Thursday, July 27, 2006

A new chapter

I will be a lot more busy in the coming months. There, I've finally said it out loud. I have avoided thinking about how life is going to be when the much heavier work load arrives at my door, but a girl could only put off planning for so long. There is no changing reality. What must be will be. Never being one to surrender happiness, I woke up this morning with renewed determination to live vibrantly and do what I love in my soon to be much limited free time. If it means I have to plan much better, well I will.

First things first, I have to learn how to plan my cooking ahead of time. To practice, I decided to devise a few simple weeknight dishes that I could throw together easily. The first dish that I came up with is a pizza. No, I don't plan to take out. It will take a lot more than work to make me surrender to takeout pizza on a regular basis. This one involves mixing up a quick Parmesan and remano quick bake thin crust. Some homemade pizza sauce from frozen, a good handful of drained spinach, and some Pepperoni. The result is as good to look at as it is to eat. Hmm... Maybe I will learn to love this quick cooking thing. We'll see.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Opposites attract

On days that I sit back and take stock of my life, I am often surprised by how J's spontaneous and somewhat chaotic approach to his stressful life as an entrepreneur has blissfully tempered my sometimes worrisome nature. Such reflections periodically remind me that life's unpredictability could bring very pleasant surprises when one is not so set on living according to set modes.

Apparently this advice is just as applicable, if not more so in food, as in other areas of daily living. For example, while few inexperienced or unadventurous in food would have dreamed up a dessert with a liberate use of sea salt, the combination of big salt flakes and dense chocolate proved to be formidable at the chic A16 in San Francisco.

We went to A16 for pizza, which was, well, good, but not exceptional in my opinion. The crust was a bit thicker and chewier than what I tend to like and the middle got a bit soggy as the pie sat. Perhaps a quick eater wouldn't have had that problem, but a nibbler could only report from her own snail-paced perspective. The sauce on the margarita pizza was, however, delicious with just the right amount of tang.

The most exceptional savory item that we experienced at A16 was the appetizer meatballs. BY Italian meatballs standards, they were rather small at about the size of golf balls. Despite the size, the meatballs packed a tremendous flavor punch. The fresh Italian seasonings of parsley, oregano, and thyme shone through the perfectly viscous tomato sauce generously doused over them. They were as good to look at as they were to eat. Unfortunately, Pictures of the pizzas and meatballs were accidentally deleted while my camera was passed around the table during one of our many dinners later than weekend. I suspect the massive amounts of wine that we hauled back from Sonoma had something to do with it, but oh well, at least a good time was had by all.

After one appetizer and two pizzas, my two lunch companions were about to call it quits, that is until we saw the dense chocolate cake with sea salt and olive oil on the dessert menu. Not being able to curb her curiosity, auntie M ordered the chocolate cake with sea salt and olive oil. Always polite and not wanting anyone to feel like the lone glutton (right), I also thrown in an order for apricot panna cotta. I suspect auntie M partly expected the olive oil and salt to be integrated into the cake batter and baked. When the cake was presented, a proud chcolate cake drizzled with olive oil and flaked with big pieces of sea salt on top, she was stunned. A bit hesitantly, auntie M picked off a small piece to try and her eyes went wide. "This is gooood!" We all went in with our forks at this point. It was indeed good. The very dense and dark chocolate softened and benefited from the smoothness and slightly "greeness" of the extra virgin olive oil. The salt stimulated the savory part of the palate and allowed the tongue to better detect the rather subtle sweetness hidden under the dark chocolate tone. This was a great combination that covered all the basis.

If there is such as thing as a palate cleanser after a heavy dessert, the apricot panna cotta was it. The creamy and light texture and fruity brightness lightened some of that dense chocolate weightiness in the mouth and ended our meal on a lighter note, if that's possible with very full stomachs.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Sometimes a chicken is just a chicken

On my third trip to San Francisco, I finally got to make the requisite pilgrimage to Zuni Café to worship the roast chicken bread salad. Was it everything I had hoped for? All I can say is that sometimes the only thing going against a great thing is its reputation. The fact is that I’ve read about the roast chicken in dozens of publications, heard the British “goddess” Nigella repeatedly gushing about it, and seen it in my prized Zuni Café Cookbook. In my mind, the chicken had attained a taste that no mortal chicken could ever hope to achieve, not even at the Zuni Café. This is not to say that the evening wasn’t incredibly wonderful. It was, as all dinners are among old friends.

A, whom I haven’t seen since college, had recently relocated to SFO and met up with J and I for dinner. We were an hour late for our reservation and had to wait about half an hour before a table could be arranged for us. It was an easy wait at the gorgeous copper bar as conversations flew and Turley’s juvenile zinfandel kept my spirits up. I have to mention how amazed I was to find the fantastic zin sold by the glass. Sometimes it’s just so darn easy to get a case of green envy of the Californians for having some of the freshest foods and the best American wines within arm’s reach.

Once sat, we went right ahead and ordered the chicken so it could be roasted while we enjoyed our appetizers. Having being deprived easy access to super fresh oysters in Atlanta, we welcomed a sampler plate of pacific offerings with open arms and hungry stomachs. The uneven-sized beauties ranged on the palate from briny like the sea to sweet and creamy. All were incredibly fresh and went down ultra smooth.

Considering chef Judy Rodgers' affinity for brining, we selected the house-cured ham to try. From presentation to taste, the ham was bland and rather uninteresting. We also selected the special handmade pasta of the night. The abundant pancetta in the pasta was nicely pan-fried and smoky, but the pasta itself was a bit too doughy and slightly undercooked in the center.

Finally the chicken bread salad was brought to the table. The plating is quite impressive with neat pieces of nicely charred chicken nesting on a base of browned Acme bread and among a fantastically fresh bitter green salad. The salad was dressed in a vinegar heavy dressing, which I loved. The chicken was tender and the bits of charred skin had a nice crunch, but like I said earlier, it was still just a well-roasted chicken. Knowing nothing about it, I would have loved it, but having read so many out-of-this-world reviews, I am not sure if it is deserving of all that.

The dessert menu was simple and I can't remember anything else on it except the tart we chose. It came simply embellished with just an unpretentious scoop of vanilla ice cream and had all the elements one could ask for in a nice fruit tart. The filling had the perfect mouth puckering acidity that sought balance in the creamy ice cream. The crust flaked easily without crumbing and had the integrity to stand up to the gooey fruit center without turning soggy. It was also the right size for three already stuffed diners who can't pass up dessert.