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Dungeness Crab Prices 2014/2015 Season

I got lazy and bought a pre-cooked whole crab at Safeway for $6/pound. Big mistake. The body was OK, but some legs had a whiff of ammonia.

Dec 12, 2014
ssfire in San Francisco Bay Area

Truffle Dinners 2014

I ultimately decided to try a truffle dish at Donato Enoteca in Redwood city: the Tajerin in butter sauce with 3 grams of truffles, for $40:

The truffles were shaved in the kitchen, not at the table. The truffles were also shaved super-thin. Unfortunately, I didn't get much aroma, and the butter sauce overwhelmed the dish. Not recommended. A total let-down, actually.

Then, Urbani had a Black Friday discount, so I decided to order one ounce of tuber magnatum pico at $117 per ounce. I receive two small truffles:

I weighed them on a precision jewelry scale, and they came out to 24.60 grams, which was annoying: a little more than 3 grams short of an ounce, which was just small enough not to make it worth trying to get a refund/exchange.

Anyway, I made several pasta dishes, like this one with thin pasta with a mild butter/garlic/sage sauce:

The truffle aroma was subtle; it didn't have the huge impact I was expecting, but it was better than the version at Donato.

Pennsylvania Dutch Egg Nog

I got the Pennsylvania Dutch Eggnog last year, and I agree with tre2012: "Harsh cheap liquor and way oversweetened".

So this year I picked up some Advocaat Liqueur at Beltramo's in Menlo Park. It's the Dutch version of eggnog liqueur. It's sort of like eggnog, but bitter, and tastes like it would be used mostly as a mixer. The New York Times has a recipe for a snowball:

which is Advocaat with 7-up. It is quite tasty and refreshing: like a lime version of an orange creamsicle.

Nov 30, 2014
ssfire in San Francisco Bay Area

Truffle Dinners 2014

Was that real foie gras, or the monkfish liver ("foie gras of the sea")?

What was the price? Or was it somehow "given away for free"?

Nov 29, 2014
ssfire in San Francisco Bay Area

Restaurants Open on Thanksgiving?

OpenTable has a fairly comprehensive list of upscale restaurants open on Thanksgiving.

Nov 25, 2014
ssfire in San Francisco Bay Area

Zola in Palo Alto

Until the new Blue Bottle place opens in the Varsity Theater, I have been getting my Blue Bottle espresso fix at Red Berry Coffee Bar in Los Altos; they just recently got permission to serve Blue Bottle espresso. Red Berry rotates through beans from different roasters, so they only have Blue Bottle beans maybe once or twice a week. Their extraction is consistently excellent.

Zola opened in the former location of Roast Shop, which was a very short-lived kosher deli.

When Monique's went out of business, another chocolatier moved in: Timothy Adams chocolates.

Nov 18, 2014
ssfire in San Francisco Bay Area

Truffle Dinners 2014

I was at Donato Enoteca in Redwood City today and noticed they have a special truffle menu:

Each item contains 3 grams of truffles. I declined; a bit steep for me.

In the South Bay, Alexander's Steakhouse offers truffle shaving upgrades for some dishes, but I haven't sampled.

Nov 15, 2014
ssfire in San Francisco Bay Area

New Alexander's patisserie venture, downtown Mountain View

I stopped by Alexander's Patisserie today in Mountain View.

The big news: I found the espresso to be fantastic. They use their own custom blend, called the "Toro" (keeping with the steakhouse theme), which they get from Equator Coffees & Teas. Unlike 3rd wave coffee, which is mostly super sour / citrusy, the Toro blend is richer, with a nice balance of nutty/bitter/sour, plus great body. They have a seasoned barista who knows how to calibrate their espresso machine; great extraction, super crema. Their espresso is my second favorite, after Donato Enoteca in Redwood City, which uses a roaster in Italy.

They had several tarts available: lemon, vanilla, chocolate, and maybe another one. The chocolate tart is OK:

They use Valrhona chocolate. The bottom part is a dense chocolate ganache, and the top part is chocolate mousse. The chocolate has a citrus flavor note, which is not my favorite. Also, the crust is not savory enough: it's hard and not so flavorful.

The lemon tart has silver leaf: That's the first time I've seen anything but gold leaf on pastries:

I also tried a butter croissant, hot out of the oven:

It's excellent. Based on my croissant review:

I would put it tied with Satura cakes at 4.8/5. It has a very dense (almost too dense), moist, pull-apart interior, with fantastic butter flavor, without being greasy. The outer shell could be just a tad crispier, and maybe less "mealy", but it's still great. $3.50 for a larger-than-typical size.

I do not recommend the macarons ($2 each); I tried a chocolate and vanilla. The interior is super-dense, almost like a dense truffle, or a fudge brownie; the almond meal cookie part is very thin, and almost an afterthought. It doesn't have any of the "starchy chew" that I crave in a macaron; I prefer the ones at Pamplemousse in Redwood City.

They are having "inventory difficulties". In the morning, they only had tarts and macarons available. Then they ran out of tarts before noon. They put out their croissants shortly after noon. They are not yet organized enough to be able to tell you when things will be available throughout the day.

Oct 17, 2014
ssfire in San Francisco Bay Area

What are your thoughts on the city's coffee offerings?

B2 Coffee in San Jose (San Pedro Square Market) has Verve cold-brewed coffee served from a keg, with a nitro tap. I think they brew it each night. I thought it was OK.

Oct 06, 2014
ssfire in San Francisco Bay Area

Any place one can buy Kouign Amann in SF?

Pamplemousse Patisserie in Redwood City has started offering Kouign-amann every so often (not every day).

It's very respectable: good buttery flavor, nicely layered, while being lighter and less dense than others:

However, it's missing the caramelized goo that's so addictive; I would say it's better than Starter Bakery, but not as good as Satura Cakes. Not worth a trip.

Oct 01, 2014
ssfire in San Francisco Bay Area


I stopped by Jack In the Box and grabbed 3 cronuts for $2.19:

They are fried to order, but I found them to be meh. They're really small, and don't have the benefits of either a good donut or a good croissant. You can hardly tell they are layered. Not recommended.

Sep 16, 2014
ssfire in San Francisco Bay Area

Favorite Ice Cream 2014

More alcoholic ice cream data points:

- SP2 Communal Bar in San Jose has a root beer float on the dessert menu (using Treatbot ice cream). For $8 extra you can get a shot of Gosling's Dark Rum. Never tried it, because ... that is crazy expensive.

- District Restaurant in Oakland has a Guinness ice cream float, but it's totally lame; It's just Guinness and ice cream.

- Some Pizzeria Delfina locations offer an affogato using their house-made gelato, and for an extra $6 you can get a version "Corrected with Amaro Cio Ciaro," which is a bittersweet herbal liqueur. I may actually try that some time.

I've seen a few other embellished affogatos:

- Tin Cup in Palo Alto sprinkles dried orange peel on top

- Red Berry sprinkles chopped nuts on top (using soft serve, which is non-optimal IMO).

Jul 27, 2014
ssfire in San Francisco Bay Area

Favorite Ice Cream 2014

A few ice cream data points:

- There are two items I find to be outstanding at The Ice Cream Bar in Cole Valley. Almost worth a trip for these:

1. The wild cherry phosphate, with a scoop of crème fraîche ice cream:

2. The Dublin Honey float, which has Guinness, honey ice cream, chocolate syrup, and a float of port wine:

- I recommend the Shakin' Jesse at Rudy's Can't Fail Cafe in Oakland or Emeryville. It's a shake made with vanilla ice cream, espresso, and Guinness. Very addictive.

- Donato Enoteca in Redwood City had a cherry semifreddo, so obviously I had to try it:

It was only available for one day as a special dessert. It was OK; I'd be interested if other folks have found crave-worthy semifreddo.

- A new Asian-fusion restaurant opened in Palo Alto: Mandarin Roots. On the dessert menu is a Hong Kong eggette waffle, with coffee ice cream made with Philz "So Good" blend of Coffee:

The ice cream is less sweet, and tastes exactly the same as the coffee.

- I've tried a bunch of Humphry Slocombe flavors; the only one that wowed me was toasted pine nuts / rosemary.

- I think Humphry Slocombe vanilla is the best for an affogato; the espresso comes in contact with the dry / icy texture of the ice cream, and freezes, forming a crispy espresso coating. I get them at Bitter+Sweet in Cupertino. It's even better than it looks:

- At Scoop Microcreamery in Palo Alto, they have a really good / addictive Biscoff-n-cream flavor. The flavor is better than the speculoos flavored products at Trader Joe's.

- For those interested in Strauss organic soft serve, Red Berry Coffee Bar in Los Altos just started serving vanilla and chocolate, Fri/Sat/Sun only. It's OK; not worth a trip, but worth trying if you happen to be there.

- Yoogle in Mountain View is a froyo place. Normally, I'm not enamored by froyo. But their oatmeal cookie flavored froyo is super good. They also serve the more mainstream flavors of Lush gelato.

- The Lavazza Espression cafe in Santana Row has "espesso," which is a creation of molecular gastronomy that the menu describes as "Ferran Adrià's coffee that you eat." It's a mousse / gelato / jello substance. Worth tyring once.

- A visit to Chabot Science center is not complete without stocking up on astronaut ice cream (it's actually cheaper on Amazon).

Palo Alto/Menlo Park rant

"Ground Up," the coffee stand in the AOL building, has closed.

Jun 25, 2014
ssfire in San Francisco Bay Area

Some new things in downtown San Jose

I stopped by Arepa Swing today. They are located in the San Pedro Square Market, in the second building next to TreatBot. They had their grand opening last week. Sadly, I don't recommend the arepas.

I got an Arepa with Cuajada cheese. $5:
The cheese is very good: like ricotta cheese, but way better. However, the arepa itself was meh. It's similar in style to the arepas served at Coupa Cafe in Palo alto, but not half as good. The edges of the arepa were nicely crispy, but the rest of the arepa was dense and almost under-cooked.

Unlike Coupa Cafe, where you wait 15 minutes for them to make an arepa to order, Arepa swing serves up an order in about 1 minute, because the arepas are cooked beforehand and stored under a heat lamp:

Jun 14, 2014
ssfire in San Francisco Bay Area

Steakout, unusual grass-fed hamburgers, downtown Mountain View

I tried the Spätzle at Bierhaus:

Lightly pan-fried, with just enough Gruyère to keep it together. The ham flavor permeates the dish. It was crazy good, and significantly better than the Spätzle I had at Stein's for Oktoberfest last year.

Posole - SFBA Dish of the Month April 2014

Whole Foods in Los Altos had a butternut squash posole as part of their hot soup selection. Unfortunately It's meh.

May 27, 2014
ssfire in San Francisco Bay Area

Arancini @ Pizzeria Delfina (Pacific Heights, SF)

The nice thing about Pizzeria Delfina is that they update the menu on their website (at least the Palo Alto location) each morning to show the specials offered for that day. That's how I find out whether the Carbonara pizza is available. Which I recommend:

May 20, 2014
ssfire in San Francisco Bay Area

Acme Bread's Asparagus Focaccia - limited edition [San Francisco]

The Acme asparagus focaccia is only available at the Ferry Building; it's not available at Acme's Berkeley location, or at other retailers / Farmer's Markets.

May 18, 2014
ssfire in San Francisco Bay Area

Doppio Zero in Mountain View

Also: here is the bottom char of the Doppio Zero pizza:

Which is OK, but not as good as the char at Pizzeria Delfina.

May 06, 2014
ssfire in San Francisco Bay Area

Doppio Zero in Mountain View

I stopped by Doppio Zero, the Neapolitan pizzeria in Mountain View. They've been open almost 3 months.

I really like the pizza; I ordered the Diavola: spicy sausage, basil, mozzarella:

It has a soft but springy chew. In terms of stiffness, I can't quite pick up a slice with one hand; It's between Napoletana Pizzeria in Mountain View (very wet) and Terún on Cal Ave (stiffer), and maybe a bit thinner/softer than Pizzeria Delfina in Palo Alto.

They prevent the center from getting soggy by letting the mozzarella dry out a little before adding it. The mozzarella is made in-house. After another month, they will bring over the inspectors to do the VPN certification, a 3-day process.

Manresa Bread Project - selling their bread at Campbell Farmers' Market Sundays 9-1

I stopped by the California Avenue Farmers' Market on Sunday in Palo Alto to pick up a few items.

At 9 AM, the line was about 20 minutes long.

Here's the start of the Flickr stream:

In summary: I might revisit the brioche loaf and herb epi, but everything else was just OK, and the chocolate brioche was a disappointment.

The potato and gruyere focaccia is OK ($6). The flavor of the topping part is OK, but could be either bolder, or more "baked in" to the bread. The focaccia is thicker than normal, and the bread is "springy," but overall, there is nothing very impressive about it; it sort of falls flat for me. I prefer the focaccia from La Biscotteria in Redwood City (very unique texture, bold flavor), or Liguria in San Francisco.

The chocolate brioche is a disappointment ($4). It's like a lighter version of a chocolate-chocolate chip muffin; the bread itself has chocolate cocoa, plus there are small globs of chocolate embedded inside. Good balance of bread and globs, with just the right amount of sweetness, and OK chocolate flavor. As mentioned, the crystalized sugar sprinkled on the top is a nice bonus. But, the "brioche" part doesn't register: I don't get the hit of butter or eggs that I expect from a brioche. It's OK, but not addictively good. It's not as good as it looks.

The brioche loaf ($8) is very good. The flavor comes through with a bolder than normal hit of eggs/butter, plus a nice touch of sour yeast fermentation. Texture-wise, it's a tad drier than I prefer.

The small whole wheat sourdough ($10) is very good. It has an addictive spongy/springy crumb. The sour flavor is stronger than average. The main innovation is the whole-wheat nature. However, it's not much better than the (non-whole-wheat) sourdough sold at Le Boulanger.

The cherry buckwheat loaf has whole cherries embedded inside, and give the bread a very strong cherry flavor. It's more a "cherry pie" flavor than a "cherry jam" flavor. The buckwheat bread itself is a little dry/dense. It's OK, but seems more of a novelty.

The herb epi has great flavor, and is potentially addictive. Warming it up in a convection oven is essential.

The Bostock was meh. Dry and lacking in flavor. It's a dense, dry pastry with a layer of raspberry, topped with sliced almonds.

Decline in the food truck craze?

Someone included the mochimisu from Koja Kitchen in the "best bites" thread for 2013. I agree. I'm now convinced that adding a layer of chocolate mochi always makes tiramisu tastier. I have been known to stock up.

SF Dish of the Month (May 2014) - Nominations/Voting


Apr 25, 2014
ssfire in San Francisco Bay Area

3G's Cafe in Palo Alto: Bolivian: salteñas, Cuñape, pan de arroz

I have found that the cuñapes don't really last more than about 2 hours max; they lose their super-chewiness. In fact, if another batch of cuñapes is about to come out of the oven, it's best to wait for one of those.

Apr 08, 2014
ssfire in San Francisco Bay Area

Vietnamese Iced coffee - technique, equipment, ingredients

Here is my own recipe for ca phe sua da (Vietnamese Iced Coffee): This is not exactly authentic; however, I find it superior to the versions I've sampled at 25+ Vietnamese restaurants in the San Francisco Bay area.

Use a phin, a traditional Vietnamese coffee filter. Add about 28 grams of freshly ground, medium grind French roast coffee. I use Trader Joe's organic French decaf. Then add 1 Tablespoon of Cafe Du Monde pre-ground coffee. It's a lot of coffee; it fills the coffee filter about half way. This combination of coffee gives me the right amount of caffeine. In place of the Cafe Du Monde, I also use Trung Nguyen, or decaf Cafe Du Monde. Then place the strainer over the coffee, and press down with medium force. Leave the strainer sitting on top of the coffee.

scoop about one heaping spoonful of Sweetened Condensed milk into a glass; I use Borden fat-free; After much experimentation, I have found that it is indistinguishable from regular sweetened condense milk. Then add 1 Tablespoon of French Vanilla creamer; the creamer is not authentic, but the result is twice as addictive. If you don't want to use the vanilla creamer, just use another scoop of sweetened condensed milk.

Put the coffee filter over the glass. Bring about 1/2 cup water to a boil, then let it stand for 1 minute to cool off a little, then pour it into the filter so that it covers the strainer by 1/4 inch. Let that soak in for a minute or two, so that the coffee can "bloom." Then add more water to the rim.

Wait until the coffee is finished brewing: You know it's done when you don't see any drips hanging off the bottom of the filter. It takes about 20 minutes.

Then remove the filter, and stir the coffee and milk/creamer until well combined.

Then fill a styrofoam cup half way with smallish ice cubes, or coarsely crushed ice; don't do this until you have completed the brewing and stirring process: you don't want the ice to melt even a tiny amount before you pour the coffee over the ice. Then pour the coffee over the ice in the styrofoam cup; the coffee will rise to the level of the top of the ice, filling the cup half way. Then, add ice to fill the cup to the top; this ice won't come in contact with the coffee; it just keeps the coffee colder. The idea is that you don't want to pour the coffee over a cup filled to the top with ice: the coffee can either melt too much ice, or too much residual coffee can hang out near the top, and get diluted. Always use a styrofoam cup; a regular glass doesn't have enough insulation to keep the coffee cold enough, even if it's full of ice.

Then insert a straw and enjoy.

Apr 04, 2014
ssfire in Home Cooking

New bakery in Los Altos: Voyageur du Temps

A new bakery opened up in Los Altos: Voyageur du Temps, next to Draeger's. They offer high-end artisanal pastries. The owner and chefs are from Japan,

I tried the plain croissant:

It's excellent: greasy, but in a way that amplifies the savory flavor; It's dense inside, but still nicely flaky; it's a drier style inside; no moist pull-apart interior. However, there is a tiny amount of mealy-ness to it; it partly disintegrates into what feels like synthetic sawdust. Also, the flavor could be more intense. Based on my previous croissant rankings:

I would rank it at around 4.6/5, just below the plain croissant at Satura Cakes, which is down the street in Los Altos. However, the plain croissant at Voyageur du Temps is laughably small; It's really a mini-croissant - about 4 bites worth. It's not large enough to be above the critical mass needed to have a moist pull- apart interior. And it seems way overpriced at $4.50. They also sell a version of the plain croissant they call a "croissant d'Echiré", made with Echiré butter, for $5, which I did not try.

I also grabbed an almond croissant, which was nicely twice-baked:

It's excellent; again, I would say that it falls just short of the version at Satura Cakes, which is my current gold standard. But it's small (maybe 6 bites worth), and totally overpriced at $5. And of course, it's so popular that they run out before 11 AM.

They serve coffee from Caffe Vita in Seattle.

Voyageur du Temps

Croissants - SF Dish of the Month February 2014

I taste tested a bunch of butter croissants that are available in the South Bay. Here's the Flickr set:

The one major determining factor for quality: whether a croissant had an off-putting "mealy" texture. It's hard to explain; the worst case was from Amour Patisserie in Los Gatos: as soon as you bite into it, the croissant disintegrates into what feels like a mouthful what feels like synthetic sawdust; then, as you chew it, the particles "squeak" against each other, making a rather loud noise in your mouth. It totally ruins the experience, and also seems to mask the flavor. I don't know what ingredients cause that: maybe margarine instead of butter, or some kind of flour?

I was hoping for super buttery flavor, crisp exterior, flaky/layered interior, and a tender, slightly doughy, pull-apart section in the very center.

I also found that it's mandatory to gently warm these up in a toaster over: about 7 minutes at 325; otherwise, with the high butter/grease content, it's just as bad as eating cold pizza.

Here's my evaluation, on a scale of 1 to 5. I sampled all these in the past month:

4.8/5: Satura cakes in Los Altos; also available at Bitter+Sweet in Cupertino: smaller than most. Greasier than most, but in a good way, because it's backed up with intense buttery flavor. Nicely crisp on the outside. Super flaky. Inside is great: just the right combination of softness and flakiness.

4.6: The "Crepe and Brioche" bakery that sells pastries at the Sunnyvale and California Ave farmer's markets. I think they have a bakery in SF, but I'm not sure which one it is, or if they only do farmer's markets / wholesale. Excellent buttery flavor. Nice crisp exterior, but still pull-apart tender inside. Not too greasy. Just a little mealy, but overall, excellent.

4.6: Fleur de Cocoa in Los Gatos: very tiny. I'm pretty sure I got the "full size" version, but it looks like a super tiny "mini size" version. Great crispy exterior; nice flavor, but could be a little more buttery. A little too greasy: not enough buttery flavor to justify the high grease content. Great interior pull-apart tenderness.

4.4: Palo Alto Baking Co on California Ave: OK flavor: could be more buttery. Great exterior crispiness; great interior: flaky, nicely layered, and also some tender, almost-doughy pull-apart sections.

4.0: Starter bakery, from SF, and also sold at most Philz Coffee locations; great buttery flavor. The layers are very flaky and silky. Not mealy. Nicely crisp on the outside. The combination of buttery flavor an silkiness makes it addictive. But, it's a touch too airy and dry on the inside: it's lacking the moist, every-so-slightly-doughy pull-apart very center.

3.5: C'est Si Bon Bakery in San Jose, sold at Chromatic Coffee in Santa Clara: a bit too dry/mealy: disintegrates a little too much into sawdust. It has a sour note to it, in a bad way: instead of a nice sourdough flavor, it tastes like the yeast had run amok, and masks any buttery flavor. It's too dry on the inside: not enough tender pull-apart doughy goodness. very much of a "meh" experience. More greasy than usual (but not quite as greasy as Satura). However, the grease here is just "grease": it doesn't serve to amplify either the flavor or texture.

3.2: Paris Baguette. OK flavor. Nice and flaky, nicely crisp on the outside. But a bit too mealy. Inside doesn't have enough pull-apart tenderness. A bit too dry and airy in the inside.

3.0: Kee Wah Bakery in Cupertino: Very crisp exterior, very light and airy inside. But almost no flavor. Not enough pull-apart tenderness inside. slightly mealy. meh.

1.5: Bellano Coffee in Santa Clara: they make their own, fresh daily, hot out of the oven in the morning. Meh. it's more of a dinner roll. Not really layered. Not enough buttery taste. Too dry inside; not pull-apart tender, too mealy. A little rubbery on the outside. Might be OK as a jam delivery mechanism.

1.2: Specialty's Bakery and Cafe: no flavor, too dense, not flaky enough; Only a hint of layering. Looks like flattened road-kill, as if it failed to rise sufficiently. More like a dinner roll. Waste of calories.

1.0: Amour Patisserie in Los Gatos: Super mealy; disintegrates into Styrofoam-like sawdust; the particles squeak against each other as you try to chew it, making a loud noise in your mouth. I almost wanted to spit it out. The inside is too dry. OK flavor. Outside is not crispy enough.

Shrimp and Grits - SF Dish of the Month January 2014

I tried the shrimp and grits at Pican in Oakland:

Juicy, plump shrimp and nicely done grits. The sauce was good; I just wish there were more of it. There was enough sauce to lightly glaze each bite, but not enough to truly savor it. What exactly is the "right amount" of sauce? I've seen versions that are drowned in sauce, and also versions where the sauce is nearly hidden from view.

Jan 12, 2014
ssfire in San Francisco Bay Area

Southeast Asian Fish in Banana Leaf - SF Dish of the Month August 2013

This week I was able to compare the Amok at Chez Sovan in San Jose:

with the Amok at Battambang in Oakland:

I think that the amok at Chez Sovan is much superior: better gelatine/mousse-like texture, stronger and better flavor, and more interesting "embedded bits of stuff" inside, and more crave-worthy all around.

Side note: on the other hand, the beef satay at either Battambang or Phnom Penh House in Oakland is way better than Chez Sovan: more addictive flavor, more "encrusted char" on the outside.