An Al Pastor Goodbye

Said farewell to San Francisco, for this week at least, with a delicious al pastor flavored send off at El Castellito, which serves up some of the best spicy slow-cooked marinated pork in town. Pictured below.

Off to New York for a week of tasting new releases from Piedmont for Wine & Spirits. Maybe I’ll blog a little more after what’s been a relatively blog free summer.

Pizza on Wheels

All this talk about new style street food carts and taco trucks modified into gourmet street food destinations has me hungry. Also, I’m thinking of these totally bad-ass variations on the mobile wood-burning pizza oven I saw last weekend in Paso Robles.

Check it:


This first pizza trailer is owned by Full of Life Flatbread, and they make delicious pizzas wherever they tow this thing. The colorful tiles are a nice touch.


These next shots are of Rob Hunter’s totally awesome combo pizza oven trailer and kitchen (with taco truck style serving windows, natch). Rob and his wife Jill owned a fantastic restaurant called Pangaea in the Pacific Coast hamlet of Gualala for a few years (pics from a somewhat recent visit). They’ve since closed the restaurant but have continued to cook out of this mobile kitchen. As you can see, it’s a great set up.



Below: Partygoers cram into to the kitchen doorway line-up for a just-fired pie.


Super Bowls and Birthdays

Busy with multiple deadlines at the moment so this one’s quick…


Above: Football? What football? Super Bowl Sunday at the Hog Island oyster farm in Tomales Bay. Taken as things were winding down. FYI – If you fancy oysters in January or February — both ‘r’ months — then skip out on the Super Bowl and head up to Hog Island. We practically had the place to ourselves.


Above: Diner at NOPA for my birthday, where we drank U Baccan, a single-vineyard pigato from Ligurian producer Bruna. One of my favorite white wines from Italy, and certainly one my two favorite pigatos (the other being Bruna’s Le Russeghine vineyard). It’s incredibly complex, with a powerfully deep mineral expression. It also has that groovy little neolithic man on the label, which just seals the deal.


Above: the prep area at the wood oven station at NOPA. I think I took this picture because I spent the entire night seated on the opposite side of the glass from that bin full of delicious pancetta. It ain’t a birthday without pancetta!

Be the Ham and the Ham Will Be Yours

Holiday madness in San Francisco, or my own insanity. Home from a week of tasting Tuscan wines at the W&S New York office; somehow my flight left Newark on Friday following a daylong storm of snow and icy rain. Once 6 hours had passed on the tarmac I began to wonder what people were thinking after that first winter in the Northeast 400 years ago; why, really, stay? I doubt Puritans were that masochistic…

But then I’m from California, inherently weak in the knees and cold in the feet when it comes to things like icy rain.

Speaking of winter, it’s time for ham! My friend Max, a meatmaster of sorts, supplied us with a savory cured ham for Saturday’s holiday fete. His directions for preparation appear following. Kids, do try this at home!

Follow the directions on the label. They are good and I have sometimes fucked up the ham by focusing on the crisp and then drying it out. Always cool to blast it at the very end @ broil to achieve optimum, smoky cranklins of joy and pleasure…should the directions not assuage this need. One thing Jeremy did which was solid was to crosshatch the fat covering over the whole skin side; ending up with 2×2 squares (cut just down to that middle-ground between the lean and the fat). He glazed the son’bitch as well; a unique opportunity to be creative etc. Not sure when he applied the glaze though. Oh yeah…don’t forget to take the beast out of the fridge a few hours before; a soft initial move prior to your imminent scorching attack. Now that I think of it…if you choose to slash, take action straight outta the fridge before before the higher temp renders fat and makes it a sloppy bitch. I am still on the fence on the basting and slashing; I hate the break the sanctity of something after it has been through such long and complicated voyage. Frankly…it is your call and I am certain that if you place both your hands upon the ham, close your eyes and ask it directly for its opinion…your direction will be clear. Be the ham and the ham will be yours.

Sage holiday wisdom…

*Note, some missing directions: the goal is heat the ham to an internal temperature of 140 degrees. Set the oven to around 300 degrees and roast the ham in a shallow roasting pan with a rack for about 2 hours; you’ll want to handle the scoring, etc, mentioned above about an hour or so into the total cooking time.

(Sorry, no pic!)

Delicious Things

“I’m going where there’s no depression…”

Despite the (rather painful) extraction of a wisdom tooth last week, I did manage to drink a few delicious bevvies over the course of these last days. Maybe it’s the hint of desperation and talk of Long Depressions in the air, or perhaps I just couldn’t stomach any more days without drinking good wine or eating something solid (man can only last so long on shakes and soup). Regardless, we’re still here, and there’s still enjoyment to be had in life.

Now that’s mall food: Sea Dog Root Beer and Trumer Pilsner with a chicken and shiitake steamed bun at Out the Door. Charles Phan opened this branch of his legendary Slanted Door restauranta couple years ago in the San Francisco Center, a glorified urban mall. The steamed buns are delicious, and quite yummy with Sea Dog Brewing’s root beer (from Maine) and Trumer Pils, from an Austrian-based brewery that set up shop in Berkeley.

Who needs vicodin when there’s riesling? Throbbing pain be damned, I opened a bottle of 2005 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spätlese from Kerpen for dinner the other night. Nothing quite relaxes tension like good riesling, I say, and this was top notch. From a killer vineyard, this was a good example of ripe-vintage riesling aging gracefully and maintaining balance; the flavors felt poised between slatey minerality, brisk green apple freshness and an outright juiciness (methinks that would be the vintage).

The Kerpen was perfect with this flakey tart Simon made, stuffed with carmelized onions, bacon and green apples (which I coated in bacon fat, natch). No doubt, we’re facing hard times but now I don’t feel so crazy for stockpiling a bunch of wine instead of playing the stock market.

To close, ‘No Depression’ from Uncle Tupelo (whence the quote at the start of this post):

BBQ Quest: Lockhart, Texas

Our first stop for barbeque this morning was Lockhart, where we hit both Smitty’s Market and Kreuze for brisket, shoulder and ribs. And circle sausage, too, which totally kicked ass.

Below, a shot of the smoke pits at Smitty’s which resembled an ironworks more than anything else, and then our feast. Yum!

Coffee Wars and Locavores

(Above: Lemon-pistachio donuts and coffee at Four Barrel)

Three’s a war, right?

It seems that the coffee wars have officially come to San Francisco. The last few years have seen the arrival of Blue Bottle, Ritual and now, Four Barrel (no website yet; tel: 415-252-0800). Blue Bottle began as a roaster based in the East Bay, with two kiosks here in the city, one at the Ferry Plaza farmers market theme-park, and the other tacked on to the front end of a wood shop in Hayes Valley. They’ve since opened their first café-laboratory off Mint Plaza downtown.

Ritual opened deep on Valencia Street in the Mission District in 2005; it’s both a roaster and a popular airy café filled with so many laptops that you could mistake it for someone’s idea of the perfect hi-tech start up (indeed, Flickr got started here).

And then there’s Four Barrel, which is sort of a midway stop between Blue Bottle’s Hayes Valley kiosk and the Ritual HQ at the end of Valencia. Stylistically speaking too, it’s somewhere in between. A big space made warm by the hum of conversation, coffee and vinyl LPs affixed to the fall (check the Mad Max soundtrack, natch), there’s a roaster in the back and places to sit up front, as well as a retail counter to take a sack of beans home. There’s food too, and I’d be guilty of Wall Street level greed if I didn’t say it’s worth a trip to Four Barrel just for the lemon-pistachio donut from the new Dynamo Donut.

So San Francisco is developing a local coffee industry that may just rival Seattle’s someday. Or maybe not. In any case, all this talk of localism brings to mind a short article that my friend David Tamarkin wrote over at Time Out Chicago about the ultimate futility of the locavore/localvore movement. (Although I wish he’d taken that stupid name to task.) I get the impression that David wanted to write much more than what he had space for, but it’s a thought-provoking piece all the same.

(Above: Internationally sourced coffee beans for sale at local roaster Four Barrel. Maybe there’s a happy medium for locally and internationally sourced produce? Also, dig that Megadeth typeface!)

As a dedicated lover of things vinous and seeker of delicious things to eat, I’m not about to commit myself to eating and drinking only those items which are sourced in a 50- or 100-mile radius (and I live in a place where such a lifestyle is actually possible). Sorry, generally speaking I prefer cru Beaujolais to California Pinot Noir. And I couldn’t live without a little La Tur in my life. That said, I believe a consciousness of the local bounty and how that produce gets to market is important, to say nothing of what’s in and out of season in your particular region; indeed, eating seasonally might be even more important and effective than eating locally. But wouldn’t the energies and passions of people committed to maintaining a locally-based diet be better devoted elsewhere? Like developing school gardening programs, for instance, or guaranteeing the rights of immigrant farm workers at both artisan and industrial farms?