Waiter: Bring Me the ’66 Thunderschewitz!

Here at the Spume HQ, we’re passing some rather cold San Francisco nights revisiting, chronologically of course, Matt Groening’s awesome animated series, Futurama. While I was once a strong Simpsons fan — and those first few seasons of the Simpsons are brilliant — Futurama it seems has held up much better over time, both in terms of comic delivery and timeless subject matter.

It’s also an amazing food & wine show it turns out. There’s the spice-weasel bamming chef Elzar (a spin on Emeril Lagasse), and tons of references to cooking, eating and drinking — in a sci-fi futurey animated comedy kind of way. We recently watched the first season episode, A Giant Ball of Garbage, which included this wonderful line from the alcohol loving robot Bender as he orders wine during a banquet:

I’ve been perusing your fortified wine list, and I’ve selected the ’71 Hobo’s Delight, the ’57 Chateau Partay, and the ’66 Thunderschewitz.

Check out the audio clip: Bender ordering wine

Staff Training: Boot Camp!

Heard through the grapevine the other day. The staff at Russell Jackson’s upcoming Lafitte restaurant on Pier 5 at the Embarcadero is spending the few weeks prior to opening by getting in shape. And that’s not just honing the finer points of service. Per one staff member, the whole crew is up at 6am getting their butts kicked bayside by a boot camp instructor. Which begs the question: What’s more impressive, training hard in the early morning a few days a week, or getting service industry folks out of bed before dawn?

Jackson hired a personal trainer to get his staff in shape to, well, survive the opening of the new restaurant. Expect a crew that can not only handle the long hours and still provide professional food and beverage service with a smile during opening — they can probably kick your ass too. And look hot doing it.

San Francisco Ramen Town

Richie Nakano, a.k.a. linecook415, hosted a test run of his months’ long quest to perfect his ramen the other night.

(Above: ramen noodles made from scratch go into the 5-day stock made from organic pork bones. An earlier version of the stock was made with the bones roasted first; Richie felt that stock ended up to sweet and fatty, so this effort skipped the roasting and resulted in a silky, flavorful blast of savory pork and umami flavors.)

Earlier in the day I met up with Jon Bonné, a fellow ramen enthusiast who like me, is a saddened by the lack of ramen options in San Francisco, unlike Los Angeles or New York. Beyond Katana-Ya, there’s just not much.

Our particular challenge this day was, as you probably guessed, to find a few wines to match with ramen. (We wanted to look beyond the traditional beer, maybe saké, pairings.)

Ramen, such as it is, can be difficult to pair because it’s made up of so many different elements: there’s the stock, noodles, sliced pork, egg, usually some sort of green, spices, etc. Hence why beer is an easy choice. But why choose the easy way? When matching wine and ramen, one way to do it is to try to work with various flavor combinations. However, we thought the way to go was to work with texture, since in many ways that’s what good ramen is all about: the balance of the diverse ingredients comes together to create the texture of the dish. So in theory at least, looking at that overarching theme might lead to a good match.

The results? Sherry rocks, and is a good choice. But lighter styles like Fino might not hold up so we opted for dry, rich Amontillado from El Maestro Sierra, as well as a few other selections. The El Maestro was the most successful, at least according to my palate.

Another option: Jacques Puffeney’s Cuvee Sacha, a blend of savagnin and chardonnay with a slight oxidative character that matched the umami flavor in the stock, and also hugged the texture of the combined egg yolk and noodle. We tried a few red wines but they didn’t quite work for me. Although an orange wine might do the trick…

(Above: my half-eaten bowl of ramen on the matching table.)

Oh, back to the beer for a moment. Jesse at Beer and Nosh brought along a number of delicious ales, including his home-brewed gueuze style beer, made with a brettanomyces yeast that he bought from a home-brew shop in SF. Jesse related that when a famous California winemaker heard about his purchase of a brett strain for the beer, he excalimed: “you can buy brett?!?”

Jess also has far better pictures of ramen night than I do. View them here.

You can read more about Richie’s ramen plans here, and then there’s a good New York Times story on ramen hunting in Tokyo to read here.

How Do Bustling Neighborhood Restaurants Affect the Rental Market?

(Above: A typical layout for a Victorian-era flat in SF, though perhaps originally this was the ground floor of a two level house. It’s similar to a place we recently checked out in the Mission.)

We’re looking for an apartment in San Francisco, which, as in other cities where lots of people want to live, is a challenge. Add to it the fact that we have certain constraints — proximity to BART, either garage or parking, or decent street parking — and our search is narrowed to the sections of town where it seems everybody wants to live. Sorry, Inner Richmond! Sorry, Inner Sunset!

During a recent viewing of a flat, it was pointed out that a number of restaurants were nearby, including currently hip places like Flour + Water. I hear this frequently on this search but it struck me that neighborhood restaurants have a significant impact on rents and the availability of rental units in San Francisco. You sort of take this stuff for granted, but it’s definitely true. Especially when, like us, you’re weighing your options in relation to your needs, and considering paying at the top of your rent budget for a flat that’s, well, on the small side. Oh for a time machine!

Sure enough, have a scan on Craig’s List of available one- and two-bedroom apartments in locations like Hayes Valley and the Mission, and you’ll find rents ranging in the $2,000’s on up. I wonder, to focus on the Mission for a moment, how much places like Flour + Water, Range, Dosa, Beretta, etc., affect rents? In the sense that property values themselves are affected, then it’s likely that they do. The question is how much? Does proximity to a bustling neighborhood restaurant that’s something of destination itself meant that, say, another $200+ is added to the asking rent amount? Ditto the economic and commercial vitality in the surrounding neighborhood. Hayes Valley, where we currently live, is a great example: Anchored by original restaurants like Hayes Street Grill, Absinthe and even the fratboy-infested Suppenküche, Hayes Street itself now features numerous boutiques and more bars, restaurants and even a ramen truck.

And it seems that new restaurants inspire a bit of neighborhood envy. From an article in yesterday’s Chronicle about removing the restriction on the number of restaurants along 24th Street in Noe Valley:

Yenne and others in Noe Valley began the push for new restaurants on 24th Street four years ago after seeing new, attractive restaurants open on nearby Valencia Street and other areas without the restaurant limits.

There were 29 restaurants along 24th Street in 1987, and today there are 22, according to city Planning Department documents.

In 2006, the city allowed three new restaurants to open in the 24th Street-Noe Valley Neighborhood Commercial District, which runs on 24th Street from Chattanooga to Diamond streets and parts of some adjoining blocks. Of the three that obtained permits, only Contigo, a Spanish and Catalan restaurant on Castro at 24th Street, has opened.

(via Curbed SF)

Meanwhile, all leads on a one- or two-bedroom apartment in SF are most appreciated!

Hayes Valley Ramen Bust

The local internets were afluttler last week with word of a new addition to San Francisco’s growing street food scene, this time in Hayes Valley. Two factors converged to make this opening a particularly exciting one: 1) Most of the street food action is taking place downtown or in the Mission, so for a new venture to open in Hayes Valley, well, that’s exciting news; and 2) it’s a ramen truck!

(Above: People waiting, and waiting some more, for their bowls of ramen. On a side note, when a truck or business or whatever displays all those social media tags, Twitter, Facebook, etc, does that mean they’re sponsored to do so?)

San Francisco’s ramen scene is lacking. Sure, there are options but we’ve got nothing on New York when it comes to ramen. And why is that? There’s a fairly large Japanese presence here, and god knows there’s enough sushi options to keep people sated in their quests for the perfect serving of uni.

(Above: the menu. We had shoyu and miso.)

Anyway, Shirohige Ramen-Ya’s truck idea is a good one but I’m sorry to report that the ramen isn’t quite there. It’s not bad, but there’s not enough broth for one thing, and the bowls of noodles just lack balance. Which again, might be an issue with the broth, an element that seems to be essential for pulling all the ingredients together. Combined with the obnoxiously long waits — a problem the guys in the truck (who, it must be said, were friendly and polite) attributed to their water supply. That right there is a major flaw, one that hopefully gets worked out rather quickly. Part of the appeal of ordering a steaming bowl of noodles and sliced pork from a street vendor is that it’s, well, served up fast.

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.

Late Night Bling, or I *Heart* SF

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(Above: I started my Friday with a michelada at Nopalito, which is Tecate mixed with tomato, chili de arbol, salt and lime. Yeah, it’s good.)

This post is going up late because I’ve been sick all week. For the record, summer colds suck. And no, I don’t use Zicam.

After gorging ourselves senseless with the Third Degree at Nopalito, we headed over to the Independent to catch Datarock, a fun, dancy band from Norway. The show was great and Datarock had the house dancing wildly for much of the set. The boys in the band got their groove on too, wearing their trademark red track suits (noticeably more blinged out than two years ago when the crew looked like they’d just come from Target).

Here’s a video for what’s probably Datarock’s most well-known song, “Fa Fa Fa”:

Still feeling jazzed after the show, we completed the circle by heading to Nopalito’s big sister, Nopa, where we thought we’d take advantage of the rockin’ cocktail program. Because a fancy rye drink is just what I need at 12.30 in the morning…

Scanning the wine list however led me to Gaston Chiquet’s 1998 Spécial Club Brut. Doing the math for two rounds of cocktails for three people suggested that the Chiquet was a splurge within reach. But really, I don’t care how good a cocktail is: When there’s good Champagne, there’s not much else. And this was pretty epic stuff, with vibrant fruit that felt savory and rich supported by profound mineral depth. Got better with air too. Drink this whenever you get the chance.

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As Peter Liem notes on ChampagneGuide.net, the Chiquets have around 40 percent chardonnay, 40 percent meunier and 20 percent pinot noir planted in the Grande Vallée de la Marne, mostly in the villages of Aÿ, Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, Dizy and Hautvillers. Interestingly, the family uses no wood in their cellar, and a program using concrete and glass-lined tanks has been in place since the 1950s.

The Spécial Club (shown above) is bottled as part of the Club Trésors de Champagne, a group of independent grower-producers who have organized under a set of guidelines, including a distinctive bottle, to produce what is effectively a prestige cuvée for each member. At Gaston Chiquet, the Special Club bottling typically includes 70 percent chardonnay and 30 percent pinot noir. To learn more about grower-producers like Gaston Chiquet, or most any producer of interest in Champagne, I highly recommend a subscription to ChampagneGuide.net.

Another Datarock song, “Computer Camp Love”: