Thursday, December 22, 2011

Carmel: Dametra Cafe

We left LA on Saturday morning and drove up the coast, spent the evening at Hearst Castle in San Simeon, and then continued on to Palo Alto on Sunday.  We stopped in Carmel for lunch at Dametra Cafe, which is one of my favorite spots; I've now visited three times over the past four years.  The first time I ate there was during WSPR 2008, right before my first conference presentation, and the second time was with my family in 2009.  This little restaurant is always busy, so it was pretty lucky that around 1pm, we only had a 5-10 minute wait for a table.  Service is always friendly, and the bread is always warm and crusty.

Hummus, served with a basket of warm pita bread:

Napkin flower (not on the menu as far as I know, but the napkins were starched, and that was tempting because I hadn't made a flower in a while):

Jerusalem kefta kabab wrap, with tzatziki and Greek salad.  I like the Greek salad here because the feta cheese is whisked into the dressing, so you get the feta flavor without the huge chunks of cheese that I generally like less because of their chalky texture.

Falafel wrap:

Baklava, kindly sent out on the house:

After all the pita and fresh bread we ate, we could only finish half our wraps.  The remainder returned to Palo Alto with us, to be warmed in the oven and eaten along with some fresh salad for dinner.


I'm heading to Shanghai tomorrow, but will return before the New Year.  Merry Christmas, everyone!!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Hollywood: Cafe Gratitude (round two)

Lunch last Friday, after a morning at the oh-so-pretty-can-we-please-move-here-now Getty Villa, was at Cafe Gratitude with David. Around 1pm the restaurant was mostly full, but we were immediately seated at a quiet outside table.  To start, we ordered the I Am Grace smoothie and I Am Gorgeous lemonade.  The former is the coconut/almond/date/vanilla combination that we loved during our first visit back in October.  The latter is a "green lemonade" with kale juice, agave and sparkling water.  We thought a better name might be, in fact, I Am Green or even I Am Chlorophyll; it was definitely healthy, but we weren't exactly enamored.

For an appetizer we tried I Am Present: bruschetta of nutty wheat bread with butternut squash, cashew mozzarella, and fig-balsamic vinegar.  Cashew mozzarella is excellent, as it turns out, and not at all lacking in creaminess.

David had the I Am Cool mint chocolate chip milkshake, which was apparently delicious.  As his entree he tried and liked I Am Terrific: Pad thai with kelp noodles, bell peppers, carrots, kale, cilantro, basil, mint, scallions, almonds and sprouts.

My choice was I Am Humble: rice/quinoa with curried lentils, spinach, yams, tamarind chutney and cilantro.  A repeat order from our first visit, and still good.

Andrew's I Am Graceful: rice/quinoa with hemp seed pesto, kale, tomatoes, brazil nut parmesan, and sprouts.  This tasted more like a salad than anything else, considering the high proportion of kale.

I think it's fair to say that with this lunch, we somewhat balanced out the previous day's indulgences at Pizzeria Mozza.  And there were even some leftovers of the two grain bowls, so we finished them in the evening as a side dish for a shared chicken wowshi from Bella Pita.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Hollywood: Pizzeria Mozza (round two)

Staycation #2 in LA proceeded in fine fashion.  Last Thursday I introduced Andrew to Pizzeria Mozza, and they got along quite well.  On Beth's recommendation (after my first visit last month), we ordered the chicken liver bruschetta.  It was tasty: more pate or rillette-like, not particularly strong on the liver flavor, a little zesty because of the capers, and definitely of the richest things I've eaten in recent memory.

Tricolore salad (arugula, frisee, and endive) with a Parmesan anchovy dressing.  The salads here are very large; if two people wanted to have a not-too-heavy lunch without leftovers, then sharing one salad and one pizza would be perfect.

Pizza with salami, bacon, pancetta, and sausage, i.e. the "meat-lover's pizza," with tomato sauce:

Pizza with funghi misti (lots of mushrooms), fontina, Taleggio, and thyme.  Because of the profusion of mushrooms and the particular cheese profile, this was very earthy (in a good way).

To finish, espresso granita with chocolate-covered honeycomb.  Andrew is a big fan of coffee and espresso, and I thought the granita/gelato combination would be a much better ending than the overly rich butterscotch budino.  As it turned out, the chocolate-covered honeycomb may have been his favorite component of this dessert.

Afterward, it was off to Beverly Center (that bastion of Southern California commercialism) for some jeans shopping.  We had half of each pizza left over, which - when paired with some sauteed string beans - made for a pretty good dinner.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

French silk tart

Block 2 is now over, and as such, since last Wednesday afternoon I have been on my very last winter break that is truly a break (next year, break is shorter and Boards will be on the horizon, and after that, either clerkships, lab work, residency, fellowship, or the post-training "real world" will rule my life and schedule).

Anyhow, this block's post-exam baking project was a French silk tart.  For the crust I used David Lebovitz's French tart dough recipe, which I first used for a chocolate pecan tart last Thanksgiving.  For the filling, this recipe, with all ingredients scaled to about 2/3 of stated, but with 4 oz of 72% dark chocolate.

These pictures aren't particularly good, but at least Helga, Andrew (who successfully braved the 405 and Wilshire exit at rush hour for his first drive to LA) and I all approved of the actual tart.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Parmesan pasta with shrimp and tomato-kale salad

Karthik and Hua came over for dinner on Wednesday night, and so I put together a meal of tomato and sauteed kale salad; spaghetti tossed with parmesan, olive oil and black pepper; and bay shrimp with shallots, roasted red pepper, and lemon zest.  Pink grapefruit soda to drink, pumpkin cake for dessert, and then it was back to studying.

Block exams are Tuesday and Wednesday, and Andrew is arriving Wednesday evening.  We're planning to have ourselves another relaxing and delicious LA "staycation," before heading home for the holidays.  I may or may not be posting next week, but should resume for a couple of days before Christmas.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Los Angeles: Amandine Cafe

Last Saturday, Hua and I went on a tour of the "Now Dig This!" exhibit at the Hammer Museum, followed by brunch at Amandine Cafe (on Wilshire, somewhere between Westwood and Santa Monica).  We'd known about Amandine for a while; they're very popular on Yelp and what not, and I was curious about their croissants.  Accordingly, pastry and brunch were ordered.

Chocolate almond croissant: tasty, but definitely more bread-like and less croissant-like.  Also, slightly dry in some spots.

Country omelet with bacon, cheddar, potatoes, and onions, served with salad and cornichons:

Hot chocolate (supposedly disappointing, i.e. definitely-from-a-mix):

Florentine omelet with spinach, mushrooms, and Swiss.  Both omelets were unremarkably good.

Latte with either a foam dinosaur or dodo bird.  I was a fan:

We were way too full to try any of Amandine's gorgeous-looking cake slices, which are generously portioned and reasonably priced; perhaps that is where this bakery/cafe shines.  Next time!  And who knows, we might even be living in the neighborhood starting next year....

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Cilantro-lime shrimp with roasted vegetables

As I mentioned in my post on recent cooking lessons learned, I am now a fan of this Mark Bittman recipe for shrimp/squid with cilantro, lime and garlic.  Last Friday night, I made it again for dinner, along with some roasted vegetables (potatoes, cherry tomatoes, bell pepper, and red onion with salt, pepper, olive oil, and parmesan).  Straightforward, healthy, and flavorful.  Bonus: the leftover vegetables have been great for breakfast scrambles!

Monday, December 5, 2011

San Francisco: Tartine Bakery

For several years I've kept a mental list of SF "foodie favorites" I want to try, and it looks something like this: Delfina, Pizzeria Delfina, Zuni Cafe, Aziza, Campton Place, A16, SPQR, Flour + Water, Bi-Rite Creamery, Humphry Slocombe, Tartine Bakery, Miette, the Ferry Building, Acquerello, Boulevard, Jardiniere, Slow Club, Foreign Cinema, and probably a few others I can't remember right now.  This doesn't include, of course, the Greater Bay Area wish-list places like the French Laundry, Cyrus, and Manresa.

Fortunately, I'm still young.  I made it to Aziza, SPQR, the Slow Club and Jardiniere (for dessert) in 2008, and to Pizzeria Delfina and Tartine Bakery two Saturdays ago!  Pizzeria Delfina and Tartine are just steps from each other on 18th Street.  There was a line out the bakery door when Andrew and I arrived at the pizzeria for dinner, but when we walked past again after dinner, the line had miraculously disappeared.  Time was tight, so we marched right in, almost immediately decided on a 4-inch coconut cream tart, and brought it home to enjoy after the symphony concert.

It may seem like two people could easily finish the entire pastry in one sitting, but the coconut cream is deceptively rich, so we only ate half.  Fortunately, the sweetness is light, and complemented nicely by the toasted coconut shavings on top.  There is also a layer of bittersweet chocolate inside the pastry shell, which prevents the solid-yet-flaky crust from suffering any sogginess.

Even the next morning, when the remaining half was our conclusion to at-home brunch, the tart tasted just as good.  At some point we'll have to try Tartine's croissants, about which I've also read much hype...and maybe their passionfruit lime Bavarian cake, too.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Three recent cooking discoveries

1) The good:

Generally speaking, I don't like cilantro.  For most of my childhood, my impressions of cilantro were based solely on the large sprigs that were placed inside Vietnamese sandwiches, which we often picked up during shopping trips at the Vietnamese supermarkets in Sacramento.  I would very deliberately unwrap and open my sandwich, extract the cilantro, and hand it to my dad (who likes the herb).

Last weekend, though, Andrew and I wanted to cook dinner and remembered a garlic-lime fish recipe from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything.  We didn't have the cookbook in the car, and an iPhone Google search only turned up a recipe for shrimp (or squid) with cilantro, lime and garlic.  It looked easy, and we got shrimp at Whole Foods, so game on.  Turns out, when combined with garlic, lime and a little fish sauce, cilantro and I get along perfectly well!

2) The bad:

I was making scrambled eggs the other morning and didn't want to open my newly-purchased milk just to add a little for tenderness, so instead I whisked in some low-fat Greek yogurt.  The result was objectively edible, but subjectively disgusting.

3) The ugly:

It turns out that if one is using the pre-cooked chicken breast strips from Trader Joe's, it is highly inadvisable to leave the entire package in the refrigerator for three days, freeze half for later use, defrost that half, and then leave the defrosted half in the refrigerator for a couple days before actually cooking with it.  I really shouldn't have been surprised that food poisoning was the result.  (Mom, if you're reading this, don't worry; it happened a month or two ago, and I was fine after a day or two).

Friday, December 2, 2011

San Francisco: Pizzeria Delfina

Four days after having lunch at Pizzeria Mozza in Hollywood, I had a pre-symphony dinner at Pizzeria Delfina (the Mission location) with Andrew.  Much like Pizzeria Mozza and Osteria Mozza, Pizzeria Delfina is the younger, eponymous offshoot of the original and very famous Italian restaurant next door.  After finding parking a couple blocks away, we arrived around 5:35pm, put our names on the chalkboard waiting list, and ordered a glass of Montepulciano.  The 25-minute wait didn't feel too long, and we were seated at a sidewalk table; fortunately, there are heat lamps.

Breadsticks and water are at the table, along with little dishes of parmesan cheese, red pepper flakes, and some herb I couldn't identify.

Pizza with fennel sausage, bell peppers, onions and mozzarella.  The tomato sauce was slightly spicy.

Pizza with grilled treviso, pancetta, rosemary, and green onion (I think).  The grilled treviso is slightly bitter, which was a nice contrast to the rich pancetta.

Interestingly, I found the crusts to be rather bland; it seems that the pizza dough itself is barely seasoned, which I'm guessing is intentional for a pizzeria of this caliber.  I ended up ordering a side of pizza sauce for crust-dipping.  The sauce took some time to arrive, but did so in steaming hot fashion, and was definitely some of the best tomato sauce we'd ever had.  We didn't have time to try the cannolis since we still had to get to Davies Hall, but Tartine Bakery is on the same block (to be rhapsodized about in the next post).

So, I've now tried the best or among-the-best pizzas that both LA and SF have to offer, and I've been told (thanks, Hua) that a comparison post is mandatory.  I think the nature and quality of sauces and toppings is about equivalent, but there are some clear differences in the dough, baking, and consequent crusts.  Delfina's crusts are crisped all the way to the center of the pizzas, i.e. slices are stiffer, while Mozza's crusts are soft in the middle, along with being more seasoned.  My personal preference may actually be Mozza, since I do like contrast in crust tension within each slice.

That said, these are quibbles, and I'd happily eat at either or both pizzerias again, especially with the dining companions I'm fortunate to have!