Tuesday, October 20, 2009

EAT: Beijing Restaurant

Beijing Restaurant
1801 Alemany Blvd
(between Ocean Ave & Ruth St)
San Francisco, CA 94112
(415) 333-8182

I can navigate a Chinese takeout menu fairly well. I stay away from things that look gruesome (chicken feet), gelatinous (jellyfish), or just make me feel bad (shark’s fin). Fried rice and cha siu pork are things that I grew up with, thanks to my family’s Chinese restaurant in San Diego. But that wasn’t what we were looking for when my friend Ed suggested we head to Beijing Restaurant. It was all about noodles and dumplings – two things that, when done well, are like a party in your mouth. Seriously.

 Yao Ming and the owners

Beijing Restaurant is located in the “Mission Terrace” area of San Francisco, on the corner of Alemany & Ocean, in a little red building adorned with lanterns. Kind of out of the way for those of us that live closer to downtown SF, but hey, Yao Ming makes a stop here when he’s in town, so it must be good, right? I came, armed with my artillery of Chinese food “experts” (aka three of my friends of Chinese heritage who like to eat). We sat down and began the ordering process. Be warned, this place takes a little longer than your average Americanized Chinese food place, so if you’re starving (like we were), have a piece of fruit beforehand or something.

First up was the Beef Pancake. I love this dish – crispy layers of fried something on the outside and yummy, flavorful beef in the middle. Served piping hot. Then, they brought out the Zha Jiang Mian – Beijing style noodles. These is a cold noodle dish with fresh, hand-pulled noodles, cucumber, sprouts, and this wonderful hoisin(ish) sauce with bits of meat in it, mixed together. I really loved the cucumber added to the dish, as it made it taste so fresh and perfect for the muggy weather we were having. A word of advice – use the sauce sparingly, as it’s quite salty on its own.

The dishes were coming one at a time, which worked well because it made you enjoy your food (eat slowly!) and there was no way in hell we were gonna fit all the food on our table with drinks and elbows. Our next “course” was the lamb dumplings. I don’t know how to explain it, but when someone does a dumpling correctly, it makes me so happy. Delicate balance of dumpling skin, meat, and sauce. Freshly boiled. Beautiful.

I insisted that we order a vegetable to offset some of the carbs, so the only greens of the evening were the Spinach with Garlic. Then came the Lion's Head meatballs - served in  four pieces.  So tender, so delicious.  And finally…our Flour Balls with Three Flavors. Almost like a cross between a noodle dish and a dumpling dish, I’d had a version of this at Old Mandarin Islamic (another fantastic Chinese restaurant).  I don't really know the the "Three Flavors" is, but I'm guessing, Chicken, Pork, and Seafood.  Just eat it.  It's delicious.

All I can say is, I was so content after our meal. I wasn’t stuffed either, nor did I have that overly-MSG’ed feeling I usually get when I eat Chinese food. I would definitely make the trip out here again – and you should too!

Monday, October 19, 2009

1788 cognac, 1875 wine on sale at Paris auction

PARIS — Over the years, the chief sommelier had forgotten they were there. And when the four bottles of 1875 Armagnac Vieux were finally unearthed from the labyrinthine wine cellar this week, they were covered in a black fungus that looked like matted cat fur.

The landmark Tour d'Argent restaurant, which dates back to 1582, is cleaning out its 450,000-bottle wine cellar, considered one of the best and biggest in the world. It is putting 18,000 bottles up for auction in December, an event that has captured the imagination of French wine lovers.
The restaurant is selling mostly wine but also some very old spirits, like three bottles of a Clos du Griffier cognac from 1788, the year before the French Revolution, as well as the ancient Armagnac, valued at euro400-500 ($595-$743) a bottle. The fuzzy fungus is nothing to worry about — it thrives on the fumes of such spirits and is easily wiped away.

The restaurant wants to cut down on wines it has in multiple to vary and modernize its selection.
"You'll probably see, we've got too many bottles," jokes chief sommelier David Ridgway.
Unlocking a padlocked iron gate, the tuxedo-clad sommelier ushered visitors into the restaurant's underworld, where bottles are stacked floor to ceiling in a succession of caverns. Though everything is registered in a computer, there are occasional surprises, like the 1875 Armagnac, which Ridgway came across while looking for something else.

The wine cellar of the Left Bank restaurant, known for pressed duck and spectacular views of Notre Dame, is a part of its history. A sign marks the spot where a brick wall was built in 1940 to hide the best bottles during the Nazi occupation in World War II.

Visitors are offered sheepskin blankets for the chill: 14 degrees Celsius (57.2 Fahrenheit) this week, but dipping to 12 degrees Celsius (53.6 Fahrenheit) in winter.

"I like the wine to live a little bit of the seasons, even though it's temperature-controlled," said Ridgway, a Briton who has overseen the restaurant's wine menu since the early 1980s.

Times have changed since then, Ridgway says. Expensive jewelry or clothes no longer indicate what diners will pay for wine, and it's not taboo now for people to say what they want to spend. Still, he has to tread carefully: Propose a wine too inexpensive and some "people feel we have looked down on them, almost."
Estimated prices at the Dec. 7-8 sale by French auctioneer Piasa start at euro10 ($15) a bottle and go up to euro2,500-euro3,000 ($3,716-$4,459) for each 1788 Cognac, one of which will go to charity.
Among wines on sale are Chateau Lafite Rothschild (1970, 1982, 1997), Cheval Blanc (1928, 1949, 1966) and Chateau Margaux (1970, 1990). The total sale is expected to bring in around euro1 million ($1.5 million).
Buyers can rest assured the bottles aren't counterfeit — a major problem in the industry — because the restaurant bought them directly from vintners. As for the restaurant, the timing of the auction is right even as Europe struggles amid a global economic crisis.

"I'm sure there are some amazing treasures in that cellar, and it's a good time to sell because the wine auction market has really come storming back" after tanking during the early months of the financial crisis, said Michael Steinberger, Slate's wine columnist and author of "Au Revoir to All That: Food, Wine, and the End of France."

The restaurant, a family business, was once the summit of French gastronomy, attracting royalty, politicians and film stars. Each duck served comes with a certificate: U.S. President John F. Kennedy ate duck No. 245,200, while Mick Jagger feasted on No. 531,147 and Princess Grace of Monaco savored No. 496,516.
But recent years have brought setbacks. Longtime owner Claude Terrail died in 2006, and his 29-year-old son Andre now runs it. The restaurant, where a prix fixe lunch menu costs euro65 ($97) and a tasting menu at dinner goes for euro160 ($238), long held three Michelin stars but is now down to one.
The economic crisis has affected the restaurant's finances only "a bit," Terrail said, in part because of its name and diverse international clientele. While the kitchen was recently updated, the wine sale may fund more extensive renovations down the line.

The restaurant's name means "The Silver Tower" in French, and all the bottles for sale are stamped with the restaurant's insignia, a tiny tower.

On the Web:

Saturday, October 17, 2009

My Burger Craving - SO Not Good For You.

Partially due to to laziness, I have been subsisting on a mostly vegetarian diet.  I can't muster the energy to roast a chicken or marinate and cook pork chops during the week.  I've been fortunate enough to get tons of great produce from farmer's markets and Berkeley Bowl (love love LOVE BB, but it's all the way on the other side of the Bay so I can't get there that often).  The veg diet is wonderful - but sometimes, you just want something meaty like a burger.  You know?

So tonight, I went down the street from my house and ordered from Johnny Rockets, a chain that specializes in old-fashioned style burgers.  A little on the pricey side, and everything is a la carte, but I figured the quality is better than Mickey D's so what the heck.  I ordered a Rocket Double - two meat patties with tomato, onion, lettuce, cheese, and special sauce (Thousand Island) on a bun.

As I waited for my order, I happened to see the Nutritional Information pamphlet.  This bad boy has......wait for it....1,193 calories.



That's what I said.

When I got my burger home, I took off a patty out of guilt.  It was still delicious...but that spin class is sounding reeeeally necessary right about now.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

So Long, Sweet Summer...

As the fog and mist creep back into the Bay, I had to post some photos of summer desserts.  Two of my favorite things to make:  tarte aux quetsches, and a strawberry custard tart. 


1 fully baked sweet tart shell (recipe below)
1 batch pastry cream
1 lb strawberries

Fill the tart shell with pastry cream. Hull and slice the strawberries, reserving one perfect strawberry, and arrange in a circle on top of the pastry cream. Put the one reserved strawberry in the middle.

Sweet Tart Dough
(Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home To Yours)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (9 tablespoons; 4 1/2 ounces) very cold (or frozen) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk
9-inch fluted tart pan with removable bottom
rolling pin

Combine the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to mix. Toss the pieces of butter with the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is coarsely cut in—you should have pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and some the size of peas. (If you don't have a food processor, you can use a pastry cutter, or, if you are really in a pinch - two knives.)  Lightly stir the yolk, and slowly add it, pulsing after each addition. When the egg is in, process in long pulses—about 10 seconds each—until the dough, which will look granular soon after the egg is added, forms clumps and curds. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and, very lightly and sparingly, knead the dough just to incorporate any dry ingredients that might have escaped mixing.
To roll the dough into the pan: Butter tart pan with a removable bottom.

* If you want to roll the dough, chill it for about 2 hours before rolling (unless you've used frozen butter and the dough comes out of the processor firm and cold, in which case you can roll it immediately). I find it easiest to roll this dough out between two sheets of plastic film – make sure to peel away the film frequently, so it doesn't get rolled into the dough.
* You may also use the press-in method - you can work with the dough as soon as it's processed. Press the dough evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the pan.

 Prick the bottom with a fork four or five times. Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes (I do it for nearly and hour) before baking.  It will help prevent the crust from getting giant air bubbles.

To fully bake the crust: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375°F.

Butter the shiny side of a piece of aluminum foil and fit the foil, buttered side down, tightly against the crust. Put the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake the crust for 25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil. If the crust has puffed, press it down gently with the back of a spoon (or prick it with the tip of a small knife). Bake the crust for another 8 minutes or so, or until it is firm and golden brown. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool the crust to room temperature.

Pastry Cream
(Tartine - awesome, awesome book)

2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup + 1 tbsp sugar
2 large eggs
4 tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 tsp salt
3 tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp vanilla extract

Pour the milk into a heavy saucepan. Add the salt, place over medium-high heat, and bring to just under a boil, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, whisk together the cornstarch and sugar. Add the eggs and whisk until smooth.

When the milk is ready, slowly drizzle about 1/3 of the hot milk into the egg mixture, whisking continuously. Pour the egg-milk mixture back into the hot milk and continue whisking until the custard is as thick as lightly whipped cream, about 2 minutes. The mixture must come just to the boiling point (slow bubbles, not boiling vigorously, or you will curdle the eggs, yuk). Remove from heat and immediately pour through a sieve into a bowl. Stir in the vanilla extract. Let cool for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cut the butter into 1 tbsp pieces and whisk into pastry cream 1 tbsp at a time until smooth.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, pressing directly onto the top of the cream to prevent a skin from forming and put in the refrigerator to cool.


1 1/2 C of unbleached flour
1 stick unsalted butter (frozen, cut into small cubes)
1/4 tsp salt
2 Tbl. sugar
1 egg yolk
1 Tbl. ice cold water
egg wash (1 egg mixed with 2 tsp. milk)
Tart filling:
1.5 lbs. small plums, halved and pitted
2 Tbl. cassonade (raw sugar)
egg custard (2 egg yolks + 1 whole egg +1/4 cup sugar —- tempered with 2/3 cup of hot milk)
Directions for tart crust:

Cut the dry ingredients with the butter until you have pea-sized pieces. Add the egg yolk and cold water. Stir and combine. Add enough cold water until the mixture clumps in your hand.  Next, place the dough onto some plastic wrap and form a flat disk. Wrap and refrigerate for about 1/2 an hour.  Roll the dough to about 1/8 in. thick and gently place it on your tart pan. Using your fingers, gently mold the dough to fit the tart pan and crimp the edges. Put the whole thing back in the fridge for about 15 min. or so.

Then, in an oven preheated to 350F, blind bake the tart shell for 15 minutes.

Next, arrange the plums on the tart in whatever way you feel  - you can see how I've done it in the photos.  Bake the tart for 15 minutes – the plums will begin to soften.
Take the tart out of the oven and pour the custard into the tart, making sure it surrounds all the plums. Sprinkle the tart with cassonade.

Brush the outer crust with a little egg wash. Lower the oven to 325F and bake for another 30 minutes or so. Remove from the oven and let cool before serving.

Bon apetit!

Wine & Spirits Top 100 Recap

Wine &  Spirits Top 100
SF Design Center Galleria
October 14th, 2009

I was so engrossed in tasting, this is the only photo I took - just so I could remember the wine.

The annual Wine & Spirits Top 100 event sends many oenophiles into a frenzy – 100 fantastic international wineries pouring their best offerings until the waters run dry (literally)…what’s not to like? Being a self-proclaimed wine n00b and also being unable to afford 12-packs of Domaine de la Romanee Conti or Screaming Eagle, I was beyond excited to score a free ticket at work – plus, I heard they were pouring Krug and Cristal, and I decided this was probably a good time to see what all the fuss was about. (Squeee!)

The event was being held at the San Francisco Design Center Galleria, and for the first time, they were including a few up-and-coming Bay Area restaurants in the mix - totally exciting for someone who loves food (like moi).  Our tickets allowed us into the “public” portion of the event, which was a bit of a madhouse.  I'd highly recommend getting trade tickets if you can.  Arranged by wine type (Sparkling, Rich Whites, Floral Whites, Pinot Noir, Rhone Family, etc.), the booths were lined up all around the first and second floors of the Galleria, with the handful of restaurant booths interspersed within the winery tables, serving complementary foods. One of the wonderful things about this event was that many of the booths actually had the winemaker pouring – a great opportunity to talk about the wine and learn a little bit about the vineyards.

Even though you’re supposed to start with the sparkling and lighter whites and end with dessert wines, I kind of liked going all over the place (it keeps me from getting palate fatigue). I started with a glass of 2004 Iron Horse Green Valley Blanc de Blancs. Next up - a deviled egg with crab meat from Nettie's Crab Shack.  From there, we went all over - 2002 Louis Roederer Champagne Brut Cristal (and yes, it lives up to the hype), 2006 Calera – Mills Vineyard Pinot Noir (already a personal favorite), NV Krug Grand Cuvee (another fabulous sparkler!).

In between the wine tastings, we also managed to eat Hog Island Oyster Company Kumamoto and Sweetwater oysters, Hudson duck with toasted farro from RN74 (Michael Mina's new restaurant venture), braised pork belly from heaven's dog, and “pho” beef tacos from Kitchenette (seriously amazing). When we got to the second floor (Cabernet central), we tried some 2005 Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon (holy tannins, Batman) and some Iberian wines – a 2005 CVNE/Contino Rioja Reserva caught my attention, paired with Gitane's “Bacon Bonbons” (a bacon wrapped prune stuffed with goat cheese) – perfection.  I also enjoyed flour + water's pumpkin soup - lovingly and carefully prepared, although it was the temperature of molten lava; one had to be careful not to burn their tastebuds off...probably not a smart idea for a wine tasting.

Back on the first floor, we wandered the Pinots again and ended up tasting a really fantastic wine from Drew Family Vineyards – their 2007 “Fog Eater” Anderson Valley Pinot Noir. After having Drew’s Pinot Noir, I wanted to try Flowers winery offerings…we had the 2006 Flowers Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast, Andreen-Gale. Not bad, but nothing to write home about. (Sorry, guys.) Last but not least, I ended the night with a tasting of Vilmart & Cie. 2000 Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs Gastronome Premier Cru followed by the NV Brut Cuvee Rubis paired with milk chocolate from Brix Chocolates and a little huckleberry compote with goat cheese puree from Candy Bar.

All in all, an overwhelming yet awesome event. My only with is that it were less crowded so you had more time to really take your time and taste wines and take notes. But for a wine neophyte such as myself, it’s a great place to taste some of the big names without shelling out tons of cash. Totally looking forward to next year!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

RECIPE: A Couple of Tapas Recipes

I told my friend I'd make him dinner - something that I like to do for any of my friends who love to eat - and racked my brain thinking of what to make for him. I've been on a pasta ban for a while, so I didn't want to do Italian, and French cooking seemed a little too formal, so I decided on Spanish tapas. Easy, simple, using mostly similar ingredients, I'd be able to make several dishes within minutes. Two of my "must haves" are Camarones al Mojo de Ajo and Pan Tumaca - both are incredibly easy and require little to no accuracy in measurement.


Half a pound of large white shrimp, peeled and deveined but with tails still attached
6-7 cloves of garlic, finely minced
salt and pepper
Pimenton de la Vera
Olive oil
Chopped fresh parsley

Heat oil in a skillet that holds heat well (heavy bottomed is preferable). Saute the garlic until it is lightly browned, then add the shrimp and saute until the shrimp is cooked through and the garlic has darkened. Be VERY careful not to burn the garlic. Season with salt and pepper, then toss with a dash of pimenton de la vera.

Garnish with a sprinkle of chopped fresh parsley.


The preparation of pan tumaca is pretty similar to that of Italian bruschetta, but instead of using chopped tomatoes, I use a puree. When using olive oil as a dressing (not heating it up), use the best tasting olive oil you can afford.

Plain baguette
One whole clove of fresh garlic, peeled
Extra virgin olive oil
Jamon serrano
Large, ripe heirloom tomato (I like the reddest, ripest ones you can find!)
Salt and pepper
Chopped fresh parsley

Using a food processor, puree the tomato and season with salt and pepper. Let the puree sit for a few minutes to rest. Slice the baguette and toast them in the oven. While the slices are still warm, rub them with the fresh garlic. You can use as much or as little as you prefer - be warned that fresh garlic is quite potent, so you may want to keep that in mind! Arrange the slices on a plate and top each one with a generous spoonfull of tomato puree. Top with a small piece of jamon serrano. Drizzle olive oil across all the bread slices, and garnish with parsley.

Easy right? I told you so. Buen provecho!