Thursday, October 18, 2012

A quite delicious day

So, around 11:30 or so, the following pops up on my Twitter feed from Cowbell:
#COWBELLSPECIAL Rabbit Pate, Local Pickled Fig Mustard & Brie Grilled Cheese w/ Cup-O-Soup or Salad
I think to myself, I could get there! It's just down Claiborne to Oak, and would put me in easy position for doing my work and lunchtime errands. It's a gorgeous day, perfect for doing something a little different. So off I went to Cowbell. Sat at the counter, enjoyed the ambiance, ordered an Arnold Palmer and my rabbit pate and brie grilled cheese sandwich. The cup-o-soup I ordered was a sweet potato, corn, and shrimp chowder which was pretty awesome, as was the sandwich. Could have been too rich, but it wasn't. It just made me so happy! Cowbell's an awesome place, where I ought to go more frequently. Used to get my burger fix there before I found perfection at the Company Burger. The also have the only clam chowder in the state (probably.) It's great- food is fantastic, vibe is chill, service is super friendly.

My view from the counter

The regular menu

The specials

Heaven on a plate
So that put me in a most excellent mood. I declined dessert, having learned my lesson the previous day at Crescent Pie & Sausage, where after I ordered their soup (turkey & andouille gumbo) sandwich (house smoked turkey club) and salad, I ordered their chocolate pumpkin bread which was so good (came with ginger ice cream!) but TOO TOO MUCH.

Gluttonous, yes, but can you blame me?

Don't think I wasn't tempted, though- I've had Cowbell's apple pie before and it is fantastic.

So after that I had a lovely drive uptown, from the River Road to the Riverbend, down St. Charles, and over to Magazine. It was a gorgeous October afternoon, I had my windows down and was listening to the streetcars go on their way. Passing Tulane, Loyola, Audubon Park. It's the New Orleans that the Tourist Board dreams of. And, wow, the weather is so beautiful in October.

That got me back to the office with a spring in my step, and after working through the afternoon, met up with Tom downtown and he'd heard of this empanada-serving food truck called Empanada Intifada that was supposed to be pretty good. (was also recommended by a Venezuelan friend, so.) It was supposed to be parked outside of 45 Tchoup by 6pm and there it was after we battled traffic for a half hour to get there from downtown.

Yep, this is the place

Where the magic happens

kinds of empanadas

Prices- cheap!

So we both got 2 empanadas- both of us got the Mestizo Meat Pie, described as "Our fusion of the traditional empanada with the traditional meat pie: Argentine Mendoza empanada (Angus beef, onions, eggs, potatoes, and olives) meets the celery, green peppers and green onions of Louisiana's Natchitoches Meat Pie." Tom got the black bean empanada (Cuban-style black beans cooked in citrus with fried plantain and coconut Jazzmen rice) for his second and I got the Hobo Pollo Adobo (Filipino-style pulled chicken marinated in soy sauce and rice vinegar, with tomatoes, green onion, Jazzmen rice and potatoes.) I also ordered the red beans and rice, because, why not?

It was all excellent. The meat pie had a bit more texture than the bean and the chicken empanadas, but all were incredibly flavorful and wrapped up in delicious dough. It don't get much better than that. Also, our meal combined, with tip, was $20. It REALLY don't get much better than that. The purple stuff was Curtido Cabbage Salad, described on their website as the ultimate Salvadoran palate cleanser, fresh chopped cabbage and carrots rubbed down with citrus, vinegars, whole cumin seeds and oregano. Went GREAT with the red beans too. I really liked all the food. Comforting, delicious, well made, great ingredients, just really happy making.

We got our food, went inside the bar and sat and ate and drank beers. They had NOLA Brewing's Hopitoulas and Blonde Ale, as well as LA 31, Canebrake, and Tin Roof. The bartender was very sweet and friendly, and we watched the Yankees lose the ALCS. Oh, funny thing- 45 Tchoup is New Orleans' Red Sox home away from home, so folks there were THRILLED to see Detroit win the series. Yankees suck! (just kidding, I really don't care, it's just something I'm very used to.)

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Getting my San Francisco on!

I was able to score a sweet deal on a direct flight to San Francisco last weekend, and I jumped on the opportunity. I love, love, love San Francisco and several people in it, so I felt like my soul needed a little Northern California rejuvenation.

Saturday night when I arrived, I was met at the airport by my friend Lee who would be my host for the weekend. We decided to hang out in her neighborhood south of San Francisco proper - Redwood City. We went to Martin West for some beers and snacks, and then out for sushi!

Oysters, beer, bourbon, and curry chips at Martin West

Some crazy delicious rolls

Name of the sushi place
The next morning, we got up and had brunch at Alana's in Redwood City with friends of the family. It was a lovely morning and we sat in the courtyard:

After brunch, Lee and I hotfooted it over the the Caltrain station in Redwood City. Now, to explain the craziness of the day in San Francisco: it was Fleet Week, the Niners were playing, the Giants and the A's had playoff games, the Castro Street Fair was going on, and also some kind of bluegrass festival. San Francisco was teeming, but that's fine with me. We took the Caltrain to the Millbrae BART station and took the BART to downtown, to the Embarcadero, which is the stop closest to one of my favorite places in San Francisco, the Ferry Building.

The Ferry Building, upon approach

And Hallelujah! (from one of the meat vendors at the Ferry Bldg.)

Delicious Pacific oysters from the San Francisco Fish Company...

... also located in the Ferry Building

One of my favorite places in the Ferry Building AND ON EARTH, Cowgirl Creamery

Took one each of these cheeses home. SO GOOD.
So, we took a wander down the pier to meet another friend at Pier 23. Beautiful, beautiful bay views.

Back of the Ferry Building - looking out to the East Bay

Note the Coit Tower in the distance

Mountains? OMG, we don't have those in Louisiana!

Cool California seal etched in all the pier posts
Finally, we reached Pier 23, which was crowded with folks there for all the reasons listed above, plus, as we soon found out, the restaurant was a prime place to see the Blue Angels doing their thing, which was wild! We ate and drank then my friend Juliana took me up to her neighborhood, North Beach. We stopped in this awesome dive bar, reputedly the oldest bar in San Francisco, The Saloon. This place was a trip! Dark, crowded, cheap beer, great music, dancing, great vibe. We did our obligatory shot of Fernet there and danced up a storm. So, so very fun. Checked out a bar called Tupelo before hitting a bar called the Boardroom, which had delicious beer AND bacon wrapped tater tots, which I devoured. Took the BART back to Millbrae, and my friend Lee picked me up AND TOOK ME TO MY VERY FIRST IN-N-OUT. I had a double-double, "animal style." BLISS.

Monday, Lee had to work, so I packed my stuff up and headed back into town to spend the day before heading back home (my flight was leaving at 4:30pm.) I did the same Caltrain-BART trip, but got off at Civic Center and walked a few blocks to meet my friend Sylvie at the new location of Dottie's True Blue Cafe, the best breakfast place pretty much ever, anywhere.

Our view from the counter

My amazing omelette- merguez, goat cheese, spinach, and tomato.
Accompanied by breakfast potatoes and homemade dill bread toast.

Their specials board

Their sign in the front window
Full of amazingly delicious breakfast, we wandered to the nearby Blue Bottle Coffee shop. Blue Bottle is DEADLY SERIOUS about coffee. Read their website for an eyeroll. But, OMG, their coffee is delicious. They also do some crazy special preparation that involves beakers and flame?  I just got a latte.

So this describes the various options for the crazy coffee prep, I think...

There's one crazy prep device...

And there is an enormous other one!

Ever pedestrian, I just got a latte and a bag of blended beans
Sensing my weariness, Sylvie put me on a bus (I'm just not used to those hills!) I took the Geary to the Fillmore and got off at Haight Street to visit my beloved Toronado beer bar.

At the Fillmore bus station

Hallowed ground

Next door to the Toronado is Rosamunde's which sells awesome sausage..
This is one wild boar and one duck with onions and mango chutney

Me with my beer buddies, Jen and David
I will be going into much greater detail about the Toronado (and my other beers enjoyed during this trip) on my beer blog. That should be going up soon.

All in all, it was a wonderful, whirlwind trip that satisfied many longings. I love the Bay Area so very much and hope to get back there soon. It had been three years since my previous visit, which is much too long! The old Mark Twain quote is: “In America, there is New York, San Francisco and New Orleans and everywhere else is Cleveland.” I bring this up not to insult other cities, but to note that my love for both San Francisco and New Orleans is significant. Both cities feel like home to me. And San Francisco is the only place that matches up to New Orleans, food-wise, booze-wise, and culture-wise, in my experience (note: I have VERY little experience of NYC, haven't been there for 20 years.) I just can't get enough.

The Palace

My parents have finally figured out that the best present they can get for me/us is a gift card to a local restaurant. We got one for Commander's Palace for Christmas last year and decided to get gussied up for our 8th wedding anniversary last week and have a special occasion dinner there.

As far as celebrating special occasions goes, Commander's Palace is an excellent choice- as far as dinner is concerned, for sure. Daytime meals are still great (I prefer lunch to the craziness of their weekend brunch) but for a Friday night dinner, nothing says class like valet parking, being greeted personally by the maitre'd, and sat promptly in the downstairs main dining room. The chef was often at the table next to us, and I later discovered that it was because Ella and Dottie Brennan were sitting there with a couple of friends! They are (especially Ella) the matriarchs of Commander's Palace, and ran it for years. This is a pretty cool article about Ella and her life and culinary influence here in New Orleans. So, that was awesome! I didn't know about it until much later in the meal (after the ladies left), but I had assumed they were friends of the Brennan family- and then learned they WERE the family.

Being seated next to Ms. Ella's favorite table was indeed an honor, and the staff treated us like old friends and important guests.

On to the meal! I started with their take on the French 75, called the Saint 75, which had the usual sparkling wine and gin, as well as St. Germaine and basil syrup. Very delicious and refreshing. Tom had their classic lime daiquiri. One thing about Commander's Palace is that they let you settle in for a while, serve you cocktails and garlic bread, before handing you the menu. It was nice. Once we did get the menu, our waiter's impassioned recommendation for the tasting menu- listed as "Chef Tory's Playground" won us over (um, as well as the delicious descriptions of the courses.) I opted for the wine pairing; Tom did not, though he did enjoy a few glasses of different Pinot Noirs as well as the Barolo Riserva that was paired with the beef course. CP has a pretty expansive and diverse wine by the glass list, and they also sell the by the half glass, which is nice for trying different wines, as Tom did.

First course: Hog's Head Cheese Stuffed Pork Cracklin'
A terrine of Berkshire pork with Creole trinity, pickled peppers, parsnips, mushrooms, and mango-habenero mustard. Wine pairing: 2007 Commander's Palace Cuvee, Brut Blanc de Noirs, Russian River Valley.
This was terrific, although the pork that was stuffed inside the cracklin seemed more like a pulled bbq pork than a hog's head cheese? It was delicious though- the sourness of the pickle and the heat of the mustard really woke up the palate without overwhelming the pork. I found out that the CP Cuvee was made for them out of the Iron Horse vineyards.

Second course: Maine Lobster and Squash Blossom Relleno
A cracklin' covered squash blossom stuffed with poached lobster knuckles, butternut squash, Creole cream cheese, and charred chiles over smoked jalapeno crema.  Wine pairing: 2009 Patrick Piuze Terroir de Chichee Chablis, Burgundy France.
This was just stupid delicious. The lobster knuckles (already known to us as the best part of the lobster) were not actually stuffed in the squash, but surrounded it. Again, a bit of a kick to even out the lusciousness of the lobster and the Creole cream cheese, and extremely assertive flavor profiles.  Great time for the palate cleanser!

Why, the palate cleanser is no other than my much-enjoyed cocktail from the start of the meal, the Saint 75! (St. Germaine Elderflower liquer, Bombay Sapphire gin, crushed citrus, and basil syrup) Using this as a palate cleanser (or, as they call it, "le Coup de Milieu") was pretty genius, the herbaciousness of the basil and the elderflower really balanced out the strong flavors of the previous courses, and the bubbles in the sparkling wine sort of gently scrubbed the tongue clean.

Third (fourth?) course: "The Five Hour Egg"
A gently coddled egg cooked in the shell at 141 degrees served with a sautee of late harvest mushrooms, caramelized shallots, and toasted garlic with crisp potato, brown butter vinaigrette, and a splash of truffle oil. Wine pairing: 2008 Domaine de Closel, Chateau des Vaults, la Jalousie, Savennieres, France.
There was a bit of delay in getting this course, our waiter joked that for us, it would be the "Six Hour Egg." But it was well worth the wait. Although I didn't see any crisp potato in the action, it was freaking amazing, as a beautifully cooked egg can be. Lawd, that was so rich and decadent.

Fourth course: Creekstone Farms Black Angus Beef Tournedo
Hand-carved beef tenderloin over red quinoa, hearty greens, autumn mushrooms, and roasted roots with sage and green peppercorn demi glace. Wine pairing:  Rocche Dei Manzoni Barolo Vigna D'la Roul.
Now, neither Tom or I are big filet/tenderloin fans. I find the flavor to be lacking and prefer cuts like the ribeye or the hanger. However, I am not exaggerating, we both found this piece of beef a freaking revelation. The flavor was so good, and it was so tender, it practically melted in your mouth. It wasn't the demi glace or the sides that perked it up, it was the beef itself. I don't know WHAT Chef Tory did to make it so breathtakingly flavorful and delicious, but DAMN.

Fifth Course: A Selection of Artisinal Cheese
Pecan biscotti, seasonal fruit, and red wine syrup. Wine pairing: 2010 Naufragar Malvasia di Casorzo.
The cheeses were great. There was a blue cheese, a non-blue stinky cheese, and a mild, firmer cheese. The accompaniments were fantastic and the wine was a bit heavier and sweeter than I'm used to, but still complex and enjoyable.

Sixth Course: A Tasting of Swiss Chocolate
Frozen dark chocolate terrine with white chocolate cookie crumbs, espresso caramel, melted milk chocolate, and wild porcini mushroom salt. Wine pairing: Vilmart et Cie Ratafia de Champagne, Vin de Liqueur, Champagne, France.
Well, that was just as delicious as it sounds. Not too sweet, the hint of porcini salt heightened the chocolate flavor beautifully. Holy smokes, put a fork in me, I'm done.

After the bill was settled and our photo opp taken (see below), our waiter informed us of our famous next table neighbors and seemed satisfied with our appreciation of it. When I asked our waiter if I could keep a copy of the menu so I could refer to it in the future, he asked if I'd like the chef to sign it. Which... OK!

So that was pretty exciting, going into the kitchen and talking with Chef Tory. Then he (our waiter) took us to the back garden area which is also behind the Brennen ladies' home and told us that one could always take a cocktail here (they don't have a bar area, so this information was definitely relevant to my interests.)

Picked up our car from the valet and went home. The tasting menu portions were perfect- after all those courses, we just had happy bellies, not painfully full.

THAT'S how you celebrate a special occasion! (preferably partly subsidized by someone else's generosity).

Still crazy happy after all these years