Sunday, July 30, 2006

7-25-06

I'm freaking out. I wish I had only taken a few bites of that (delicious, authentically french Poulain-like) apple turnover from Acme bakery--instead of eating almost the entire thing. Should I toss out the remainder of my Peet's iced americano right now to leave room in my stomach? It's 10:00am, half-way between breakfast and lunch, and the Ferry Building in San Francisco is just beginning to come alive...stalls are being set up, shop keepers are dragging out their wares, restaurant staffers are wiping down tables.

On my way in, there was a farmers market opening up, and I was handed a sample of an organic golden peach--beyond ripe and full of juicy flavor. I have to wait to buy white nectarines from that same vendor, my new favorite fruit.

Inside the market, the Cowgirl Creamery is open, and I debate buying some of the most unusual cheeses I've ever seen (big, stinky bricks) to eat later tonight in my hotel room. (I caved and bought a piece of their "St.Pats" a brie-like goat cheese with wild nettles (!) and house cured mixed olives with herbs and lemon zest.) They also have farm fresh yogurt made only a few towns away--sold in terracotta pots. Then there are the piles of amorphous heirloom tomatoes--such vivid colors, such tight skin. Should I buy one and just bite into it right now? I'm not even hungry! I was planning on picking something up from Delica rf-1 (a story in itself*), a japanese delicatessen, like rice balls and sauteed vegetables. But then I wandered past teh fresh seafood bar, lured in by its cool white marble and simple menu of shrimp cocktail, dungeness crab louis and 3 kinds of chowders. "It opens at 11, will I be hungry by then?" I wonder frantically. Can I make room in my stomach for all this? I begin to empathize with my foodie friend who has a small stomach. What do I do? I'll shop around for a bit more--to Miette patisserie, with perfectly delicate parisian pastries displayed alongside antique cake stands and homemade striped lollipops. With pink walls, of course. I wandered into Village Market, a specialty store with shelves artfully packed with treats from all over the world--pickled green beans from spain, heirloom dried beans from mexico, italian tuna packed in olive oil (the best kind), and Boylan old fashioned seltzer. I bought oolong tea gum (like nicorette for coffee quitters) which had the taste of a black bubble tea and a "mojita" bottled juice from a small new beverage company (pretty good--like limeade and mint tea mixed).

The Ferry Building is such a gourmet haven, with the famed Slanted Door restaurant (upscale creative vietnamese) and Mijita mexican, where they make tortillas right there. Each store carries a few cookbooks, and then there's the bookstore, "Book Passage," with an excellent cookbook and culinary literature section for such a small store. On my way out, I walked by a booth for "devinely d'lish" homemade granola--I saw it from the corner of my eye and just had to walk the other way. I love granola, and wouldn't allow myself the digestive overload a sampling would cause.

At about noon, I made my way back to Ferry Plaza Seafood, sat at the marble bar and had an ultrafresh crab cocktail--a pile of dungeness crabmeat with cocktail sauce over a chiffonade of romaine lettuce. mmm... and a pelegrino to wash it down as the sun shone through the huge windows and on the bay outside.

*"About Delica rf-1: Over thirty years ago, responding to the accelerating pace of modern life, Mr. Kozo Iwata founded the Rock Field Company, bringing traditional European-style delicatessens to Japan for the first time. Over time, the company began selling Sozai: a Japanese concept of meals characterized by many small dishes, reflecting a way of eating that is balanced and healthy.

Rock Field has now opened its first American delicatessen – DELICA rf-1 – in San Francisco’s historic Ferry Building. DELICA rf-1 uses fresh, wholesome ingredients and is prepared with a Japanese sensitivity towards food and life and the environment. Delica rf-1 comes to California eager to both learn from and contribute to the Bay Area’s thriving food community."-- from website

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

So, as I may have mentioned, I set out for the summer with a personal mission to eat healthily, if not vegetarian. However, I naively overlooked the fact that I would not cook or prepare a meal for myself for two months--leaving the real decision of what goes into my food up to whomever makes it. Even if you order wisely in restaurants, it is almost impossible to keep a lot of extra oil, salt, sugar & fat out of your food. After all, that's what they use to make it taste good, and to keep their customers. I've worked in a restaurant, I've seen the preparation of things that I thought would be healty choices (salads, soups, grilled vegetables, sauteed fish, etc.), and unless you ask for an alternative, your protein will often times be thrown into a pan of sizzling butter (along with your vegetables) and your salad will be accompanied by some type of cheese or cream. So, here I am, picking and choosing on hotel menus, and closely examining buffet lines.

Often, these days, my big meal of the day comes from the backstage set-up at the show. Each day, catering or "craft services" (as it is sometimes ironically referred to), sets up a large buffet style meal for the band and crew. Sometimes it's decent (like in Chicago) and sometimes it resembles college cafeteria food (I'm looking at you, Milwaukee). At our first show, as I looked around the tables and saw people sitting in front of plates of undressed white pasta, I knew that I'd have to get creative. There were a couple of unidentifiable fried things (fish and chicken?), some beef floating in gravy, discolored cooked vegetables, a soup, and, finally and thankfully, a decent salad bar.

So, I loaded up my plate with greens, topped it with some carrots, celery and beans (unfortunately I had to choose the lesser of two evils when it came to dressing: I picked the vinegary/ketchup one over the mayonaisey/ranch). Then I took some brown rice (only time I've seen that good stuff) and corn, and drizzled a little tortilla soup over it, for a kind-of chili & rice effect. It wasn't bad. One of the band members walked by, looked around our table and goes "what are YOU eating?" Most likely because it bore little resemblance to anything on the buffet line. Pick and choose and mix. It won't be easy. Even here at the Four Seasons in Dallas (I kind of can't believe I'm bitching about this, but in a 5 star hotel, wouldn't you expect good food?). The salads are wilted and chicken flavorless and rubbery.

Oh, yes, the vegetarian choice comes down to this: stuffing myself with bread to get full (since I can't find whole grain anything, or my beloved hummus), and becoming even more chubby, or eating some meat here and there. I'm choosing the latter, because I cannot afford any additional pounds at this point. Maybe the what to eat question really always just comes down to looks and vanity. Whichever produces the best results or something.

So, please bear with me here, as I know I was once a glutton for taste, regardless of a dish's contents, and now, I've begun to be more selective based on health. But taste always comes first, of course. In the interest of searching for the diet that is healthiest and most delicious for me, I wil try out different philosophies of nutrition, one day going vegan, maybe trying the Atkins thing for a few days, possibly attempting a macrobiotic or ayrvedic diet some day, or maybe even seeing what it takes to be a raw foodist (!). These are all lofty ambitions, and as I've already seen, it's really hard for me to stick to anything rigid for more than a day. I don't like to be limited by anything. Some days I just get disgusted by the idea of processed food and artificial additives, and can't eat any of that. (Reading The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan put me off of anything containing corn for a few days, which, apparently is impossible, because almost EVERYTHING we eat contains a corn derivative these days. You should read it, it's crazy informative). Surely I'll lapse into bouts of pizza eating, buttering and rootbeer drinking, (and peanut m&m's popping). So, who knows, what I'll discover. Maybe, in the end it will all amount to me being a life-long moody omnivore. That sounds like the most fun option anyway. Well, we'll taste and see...

Sunday, July 09, 2006

French Breakfasts:

Well, I really threw in the towel on vegetarianism with leisurely breakfast dates with my girlfriends. It's that butter damnit! One sweltering morning, two friends and I headed from Chelsea to the Meatpacking district searching for a breakfast spot with three qualifications: 1. the place must have outside seating (although I never intended on eating without airconditioning, it's all about the ambiance) 2. fruit salad must be on the menu 3. they had to have tartine. And, I suppose there was one more, that they be serving breakfast, since it was after 11.

One of the girls with me was the same friend I'd traveled to Paris with last summer, with great taste but a temperamental digestive system and picky food habits. We woke up late in that mecca of culinary delights, and all she wanted was a tartine, but the French don't like to serve them after 11 or so. A tartine is simply a section of fresh baguette, halved lengthwise and lightly toasted, served with butter and preserves or jam. Thus, it seemed utterly ridiculous (and extremely frustrating to our hungry stomachs) that, since all French restaurants, large or small, always have baguettes on hand, that they would not serve one to us. Maybe they didn't want their lunch tables occupied by toast eaters, who knows (wait--that can't be, because a frenchman will sit leisurely for hours over a single bottle of perrier or a cup of coffee).

Back to New York--after perusing menus and venues, and actually sitting down in the back garden at Parador, until we found out that they had neither #2 or #3, we ended up accross the street at Pastis, always a reliable classic. (Pastis was actually the firs sceney NY restaurant I'd ever been too, a foody friend of my parents brought us there for breakfast on a college trip to the city, since it had just opened and only celebrities could get in for lunch or dinner. She's actually a friend of Mario Batali, and an absolutely fabulous woman). A world cup game (france v. italy?) was projected onto a huge screen that was pulled down behind the bar, and we watched the people watching it over our cappuccinos and lattes. We ate plates of ripe berries with fresh whipped cream along with our much awaited tartines (and the bread was perfect, crisp but soft, not the least bit chewy).

A few days later the same two friends and I met at Balthazar, where I'd wanted to go for a long time (I'd been there once for dinner a few years ago), because of their ajacent bakery. And it looks like Paris inside. I really do love it there. Actually, I think Balthazar and Pastis are owned by the same person. Anyway, we shared housemade granola (granola at those places really is the best--golden, perfectly separated oats, nuts, maybe a little coconut, maybe some raisins, organic plain yogurt), tartine of course, and eggs florentine--two poached eggs atop baked spinach and artichoke hearts, with a little hollandaise and crispy sprinkled cheese of some sort, really good.

All of this tartine talk, combined with my company that week (old friends from Kauai), brought me back to memories of a favorite high school snack--Safeway french bread freshly baked but 10 times the size of a french baguette (and it was only a dollar or something). We'd buy one along with some chocolate milk after school or on the way home from a party, and rip it apart or just dig out the soft white center if we weren't hungry enough to devour the whole loaf. At one friend's house I'd cut a piece off, put it in the toaster oven, and eat it with butter, and at another's we'd always make these sandwiches with cheddar cheese, sprouts and this one kind of bottled salad dressing. She was a vegetarian.
7-6-06

Oh my. It's been so long. I may have to send out an 'i'm still here' memo. Well, after that month-long blogging hiatus (of being busy and eating mostly boring food, oh god, no, wait--the month of june was when the berries came into season in Oregon! so ripe! so rich! so delicious! Oh brother, more on that later i guess...) I've taken to the road for the summer, zipping from city to city until Labor Day.

So, I kicked off the tour in New York, temple of American Gastronomy. Wierd thing was, I wasn't focused on food when I arrived there. Friends made excited suggestions of where to have breakfast and dinner. But I had no desire to go to a cute new cafe, or one of Molto Mario's alway's perfect Italian places. It was hot, Portland has indeed fed me well, and thus, the only thing that I really wanted when I got to THE CITY was sushi.

Most eveyone I know has heard me rant about Portland's (shocking) lack of good sushi places. No, I haven't tried that infamous one with the ever present line out the door (but I've heard that the pieces are grotesquely enormous, which has fairly deterred my interest). But I have tried places that are regularly recommended by local guides and acquaintances, and have been consistently dissapointed. The restaurants are no better than what you can get in a supermarket sushi case. It took me a while to even except this, since, based on the fact that the Pacific Northwest is known for it's fresh seafood (locally caught salmon, dungeness crab, oysters, etc.). Yes, Portland is technically inland, but only a couple of hours away from the coast-- a coast that is the very headquarters of the state's commercial fishing industry. I've been to Newport, I've seen the boats, smelled the haul, tasted that fish. So, it makes no sense to me why you can get great sushi all over the desert of Los Angeles, but not in Portland. Of what is offered, and ordered by naive Portlanders, is discolored tuna (it's not supposed to be an opaque pink and mealy looking, people) mostly salmon, which, no doubt (because I ask) isn't even wild salmon, but farmed. And I NEVER knowingly eat farmed salmon, because it's basically toxic, raw or cooked. I've done plenty of reading on the toxicity of farm raised salmon (yes, wild salmon is sooo good for you), and basically they are raised, over crowded, in a tank, eating their own waste, becoming ill and therefore medicated, and the end product is a nice carcinogenic filet. Gross!

Then there's the mercury poisoning dangers of eating TOO much fish, but I tossed those out the window when I arrived in New York, determined to satiate my craving. I don't get enough rice in Portland. The Asian places are mostly Thai and Vietnamese, and I can only take so much spice. Anyway, I had also decided a few days before I left Portland to be a vegetarian for the rest of the summer, but, well, the sushi glistened, and I threw in the towel. I'm going to try though, try my hardest otherwise.

So, on the first night, my friends took me to Bond Street sushi (favorite of the stars, blah blah blah). We sat in the candle lit lounge downstairs, and had a few quality rolls and some sake. The rolls were pretty standard but definitely fresh. I got a spicy tuna roll the way I like it, with red pepper and shiny minced ahi. Over the next couple of days I went back to loose vegetarianism (I did have to have cream cheese on my bagel--it's New York for crissake!), so I had an inari (sweet fried tofu)/avocado/cucumber roll) after laying in the sun with my friends at the Chelsea Piers juicebar. It hit the spot. The next night I had the same for dinner from a cheapy neighborhood place close to the apartment where I was staying. I wanted to go to Momoya, which a good friend cannot stop talking about--it's new, it's delicious, and it's across the street from where she lives. But, on that rainy, balmy Sunday night when all of my friends were in the Hamptons, and I had to stay back in the city alone for work, they were closed.

So we went to Momoya on my last night there. "Momoyeah," or "Momoyum," whatever you call it, that place is good. Really fresh, really sweet servers, and just great food. The glass garage door was open to the street, it was clean and white, and packed with patrons from the neighborhood. We had glasses of a Veramonte 2005 Sauvignon Blanc while we waited, a smooth one with a lot of passionfruit on the palate (and I've been to their winery in Chile, which is cool and ultra modern as well). We had shrimp shumai, which instead of being wrapped like a little purse, was wound with won-ton noodle ribbons, a different presentation, and very tasty, with noteable chunks of tender shrimp. I had a piece of wild copper river salmon sashimi, that deep, brick-terracotta color, with a little bit of a smoky flavor, and a hamachi roll, which was perfect, a balance between the buttery fish and the sweet beads of rice. Dessert was surprisingly wonderful (it's uncommon to get a great dessert at a sushi place)--warm chocolate cake, green tea ice cream (the real stuff, extra creamy with that green/beige/grey color, not the mint-green one) a couple peak-ripe rasberries, served with a shiso syrup. Shiso leaf, used in japanese cuisine, has a distinct flavor, sometimes with a hint of anise or licorice, so I asked for the syrup on the side. After I dipped my fork in it, we poured it all over everything--it had such a delicate minty flavor, not too sugary, just fresh and green. Momoyum!