Studiofeast Kakuni Kit

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This past weekend my wife brought home a Studiofeast Kakuni Kit she won in a silent auction.  She is great at finding lovely food treats and I always look forward to digging in, but this was especially fun.  Something about getting a specially packaged box of treats evokes a childlike excitement in me like playing with a chemistry set, assembling a puzzle or playing with your food (in the best sense of the phrase).

The kit came complete with everything you need to make a stunning kakuni, from the perfect pork belly to the exact measure of Japanese short grain rice, kombu and a wonderfully balanced kakuni sauce of sake, mirin, sugar and soy sauce.  The instructions were well written and full of advice encouraging variation and experimentation.

This was great fun to make so I thought I would share.

Have you ever made your own kakuni?  What are your favorite recipes or variations?

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Not only did we have a blast preparing this wonderful dish but we had plenty of leftovers, and yes this is one of those dishes that tastes even better the next day.

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Katana-ya & Turtle Tower – Goodbye San Francisco

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In a city as great as San Francisco there is no shortage of food nor culture to be consumed. I don’t get to visit enough which intensifies the ‘culinary criminality’ of playing favorites or frequenting a particular place when there are so many more to be discovered, but when you love food and you find a place that fits, it’s hard to resist the urge. For example, within an hour of landing at the airport and dropping off my bags I found myself a seat at Katana-ya Restaurant and barely budged for the next two days. OK, maybe I shifted from my seat at the bar to a table near the middle and then a table near the front, but night after night I could be found there, washing down my worries with a draft Sapporo before diving into a tasty treat or two, or three!

I was lucky to find Katana-ya so close to my hotel (thanks to my wife and her nose for great food and restaurants). I feasted on everything from Shiromaguro Tataki to Fried Chicken Ramen. I found the menu grand with many classic and creative takes on Ramen, Udon and Soba noodle soups, but alas Japan is far from Vietnam and what I came here for was great Vietnamese, so I sought to return to the place where on a previous trip I had felt the most at home and had come closest to what my imaginary Vietnamese grand ma might have made. That place is Turtle Tower Restaurant.

Returning there in my mind as I write this relaxes my shoulders and takes my stress level down a notch. I had such fond memories of dining at the large communal style round table near the rear of the restaurant, almost splashing droplets of soup on my neighbors as I gobbled up my share. Surrounded by happiness as person after person came in looking hungry and weary of the day before washing it all away with a bowl of that ancient elixir of health, a warm bowl of soup.

Poached ChickenI was welcomed by the same smiling faces as in previous years. This time I started with Poached Chicken on the bone served with a dipping sauce of lime, salt, pepper and vinegar. The dipping sauce defined this dish adding a perkiness and a pinch of squint and pickle to the steaming yellow jelly skin, thin layer of fat, and firm tan meat that lay beneath, but the winning edge in this dish was the wonderful infusion of flavor from the perfectly seasoned broth that poached this bird. Served at a temperature just below hot it was a fantastic entrée to my Entree.

Pho BoGround BeefMy second course? No surprises there. Pho Bo the dish that has come to define San Francisco for me and Turtle Tower does it very well. The broth clean, warm and lovely although one dimensional, but made all the lovelier by the absolute clutter of tender brisket, tripe and fresh greenery in the bowl which left little space to immerse and cook the side dish of ground raw prime beef. The mixture was a massive cluster of flavors and textures akin to a nebula of dense deliciousness. Even to the eye it has the depth and complexity of a dwarfed galaxy that somehow collapsed into a bowl and the taste is likewise celestial. I slowly savored every drop languid in the company of my bowl like it was an old friend I visit with far to seldom. I was glad this would be the last taste on my lips as I left San Francisco. Hopefully there will be many happy returns.

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All done

Aside

Pho – Bodega Bistro

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After day 2 of consuming copious amounts of technology goodness at WWDC I was ready to resume the great soup search of 2012.

Fresh from my wonderful dinner at Vietnam House I had renewed enthusiasm for Pho and mounting excitement for what would come next. After canvasing the neighborhood around Eddy St. and Larkin St. in San Francisco earlier in the week I noticed Bodega Bistro, the next destination on my list. Nondescript from the outside and located just across the street from a favored lounging area of neighborhood vagrants I must say I was less than eager to try this place, but the events of the evening just goes to show you should never judge a book by its cover, nor a restaurant by its facade.

The restaurant was nearly empty except for one older man with his back to the door and his face buried in his bowl. A group of staff huddled near the rear of the restaurant attentively studying a TV screen mounted above the entrance to the kitchen. I might have thought they were studying menu changes or some such thing, but their focus was too intense. My waiter quickly walked over to great me and invited me over to sit near the rest of the crew for the best view of the soccer match that had them all transfixed. I gladly joined them and immediately felt at ease as I took my seat, opened my menu and began to browse.

The match was Mexico versus El Salvador. I was starved and fixated on what delicious bits I was going to order. The staff was equally fixated on the scoreless content, so much so that the manager joked to me that I’d better root for Mexico, insinuating that if they lost the Mexican kitchen crew would be very unhappy and there would be no food tonight! I smiled and got behind my new team. As an added caution I ordered quickly. Two of my favorites, Pho Bo and a calamari salad to start.

CalamariThe calamari had a flaky batter outside but was perfectly moist inside and had a tender bite. It was perfectly cooked and served on a bed of lettuce which didn’t add much, but spiced with fresh chilies which made it all the more lively. The delicious calamari set my level of expectation but the fragrance of the Pho broth forced me to revise that upward. It was uncanny. As though the ‘dining deity’ had heard my prayers from the night before and decided to look favorably upon me. As thought the Chef had read my previous post and took it to heart. The aroma was rich, deep and complex with hints of clove and wafts of anise seed. As though on queue, Mexico scored the first goal of the match. All was right with the world.

SidesPho Bo

What my nose suggested my tongue confirmed. The flavor was deep and rich but you couldn’t tell that from the color of the broth which was clear and clean with a golden hue. The rising steam from the piping hot bowl made the dish look like the gleaming treasure that it was. I was in heaven. By now the restaurant was filling up and everyone had a smile on their face which made the atmosphere of this cozy place all the more welcoming.

I feasted on the generous mounds of well done brisket in my soup while waiting for my raw prime beef to cook to my liking in the piping hot broth. When I finished I was encouraged to stay and relax. My waiter brought me another Tsingtao and a small bowl of young slightly roasted lightly salted peanuts. I sat back and soaked up the atmosphere. As though on queue, my tipsy daze was interrupted by the television announcer letting out a loud shriek! El Salvador had scored on a penalty shot. That was my queue to leave.

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I never looked up the score. I didn’t want to know.

Pho

It’s no real surprise that my first real blog post is about Pho.

Being mildly food obsessed and having developed a deep and long lasting love for the venerable Vietnamese soup Pho, I always look forward to trips to San Francisco as it gives me the opportunity to sample some of the best examples on offer without leaving North America. Although I love everything about being an east coast dweller and a Brooklynite in particular, regrettably the level of mastery of this delightful dish in the commercial eateries of New York is quite poor.

So you can imagine how magnified my anticipation of coming to WWDC 2012 is knowing that I get to continue my mad quest for a superior broth in between pursuing my mad lust for technology.., and the occasional drink.

I’ve always been a wonderer so my method of finding a great meal has always been to hit the street and see what looks good. I trust my own eyes and nose more than I do reviews so true to form I usually follow some inner culinary compass and ordinarily find my way to some delicious corner of any city I find myself in. Back when I first visited San Francisco I didn’t keep good food notes, but with a decent sense of direction and google maps I managed to recall that I stumbled upon Turtle Tower Restaurant one bright afternoon and wasn’t disappointed. Beyond the locals only crowd and predominantly Vietnamese clientele (at least that was the case back then) it was clear that I had found a good representation by smell alone.

This trip there won’t be as much wondering or guess work. My wife was gracious enough to do some restaurant scouting for me and found what looks like a few gems I can’t wait to try. I will hopefully be able to get to a few of them this week, and if so hopefully they will rise to the level that I will be inspired to write about them.

In the mean time perhaps you can help me out. What’s your favorite Pho place on the West Coast? Preference will be given to places in the San Francisco area. Act quickly! I only have a week.