Hog Island Oyster Company

A friend and I recently had a lovely picnic up in Marshall at the Hog Island Oyster Company. Here's a picture of a worker hauling off the oyster bed:

For $10, you get a dozen oysters, fresh from the farm bed - does it get much fresher than that?! These are Kumamoto, Atlantic, and Sweetwater oysters.

We also packed other picnic items, including walnut levain from Acme Bread, grapes, green olives, salami and a slab of boucheron, washed down with Sierra Nevada Pale Ale:


Exquisite meal at Boulevard Restaurant

There are many restaurants that simply don't live up to their hype. However, Boulevard isn't one of them. In fact, it exceeded my expectations.

I went there for lunch recently, and I savored every last morsel of my meal. To start, I had a salad consisting of delicate organic mixed lettuces with an herb vinaigrette, juicy snow queen peaches, and Mad River Roll goat cheese, with sprinkle of roasted hazelnuts and hazelnut pesto. For my entree, I had pan roasted Hawaiian Walu, with a summer vegetable relish, carola potatoes, wild arugula and a piquilllo pepper coulis.

It was so good I don't want to talk about it - it's like a dream I didn't want to wake up from.


Hot tamale!

Behold, the famous green corn tamales at El Cholo Mexican Restaurant in Los Angeles. This photo is admittedly terrible, but...there's not much I can do about that.

Anyway, these tamales have achieved cult status among Angelenos. They're made with fresh corn off the cob, corn masa, cheddar cheese and 0rtega chile, then steamed in its own husk. It comes with beans and rice but once you've gotten through the dense tamales themselves, you barely have room for anything more. Sweet and savory, these tamales are only available May through October and are worth the wait. However, the same can't be said for their other dishes. That is, of course, you like heavily cheese-laden, densely sour-creamed, highly Americanized Mexican food...which is a shame, because a lot of authentic Mexican food has a plethora of really subtle and beautiful flavors that shouldn't be masked.


Ballard Farmers' Market

The bounty of fresh fruit and vegetables at the Ballard Farmers' Market in Seattle, is simply astounding. When food is that fresh, just picked off the ground moments before being displayed on the tables, it just smells and looks different - more succulent, more fragrant, more everything! Check out these heirloom tomatoes - exquisite!

And how cute are these radishes? You can lick the dirt right off of 'em. Kidding.

I couldn't resist taking a photo of these gorgeously lush peonies, which happen to be my favorite flowers.


Tantalizing Tartine

Tartine is...how do I say this gracefully...gastroporn. It's an amazing bakery filled with the most luscious pastries, breads, and everything in between. When my friends E. and A. visited me last month, they had one food destination in mind - Tartine. Since the bakery is small, we took our treats to go and had an impromptu picnic at Dolores Park. I had 2 toasted slices of their fresh country bread, with butter and jam. A. had a decadent bread pudding, topped with fresh, ruby red strawberries. E. had a ham quiche, where the butter was dripping off the crust. Now that's a sign of a good crust! And the gluttons that we are, we also shared a sticky bun that was delicately flavored with orange zest. Se magnifique!


Steaming Saimin

The Hukilau (5 Masonic Ave.) is a warm, friendly Hawaiian joint in SF. It seems that every Hawaiian within a 50-mile radius comes to hang out here, get some hearty chow, and listen to the sweet sounds of the live band on Friday and Saturday nights. It's nothing fancy, but the atmosphere is fun, portions large, and there's nothing quite like a dose of good ole' Spam to brighten up your day. No, really - Spam is amazing.

I know what you're thinking - 'You call yourself a foodie and you like Spam?!' Judge not, lest you be judged. I repeat, without shame, Spam is amazing. What is it? I don't know. And I don't want to know. There are some mysteries in this world that I remain
blissfully ignorant of, so keep your knowledge to yourself.

The Hawaiians have a true appreciation for this mystery meat. Actually, Spam is revered in many Asian countries, such as in Korea and Japan. You can point to wartime necessities that introduced this meat to those countries, but Spam has been taken to a whole 'nother level in those places.

The Hukilau serves spam musubi, of course (it's like a spam sushi roll), but they also put Spam in their saimin. Saimin (
comparable to ramen, but not quite the same) is a soup-based dish, with egg noodles. It can be garnished with several different items, such as with Chinese cabbage, char siu, fish cakes, green onions, and of course, Spam. And in case I haven't made my point, SPAM IS AMAZING.


Heavenly Hummus

My recent trip to Tel-Aviv, Israel was one big food fest. Really, it was. But hello - have you met me?! I'm all about food. And really, what better way to get a taste (pun intended) of the culture and passions of a people than through their cuisine? Israeli cuisine is spectacular - a beautiful amalgamation of Moroccan, Arab, Greek, and Eastern European tastes, it's the best of many worlds.

Growing up in Saudi Arabia, hummus was plentiful, present in at least one meal a day. But I have to say - that no matter how many hummuses I've tasted over the years in the U.S. (even in so-called Middle Eastern restaurants), I've never been able to get the bitter taste of disappointment out of my mouth. So here I thought the creamy dream was long lost unless I traveled back to Saudi (which is a long shot, because I really have no desire to go back there)...

But eureka! Israeli hummus- what a delightful discovery. No matter which restaurant I went to, the hummus was absolutely divine. But getting people to tell me their favorite hummus joint (and yes, they have restaurants devoted solely to this chickpea delight) was like asking a New Yorker which pizza joint is the best - ultimately, it's all personal taste. And much like pizza, you can get hummus 1000 different ways, with 1000 different toppings (though really, the comparisons stop there). For instance, you can get hummus with stewed black beans, whole garbanzo beans, with tahini (sesame puree) or without, served warm or cold, with a hard-boiled egg or without, and just about every variation therein. One of my favorites was hummus served warm, with whole garbanzo beans tucked away within each swirl, a healthy pour of tahini, a scatter of fresh parsley, and a decadent pool of gorgeous olive oil on top.

As you can see in the picture to the right, hummus is usually served with pita, a simple salad of tomatoes, cucumbers and parsley (all dressed lightly with lemon and olive oil), and pickles.


Wrap me up in a shawarma

Ah, shawarma. My childhood afternoon snack in Saudi Arabia. Every day after school, our driver would pick my brother and me up, and take us to a shawarma stand near our house for a quick snack.

If you've ever had a shawarma in the U.S., I'm sorry...you've been deceived. The gyro that masquerades around as a shawarma is just that - an imposter. A true shawarma is meat shaved off a skewer, wrapped in a chewy pita, and stuffed fuller than your Uncle George on Thanksgiving, with vegetables and sometimes even french fries, and drizzled with tahini. Of course, being the chili head than I am, I always ask them to add some spicy chili paste.

I had a mixture of lamb and turkey meat for one shawarma in Tel-Aviv. The meat was tender, and full of flavor. (Sorry for the blurry picture!)

Shawarmas are considered 'fast food' in the Middle East, so they're usually roadside joints. And let me tell you - there's something about the exhaust-laden meat that...gives shawarmas a special flavor.

Shakshuka. Dr. Shakshuka.

You must be wondering...is that the name of an Israeli spy I met during my travels? No, my friends, surprise: it's the name of a crazy (and crazy popular) restaurant in Tel-Aviv that serves shakshuka.

Shakshuka is an Israeli dish of eggs stewed in a rich tomato sauce. The sauce's deep red color is further enhanced by the liberal addition of sweet paprika. Enhanced with garlic and onion, the eggs are stewed just until the whites harden a bit but the yolks remain tender. You soak up all this goodness with chunks of soft bread.

Dr. Shakshuka, the restaurant, had a rather eccentric decor, mostly comprised of used butane tanks.

But who was paying any attention to the decor? I was trying to figure out a way to smuggle the chef into the U.S. Or more innocuously, how I could convince the chef to part with his precious recipe for this amazing dish...alas, I was unsuccessful on both fronts.

And I swear - it tasted a lot better than it looks in this picture. I should've taken the shot
before I dug into the dish, but...I couldn't help myself! It was either take the picture after a few bites or ruin the entire dish with my drool.


Salad with fried cheese? Yes, please!

After a long stroll through the trendy Shenkin Street in Tel-Aviv, I had worked up a fierce appetite. So I wandered into a little cafe and ordered up a fresh, cold lemonade (with mint sprigs - what a novel idea!) and a healthy salad. After a week of decadent eating, I figured I should veer a little on the lighter side.

Whoa, nelly! If this isn't a big boy's salad, I don't know what is!

But hey - any salad topped with fried cheese (halumi) gets two thumbs up in my book. If you can't tell by this picture, the salad plate took up half my table. This salad had everything but the kitchen sink, and it was dressed in a really delightful dijon mustard vinaigrette.

But let's get back to the halumi. Halumi is a semi-soft cheese, but it's sturdy enough (and has a higher melting point than most cheeses) to be fried. The texture turns a little chewy, but the crispy exterior makes up for that. It's 'meaty,' so the addition to this salad gave it a hearty twist. So much for a light meal! Sigh...


Dim Sum and Then Some

My good friend R. is a sweetheart and always let me choose where we're going to eat whenever I'm back in NYC. During Christmas, I decided I really wanted some dim sum. Granted, there is fine dim sum to be had in San Francisco, I'm sure, but I haven't really had the energy to seek out the authentic joints. And Lord knows, you never really want to eat dim sum in SF's Chinatown, because only tourists (or 'tourons' = tourist + moron, as my friend M. so aptly put it) eat there. Note to self: go explore the Inner Sunset district, or maybe even Richmond, as there are plenty of delicious Chinese restaurants in those areas.

Yet NYC's Chinatown is different. There are plenty of amazingly delicious, authentic, and cheap eats. R. took me to [name to be inserted as soon as R. reminds me of the restaurant name]. I love dim sum because much like tapas, you can choose small bites of whatever you fancy - this is my favorite eating style, as I tend to get bored of just one dish or taste, halfway through my meal.

To be honest, I don't remember everything that we had. But, I can safely surmise that it involved various types of dumplings and shu mai. R. also introduced to me a special kind of dim sum dish that is a favorite of the Hong Kong-ese: it's a large, flat rice noodle that's wrapped in a spring roll wrapper, and fried. It's then doused with a sweet soy sauce, which for me was the dish's only redeeming quality. It was...an interesting mix of textures, and by 'interesting' I really mean 'not so tasty.' It was like a schizophrenic noodle - it didn't know whether it wanted to be tender or crispy. But otherwise, all the dishes that we ordered were phenomenal and this restaurant was one of the better dim sum places out of the many I've been to in NYC.

For $1 per layer, you better eat your money's worth

After R. and I gorged on delectable dim sum, he insisted on taking me to a 'cake place' for dessert. I was so full...but pass up dessert? Fat chance.

When I was living in NYC, I was a West Side girl, through and through. The East Side just...wasn't (and still isn't) my cup of tea. But in pursuit of an amazing dessert, I was willing to overlook the joint's location and trek over to the East Side.

I thought I was walking into an uber-chic (and since it's on the East Side, uber-pretentious) clothing boutique. No, no - Lady M Cake Boutique
(41 E 78th Street) is a cake boutique - not a bakery, not a cake store, but a cake boutique. Get it right. 'This better be damn good, R.,' I thought to myself, because I can barely fit in this store, I feel like I shouldn't touch anything, and the cakes look like art, but...not in a scrumptious way, but more like a 'you break, you buy' sort of way. Anyway, R. insisted I had to try the crepe cake. The crepe cake? Come again?

Yes. Behold the Mille Crepe Cake: a multi-layered cake comprised of crepes and whipped cream. Light, fluffy, and just the right amount of sweetness, this novel concept was a treat. For a small slice, we paid $7. So essentially, each layer cost us a dollar. Was it worth trekking to the East Side, putting up with the black-clad too-cool-for-school cake slicers (are they cake artists by day, models and actors by night?), and the usual Muffy and Buffy East Side crowd? Check, please.