to myself: I made it. I went to battle. I survived.

It was such an event that I am so happy to have experienced it. San Francisco, let me offer up some words of advice and get you ready for San Francisco’s first ever Cupcake Challenge.

Here’s all the info from the organizer Drink:Eat:Play:

SF Cupcake Challenge

Lets get reaaaaaady to rumble! The baking gloves are coming off as the best bakeries from around the Bay Area will compete for the title of “best cupcake” in three categories:  traditional, original, and overall. Attendees will have an opportunity to taste and judge dozens of bakeries’ best submissions and finally put to rest which bakery makes the best cupcake.  The competition will take place March 6 from 1pm to 4pm at Mezzanine in San Francisco

Tickets are $40 and can be purchased here

http://www.drinkeatplay.com/sfcupcakechallenge/

Here’s my personal advice:

  1. Bring tupperware and lots of it.
  2. Take a bite of each cupcake so you can score and judge, but take the rest to go.
  3. Plan what you will eat for a “real” meal afterward ahead of time because your brain won’t be working properly after the event. I rarely recommend vegan restaurants but on this occasion I make an exception. You can have meat but make sure lots of veggies are included in your post-cupcake meal.
  4. Eat a light meal ahead of time, like soup and salad.
  5. Score as you go along.

Alright, those are my frosting pearls of wisdom. Good luck and I hope those cupcakes make you cream and bring you to a mission fruition!

Most Romantic Foodie Dates

17 Feb

My artichoke heart and hearts of palm V-Day dip

We are still in the month of February and love is still in the air. I have recently written about S.F’s Best Restaurants for a First Date and Eight Dishes to Get Your Valentine Thinking About Sex, so I guess that makes me an expert on food and love. One question: Why I am never fully satiated with either and still on the hunt for delicious food and a delicious lover? True Story:  I once had a guy work on a comic book for me called The Insatiables.

Let me steer men and women to foodgasms and orgasms alike, and hopefully polish myself off at the same time. In my experience, people that are passionate about food are passionate about love making. Foodies make the best lovers! So here are three different date ideas to indulge in some good food and land yourself a foodie.

Date #1: How about we…head to Tartine and share a banana cream tart.

Photo Credit: BrasilPo P. on Yelp

Tartine can be trite, there is always a line around the block, and since the New York Times deemed it the “Best Bakery in America” it is a top foodie destination. So, why am I recommending this place? First, it does give you some foodie street cred. Secondly, it is a damn good bakery and the dish that I am talking about is perfect. Bananas in cream, is just as sexy as it comes. Hot apple pie is for teenagers, banana cream pie is for lovers. Grab a fork for each of you, dig into the flaky crust, and go to town on the sweet creamy filling.

Date #2 How about we…sit at the Hog Island Oyster Co. bar and slurp oysters together.

Photo Credit: Katherine C. on Yelp

Anyway you shuck it or serve it, oysters are sexy. A well-known aphrodisiac that has reminded us of lady parts for centuries just happens to be the most elite of foods meant for the most refined of palates. If foodie was a religion, then the Ferry Building would be it’s Mecca. The Hog Island Oyster Co. in the Ferry Building is an institution in itself and is the perfect place to have a date. The guys will do the heavy shucking, you and your date just get to slurp away and let the slimy goodness work its magic.

Date #3 How about we…head to Tony’s and eat a meatball pizza pie, eh?

“When the moon hits your eye
Like a big-a pizza pie
That’s amore”

The two things we are talking about, food and romance, the Italians do very well. A date in San Francisco’s very own Little Italy, North Beach, is a date worth having. Tony’s Pizza Napoletana is by far my favorite pizza in this city. I am a meatball girl (how am I still single?) and my favorite pizza is the Soprano with Tony’s famous meatballs on top, I also have them add on some ricotta. I think of Tony Soprano, my mouth experiences great things, I down a couple glasses of chianti, and even if my date happens to be lame I come out a winner. Between meatballs and a circular pie, I will be having a ball and so will you!

These three date options will charm the pants off of any foodie and if, for any reason, it doesn’t you will at the very least go home feeling that the food satisfied you!

Fleur de Lys: The Black Feast

6 Jan


White Parties a la Puff Daddy are so 2000 and late. The new trend is Diddy and Black Feasts. Fleur de Lys is home of the other chef Keller, Hubert, and is notorious as one of the classiest joints in San Francisco; even if one of the housewives spit out foie in her napkin, sacrilegious!

Anyway, on January 21st, Fleur de Lys will be home to a Black Feast of epic proportions known as, Le Regal Noir. You get dressed up in black velvet and black diamonds and enter the private dining room for 5-courses of “Black”: think black truffles, black cod, and everything else black and decadent. The drinks poured during the special night are as impressive as any Hamptons party:

  • Krug Champagne
  • Black Bottle Cabernet wine with dinner (valued at $1,000 per bottle)
  • Pouring of Angel’s Share International’s The Black Mirror, a 47-year-old single malt scotch whiskey from Scotland (valued at $375,000 a cask)
  • Exclusive, not available to the public, specially created black, hand-rolled Payne-Mason cigar for each guest ($120 value)

The price tag isn’t cheap but it is well worth it and it includes tax, tip, valet, and a ton of other perks and specials that are available for this night only.

Head over to Gilt City and make your ticket purchase and feel free to buy one for me while you are at it!

http://www.giltcity.com/san-francisco/fleurdelys

Here’s to making 2011 as luxurious, black, and wonderful as possible!

 

OAKland is A-OK! Bocanova, El Tio Juan and Adesso

4 Aug

My move to San Francisco has really been quite extraordinary and I always seem to sum it up into a single word: Roots. Nope, no mini-series about slavery. This transition in my life is about coming back to my Bay Area roots and about planting my own. The best part of this experience is reconnecting to my old roots and that means family and friends. The picture above is me and my friend Analisa, and it was taken at our Junior High graduation. We have been friends since 4th grade when we were both newcomers to the same school. She has always been someone that I have respected and considered a friend but in high school I very much went my own way. I knew since I was 14 what college I wanted to go to and that I wanted to live in LA, so high school always felt like a holding cell. Analisa and I had been friends via Facebook and Twitter for the last few years but I really had not heard her voice since our high school graduation (4 years after that photo was taken). When I moved to San Francisco, a month ago, I reconnected with this old friend and it has been fantastic. I have learned that she is a Social Media expert and quite the little foodie. We are made in friend heaven. In fact, the first time I saw her she took me to Comstock, which I am dying to return to. We drank cocktails and ate chicken fried rabbit and all was right in the world; we were back to being friends. Analisa lived in San Francisco for a while after college but now she lives and works in Oakland and for me atleast she is Oakland’s greatest advocate.

Two weeks ago, I set forth on my first real Oakland adventure. I had met her there once prior but this was going to be the ultimate tour. Tying to shed myself of my LA ways, I took the bus and BART to Oakland. It was all fairly painless especially since Analisa cued me into the almighty Clipper Card. She picked me up right out of the station and she took me to Bocanova. Well well well I wasn’t expecting this, we walked into an over-designed gorgeous industrial styled restaurant and were asked if we had a reservation. I knew that the NY Times had recently written about them but still I was impressed. We sat at the chef’s counter and I ordered my new signature cocktail: The Last Word. It was excellent, as was our server and the bartender who came up to me saying how much he liked my drink choice. We then went on to Walu “White Tuna” crudo and the bone marrow. The crudo was refreshing and we had to keep it just with papaya on top because I somehow remembered that Analisa had a mango allergy. This is mission fruition and I think I make it pretty clear  that I love fruit components on every dish. The bone marrow was yummy, but when isn’t bone marrow delicious? Although, I was disappointed that they cut it vertically instead of horizontally. I always get the impression that I am eating a push-pop when I eat that way. Also, after Animal’s perfect pairing of bone marrow and chimichurri there really is no better combination for this dish. All other bone marrow dishes have been put to shame.

The service and the atmosphere were so good that I could have stayed at that bar and ordered more and more food, spent a ton of money, and watched the chefs all night but thankfully Analisa saved my wallet and we had more planned for the evening. I remember from our days of class plays that Analisa was a good actress and on this particular night she was going to be in a production of Steel Magnolias. I had seen the movie and was looking forward to but I didn’t realize until Analisa was talking to the waitress that she had the Julie Roberts role. Hold the phone, I was having cocktails and plates with the star of a play that would happen in less than an hour. Not only that but the waitress knew all about the production and said that the host wasn’t there tonight because he had to see the play. I was given strict orders to look for him: the flamboyant guy with blue hair. I was a little bit in celebrity awe and now more excited than ever to see the show. Analisa has a boyfriend who loves taco trucks. After years of living in LA and late night Highland Park taco runs, I share his love. I was still a little hungry from these plates and was shocked when she asked if we wanted to go to the best taco truck before her play. Um, does the Pope where a funny hat? How did this girl know me so well?

In a short amount of time we arrived at the El Tio Juan truck. It’s funny both Analisa and I took four years of Spanish in high school but her spanish trumps mine, so I left the ordering to her. She swore by the chorizo taco and I was up for it, shocked that the star of the play would eat curbside with me. She also asked for a side of the grilled onions. Now these onions weren’t the kind of grilled onions that you get with your bacon wrapped hot dog at 3A, not that there is anything wrong with that. These were cipollini onions that were thrown on the grill skin on and my god they were delicious. This should be a condiment at all taco trucks. Speaking of condiments, on top of our tacos was a variety of pickled vegetables. It was more than the just the pickled carrots and jalepeno, there were radishes and cucumbers and even more onions. The tacos were perfection, with just enough heat. Not enough to make me say, “I need someone to make out with me, my mouth is on fire” I have sadly said that on several occasions but this was also more heat than your average taco truck.

Analisa then drove us to the theater, quickly brushed her teeth, and transformed into a Southern Belle. She did all this while I reminiscing on my tacos and said hello to my new blue haired friend. Right before the play started the director came up to me and said, “Hi Carina, Analisa told me to say hello to you” I told him how excited I was and that this was my first real time in Oakland, He corrected me that this was Alameda. Oh well, close enough. For the next two or so hours I was completely transported to that beauty salon. There was nothing but a handful of women on stage and they all shined brillintly. This play was superior to the movie and while I may be biased, Analisa was more charming than Julia Roberts. I left the play with Analisa and we still had more of Oakland to see.

Our next stop was Adesso and we were joined by my new Bulgarian friend. It was a dark bar with salumi for days (Bay Area lingo), strong cocktails, and this snack buffet on the side that was complimentary. That is my favorite price and I filled up on breads, cheese, and olives. My friend Kristina, the Bulgarian, just got off work and wanted chocolate cake. Analisa and I didn’t complain and we all indulged in a delicious flourless chocolate cake. After fish, bone marrow, chorizo tacos, and chocolate cake others may have stopped but we had the hankering for more meat. We got a sample salumi platter and I was set.

If you don’t all have an Oakland ambassador as fantastic as Analisa then simply follow these exact plans…you will be in heaven. Oakland has high-end food, low-end food, culture, arts, and even hip little late night places offering free salami. Yes, I am currently overwhelmed with how many places in San Francisco there are to try but Oakland is definitely on my radar and I have Analisa to thank for that!

Bocanova

55 Webster St
Oakland, CA 94607
Neighborhood: Jack London Square

(510) 444-1233

www.bocanova.com/

El Tio Juan Truck

40th Ave. and Foothill

Adesso

4395 Piedmont Ave
(between Brandon St & Pleasant Valley Ave)
Oakland, CA 94611
Neighborhoods: North Oakland, Piedmont Ave

(510) 601-0305

www.dopoadesso.com/

Analisa Svehaug

http://analisasvehaug.com/

http://twitter.com/socialarts

Altarena Theater

http://www.altarena.org/

Steel Magnolias playing until August 8th