Last night, I went to Isa with a friend for the San Pellegrino Dine Out promotion. It was my first time eating there. Some might say that I missed out on a good thing by doing the promo (which has a set menu); I say that I'm poor and that promos like this help a girl like me eat nice meals at nice restaurants. Mind you, I looked at the set menus quite a bit before I chose a restaurant. Some of the restaurants featured were phoning it in, so to speak, but I didn't feel that Isa was, and I believe I was right. Also, they feature local and sustainable products, which is always a philosophy I can get behind. : )
At first glance, or step in the door, Isa looks tiny. Teeny-tiny. Like a restaurant made out of a closet tiny. It's pretty, though- there's a spiffy bar along the right side and some swanky tables to the left. And just as you wonder where they're going to seat you, they take you to the back, to this lovely tented area with strung lights and greenery and decking. It's like traveling through a dark and damp cave and then emerging into a giant cavern with stalactites and stalagmites. It's so unexpected and very pretty. You ended up a little squished in, but that's okay. How many restaurants in San Francisco really have enough room to dine comfortably? I'm not sure if the tent rolls back to reveal the sky, but if it does, it would be lovely. I can't imagine many more wonderful places to be than that deck on a warm, sunny winter day in the city.
On to the food. My friend started with a sea bass crudo with mango, cilantro and chili. It was delicious. The sea bass was tender and flavorful and paired wonderfully with the sweet, smooth mango and the kick of chili. It was a perfect dish for a warm summer night. I, on the other hand, started with baked goat cheese with basil, pine nuts and a tomato concasse. It was warm (obviously), creamy and crunchy, with a hint of bite from the tomatoes. I could eat it every day for the rest of my life.
For the second dish, my friend chose the halibut a la plancha with artichokes, capers and olives. The halibut was very moist and tender and we lapped up the sauce with bread. Again, a nice light fish dish for a warm summer night. I, however, chose the risotto with assorted mushrooms and parmesan for my second course. Nice and heavy. Let me just say here that I love mushrooms. Real love. True blue, like Madonna. You would think I would love this dish because of that, but the mushroom flavor wasn't prevalent. It was cooked well, though- creamy and smooth with a nice texture.
Last, but not least, we had a vanilla creme brulee and flourless chocolate cake for dessert. The cake had a hint of orange and seemed so light and fluffy that it seemed like flour was involved. However, as you can see from the Adventures in Baking series, I am no baker. The vanilla ice cream accompaniment was quite tasty, too, but there were some chocolate bits under the ice cream that had frozen to the plate and were extremely difficult to remove for that bit of crunch the dish needed. As for the creme brulee, the sugar crust was a little thick, but it had an interesting floral-vanilla flavor to it that I enjoyed.
So that's Isa. I would give it 4 out of 5 stars or hearts or horsehoes or something. I would love to try more of the menu and can't wait to go back again!
p.s.- we washed down the dinner with a bottle of 2004(?) Faiveley White Burgundy. It was good. It had some oak, but mostly it was bright fruit and minerals. It was an excellent counterpoint and accompaniment to our dishes.
Another (slightly tardy) installment in the baking series. Last week I tried making naan. That's right: naan, the delicious, Indian, soft, flat bread. Actually, I think it's made in other Middle East countries, as well, like Iran, Pakistan and whatnot. Unfortunately, my lone Indian cookbook doesn't have a recipe for it. What's up with that? So I had to fall back on my good ol' standby: the JoC.
I had a few issues with making this. First, the recipe states to mix the dough by hand, or with a mixer. I don't have a mixer, so I had to do it by hand. When I added the ingredients, they wouldn't stick together. I had to add more yogurt and water. I wonder if this is a problem of mixing by hand, or a problem with the recipe.
The second problem occurred during the kneading portion of the program. It said: knead by mixer, or by hand for 8 to 10 minutes, until the dough is a smooth and elastic ball. At 8 minutes, the dough looked like a smooth, round ball to me. Mind you, I have no idea what it should look or feel like. This is the same problem that occurred in the tart crust debacle. Moving on, the dough has to rise. Only mine didn't rise much. I let it sit (in the oven with a pilot light) overnight and it still didn't rise much. I think something went wrong there.
The product? Looked like naan, but it wasn't very soft (I have a picture to post here). At least, it wasn't as soft as I'm used to. Tasted fine though, especially with some butter, roasted garlic and beer. And when the leftover dried out a bit, it made a great pizza crust! Weeee. Adventures in baking.
Did anyone see the lunar eclipse last night? I did. I set my alarm for 1:50 am, but when it rolled around, I rolled over and went back to bed. However, I didn't sleep very well last night, so at some point when I woke up, I decided I might as well get my lazy butt out of bed and go look at it. So I did. And it was purdy. Then I went back to bed, but I still wasn't sleeping well. Around 4:30 I decided that at least part of the problem that was causing me to not sleep was that the moon (coming out of eclipse) was right outside my bedroom window and was so freakin big and bright that it was lighting up my room. Seriously. Lighting up my room like it has never been lit before. And that was purdy, too.
Also, I hate Wamu. They have good commercials, but they're liars (free checking, my a**; I get charged fees so often, it's not funny). I deposited money on Saturday and it hasn't posted to my account yet. It's Tuesday! It's not even "pending", a.k.a. their stupid word for holding onto money for 4 days before actually counting it into the account. Seriously? In this day and age of the internet and satellite communication and whatnot, you can't approve money that day or the next? I find that a little ridiculous.
Also, I'm conflicted. Very, very conflicted. See above about not sleeping well. I think I need to write it out, perhaps into some poetry. Although, I haven't written or read poetry in so long, I might have lost the ability. We'll see!
I've been baking quite a bit lately, because I want to learn to be a better baker. So many people say that you're either a good cook, or a good baker; you have to enjoy one more, or be better at one than the other. Following this saying, I'm a cook. I like baking, but I never felt a great desire to do it often. Until now.
All of a sudden, I really want to learn to make bread, and cookies and pie crust (hopefully some day by memory). I have no idea what spurred this on. Perhaps because I like to have people over for dinner and I've never been thrilled by my inability to make something other than 5-layer bars for dessert. Perhaps because lately I've wanted to develop my food skills more.
Mind you, I can follow a recipe. It's just that baking is so intimidating. It's often a precise science to produce something edible, let alone tasty, whereas cooking can be more of an "anything goes" endeavor. Of course, the best chefs value precision and perfection, but you don't have to, to produce something good. And also, when I do things, I like to do them well, or not do them at all. I'm a bit of a perfectionist. So, I knew if I began baking, I'd really have to continue baking with mixed results for a long time, until I was satisfied. So you see? Daunting.
Man, can I ramble on. So about the baking....
I made chocolate chip cookies about a month ago. I've made them many times before (usually the ubiquitous Nestle recipe), but I'm trying to develop/find a really good recipe. This time I got directions from Joy of Cooking. I chopped chocolate bars instead of using chocolate chips, which I like because it spreads the chocolate flavor throughout the cookie (though sparely). I am a fan of the cookie dough flavor, but I'm a bigger fan of chocolate. Other than that, they were too crispy for me. I want more butter. Mmmmmm, butter.
Then, for my dad's birthday, I made a Clafouti aux Pruneaux A l'Armegnac. At least, I think that's how you say it. Clafouti with Prunes in Armegnac because he had bought some in France many years ago and wanted to use them, and I wanted to make a clafouti. Again, I got my recipe from Joy of Cooking. And why not? It's basic. It's thorough. It's reliable, right? Unfortunately, not so much with this recipe. It said to start out the clafouti at a high temperature for 10 min or so, and then turn down the heat to finish the baking. I looked at other recipes and they all said to bake it uniformly at a high heat. Interesting. So I tried the JoC way, and it didn't bake. Or, more correctly, the edges puffed and browned, but the middle was still raw. WtF?? I had to cook it for an extra 20 min at a higher temp. And by that time the edges were not as pleasant as they could have been. *sigh* So I guess now I know for the future... Oh, but it still tasted good. Really good.
Moving on, I made a strawberry tart. Now, I've never made pie or tart dough before, but I was hoping that I had some latent ability that I had gained by osmosis by watching my grandmother do it many times over. I maybe helped... once or twice... when I was 5 or 6. I had a hard time finding a recipe for this one, interestingly enough. Finally found one on Epicurious. Also, I don't have a strainer decent enough for the pastry cream, or a rolling pin, and a few other things that might have made the making easier or the outcome better. So the outcome? The flavors were good, helped by leaps and bounds by the amazing farmer's market strawberries I picked up. The pastry cream was a little flour-y, though. And the dough was hard. I don't know where I went wrong there, but I definitely did at some point.
So that's it for the sweet stuff, so far. There will be more coming. It'll be like a mini-series: Failures of Baking. It'll be great, really. I've got my eye on that no-knead bread recipe...
Wow, html can be difficult. Mind you, I know almost nothing about it, so messing around with it often leads to mistakes that others, who actually know something about it, might not make. Have you noticed my posts have been all screwed up? I'm not sure what happened. I thought all I was changing was my header and layout... : (
Those of you who know me, know that I'm mostly a tee shirt and jeans kind of girl. I especially like tee shirts with prints on them. So, I thought I'd share my critique of these lovely, organic shirts from Nordstrom.
1. "Green is the new black" tee. I agree that "green" should be the new black, and it's a cute saying, but too preachy for me. I'm not the kind of person that puts bumper stickers on my car, and I don't like people judging me based on what saying is on my shirt.
2. WWF Panda tee. I love this. The World Wildlife Fund logo is cute, it gives you a hint of their purpose, but it doesn't scream it at you like a crazy person 1 foot from your face, and it isn't preachy. This equals less judginess. Plus, I support the WWF, and the shirt co. donates $1.50 for every tee sold. The only problem I have with this tee shirt is that it's pink. I don't like pink. I don't like to wear it, I don't like to decorate with it and I don't like to frost cakes with it. This makes me very unhappy because otherwise I would snatch up this shirt like it was the last Tickle-me-Elmo in Christmas of 1996... and I had a child.
3. "100% Natural" tee. I actually might buy this one. It's simple and the color is one I like. The cute WWF logo is discreetly placed, and the saying isn't cheesy or preachy, and it applies to me. I try to be 100% natural. Of course, all the toxins I've been exposed to in my lifetime so far have probably infected me to the degree that my insides are now radioactive. But I'm trying to reverse that!
a quick recap.
I went to Cambria a few weeks ago. It's near Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo- some prime wine territory. As the picture shows, the California coast is beautiful. It can be so worth driving down the coast instead of the interior roads. Of course, it was beautiful; but, I also tasted some good wine. There wasn't enough time for as much tasting as I'd like, but I did get to taste a great Chardonnay from Four Vines. There was a light hint of butter and oak, but those flavors were very well balanced with fruit and acid. I highly recommend it.
This past weekend I went to LA. LA is always a good time since I have good friends and family in the area. There was good food and ice cream. There was some beach time to cure my summertime blues. There was a cat. It all adds up to a pretty good weekend for me. The good food belonged to Mexico City, a decent Mexican restaurant in the Silverlake area. It's a very hipster scene. I had a good chicken mole and a good margarita.
The ice cream was from Scoops. Better than decent. Fantastic, actually. Some very original flavors: bacon caramel, olive oil olive, brown bread, Guinness tiramisu. They also have a good selection of vegan ice cream. I have had bacon ice cream and olive oil ice cream in the past, and those two trumped these. However, the bacon and olive oil ice creams were from restaurants at the top of their game in the Bay Area. That's tough to beat. In any case, the other ice creams were fantastic. My personal choice was the Guinness tiramisu, and vanilla nutmeg almond. It was creamy, and well-flavored, and definitely a good bang for the buck.
Then, there was more food from Square One. This is a small establishment in Hollywood, with a philosophy of using the freshest local ingredients, which is a philosophy I can support. The bacon in my club sandwich was amazing, and on the whole the sandwich was very tasty. I enjoyed the thyme and roasted garlic potatoes, but they didn't have much flavor of thyme or roasted garlic, in my opinion. It's a casual place, and the service was casual, as well, but it was a good meal, nonetheless.
Last, but not least, let's show the cat that I now adore. How could you not??
sterile as a hospital.
This blog is a little plain, I think. I mean, in terms of design. I like things clean and simple, but this is just boring. I tried loading a picture into the title masthead, but it didn't work. Graphic design isn't my specialty, but I think I can do better than this. Stay tuned! : )
my dear cell phone.
I recently discovered something which irritates me. My cell phone has an alarm clock, as most do, I'm sure. It's the alarm that I use when I'm traveling. However, recently I discovered that if my cell phone doesn't get reception, the alarm doesn't work. What is that?? I have good service, but inevitably there are places that my phone won't get reception. Why haven't companies thought of separating the phone and tools functions so that the tools can function even when the phone cannot? Is that so difficult?? Or is it just that I have a cheap phone? In a closely related subject, my regular alarm clock broke. Does anyone know where I can get a cool one? I think it's time to upgrade.
Also, it's August. When did that happen? This year has flown by like a peregrine falcon.
I just read an article about the awful practice of shark finning. I've eaten shark before, but not shark fin soup. I know that shark fin soup is very popular in a few Asian countries (particularly in Chinese wedding banquets), but I didn't realize how much damage it did. I realize that most people think of sharks as animals of terror, and probably do not care about their survival, but as with any animal/plant/bug/microrganism, any slight change in the ecosystem causes major changes overall.