Monthly Archives: February 2007

Pollan and Mackey: Preach on, brothers.

Just how many Bay Area food bloggers were in the audience last night at the “debate” between Whole Foods CEO, John Mackey, and Omnivore’s Dilemma author, Michael Pollan? A quick tool around the Web seems to indicate there were quite a few. I’d definitely suggest reading what they have to say, because my comments on the subject will be brief and not all that critically-minded. Check out Becks and Posh, Cooking with Amy, and Amy’s continued post at Bay Area Bites for starters.

It’s weird, my lack of criticism. You’d expect me to be all up in arms about something, right? I usually am. But I actually left the auditorium feeling (gasp!) hopeful. You’ve no idea how rare that is for me. Yes, there were some gross misrepresentations. And for sure, there’s a bigger, deeper debate that needs to be had about hunger in America and beyond. I’ll tell you what, though. It’s usually a cold day in hell when you get to hear a CEO of Mackey’s stature telling it straight up. The sad truth is, he can’t fix every last problem in the world related to food. He can, however, pick his battles and play to win. Which is exactly what he seems to be doing. I mean, Mackey’s a grocer, and he put a PETA-worthy factory farming video on screen for five whole minutes. This guy has cajones the size of grapefruit. (And sustainably grown grapefruit at that.)

Anyhoo, that’s my pollyanna rah-rah for the day. I’ve got reservations at Perbacco on Friday, so this site will be back to its regularly scheduled programming soon.

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To Fish or Not to Fish

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I’ve been a vegetarian since I was sixteen. I think it started when I bought my first 10,000 Maniacs cassette. (Yes, cassette. I’m old.) Natalie Merchant became my hero, and I wanted to be just like her. Which necessitated the nixing of meat.

Copying gave way to thinking for myself, and soon, I realized I agreed with her stance. It didn’t make sense that my dog was supposed to be my friend, while the cows and pigs I played with on my great-grandmother’s farm were supposed to be dinner. My first ten years of being a vegetarian were based on that— not eating stuff I could see myself snuggling.

As I got older and became more environmentally aware, my resolve was cemented. Don’t worry. I’m not going to get all political on you. You’re a smart person, and you know the score— the insane amount of energy it takes to raise a cow, the dangers of deforestation, the nasty runoff from “ranches”, yadda, yadda.

But all along, I kept eating fish. Not a ton of fish, mind you, but fish nonetheless. It was my fallback food. Something to order when the veggie option was either boring or non-existant. And frankly, I enjoy fish. Like my favorite ceviche at La Bodeguita del Medio in Puerto Vallarta. It’s Tangy/Spicy/Hot like TLC is Crazy/Sexy/Cool. Perfect for a sunny afternoon spent overlooking the Bay of Banderas.

The whole ocean depletion thing, however, is forcing me to rethink my position. How can I enjoy a seared ahi steak when I’m faced with the fact that soon, there ain’t gonna be any ahi to sear? When the oceans go, we are seriously, seriously fucked, people. Plan accordingly.

I’m not trying to get all preachy. (Though given the opportunity, I’ll give you more than an earful on the sorry state of the world.) Rather, I’m writing to hold myself accountable. I’m reminding myself to try harder. If there’s not a decent vegetarian option on the menu, I’m going to ask for one.

If I don’t walk my talk, who will?

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Beggars Can’t Be Choosers, But They Can Be Pissed And Write About It (Sutra)

This is not a restaurant review.

It’s really more of a service review. And not a particularly happy one.

Let’s say you, your partner, and four of your best pals are slightly tipsy, walking along the Embarcadero on gorgeous San Francisco night. It’s Friday after a long week, and you’re looking for some dinner. Where do you go?

Americano? (Nah, the crowd is too icky and you’d never get a table for six.)
Slanted Door? (Um, did you make a reservation five months ago? I didn’t think so.)
Ozumo? (Only if the client is paying.)

“Hey! I’ve got an idea! How ’bout Sutra? It looks swanky enough, and there always seems to be space inside. Maybe we could actually score a table.”

Stupid, stupid, stupid, dumb. It must have been the liquor talking, because normally, my Spidey Senses would have warned me: If there’s plenty o’ room on a Friday night, there’s probably a reason.

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Filed under Cocktails First, Mid-range Meals, Reviews

Hola, Andina (Portland, OR)

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It’s a rare day when I feel compelled to write a glowing review from start to finish. I don’t know if that’s a reflection of my disposition, or a comment on the general state of affairs in vegetarian dining. It doesn’t really matter, either way. I’m just giving you a heads-up. I’m about to sound like Miss Merry Sunshine, and I don’t want anyone to be alarmed.

So. Andina Restaurant in Portland, Oregon. “A taste of Peru in the Pearl.” (Pearl District, that is, for those of you unfamiliar with the City of Roses.)

We walked in and I liked the place right off the bat. It had that warm, sit by the fire lighting that never fails to make me hungry. And on a crappy, rainy night in Portland, you need some light like that. The place felt like a big, golden hug.

I’m usually a wine girl when I’m having a meal, but the cocktail list was hard to ignore. I had the Sacsayhuaman, which probably becomes easier to pronounce after you’ve had a few. It’s described as “habanero pepper infused vodka shaken with passion fruit puree and cane sugar, served up with a sugar rim and a cilantro leaf garnish”. But they can change the description to “my new favorite beverage in the whole wide world.” It’s savory-sweet, with a soul-deep heat that creeps up on you after a few sips. A word of warning, however: I’d recommend munching on a bit of bread or something before you drink one. (I wish that I had.) They are not fucking around with the habaneros in the vodka. My mouth was happy, my stomach lining was not.

My partner chose the Ron-Yki-On, a gingery grapefruit and lime drink that comes with a cardamon sugar rim. The amount of cardamon was just right— you smelled it more than tasted it. My mom opted for the Mojito de Pina, and that was great, too. Usually, I like my mojitos made the traditional way, the way God intended, but theirs was still tart, even with addition of the pineapple. Score another point for Andina.

A trio of salsas arrived before the meal: one peanut based, one passionfruit with a tangy afterburn, and a jalapeno mint. Unfortunately, they were paired with the meal’s only misstep—some dry, wholewheat rolls. The rolls managed to suck all the flavor out of the otherwise wonderful salsas. Bummer.

On to the soup. Mom, Dad, and I all went for the soup of the day. A vegan (vegan!) green apple soup made with coconut milk, key lime juice, pepper puree, toasted pumpkin and black sesame seeds, and finished with cilantro and chive oil. Even my Dad, a strident meat eater, loved it.

I should pause here and insert a comment on the service, which was stellar, but not in a prescient, “my refill arrived before I even knew I was thirsty” sort of way. Rather, the service stood out because it was so kind-hearted. Our waitress literally glowed with exuberance over the menu. Her joy was contagious, and seemed completely unaffected. About half way through the meal, a woman who described herself as the restaurant’s mother stopped by our table to greet us. “Nothing happens without mom,” she said, and I believed her. She had the same radiant joy as our waitress as she invited us to visit her native Peru, telling us about the climates, the produce, the people, the poverty, the extremes. Machu Picchu, here I come. I was totally sold. And more important, totally charmed. I found myself rooting for this restaurant. (Not that they need it. Apparently, I’m not alone in this little love affair.)

But back to the food. On our waitress’ eloquent recommendation, I went for the Quinoto, a quinoa version of risotto, and one of several vegetarian options. (Picture me jumping for joy that I actually had a choice for once.) I love, love, love quinoa, but I’d never had it taste this good. It was served with artichokes and asparagus with wild mushrooms and white truffle oil. My dad, bless his heart, had the same and enjoyed it as much as I did. I snuck a bite of the roasted sweet potato and ricotta ravioli that sat beneath my mom’s Pork Tenderloin, and Andina, I beg you, make a veggie entree out of it. My partner reported that her Mahi Mahi was spot on, although more quietly spiced than the rest of the plates. The theme across all the dishes, however, was layering. No plate was content to shine via a single flavor. They all had depth and complexity, with sensations that came knocking a few beats after your initial impression. The meal had the nuances of French food, without all the fuss.

With the quinoa expanding in my tummy, and the cocktail burning a hole in it, I wasn’t sure if I could manage dessert. But leaving without dessert? That would have just been silly. Now, I never order ice cream in a restaurant. It usually feels too anticlimactic. But something told me I wouldn’t be disappointed in Andina’s. And I wasn’t. The helado del dia was canella, or cinnamon, and it was fantastic. Again with the layers. Soft and sweet on the first taste, spicy after a pause on your tongue. We also ordered the trio of creme brule (which had a much more exotic Peruvian name that I failed to write down). It included a basil version, passionfruit, and finally mint white chocolate. Mint? Ugh. Yeah, that’s what I thought. For, like, two seconds. Then I tasted it. Color me corrected.

I’m telling you, people, the meal was amazing— and made all the more wonderful by the knowledgeable, open-hearted service. They also serve tapas, which I can’t wait to try some time, sitting in their cozy bar with another passionfruit-habanero death-drink. Way to go Andina. And props to the city of Portland. You’ve grown up while I’ve been away. (I always knew you had it in ya.)

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Filed under Mid-range Meals, Reviews

Ode to San Francisco (Out the Door)

You can’t help but fall in love with San Francisco on a day like today. While my East Coast friends are shoveling snow, I’m wondering whether the back of my neck is getting pink from the sun.

So it was the perfect day for lunch at the Ferry Building. Or as I like to call it, “church”.

I’m lucky enough to work just a few short blocks from church, so it’s easy to worship on a daily basis. Today, I heard the gospel of Out the Door, Slanted Door’s ingenious take on fast food.

There’s been so much written about Slanted Door, it seems pointless to add to the noise. (Of course, when has that ever stopped me?)

Out the Door ain’t perfect, but more often than not, it’s exactly what I need. Something light, fresh, quick, and delicious. Their Green Papaya Salad refuses to go the cloyingly sweet route, opting instead for bright and refreshing. And their Steamed Vegetarian Buns give a big middle finger to their pork-filled friends— they’re just as savory without the meat, thank you very much. Today I opted for the fresh Vegetarian Imperial Rolls. I could be a total beeatch here and say that I like mine packed with a bit more tofu, but I’m telling you, it’s just too nice outside to complain.

Days like this keep me going. Yummy take-out eaten in the sun, sitting along the Embarcadero with a few of my coworker pals. I should try to remember the warmth of February when I’m shivering on my birthday in July.

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Filed under On the Cheap, Reviews

Portland suggestions?

We’re Taking Off to the Great White North this weekend to visit my parents. The question is, where should we eat? Any suggestions?

Now, I’m a Portland girl from way back in the day. We’re talking BSE. (Before Starbucks Era.) I used to sling espresso at the very first Coffee People expansion store, which was across the street from the company’s original subterranean stronghold. I remember the day when a suspicious-looking guy came into our shop, asking oddly specific questions. He was supposedly from some Seattle coffee joint I’d never heard of, and his visit clearly threw the older and wiser Coffee People employees into a tizzy. At the time, I didn’t get what all the fuss was about. Then Starbucks opened its first Portland storefront on the same street.

When was that? 1988 or so?

Live and learn.

It’s been nearly a decade since I lived in the City of Roses. I’ve got no clue on the food front. School me.

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The Good, the Bad, and the Sandwich (‘Wichcraft)

Okay, maybe Top Design is growing on me. Todd Oldham’s voice is sounding a little less like a grade school drag queen’s, and Kelly Wearstler’s one line smackdowns bear the mark of some serious evil genius.

But even if the show received a stay of execution on my Tivo To-Do List, it’s still no replacement for Top Chef. Yesterday found me hankering for a fix.

Enter ‘Wichcraft, Tom Colicchio’s sandwich shop at the bottom of the Westfield San Francisco Center. We were headed to see Pan’s Labyrinth anyway, so the stop made perfect sense.

The space itself has all the charm of a Microsoft campus cafeteria. Which is a loaded comment, because I mean it quite literally. If you’ve ever had the, uh, pleasure of working with our friends in Redmond, you’ll know what I mean. Their giant cafeterias are actually pretty nice, with a sort of Pacific Northwest modern thing happening. But they still manage to feel hollow and cold. Hmmm…I wonder why? (Dear Bill, if your spies are reading this now, I’m sorry. Please don’t hurt me.)

It was grey and fizzy in the city yesterday, so I really wanted a warm sandwich. Instead, I opted for the chopped chickpeas with roasted peppers, black olives, lemon and parsley, in solidarity with my vegan brothers and sisters out there, who are out there keepin’ it real for the rest of us vegetarian slackers. I got a half sandwich with a cup of lentil soup on the side for $8.50. My partner, aka “Slave to Truffles,” went for the grilled fontina with black trumpet mushrooms and truffle fondue. Both came with a bag of Tim’s lightly salted chips.

Our sandwiches were decent, but nothing rocked my world. Mine had a really nice flavor, but a singular consistency. Mush. It was crying out for lettuce or something to give it a bit of crunch. The mushroom sandwich was ooey-gooey-good, but I suspect you could melt some decent fontina over dog food and make yourself a nice meal. The black trumpet mushrooms needed to be chopped up a bit more—they sort of slithered out of the bread at inopportune moments, a little too long to be manageable in a sandwich.

I kept thinking of what Big Daddy Tom would have said if one of the Top Chef-ers had served him the same lunch. He’d have been every bit as hypercritical as me. Because he’d expect more out of a Top Chef, right? (Oh, the irony.)

I’ve got to give the man a break, though. He’s doing the right thing in a hard business. Or at least he claims to be. They say they work with small producers and use local market vegetables whenever possible. (Why they only sell Fiji water, though, remains to be seen. The mileage on that stuff is ridiculous. Honestly, I stopped drinking it.) I’d rather eat at ‘Wichcraft than a host of other “fast” food establishments. And in the spirit of full disclosure, I’ll admit to losing my foodie virginity over a vegetarian tasting menu at Gramercy Tavern years ago. (My first mushroom cappuccino, but certainly not my last.) So keep it up, Tommy Boy. You get points in my book for trying, but you didn’t earn immunity in the next challenge.

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