Remember those days when I was practically living at Kobachi Izakaya Dining? When I’d be in dining bliss from six to ten rounds of glorious omakase? I was *so bummed* when they closed, although I understood why. It’s hard to run two restaurants when the chefs are needed at both simultaneously.
Ahi has served me well, although the izakaya was just a shadow of the Kobachi past, with the limited menu and no more magic late nights sitting with friends, sipping shochu and oolong tea, sharing plates amongst ourselves or even with the tables of friendly strangers near us.
Well, have I got news for you. Starting on 13 November, Ahi rolled out the late night izakaya, Kobachi style! And I couldn’t be more pleased. Honestly, these last couple years I’ve felt like I was in a daze without Kobachi, wandering aimlessly from restaurant to restaurant. My existing favorite places still are favorites, but Kobachi/Ahi hold a special place in my heart.
But enough of the maudlin weepy blither. What are the details?
Here’s what they posted on their Facebook page.
“Beginning November 13,2013: AHI Sushi will stay open later for dinner and will have a special dinner menu.
The new hours are only Wednesday to Saturday 5:30pm to 12 midnight and the new late night dinner menu starts at 8:30pm.
Last call for orders will be at 11:30pm.
Please come join us and try our new IZAKAYA DISHES!!”
On top of that, for this week’s unveiling of the izakaya nights and menu, they have a special promotion of some items, each $0.99, plus trays of uni for $10 when available. I nicked the photo from their FB page, saves me from typing it all out.
I went on the night of the 13th, promptly at 8:30 to check out the izakaya menu, which I had not yet seen. Oooh yes, it’s very much like the Kobachi menu, I am in heaven! All the usual suspects back on the menu…but only after 8:30 PM, Wednesday – Saturday. Remember, that Kobachi only had the izakaya at night as well, although it started when they first opening for service in the evening. This will take some getting used to, but I can do it.
I went with one friend the first night, and we maxed out on food pretty quickly, izakaya definitely should be shared with a small group. We managed to put down half a dozen oysters, a California roll and an avocado roll from the limited 99 cent menu.
From the izakaya menu, we got:
Tsukune renkon shiitake-an, and Nasu dengaku. The former is chicken meatballs stuffed in lotus root slices and it’s served in a mushroom sauce. The Nasu is broiled eggplant with a rich miso glaze. Both have been long time favorites, and as in the past, I recommend slicing up the eggplant and then letting it sit a few minutes to cool off – it is very hot and liquidy.
And what traditional night of izakaya is complete without a plate of aburi saba? Seared and sliced mackerel with ginger, spring onions and a light broth. Oooh so good, and Scott had never had this before, it was his favorite of the night.
I’m going back before the weekend. I can only hope that if enough people enthusiastically support the izakaya menu, it might become available before 8:30 pm. Pleeeease.
Something I put on my culinary bucket list was attempting and succeeding at my own charcuterie. I have made chicken liver pate before, and I currently make fresh sausages. This summer was a vague attempt at pancetta, but I have to admit that I did little in making it than turning the pork belly in its briny packet for about a week. One person put together the brine mixture and another person hung it in a curing box, since I lack the appropriate environment at my own home. It’s good, but I need to tackle this one from start to finish.
Supposedly cool weather is approaching. Currently that is a bit of a tease, because I’ll wake up to coolish weather, and the next day it’ll be bone dry and hot as blazes. But once the cool weather settles in, I’ll try my hand at some curing. It’s likely that my first try will be a salami sort of fellow. I got to try an earlier round of a fellow boar hunter’s cured goods and while it’s a bit dry for eating as is, cooking it seems to work pretty well. The recommended dish was sliced cured sausage, new potatoes, white beans. These beans came from Rancho Gordo, the potatoes from the Saturday Farmers Market downtown. A pinch of fresh thyme came from my garden. I definitely cannot say enough good things about the beans from Rancho Gordo. Not only delicious, but the folks there make such a good effort on recognizing genetic diversity, heirloom varieties, and supporting the communities that developed the varieties.
It’s a statement that I’m not at home enough these days when I wander to the other side of the property and discover a sprawling bush of beefsteak tomatoes looking mighty fine and ripe, and there’s now too many to deal with. The idea of making sauce is good, but these aren’t ideal for sauce. Instead, I’ve just been eating them. Mainly sliced thickly, spread on a plate and sprinkled with salt, pepper, olive oil and little balsamic vinegar. If there’s another salty element that can be added (like grilled halloumi, I can do that), put that in instead of salt. So good.
Today I returned from shopping with a loaf of wholegrain sandwich bread. I’d been thinking about BLTs already, but last night I cracked open the Art of Eating and the book practically opened itself to How to Rise Up Like New Bread. Aside from being inspired to bake bread (we had a nice teaser of cool weather with the 5 tablespoons of rain earlier in the week), it reminded me that my favorite bread for a BLT is super nutty wheat bread. Lots of fiber, maybe some cracked wheatberries or other grains in it. So, I bought some.
I also had some really good bacon on hand, cured and smoked by an acquaintance from the summer. I may have even helped research the recipe for it. Aside from salt and the common curing ingredients, the flavor of this bacon comes from sichuan peppercorns, which are tangy, spicy with a little heat, and if you eat a lot of them, your mouth tingles in a good way. It was time to crack open the vacuum sealed pouch of it.
This is supposed to be an easy recipe, yet I get picky about some things. The bread must be wheaty, and toasted, but not overly crunchy or it rips apart the top of my mouth. The toast must be allowed to cool or it gets whangy. The tomatoes should be sliced thicky and allowed to drain on papertowels or the sandwich gets too drippy. And so on.
Bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich
* 2-3 slices of thick cut bacon
While the bacon is cooking, toast the bread. I let the toast cool in my toast holder, but it’s fine to prop the two slices against each other, like two playing cards, to let it offsteam without getting soggy.
Spread mayo on one slice of bread, thickly. Pile on the lettuce, then the drained tomatoes. Grind fresh pepper all over the tomato slices. Place the bacon over it all. Top with the second slice of toast, also spread with mayo.
Slice on the diagonal, and enjoy. I still cut the roof of my mouth. It’s okay.
It’s interesting that until about two-ish weeks ago, I’d never heard the word Arizmendi before. I was in San Francisco this past weekend, staying with friends in the Inner Sunset. We pondered what to do for breakfast. They suggested Arizmendi for pastries, and I’m all: but isn’t that way the hell over there in Oakland or something? And they’re all: I suppose there is one there, but you’re probably thinking of the Cheese Board, which is also a cooperative/worker-owned place like Arizmendi is. But this one is just around the corner from us.
And I’m all: Okay. So a couple weeks ago I’m supposed to meet someone for breakfast and this dining companion is normally an epic fail at coming up with restaurant ideas, but was insistent, I mean *insistent* that the best scones came from an Arizmendi in Oakland, as if it’s the only place in the world and super special. Sure enough, he rolls up with a cornmeal and cherry scone in a bag, brought over from Oakland. And it’s good and all, but I then directed us to a dim sum shop in the Inner Sunset to supplement this sweet with a little savory. Turns out, this whole Oakland thing was totally moot: both the dim sum cafe and those cherry scones were a couple blocks away from each other rather than across the bay. Due diligence, people.
But I digress. Peeps and I struggled into clothing and sunglasses, and shuffled that whole block over to Arizmendi in Inner Sunset where we not only got lucky with the queue (none, but huge when we’re walking out), but also cool seats in the little curblette just outside. Win!
if you’ve never been, and you love big doughy scones, try the cornmeal and cherry. It’s very popular. But the item that caught my eye, which I’ve never seen before, is the sourdough croissant. How is it possible to be buttery and flaky, yet still sourdoughy? No idea, that’s Arizmendi’s secret. On different days of the week they make specialty sourdough croissants, too. Friday was coconut croissant, which I just missed. Today there was almond, and the standard chocolate and plain sourdough croissants.
Also on order: cardamom shortbread. The cardamom has zing in this one, it was very delicious.
The fact that this bakery is worker owned is icing on the cake, all the baked goods within looked really great. I’d love to come back here, especially if it’s just around the corner.
Arizmendi (Inner Sunset)
It seems that 2013 has been the year of the motorcycle for me. It was 2011, though, that I finally got the nerves to even climb on the back of one. That was when my friend David scooted us around San Francisco, and it was perfect. Being able to go anywhere, in any traffic and always have a place nearby to park, that worked just fine. He understood that this was my first time, and he went slow and didn’t take any risks. Plus, the weather was awesome.
Maybe it’s because more of my peer group is in the mid-life crisis range, or maybe it’s because I’m finally noticing, but lately many of my friends seem to have motorcycles, and they seem open or even enthusiastic about me hopping on the back and going for a moto around places. This year I’ve explored some of the central coast, more of San Francisco, even a bit of Portland, on the back of a friend’s bike. For the Santa Barbara area, my friend Dan holds the medal of most times scooting around with me.
On this day, we went downtown to explore Focus on the Funk Zone, and the New Noise Music Festival. We grabbed some snacks and a sip of wine in the Funk Zone, but it wasn’t enough, and it was getting near evening. Both of us were keen to head south on the bike, so we took the winding backroads along the base of the foothills all the way out to Carpinteria. As with other motos, it was great to feel the wind and smell all the grasses and trees along the way until we reached the moist salty air of beachside Carp.
Dan is more acquainted with the brewery in the area, with no experience going to Sly’s. But that’s where I wanted to go, at least for a cocktail, and I was eyeing up a restaurant across the street for the meal if the offerings at Sly’s weren’t to Dan’s liking. But as it turned out, we walked into Sly’s exactly at Happy Hour! There were drink and food specials. We had no idea! Talk about hitting the jackpot.
Sly’s happy hour is 7 days a week, so yes, even on the weekends like when we were there. It’s 4-6 pm, in the bar section of the restaurant and people can either sit at the bar, or the tables in the front. There is one specialty cocktail at $8, and wells are $6, glasses of wine are also $6. Again, being lucky, tonight’s cocktail was the Whiskey Cocktail. I thought they were joking, since it’s my favorite cocktail from them, but it was real. I pinched myself.
The happy hour menu has a selection of bar nibbles available too. Shrimp cocktail, mussels, oysters, grilled cheese. Check out the photo of the menu just below, it’s probably easier than me typing it all out.
Immediately I ordered the Whiskey Cocktail, which went to Dan since it was his first and he needed to be a convert. For myself, I gave the Papa Doble a try, the Hemingway Daquiri. Recipes vary, the Sly’s version is noticeably low in sweetness, it tastes more like an elegant cocktail rather than a foofy drink. And no Papa Doble I’ve ever drank was a frozen concoction. After these, we took careful stock of our limit, and decided we could share one more drink. This time, Dan needed to experience their house gin and tonic. It turned out to be the perfect choice, since Dan happens to love this drink and, like many of us, was getting increasingly frustrated by the quality of mainstream tonic – too much high fructose corn syrup. He had started to shop around for making his own tonic. Well! Sly’s makes their own tonic, in the same way Dan was planning to. It was exactly what he wanted.
Note, though: if you want the housemade tonic in your G & T, you must specify and order gin and “house tonic.” The default is regular tonic water.
Pictured below, left to right: Papa Doble, Whiskey Cocktail, Gin and House Tonic.
Of course we ordered some food, there’s hot dogs on the menu! Turns out, Dan loves a good hot dog too, and rarely eats them for the same reason he was down on tonic – most of the stuff out there is pretty bad quality. But it’s Sly’s, sources are reputable here. We both got the “Odeon” French style hot dog. It’s two hot dogs on a thick slice of bread, broiled with creamy Gruyere cheese and mustard, $6.
I also ordered the chilled bay shrimp cocktail for $7, also delicious. This was enough to get us home, but if it hadn’t been we’d have been down for some mac and cheese. And Sly’s onion rings are also really good – really fine shavings lightly battered and piled high.
Needless to say, I was happy at Sly’s happy hour, and Dan was happy to have finally discovered Sly’s and the most awesome cocktails in 805. By now it was far into the evening, and we bundled up for the trip home. We took 101 this time, along the coast, and the last lights of the sunset were still glowing over the ocean for the whole moto to Santa Barbara, it was really beautiful. You know I’m not going to take a picture of that, I’m too busy clinging to the back of the bike.
If someone asks me what my favorite cuisine is, I usually say Moroccan.There’s something about the spiceful combinations, or the slow roasting in the clay tajines, or eating with your hands – it a really sensual experience.
I’m not sure I could eat Moroccan food with people I didn’t like, or that I felt were strangers. There’s too much sharing. I’d want them to already know some dining protocols, or be willing to follow them as they are explained. And I’ve had trouble trying to explain it to many Americans. There’s an element of being mindful, and we are not so good at being mindful. I’m probably overthinking this. Long story short: I don’t eat it as much as I’d like to.
But here in San Francisco, I was researching some dinner options and Moroccan food came up. Out of the places popping up on my radar, Aicha gave me the best feeling about being legit. Not in that whisked-away-into-draping-fabrics ethereal lounges in Marrakesh, but honest and authentic cooking one would get in a house, or restaurant that Moroccans would be proud to serve, or eat. The first time around, I wasn’t able to go to the restaurant, another restaurant won out. But a week later I was stopping in SF for a day, friends needed to run an errand around Nob Hill, and lo, Aicha was just a couple blocks away. I had dinner plans in less than 2 hours, and it was going to be a big meal, so I knew this was gastronomic suicide, but I *had* to go and see if my intuition was correct. I walked in around 4 pm, solo.
It wasn’t busy, but definitely not empty. The menu is not huge, and it has all the traditional dishes I was hoping for. If I had a few other friends with me, and this was my primary meal, I would have ordered this:
* Salad Trio – zaalouk, taktouka, and carrots charmoula.
But it was a meal for one, followed by another meal. I ordered the one item I’ve no experience making myself, but love. Chicken b’stilla. And some mint tea, just to see how much sugar they put in.
B’stilla is both a sweet and savory dish. Traditionally, pigeon is used instead of chicken, but good luck finding that here. It is layers of flaky phyllo-like pastry with a succulent spiceful concoction of shredded slow-cooked chicken, crunchy and ground almonds, and sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. It is a fair amount of work to do at home, so it’s a not-miss item if I have the opportunity to eat Moroccan food out.
I was really happy with the food, and the atmosphere of the restaurant. I’d say it was legit. There aren’t the fancy bells and whistles, which suited me just fine. I’m here for the food and all I really want it to feel like the person making it is true to his or her traditional cooking. I got that impression and hope I can make it back there to try a greater range of the menu.
Aicha (Nob Hill)
This summer I made a bucket list, including a food destination list. It’s not designed to kill the spontaneity of dining out and the surprises that come from that, or to build expectations about a place. It’s more a checklist to keep me reminded of stuff, and a few priorities that turned out to be quite reasonable once I started chipping away at the list. It’s not the be all end all either – I will keep adding to it over time.
Mozza is on that list and while it wasn’t foremost on my mind, my friend Erik and I were on our way to LA for a day of looking at galleries, dinner, and a show at the Largo and once he mentioned the area we were visiting (La Brea) and that he’d heard of an amazing pizza place, my Google-fu showed that Mozza was in the area. Turns out, it was the same place Erik had heard good things about too. It was a perfect match. We arrived just after the lunch crowd had simmered down.
And what a stroke of luck, during our visit they were running a special for seats at the bar: a glass of house wine, a pizza, and a dessert for $20. I’m sold!
The ambiance of Pizzeria Mozza is elegant but casual. There are two bar options – the wine bar and the pizza bar. I opted for the latter, so I could watch all the good things coming out of the oven. And the stuff looked amazing. People were rolling out and throwing dough, dressing the pizzas, serving up tall salads and desserts. Everything looked delicious. For my $20 special, I opted for a squash blossom, tomato and burrata pizza, the chocolate tartufo dessert, and a glass of house rose. For reference, most pizzas are in the $18 range, and mine was $23, so it was a dead bargain just for the pizza alone. But also dessert! and wine!
Erik and I effectively shared this special, supplementing it with a house salad ($8) and another dessert ($10).
My squash blossom and burrata pizza was fantastic. Beautiful crust with a few charred bubbles, crisp on the bottom even after sitting on my plate a few minutes. Fresh and vibrant tasting, an absolute pleasure to eat. My house rose was also fine, being both crisp and slightly sweet tasting, perfect for my tastes and perfect for it being a hot summer day. My dessert was rich and good. It was bittersweet chocolate tartufo with olive oil gelato & sea salt. It was almost too Americanized sweet, but very good nonetheless. The couple next to me ordered the same dessert and were just finishing it when I was hemming and hawing over the menu. The woman looked up at me, mouth still full, and half mumbled and moaned at me, eyes rolling slightly. Clearly, she enjoyed it.
The guys working the pizza bar had their tasks dialed in. It’s not so much a rehearsal, but the ongoing practice of moving within each others’ spaces that made their work seemed well-choreographed. One man was looking at me, or maybe just beyond me, and with his eyes focused front, he picked up a pizza platter, held it out to his side at just the moment the fellow with the pizza peel pulled a steaming hot pizza from the oven and slide it quickly onto the platter. Everything happened behind him, no eye contact, no talk. And he knew I was watching. I saw what you did there, and I smiled at him. He smiled back and said he knows the timing well.
So, about $40 later, we rolled out of Mozza, feeling full and happy. I was especially pleased with this since it was something Erik enjoyed a lot as well, and even for being on a food bucket list, ended up being a spontaneous and serendipitous visit. I’d love to come back.
The special runs Monday-Thursday, 12 pm – 4 pm.
This year I took a little time to sit down and compose a bucket list. A real one, with realistic goals. Broken down into the Big List, a food destination list, a dream home list, a list of minor bucket items, and a list of things I’ve already done to remind myself of how far I’ve come. It has really helped prioritize projects and more importantly, helped me recognize that many of the items are not just pipe dreams but quite achievable.
One of those items was killing, processing and eating a moderately sized animal. I’ve been fishing many times before, deep sea albacore even, but there is something different about killing an animal, like a pig. Yet we (meaning: I) eat so much pork. I love it! But I need to acknowledge that an animal has to die for me to eat that delicious bacon, or tender belly. I had to know I wasn’t being a hypocrite about the privilege of eating meat. It has been a longtime wish for me to go hunting and see if I can take it. If not, I really should be vegetarian. As luck would have it, my friends Andrew and Lexi, along with a few other friends of theirs, have been hunting wild boar for a while and invited me to join their crew. This past April, I joined my first hunt. At that time, I didn’t have a hunting license, so the only shooting I did was from my camera. I rode along with the hunters, who took four boar. They were dressed in the field, and back at the lodge, they were skinned and prepared for breaking down. My crew processed the boar themselves, vacuum sealing the majority of them, and we feasted on assorted wild boar before heading home.
Over the summer I attended a hunter safety class, passed the test for my hunter safety certification and got my hunting license. Then it was time to join the hunt for real. My choice is wild boar because they are considered an invasive pest. I don’t care about trophy hunting.
We started early in the morning, our guides picking spots where the wild boar are known to be rooting around. By around 9 or 10 am, we were done. Three boar taken, including mine. On my side, it wasn’t easy. I cannot stress enough how important it is to have a good amount of range practice beforehand and to be comfortably familiar with the rifle used. I’m not at a point where I’m ready to commit to the responsibility of rifle ownership, so I had to borrow a rifle and really lean on the expertise and advice of my guide. A hunting partner would have been great to have here, but ultimately the responsibility was mine. So…of course I missed a number of times, or hesitated on pulling the trigger until it was too late. This is something I need to practice, but I had to start somewhere and this was the weekend that I started.
I tried to do as much of the food from scratch where possible. Dipping sauces, pickles, the steamed buns were all homemade. I made the quick cucumber pickles while Andrew did the carrot and daikon pickles. Lexi and I worked together on folding all the dumplings, then we steam-fried them and ate them with a mustard-rice vinegar sauce.
For the bao, I braised the boar using a recipe from my mother called Pork By Numbers. it is a simple concoction of sherry, rice vinegar, dark soy sauce, sugar, ginger and water. It braises until the liquid reduces to a shiny syrup. It worked perfectly for the bao, which we also filled with quick pickles, slivers of spring onion, and kewpie sauce. It’s a little momofuku inspired. If I could do it again, I’d make the steamed bao half the size. I didn’t know how much big they would steam up, and having smaller buns but more of them would have been better for sharing the food amongst the half dozen of us. But that is for another time in the distant future.
So what happened to the rest of the boar? Well, I don’t have the space to store it. I was supposed to have a shooting and food sharing partner, but that fell through. All the rest went up to the bay area to the folks who have chest freezers. Maybe I need to add “chest freezer” to my bucket list of dream home items. Meanwhile, I’m reading through Michael Ruhlman’s Charcuterie book to get inspiration for the future. After all, learning curing and charcuterie is on my Big List bucket list as well.
I’d received a tip that the croissants here were utterly butterly delicious. And I’m inclined to believe that tip, not based on the source of the information, but because I swung by there mid-week mid-day and they were completely sold out of all croissants, all varieties. No luck.
But I was there to meet with a girlfriend and have a proper catch-up natter, and we’d talked about having tea and such. With all the beautiful cakes and pastries in the case, I can see why it’d be a perfect spot for some sweet “girl time,” which is my rationalization that it’s really for book club meetups, or where to take the mother-in-law when you’re trying to pretend you’re all refined and classy and euro (see how they use “et” instead of the all-American ‘n’? Now that’s classy).
There aren’t huge tables for groups to splay about, but that’s okay, I wasn’t with a book club that day. It’s just right for a couple friends, or a quick in-out to grab pastries for some off-site event.
I got macarons and a layered cake to share, and a fruit bowl for myself. If you’re really into macarons, then it probably matters what order you eat them in, and if you don’t already know, maybe ask the person behind the counter what they recommend. There’s a large variety available.
The best part about the little tea party I had with my girlfriend is that we drank beer instead with our sweets. Yep, Pamplamousse had a beer and wine license. That might be your only solace if you’re stuck eating there with your mother-in-law as well.