Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Pizzetta 211

Tucked between rows of Richmond boxes, Pizzetta both fits perfectly into its location and stands out as an anomaly. Pizzetta is known throughout San Francisco, yet its very secluded location makes sure not to draw attention to itself. The farm-like interior, and small amounts of seating makes this place cozy as well as (on occasion) cramped. I refer to the people working there as the hipsters of the food world: cool, nonchalant, and elitist at the same time. The young and rather attractive staff knows good food, but frowns upon the rich Sea Cliff women that come in for their pizza fix.
But despite the charming décor, the food is what draws the crowds. Food is simple, delicious, and uncomplicated. I would say artisanal; pizza becomes a craft, as they thinly roll out the dough, gently construct layers of balanced taste, and place it into the oven. The crust is paper thin and crispy, even thinner than NY pizza. (Sorry Grimaldi's)
Pizzetta’s basic pizza: tomato sauce, mozzarella, drizzled with pesto after cooking is addictive. The pesto is not overpowering and you taste fresh olive oil (not grease). We ordered a pizza which was composed of cheese, fresh fava shoots, egg, roasted potatoes and sautéed nettles. The egg was cooked perfectly. The white created a layer over the pizza while the yolk was just the right consistency, oozing and creating a faux-pizza sauce. We also had yellow beets with blood orange vinaigrette. While the simplicity of the side was refreshing, you could not taste the blood orange in the vinaigrette whatsoever.
To finish off the meal, we ordered desert: the goat cheese and kumquat tart. The goat cheese curd was not overpowering, in fact it tasted very creamy. The tart crust was buttery and delicious while the kumquats balanced the creamy with acidity and tartness. A great winter treat. This pizza place emphasizes the seasonality of food. Seasonal foods make such a difference, because they are at their peak. (But you knew that.) Chefs at Pizzetta let the ingredients speak for themselves, and pizza merely acts as their canvas.
Pizzetta has a small menu, daily pizzas, one or two sides or salads and two desserts. As with everything at Pizzetta, the menu is simple yet sophisticated. Just as an artist, some chefs don’t know when the dish is finished. They keep adding more and more components and intricacies. But the chefs at Pizzetta got the art of minimalism down to perfection. It works. The food is uncomplicated but achieving greatness nonetheless.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Taqueria de Anda

What is better in the morning than Chinese food and leftover Pizza?
And I am not talking about any breakfast burrito. I am talking about spicy little wonders. So yes, you have heard about these wonders once before. But you haven’t tried these little fiestas in your mouth. Taqueria de Anda relit my fervor for tacos last year. These tacos were the ones that haunted my dreams. I walked the busy streets of New York longing and yearning for the taste.
Despite its uncanny resemblance to an old MacDonald's, a giant play structure sits outside the building, what matters is the inside. This is what I consider a true Happy Meal: Super size horchata and four chicken tacos.
But don’t let these appearances deny you of true yumminess. They get so crowded at night (because of the night club in the back), that they have a taco truck stationed outside the restaurant. In addition, they serve pig intestines, cow’s head, and tongue plus the usual carnitas, pollo and carne asada. The first time I went there, they did not even have cheese. (Traditionally, there is no cheese on tacos) There expertise is one thing: TACOS.
The man who prepares the taco does it with such finesse. He takes two small tortillas in his palm, then grabs red chicken and then goes in again for cilantro and onions. Finally he tosses the green sauce on top, a little jump in the air before the sauce reaches the chicken landing pad. He does this in about 5 seconds much shorter than it has taken me to describe. His movements are fluid and demonstrates that he has been doing this for a while.
What makes these chicken tacos better than others? The meat. The chicken is very tender and pulls apart yet it has a coating of red spices. With these delicious tacos, they serve fresh jalapeno slices, onions, cilantro, red sauce, green sauce and key limes (sweet little limes that give these tacos a balance of acidity.) Sounds familiar, well every good taco in my book (the taco bible) is served with key limes.
They have multiple locations, so one is always within reach in the vast expanses of Orange County. But for you who stay away from Southern California ( and you should), you should feel a tang of guilt that you cast aside all OC as flashy cars, bikinis, strip malls and a feeling you can’t shake off that is what hell must be like. But if you look hard, Southern California has little niches of cultural vibrancy displaying its grandeur through delectable bites, one being the ultimate Taco. (Beware of tacky website - don't let this dissuade you)

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Chicken n' Waffles

Upon passing you might think Roscoe's is a church, with its high steeple, its practitioners waiting outside, and its almost home-like interior with winding stairs. But in this church, they worship the chicken and waffle god. They pray by eating all the fried chicken, gravy, grits and waffles they can devour. Upon entering, chicken is the defining iconography at this cathedral of fryness. They have chicken statues, chicken printed curtains, chicken menus and also the main star, FRIED CHICKEN.
I have heard of Roscoe's inconsistency with the dryness of their fried chicken or the sometimes-soggy waffles. Despite my worries and anticipation, I found that the chicken had a crunchy crispy and flavorful exterior, with a tender and moist interior. The waffles also were crisp yet fluffy. They are presented on two separate plates. But don’t let this fool you, they were meant to be eaten together. The combo is what is important. You can’t have one with out the other, like the trinity, you need chicken, waffle and maple syrup. It creates an addictive tasty balance of salty and sweet, crunchy and fluffy. Roscoe’s sides are not what you are coming here for. If you are, DON’T! The place is called Roscoe’s Chicken n’Waffles for a reason. So get what the chicken and waffle lord wanted you to get, and you will be plenty satisfied.
Yes, the wait is long. And I wondered if it would live up to the legacy. But in looking back, it would not have mattered if it weren't delicious. Chicken and Waffles has become an experience, an integral part of how I see Americana. By the numbers waiting, I can see its importance is not limited to myself. For many of us, we love fried food and sweet syrupy goodness, but I love even more getting the feeling of taking part in a tradition.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Simple Crab Cakes and Red Pepper Sauce

Because crabs look like evil aquatic spiders (and I am very afraid of all arachnids), I get plenty of satisfaction from naming the crabs (for instance, this Christmas I ate Willy) and then plunging them into their boiling deaths. But don’t think I am too sadistic; the humane thing to do is to chill them. This puts your sea friends in a comma. Here, they can dream about pinching humans and roaming the ocean floors finding that hottie crab they saw yesterday.
I enjoy Dungeness crab, the pride of San Francisco. For the freshest crab, I recommend scouring the coastline, and heading away from the city limits. We get our crab fresh off the boat in Bodega Bay. Firstly, they taste so fresh and secondly this is much more humane than keeping them in holding tanks for weeks on end. I mean despite my dislike for them, I know that I would not want to be stuck in a room full of other crabs. On the first day that we get the crabs, we steam them and then roast them with garlic and ginger. Finger licking good! But, with the leftover crab, we take the succulent little meat out of their shells and make the most delectable crab cakes I have ever tasted.
The problem with the majority of crab cakes is that there is very little crab. Our recipe is all crab with just a little breadcrumbs, parsley, red pepper and egg for binding. We keep it simple allowing the crab to be the star. We try to keep the crab in lumps in order to get nice meaty pieces. And we make a red pepper sauce, which is super quick and easy to dollop on top. This sauce is a nice complement to the sweet crab and makes a delicious garnish.

Simple Crab Cakes

2 ½ cups crab (in good chunky pieces)
¼ cup breadcrumbs
¼ cup chopped red bell pepper
2 tablespoons parsley
2 eggs beaten
Salt and pepper to taste

Add breadcrumbs, red bell pepper, parsley and salt and pepper into a bowl containing the crab. Incorporate the beaten egg. Use more breadcrumbs if too loose. Or add more egg if to dry. This is your judgment call. But the true test is if they can form patties. Also remember: adding too many breadcrumbs will result in a more pasty crab cake and take away from the delicious crabbiness (not the state of being). Then, form the crab mix into 10 patties about 5 inches in diameter. But this is your preference. If you are serving them as an appetizer, make them bite size. Place them on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper. Place another sheet of wax paper over them and then refrigerate them for an hour (more is fine). If you are rushed for time, a half hour will do, but don’t blame me if they fall apart. After chilling, and removing from the fridge, heat a large skillet with olive oil on medium heat. Place your crab cakes into the skillet, making sure to allow space between them for even browning. Keep the temperature on medium, (NOT HIGH), you want to be sure the egg is cooked all the way through. Flip them when brown on first side about 5 – 10 minutes depending on your stovetop. After both sides are brown, serve immediately with red pepper sauce. (Recipe below)

Red Pepper Sauce

I make this sauce while the crab cakes are chilling

1 onion thinly sliced
2 red bell peppers thinly sliced.
Salt and Pepper
Olive oil if necessary

Heat a skillet with olive oil to coat. Sauté red peppers and onions till soft and slightly caramelized (at least 15 minutes). Make sure to season with salt and pepper while cooking. After cooking, put in food processor and puree. Depending on the thickness of the puree, add olive oil until it forms a thick sauce. It really looks more like a puree. Re-season if necessary. Serve a dollop on top of each crab cake.

Enjoy the bounty that these aquatic spiders have to offer!