Wednesday, May 17, 2006

i'll take a hyphy juice, a vegan sundae, some peanut milk and a frog, please . . . hold the mustard

Today SF Weekly came out with its annual Best of SF issue. I didn't write many food entries this year, but I did do a few real fun ones:

Best Place to Buy Frogs

Sunset Super

2425 Irving (at 25th Avenue), 566-6504

San Francisco's sizeable Asian population ensures that the city stays stocked with creatures not particularly indigenous to the American diet, including live frogs and turtles. Frogs are a notable inclusion in Sunset Super's vast selection of meat in a department that ranges from giant, wiggly conches to (thankfully dead) pork intestines. Last we checked, the amphibious treats could be yours for $2.99/pound. But if the idea of eating frogs is horrifying, and you can't bear the sight of them looking up at you from their box prison like sad, sluggish puppies, the price is affordable enough to buy a few to liberate from possible stews and fricassees. Oh, and those short on recipe ideas for Kermit's cousins can check the menu at the nearby Go-Go Cafe & Restaurant (1830 Irving at 19th Ave.; 661-4289), which features frog dishes among both its appetizer and entree offerings.

Best Tonic

Signs & Wonders Peanut Milk

KK Cafe, 252 Divisadero (at Haight), 626-6188

Forget those bitter and expensive (not to mention seasonal) pomegranates: Peanuts also have great antioxidant powers. Get your fill with Signs & Wonders Peanut Milk, the creation of KK Cafe owners Jack and Margaret Chang. The Changs bottle their original, chocolate, and strawberry varieties and sell them in various area stores, but it's worth stopping in to their joint to have a peanut milk smoothie blended with apple and banana, or just to plunk some of the creamy tonic into your coffee. After much anecdotal evidence about the healing powers of their products, they're conducting preclinical studies on the milk's helpful benefits for those with ailments from arthritis to eczema. We haven't fixed any of our major physical problems just yet (we'd swear about our bum knee, except that the company is "managed according to Christian principles"), but we do know that Signs & Wonders gives us energy, makes us feel good, and tastes delish.

Best Vegan Sundae

Banana split at MaggieMudd

903 Cortland (at Gates), 641-5291

Vegans have come close to perfecting many animal-free recipes that can pass in taste and texture for their meat-filled originals, but praise is not always so forthcoming about their advancements in making edible, dairy-free frozen treats. One of several sundae options at this Bernal Heights parlor, the banana split features three flavor options, plus a waffle cone, whipped cream, and a choice of toppings and sauces — all mind-bogglingly vegan. The creams are made of soy or coconut milk and range from the tame (toasted almond) to the adventurous (chocolate cardamom). Since MaggieMudd also offers a full range of real ice cream flavors, soy snobs can come along and have an old-fashioned dairy bomb of goodness. But wouldn't it be more fun to fool your favorite carnivores into trying some of that cotton-pickin' hippie food without their knowledge?

Best Energy Drink


New from Oakland's It's Good Beverage Co. (helmed by Clyde Carson of up-and-coming rap group the Team), Hyphy is sure to give popular energy drinks like Red Bull and Rockstar a serious run for their money when it comes to taste and power punch. The name comes from a very current and very energetic Bay Area youth culture that's on the edge of exploding nationwide, a scene that's ripe for bottling (or, in this case, canning). Hyphy advertises itself as having the flavor of "grapple" — a grape/apple hybrid — but it goes down like a less-sweet green apple Jolly Rancher, with the electric green color to match. We can say with some authority that Hyphy is as stimulating as some illegal substances, only more flavorful — and easier to recommend in good conscience.

Friday, February 17, 2006

the candyman can. . .

I'm very excited because I am going to see my chocolate pimp on Sunday!

Nope, I'm not talking about Snoop Dogg. I've had the pleasure of meeting him and that's a whole other story. Besides, I happen to know that his favorite candy is more in the vein of, say, Now & Later. Or Laffy Taffy.

My chocolate pimp is Jack Epstein, proprietor of Chocolate Covered in SF's Noe Valley. While waiting for a table at nearby Lovejoy's Tea Room, we happened upon Mr. Epstein's compact shop. Without noticing the store name at first, it just seemed like a gift shop featuring unique, handmade boxes with photos of various streets of San Francisco. But we soon discovered it was a lot sweeter than that.

It didn't take long before we engaged Epstein on his favorite topic. I didn't notice how or when the brainwashing process started, but I do know that I didn't leave until I had spent $16 on exotic chocolates (very unsensible, given my current economics). My friend Susie spent a dollar more, leaving with only ONE bar of chocolate. But it was a limited edition, hand-numbered dark chocolate from Spain. The way he described it gave me the same warm feeling when I talk to my fellow record collector geeks about rare pressings, and Susie's eyes danced with the excitement of possibility of sampling such a treat.

My loot that day:

*A dense milk chocolate bar studded with caramelized Rice Krispies from Charles Chocolates, a local chocolatier that I am very happy to learn about (and will hopefully be writing about in depth soon).

*Emperor's Ginger Tea bar from Splendid Specialties, a luscious combo of milk chocolate, ginger and green tea. Missy got the chocolate-chai version, and I couldn't decide which was better.

*Naja bar from Chicago's Vosges, the self-proclaimed purveyor of "haut chocolat." Milk chocolate with sweet Indian curry powder and coconut flakes. I am saving up so I can mail-order the Naja chocolate chips (they also have them in a cinnamon-chili version, which we'll have to snap up as well). I can only imagine the yummy experiments that will result once those get into my kitchen. Vosges has an intriguing product line with some incredibly unusual flavors, including an "Italian Collection" that features fresh cream truffles filled with various cheeses. But, as you'd imagine, such creativity comes at a dear price. Where is your Sugar Daddy when you need him?

The real kicker, the thing that will keep us coming back to Chocolate Covered like the true fiends we are, was the sample he sprung on us right before we left: A dark chocolate bark with chili-dusted pistachios (from, of course, New Mexico). Obviously, I am a milk chocolate baby, but even this got me to convert. The heat of the chili doesn't come out until well after the first swallow, but when it does, it is simply graceful in its approach. At $4.50 for a few little slivers, it ain't cheap. But few great intoxicants are.

Chocolate Covered is located at 3977 24th Street in beautiful San Francisco. 415.641.8123

cactus, cocoa and cucumber

These are some blurbs I wrote for the food and drink section of the annual "Best of SF" issue in SF Weekly. Hopefully, I will be able to write more this year:



1750 Market (at Gough), 626-9866,
Tastes vary widely in our gastronomic metropolis, but most refrigerators have something in common: They tend to have overcrowded top shelves, home to those various ingenious accents that can turn a plain cut of meat or a raw vegetable into something spectacular. This affliction ensures that even if the rest of the fridge doesn't contain a lot of food, it still holds jars of sun-dried tomato walnut pesto and cucumber lime marinade. At Yum, such condiments are properly revered. This food emporium offers tastes of a cross-section of its oils, schmears, marinades, and sauces, not to mention pretzels, chips, crostinis, and other decadent munchables. How fortuitous if a packet of dipping crackers just happens to be in your bag when you stop in to sample the in-store delights.


Scharffen Berger
914 Heinz (at Eighth Street), Berkeley, (510) 981-4066,
The Bay Area boasts a holy trinity of chocolatiers (Ghirardelli, Joseph Schmidt, and Scharffen Berger), which proffer their exceptional morsels of delight to decaying teeth all over the world. Ghirardelli is an obvious tourist attraction, and you might have to know Mr. Schmidt himself to get in on one of the special private tours there, but Scharffen Berger offers free factory tours every day. On this journey through the production process, those interested in the intricacies can learn about the functions of the winnower (a fancy bean cracker/sifter) and the melangeur (a mixer/grinder), while those simply waiting to scarf the Scharffen can partake. If you're aching for more sweets after the free tastes on the tour, the attached Cafe Cacao offers full meals plus a host of decadent chocolate desserts (such as a bittersweet chocolate rum tart and chocolate-cardamom soufflé).



Ananda Fuara
1298 Market (at Larkin), 621-1994
Vegan desserts get a bad rap in general for being dry, flavorless, and a bit overly nutty or grainy. But those who have their doubts about being able to find dairy-free dessert options that actually taste sinful instead of sawdusty have yet to try the chocolate cake at Ananda Fuara (translation: "fountain of delight"). Rich, fudgy frosting tops the surprisingly moist cake, making for a treat that mimics traditional dairy-filled recipes so well in texture and overall appearance that it is fairly easy to fool a room full of meat eaters with it.


New Eritrea Restaurant
907 Irving (at 10th Avenue), 681-1288
The physical border between Ethiopia and Eritrea has historically been contentious; indeed, the two countries argue its location in the U.N. to this day. But the nations' local cuisines live in harmony at a charming Inner Sunset restaurant (because, when it comes right down to it, there's little difference between them anyway). New Eritrea offers enough of the appropriate décor to represent its namesake without overwhelming patrons in cascades of beads and frills. Put yourself in the hands of the capable waitstaff and order a mixed meat or vegetarian family-style serving and soak it all up with a glass of tej (honey wine) and the addictive injera, a flat Eritrean bread that doubles as your platter.

(These two bars are unfortunately now out of business, but are fun to read about anyway)


Chocolate Cake Shot at The Top DJ Bar

The Top
424 Haight (at Webster), 864-7386
Forget the chocolate martini -- that's sooo yuppie. Lower Haight bar the Top, which hosts DJs nightly for its various house, drum 'n' bass, and downtempo parties, favors the Chocolate Cake Shot. It seems an impossible bit of science that a mix of vodka and hazelnut liqueur chased down by a sugared lemon slice can end up tasting like chocolate cake, but just mix 'em together and voilà! You've just shot the alcoholic equivalent of a Yoo-Hoo, a wonderfully childish offering that teases and confuses the senses almost as much as the eclectic beats that blare out of the bar's speakers.


Agave Wine Cocktails at Movida Lounge
Movida Lounge
200 Fillmore (at Waller), 934-8637
Best Use of Cactus
From California cactus salads to spicy Southwestern cactus jellies, the family Cactaceae is quickly turning into the Swiss army knife of the plant world. But we think that cactus is a drink best served cold, preferably with chunks of yummy seasonal fruit, as in the agave wine margaritas and sangrias at the Movida Lounge in the Lower Haight. This joint cleverly gets around being just another beer-and-wine bar with its creative cocktails, which include fierce sake Mojitos and Cosmopolitans. "But does agave really stack up to its more potent cousin tequila?" you query. Ask us again after you've had three of these things. That is, if you can still talk.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

last nibbles

The first-class dinner menu on the last night of the Titanic in 1912 included salmon in mousseline sauce with cucumber, roast squab and cress in cold asparagus vinaigrette and Waldorf pudding with peaches in chartreuse jelly.

(Source: Ben Schott's Schott's Original Miscellany)

ten-thousand taste buds

Approximate number of taste buds:

Humans: 10,000
Rabbits: 17,000
Cows: 25,000

(Source: Diane Ackerman's A Natural History of the Senses)

a tasty bite of metaplasmic

(From poet/pastry goddess Anna Eyre's Metaplasmic chapbook, available on Effing Press)

Eye in Kitchen Still Life

Tickles brain noodle
ribs with a hang
nail long spindle finger
tip shoved up
your snot

Eats like "Munch a la
Muncha" caught up with
"Mr. Nature".

Flares bing cherry
hairs on mousse egg

Magnetizes pineapple framed
Kitty Luna to friends lean
in together grin

Scatters strawberry candles
to rest on tiled bats

Treads one small step for
the iridescent newly hatched
cockroach over "one small step . . .".
astronaut and American flag on my
"The eagle has landed", 8006
Flower Ave, Giorgio's pizza pen.

Unfolds toddlers to hula-
hoop naked in black
and white on accordion papers.

Spells desserts in
deserted deserts
with a rattle-
snake's s.

Stimulates digits to screen
through letter key
us pattern.

frog: it's what's (not) for dinner . . .*

Greetings from the Sunset District of San Francisco, where produce is the cheapest in town, roast ducks are available for a steal and price-gauging tapioca wars brew angry on storefronts -- but live frogs still hold firm at a competitive $2.99/pound.

This site will aim to capture the joy of life that is the world of food culture. I hope it attracts people such as myself that love to read menus but hate to follow recipes, and find cooking and experimenting with flavors to be one of the most therapeutic hobbies around.

*Except that the lil fella pictured above is actually the Dyscophus antongilli, aka the tomato frog of Madagascar. Mmm. . . tomato frog. . .