July 2009

Destination: Molinari Deli, San Francisco

Glossary: salami is the plural form of the Italian word salame, referring to traditional cured meats – specifically, ground salted and spiced meat forced into animal gut with an elongated and thin shape, then left to undergo some kind of fermentation process. Salumi refers to prepared meat products generally. Let's see if I use these terms correctly here. (Ruhlman is always lurking.)

I recently posted a comment referring to my love of Molinari Salame as a favorite comfort food. My Italian immigrant grandfather got me hooked on sliced salame as a snack at an early age. Back then, he had Boun Gusto salami shipped in from San Francisco. Years passed, my family moved around, and it became very rare to get ahold of this specific type of dry cured salame. It bore no resemblance to anything found in the cold cut isle, or even a meat counter, not to mention a Jewish deli. Of course, these days artisan salumi can be readily found at specialty markets, and locally produced charcuterie is available if you seek it out… look for posts on these subjects in future.)

When I was a teenager, my dad took me along on a business trip to San Francisco and we went on a search for Boun Gusto Salami. Soon enough we ended up here:

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(Located at 373 Columbus Avenue, Molinari Delicatessen in North Beach is now the last of it's breed. Open for over 100 years, the family deli is also a market featuring imported Italian staples, house-made pastas and sauces, and P. G. Molinari & Sons' famous salumi: Dry Coppa, Mortadella, Pancetta, Sopressata, and varieties of Salame, among others.)

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Still wet behind the ears, I enthusiastically asked about my beloved Boun Gusto Salame… and was summarily kicked out into the street. From the doorway, I was subjected to a tirade ending in "This is Molinari. You want salami – ask me again!" Wow. Well, what a find. This was the stuff. Molinari Milanese style pork and beef salame in easy peel casings, dry cured for 4 weeks. Heaven.

Upon returning home, we would have the 3lb salumi shipped to us a couple times a year. Back then they had a minimum order of 10 pieces, I believe, so – lucky friends got to partake. I continued to order directly from the deli over the years and they finally gave me a break – I could now order as few as three at a time. 

These days, their products are available locally at Central Market and other specialty grocers… but it's not the same. I still order directly from them once in awhile. It's kind of a pain – C.O.D. only – but I swear it's a different product right from the source. 

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And whenever I'm in San Francisco I drop by, have a sandwich out front and grab a couple 3 pound salami for the trip home.

Addendum: I did find Boun Gusto again. Last year. Surprisingly at that hidden bastion of goodness, the Gourmet Market at Sigel's Addison.

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I damn near fell over when I spotted it in the chilled display.

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I understand that Boun Gusto was bought out by another producer – but I do not have all the facts. The wrapper alone flooded me with fond memories (it is EXACTLY the same!) And the flavor was specific – I remembered it, and just wonderful. Talk about food being a time machine. I may now prefer Molinari, but I got a glimpse of my childhood while savoring this long lost contender. Anyway, if in the area, check out the Market at Sigel's Addison:

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ad hoc Inspiration: Black Mission Fig Salad

I torture myself by having the menu of Thomas Keller's brilliant ad hoc restaurant emailed to me five times a week (they are closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays) – ad hoc's menu changes daily. It is located down the road a piece from Keller's venerable The French Laundry, and it shares in the bounty of TFL's garden, across the street. Saturday's menu started with the following:

Black Mission Fig Salad
broccolini, baby red mustard, pickled red onions, toasted pine nuts, fried sunchokes, crispy prosciutto

People often ask what I like to cook at home. It's not really what, but the how that gets me going. As straightforward as the dish sounds, the description above hints at layers of technique. I have been lax in cooking lately so I took this as inspiration – and off to the market. 

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^ Some woman got in front of me at the figs and picked though them as I watched… I rescued these stragglers. 

I'll cheat here and there, but the 'pickled red onions' is an example of an ingredient that is just too fun not to make yourself.

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^ Red onions added to dissolved sugar in white vinegar, with whole allspice, cloves, bay leaves, and chiles. (Then cooled and bottled). ^ Also, I prepared a balsamic reduction of 3 parts vinegar and 1 part Port.

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^ Peeled sunchokes, sliced thin on a mandoline, fried in peanut oil. Paper-thin Prosciutto di Parma fried crisp, like bacon.

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Check it out.  Toasted pine nuts are sprinkled on top along with a drizzle of the balsamic reduction and some walnut oil. This is a great dish – the flavors textures and aromas are a knock-out. Too bad I forgot to add the broccolini I bought… funny, I hate when I do that… WAIT!

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Yep – forgot the dang onions! They added another level to my remaining bites! I will whip this up again tomorrow to finish off the figs. This goes on my list. It was also a blast to make.

And, be on the lookout – the book 'ad hoc at home' is on the way!


Summer Cocktail Watch: Jalisco Flower

Here's another fruity sounding cocktail, but this is pretty damned refreshing. It contains the seductive and fragrant elderflower liqueur, St. Germain. The Jalisco Flower contains fresh ruby red grapefruit juice, blanco tequila, and St. Germain liqueur shaken with ice, then topped off with Brut Champagne.

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^ On hand I had a regular grapefruit and Patrón Añejo, delicious. I finished off the rest over ice and the refreshment lasted a while longer!

Burger Run: Jakes

Since I went to the trouble to make a burger category, I guess I better start filling it.

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Man, people do love the Jakes (hmm… no apostrophe?). Since they recently opened one up in Addison, I've been repeatedly invited for lunch – and for some reason have resisted, I mean I really like my Green Chile Swiss Burger at Snuffer's.

Finally, I relented.

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My first reward was these addictive Jalapeño Bottle-caps w/ Ranch. "We need two orders, please."

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(Sorry – some of these pics are pretty gory). ^ Well, here is The Works: double meat, double cheese, bacon, lettuce, tomato, pickle, onion, mayo, mustard, ketchup.

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^ The Jakes Special: double meat, double cheese, lettuce, tomato, thousand Island. And; the Chicken Sandwich (tastes better than it looks, I'm told).

These sandwiches suffer from that soggy-smooshy bun syndrome (as do Snuffer's' if they sit too long) but the insides sure are tasty. So… fine, I'll meet you at Jakes.

Jake's Old Fashioned Hamburgers on Urbanspoon

First Look: Urbino Pizza e Pasta

Can you believe it was only 80° at lunchtime today? Me neither, but here is proof – refreshing open air dining on N. Henderson:

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Urbino opened just a few days ago. After on an ill-fated re-con mission to a nearby famous newcomer, we stopped in here for a bite.

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^ We started with a well executed and very affordable Cheese & Salumi plate. The cheeses are from our excellent local purveyors and were accompanied by artisan sausage, salumi, pepperoni, prosciutto du Parma, apricots, almonds, olives, cherries and peaches. Not too bad for a casual joint.

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^ Here is the Carne Flatbread Pizza from the pizza oven – and it is FLAT. Barely there crust deftly holds the roasted tomatoes, salametti, portobellos, roasted garlic, roasted peppers, shaved Parmiggiano and more. There are five or six pizzas to choose from, or make your own from a fine list of ingredients. This one was pretty interesting, and after chowing down the whole thing we didn't feel like we'd just eaten a 16" pizza. Not at all traditional – see what you think. (Interestingly, they do a more traditional pie – in a standard oven).

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^ Not that the Flatbread Pizza wasn't enough for a meal, but we also tried the Carne Panini – basically the same stuff that was on the particular pizza we ordered, but nicely grilled in bread from Empire Bakery. And; the house made, swooningly textured, and delicious Panna Cotta. 

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I liked the vibe very much – just right for this up and coming stretch of Henderson. As it was lunch, I skipped the Frozen Limoncello… but that was tough to do. Next week when it's 104° again, perhaps.

Summer Cocktail Watch: Chelada

To celebrate the fact that it's only 88° right now (instead of the 104° it's been this last week,) I sat on the patio, caught up on some back-issues of Bon Appétit, and drank a few of these:

Chelada I call this a Chelada (not to be confused with the Budweiser offering – or the Michelada on which the canned version is based).

Mexican Beer (here some left behind Modelo), Ice, Sea Salt, Lime. Refreshing as hell! I do like Micheladas as well – made by adding to the above: Clamato, Worcestershire Sauce, pick a Hot Sauce, Maggi Seasoning Sauce (or Soy Sauce as a substitute.) It's heartier but delicious. I get them often at MiCo's, and they have a great one at Pepe at Mito's.

Guilty Pleasure Hangover Cure: Grand Lux Cafe

Yesterday morning I saw this tweet go by: Ruhlman was heading off to the Cheesecake Factory to "see for myself." I thought "Oh here we go, this should be good." It turns out he was challenged by author and journalist Kelly Alexander to go eat the Miso Salmon dish and not enjoy it. (Showing here)

My lunch choice was settled. I have never eaten at a location of the Cheesecake Factory either, but we do have a Grand Lux Cafe down the street. 

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^ …yes, there was a wait at lunch.

Grand Lux Cafe was conceived by Cheesecake founder David Overton when approached by Vegas' Venetian Resort, Hotel and Casino to create an upscale version of his chain. There are now 13 locations across the country. I believe Lux's price point is slightly higher and there are only a few dishes shared with the Factory. What they do have in common: a massive menu, generous (bordering on outrageous) portions, and passionate devotees. When I find myself at a bit of a deficit (let's say due to more research of the Burgundy region's white wines) …this place nicely fits the bill.

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^ The finish-out carries over from the Las Vegas original. The room is huge and the detail is impressive.

A favorite dish is the Max Burger: Angus beef stuffed with short ribs, etc. – but not today.

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^ Short Rib Grilled Cheese: Slow-roasted Short Ribs, Caramelized Onion and Creamy Melted Cheese on Grilled Country Bread, Peperoncini Relish. And the gargantuan Fish and Chips: Fresh Fish Tempura Style, Peanut Cole Slaw, House Tartar Sauce.

The bread on the sandwich was just so and the short ribs, succulent. The fish was well prepared, juicy – the batter crisp and light. And there are, like, six or seven large pieces – insane. I left feeling quite a bit better. Mission accomplished.

Grand Lux Cafe on Urbanspoon

Kaboom Cocktails

It's always a good plan to have a mixologist hanging around, so for this year's Kaboom Town celebration Michael Martensen dropped by to get the evening going. I keep an eclectic selection of booze on hand just for such an occasion.

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Mike brought along some Bulleit Bourbon, "frontier whiskey" with a very high rye content. Spying the Green Chartreuse, Martensen whipped up a flowery sounding, but kick-ass old school cocktail: the Whiskey Daisy.

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^ Whiskey Daisy: here featuring the Bulleit Bourbon, Green Chartreuse, Lemon, Lime, Sugar.

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We popped some nice and affordable Charles de Fère Reserve Blanc de Blancs Brut. Then MM mixed some Bulleit, Ginger Ale and Lemon in plastic cups – I grabbed my Sangria (from a Dale DeGroff recipe) and we ran across the street to meet some friends and watch the fireworks from atop a new rooftop pool deal.

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The Leftovers:

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Tom Colicchio and David Ramey Pack the Crack House, Craft Dallas.

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Whatever… so Craft is in Victory Park, so Colicchio has ventures from coast-to-coast, so he's the co-host of a (pretty fun) reality show… the place is still quite good. My friends and I refer to it as "Crack," as in "they sprinkle crack on each dish as it is whisked from the kitchen to your table." Colicchio's philosophy of attempting to extract the essence of each ingredient seems to be generally adhered to at Craft Dallas. A favorite dish of mine is actually served at brunch on occasion: Hash of Shishito Peppers and Duck Confit – crack.

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As it was my friend Michelle's birthday, her husband Jeff got a group of us together for a recent wine dinner featuring Colicchio and winemaker David Ramey in attendance. Tom joked to the packed house that it was great to actually see the restaurant full. I have to agree, it's a truly handsome room – one of my favorites in town – but it's usually a tad less booked than on this particular evening. We enjoyed the energy of the full room.

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^ Canapés w/ 2006 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay.

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^ Tai Snapper, Shellfish Ragout & Black Garlic w/ 2005 Hudson Vineyard Chardonnay, Carneros.

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^ Pancetta-Wrapped Monkfish, Porcini & Spring Onions w/ 2005 Claret; Roasted & Braised Guinea Hen, Fava Bean Raviolini w/ 2005 Larkmead Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.

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^ Elysian Fields Lamb, Crispy Belly & Morels w/ 2005 Rodgers Creek Vineyard Syrah; Chocolate-Hazelnut Turnover, Brandied Cherries & Vanilla-Mint Ice Cream… and we drank ALLOT more wine.

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^ Crack Packs.

I have eaten here a number of times and Jeff & Michelle are actually regulars. We are accustomed to excellent service and delicious food – during this event we got that, with a few caveats. There were some issues getting the food out in a timely fashion, and in general the dishes later in the meal seemed more on par with previous visits. Our group had a great time, our server knew our party and kept the excellent wine flowing, Michelle got to meet Tom, and Jeff and I enjoyed chatting with the very personable David Ramey (who does a rather nice job making wine).

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^ There's Tom after service (far right).

Colicchio says he plans to do more of these dinners, and why not? He's a restaurateur who's presence can pack the house. I think they learned a few things this time around. Based on the winemaker's they pair with in future, I'll likely attend again. Meanwhile, I encourage jaded food lovers to dine here once in a while, and look for that Crack Hash at brunch. I certainly have no problem with celebrity chefs when their restaurants serve quality food. Now I'll pack this post, and go.

Craft on Urbanspoon

NSFW: Daily Specials at Tei-An

So everybody likes sushi these days. Thankfully, most who make this claim have ventured past their favorite gimmicky rolls and have become fans of Nigirizushi and Sashimi. For those interested in delving further, we are lucky to have chefs like Teiichi Sakurai – only too happy to guide the way. While chatting up "Teach" last week at Tei-An he interjects with glee: "Are you hungry? I have something for you." He knows I am as adventurous as they come – and he didn't disappoint.

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I was soon introduced to my first course, a squirming baby octopus (tako) contained in a net bag. My friend Scott looked up from his Yamazaki and said – "Uh, cool – are you going to eat that?" "I guess so!"

My delicious little friend returned "prepared" in a small tagine, along with a hot stone. I was meant to enjoy some raw and some ishiyaki style.

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Once I could get the tako to let go of my finger and get it on the rock, I was in business! Acquired taste? Definitely, but I found both preparations sublime. Mansion Somme Scott Barber was a good sport and enjoyed a bite – then went back to finding a nice white from Yosuke's nicely chosen wine list to go with our next course: Hokkaido Sea Urchin, 4 Ways.

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Uni is absolutely one of my favorite things – and the product from Hokkaido Island is among the most prized. This dish was decadent and heavenly.

Scallop Next up: Taira Scallops… just beautiful. Each night Sakurai-San offers a number of uniquely Japanese specials, along with the menu of soba dishes that have earned him national recognition. One can eat dishes as accessible as the clever and luxurious Soba Carbonara – or venture through the ritual of soba (hot or cold) – or experience Japanese tradition and craft with an omakase meal by Teiichi. You simply can't go wrong.

(for more on Tei-An's soba dishes click here.)