Sunday, August 9, 2009


I'm not talking about Al Franken here. I'm sure he enjoys some pretty good food. What I'm talking about is food that was really never meant to be. A twinkie is a good example of frankenfood. How is it that something you eat can sit in a bag for 1,000 years and taste the same as the day it was packaged? That's progress. Actually, apart from the general avoidance, there is an unusual fascination with a food that I see and say "wow... whoever thought of that was really missing their self editing function the day they thought of that!" This of course leads directly to "I wonder what it tastes like..." In almost every case of this sick fascination, it is a single trial. This was certainly the case for the McDonalds breakfast sandwich that had maple syrup flavor in the "pancake" bun of the sandwich, aka the McGriddle. This is really the predecessor of the oft featured ultimate frankenfood often seen on The Daily Show: the Jimmy Dean Chocolate chip pancake covered sausages on a stick dipped in baconnaise. Some people are so enthusiastic about the pancake/sausage on a stick that they not only admit they eat them, but one mom reviewed them at the Sam's Club website and admitted the whole (supersize) box of 18 were eaten by her family in 5 days. I really am lost in conflict between hoping she and her husband ate them all and hoping she has 18 kids. Either way, this is a good example of negligent parenting.

I recently found myself with the need to stop in somewhere to use the restroom. When stopping at a fast food restaurant, I really feel an obligation to buy something, usually the cheapest, smallest thing on the menu. I would really prefer if the restroom had a tip jar... if only that was the biggest problem with fast food restaurants. Anyway, I found myself at a Del Taco looking over the menu when something caught my eye. "jalapeño rings". I had to ask... the woman at the counter said "They're slices of jalapeno that are fried..." I guess that makes sense. Well, that became the item of choice. I guess it is a natural progression from onions to something more significant, but I have a hard time imagining they sell to many of these things if they're really jalapeño. As it turns out, they are... I think. With the variation in spice level found in jalapeños, I found this an interesting choice of menu items for a fast food place, but perhaps they found a way to apply society's advanced technological capabilities to equalize the heat. The 'rings' came with some sort of cream sauce. I'm not really sure what it was even after tasting it... And they refer to it on the Del Taco website as 'secret sauce'. Now, typically jalapeños are green, but green just didn't cut it for Del Taco, so they added red jalapeños into the mix as well. Unfortunately, they were a bit unnatural in their red color, but they should get some points for swinging the bat even if they were playing basketball, right? Now it may be difficult to see from the picture, but the while both colors of jalapeño were unnatural in their color, the red one was almost glowing. I think they were radioactive. In conclusion, as with most of these experiences, I am reasonably certain that I will never be eating a jalapeño ring from Del Taco again. But you never know unless you try! This time, I ate it so you don't have to...

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Just Plain Good

One of the great pleasures in food is plain old unpretentious good food.  I could spend my whole life examining good down home cookin' and still be finding great new things as they're ordering my casket.  I am lucky enough to live in an area that seems to have a great appreciation for both the adventurous foodie extravagances as well as the simple pleasures.  Even in those areas where you won't find a hamburger on a menu without listing the variety of grass the cow ate, there are often simple pleasures in foods to be found in the back alleys.  

One of my favorite simple pleasures is a nice breakfast or brunch out.  There is something special about heading down to the local greasy spoon for way too much coffee and a denver omelette.  Certainly there is something divine about the food, but another key element of the experience is recovering from the previous night... or looking at the other people recovering from the previous night.

There is a whole other category of just plain good and that is the establishments that shoot very high and very directly for being just plain good.  One example of this is a bakery in Oakland, California called Bakesale Betty.  I have on numerous occasions described the baked items from this place as 'perfectly imperfect'.  In describing them as such, I am referring to the visual, not the flavor.  The tastes to be found at Bakesale Betty are consistently excellent.  The baked goods here are not about the thinly sliced intricate fruit tarts so many fancy bakeries sell, rather everything that comes out of this place is like that perfect item you made that one time...  There is something heartwarming about seeing the perfect imperfections in the scones, cookies and pies made at this place.  An example is that with the pies, you'll find some of the pie filling that bubbled over, but not in a messy way...  just in a way to show that they weren't made by a machine.  

Bakesale Betty also sells incredible sandwiches that also hit a home run in the 'just plain good' category.  The one to try first is certainly the fried chicken sandwich.  It comes on a nice roll with plenty of fried chicken (with plenty of chicken, not just fried batter) and a mountain of cole slaw.  The cole slaw itself is great, with a little jalapeno and marinated onions... and it's good that it stands on its own, because there's such a mountain of slaw in this sandwich that some of it inevitably falls out and begs to be 'cleaned up' after finishing off the sandwich.  

Now, being in Oakland, with the general availability of chicken and waffles for breakfast, the only problem is that this sandwich is only available for lunch! 

Monday, April 27, 2009

Grown Up Candy

Sweets are a part of just about every culture.  It is always a lot of fun when traveling to explore the candies, cookies and deserts available.  I've seen something of a renaissance occurring in the US where it comes to candies particularly, and more specifically chocolate.  When I can go into a run-of-the-mill grocery store and see chocolate bars from around the world with creative flavor combinations, all is right with the world.  
A friend was kind enough to bring some chocolates with liquid caramel from Sahagun Chocolates in Portland, Oregon.  These caramels were quite an experience.  Apart from being beautiful to look at, they were a fairly unique eating experience as well.  In some ways, these can be challenging as they are not your typical chocolate covered caramels.  These are salted, and not entirely subtly so.  The salt is not overpowering, but while I've had salted caramels a number of times and they've gotten much more popular, many are not accustomed to a pronounced salt flavor with their sweets.  This is really the brilliance of it all however.  The salt balances out the sweet and brings out additional flavors.  

Beyond the flavor, the rest of the experience was exciting as well.  I was told specifically that the caramel was to be eaten in one bite.  The caramel inside the chocolate was an unexpectedly thin liquid.  I would compare it to a cordial cherry without the cherry, but perhaps a bit thinner.  The lack of density of the liquid is really what allowed the strength of the salt to work.  If it had been thicker, perhaps the flavors would not have integrated as quickly and the last taste would have been salt...  but it all worked together quite nicely.  

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Style and Substance

Food, like many other subjects is filled with choices that impact the experience.  Occasionally everything comes together into a perfect experience, but more often than not, there are choices we must make to trade one element of an experience for others.  This is something that is done not only by us as consumers of food, but also by the people creating our experiences.  Flavor... Does it taste good?  Presentation...  Does it look appealing or visually interesting?  Ethics...  Is this a good fish to eat? Service...  Is that waiter ever going to come over here?  Atmosphere...  I eat under a drop ceiling at my desk, but do I really want one when dining out?  

We all have our priorities and certainly some, like food safety, can trump the rest of the experience. My preferences tend to lean in the flavor direction over all others.  I can deal with peeling wallpaper and sneers from waiters if the food is good.  

I was confronted with the choice between these when I had a several cupcakes recently.  First, I had a couple cupcakes from the Teacake Bake Shop in Emeryville, CA.  
Many elements of this place are very well done.  The presentation of the cupcakes is strong, the storefront is well designed.  Good service.  Admirable ethics, with donations to important causes like the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.  Unfortunately where the experience fell apart was with the cupcakes themselves.  They were dry.  

By contrast, soon after, I had some cupcakes made by the Cake Ladies.
I got these cupcakes from a table set up in a driveway.  The cupcakes were not as 'cute' or with the same attention to detail as the Teacake Bake Shop ones, though visuals are fairly subjective.  Certainly the experience lacked the professionalism of a storefront.  However, these cupcakes were moist and excellently flavored.  In this case, with lemon curd and coconut.  Tangy and well balanced.  Overall a great cupcake.  Want to get one for yourself?  I found mine around the corner from the Temescal farmers market in Oakland.  

Friday, April 24, 2009


I don't eat a lot of steak.  I probably have more steak overall in burritos and tacos than I do as a slab of meat.  When I do have steak, it tends to be a pretty gluttonous event.  Such was my last steak. 

I was in Las Vegas and it seemed appropriate to have a steak while I was there.  I stopped in at Delmonico Steakhouse in the Venetian.  I always wonder what to expect when I go to a restaurant that is 'owned' by a famous chef, in this case, Emeril.  In this case, the experience was quite positive.  The host was a little stand-offish for my taste, but you gotta cut them some slack, they're working schedules for hundreds of people a night, right?  Once we got to our table, it was pro service all the way.  It's the little things, like the waiter noticing you're in the middle of a sentence and standing for a few moments a few paces away before approaching.  He was very accommodating of our questions, recommendations, and ready-ness to order.  

I started off with a salad with goat cheese.  It was a little over-dressed, particularly because the greens were very good, but still very enjoyable.  

I tend to go for rib eyes over the fillets and they had a highly recommended bone-in rib eye, so I ordered that, medium rare.  Also ordered a side of Bacon Cheddar Grits (remember what I said about gluttony?).  

The steak was very well done with a good char on the outside and nice and pink inside.  Great flavor and very tender...  
I wrapped it up with a (shared) banana cream pie and espresso.  
Of note and fascination to me was their options for different espresso beans with different flavor characteristics.  I can see, if looking forward to a long night, doing a little tasting of their varieties.
Overall an excellent experience.  While I don't believe the best value (particularly steak) is always in the fine dining venues (of which this is one), this is a restaurant that is not just window dressing, the quality and service are there to go with the environment.  

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Breakfast Pizza

Pizza works for any meal.  The one that is most at odds with the sensibilities of many people is eating pizza for breakfast.  Now, you may think I mean the morning after room temperature (or refrigerated if you're lucky) pizza after an all night bender.  No, I'm talking about a pizza made specifically to eat in the morning.

I've seen peanut butter and jelly pizza prepared for kids at the Goofy's Kitchen restaurant at Disneyland...  But I'm not talking about novelty pizzas either...  

A perfect breakfast pizza is a thin crust pizza... with an egg cracked on top of it when it's almost done cooking and then cooked lightly after that.  You end up with this

Part of the pleasure is certainly in the pizza itself.  But another bonus is breaking the yolk and using the pizza to sop it up.

When done properly, this type of pizza is simple and wonderful.  This particular specimen is from a farmers market in Temescal, Oakland, California.  My favorite breakfast pizza is from Olivetto in Oakland, CA.  Every time I think about it, I need to have one.  Any time of the day or night...  The great thing about the Olivetto breakfast pizza is its simplicity.  Great quality ingredients cooked perfectly.  The cheese is just perfect, giving it a wonderful flavor without overpowering the other elements of the pizza.  This is the perfect breakfast with a cappuccino, sitting outside and watching people walk by...

Saturday, April 18, 2009


Cooked in a pan, in the oven, microwaved, stuffed in other things, sprinkled on salad, as artificial flavoring on any number of objects....  there is no denying the appeal of bacon.  Even vegetable protein is better as bacon than it is as vegetable protein.  Bacon is one of those things that makes almost anything better.  I've had ice cream with bacon... chocolate with bacon...  toffee with bacon...  I haven't had a bacon cocktail yet, but someone is making one I'm sure.

What's the appeal of bacon?  Well, you have a great combination of sensory memories of eating bacon as a kid along with a huge amount of fat and salt.  There's really nothing else necessary to become an institution.  

I've had plenty of bacon and have definite preferences when it comes to bacon.  Most bacon, I must say, is too salty.  This is, no doubt, the traditional recipe for bacon as salt was used to preserve foods.  Today, we have refrigerators and don't need to douse the bacon in salt.  Another key to great bacon is plenty of fat.  I've had bacon that did a respectable job of providing very lean bacon, but it lacks the deceptively light crunch of a nice fatty bacon and ends up being tough and chewy.  

Here is a good example of what you want to see when you lay out the bacon.
This provides plenty of fat to cook the bacon and plenty of fat left over to eat.  This bacon, after being cooked in the oven, was allowed to sit on a paper towel for a few moments to wick away some of the fat and allow it to become light and crispy.  
This bacon came from a small butcher shop and was fresh and amazing.  While there's nothing wrong with the bacon you get in the store that's been sitting in its package for a few weeks, this fresh stuff really kicks it up a notch.  Try some bacon that's never touched plastic.  

Saturday, April 11, 2009


It's one of those cravings that builds up every now and then.  Sometimes called buffalo wings, spicy fried chicken wings with the occasional drumstick thrown in every now and then.  I've tried wings around the country and as with many foods places that have a unique appreciation for a certain food, often also have the best examples of that food.  Sure, it's possible to stumble across an amazing example in the middle of nowhere, and I have, but if you want a safe bet, upstate New York is the innovator and still the place to go for a great example of wings.  I've had great wings in New York, Texas, Colorado, California...  Prepared in many styles from traditional buffalo wings style to Asian style.  

Wings are a great example of how opposing forces in a food can really make that food work.  Wings are just a laundry list of opposites shoved together, beginning with the sauce.  This is really the basis for the flavor of the wings, the combination of vinegar (sour) and cayenne (hot). Often restaurants serving wings will provide options for how hot you want your wings to be.  This is one area where we've seen significant push in the area of food challenges, with many establishments offering flavors like "Thermonuclear Meltdown".  These flavors were not meant to be enjoyed, rather to show your ability to handle the heat.  The true price really being paid over the next couple of days.

Another element of opposition to be found in wings is the texture.  While dripping with the sauce, the wings should also retain a bit of the crispness they've gained during their bath in the deep fryer.  It's a subtle thing, but something often not present on wings that have been all too often sitting too long in their sauce.  

Wings are typically served with blue cheese dressing and celery sticks to help take a bit of the edge off of the spiciness of the sauce.  This also provides options for flavor combinations... go ahead...  dunk that wing n the blue cheese!  

Some of my favorite wings?  Certainly there are a number of great places in upstate New York.  I also frequented a good wing place in the Park Slope area of Brooklyn.  There is also a place in my heart for some wings I had in Grand Junction, Colorado.  I'll always remember these wings.  They brought them out covered, put down the plate, and lifted the cover.  The spicy aroma burned the nose and made the eyes water, a sign of good things to come.

I recently stopped off at a local franchise of Wing-Stop.  My expectations were not very high, but I had been craving some wings and thought I'd give it a shot.  In the end, I was pleasantly surprised.  Perhaps I caught them on a good day or before the slide that inevitably happens with franchises, but the wings were quite good.  I do think they could go ahead and throw in some blue cheese and celery without an extra charge, but overall a decent experience.  
I had the Original Hot and the Hickory Smoked BBQ flavors.  Both were very good, with my preferences being the original hot.  I look forward to heading back to try some of the other flavors.  

Monday, March 30, 2009


If you've never eaten Octopus and it's never made it very high on your list of "I've got to try it", the best way to make sure you never will is to watch the first 10 minutes or so of the Iron Chef (Japanese Version) Octopus Challenge.  The octopus is a very strange creature without many parallels out there, perhaps the closest being the squid, but who hasn't had calamari?  And how often do you have the opportunity to eat something that was once called a devilfish, no doubt part due to its common presence as a sea monster in the stories of ocean explorers.  

Octopus is one of those foods that, in my experience, can be very good or mediocre.  My first experience with octopus, as sushi (or Tako) was on the mediocre side of things.  It was tough and rubbery and ended up as a plaything for the neighbor's cat... literally.  

But as with many dishes, don't let a bad example spoil it for you.  Since then I've had incredible preparations of octopus in both simple and complex dishes.  My favorites by far have been very simple Italian preparations of octopus.  When properly prepared, the octopus is simple, flavorful, and very tender.  This is definitely a dish to try at a respectable restaurant.  Freshness and preparation will determine whether it's enjoyable.  And if you get a good example, it's ultimately not at all challenging.  You will likely find yourself taking a bit to try it and then rushing back for a larger scoop before it's all gone.  

Sunday, March 29, 2009


Perhaps not quite as critical to existence as burritos, but still very important are tacos.

Now, if you want to enjoy a real taco, it's best to stay away from those precision formed high tech taco shells that you get at some fast food restaurants.  Real taco shells aren't crispy and the whole shell doesn't explode, spilling the contents on your lap, when you take a bite.  See specimen below:
As you can see, these tacos are small, double layered corn tortillas served flat.  It's up to you to fold them up for a bite.  The tacos above are a variety of meats.  This is one of the great things about tacos, you can get a whole variety of flavors.  The meats above are Carne Asada, Carnitas, Cabeza, and Chorizo.  All of these are excellent options, though my favorite is the Chorizo.  

Perhaps the most adventurous option for the non-initiated is the Cabeza.  For those not familiar with the meaning of this word, cabeza is Spanish for head.  This may include a variety of meats from the head of the cow.  This meat was soft and a little on the gelatinous side, but very flavorful.  

These tacos are from El Charrito in San Carlos, California.  Want to have a great meal for VERY little money?  You gotta try this place.  Each taco, while small, is only a little more than a dollar.  A couple tacos (or four) and a horchata, and I'm a happy man.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Sam's Chowder House

First of all, a place in California that claims the best Lobster Roll in the US (Via the Today Show) sits somewhere between extreme comedy and blasphemy.  There are plenty of best-sandwiches lists on the intertubes, and I would probably not rank the Today Show as my first source for this information.  I think without a doubt, the best sandwiches I've ever had are often not on any of the lists (Though I have seen the Salumi Porchetta on a few lists).  That being said, this is not a restaurant that is resting on their laurels.  

Sam's Chowder House is a standard coastal sit down with great views of the ocean and plenty of outdoor seating.  Their specialty is seafood, but there's something here for everyone.  

The appetizers were strong and while not the best I've had, certainly very enjoyable.  We had the Calamari and the Tuna Carpaccio.  Each had good flavor, though I would have preferred a little lighter hand on the sauce on the tuna.  

The bread was great.  Smokin hot and chewy.  Perfect bread for a seafood place.  Perfect for sopping up sauce, if it lasts that long.

My beet salad was very good. Great flavor, good to look at, and well dressed.  
The drink selection was your average bar fare.  There were a couple of beers that were a little off the beaten path, but these were the exception.  With so many places not seeing the need to carry Bud and Miller, I would have liked to have seen a little more adventure here.

Overall, everyone was very happy with the entrees.  Some of the ones ordered at our table included:  The dungeness crab,  blackened shrimp salad, halibut, and cioppino.  

Presentation across the board was very strong for this kind of place.  Every dish went away quite thoroughly cleaned with everyone claiming satisfaction.  

Next came desert.  Despite everyone claiming to being full, numerous deserts arrived at our table.  The desert menu, again, offered options all around.  By far the standout was the ice cream sandwich.  
Another desert ordered was the Coconut Rice Pudding.  It was a little light on the coconut, but still enjoyable. 
Overall the service was strong and the food was enjoyable.  I don't think that this place will blow your mind, but it's a strong restaurant with good food and good staff.  

Friday, March 27, 2009

What Would Wall-E Eat? #1

Wall-E, the main character from the recent Pixar movie, is a robot.  He doesn't eat anything as it would seem all he needs can be supplied by his solar panels, replacement part stash, and Eve.  This being said, if he were a foodie, his favorite foods would certainly sit in the realm of appreciating nostalgia mixed with advances in technology and new concepts.  

And so with those parameters in place, the first food we'll explore that Wall-E would eat is S'mores
These S'mores come from Recchiuti in San Francisco.  They combine graham crackers, marshmallows and chocolate just like a traditional s'more, but without the labor, singed fingers, or smoke inhalation.  

Why would Wall-E like these?  We can all understand the nostalgic value of s'mores.  Wall-E would have certainly seen and longed for a s'more after seeing them in a classic movie and he would appreciate the efficiency of having them packaged for ease of use.  
In a new regular column, today we explore "What Would Wall-E Eat?"
Something is certainly lost in the lack of singe on the marshmallow and on the general lack of warmth and gooey-ness.  But these taste great and definitely fill the need for a s'more without the project. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Candy and Childhood

Beyond my fascination with foods, two interesting areas of exploration that vary considerably regionally and culturally are booze and candy.  Candy in particular makes for excellent exploration due to the fact that it is widely available and cheap.  Sweets are one of those things that connect us to our childhood, and if we have moved to a different area, it can bring back memories to enjoy a candy from our childhood.  It certainly does for me.  The demand for those sweets means that they are available to transplants all over the world.  Despite the fact that I grew up in the US, there are a few foreign candies that bring me back to my childhood.  I grew up enjoying White Rabbits right alongside Baby Ruth bars.  One of my favorites, however, was Botan.  
This has all the necessary elements to inspire fascination in a child:
1. Prize in every box.
2. Completely different eating experience from any American candy
3. Packaging unlike any American candy (a candy gets points for foreign characters too)
4. Strange ingredients

Now, as with other treats that provide a prize (Cracker Jacks), Botan has changed in this department over the years.  It used to be that you got a little plastic toy in every box.  Then they moved to a tattoo, and now, it's a sticker.  Cheap, but still effective.
The packaging, originally with what I believe is some mythological Japanese character, now features a cat.

The ingredients have changed over the years as well.  The flavor still remains fairly similar, the first ingredient was once "Millet Jelly".  As a kid, I had no idea what this was and rather than look it up or ask someone, I came up with my own idea.  Millet sounded to me like a fish, so it must be fish jelly.  Turns out that's not the case, but it did inspire wonder at the time that fish jelly could taste so good.  Today the first ingredient is a less inspiring "glucose syrup".

All of the above elements of fascination bow to the main draw of this candy: the wrapper.  Each piece of candy is individually wrapped in a plastic cellophane.  This is not the wrapper I'm talking about though.  While unwrapping the cellophane, you find another wrapper, a thin second layer of clear wrapping.  This second wrapper is made from rice and is edible.
To a child, this is true shock and awe.  I can imagine this additional layer of packaging was introduced to keep the candy from sticking to the primary wrapper, but however this solution was reached, it totally makes the candy.  This inner wrapper is, in many ways, similar to the film mints that are all the rage as trade show giveaways today, but without the flavor.  The candy itself is enjoyable, though not remarkable.  It has a faint citrus flavor with the consistency of a hard gummy candy.  

Want to try Botan?  It's generally available for about $1 a box.  You can get it through Amazon or a slew of other sources here.

Care for something that hits your sense of nostalgia?  Type "vintage candy" into a search at Amazon and you can find anything from Necco Wafers to Wax Lips.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


You can put just about anything in sausage, throw in some spices, and you've got a compelling meal.  This does not mean that sausage is lacking in artistry, just that, like pizza, you've got to really try to screw it up.  

Like other foods, freshness does matter.  I may have been satisfied with a slab of Jimmy Dean when I was a kid, but you've got to constantly aim higher, right?  So my current favorite sausages come from Lockford Meat and Sausages in Lockford, CA. (No web page, so link to yahoo)  

You want a great sausage, come visit this place.  I've been eating their sausages and beef jerky since I was a kid and still stop in there when I'm driving through.  They've got plenty of variety to keep you coming back to try more, but some of the more popular are the Brats.  They sell these at some local farmers markets as well and it seems like people come for more after trying them at the farmers market.  They've got a couple dozen different sausages plus marinated beef, beef jerky, bacon and a few other options.  

The beef jerky at this place is a revelation.  This is not your dried leathery jerky you grab as you're rushing through the 7-11...  This stuff is amazing.  Both the regular and the teriyaki are awesome.   

Want to get some of my favorites?  Try the spicy italian, the chorizo, and the apple sausages.  It doesn't matter how you cook em, these sausages are excellent.

This place has gotten quite popular over the years with everyone from families to bikers and expect that you may have to wait in line if you show up on a weekend.  

Just look for the cow as you drive by...  and do as the cow says and get some "Jerky"

Monday, March 23, 2009

Farmers Markets

Feeling adventurous and want to try something new?  Do you have a farmers market in your area?  It's a great place to pick up a few new adventures to take home.  Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to go to a farmer's market.  Find a fruit or vegetable you've never seen before and get one to take home.  Not sure what to do with it?  Ask the person selling it to you, because you KNOW they have 1000 of them at home and have tried a thing or two.  

Many farmers markets, in addition to the fresh fruit, vegetables (and sometimes meats and chocolates), also have places where you can buy prepared food.  These tend to be a bit pricey when compared to other places where the restaurant can be taken apart in 5 minutes, but one nice thing is that the salad you're getting with your paella you'll see a few minutes later when you walk buy the place where they're selling salad.  I've found some great things at these food stands and other things are bland, but I don't think I've ever had anything that was bad.  My favorite has been the place where they're making fresh Naan right there in front of you.  Can't beat it.  Here's a picture of the paella I had on my last trip.  It was decent, though I would have liked to see a little more spice in the chorizo.  

Friday, March 20, 2009

You Say Salumi, I Say Salami

If you are anywhere within 1,000 miles of Seattle, I think it's worth the trip to visit Salumi.  This place knows what it does and it does it well.  Don't expect a fine dining experience, this is a lunch counter, but it's a lunch counter with a halo and wings.  

You will wait to get into the place, the line forms before it opens, so expect to wait.  Salumi is open from 11am to 4pm Tuesday through Friday.  What are they doing the rest of the time?  I don't know... probably making amazing salami.  This is not walking into a Subway to order a sandwich, there is a path to enlightenment here.  First, as you approach the door, the menu in the window presents a great challenge.  This is definitely one of those menus where you want to have one of everything.  As you approach the counter, you are provided a preview of the feast that awaits you.  
It's very clear as you approach the counter that this is a family run establishment complete with the ribbing and jokes.  For those who watch the Food Network, this place is expertly run by Mario Batali's father. They seem to have a lot of fun talking with customers, handing slices of salami to kids and generally joking around.  When I visited Salumi, I was on my way up to the San Juan Islands and explained that these sandwiches were for the trip.  It was a great pleasure to hear them banter about the pros and cons of this trip.  I love places where I feel like I'm in a kitchen with friends and the familial tone here is warm and fun.  

I decided on the porchetta sandwich...  to start.  As I said, it's difficult to decide, so I made it a little easier by deciding on a few things.  First the prochetta sandwich.  The menu explained that this sandwich is their tribute to the pig.  SOLD!  That was on the must have/eat list and it did not disappoint.  Imagine a sandwich with chunks of pork, peppers, carrots and onions in a sauce dripping out of it and running down your arms that you would want to bathe in if it was available in large quantities.  This sandwich was amazing.  
Now as I said, I couldn't walk out with just that porchetta sandwich, though that was certainly a more than adequate lunch.  I also had my interest peaked by the fig and prosciutto sandwich.  I ordered this as well.  It was also good, though anything following the porchetta is really on shaky ground from the get-go.  

Walking by the window and seeing all those meats curing was too much to take, so in addition to the sandwiches, it was necessary to order a sampler of their cured meats too.  I'm a sucker for a sampler as I love having something where I can compare the variety of options.  The meats were excellent offering a wide variety of flavors.  
Now all of this has swirled around the many pork-ey options available.  But if you are not a pork eater, there are some excellent options for you as well.  The lamb 'prosciutto' was excellent.  Overall, this place offered great food and great service.  Highly recommended. 

Thursday, March 19, 2009

A Proper Cake

Continuing with yesterday's topic, today, we have a proper cake.  

This cake is from Cakelove in Washington D.C. and it tastes great!  This is a lemon curd cake with butter cream frosting.  These guys have really nailed the butter cream.  If you have an opportunity and think you hate butter cream, try a piece of cake from this place, it is almost certain to change your mind. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


Whether it's a traditional cake, cupcakes, or ice cream cakes, when we're having cake, it means celebration.  I, personally, consider anything that's on fire shortly before eating it a celebration, but that's another matter.  So in looking for good cake, what do we want?  There are certainly different tastes in cake, but people seem to be in general agreement that a moist cake is one we'll likely enjoy.  It can have fruit, butter cream, frosting, custard, chocolate, vanilla, and on and on.  I personally enjoy all of these.  But today we're not going to discuss great cakes.  We're going to discuss a problem with cakes.  

That problem is fondant.   

What is fondant?  You have probably seen it before.  It's a layer of rolled sugar, water, glycerin and gelatin that has been laid over the cake to make it look like a cannon ball.  No doubt, fondant makes for a stunning visual for a cake, but this was something we were meant to eat, right?  Here is a cake with fondant.  

Doesn't even really look like a cake, does it?  That's because it isn't.  There is a cake in there somewhere, but it's protected by a layer of sugar armor.  I think the cake above is really very nice looking.  I would love to blow out the candles on this cake and then put it aside and eat another cake.  

Where did this fondant stuff come from?  I never encountered it when I went to a friend's birthday party as a kid.  It was once resigned to wedding cakes and cakes for parties where everyone oogles the cake and leaves before it gets cut, but I have done very strict statistical research (not really) and determined that fondant has become more popular as people have been watching more food network shows about making incredible art cakes.  Everyone has seen these amazing cakes, but you never see them eat them on the show.  You might as well make them out of sculpey.  

You can achieve some incredible results with fondant.  Just check out this google search.

Amazing somewhat-edible creations.  

The cake in the picture above came from a perfectly respectable baker, Miette.  They make great cakes and have plenty of wonderful options without fondant.  If you want a centerpiece, I recommend flowers, if you want a cake, I recommend frosting.  

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Beer is like the neurotic younger brother of wine.  It often doesn't get the respect it deserves, yet it exceeds it's older brother in many ways.  Perhaps this stigma is deserved as the majority of the beer produced is fairly generic in flavor.  If you go into a club or bar in most cities in the United States, it's likely your beer options will be limited to options such as Bud and Miller... then there's the old joke:  "You want an import?  We have Coors."

There is every bit as much variety in beers as there is in wines, though I have yet to see a bottle of beer break the $100 mark.  There are a couple listed on this page, but this seems to be more for publicity than anything else.  

This brings up an interesting element of food adventure...  There are often areas of drinking and dining where you can get a great value if you stray a bit from the well worn road.  Want a great Cognac but don't want to spend the money, try an Armagnac.

Beer is a great place to explore.  You can go out and have a wonderful, unique, hard to find beer for less than $10.  Try that with wine.  So let's say you visit a restaurant that has a great beer selection with a bunch of beers you've never heard of and you don't want to spend 6 bucks on a beer and hate it.  Ask them to give you a taste, or ask them to suggest a beer based on what you know you do like.  You may find a new favorite.  

For example, I recently had a glass of Popperings Hommel Ale.  This was a wonderful beer with great flavor and subtlety.  And it has an absolutely beautiful color.

Want to visit their webpage and buy a t-shirt?  Good luck.  Want to check out their superbowl commercial?  Sorry.  Just good beer here.

Some great beers can be REALLY hard to find.  One of my favorites, I'm not even sure if it's made anymore.  But with the spread of Whole Foods and Beverages and More, respectable beer options are coming to a city near you.  Whole Foods will sometimes order ones you're curious about too if you talk to the right person.  I got Hitachino Nest Beer on the list at my local Whole Foods. Yes, some of the beers are pricey, but think about it this way:  Compared to what?  

Want to try one of my favorites?  Try the Hitachino White Ale.  You can order it online for around $5 for an 11oz bottle.  

Monday, March 16, 2009

Eating and Traveling

As with most things, the best example of a particular food is a combination of many things: The ingredients, the preparation, the environment...  Being in a particular place, and particularly being on vacation, can have a huge impact on the ability to enjoy your food and drinks.  Many times I've heard from people who immensely enjoyed a bottle of wine while traveling only to find it just wasn't the same when they got home.  And this is just the environment.  Enjoying a good drink and good conversation with a friend can significantly impact the enjoyment of the drink as well.

My favorite cappuccino was, naturally, in Rome.  It wasn't the $18 cappuccino I had in Venice, though the environment was pulling REALLY hard for it to take the top position.  Everything just came together at the Daphne Inn in Rome.  And with a cappuccino like this, you know it's going to be good.
It's a fairly simple thing...  coffee, water, milk, maybe a dash of cocoa.  But bring it all together properly and it can create an incredibly memorable experience.  

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Regional Staples

One of the best things about traveling is the new options in food that present themselves.  Certainly the local ingredients have an impact on your options, but also just as significant are the local favorites.  There is a special thing that happens when huge competition occurs in one very specific area.  For instance, Bagels in New York, BBQ in and around Austin, Burritos in the San Francisco Bay Area.  This happens at more levels than just the staples (occurs on higher end foods as well) but the areas I find most interesting are the staple foods (and the restaurants competing for a local cultural audience, such as the proverbial few Pho places on a single block).  

An in-depth investigation of a particular subject can bring a deeper understanding of the value of that subject and a renewed appreciation for the variety present.  This is one of my driving philosophies when it comes to food and drink.  Apart from the general desire to try new/great things, the deep exploration of particular foods and drinks is fascinating too.  With travel, you have the opportunity to combine the two.  

The examples of these local delicacies are too numerous to mention here, and I'm still finding then all the time.  One of the incredible things that develops out of these local delicacies is the survival of the fittest element of it all.  Unless you're specifically looking for it, you won't often run into a 'bad' bagel in New York.  Bagels are available almost everywhere, but there IS a big difference.  This is what I get in California:

It's not bad, but it's not the religious experience that eating a bagel is in New York.  There are several key differences between New York bagels and bagels in other places:

1. Size - The bagels in new york are HUGE.  So much so that some people go a preparation where some of the insides are ripped out.  
2. Temperature - When you can get a warm bagel, it's heaven, and I'm not talking about a toasted bagel, I'm saying warm from the oven.
3. Texture - Slightly crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside.  
4.  Cream Cheese - Most everywhere you get a bagel, cream cheese is a condiment, like spreading mustard on a hamburger.  In New York, cream cheese is THE filling of the bagel sandwich. 

I've found places that get one or two of these at times, but if you have a place near me that nails all of these, please let me know.  I'll be there every morning.  


Saturday, March 14, 2009

Burger and Fries

It's a classic American combination.  There are tons of great burgers to be had out there.  There are also people doing new and exciting things with burgers.  How about a cheese burger with the cheese inside?  Some express their creativity through what they offer on your burger.  One of the best burgers I've ever had was a lamb burger.  Even with the most vanilla of foods, if you look for adventure, it's there.  

I group the burgers into several categories.  There's the upscale burger, the fast food burger, the just plain good burger, and the creative burger.  Each of these is excellent in their own way.  Fortunately, living in California, we have a fast food restaurant that makes a decent burger.  It's known far and wide and while they aren't the best, they are definitely a good safe go-to.  On regular occasions, people visiting from out of town ask "Can we go to In-n-out?"  What makes this place so special?  First, the burgers are good.  Fresh ingredients, and they stick to what they know.  You won't find a chipotle mushroom onion ring burger here.  The choices are simple.  In fact, I can recite the whole menu for you.  It's not too tough:

Hamburger, Cheeseburger, Double Cheeseburger (known as a Double Double), fries, shakes (Strawberry, Chocolate, Vanilla) and your various soft drinks, lemonade, and tea.  

If you want to get the basic experience and are pretty hungry, I recommend a Double Double, see below (I like mine with grilled onions):

They'll mix it up with how you want them prepared and what you want on them, but it's really that simple... almost.  What you see above IS their menu, but there is also a whole world of off-menu items.  Want to delve into these?  Check out this link:

From Neapolitan Shakes to burgers "Animal Style", there's a whole world to be explored.

If you want to go into one of the other categories, there are nice sit down places, burger shacks and everything in between to offer you a variety of options.  Here are some of my Northern California favorites:

T-Rex BBQ - This is the place with the Lamb Burger, truly exceptional.  There's a lot of other great stuff here too and they have an excellent bar.

Luke's Taproom - An excellent burger and something for everyone on the menu.  Again, an excellent bar. 

Cafe Rouge - Again, excellent burger, simple, but wonderful.  

900 Grayson - Excellent burger. Can't go wrong with those french fried onions.  


Friday, March 13, 2009

The Burrito

Frankly, I'm somewhat surprised it has taken me this long to mention the burrito.  This is such a staple for myself and so many Californians that it falls very closely behind water and shelter in a list of life's major needs.  It's difficult to explain this vaulted status to those who have not had a reasonably decent burrito before, and this does not particularly surprise me.  I do realize that most people have been introduced to the burrito by Taco Bell.  This is a crime that should be tried in a high profile international court.  

For those who have not had a great burrito and want to know how to find one, I've assembled this simple rating system that you can review to judge the burrito establishment:

1 point for looking like this:
Notice the foil, no box, no paper, no plastic.  It must be foil.

1 point if the restaurant separates the meat choices from the other options, for instance, you want a burrito, here are your choices:  Pollo Borracho, Carne Asada, Carnitas, etc. 

1 point if you walk down the line saying what you want in the burrito as they're making it.

1 point if they have a salsa bar with 3 or more options (salsa must be in containers that can be spooned onto a plate or into a cup, not in packages)

1 point if the salsa is labeled by what is in it such as "Roasted Tomatillo".  If the salsas are labeled "Mild, Medium, and Hot", then no points awarded.  Point still awarded if they list the description with the content and ALSO say mild, medium or hot.  

1 point if they warm the tortilla before putting anything in it.

1 point if they make their own tortillas.

1 point if the burrito can stand up on its end.

1 point if there is a Spanish word in the name of the establishment (taco or burrito don't count, it must be one you don't know).

1 point if the name also includes either "el" or "la" at the beginning of the name.

1 point if the restaurant sells as least one soft drink with a name in Spanish, such as Jarritos.  

A perfect score of "11" does not guarantee that you will have a great burrito experience, but it definitely increases the chances.  In fact, some of my favorites score in the 8-9 range.  You may notice that Taco Bell scores a 0.  This is not a coincidence.  

How to eat a burrito:

When you get your burrito do not, I repeat, do NOT unwrap it.  This is key to the process of eating the burrito.  
  • Untuck the foil from one end of the burrito.
  • About two inches down the side of the burrito, tear the edge of the foil.  
  • Proceed to tear around the burrito until you have met the point at which you started the tear.  In the process, it should look like this:
  • Eat the end of the burrito moving towards the edge of the foil.  
  • As you approach the edge of the foil, pause, enjoy the flavors, and tear a new ring from the foil.
  • Proceed to move down the burrito in this fashion.
When you have finished, you should have nothing but a nest of foil that should be balled up and discarded.  

Enjoy and don't forget to tip your burrito maker!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Ice Cream

Having a tough week?  Sometimes the degree of difficulty of a week can be gauged by the number of times it's necessary to go out and have a scoop of good ice cream.  So far, in the past 7 days, this number is 2.  

It's interesting to consider what the adventurous flavors in ice cream do to the art of combining different ice creams together.  Now, combining flavors has always been something done with ice cream, the chocolate and vanilla swirl soft serve is a classic combo.  Sometimes these combinations are provided in the ice cream itself by the ice cream maker, sometimes you are left to your own creativity of combination.  Does it make sense to that an ice cream with some pepper in it might go well with an ice cream based on a root vegetable from south america?  Perhaps.  

The combination I went for last night was, to give proper credit, the suggestion of the professional on the other side of the ice cream at Tara's Organic.  

The combination was Pandan Ice Cream and Coconut Ice Cream.  It makes sense from the perspective of food preparation.  These are often used together, and not surprisingly, it was really quite a good combination.

On the maker-supplied combo side of things, they have a cashew orange ice cream that's really quite interesting.  You can't go wrong with the old creamsicle combo, and the cashew gives it a new twist.  I might go for a scoop of this, but I tasted the molasses and that may snare me next time as well.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


I heard it said once that the rise of popularity in coffee happened to coincide with the industrial revolution.  Seeing that the previous drink of choice in the developed world was ale, I am inclined to see a connection there.  

We certainly have more coffee options at a higher level of quality than 20 years ago when the options were primarily can A or can B.  Food technology has made its way into coffee as well.  I'm not sure why I would want a coffee with EXTRA caffiene added.  Why not just have another cup of coffee?  

A similarly disturbing influence of technology on coffee is the rise of flavored coffees.  This is something of a misnomer as coffee ALREADY has flavor!  That aside, it is all too common to find vanilla or hazelnut coffee along side the french roast (be careful where you set your cup!).  Another way to get that addtional flavor in the cup is non-dairy creamers.  This really blows off the roof in flavor options.  Last check, coffee mate offers 51 options for flavored and unflavored, powder and liquid non-dairy creamers.  I have to admit, this stuff can make a horrible cup of coffee moderately tolerable, but I'd rather just have a good cup of coffee.  I particularly don't want caramel apple or black cherry streusel creamer in my coffee.  

Now I must admit, I've walked into a Starbucks on several occasions and been tempted by the mocha gingerbread peppermint nutmeg chai vanilla cinnamon latte.  I've always regretted the decision, but flavor combinations can be interesting.  If you're a lover of these things, do yourself a favor.  Pick up a couple bottles of Torani and go crazy.  You can even get tiny bottles to try the flavor before you splurge on the $5 larger bottle.  There are more than 60 flavors available and even more if you count the sugar-free versions.  Then you can put your favorite flavors in other things too and you can put real milk or cream in your coffee as well. 

Also, nice ceramics from Laura Zindel

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Adventures in Fruit

It's easy to get into a mode where you walk into a store, go grab some bananas, head over to the granny smith apples, and then grab a couple oranges.  I've found that stores are doing a much better job of offering variety in what they carry.  They're bringing you new stuff to try!  
Today I want to talk about the adventure you can find just next to the ordinary.  The Oro Blanco grapefruit.  It looks roughly like a grapefruit, but a bit larger.  If you've had a pummelo, then you're in the right neighborhood.  In fact, the Oro Blanco grapefruit is a cross between a grapefruit and a pummelo.  The one below is on the small side.  

So, what is so special about this fruit?  Well, for one, while it has a taste somewhat similar to a grapefruit, it's got a lot of interesting experiences to offer too.  First, this thing has a crazy thick skin.  I think you could insulate a home with this stuff.

It's worth it to hatchet your way through the stuff though.  

Once you've made it through, you end up with sections, like a grapefruit, but you're not done yet.  You can try to eat the membrane around the sections... good luck.  You've really only made it through the first stage of peeling this fruit.  Check out how thick that stuff around the fruit is...

I recommend leaving each section attached and peeling one end of the membrane off and then detaching the stuff inside from the rest of the fruit.  Once you've worked your way around the fruit... this is the endgame.  

The fruit is interesting.  It's not juicy the way a typical grapefruit can be.  I would almost compare it to a pomegranate, where each of those little pockets has the juice inside it.  What's that you say?  That doesn't look like all of the sections of the grapefruit?  Hmm... I wonder where the other ones went.  It's the prerogative of the food preparer to ensure everything is up to the proper quality, right?  Enjoy!