Tag Archives: eating out

Olive You!

5 Dec

Another long dry spell, forgive me. I need to be talk about a meal I had back in September (this is how behind I am.)

A dear friend and I attended a screening of Amelie in the park in Little Italy– a great deal of fun despite the freezing winds. Afterwards we were both starved and craving food and warmth; luckily, finding comfort food in this part of town was not going to be difficult. Which to choose though? The decision was daunting.

We were walking up Stockton, clutching at our coats and our grumpy tummies when it happened– I knew I was already in love. It was like catching the gaze of the perfect woman. I was too shy to speak up and say, “that way, I want to go that way!” I locked eyes with her, the object of my affection … my head turned as we kept walking, my little heart weeped. My friend pointed this way and that way– “this place? This place! No, no, thiiiiiis place…”

We turned a corner and I thought I had lost her forever. We walked into another Italian restaurant, but I felt dead inside; it felt as if I had missed my one chance at true love. But! To my delight and my friend’s dismay however, the prices on the menu were just shy of atrocious. We walked out and I doubled back, knowing she’d still be there, waiting for me, windows aglow exuding a come-hither sort of warmth and charm. The sign displayed her name so I may remember it forever: Maria.

Caffe Maria. Her prices won our immediate approval– it was warm, moderately crowded, warmly lit, and the waitstaff was pleasant. We were seated in a nice romantic corner nook and served bread, butter, and this was just… oh my goodness– a whole dish of olives. Olives. It was only recently that I had developed a taste for them, but the combination of the fresh bread, soft flesh, crisp skin, absolutely rich, flavorful butter, and these perfect ovals of savory complexity. It didn’t matter what we were going to order and have for the meal. This appetizer made my night.

Both of us ordered gnocchi; my friend had it with pesto, I had it with pink sauce. There is not much more to say than to describe the gnocchi as divinity. Gnocchi are always described as pillows of potato, and yes, that’s exactly the description that fits. The housemaid gnocchi gets two thumbs up and multiple high fives. Highly, highly recommended.

I’ll visit Maria next time for their seafood, because it’s apparently what they are known for. Maria, Maria. And if that wasn’t enough, there were huge bowls of dessert cookies and Andes mint chocolates circulating the room. Our eyes grew wide and we nibbled and were tempted to stuff our pockets. I chose to take six of the chocolates, only to be devoured on the train ride home, but seriously? A delectable meal, affordable, generous in variety and portions, a beautiful ambience, and what I imagine would be a just-as-reasonable Italian wine list. This is love.

A word on olives. If you’re thinking that olives are a pizza condiment to pick off, oh baby, are you missing out. There are so many many many different kinds of olives. My favorite thing to do with olives though is make a tapenade. A tapenade is defined by the Food Lover’s Companion as a “thick paste [from Provence] made from capers, anchovies, ripe olives, olive oil, lemon juice, [and] seasonings… used as a condiment.” Now I know plenty of people who hate olives, capers, AND anchovies. I used to be one of them. The whole, however, is most definitely more than the sum of its parts. Tapenade is that statement’s culinary testimony.

I have several fantastic recipes of variations, many of which come from a book called Pestos, Tapenades, and Spreads. I am a sauce and spread fanatic, this small little book was just the best thing that can happen to a girl like me.

Then there is Big Small Plates, which also has a tapenade recipe that claims to be the “best ever” that I haven’t tried yet. I’m going to come back with a tapenade that takes the best of both worlds, but for now…

Traditional Tapenade, Take one (modified from Pestos, Tapenades and Spreads)

  • One 10-ounce jar or can pitted kalmata olives, drained and rinsed
  • 2 anchovy fillets
  • 2 small garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 4 fresh basil leaves
  • 1 tablespoon capers, drained
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Freshly ground pepper

Put everything in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until a course mixture forms. Makes about a cup.

I eat it on bread, but try to be creative with its application. Enjoy.


Ich liebe dich, Schmidt

5 Oct

It’s been a very long while since I’ve had German food, but I really do love smoky sausages and spicy mustard. I love cheesy, herby egg noodles. I love potatoes.

This is a meal at Schmidt’s, a German restaurant in the city. On the plate is really yummy sauerkraut, a smoked wild boar sausage, sweet and spicy mustard, potato salad, and to accompany the table is a plate of spätzle.

The sauerkraut, “sour cabbage”, had whole peppercorns which added a lovely kick. The sausage was masterfully grilled, hearty, explosive with savory flavor. The mustards were tangy and wonderful; the spicy one went straight for my nose, the sweet one sat happily on my tongue and were great compliments to the sausage. The potato salad was one of the best I’ve ever had– they topped the boiled red potatoes with chives. I love chives! Little bursts of lots of fresh, oniony goodness. I can’t believe I’ve never thought of that before.

Spätzle is a type of soft egg noodle native to Germany and Austria; the word literally translates to “little sparrow”, which I thought was cute. It was just the ultimate comfort: pan-crispy on the outside, chewy and soft on the inside, seasoned with parsley and melded together with cheese. Beautiful.

This was the exact meal that turned me onto German cuisine, and I’ll be going back for more!

I heart brunch

4 Oct

I don’t care what people say: I like brunch. I think brunch was destined for late weekend mornings, especially late Sunday mornings, be it with a significant other or a significant mother. Sure it’s girly, sure restaurants serve breakfast foods “you can totally make at home”, but brunch also can have menu items that are entirely unique to itself. Sometimes those fun omelets with the tortilla strips and chipotle sauce only come on the weekend menu. I’ve never seen potato latkes with a poached egg and asparagus be served on a Wednesday morning. No no, these beauties are exclusive to le week-end.

Here is mouth-watering image I have to share with you:

That’s right. Those are sliced almonds on my french toast. Brunch rocks. Tangerine, one of my favorite restaurants in the city, serves almond french toast. I absolutely adore french toast, but if executed poorly it can be quite the soggy mess. Not only was this french toast crisp on its own, it had the texture of sliced almonds to complement it. The nuttiness provided a nice balance to the sweetness of the syrup and powdered sugar (dissolved in the picture). Absolutely scrumptious.

Castro’s Cupcake

24 Apr

I visited a friend in the Mission for lunch and cooking for an evening event, but as soon as I got to his apartment, he declared that we had to visit some place before errand running and lunch eating. I was hungry and frustrated, rubbing my temples futilely trying to rid myself of a headache; I was in no mood for surprises. He drove madly around the city raving about these cupcakes. He was craving cupcakes. Cupcakes are not lunch, I told him. These cupcakes are worth the ridiculous detour, he told me.

He went on to say that he hates cupcakes and thinks they’re pointless, but before I could defend them, he says that this place makes unbelievable ones. To-die-for ones. Given my condition and the cupcake shop trend of recent years, I was somewhat skeptical, but I decided not to object to the short walk from where we parked.

A very cute/chic, very pink shop came into view as we rounded the corner of Scott and Chestnut: Kara’s Cupcakes. I didn’t realize as I walked through the door that there was no going back.

Kara’s Cupcakes is extremely popular. They make all of their cupcakes by hand every day throughout the day with local, organic, sustainable ingredients. The store itself and their methods are as green as can be. Admirable and awesome, no?

And then there is the cupcake.

Making a decision, again, was difficult. My friend chose the Chocolate Velvet for himself and Passion Fruit for his papa. I finally decided on Kara’s Karrot because I am (one of the few of my friends that is) a big fan of carrot cake, and who the hell can resist a good cream cheese frosting, really?

The level of excitement spiked at the sight of the narrow pink box. I felt my headache dissipating and giving way to a rumbling, hedonistic voice that commanded me to tear open the box immediately and lunge for the first cupcake I saw.

The chocolate one looked almost too intense, but Friend insisted that we share all of them. I’m not the biggest fan of buttercream, but you must believe me when I tell you that bite changed my mind entirely. It was the lightest buttercream I had ever tasted, yet just as described in the menu, “velvety, bittersweet” and supremely chocolatey. The cake itself was a delectably moist chocolate pillow, not too sweet, not even too cakey.

The passion fruit had a very nicely balanced fruit flavor to the cake, and the filling came as a surprise: a very light, mildy tart, just sweet enough passion fruit custard. I found myself loving it in spite of my initial hesitation.

The sweet vanilla: classic. The particularly nice thing about this one is that earthy colored E indicates that the proceeds of this flavor go to “Save the Bay” to celebrate Earth Day. The thought made the cupcake even more delicious.

My favorite turned out to my personal choice, a great choice– Kara’s Karrot. The cream cheese frosting was so very soft, and the cake itself was mildly spiced and had true bits of carrot that added earthy sweetness and loads of texture. Blew. My. Mind.

Needless to say, I’ve been converted. Needless to say, I’m going back.

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