Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Appreciating the artistry that is classical cooking

A painter takes care of his brushes, a soprano her voice, a photographer his camera.

And, a chef his knife.

Chef Tony Marano revealed, perhaps unwittingly, the artistry in his chosen profession and in himself today in class at the California Culinary Academy. Chef Tony lectured on knife quality, and as he did, he showed that a knife is more than a kitchen tool. He showed it to be an extension of the chef.

Much of his lecture was about what makes a good knife -- type of steel and its hardness, quality of the tang, the balance between blade and handle.

Yet, he returned near lecture's end to the principle use for a good knife: to help in the preparation of good food.

Those who appreciate good paintings don't think much about the brushes, and those listening to a soprano don't much consider what she has done to protect her voice.

Just as we who eat good food well prepared in restaurants don't wonder at the brand of knife the chef used or what the knife's steel hardness was. Yet without the knife, the meal could not have been created as it came to us for our appreciation and nourishment, if it could have been created at all.

The recognition of the knife as an extension of the artistic chef was implicit in Chef Tony's lecture today. And it made the practical lesson that followed -- to julienne and brunoise carrots -- all the more meaningful and important.

OTD Bush open for business

The long-awaited OTD Bush Street -- aka Out the Door -- opened today in San Francisco's Fillmore District. A steady breakfast clientele populated the sophisticated-looking space, both at the marble table tops and spacious counter seating.

Owner Charles Phan occupied a prominent seat at the counter, keeping an eye on the kitchen and greeting customers.

The breakfast menu features several Vietnamese selections, including lotus wrapped sticky rice with Chinese sausage and "pork shrimp", chicken phô and beef phô and chicken porridge.

Phan and Chef de Cuisine Grace Nguyen offer several egg dishes with interesting twists to them. Included are baked eggs on a tomato coulis and French ham (photo), soft scrambled eggs with chives and soy, poached eggs with a braised Niman Ranch beef brisket and potatoes.

Try the Vietnamese coffee, thickened and sweetened with condensed milk.

The egg dishes seemed a bit pricey, ranging from $8 for the soft scramled eggs to $13 for the poached eggs. A steamed bun was $3, beignets and Vietnamese coffee $8 and sesame granola $9.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Spud trouble ... or ... how I became a bad example

The humble potato humbled me in culinary school.

In the last 30 minutes of today's last class, we got to touch real food. It was sooner than I thought we would, and that excited me. Alas, the assignment to first battonet then small dice a potato proved more difficult than I imagined.

I have lots of cutting, chopping, dicing and knife experience. The trouble: It's all self-taught and without any logic other than getting the items into small pieces for cooking and edibility.

Now Chef Tony is doing the teaching, using "the Bible": Wayne Gisslen's "Professional Cooking". Gisslen points out that cutting food products into uniform shapes and sizes is important because: "1. It ensures even cooking. 2. It enhances the appearance of the product."

Practice, practice, practice will make perfect. For today, I was the class "before" example. Chef Tony used my sad pile of unevenly cut batonnets to show other students, preceded by an apologetic shrug to me, how not to do it.

For the record, the batonnet must be 1/4 inch on each of four sides and 2 1/2 to 3 inches long. In other words, a perfect French fry. From there, the small dice should leave 1/4-inch cubes.

Wednesday will be another day. Carrots will be on the cutting board, for a lesson in julienne, brunoise and fine brunoise.

(Photo credit:

Fillmore update: Dinos' birthday; OTD early open

Dino's, at the corner of California and Fillmore streets in the heart of San Francisco's Fillmore District, threw itself a birthday party this evening, and it looked like the whole neighborhood showed up.

And why not? Free pizza pie!

Nice to see this neighborhood business and its hard-working crew getting some attention on the street. It serves a mean slice of pizza, and its pastas and minestrone soup are pretty darn good, too.

By the way, Dino's is 21, and appropriately billed its celebration as "Dino's becomes legal."

* * *

Several days of tryouts, with free eats for neighbors and friends and a successful introduction this morning to the media, have led owner Charles Phan and Chef de Cuisine Grace Nguyen to open OTD Bush Street for business on Wednesday -- breakfast, lunch and dinner.

That's one day earlier than what everyone involved had been saying for the last few weeks.

Obviously, the kitchen is running smoothly, and the staff is up to speed. The facility is a beauty.

Jump-starting your carry-to-work lunch

This weekly menu from Epicurious reminded me of a little tasty trick I started this week with lunch sandwiches: a smear of chutney, instead of mustard, on the bread or the wrap. Yum!

My wife, Hilda Oropeza, came up with the idea, saying that while she liked the turkey and cheese sandwiches I was making for her, she wanted a little twist on them. She showed it with a bit of cranberry chutney on a lunch wrap over the weekend. Two kinds of chutney -- mango and cranberry -- now grace the condiment shelf in the fridge.

Will use the jarred chutney until I can make my own using fresh ingredients. Stay tuned.

(Photo credit:

Monday, September 28, 2009

Culinary school: Daily quiz, yes; Anthony Bourdain, no

The changing room was vacant for a few minutes as I donned my uniform for the first day of classes at the California Culinary Academy today. I buttoned my jacket to the top, put on my commis and stood in front of the mirror.

I inhaled and exhaled two times -- normal breathing -- then took a third deep breath and let it out slowly. I walked out the door to my first class. Not quite Neil Armstrong's "one small step ... one giant leap ... ". Yet it was my own small but brave stride into a new, exciting world.

Chef John Meidinger and Chef Tony Marano greeted me and my classmates, and we plunged in. Even the fits-and-starts preliminaries -- a book or two missing from the book bags, a tool or two missing from the knife kits, the necessary building tour including how to get out and where to go in case of fire -- were moments we embraced. Each turn had a newness that kept us enthused beginning to end, the way a good meal does, from amuse bouche to dessert and coffee.

Day 1 brought the news that Day 2 and every day after it will mean a quiz in the Safety and Sanitation class, taught by Chef John.

Culinary Foundations I is being taught by Chef Tony in a demonstration kitchen where we will learn the bare-bones basics of terminology, kitchen organization, proper use of tools, basic food science principles -- finally, a mention of actual food! -- and foundational sauces and stocks.

Chef Tony wants a 250-word essay by next week reflecting on the inspiration each of us has gotten from reading a book on cooking. Mine will be on Julia Child's "My Life in France," which I have nearly finished reading. One caveat from Chef Tony: "I've had it with Anthony Bourdain, up to here," he said, slashing his hand across his throat. " Anything else is fine."

Second day of classes begins in 15 hours. I cannot wait.

(Anthony Bourdain photo credit:

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Uniform pressed, knives sharpened: Let's cook!

Monday will be the first day of classes at the California Culinary Academy.

Am I nervous? Right down to the toes of my brand-new, skid-proof kitchen shoes.

In preparation, I pressed my uniform jacket and pants, shined those skid-proof shoes, put my commis (headgear, as seen in my photo at right), neckerchief, towels and apron in a duffel bag and bought a nifty new notebook and a package of pens. I plan to take plenty of notes.

Also in preparation, I am making a hearty dinner for tonight -- a big pot of posole, from scratch. (Details, including recipe, in a future blog posting.)

Anticipation and eagerness are balancing my nerves. Having read Julia Child's "My Life in France," I know this will take practice, discipline, hard work and, most of all, passion.

Passion. Julia had it, no doubt.

Passion. The chefs who run the Academy have it, clearly.

Passion. It's simmering toward a rolling boil in me.

Let's get cooking.

Salsa Sunday goes tropical

This fresh, sweet and bright salsa can be used as a garnish for fish dishes including fish tacos, an accompaniment to ceviche or simply as a straightforward dipping salsa with tortilla chips.

1 ripe mango peeled and diced in 1 cm cubes. 2-3 rounds of pineapple diced in 1 cm cubes. 1 jalapeño, seeds and spines removed, diced. 1 sweet onion (Vidalia or red) diced. 1 tomato, skinned and seeded, diced. 2 tablespoons diced cilantro. Combine all ingredients in a bowl.

Add in: juice of 1 lime, dash of olive oil, dash of white vinegar, salt and pepper to taste. Stir to combine all ingredients.

The concoction can be spooned onto a piece of grilled or broiled tuna, swordfish, sea bass, salmon or other fish.

(Photo credit:

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Liquor license suspended at Osaka on Fillmore

These signs were seen today in the window of Osaka on Fillmore, 1923 Fillmore St., in San Francisco. The restaurant was closed -- Saturday hours begin at 5:30 p.m. -- so there was no opportunity to get further information.

The hand-lettered sign on the left says: "Dear friends of Osaka, We feel the need to explain ourselves to you .... this suspension is not the result of serving a minor or anything of that nature, but administrative technicality. We are a family-owned restaurant and we've been here since 1997. This setback is temporary (13 days and counting ......... ) Here is our thought: Eat at Osaka, drink at our neighborhood establishments. Thank you for your patronage. Lisa & Rena."
The state "Notice of Suspension" lists the effective dates as Sept. 24, 2009 through Oct. 8, 2009. The Website of the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, checked at 3 p.m. today, listed Osaka of Fillmore's license as being active with no disciplinary procedures and no actions against it.

Check back later for more information.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Nowhere near mastering the art of French cooking

Having read Julia Child's vivid description of it in "My Life in France", I wanted to try her aïgo bouïdo -- garlic soup. She wrote of making it with 16 cloves of garlic, and despite that the "garlic flavor wasn't harsh: it was indescribably exquisite and aromatic."

Into "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" I went, following Julia's clear, detailed instructions. That included the laborious whisking of first the egg yolks as the olive oil was emulsified drop by drop, then the egg and oil concoction as the hot soup was dripped into it. Total whisking time -- steady, without a break -- for me on this project was about 20 minutes.

The result was, indeed, an aromatic and flavorful soup without harsh garlic flavor. Yet, it was quite on the thin side, almost watery. Is that how it is supposed to be? Julia didn't say, in either of her books.

Perhaps I missed the mark in the whisking, which I thought was complete and vigorous, but which evidently left the egg aspect of the dish unfulfilled.

We partook for dinner, including Julia's suggestion of bread with cheese. But it just didn't have the heartiness to it that we are accustomed to in my fairly lengthy repertoire of homemade soups.

It also wasn't the hearty meal we are accustomed to for dinner. We concluded that I had made it properly -- the flavor and aroma were as Julia described. But unless I can figure out how to make my version thicker and heartier, it will be for us a starter dish, not the main course for future meals.

(Photo credit:

OTD Bush Street throws a neighborhood party

Charles Phan did the neighborly thing and invited Fillmore District residents in Thursday night for a first look at his newest San Francisco venture -- OTD Bush Street. (Previously, we referred to it as Out the Door.)

Under any name, the space has a good feel. It is urban and sophisticated, not unlike his Slanted Door at the Ferry Building, though in a significantly smaller space.

Despite being small, the space at 2232 Bush St. has an openness brought about by the minimalist design and furnishings. The long eastern wall is light wood wainscot, and the back wall is simple ceramic tiling, as is the floor.

The food was phenomenal. Waiters worked the room steadily plying the guests with trays full of succulent, bite-sized samples and the sauces to go with them. Among the offerings were a deliciously doughy pork-filled dumpling, a veggie spring roll with a big shot of mint and a small shot of peanut sauce, sweet bacon quiche and a shrimp and pork eggroll.

What caught the biggest attention of our eyes -- and our palates -- were the lamb lollipops. Lamb chops grilled and flavored with a distinct honey-hoisin barbecue sauce that lingered nicely after the dishes were cleared.

Chef de Cuisine is Grace Nguyen, who has moved over from a role at Slanted Door. She will be serving breakfast (including a duck egg dish that I can't wait to try), lunch and dinner.

It was a glorious party, the first of several introductory gatherings and one that set the tone for OTD becoming a destination establishment in the Fillmore District. Official opening is next Thursday (Oct. 1).

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Does this chef's jacket make me look fat?

Many young people find when they begin college -- away from home, eating on their own, perhaps less healthy foods -- they gain weight. It's been called the "Freshman 15," meaning a 15-pound weight gain in freshman year.

At culinary school, it's a potentially bigger problem, because students are literally eating their homework and their in-class work.

"I affectionately refer to that here as  the 'Freshman 65'," Executive Chef Tim Grable said today at the California Culinary Academy. Grable is director of the Academy's Pastry and Baking program, and he discussed the weight-gain issue during an orientation discussion for students -- including me -- who start classes next week at the San Francisco school.

   "Be careful," Grable advised. "It's not so much weight or vanity, but health. Yes, you probably will gain a little more weight (as a culinary student) than you would otherwise."

   His suggestion for staying trim while learning culinary arts and how to bake and make pastries:

   "Taste, don't eat."

   (Photo credit:

SF's lone remaining 'Top Chef' makes cut, barely

Laurine Wickett, owner of San Francisco's Left Coast Catering, was in the bottom three in Bravo TV's Top Chef competition Wednesday evening. But she survived for another week, at the least.

Wickett (left) got off on the wrong foot by pushing back on the challenge to "deconstruct" a dish and reinterpret it to show individual cooking style.

What head judge Tom Colicchio said in his blog:
"For Laurine and others to say 'that’s not what I do' makes no sense to me. The point is to stretch yourself as a chef. You may not be a chef who does this often, but this doesn’t mean you can’t give the matter some thought, apply your knowledge of your craft, and come up with a thousand different ways to rework something so that the flavors are there along with the imagination."
For the Eliminaton Challenge, Wickett's dish was a deconstructed fish and chips,  malt sabyon, tartar sauce and tomato confit with ginger and garlic.

Colicchio said she was in the bottom three for " ... technical reasons: it was so poorly executed."

San Franciscans eliminated in past episodes are Preeti Mistry, executive chef for Bon Appetit Management Co. at Google headquarters in Mountain View, and Mattin Noblia, chef/owner of Iluna Basque in North Beach.

(Photo credit:

SPQR reopens Sept. 30; new menu details

An excited and affable-sounding Matthew Accarrino is putting the final touches on his menu for the reopening of San Francisco's Fillmore Street classic, SPQR.

In an email Wednesday evening, Accarrino (right) explained his approach: "The goal is to lighten and refine the great neighborhood restaurant that SPQR already was. I'm thrilled to be at the helm of such a popular and loved restaurant. I can't wait to cook for the neighborhood and beyond."

SPQR, at 1911 Fillmore St., closed Sept. 14 for a dining room remodeling and change in the menu with the hiring of Accarrino, who comes from the kitchen of Craft in Los Angeles. Owner Shelley Lindgren said in an email Wednesday that the reopening, originally set for Sept. 29, will be the next day.

Lindgren, who also owns and operates A16 in the Marina district, gave these details -- confirmed by Accarrino -- on SPQR's new menu:
"Matthew will have the same spirit of SPQR on the menu but set up a tiny bit different.  He is making housemade focaccia. There is a snack section with fun bite-sized nibbles to enjoy with a glass of vino or start the dinner, then there will be an antipasti section which includes salads, local ingredients, seasonal and traditional with his twist. He makes wonderful housemade pastas. One of my favorites is his ravioli with ricotta and lamb's quarters and a carbonara that is topped with an egg, another unique spin to the dish."
The biggest news in the reopening of SPQR may be that Fillmore Street, already crowded with hungry people much of the time, but especially on weekends, will get another place serving brunch. Lindgren said the popular spot will be open for brunch on Saturdays and Sundays.

   (Photo credit: Matthew Accarrino's Facebook page)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Official opening announcement

This sign was posted on the front window of Out the Door today, at 2232 Bush St., even as crews moved in boxes and pieces of the decor, and kitchen equipment was seen being put in place.

Baker and Banker filling Quince space

Replacing Quince at the corner of San Francisco's Octavia and Bush streets soon will be Baker and Banker. An earlier report said the new restaurant would be called Brown Butter.

Veteran restaurateurs Lori Baker and Jeff Banker (left), who are married to one another, will open in the space that Quince left as it moved to 470 Pacific St.

A help-wanted advertisement for a sous chef in Craigslist Tuesday evening revealed the restaurant name and additionally said:
"Baker and Banker will be a welcoming neighborhood restaurant serving distinctive but approachable food made with care and based on produce and meats from local producers with whom they have long-standing relationships. All breads and pastries will be made in-house and a bakery is planned on the site in the near future."
No surprise that the restaurant will have an in-house bakery; Lori Baker has produced an array of pastries at various locales in the city for years.

(Photo credit: Flickr)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Foods of central Europe: Lots of meat

Update on the central European food adventures of my daughter Ann Chihak Poff and son-in-law Curt Poff: They are in Germany, where they celebrated Oktoberfest last evening at a traditional beer hall.

Before that, they enjoyed the history, vistas and people of Prague, Czech Republic. Oh, and the food and beer; they really enjoyed the food and beer.

Ann reported in her blog that their tour guide steered them to a locals only -- meaning non-touristy -- Czech restaurant, where they partook of genuine Czech cuisine.

At another place, they enjoyed "mixed meat (fairly spicy) with potato pancakes ... (and) dumplings, polenta and meat." The spiciness came from paprika, Ann surmised. (Photo at right shows a meal they had at one restaurant in Prague.)

Later, they had traditional sausages and a big serving of "pork knee", brought to their table on the spit on which it was roasted (photo at left).

They reported that the best beer, an amber ale, was served up at the monastery on the hill in Prague. In fact, they visited there twice.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Inequities at farmers' markets

Had occasion to visit the Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market in San Francisco on Saturday and found significant differences between it and the Fillmore Farmers' Market, which is in my neighborhood.

Many more vendors, including more certified organic vendors, were in evidence at the Ferry Plaza. A lower proportion of the Ferry Plaza's vendors were offering prepared foods.

Prices at the Ferry Plaza market were significantly higher overall. One or two select items were lower in price than at Fillmore, but most were much higher.

(Photo at right: Sample of chile selection at the Ferry Plaza market.)

Recommendation for Colibri Mexican Bistro affirmed

What constitutes good food is such a subjective matter that it can make perilous the offering of a suggestion for eating out.

Yet when friend and San Francisco author Maria Goodavage ( asked me to recommend a restuarant near Union Square in the city, without hesitation I proposed Colibri Mexican Bistro on Geary Street and suggested she order the molé poblano among other dishes.

Maria ate at Colibri Saturday night and had an excellent experience. She and her dining companion had Nopales Asados, which are grilled cactus leaves; Tamales Oaxaqueños, covered in molé poblano; and, Maria's favorite, Pechuga Rellena de Huitlacoche , a chicken breast stuffed with a mix of huitlacoche , zucchini and fresh corn, served over a roasted garlic sauce.

Hmmm, wonder if I should tell her what huitlacoche is.

(Photo credit:

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Salsa Sunday: Not Tia Lily's chile verde, but a good one

My mom and all my tias made excellent chile verde. But my Tia Lily's was considered the best.

Asked if she would share her recipe, she said, "No! But I will tell you this: You have to work at it. Work those chiles."

I never quite figured out what she meant by that, but I make a fair chile verde, and I'm about to tell you how mine goes. And yes, it requires one to work the chiles.

First, a digression: Chile verde and salsa verde (last week's SALSA SUNDAY installation) are different in that salsa verde is just that, a sauce to be added or spooned onto a main course or dipped into with tortillas or tortilla chips. Chile verde is more of a garnish.

To make it, start with a half dozen anaheim chiles. These are relatively mild chiles. Others can be used, such as pasillas, but I prefer anaheims. Roast the chiles over an open flame on the stove or a grill or under a broiler flame, turning them so the skin blackens on all parts. Remove from flame and place them in a plastic bag and tie it shut, letting them steam for 20 minutes in the sink. Finely chop 1-2 cloves of garlic, 1-2 scallions including greens.

Chiles should be cool enough to handle. Peel off their skin and pull out seeds and spines. Cut off the stems and tips and cut the chiles into long thin strips. Add in the other chopped ingredients and stir together.

Chile verde can be served with steak (carne asada), included in machaca or with carne seca. It also can be used with eggs and anything else that needs a nice savory pick-me-up.

Chile verde will keep in the refrigerator for a couple of days. If so, it should be allowed to come to room temperature before serving.

(Photo credit:

'You've got to earn your way into our kitchens'

We're about to find out how little I know about cooking.

Nine months of what promise to be grueling classes at San Francisco's California Culinary Academy, an affiliate of Le Cordon Bleu, begin in eight days. The opportunities and the challenges were laid before me and 100-plus other new students on Saturday at the Academy by the chefs in charge.

"The first six weeks will be the hardest," Chef Michael Weller said in an impromptu hallway conversation with a group of us during orientation. "You've got to earn your way into our kitchens."

In other words, no access to the CCA's gleaming kitchens until we learn a few basics. First and foremost is passing the safety and sanitation class, followed by the first-level culinary class.

Chef Weller, who is senior executive chef at CCA and oversees the culinary arts program, laid out some of the basics.

In safety and sanitary, we will learn how to cook and keep clean in the kitchen, the right (meaning safe) temperatures for cooking and serving meats and a host of other critical pieces of information.

In Foundations I, the first culinary arts class, we will learn kitchen terminology and definitions, including fundamentals of the seven classic French cooking techniques, the names and purposes of kitchen utensils and equipment and the descriptions of and uses for sauces, stocks and soups.

We will also learn, Chef Weller assured us in a booming voice, that the culinary industry needs us because it needs new blood.

"This school is not just about chopping things up," he said. "It's about learning leadership to keep changing our business."

With all due respect, Chef, I beg to differ, ever so slightly: It is about chopping things up, most of all the preconceived notions I'm carrying about how to cook and do it well.

It will be fun and challenging to find out just how much I have to learn. In more than five decades of hanging around kitchens, I think I have learned a good bit. The next nine months are likely to shed more light on that knowledge but to add a body of knowledge that will inflame my passion for cooking ever more so.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Taste of Fillmore coming to the street Oct. 3

What's the Fillmore if not food? Add in wine, fashion, jazz -- instant festival.

Mark your calendar for Saturday, Oct. 3, for the Taste of Fillmore. One block of San Francisco's Fillmore Street between California and Pine streets will be closed to traffic but open to a thorough review of the district's finest.

"Because our neighborhood has so many good restaurants, we wanted to create an event that celebrates food and wine on Fillmore," Fillmore Merchants Association President Thomas Reynolds said.

"Just look at all the new places that have arrived in recent months, and another sure-to-be-hot spot will open later this month when Charles Phan brings (Out the Door) to the neighborhood.

"Then as our plans began to jell, some of Fillmore's many fashion boutiques pointed out that a taste of Fillmore involves more than food and wine. So we added a fashion show. And of course there has to be jazz, so members of the Contemporary Jazz Orchestra will perform."

Tickets are $20 each, available here. See you on the street Saturday, Oct. 3.

Oct. 1 'soft opening' for Out the Door on Bush Street

Out the Door on Bush Street in San Francisco will have a "soft opening" on Oct. 1, a staff member on site said today.

The staff member said the restaurant, the latest in Slanted Door owner Charles Phan's growing San Francisco empire, has hired staff and was conducting training.

The 2232 Bush St. location brings Phan's unique modern Vietnamese style to the burgeoning Fillmore restaurant scene. And it ups the ante because Phan will offer breakfast, lunch and dinner in a bistro setting. The restaurant also will have a takeout operation.

Workers moved a massive polished stone, apparently part of the decor, in the front door this morning.

Meantime, the menu is shaping up, according to Chef Grace Nguyen (left), who is moving over from Phan's Slanted Door. She has been Tweeting all about it.

Nguyen revealed a breakfast dish to be called "Duck in the Hole," made with duck eggs. She also said in a Tweet that she received a shipment of spices from the City's Le Sanctuaire Herbs & Spices.

What do chefs do to get a restaurant ready? From Nguyen's Tweet on Sept. 15, Tuesday: "First day at the new restaurant. 1st on the list, clean, clean and clean the mess. It's going to happen people."

Watch this space for more information.

(Grace Nguyen photo from her Myspace page)

In the door at Out the Door

A beehive of activity was the scene today at Charles Phan's Out the Door Bush Street locale in San Francisco. Work crews were carrying furnishings, including a massive stone bowl, in the door in what appeared to be final preparations for opening. Look for an update here later in the day.

Julia Child: Book reveals a Renaissance woman

Julia Child is recognized as the progenitor of good cooking in America, and she clearly was in the vanguard of classic French cooking in America.

Her book, My Life in France, co-written with her great-nephew Alex Prud'homme and which I am reading, reveals a Renaissance woman. Julia Child not only became an expert in French cuisine, but her years in France further developed what already was an intellect and a spirit open to many things.

She learned to speak French. She was familiar with the classics in art and literature. She knew history and contemporary events, most especially as they affected her beloved France.

Most important, the book reveals that Julia Child understood the world didn't begin and end at the suburban shopping mall. She grasped the big picture and lived her life by it.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Fraîche yogurt opens on Fillmore in SF

Fraîche opened its doors for business on Fillmore Street in San Francisco today at 11 a.m., quietly and without fanfare.

The long-awaited organic yogurt shop, with its dairy and first shop in Palo Alto and a second location at Stanford, attracted about 10 curious customers in its first two hours, staff members said.

Several people popped in the storefront at 1910 Fillmore, next door to the recently opened Woodhouse Fish Co. restaurant. Nearly all asked, "Are you open?" then walked in to place their orders.

The shop features fresh and frozen plain yogurt in regular, soy, low-fat and no-fat. A wide range of toppings includes fresh strawberries, mangoes, granola and chocolate. Blue Bottle coffee and oatmeal also are available.

Hours will be limited for the first 10 days of operation: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-midnight Friday and Saturday.

Starting Sept. 28, hours will be 7 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 7 a.m.-midnight Friday, 8 a.m.-midnight Saturday, 8 a.m.-11 p.m. Sunday.

Owners Patama Roj and Jessica Gilmartin were preparing for a delay in opening until November, because they lacked a final health department certificate. But that was cleared up, leading to today's opening.

Other SF connections on Top Chef

Mattin Noblia is gone, the second San Francisco contestant eliminated from Bravo TV's Top Chef.

That leaves Laurine Wickett (pictured), owner of Left Coast Catering, as the only San Franciscan still in the competition.

Eliminated earlier was San Franciscan Preeti Mistry, who is executive chef for Bon Appetit Management Co. at Google headquarters in Mountain View.

(Photo credit:

Top Chef: SF's French connection is a goner

French-born Mattin Noblia, chef-owner of Iluna Basque in San Francisco's North Beach, is gone from Bravo TV's Top Chef competition.

Mattin was eliminated at the end of Wednesday's episode for a ceviche that was unevenly "cooked" (see my Sept. 1 blog entry) and poorly seasoned. Mattin may be a fine chef, but he seemed out of his element in the competition, never building any momentum and not cooking the way he does at his restaurant.

Of equal significance, to me, in Wednesday's episode was the Quickfire Challenge, in which the contestants were required to use cactus in preparation of a dish. Few if any of the dozen competitors seemed to know how to deal with this special vegetable, but the best contestants found ways.

Cooking with cactus? Old hat to Mexican cooks. Nopales, or prickly pear cactus leaves (some call them "pads"), are standard fare in many a mamacita's kitchen.

Tucson food author and longtime acquaintance Carrie Niethammer wrote what is probably the most accessible set of instructions for using nopales, The Prickly Pear Cookbook. It has 60 recipes for nopales.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Speaking of eggplant ...

From Gourmet magazine, via, this "recipe of the day": Grilled Eggplant Parmigiana Hero.

The amount of oil I have seen a piece of eggplant soak up in past efforts at using it has been a deterrent to my pursuing use of it.

But this recipe calls for grilling rather than frying the eggplant.

I will try it.

(Photo credit: Romulo Yanes)

Lamb tacos? B-a-a-a-d!

Some ground lamb left over from delicious stuffed bell peppers made a few days ago went into tacos for lunch today.

The ground meat taco is basic Sonoran Mexican food, or as it appears on restaurant menus in my hometown of Tucson, "old-style taco". It is ground beef on a corn tortilla folded over and fried. Stuffed with cheese, lettuce, maybe some sliced green olives and covered with salsa cruda, it is true comfort food.

Lamb simply didn't work the way beef does in these tacos. The taste was off just enough so that the combination of meat and corn didn't work.

Memo to self: Stick to the basics when making the basics.

(Photo credit: Grub Street)

Neecha Thai demystifies the beautiful eggplant

Using eggplant in cooking is like meeting a mysterious woman: She's beautiful, but how do you approach her with any hope for success?

Not sure about translating the success I found in an eggplant dish at Neecha Thai restaurant in San Francisco into a lasting relationship with the beautiful vegetable in my kitchen. But my Tuesday night dining experience demystified it for me, and I'll likely take a closer look at the offerings of eggplant at the Fillmore Farmers' Market.

"Special eggplant" on the menu didn't attract me, but having never dined at Neecha Thai, I did what I often do in a new place: ask the waitress for a recommendation. Her response: Do you like spicy and like eggplant? Sure, I said, hoping my hesitation about eggplant wasn't apparent. She recommended the dish, and the rest is history.

It was delicious. The eggplant was tender and succulent, as were the onions and red bell peppers. The prawns were cooked just right. The sauce, a red wine reduction, was complementary and not overpowering. The jalapeños were, well, hot! Overall, an excellent dish that I would order again.

And, perhaps it will help me figure out an approach in my kitchen for the mysterious beauty of eggplant.

P.S. The Muk Krob, which is deep-fried calamari and fried basil leaves appetizer, also was first rate. My dining companions both had the Thai natonal dish, Pad Thai, and were lukewarm about it. Shoulda gone with the waitress's recommendation, I say.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Fillmore food frenzy

Lots of activity on San Francisco's bustling Fillmore Street and its vibrant restaurant and food scene.

Fraiche, the yet-to-open organic yogurt shop on Fillmore between Bush and Pine streets, held a free-tasting open house earlier this week, with high praise from the tasters. The shop awaits San Francisco's notoriously slow health department bureaucrats for a permit before it can open.

Across the street, the windows of SPQR are covered and workmen are scurrying in and out for a dining room upgrade that will keep the popular small plates eatery closed until Sept. 29, according to a sign in the window.

The same sign announces a new chef, Matthew Accarrino (above). He comes from Los Angeles' Craft restaurant and before that, Craft and Per Se in New York. He is formulating SPQR's menu now. Here's what Accarrino envisions, from an interview borrowed from Grub Street San Francisco Website:

My background is very refined, technically precise. Even at Craft, what we're doing is based on flawless technique... I'm hoping to bring that background together with really great California products and that soulful Italian cooking.

Around the corner, workers remain busy at Charles Phan's Out the Door, with a planned early to mid October opening.

(Photo credit: Matthew Accarrino's Facebook page)

Patisserie Delanghe reopens; summertime blues end

All's well with the world, again.

The glass and chrome cases are filled with freshly made blueberry scones, almond and chocolate croissants, fruit tarts and other delicious offerings at Dominique Delanghe's eponymous Patisserie Delanghe in San Francisco.

Four long weeks of summer holiday ended Tuesday with the return of Dominique and his staff. Asked about his time off, spent in his native France, Dominique replied: "One could get used to it."

But his customers couldn't. Starting at 7 a.m. Tuesday and continuing all day, a steady stream of smiling pastry lovers, mostly from the neighborhood around the shop at Fillmore and Bush streets, made its way through the door, clutching little white bags of heavenly delight on the way out.

Besides the textures, aromas and tastes of the pastries, I missed seeing the crew busily preparing the day's fare as I walked past each morning.

Now comes the hard part: trying not to make up for the last four weeks of abstinence all at once.

Market and café time in Budapest

One of the great good pleasures of travel is visiting the local food markets and sampling the local foods, especially the unique tastes that can't be found in that form back home.

That's why it's good to read, in my daughter Ann's blog, that she and her husband Curt started their two-week visit to eastern and central Europe this week with a visit to the market and plenty of café time on the banks of the Danube River in Budapest, Hungary.

They're also experiencing the deliciousness of goulash, goulash soup, polenta, pork dishes and local beer. Oh, and don't forget the market (photo at upper left) filled with paprika and other seemingly exotic spices.

After Budapest will come Prague, Czech Republic; Vienna, Austria; Munich, Germany, for Oktoberfest; Stuttgart, Germany, to visit with friends.

Ann's Tweet on Tuesday said it all: "Here's my one tweet from Budapest: good food, good beer, beautiful buildings, great cafes."

(Photo credit: Ann Chihak Poff)

Monday, September 14, 2009

Food aplenty; so why are 960M hungry?

The 2009 Global Action Forum and Celebration, presented Sunday in San Francisco by CARE USA and Power to the Peaceful, lent important perspectives on food supply and world hunger.

Among three panel discussions on key issues of global poverty, one focused on hunger with a goal of focusing on a modernized approach to food security. From the sobering discussion:

* Panel moderator Jurriaan Kamp of Ode Magazine opened by relating that the United Nations set a goal in 2000 to cut in half the number of hungry people in the world by 2015. In the nine years hence, the number of "chronically hungry people" has risen from about 700 million to 960 million. That's more than 14 percent of the world's population.

* University of California Berkeley Professor Alain de Janvry, an agricultural economics specialist, said hunger is causing the irreversibly damaging phenomenon of "wasting" among one-third of the world's children. "Wasting" is a loss of muscle mass and other body tissue.

* CARE USA Senior Policy Analyst David Kauck said there is more than enough available to feed the world's population, but that income and other economic factors restrict food access for some social groups.

* Vitamin Angels President & Founder Howard Schiffer said 27,000 children die every day of hunger.

* Ari Derfel, co-owner and CEO of Back to Earth in Berkeley, said that in Great Britain, 250 pounds of food are thrown away every second of the day. Doing the math, that's 21.6 million pounds every 24 hours.

No silver-bullet solutions were offered. But there were glimmers of hope:

* Kauck said movement is afoot to change U.S. federal government policy concerning hunger to separate it from U.S. agricultural policy and politics. That could mean that the U.S. approach to the problem of world hunger won't simply be an outlet for U.S. food exports, as it is now. Exports often dampen the market for food from other countries, whose economies are much more reliable on agriculture, and thus are affected greatly by subsidized competition from the United States.

* Derfel said the slow food movement is awakening people to the need for sustainable local agriculture and a move away from corporate food production. He cited a number of recent books and films calling attention to the issues, including Food Inc.

* Schiffer said he would be happy to be "put out of business" by a return to sustainable food raising and good nutrition among hungry populations. His nonprofit provides natural vitamin supplements for key nutrients that are missing in the diets of impoverished people.

Sobering thoughts all, most especially in light of the bounty we in California and throughout the United States experience on our tables.

For more information and to find out how you can take action, go to CARE USA's Web site.

(Disclaimer: My wife, Hilda Oropeza, is Director of Community Partnerships, San Francisco, for CARE USA.)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

SALSA SUNDAY goes green

Salsa verde is the yin to salsa cruda's yang. A well-made salsa verde should offer an up-front sweetness as the dominant flavor -- over heat -- something that one doesn't usually experience with red tomato-based salsas.

Here's a simple salsa verde that can be used as a garnish on a burro, with scrambled eggs in a dish called chilaquiles or with enchiladas. For enchiladas, blending or food processing the ingredients is called for.

4-6 tomatillos, finely diced. Ripe green tomatoes, also known as zebra stripes, can be substituteds if tomatillos can't be found. Do not use un-ripe green tomatoes. 2 cloves garlic finely diced. 3-4 scallions, including greens, finely diced. 1-2 green anaheim chiles, finely diced. 2 jalapeños, finely diced, 1-2 tablespoons cilantro, finely diced.

Combine ingredients in a bowl, add the juice of one-half lime, a dash of white vinegar, salt and pepper to taste. Let it set for 10-15 minutes before serving.

If using for the sauce over enchiladas, put all ingredients in a food processor or blender to liquify. Then pour over enchiladas before baking.

(Photo credit:

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The weather's right for making soup

It's a soup kind of day in San Francisco: cloudy and cool, some rain. Perfect weather for filling the house with the aroma of soup on the stove.

My mom and my tias made fresh soup for lunch several days a week, even in the blaze of Tucson summers. Somehow, despite the heat, it worked, probably because of the fresh ingredients and the home-cooking style that they always brought to it.

That's why I always start my soup with a fresh -- not store-bought -- vegetable stock. To make, put 4 quarts of water in a stock pot, add 1 chopped white or yellow onion, 2-3 cloves of diced garlic, 2 peeled and chopped carrots, 2 chopped celery stalks including leaves, a sprig or two of fresh thyme, 1 chopped turnip (if available), 1 chopped leek (if available), 1 teaspoon of sea salt or kosher salt, 1 teaspoon of cracked black pepper. The more kinds of aromatic vegetables you use, the richer the stock will be. Bring to a boil, then turn to a simmer for 90 minutes.

Strain the stock into a bowl and discard the vegetables. Do so even if planning a vegetable soup; the stock veggies have given their life for the stock, so use fresh vegetables for the soup itself.

My plan today is for arroz con pollo, chicken and rice soup. For that, use a stock pot; 8 cups of strained vegetable stock; 2 medium tomatoes peeled, seeded and diced; 1 carrot, peeled and diced; 1 pound of chicken breast cut into 1-inch cubes. Bring to a boil; turn to simmer for 30-45 minutes. Add 1 cup brown rice and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper. Simmer another 45 minutes. Check and adjust seasoning. Garnish with a spoonful of chopped cilantro. Serve with hot gordita tortillas or corn tortillas.

That's a slight alteration of how my mom made arroz con pollo. As good as it turns out when I make it, it never tastes as hers did.

A couple of side notes about stock:

* Many soup recipes call for beef stock, chicken stock or fish to match the protein going into the soup. Make them the same as vegetable stock, with the addition of course of beef bones or a chicken carcass or fish heads and bones. Even for beef and chicken soups, I prefer using vegetable stock, because it provides a good background flavor; for a fish soup, I make fish stock.

* When making stock, always make enough to save some for use later in the week, to make another pot of soup. Or, for a great flavor kick, use it instead of water when making rice.

(Photo credit:

Friday, September 11, 2009


Yes, the job market is rough, very rough. But for the right set of skills and the right circumstances, good workers are in demand.

Just today, craigslist for the San Francisco Bay Area has 10 good restaurant and cooking jobs, ranging from catering chefs and high-end restaurant sous chefs to prep cooks and restaurant managers.

Is it hard work? Yes. Do you have to start at the bottom and work your way up? Of course.

But it's working with food. It's creative. It's a great deal of fun and personal reward.

It's no wonder people -- including yours truly -- are queuing up to enroll in culinary school.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Bacon is the new bacon

Very little beats the flavor of a piece of pork belly. That's bacon to most of us.

The competitors on Bravo's Top Chef and on Food Network's Iron Chef and Chopped and many other chefs and regular home cooks use it to spike the flavors in many dishes, some of which need it sorely. (My own examples appear toward the end of this blog entry.)

Wednesday's Top Chef competitors included bacon in several dishes, most successfully. The winning Quickfire Challenge dish included a bacon jam, which head judge Tom Colocchio was so taken with that, he said later in his blog, he went home and worked to replicate.

Yet Colocchio also said at one point that bacon enhancement didn't work in every case.

In short, be judicious. Here are a few ways to use pork belly to enhance flavors:

* Cook smoked bacon to crispiness, then crumble onto just about any greens, including a salad.

* Render the fat from pancetta, or Italian bacon, in a large sauté pan just before dropping a pound of fresh spinach leaves into the pan for wilting.

* Wrap pancetta or smoked bacon around asparagus before grilling.

* Crumble crisped bacon into a grilled cheese sandwich just before grilling.

Or, serve it as the entrée, as Thomas Keller's Bouchon in Yountville, Calif., did when I ate there in July. Delicious!

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Eating out until July 2013

San Francisco is said to have more restaurants per capita than any other U.S. city. That's 4,200 eateries, according to a story in today's San Francisco Chronicle.

Do the math to see that you could eat out for every meal and not repeat a restaurant for three years and 10 months.

How's this for Day 1? Breakfast at Town's End Restaurant & Bakery with a view of the San Francisco Bay, lunch at the Nook on Russian Hill and dinner at Quince in Pacific Heights.

Just 4,197 menu perusals to go.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Avocado salsa; don't call it guacamole

This recipe, borrowed from my mom, won first prize for me and my business associates in the salsa competition at the California Rodeo in Salinas in 1997. Just don't call it guacamole, please. That's for Super Bowl Sunday and, perhaps, your wannabe neighborhood Mexican restaurant.

Key to success is dicing the avocado into 1 cm cubes, rather than smashing it into a paste. It may seem an insignificant distinction, but it makes the texture and the flavor different than that of guacamole. The smashing of the avocados for guacamole gives the concoction a monothematic flavor, rather than the distinct flavors one gets from each of the ingredients.

To keep the distinct flavors, allowing them to hit the palate one by one rather than altogether, avocado salsa is what to make. Here's how:

Serves 4-6 people.

3 ripe avocados. Look for dark skin but some firmness to the touch. Slice in half lengthwise and remove pit. Cube the avocado inside its skin, then scoop out with a spoon into a bowl.

Blanch a medium tomato just enough to get the skin off, then squeeze out the seeds and liquid before dicing the remaining pulp. Dice 1 medium red onion, 1-2 cloves of garlic, 2 small jalapeños (making sure to remove seeds and spines first) and 2-3 tablespoons of chopped fresh cilantro. Add all to the cubed avocado.

Add a dash of olive oil, the juice of half a lime and salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Stir the mixture to evenly distribute all ingredients throughout. Serve immediately with home-made tortilla chips.

Avocado salsa -- guacamole, too, for that matter, doesn't keep well, so don't make more than you will eat then and there.

Salsa de aguacate.

(Photo credit:

Sunday, September 06, 2009

When is a Farmers' Market not a Farmers' Market?

Sorbet was being served up at a new booth at the Fillmore Farmers' Market in San Francisco on Saturday.

That continues an unsettling trend at the market. It's turning more into a prepared foods market, diluting the farmers' market aspect and atmosphere.

In the last two months, the market has added a booth selling tamales, one peddling shrimp and grits and the aforementioned sorbet slinger. They and seven other booths listed on the official Fillmore Farmers' Market Website offer "specialty foods".

The same Website lists 12 farms and two dairy outlets.

Everyone has a right to make a living, and certainly we need more vendors at the market. But this is becoming more of a prepared foods market; we might as well go to the deli counters at Safeway, Mollie Stone's or Whole Foods.

Not to mention that the expansion of booths offering prepared foods at the market flies in the face of the openly stated "Buy Fresh Buy Local" philosophy of the sponsoring Pacific Coast Farmers' Market Association.

The market's organizers should focus on closing gaps that now exist among the farms and farmers. Where is a mushroom vendor? Good selections of fresh herbs, which are grown in abundance just down the road around Watsonville, are rarely in evidence at the Fillmore market. How about bringing in more vendors offering certified organic produce?

And lettuce; where is it? One hundred miles to the south, the Salinas Valley, is where 70 percent of the country's lettuce is grown and harvested from April to October, but little of it shows up consistently at the Fillmore Farmers' Market.

One vendor, Calderon Farms, offered lettuce on Saturday. Hear, hear! But also: More, more!

We all should be thrilled to have a year-round farmers' market in the neighborhood. At the same time, let's urge the organizers to put the farm back farmers' market, keeping it ahead of sorbet and tamales and kettle corn.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Working through the three dozen

A few morsels from the pleasant task of eating our way through the list of more than three dozen restaurants along and near Fillmore Street in our San Francisco neighborhood.

* * *

Does anything surpass the mini-baguette sandwiches at La Boulange on Pine Street? OK, the full-sized baguettes themselves, but for a light lunch, go for a mini.

The BLTs we had at mid-day on Friday came straight from the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears: They were just right!

The baguette itself had the perfect crust. The tomatoes were fresh and lettuce crisp. And what substance on Earth beats bacon for flavor?

* * *

An encounter with Charles Phan in the mist late Saturday afternoon secured a first-person status report on his newest Out the Door restaurant location.

Phan said the much-awaited eatery at 2232 Bush St. will open in "a month" in the storefront on which he has been working for quite a while.

Seeing my reaction, Phan piqued the anticipation by adding: "We will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner."

We knew that, but hearing it from Phan himself made it real.

What will the genius behind the acclaimed Slanted Door offer for breakfast, Vietnamese style?

* * *

Many say Massimo, and not the Italian food from his kitchen, is the show at Via Veneto, 2244 Fillmore St. We have had better Italian right in the neighborhood, but Via Veneto was good enough that we will return.

Our first experience was for Saturday lunch, a time quiet enough for good conversation and a relaxing meal. The grilled salmon at the center of the seafood salad special was cooked just right, retaining its moistness and flavor. The prosciutto in the focaccia was sweet and savory, just the way it should be.

The server was attentive without hovering. We'll be back, having eyed the lengthy list of pasta selections and being easy marks for a well-made alfredo sauce. That will be the true test for us.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Pasta sans gluten: quite a treat

Quinoa pasta has been around a while but had a coming out party on Bravo TV's Top Chef Masters in July when competitor Michael Chiarello prepared a dish with it (photo above) for a group of vegan diners.

It had its coming out in my kitchen today. I made it with my own tomato sauce*, and the meal was delicious.

The pasta was a pleasant gold color. It cooked in about the same time that wheat pasta does. The one difference was the way it stuck together, even with a small drizzle of olive oil. For much of it, I had to separate the strands by hand, just as Chiarello did on Top Chef Masters.

Pasta made from quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) is more expensive than wheat pasta, but for those with gluten allergy or worse, celiac disease, it is gluten free.

Quinoa is an ancient grain-like seed that was cultivated by the Incas perhaps as far back as 3000 BC.

Like another significant New World contribution to global eating, the tomato, quinoa was at first shunned by Europeans. But it has made a comeback as a delicious and healthy source of protein.

It will make many an encore in my kitchen, prepared in iterations beyond the classic spaghetti strands.

* Quick, fresh tomato sauce recipe for pasta: Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a sauce pan. Add 4 diced medium red ripe tomatoes, 1 diced (seeds, spines removed) jalapeño, 2 diced cloves of garlic, 1 diced medium white onion, 1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano. Bring to a boil, then lower to simmer until liquid from tomatoes is reduced, 30-45 minutes. Spoon atop pasta, add grated fresh parmesan cheese.

(Photo credit:

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Countdown to cooking school - 25 days

My appetite for cooking classes is growing, my patience is on simmer, and my anticipation is akin to that before being seated for a sumptuous meal.

The amuse bouche: I have completed enrollment for the California Culinary Academy, including a mouth-watering tour of kitchen classrooms.

The hors d'œuvre: New student orientation will be Sept. 19, at which I will receive my class schedule and meet fellow students.

The entrée: Nine months of classes and externship will begin Sept. 28.

The good folks at the Academy ask each enrolling student to apply for a scholarship and write an essay in support of the application. The exercise initially seemed unnecessary to me; I don't anticipate winning a scholarship over others who likely have greater financial need. Nevertheless, the school's enrollment process requires completion of the essay.

Having done so, I found that it focused my vision for enrolling in and studying at culinary school. Here's an edited excerpt of what I wrote:

Studying for a culinary arts certificate will enhance, refine and fulfill my passion for the kitchen and for cooking and eating healthy and well. With that knowledge, I plan to build a career linked to food, using my newly obtained culinary skills to help meet the great need for skilled culinary artisans at the local level. My idea is to emphasize eating well and healthy.

In addition, my writing and publishing background will allow me to spread the gospel of good and healthy eating beyond those I can touch in person. I foresee writing regularly about food for leading area and national publications, as well as continuing this blog as a daily journal of my culinary school experiences and beyond.

Obtaining a culinary arts certificate will honor my late mother, Ofelia Islas Chihak, who taught me to cook and encouraged me in every endeavor I undertook. She was an excellent cook of Mexican Sonoran cuisine, learned on her mother’s wood-burning stove on a borderlands ranch outside of Nogales, Arizona. She taught my brother, my sister and me to cook, partly through osmosis and partly through direct instruction. She did not consider herself a creator of fancy food, but she used wholesome, fresh ingredients and cooked creatively with what was available and what she knew.

Study at the Academy is a mid-life transition that will allow me to combine my previous vocation as a writer and editor with my avocation for cooking, fulfilling my culinary passion.

(Photo credit:

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

I scream, you scream, we all scream for ... yogurt!

Does the world need another yogurt shop?

Apparently not, if it's up to San Francisco health inspectors.

Most definitely, if it's Fraîche, say the legions of followers familiar with the organic purveyor that runs its dairy and a shop in Palo Alto and another shop in Stanford.

The yogurt is labeled "plain," although aficionados say it is anything but. Topped with a selection of fresh fruits, Fraîche yogurt won this comment from one Yelp reviewer: "New natural frozen yogurt places keep opening up, but nobody does it better than Fraîche. This place nails it."

Fraîche's online menu lists frozen yogurt, Blue Bottle organic coffee, baked goods and oatmeal as well as fresh yogurt.

The owners of Fraîche are nearly ready to open in San Francisco, at 1910 Fillmore St., needing just a few tweaks and, importantly, the health inspector's OK. When will that be?

"He told us November," co-owner Patama Roj said Wednesday, her smile belying the frustration she must feel at the bureaucratic delay.

Let's hope for the sakes of the owners' business and those yearning for good yogurt that it's much sooner than November.

Look for word on opening and a review here.

(Photo credit:

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Cooking with citrus juice

That means ceviche, one of the more delightful of New World delicacies. Raw white fish marinated -- or "cooked" -- in lime and lemon juice has its roots among the indigenous peoples of coastal Central and South America. People in Peru claim to have originated it, but a similar claim along with distinct versions of ceviche come from people in Ecuador, Mexico, Chile, Panama and other countries.

Wherever it came from, it is a deliciously fresh approach to seafood, and it is easier to make than one might think.

Ceviche is in the works in my kitchen as we speak, with a pound or so of sole marinating in my refrigerator, in preparation for tonight's dinner. Many recipes exist, but here's an easy, basic concoction, the very one I am using:

For 4 people, use about one pound of a light white fish. Sole or corvina (sea bass) is best, but it can be made with tuna, squid, octopus, even shrimp and clams. My preference is for a light, non-oily fish.

Start with skinned and boned fish. Dice fish into 1 cm cubes and place in a large glass bowl. Cover with 1 cup of citrus juice, preferably a combination of lime and lemon juice, freshly squeezed. Cover the bowl and refrigerate 4-6 hours, stirring occasionally.

After it is "cooked", turning opaque, drain the citrus juice away. Finely chop a medium onion, 1 clove of garlic, 1 small jalapeño (seeds and spines removed), 1 large or 2 medium ripe red tomatoes and 1 tablespoon of cilantro. Stir chopped ingredients into the fish, add salt and fresh-ground black pepper to taste, and it is ready to serve.

Serve with tortilla chips, fried plantain chips or plain crackers.

Appropriate side dishes include sliced avocado, fried sweet potato, corn on the cob or dried and seasoned corn.

¡Delicioso! Is it dinnertime yet?