Revoltingly Delicious

The other day I was exploring Little Saigon and found myself in a grocery store where I discovered this:

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Yes, durian is now available as jam. And it’s not your everyday breakfast experience.

When you open the jar, it’s hard not to gag as a whiff of durian greets you. It’s like someone let something rot in your kitchen.

As you spread it on your bread a bit of buyer’s remorse sets in. Why did I spend $5 on this imported crap? Is it fair to subject bread to this? Does bread have feelings?

When you go to eat your toast, you let it pause for a second above your lips and the aroma starts to trickle into the back of your throat. A gag is imminent if you don’t bite, so you take the plunge.

And the world instantly changes. A sweet, smooth flavor rolls over your tongue. And as you chew then swallow a slightly smoky sweetness lingers in your mouth.

Revolting the delicious. Revoltingly delicious. And not for everyone or everyday but a great find.

When Architects Open Cafes

For Christmas, Wen bought me a subscription to Mark magazine. Every two months visions of another architecture arrive at our house.

The last issue featured an article on architects who have opened businesses inside the spaces they designed. The concept of the article felt a little navel-gazely and trite, but then you have to remember that most architects never actually operate out of the spaces they design (Imagine working for the phone company and using the other guy’s service).

But I digress.

One of the places mentioned was the Stable Cafe in San Francisco. Turns out that an architect bought the building – an old stable – and put his studio on the upper floors. Unable to figure out what to do with it, he turned the lower level into a cafe.

Through sheer luck, I found myself in SF for a business meeting about six blocks away, so I headed on over afterwards.

Here’s the street view: a striking black building that blends the historic upper level with the more modern lower:
Stable Cafe

I want to come back in the summer as there’s an enormous outdoor patio area beside the building:

Stable Cafe

The cafe proper is an airy space with a rear loft. The front’s home to rotating oversized artworks:

Stable Cafe

Note the terrariums. Not just on the wooden slab table but also hanging below.

Here’s a view from the loft:

Stable Cafe

And here’s the kitchen where the friendly staff work. Note the La Marzocco machine; they take their coffee seriously here.

Stable Cafe

Worth a visit if you find yourself in San Francisco’s Mission.

The Sunday Sauce

Several years ago I had the pleasure of living in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. One of the neighbourhood locals was Frankies Spuntino (yes, plural, not possessive). The place was a rose-tinted glasses celebration of the Italian-American experience and a fantastic place to eat a hearty meal.

When they release a cookbook, I quickly bought it. However, between traveling, launching a startup and starting a family, the cookbook has languished. So today, I cracked it open, determined to cook a Sunday Sauce.

For those who don’t know, the Sunday Sauce (or Sunday Gravy according to Tony Danza) is basically a slow-cooked tomato sauce that becomes a vehicle for over-indulging in meat (and reminds every Italian American of Sunday at their grandma’s).

Heat a cup of olive oil on medium-low and brown 13 or so cloves of garlic for 10 minutes; your house will smell great. Toss in some red pepper flakes at the end and then four cans (96 oz) of San Marzano tomatoes (gotta be San Marzano or else you’re bastardizing the experience; hand-crush them before adding them).

Salt & pepper to taste, then start to wait. It’s going to take at least four hours to cook.

You should have something that looks like this:

Sauce Cooking

How do you improve on this sauce?

Meat.

We heated the oven to 350 and browned some ribs for 30 minutes. After that, we tossed ’em in the sauce and let them simmer for 3+ hours (needless to say, all the meat falls off the bone).

But you’ll need more than ribs.

You also want meatballs.

Here’s what you’ll need for the meatballs:

  • 2 lbs lean ground beef
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
  • 1/4 cup pecorino romano
  • 1/4 cup raisins or cranberries
  • 1/4 cup toasted & chopped pine nuts (I always toast them just before chopping)
  • Salt & pepper
  • 4 eggs
  • Bread crumbs

Throw everything except the breadcrumbs into a bowl:

Meatball Ingredients

Hand mix everything and add some breadcrumbs to thicken the mixture as necessary. Anything north of runny is good.

Then, roll the meatballs into 1.5-2 inch spheres:

Meatballs Before

Then brown them for 30 minutes at 350; consider turning them once so that both sides cook well:

Meatballs After

You should now be salivating – but set the meatballs aside for the moment.

You want to wait until the sauce is good and ready (about 4.5 – 5 hours of cooking) and add the meatballs to the sauce 30 minutes before it’s ready. You can get extra fancy by removing the meatballs from the main sauce and – while keeping them still covered in some sauce – browning them for another 10 minutes or so at 350 just before serving the meal.

When everything’s ready, ladle heaps of the rib-heavy sauce onto some pasta, top with meatballs and add some fresh cheese. It should look something like this:

Spaghetti & Meatballs

Spaghetti & Meatballs

Savour the flavour and get ready to eat leftovers for a few days.

Pizzeria Farina

A few months back I found myself running along Main Street in early evening and noticed that a new pizza shop had opened.

Except that it was closed. They’d run out of dough.

The business guy in me was furious. How could you run out of dough? That’s your damn job as a pizzeria – to sell pizzas and you need to have enough dough to meet whatever demand you get.

I was totally wrong.

I had no idea how seriously these folks took their pies. Every day they make a certain amount of dough and sling pies until they run out.

I needed to come back and check it out – and yesterday I finally made it.

Here’s what it looks like from the outside:

The space itself is incredibly narrow and long. Tables are off to one side and in the window; another wall is lined with their house-made oregano-infused and chili-infused olive oils.

At the end is the counter, with its massive pizza ovens just behind. Take a look: everything is made fresh before your eyes.

(As an aside, I felt sorry for the counter girl. Some joker walked in and stared giving her hell about Farina’s website. I mean, come on, do you really think that she’s sitting there with a laptop, just waiting to change it the moment you request something?)

Next to the counter is the list of the day’s pizzas:

I was tempted to get the finocchina (I love fennel sausage) but asked what the special was. And I’m glad I did: fresh mozzarella, salami and…pistachios. I’d never heard of pistachios on a pizza before, but now I’m hooked:

The pizza was incredible. It had an ideal thin crust: a little bit crispy but still chewy. Lots of bubbles in it.

The pistachios added a richness and texture to the pizza that I’d never had before – but hope to get again.

Highly recommended for a fun pizza dinner.

Here are a few closing shots, including the over-the-top hall on the way to the bathroom:

The Jade Seafood Restaurant

Jade. Seafood. Restaurant.

The name sounds like a cliche of a Chinese restaurant. All that’s missing is the phrase “golden dragon” and it could have been created by a magic eight ball.

The premises don’t look promising either. A low-slung building combining the best of concrete and stucco; scraggly weeds grow unrepentantly.

Entering into the foyer reveals that, curiously, the restaurant is on the second floor (it never actually is revealed what’s on the ground floor…). The combination of chandelier and blinds in the foyer brings back memories of bar mitzvah’s and bad conventions.

But then you’re upstairs into a bustling, massive room – and it still has too many chandeliers and, oddly, televisions – but you also get your first hints of the food.

There are dozens of massive tables, so there’s little wait, and then you’re at the table. It was lunch for us and the dim sum menu took a while to make it to our table; we whiled our time looking at the 10 person dinner tasting menu:

$498 for 10 people – serious eating here. You’re looking at lots of king crab – baked and steamed; roasted rock salt chicken in a hot pot and fried buddha’s delight amongst others. There were also several delicious-sounding dishes based where food was wrapped in tea leaves.

But, as mentioned, we were here for lunch and dim sum. We quickly ordered several dishes: fried rice rolls with shrimp, century eggs and pickled ginger.

Steamed pork buns and prawn dumplings:

Bitter melon stir-fried with olives:

And this gorgeous mushroom-filled dish:

The food was possibly the best dim sum I’ve had in the city. The shrimp was incredibly fresh and had just the right ┬áresistance – almost rubbery but not. The bitter melon was unlike any dish I’d had before; a mix of extreme bitterness and extreme savouriness. And the deep fried balls; perfectly done – gooey on the inside and crispy on the outside; perfectly cooked.