Friday, September 24, 2004

SF Bay trip, part 3

I got long winded on my last post. We squeezed alot into one day, so shoot me. This will be a skinny post, with lots of pictures. Went to the kick ass farmer's market at the Ferry Building on Saturday morning. The bike race (see part 1) also started in front of the Ferry Building on Sunday. Bike race pictures are here.

Here's some food photos from the last two days of our trip.

Ferry Building Farmer's Market

Ferry Building Farmer's Market

Pretty good cioppino at Fisherman's Wharf

Cheesecake at Franciscan Restaurant

Sunday, September 19, 2004

SF Bay trip, part 2

Day 2: Oakland and Berkeley

F@*# Wheaties.
[ed - the F bomb has been censored to appease members of my family, who are not New Yorkers like me and don't appreciate its many uses as a verb, noun, or warm greeting]. Fried dough is the breakfast of champions. And take note: if you can't find a doughnut shop, ask a cop for directions. Cliche or not, he helped us find it. So what's a beignet? Famous in New Orleans, these square pillows of puffy yeasted dough are hollow, and therefore lighter than a doughnut. I grew up with the fried doughballs called zeppoles at Italian street fairs of New York. Zeppoles aren't hollow, and heavy in comparison. Zeppoles have enough mass to huck a hundred feet and nail someone good with hot grease and powdered sugar. Beignets are the southern gentleman of fried dough. Zeppoles are blue collar knuckleheads.
When they're fresh out of the fryer, there's nothing better than a good beignet. Made me completely forget about the French dips we ate for breakfast the day before. Crisp on the outside, tender and toothy inside, and dusted with enough powdered sugar to look like breakfast for Scarface, the beignets at this shop are better than the ones at New Orleans' Cafe du Monde. Sure, Cafe du Monde has plenty going for it, like the street scene and the chickory coffee. But the beignets are better at Powderface, and no pesky hurricanes to spoil one's day.
Powderface Coffee House
3411 E. 12th St Suite 134
100 meters from the Fruitvale BART station)
Oakland, CA 510-536-3223

Cooking our beignets

Beignets on display

Over in Berkeley, Cafe Fanny also has beignets on display. Theirs look greasy, sad, and way past their prime, like a pop starlet whose 15 minutes have long since passed. So instead, we got sandwiches. I ordered the daily special: a morbier cheese panino grilled wtih heirloom tomatoes and arugula on thinly sliced pain de mie. Katy's sourdough baguette came with grilled eggplant and jack cheese with a schmear of roasted red peppers.
Cafe Fanny
1603 San Pablo Ave

Any sandwich for me is all about the bread, and these babies were built on the bread baked next door at Acme Bread, one of the finest artisanal bakeries in the country. The rustic sour baguette had a thick, chewy crust with sharp "ears" formed where slashes had been cut into the crust. Thousands of tiny bubbles blistering the surface indicated the dough had risen slowly at cool temperatures, which improves the flavor of the dough. The inside had fully gelatinized into a moist, elastic, chewy crumb marked with lots of uneven holes; another mark of excellent dough technique.
Acme Bread
1601 San Pablo Ave

One rack of several at Acme

We prearranged a tour at a small boutique chocolate company called Scharffenberger, housed in a 1906 brick building on the West side of town. Walking into the factory gift shop, we were assaulted with the smell of dark, dank chocolate, hanging thick in the air. If only they sold air freshener this strong. They started the tour with free tastings of four different chocolates and roasted cacao nibs while our guide gave a brief company history and an explanation of the machinery about to be shown to us. If you go, visit on a weekday while the machines are operating.
Scharffenberger Chocolate
914 Heinz Ave

Where chocolate comes from

Puttering around the UC Berkeley campus and shopping on Shattuck Ave put us in range of the Gourmet Ghetto on the North side of town. The original plan entailed stopping at the Cheeseboard Collective for a slice of pizza to warm up, then going over to Cafe Rouge for dinner. We ended up ordering an entire pizza, and it became both dinner and the next day's breakfast. Cheeseboard has two storefronts. The cheese shop closed while were standing in line for pizza, so we missed seeing that, sadly. They bake a pizza du jour, and too bad if you want something else.

For me, pizza is all about its crust. I generally prefer a thin, crisp crusted NY style which will snap when folded in half. Cheeseboard is bready and thicker than that. I didn't travel to Berkeley expecting NY pizza, so I wasn't disappointed with Cheeseboard's. It's a very satisfying pizza made with great ingredients, available only there.

Cheeseboard Collective
1512 Shattuck Ave


The food day ended at a supermarket called Berkeley Bowl. Here, wandering through the massive produce section, we came across at least a dozen varieties of grapes. We bought the large, black cultivar called Kyoho. Thick skinned, but sweet and so flavorful I think they must be artificially enhanced by flavor chemists in New Jersey. It tastes like the grape flavor in Asian juices and candies. My new favorite grape.

In the tropical fruit section, they have a citron called Buddha's Hand, which looks like a demon fruit. Don't know what to do with something like this, but it sure looks cool.

Berkeley Bowl
2020 Oregon St

Fruit from hell

Talk to the hand

Raw olives

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

SF Bay trip, part I

My old friend Jimbo reminded me last month that he'd be on the left coast for the T-Mobile International Grand Prix, a professional bike race with the likes of Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong and company. Jim mentored me as a mechanic on the pro race circuit many years ago, so the vacation was built on the premise of visiting with folks I knew from a prior lifetime. We did the touristy stuff too, like riding on cable cars singing the Rice-a-Roni jingle (not really, I'd be the guy egging on other tourists to do that). Of course, food factored largely in a town known for outstanding eats.

Day 1: Los Angeles to Oakland
Slow is better. Rather than fly, Katy and I began our twelve hour train ride in Union Station, the beautiful Art Deco depot in downtown LA. Phillipe's the Original, the oldest restaurant in the city, lays claim to inventing the French dip sandwich and has done so since 1908 in the same location two blocks away from Union Station. We stopped by at 9 am for breakfast to go, packing a lamb sandwich with blue cheese and a beef with jack cheese (single dip, sinus-searing mustard on the side) for the morning meal. Maybe you think a french dip sandwich makes a terrible breakfast. You'd be wrong.

Amtrak's Coast Starlight train wends along the central California coastline through beautiful stretches of still-undeveloped land. When I say along the coast, sometimes the tracks run atop the dunes just above the beach. Katy spotted several pods of dolphin playing in the froth of the distant surfline. Or perhaps they were killing their lunch. Inside the train car, we lunched on a picnic we packed of Dutch hard goat cheese, Irish "Blarney" cheese (whatever the hell that is), Cambozola blue veined brie, and sesame crackers washed down with a spicy, pleasantly complex zinfandel from D Cubed.

North of Santa Barbara

Dinner provided aboard the train proved unnoteworthy if not for the really nice couple we shared our table with. Kym manages a fashionable eyewear shop in the Beverly Center. Josh is a house DJ and they were travelling to a gig in San Francisco. Becoming a parent kills one's nightlife, and the magnitude of my squareness became painfully clear when talking music with this very with it, beautiful couple.