Fallfest Part II: Truffles

Truffles are edible fungus prized by chefs all over the world.  The largest percent of black truffles are found in France and the more cherished white truffles in Italy.  Chef David Lebowitz has a great description of truffle hunting on his blog “Living the Sweet Life in Paris.”  Living in the Bay Area, we are fortunate to be able to see truffles on local menus.  We have such great chefs/restaurateurs that are passionate about truffles, one being restaurateur Robert Klein of Oliveto.  Each year, Mr. Klein travels to Italy to hunt for truffles bringing truffle dinners to his restaurants.  My friend and I didn’t make it to one of their four evening truffle dinners at the upscale restaurant, but instead recently had dinner at the downstairs café.  The café was offering truffle pizzas. 

The café is still very popular and even crowded on a stormy Saturday evening.  We had drinks at the bar before a twenty minute wait before being seated.  I enjoyed a glass of Lambrusco Rosso, Barbolini, a sparkling red wine which was the first I’ve encountered. 

 

Before arriving at Oliveto Café, I had soup on my mind because it was a cold rainy evening.  Although I wasn’t wowed after seeing the soup on the menu, vellutata of leeks and Savoy cabbage, I still decided to order it as an appetizer.  I was definitely wowed after my first spoonful.  This creamy soup was delightful and I was pleasantly pleased. 

Our first entrée we shared was the mostaccioli with beef ragu.  The baked dish looked so good that I forgot to take the photo before scooping it out.  The photo does show some reality.  This pasta was cheesy, delicious and had deep flavors.   It was another great choice for a cold raining evening. 

We ordered one of the two truffle pizzas that were part of Oliveto’s annual truffle event.  There was a choice of the black truffle pizza, pancetta, and red onion where the truffle is cooked in the pizza for $20 or the shaved white truffle, farm egg, and parmesan pizza where the chef comes out and shaves the truffle in front of you for $30.  We decided on the white truffle pizza. 

 

Although my friend missed the pizza coming out and the chef shaving the truffle, it was pretty cool.  She did get to see our neighbors have some white truffle shaved on the polenta they ordered. 

 

The flavor of the pizza was very good and the fragrance was strong and aromatic, but I was a little disappointed in the crust.  In general, I love the pizzas that come from Oliveto.  I think it was the whole-grain flour that was the disappointment. I don’t recall having pizza here before with whole-grain flour.  I felt like it didn’t crackle and bubble up as much as previous pizzas using white flour. 

Mr. Klein came to the dining area to talk to our neighbors and then he came and spoke to us.  It was pretty cool that he actually sat with us and I was a bit star struck. The conversation went from how plentiful this year’s truffle season was, how he thoroughly cleans the truffles so he can easily get through customs when bringing them back, and how I didn’t like the whole-grain crust.  He was so nice that after ordering one dessert, our waitress brought us two and said they were both on the house from Mr. Klein. 

We received the pain d’epices bread pudding with orange-rum caramel and the sugar pie pumpkin tart with whipped cream.  My favorite was the latter which was made of a creamy pumpkin that went well with the dense whipped cream.  Although the bread pudding had too strong of spices for my taste, the orange rum caramel was not too shabby.  It looks like we’ve confirmed what Mr. Klein said, that truffle season was plentiful this season and the restaurant will be offering their truffle pizza through the end of this week.

Fallfest Part I: Beaujolais Nouveau

Beaujolais is a red wine produced in the Beaujolais region of France. It is made from the gamay grape.  Beaujolais Nouveau is bottled and released the same year of the harvest and each year it is released on the 3rd Thursday in November.  I am no wine expert, I just happened to hear about the Kermit Lynch Beaujolais Nouveau release party this past Saturday.  Having attended one of their events previously and enjoyed the food and wine, I decided to partake. 

The parking lot for Acme Bread, Café Fanny, and Kermit Lynch, at the corner of San Pablo Avenue and Cedar Street turned into a party on Saturday.  A huge tent was put up, tables and chairs were set, many bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau were uncorked, and the grill was on.  Chef Christopher Lee, who previously worked in the kitchens of Chez Panisse and Eccolo, and currently part of the Pop Up General Store, and his crew were present to prepare the food.  To compliment the Beaujolais Nouveau, they served grilled boudin blanc (white sausage made of pork and chicken), homemade sauerkraut with apples, parslied creamer potatoes, and Acme baguette.  The food was delicious.

I tried one of the two Nouveau Beaujolais being offered by Kermit Lynch.  I chose the one from Cedric Vincent which a New York Times writer described as “juicy and delicious” which was actually more descriptive of my boudin blanc.  I thought the wine was good.  It tasted fruity, earthy, and young.  I bought a bottle and I hope to go along with the custom and open it up next week.  The thing is that this wine is not meant to keep. 

Desserts were provided by Café Fanny.  We had shared a piece of chocolate cake with whipped cream, a salt chocolate cookie, and a lavender chocolate chip cookie.  These hit the spot to end our meal.

I had a great time hanging out with friends at this Kermit Lynch event.  If you have never been to this area, you are definitely missing out.  These events are rare, but the shops are open daily.  You can have awesome coffee and breakfast at Café Fanny, buy the best and freshest bread at Acme Bread, and get excellent wine at Kermit Lynch all in one place.

Look out for Fallfest Part II:  Truffles.

Celebrating a Birthday the Chinese Way

Food symbolizes a lot in the Chinese culture.  When a family is celebrating the birth of a child, they throw a red egg and ginger party.  When a couple gets married, the most important part of the festivities is the wedding banquet.  When the elderly reach milestone birthdays, their families give them a birthday banquet. 

My dad is turning 70 and his favorite place is Reno, Nevada, known as the biggest little city in the world.  The entire family celebrated with him there this past weekend.  We took him to Chi, one of the finest Chinese restaurants in the area.  Typically, you can order set menus at Chinese restaurants to celebrate a birthday, but it was not offered at Chi so we ordered a la carte. The food was decent, but I couldn’t help feeling at the end that it wasn’t quite right.  I think part of it is that when you order from a set menu, things come out one at a time and there is order and planning to how the entrees come out.  The restaurant did do a few things very well and the highlights for me included the seafood and tofu soup, the peking duck, and the sweet and sour fried striped bass. 

 

 One of my oldest and dearest friends threw her father a milestone birthday banquet earlier this year at Koi Garden in Dublin.  The food is amazing there and one of the best restaurants in the Bay Area so you can’t compare it anything in Nevada.  When I look at the photos, I can’t help but drool.

                     

Although food is an important part of Chinese culture, a much stronger element is family.  We all traveled to Reno to spend time together and I think my dad appreciated that.  And it doesn’t hurt that my mom the great cook will be cooking up a great feast for him later this week.

Celebrating in San Diego

This past week I celebrated the big 4-0 in San Diego.  In fact, I’m celebrating an entire week here.  I’ve been cooking up great food as well as having some great meals.  I couldn’t have asked for better weather.  Who would have predicted temperature hitting 90 degrees in November and lowering to 70 degrees on the day I have a bbq so cooking wouldn’t be unbearable?

On my actual birthday, a small group of us had lunch in downtown La Jolla at Burger Lounge.  The previous day we had walked around the area and noticed this cute burger joint serving grass fed burgers.  I ordered one of their premium burgers with white cheddar cheese and grilled onions.  My last burger that I devoured was at Roam in San Francisco in July so I was definitely due to have one.  It was delicious and so was the vanilla milk shake.  In addition, my BFF ordered the half and half which was a half order of fries and half order of onion rings.  The onion rings were especially good as they were well flavored and very crispy.  Burger Lounge is a small chain in San Diego County with four locations.

Pizza is one of my favorite foods, so a larger group of us had dinner at Pizzeria Bruno Napolitano in North Park.  We ordered a couple of market salads that had mixed greens, tomato, olives, parmesan cheese, and balsamic vinaigrette.  This was a very average salad.

Our pizza selections were a couple of Margherita pizzas with buffalo mozzarella and the Salsicco pizza which has fennel sausage and broccoli rabe.  The center of the pizza was a bit soggy, but the outside crust had a nice crisp.  The server brought out some of their special chili oil which was a nice touch and definitely spicy.  For dessert, we shared some of their house made cannoli and a pot de creme topped with berry.  Although the desserts didn’t woo me, it’s always nice to end a meal with something sweet.

I had a great time celebrating with special friends this past week and although I don’t have photos, these are my top 5 things I’ve eaten this past week:

#5  Grilled Portobello Mushroom marinated in an Italian dressing

#4  BBQ Chicken and Pork Ribs in my sister-in-law’s secret sauce

#3  Burger from Burger Lounge

#2  Eggplant Parmesan (recipe from Soprano’s cookbook)

#1  Grilled Black Cod Japanese style (recipe from Epicurious)

I was pretty impressed with my #1 and #2 as these are the first times I’ve made either and they were amazing.  So don’t be surprised if it comes up in a future blog when I start craving either of those.