Tag Archives: fancy

Four Fab FiDi Lunches for those not in Finance

28 Jan

When you work in the Financial District but your lunch budget is more Mickey D. than Michael Mina, there will come  a point where you swear you’d rather become anorexic than consume  another Subway sandwich. This is of course an empty threat because food is your main joy in life (at least on weekdays) but seriously, how those damn subs manage to taste exactly the same no matter what the hell you put on them has haunted me for years.

For my fellow flavor-concious but fiscally strapped worker bees, I am thrilled to present  five personally approved, well under $10 lunch options, carefully culled over my many years roaming these mean lunchtime streets.

Happy Donut makes my Post-it problem less sad, no?

  1. HAPPY DONUT (Battery @ Bush). Obviously the first thrill is picking up your brown bag lunch at a place called “Happy Donut.” The second thrill is the House Special Chicken Noodle Soup. For $6, you get 6x the soup you would at Soup Co.  Carry yourself to deskside heaven on the wings of a tiny takeaway Sriracha container (you have to ask for it,  plus then you get to feel cool because you were loving this spicy red elixir long before it became the next big food thing, right?). These Vietnamese soups also make perfect comfort food if you’ve caught whatever horrible bug/flu/cold of death thing is cruelly circulating. Thanks for the tip on this one, @Danibird!
  2. YO YO’S (Pacific between Sansome and Battery).  This is a yummy husband-and-wife microwave-and-hot-pot kind of operation. It’s practically a challenge to spend more than $5. They prepare the soup to order, so you can pick which kind of noodles (Udon), if you want spicy sauce (you do), tempura (natch), seaweed etc. Tack on a set of decent sushi rolls, $2.50 for 6 pieces.
  3. LEE’S DELI (lotsa locales, but the biggest/best is “Far East Lee’s” on Battery between Pine and Bush, dubbed by the genius Mr. Cumpston). I am kind of obsessed with this place. An Asian deli? I was dubious. For my East Coast sensibilities, a true deli sandwich means a meatball parm grinder from Fortuna’s, with acceptable alternatives limited to Jewish and Greek. Lee’s turkey sammy is a steal at $4.50 and the turkey is roasted. You know, like Thanksgiving, but with mayonnaise. Also, they have a great hangover buffet. Anywhere I can fix my own special sodium-craving combo of cafeteria-style tater tots doused in Sriracha topped with a couple stray strips of bacon for under $3 has my bleary-eyed approval.
  4. CHEZ CARLA (Pine between Battery and Sansome). The sandwiches made fresh at the counter in the back are well above par, but we’re not here to talk about $10 lunches. No, no, my friends, here’s the goods: come past 2 p.m. and everything in the salad and hot bar is half off. They even have daily themes, like elementary school, but fancy. How endearing is that? Best in show is Monday’s Chicken Linguini with Hazelnut Pesto. Spoon it over some greens and call it healthy. Shhh.

I was going to make this list five and include my favorite baked potato stop (Napa Ranch), but I found out it just closed (DAMN!) and I don’t feel right making a subpar swap. Luckily for my English major and the obnoxiously alliterative title of this post, four also starts with F.

The silver lining in this 9-5 tragedy is that it leaves a cheap eats opening – any reccs? Please share. It’s all the currency we have in this un-Financial world, after all.

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On Flowers and Food Processors: A Fall in Review

13 Jan

Considering I am The Ultimate Justifier (seriously, throw me your conscience’s roadblocks, I’ll blast them apart with my shaky moral chainsaw faster than you can yell VICE!), the truly bizarre San Francisco winter/summer parallel would be enough for me to jump right back in like no time had passed whatsoever since my last post. But, skipping over the many months of milestones that have kept me busy since – or at least the meals I made during – would belie the bite-sized lessons I’ve learned over their course. So, since you didn’t ask, some highlights:

1. Don’t be a tool. Or, don’t worry so much about yours.

The setting: A Friday afternoon that finds me deliciously not at the office, but rather in the midst of a Los Angeles Indian Summer. Relishing the idea of playing housewife to my beloved Telanor Kousman, out slaving away on his glamorous Hollywood set, I want to find a dish that’s not only appropriate for the heat, but that will showcase a true labor of love in the rare daylight I’ve stolen. Spying the base of a food processor under his butcher’s block, I decide to cobble together my take on Jamaican Jerk Chicken – more or less this New York Times recipe but with four hours of marinating instead of 12. Apparently, house-wifery requires advance planning.

So, I drag my sweating, sundressed-self to the supermarket to gather my fresh fixings (three different kinds of hot peppers, green onions, shallots, ginger, garlic and thyme), clean and prep them, de-shoe so as to be appropriately barefoot, and set them all triumphantly in front of the food processor, ready to grind them into the “course paste” the paper demands.

Only… where’s the damn blade? I look for an hour. Sticky and defeated, I’m about to give up and trek to Joans on Third for some absurdly fancy and correspondingly priced charcuterie (which let’s be real, I did anyway), when it dawns on me – did the Maroons dragged to Jamaica as slaves who created this dish  have food processors???

No. No, they did not.

So, two hours (/two conference calls) later, knife skills vastly improved, I had my precious paste. Did it look perfect? No. Did it taste incredible? Yes. Did I find the missing blade while cleaning up after dinner hours later? Of course.

Since I don’t have a photo of that particular creation (my Blackberry was angry enough at having to pretend to function while smothered in honey and hot pepper juices – this was my passive-agressive way of punishing it at this point in our relationship), here’s another following the same principle. Martha Stewart’s Winter Fruit Crisp, valiantly executed with not a cheese cloth or electric mixer in sight.

(what’s left of) Madge’s Winter Fruit Crisp

As you can see, it was enjoyed – with nary a comment on clumpy topping. Granted, I made it for my boyfriend, who is arguably obligated to tell me it’s delicious if he wants the real sugar… but he did have three servings, take the rest home and ask me to help him translate the recipe into Arabic for his sister, so I guess we’ll take his word for it.

2. Recycling: Not just for your Diet Coke can; Or, the Evolution of a Saturday Dinner.

Turns out, recycling is also ideal for the paella made for two that you both somehow thought would be a fitting amount:

Miss Aarti, or now truly “Spicy in the City” in her awesome new Marina digs, is one of my absolute favorite cooking buddies, but we do seem to share a rather unfortunate quantity-gauging problem…

In our defense, I’m not sure which 4 – 6 people Mark Bittman, whom I love, intended to serve this yellow rice abundance. Perhaps they are professional class salsa dancers? (I’d say sumo wrestlers, but Marky just seems more refined.)

In any case, I was able to add the ridiculous amount of leftovers (less the tomatoes which became a bit soggy) to a bit of sauteed garlic and tomato paste in my Dutch Oven, split a few cherry tomatoes over the top, and rebake for an even more flavorful, crispier go the following night.

In its second life, the rice served as the perfect base to soak up the juices from Martha’s Clam Pan Roast with Sausage & Fennel, which I made as a Sunday evening dinner for my seafood-loving boyfriend (should there be any other kind?). Seriously though, click through to Madge’s little photo. Great little serving for two, right? Ha. I was eating that rice and sausage (Moh took care of all the clams that actually opened like they were supposed to, briny little bastards) for lunch and dinner for the next two days.

And the potatoes? They were soaked in a slick, delicious broth too good to waste but hadn’t quite cooked through, so I saved them in their own Tupperware. Two nights later, the lovely Carrie came up the street and we halved them again and “olive oiled” them (it’s like pan-frying, but makes me feel better about my life – try it sometime) for a good long time. We ate those damn tasty taters alongside my favorite buttermilk chicken, with a cornbread-ing this time around, and a salad. Which I then had for lunch the next day, with the rest of the potatoes, sauteed spinach and poached eggs doing just fine for a quick, cheap dinner that night.

Moral of the long-winded story? What started as one meal rolled along into feeding me and several other people for the better part of the week. Your food might really hit its stride the second time around.

3. Stop talking, Katie.

Seriously. I had some more lessons planned but even I’m sick of me. And since I’m actually sick, I’m justyifing retiring with my Vitamin-C system shock smoothie (thanks Moh! He threw peeled fresh oranges, lemons and honey into my blender and I feel ten times better already) and last night’s Top Chef (although I swear if Jamie doesn’t FINALLY pack her knives and go, I will).

But I’ll be back, well before the SF fog at long last rolls out for the refreshing spring we all know will come soon enough. Promise.

You're right, EShea, this is pretty much my jam these days. Sometimes a picture is worth more than the 1000+ words that came before it 🙂

Summer Tour, Part III: Bologna, by way Caroliina.

18 Aug

What could be more a more retro-fab American way to make Monday night dinner than by playing sous-chef (or “pinche,” as my Oklahoman grandfather would call it, partially in mocking deference to his partially-Chilean wife) for your Irish/Hungarian mom while she makes her family’s favorite Italian recipe? Nothing I can think of, except maybe doing it barefoot in a bathing suit while sipping a Red Hook nestle-chilled in a personalized wedding beer koozie. In the South. Also, just owning and using several beer koozies.

Recognize that koozie, Lynne? Tim + Vanessa 2009. That one's for you!

Although my personal kitchen hero Marcella Hazan would no doubt turn up her discerning nose at the thought of serving her famed five-hour Bolognese to a soundtrack of pre-season football (sorry, ‘Cell, but the fam loves the G-Men and I had given Mark Sanchez my heart even before my roomie and I managed to use his unparalleled visage to stop a lady-cop from impounding her car), I think she’d have to approve of the spirit behind the afternoon of prep for the feast.

There is no better vacation to me than the one my family takes every year to Oak Island, North Carolina, precisely because there’s literally nothing to do but nothing. With no museums to feel guilty about not visiting because you’re secretly uninterested in “learning about local culture,” nor any social scene to feel the need to put on heels for, these precious days on the bath-water warm Atlantic are reserved for sunning, swimming and reading crappy Jane Green novels. Evenings, meanwhile, follow one mandate alone, and needless to say it’s one of my favorites: eat, drink and be merry. So, after a morning of soaking up plenty of sunburn and several men’s magazines pilfered from the office (PR: it’s good for subscriptions), Mom and I retired to the rental house kitchen together to kick off the meal that will always make me think of the seemingly effortless love and care she devotes to feeding her family.

One of my earliest, and most visceral, food memories is the familiar grumble of thrilled hunger I’d feel when I’d come into our kitchen on Wedgewood Road and peer over the red and black granite countertop of the island to find on the stovetop a pot of stewing tomato sauce. Not plain red but flecked with the tiniest curls of almost grey-bluish beef simmering amidst barely detectable slivers of onion, carrot and celery. Fascinated, I would stand on tiptoes to reach for the wooden spoon resting next to the burner to skim the layer of thick orange fat layer that gathered sedentarily between the slow, frothing bubbles.

Marcella describes it better than I can, as just reading one of her recipes paints a picture of the domineering, bourbon-swilling dame responsible for teaching American there’s more to red sauce than Ragu brand long before Mario Batali did: “the sauce cooks at the laziest of simmers, with just an intermittent bubble breaking through the surface.” Hers was the first (new) cookbook my mom ever gave me for Christmas, and I vividly remember sitting in the backyard of my apartment in San Francisco in a stolen patch of January sunlight tuning out Jean-Claude, our French super who wears a beret and drives his three ancient whippet dogs everywhere in a van adorned on each side (roof included) with a perfectly replicated Pink Floyd album cover, while I pored over each of her directions. I could hear each one as sternly resolute as if they came straight from the mouth of the Italian grandmother I’ve never had. It’s pronouncements like these I love – Marcella, on Pasta:

“There is not the slightest justification for preferring homemade pasta to factory-made. Those who do deprive themselves of some of the most flavorful dishes in the Italian reperatory… They are seldom interchangeable, but in terms of absolute quality, they are fully equal.”

One more favorite before I tell you how to make the damn dinner. On tomatoes:

“The flavor of fresh tomatoes is livelier, less cloying than that of the canned, but fully ripened fresh tomatoes for cooking are still not a common feature of North American markets, except for the six or eight weeks during the summer when they are brought in from nearby farms. When you are unable to get good fresh tomatoes, rather than cook with watery, tasteless ones, it’s best to turn to the dependable canned variety.”

I’ll spare you her thoughts on the acceptable canned varieties. Obviously, they’re Italian.

No doubt she’ll recount the entire recipe for the Bolognese I’ve been eating my entire life far better than I can, so I’ll direct you to it: Marcella Hazan’s Bolognese Sauce, from The Essentials of Italian Cooking. But, to paraphrase, you first make a soffrito (dice about a handful of onions, celery and carrots, and heat, in that order, in oil and butter until soft).

The best way to get your veggies? Bathed in oil AND butter, clearly.

Sounds simple, right? It is. Although, not so much with Marcella over your shoulder:

“An imperfectly executed soffrito will impair the flavor of a dish no matter how carefully all of the succeeding steps are carried out. If the onion is merely stewed or incompletely sauteed, the taste of the sauce, or the risotto, or the vegetable never takes off and will remain feeble.”

So don’t eff it up.

Add ground beef and cook “until it loses its raw, red color,” S&P it, then add the two secret ingredients – milk (for which Mom took a measuring cup to the neighbors to fill because we only had skim – Americana at its best, my friends) and nutmeg (adding “warm” seasonings like allspice and cinnamon to sauces is a favorite tasty trick I got from Mom which I now suspect she plucked from Marcella herself). When the milk has evaporated, you add the same amount of white wine you added milk until that has evaporated too.

Here, Marcella left me to panic, because by this time in the recipe you have a yellow mass of liquid and it’s almost impossible to tell when exactly that magic moment is. I realized, though, that besides using the residue on the side of the pot to judge when the chalky white line has diminished to more or less where it was was before you added the wine, you can actually smell the sharpness of the alcohol until it has burned away. After that, you add the canned tomatoes, and then you wait. For hours. And hours. And more hours.

In the meantime, go finish off that sunburn. Return to the house to stir the pot every so often – like when the tingling on that awkward spot on your arm you didn’t reach makes you realize you need more SPF 30, when you feel the need to compulsively check your Blackberry despite the fact they’re certainly not paying you to do so, or if you have to use the bathroom in a manner not appropriate for the ocean. (Not that girls poo. Everybody knows we don’t. Ew.)

When it becomes four o’clock somewhere, a perfectly appropriate location being your own mind, I suggest you fix yourself a While You Wait Whiskey, my debut cocktail creation, inspired by a delicious visit to the Whiskey Kitchen in Nashville, Tennessee (thanks for gradumacating, brosef!).

Look, fruits too!! This day has ALL the food groups.

Cut up two or three strawberries into small pieces. Do what mixologists call “muddling” – mash them up how you see fit. I used the detachment from an electric mixer. Cut a lemon in half and squeeze its juice into the mix. Put ice in a glass, pour a shot of bourbon over it (if I had my way I’d of course use Bulleit), add the muddled mix, top with club soda, and stir it all up. Adjust all ingredients to taste. Garnish with a sprig of basil, if you’ve got it, and you’re fancy.

The fam unanimously approved ( After “Stawberries? And whiskey? Katie, you’re so crazy, San Francisco blah blah blah.” Sip. “Oh… that works!” Another sip). Point one, pretension.

Even Brosef, the taste purist (complicating the childhood of yours truly the budding foodie by refusing to go to any restaurants where he'd be forced to eat "fancy pizza"), went for sip 2. Admittedly, the basil was a bit much for him.

Put a large pot of salted water on to boil. When it has, add spaghetti.

Note: I actually think that even if it weren’t a sensible choice by virtue of its being healthier, the nutty taste and grainier texture of whole wheat spaghetti actually makes a nicer compliment to the sauce than traditional white pasta. Sorry, ‘Cell. I will, however, concede the milk battle. Whole – which is four percent fat – just works better than two percent here. It’s vacation.

Sit while the storm clouds you desperately miss on the East Coast roll in.

Meanwhile, open a bottle of wine. It should be full enough to stand up to the meat, but light enough not to overpower the delicate nature of the sauce. We had a Benziger Signaterra “Three Blocks” Red (2006), a Sonoma Cab Sauv (68%)/Merlot blend that is structured but very smooth, with more cocoa than fruit notes. (The bottle was sent to my Mom as part of the wine membership I got her for Christmas, and on a side note for all you wine country visitors, Benziger, a family-owned and run biodynamic winery is one of the best places to to go. I’ll expound later I’m sure.)

This is a completely extraneous shot I'm including only so I can look at it whistfully whilst stranded once again in cubeland braindead zone tomorrow. Sometimes I don't think the gold diggers have it so wrong.

When the pasta is done al dente, strain, “correct the salt” in the sauce, and serve all mixed up topped with parm cheese. After you’ve worked this hard, keep it classy. Make it fresh grated. Do it for Marcella.

Sit down to enjoy it with your adorable family.

But seriously, could they BE any cuter?

And now suspended 10,000 miles in the bumpy air above the Rockies, remembering the vivid sights, smells and tastes that bring me home no matter how far away that may be, I feel incredibly lucky.  Even if it’s precisely the frustratingly fleeting nature of these moments that make them so powerful.

welcome to the good life. catch ya on the flip side.

Summer Tour, Part I: These are my confessions

13 Jul

Ahh, Los Angeles. City of angels, bleached Santa Monica blondes, David Hockney blues, perpetual freeway*, deceptively endearing man-boys in Dodgers caps (yes, it’s a weakness), and of course, the biz.

Lucky for those of us who shun the limiting, reductive and superficial stereotype of the toned, tan fit and ready for which this great state is famed (OF COURSE on purpose due to highly evolved moral ground and DEFINITELY NOT as a byproduct of our natural Irish coloring and propensity for carbohydrates),  there are purportedly more entertainers living here than in any other city at any time in history. This not only means lovely eyecandy is scattered about readily availalable for all to enjoy, but more importantly that the eyecandy need dayjobs. I think the abundance of LA restaurants comes from supply of waitstaff, not demand for feeding. 

Because the eyecandy are also patrons, menus at hotspots like Hugo’s are filled with fare more dressed to leave less impress on the figures of the diet-concious than to satisfy the appetitites of us happily impervious visitors. Well, when in Rome, I always figure.  In this case, Rome involves a penchant for kombucha (maybe for the secrently high alcohol levels that recently led Whole Foods to snatch the elixir from its stores – gawd, thanks for nothing, LoHo) and veganism that probably has more to do with the human than the animal body. So, on my most recent surprise visit to shenanigan the Telanor Kousman, as engineered by his equally handsome and accomodating brother Petros K, I “indulged” myself with this gem:

“GO GREEN FRITTATA: This wonderful breakfast full of protein, minerals, and iron will keep you going and going. Made with egg whites, chard, beet greens, kale, spinach puree, broccolini, zucchini, asparagus, quinoa, garlic, extra virgin olive oil. Topped with alfalfa sprouts and an apple-mango-mint sauce.”

It looks a lot more interesting than it tasted, which was a lot like it sounds – righteously bland. Oh well. At least it was a caloric wash. Plus, I saw the adorable Ben from Big Love (Douglas Smith). I mean, what’s a trip to LA without a spotting of a psuedo-celebrity whose real name you definitely didn’t know before you were then obviously forced to stalk them?

OK, so here’s my real confession. I come to love LA a little bit more everytime I visit. There is a freedom in the understanding that what’s on the surface is a shared cultural value. Elsewhere image is a dirty little secret – here it’s accepted currency.

Of course the real reason it grows on me is I love seeing my friends growing in fabulous ways, like Telanor and Petros settling in their gorgeous vintage apartment, complete with verandas and a black and white checkered kitchen floor. Or near-future breakout sensation Joel Perez, California-bronzed and beaming, about to leave on tour with the smash In the Heights and meeting up with his new castmates for an impromptu Musical Monday bar performance.

The Kousman in his kitchen, my favorite of his many natural environments.

Before hitting the 5 back to the Bay, the Unsinkable M, Joel and I join the Kousaki for a lovely dinner at the authoritative heavy woood table in their very adult dining room. Whole wheat pasta tossed with a light white white and garlic sauce, goat cheese, a florally juicy fresh-squeezed SoCal lemon far sweeter than sour, greens and a few shreds of basil, sea salt and cracked pepper.

Light, easy, delicious. Much like, maybe against my better judgement, I’m quickly coming to regard  this sparkling, sprawling complexity of a city.

*A city of contradictions, Los Angeles had the largest public transit in the country before GM bought it, poured kerosene on the street cars and burned them so that Henry Ford could “solve the city problem [the problem being THE entire POINT OF THE CITY, you a-hole] by leaving the city”. Although if you’re still reading this blog at all you’re aware I’m an unabashed proponent of rambling tangents and tenous connections, even I decided this bit of knowledge must be shared but relegated to a footnote. Also, footnotes feel fancy.

Look Mom, Snacks for Dinner!

2 Jul
  • Because we’re all lazy at the end of the week.
  • Because I’m too tired and over being trapped in this effing cube to be clever.
  • Because I have a sick, sick obsession with alliteration.

For all these reasons, I present Five or Fewer Friday, a new column featuring complete meals made with no more ingredients than you can count on one hand. If you’re a six-fingered freak, you’re a lucky bastard today. Don’t let it go to your head. Or that circus sideshow of a finger. And if you’ve lost a digit somewhere along the way, like in Mr. Feely’s fifth grade woodworking class (yes that was his name and it was as creepy as it sounds) I’m sorry, but you’re SOL. I run a tight ship. I do it in a fabulous sailor costume, though, so there’s that.

I’m going with Top Chef rules, so salt, pepper and pantry seasonings are freebies, as is olive oil. This is both because Tom Colicchio is my vice, and Kevin, the red bearded pork Santa, is my future husband – seriously, he’s better than bacon. I do think it’s only fair that any animal product count as one, including butter. And I’m also going to count packaged condiments, as long as they’re made from whole foods, as one ingredient, although several may go into them. myblogmyrulesdealwithit!

Buttermilk Pretzel Chicken & Greens

I thought the Amurrican flag bowl was a nice 4th of July touch. My thumb in the top right was another.

INGREDIENTS

Buttermilk. Probably the lowfat cultured kind. Luckily for those of us who have already bought dresses we must squeeze into for events later this summer, buttermilk is naturally low in fat and high in protein. It’s even better for you than bourbon and viagra, apparently – just ask these guys.

Chicken. A note about my meat policy: if I’m springing to buy meat, I spring the extra $3 to buy meat that isn’t fed on its own family members. So yes, this chicken was organic, free-range. (Partially because I also secretly want to marry this man. Seriously, watch it. I dig his specs. Now those are happy cows, huh JG?)

Pretzels. This all came about because I spend approximately 25% of the workday thinking about whether it would be reasonable to eat more pretzels. Absolutely, if I can MAKE THEM INTO A MEAL, I justified. I used TJ’s honey wheat because that’s what I had, which makes the whole recipe sweeter than salty. Also because TJ’s apparently doesn’t have plain everyday pretzels. So use whatever kind. GET CRAZY.

Lettuce. I have no thoughts on lettuce. (Lies. I have inane thoughts on everything.) Cilantro does not belong in mixed greens. Other than that, anything goes.

Garlic Mustard Aioli. So yes, this is where I’m using the “one jar one ingredient” rule. However, you actually could use just mustard, or even the buttermilk, some yogurt, or some mayo (preferably Duke’s, obv) with some dill. But this ish is tasty. I mean seriously, aioli just a word for fancy mayonnaise, and one of the few things possibly better than mayo is flavored mayo.

MAKE ME, MAKE ME!

  1. Build me up, buttermilk baby. Pour a few cups of buttermilk into a big bowl or dish. Trim whatever looks narsty from your chicken (freeze those pieces to make stock) and put the good stuff in the bowl. Grab yourself a cold brewski (which would also be great with the finished dish) and let the chicken soak up buttermilk-y goodness for 30 minutes. Pre-heat oven to 375.
  2. Crunchtime. Fill a small ziploc with pretzels and smash them up (use the aioli jar for bonus kitchen scout points). Add salt, pepper and seasoning of choice – I like Italian, personally, with a few dashes of cayenne for kick. Pour over a plate.
  3. You must dip it. Once your chicken is good’n’milky, roll each piece in the pretzel coating. Put the dipped pieces on a lined baking tray (ESHEA KITCHEN LIFESAVER NOTE: Use parchment or tinfoil, not wax paper)
  4. Bake. About 30 minutes at 375.
  5. Dress Yoself. Toss a giant salad with your dressing of choice – to keep within 5, use the aioli cut with a little water, or some buttermilk whipped with dill and a little olive oil. When the chicken is done, serve alongside the greens with a dollop of the aoli for dipping. If you’ve got one, squeeze lemon over the top of the chicken.

Pretzel Buttermilk Chicken & Greens

THOUGHTS: This would also be really good with a half cup or so of shredded charp cheese, like a cheddar or what I think would be perfect is a dry vella jack, mixed into the pretzel coating. If you want to make a real meat and potatoes classic meal, this would be great with red mashed potatoes, and you could even use the buttermilk, like these from EatingWell. The honey pretzels make a really nice soft, rather than cruchy, coating for a meal you can eat with just one fork – no knife required. Uncoincidentally, this meal is pretty ideal for those of us without a dishwasher. Or a houseboy.

Yet. Currently accepting applications.

If I had one, I would have had him pack me this delicious leftovers sammy for lunch today instead of making it myself. Sometimes I don’t even know how I manage.

Yes, I did go out on the balcony to take this bberry photo for the lighting. Yes, I did get weird looks from the Yahoo dudes who work across the street. No, they don't have lives either.

Boy-Crazy Lushes Brave the Fog(gy Bridge Cabernet)

30 Jun

Considering I spend far more time exercising my tastebuds than I do muscles besides my tongue, and let’s be honest, consume far more wine than any beverage that doesn’t flow for free from the tap (and some that do), it seems only right to devote some serious attention to this teeth/reputation-staining elixir. And so, it’s with pleasure that I introduce Wino Wednesday, a small space to celebrate the wonderful possibilities opened with the popping – or sometimes when we’re not so sauve, the mangling – of a cork.

It seems to me most writers share a soft spot for the literary lubrication alcohol can provide. Not only does a general booziness tend to slightly dull that little voice constantly droning its nasal drumbeat in our heads (who would ever want to read this crap, you dumb sack? etc.), it also tends to make meeting the wide range characters that drive a narrative that much easier. I’d like to make this proclivity more than just a byproduct but a subject – and do it in a way that doesn’t make the term “vintage” bring to mind a flabby prematurely aged man who smells like mothballs and spends more each month than my entire year’s salary on the wine cellar he definitely spends more time in than he does his wife. We’ll revisit him. From now on, he shall be dubbed Mothball Man.

The good people at Spencer & Daniel’s (Polk between California and Sacramento) do more than their fair share to aid this quest, which is why I love them. (Partly. Also because a couple of those good people happen to be cute. I’m talking to you, scruffy beard. I’ll refrain from hiding behind a display case to steal a creepy grainy blackberry photo only because getting a restraining order from here would truly hurt the caliber of Wino Wednesday.)

I'm using this bberry pic instead of pilfering one off Yelp because I think the ray of light shining like a beacon of alcoholic glory really casts this place in an appropriate light.

As a girl who hasn’t bought a full-price dress since she opened a Loehmann’s Gold Card, I love a good designer discount – and just like my favorite thrift store one block further south down Polk, S&D’s offers fabulous wares at more fabulous prices. All the tags at said thrift store, apparently called Fashion Exchange, read “Something Special” and it’s no misnomer – you’ll find Betsey Johnson dresses, Prada purses and Rock & Republic jeans alongside threads most popular with the local tranny hooker population. It’s a sight.  As seems to be the Polk Street shopping theme, S&D’s is not going for ambience – metal racks and cardboard signs equate decor.  The staffmember who rang me up told me the current owner has been there 15 years, having taken over when it was just a discount food, etc., bargain bank until some years back he decided to focus on wine.

Sometimes you’re lucky enough to find a current favorite – like the DeLoach Pinot Noir I love for $9. Apparently, Food & Wine named it a top affordable wine pick (thanks EShea!) and I usually see it retail in the high teens – though their flacks quoted F&W $13. But what I really love about S&D’s, moreso even than the discounts, are the hand-written staff pick tags pointing to their favorites by employee name, like you see in great bookstores. This is even better, because you can always read a page of a book and see if it suits you, but you can’t just pop off the cork, take a sip and decide you’ll pass.

So here’s who sold me this time:

I bet the cute one picked this. So cultural.

Cute, right? Here’s some more on Foggy Bridge, which is hoping to open the first visitor-focused urban winery in San Francisco this year, from their site:

There has been a trend towards overpowering wines that are made to satisfy wine critics, or simplistic wines designed to appeal to the mass market. Our wines are crafted from a different point of view — with our own sense of quality, finesse and taste — to be enjoyed alone or with a meal, with fine cuisine or with a pizza.

This was pretty much exactly our  impression of the 2005 “Tradewinds” Bordeaux-style Cabernet Sauvignon blend (69% Cab Sauv, 27% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot; I paid $13 at S&D, listed for $26 on Snooth) before I ever read this. It was a hit.

The phallus. I mean bottle.

Look: I love the label itself – the image of the bridge is beautiful, and the overall look of the packaging is clean and sophisticated. A dark ruby color, the wine looks much darker than it tastes or feels. It’s a gorgeous shade that matches the label, and just to please my English major sensibilities, there’s even a fogginess to do the name justice.

Smell: Peppery, black currant. SECRET B.S. TRUTH: I don’t know what currant smells like. In fact, I’m not entirely sure what it is. Appears to be some kinda foreign raisin, but fancy. But there’s a fruity smell that’s much darker, heavier than a raspberry or even a jam. There’s also a nice woodsy aroma to it that reminds me of that cool, dank you smell you get at wineries themselves. Lightbulb moment! Oak.

Taste: “A high, solid note” – EShea. “More like a Pinot than a Cab” – Unsinkable M. Much less bold than a typical California Cab or any of the few Bordeaux-style blends I’ve had, this wine doesn’t hit you over the head. It’s extremely light, almost thin but not in a “flabby” way, as Mothball Man would say. It’s spare and clean but still full, with a brightness unmuddied by the heaviness or dullness I often taste in Cabs. There aren’t really any detectable tannins, leaving no aftertaste, but it does have a nice finish, kind of like the warm coating after you eat good chocolate. It gets more peppery as it goes, which I love (The Kousman has dubbed me his little peppermonkey, after all). Maybe the smoothness comes from the petit verdot – I think I’ve read this grape described as “velvety.”

Impressions: EShea pointed out this wine is like San Francisco itself in its light approachability – you expect it to be more intimidating as a city than it is, actually warm and welcoming once you give it a chance. To me, San Francisco is much more ostentatious than this wine – but it does remind me of a lazy, foggy afternoon by the Bay, not devoid of depth but certainly with no pressing concerns. I think it would be great with salmon or a light meat, but I think the thing I really loved about it is that it’s a Cab you don’t need food with to drink easily and enjoyably.

Does it make the grade? We all really enjoyed it. Definitely worth the $13 – probably wouldn’t pay the full $26 (though at this point in my life, there are very few bottles for which I would.) B.

NOTE: Eventually I’ll work out a signature Wino Wednesday rating. Systems are not exactly my strong point. If you have thoughts or suggestions, please share – I’d love to hear them! What do you look for in a wine? What do you wish you knew about one before you buy?