Friday, December 31, 2010

Croquer: Brenda's French Soul Food

The rain was relentless. Somewhere across the Tenderloin, a sponsored brunch was well underway for attendees of Foodbuzz Fest. But Catherine and I stood under an umbrella, Philz Coffees in hand, patiently waiting amongst several other umbrella'd folk for our name to be called from the warm and dry doorway of Brenda's French Soul Food. I wasn't shocked when Windattack texted me, finished with the sponsored brunch and ready for a more substantial meal. "We're standing here in the rain. At least a half hour to go.. Join us," I said. "I'm told it'll be worth it."
A solid hour after our arrival, Catherine's name was called and the three of us filed into the cramped single room to our counter seat facing a mirrored wall. It was loud, cozy, and perfect. The sugar cane syrup cans holding silverware, Crystal hot sauce bottles, and Community Coffee bags lining the shelves above the register took me instantly back to New Orleans. I was so ready for this.
With a piping chicory coffee in front of me the menu became more manageable. The three of us decided to start with the flight of beignets.
The flight came in four selections: Plain, filled with molten Ghirardelli chocolate, Granny Smith apple with cinnamon honey butter, and crawfish with cayenne, scallions and cheddar. The only problem was that they came out at the same time as the rest of our food so we had to hurry to enjoy them warm. The savory crawfish beignet powdered with cayenne was my favorite.. as sultry as the South itself.
Catherine and Andy both ordered the Creole Veggie Omelette - filled with corn maque choux, tomato, onion, peppers, spinach, and cheddar. The star may have been the huge homemade biscuit on the side. Fluffy golden deliciousness.
I ordered one of the specials scrawled on the mirror in front of us - Shrimp & Grits. Here the classic was dressed up with loads of cheddar cheese and smoky bacon jam. Words cannot describe the pleasure derived from savoring each bite! And after the hour out in the rain I took my time to do just that. Well, and dork out with my fellow bloggers.

652 Polk St. San Francisco, CA 94102; 415.345.8100
Brenda's French Soul Food on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 27, 2010

Super Bon!: Humphry Slocombe

And then one day everything changed.

I began following Humphry Slocombe on Twitter, well, because the voice and vision intrigued me. How could it not? With ice cream and sorbet flavor announcements such as Jesus Juice (red wine and Coke) and Elvis, the Fat Years (banana ice cream with bacon peanut brittle) the balance of whimsy and mouth watering possibility seemed endless. While several local LA institutions such as Scoops have opened doors wide for ice cream play, something about this Humphry Slocombe "character", sense of humor, and -pardon me- balls surpassed its contemporaries. Finally after months of tweet lust, I was visiting the little Mission shop of my dreams.

It was nearing closing time and Humphry Slocombe was warm inside, the aroma of baking berry crisp thick in the air. The cream mongers smiled, rolling their heads back toward the prep area. "Pastries for the morning," they explained, clearly noticing my eyes widen and nose lift in the air.

The case holds about 12 flavors at a time, which rotate regularly. Several in the case included other SF local favorites, such as Boccolone Prosciutto and Blue Bottle Vietnamese Coffee. I tasted the prosciutto first, creamy and not overly sweet, with a soft pleasant pigginess. The Pumpkin Seed and Black Sesame were both appropriately nutty and robust. After several tastes I became too shy to push it, and went without trying the Jesus Juice (sigh).

Double scoop it was - the no-brainer was their signature Secret Breakfast (bourbon & cornflakes). I boldly chose the un-tested Salted Licorice for its mate and prayed for success. While the first bite of Secret Breakfast wooed me with liquor and mellow cereality, after tasting the electric licorice it ceased to hold up. Fireworks accompanied this salted licorice - intense smokiness, tang, and creamy framing made it a near perfect flavor in my mind. I looked helplessly around for a small corner big enough to sleep in, maybe dwell with few belongings. I couldn't fathom leaving here. How could I go on a usual life after this? Another sigh, a wave to the smiley mongers and we were off into the dark.

2790 Harrison St. San Francisco, CA 94110; 415.550.6971
Humphry Slocombe on Urbanspoon

Croquer: Mission Chinese Food

San Francisco is a kick ass food town, this we know. So when in Rome, how does one pick a dinner destination when there is only one slot to fill? How can you ever decide? Well, apparently just ask Lessley Anderson. She seems to always be right, and suggested without hesitation Mission Chinese Food. Once the popular Mission Street Food, the owners took their popular dishes indoors. A funny "in-the-know" type of joint, Mission Chinese Food is a pop-up inside of another restaurant - the divey Lung Shan Chinese Restaurant. Both menus are served, but the waiters seem to know which menu to drop by the table.
Perhaps due to their name and surroundings, the Mission Chinese chefs are careful to disclaim their craft, plainly labeling their offerings "Americanized Oriental Food." They are quick to bolster the term, stating: "Though we'll focus on Chinese food, we're leaving ourselves the freedom to incorporate other Asian flavor profiles. Our use of the term "oriental" is not meant to be offensive. The word is derived from a root meaning "eastern," which represents a Eurocentric orientation to Asia, and it was most often used in a bygone era when Europeans viewed the regions east of the Mediterranean as exotic lands full of "romance and intrigue." For us, as Asian-American cooks, using this loaded term is an indictment of the Eurocentricity of fine dining, but it's also meant to desensitize the term in that transcending-racism-by-not-interpreting-every-single-thing-as-racist way. You know, like the "queers" did." (cite)
This open approach to the cooking has brought an intoxicating array of atypical dishes to the menu. Selecting was near impossible. We decided to start with the tart and spicy Szechuan Pickles - Salted pickled cabbage, cucumber, roasted peanut, fresh coriander, and chili oil.
The slow-cooked Char Siu Pork Belly with tea smoked egg, ginger scallion, rolled noodles, and cucumber was melt-in-your mouth rich. Indulgence that can't not bring a smile to your face.
The Thrice Cooked Bacon was smoky and spicy - Thick cuts of meaty bacon tossed with rice cakes, bitter melon, tofu skin, scallion, black bean, and chili oil. A contender for favorite, the texture was as interesting as the flavor profile. Where have stir fried rice cakes been all my life???
The Westlake Lamb Dumplings -my other favorite- were handmade several feet away from our table. The lamb was terrifically spiced, steamed in freshly made rice dough, served with braised peanut, coriander, dill, and brown rice vinegar. Shockingly toothsome.
Lastly we sampled Lung Shan's Vegan Delight with shitake and oyster mushroom dumplings in miso soup. The light dish worked well as a palate cleanser after such a rich and incredible meal.
We sat in blissful awe, finished our beers while laughing, the soft chopping and forming of dough on the wood counter behind us. The hushed sound of happiness being wrought into consumable form.
*Mission Chinese Food donates seventy-five cents from each menu item to the SF Food Bank.

2234 Mission St.(Lung Shan Restaurant) San Francisco, CA 94110; 415.863.2800
Mission Chinese Food on Urbanspoon

Croquer: Farm Table

Let's be honest, anyone who drools over food as much as I do has a little dream somewhere in there to open their own cafe someday. When Catherine told me about a group of like-minded friends in San Francisco who got together and did just that, my heart ached with a tinge of jealousy - and hope. While walking the pug one afternoon, we stopped in at their extremely quaint (read: TINY) Farm Table to sample this dream team's wares.
With one table inside and barely enough room to stand and order one of the 3 or so items from the daily changing chalk board, I began to understand the realities of "starting small." At our sidewalk patio table Catherine explained their mission to get a Pavement to Parks type of extended seating platform over the parking spaces in front of the cafe - the wave of the future for urban San Francisco.
The fennel and English pea soup was light but layered with complex flavors, drizzled with fruity olive oil and cracked black pepper, served with incredible crusty sourdough bread.
I fell in love with the meatloaf sandwich, coarsely ground quality beef and sweet tomatoes with house aioli on the same thickest, softest sourdough bread... It was hard enough to share with Catherine, I had to apologize to the dog, there simply weren't any leftovers.

754 Post St. San Francisco, CA 94109; 415.292.7089
Farm:Table on Urbanspoon

Croquer: Tartine Bakery

With our Four Barrel Coffees in hand, we continued our stroll through the Mission up to the doorstep of San Francisco heavyweight Tartine Bakery & Cafe. With a line existing for good reason, my eyes scoured the cases, menus and bread themed art covering the walls. I sipped my coffee as the perennial scales weighed - Savory? Or sweet?
I stuttered an order to the man at the counter as I flipped through the Tartine cookbook, already regretting my choice purely out of covetousness.
The orange and cinnamon Morning Bun is a fluffy delicacy, and seems to be a defining item on the bakery's go-to list.
A simple salad, done right. One of the most beautiful sights.
Catherine's open-faced sandwich with mushrooms, vegetables and gruyere was a savory win.
You can't go wrong with creamy sheep cheese, jam, and sliced fruit... and this crusty hot pressed sandwich delivered just that.
My warmed flaky double pain au chocolat may have been simple, but the smooth Valrhona chocolate and buttery encasement made my heart sing. And left little desire for lunch.
Down the street on Valencia we passed the bakery's sister Bar Tartine. They weren't open yet, but the door was ajar and I snuck a peek of the interior. Sexy, with a reputation proceeding it, it's easily top of my list for SF return trip. 

600 Guerrero St. San Francisco, CA 94110; 415.487.2600
Tartine Bakery on Urbanspoon