Little Baobab Birthday

After a three month drought, it starts raining buckets the day before my birthday. After considering several nicer restaurants, S and I decided to go with something near the bar we would go to later on, so Little Baobab it was. This Senagalese Restaurant is a magnet for West Africans, and people who enjoy their fried yucca and plantains, peppery curries and grilled fish. Part restaurant, part dance hall, it’s a dark little building in the middle of The Mission with plenty of happy people and twinkle lights to brighten us up.

Avocado stuffed with tuna salad and fried yucca (6). Between the briny tuna, smelly cumin and hot whiter pepper, my mouth was not having fun. If my mouth had eyes, they would’ve cried. I enjoyed its avocado husk. I felt supremely cultured to have these yucca fries, but couldn’t help thinking that there IS a reason we don’t have yucca in America, unrelated to the fact they’re not native–potato fries rock so much harder. I also couldn’t help wishing they provided some ketchup, because despite its deceiving appearance, the house-made hot sauce was NOT like ketchup. It killed me. Ugly, uncouth American, party of one.
“It’s like paella!” I said to S when they described the special of the evening. Because apparently I was not done showing off my worldly charms to the waitstaff. Actually, it’s ceebujen (16), the national dish of Senegal. Tilapia boiled in tomato sauce and served on rice cooked in the tomato-fish broth, with stewed vegetables. Comforting, flavorful, and healthy. I just don’t usually get stewed food at a restaurant, because it’s not freshly prepared. But nit-picking aside, the servers were really fun and hooked me up with some birthday chocolate cake a la mode, and a song. As I was contemplating what to wish for, one of them tried to teach me how to blow out the candle. I’m culturally challenged, not stupid.

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Earlier that day…a nice birthday lunch at a killer new Mexican place with the editorial girls.

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Nojo, No Joke

In continuation of our Saturday smorgasboard, S and I met another friend at Nojo that evening. Guys, I cannot emphasize the gravity of this dinner enough. This was probably the largest quantity of impeccable food I have ever eaten, all thanks to my roommate who works there and hooked us up like rockstars.

After receiving several rave reviews, Nojo's been swamped nightly. We arrived to Hayes Valley early to beat the rush, and to check out the lovely shops in the area.

Nojo=Farm. Part gastropub, part izakaya, and nearly entirely locally sourced, Nojo is Japanese food done with a Californian flair. The employees even go on field trips to visit the farms. New menus are printed every night, based on what's in season.

We gave A a few ideas but ultimately asked her to decide what to bring us. This avocado salad reminded me of the deconstructed sushi I brought to class every day in high school, minus the rice and cucumbers.

Gem lettuce, cauliflower and katsuobushi (or bonito) salad was simply dressed, allowing just-picked veggies to steal the show with their natural flavors.

The Shiitake mushroom and English pea gyouza came highly recommended. I thought it was alright--perhaps because I don't like pork (none was mentioned on the menu) or because I've eaten enough amazing dumplings to build a bridge to China (where most of those dumplings were eaten). I do wish that they could always come with a great broth like this, though.

A has told me about this sauteed squid and potato dish numerous times and my lord it was all that she claimed it to be, and more. Buttery, chewy potatoes, zingy herbs, and the most tender, sweet squid I have ever had. I have never tasted squid like this before, and apparently that's what everyone says when they eat this. My favorite dish of the night. If I could eat fresh seafood every day, to hell with vegetables.

White miso glazed trout with forest mushrooms and purselane. My friend's favorite dish. As a shroom lover, I wanted to try all the dishes with exotic species. This is another one that should be served with a side of singing angels. It has the flaky texture of fish, and the taste of pure butter. I'd believe it if someone told me it was poached in a vat of cream or something. I loved the "meaty" veggies and mushrooms which complimented each other perfectly.

Tempura of maitake mushrooms, green beans & Meyer lemon slices, with ponzu mayonnaise. Fried stuff dipped in mayo was basically the theme of this week for me (four times). This dish took that theme to a gastronomic level. Another delicious mushroom crossed off my to-eat list! And the lemon slices proved that one can make anything delicious by way battering and deep frying.

With so many exciting dishes to try, and much to my relief, we didn't taste many skewered meats. This chicken breast with avocado and wasabi leaves was impeccably grilled. I'm very curious about the chicken skin with matcha salt and lemon

Couldn't decide on dessert, so the natural default was to get it. Out of several crazy choices, we were presented with the Nojo Sundae, which included black sesame ice cream with kumquats and peanut thunder crackers. Sometimes they have miso ice cream as well, but not on this night. This was a unique combo, and I'd love to try their others, but Asian desserts just aren't as enticing to me as a piece of cake. Something to do with the lack of sugar, dough and hot fudge.

I will never forget how welcoming A made me feel at Nojo, introducing me to the staff and ordering all of us her favorite dishes. Customers have said that she is the best server in San Francisco, and I obviously concur. I’m super excited that she’s thinking about her own food soon, as well. This whole meal was on the house, and even though we tipped her over 70%, I still feel indebted to her amazing generosity.

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El Tasty Toro

After a semi-fruitful thrifting adventure in Ha/shbury, E and I trekked to The Mission for legit Mexican fare with a vegetarian twist. Throwing caution to the wind, we decided to go with the first busy restaurant we walked by, which turned out to be El Toro Taqueria.

Do poorly-positioned crooked photos bother you? Oops. I was a little rushed because people inside were scrutinizing me.

A clean, well-stocked bar to make all your burrito or taco dreams a reality. Guess what I'm getting installed in my kitchen when I grow up.

A super veggie taco with beans, guacamole, sour cream, lettuce, tomato & salsa and a side of tofu ranchero (7) So fresh--I wish I could go back and re-eat this taco. The tofu was satisfying since I am actually made of 30% tofu, but the flavors were too similar to Chinese food. Lacking in Mexican spices and ultimately unmemorable. I love the option of getting it in a burrito for some extra protein, but I wouldn't get it on the side next time. But the taco and the salsas? They were as good as they look.

A custard filled churro (1.5) to round out the meal. For some reason, combining two freaking awesome foods into one did not work as well as I thought it would.

This meal made me realize I don’t eat enough Mexican food. I love that El Toro is extremely authentic yet veggie-friendly. Rumor has it that there are a few other taquerias with identical menus, so I’m going to check them out. But I’ll be back here, for sure.

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Three In One

A couple weekends ago we took a few jaunts around Sonoma county, with a pit stop in the Castro. As far as I’m aware, all incriminating photos of being a total fag-hag in da clubz have been eradicated and what’s left is a nice collection of the eats we enjoyed. Aren’t we lucky for such an advanced filtering system nowadays.

Because I wrote ten Elfster posts yesterday, because the lighting in the restaurants were horrible, and because Groupon just told me I wasn’t the best candidate to work for them even though I submitted a kick-ass application, I’m consolidating three meals in one post today.

First up was the Italian joint called Poesia. G used her impressive trip planning skills to choose and reserve all these restaurants, by the way. Anyway, Poesia was a classy but casual place that was situated above a fortune teller or a porn shop (too many to keep track) in the Castro, which seemed to only employ Europeans. At least, our waiter had an accent and they all dressed with a certain je-ne-sais-quoi.

best bread of the weekend

This was the first of many bread baskets, but my absolute favorite. It reminded me of the no-knead homemade bread I try to make once in a while, with an impossibly soft and warm center and chewy, oilve-oily crust. Half the pieces had olives studded in them, and for an olive overdose you could dip it in the fruity plate of oil nearby. I wish they’d had some balsamic, but truth be told I ate most of the bread plain because it was that good.

without parm, this soup was surprisingly vegan

It was, as usual, a cold foggy evening in San Francisco. I went with a chunky tomato soup (~8) that had pieces of bread. (Thank God, more bread) cooked into the soup, almost like they were dumplings. Instead of cream, the bowl was almost drowned in olive oil, which was like my dream come true. No tomato soup is too acidic for me, so it was probably one of the best bowls I’ve had, but probably not for the faint-of-palette.

When pressed for vegetarian options, I seem to get beet salad a lot lately.

S and I shared a beet salad with greens on endive. I know beets are supposedly delicious with goat cheese, but I can’t really stand the stuff. (More on this later.)(Edit: actually, I didn’t get a photo, but I subbed parmesean for goat cheese at the CIA.) S likes it so I figured I’d eat around it, but it was actually more of a sauce mixed into the beets. Luckily this was one of the mildest goat cheeses I’ve ever tasted, so I rolled with it. Sweet beets can never go wrong. One of my favorite restaurant standbys.

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The real CIA.

On another day, we kicked off a Napa trip with lunch at the Culinary Institute of America. We got there a bit early, which gave us free time to browse their museum of wine-openers and extensive gift shop (where they sold a “Bean Slicer”, which G proceeded to kill me with).

We peeked into their fancy lecture halls, which look just like the ones in school, but with a huge kitchen and presentation area in the front!

At lunch, where all the employees seemed to be students, we had another never-ending bread basket.

The butter stole my heart.

I preserved the chicken though, because I was too busy discovering one of the most delicious foods known to man.

Fried green tomatoes, chow chow(?) and burrata with chives.

For once, a cheese I don’t hate! I’d heard of burrata before, but didn’t expect anything because it’s just a milder mozzarella, whipped with cream. However. Goodness, it was the most creamy, soft, texturally strange food I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating (with lots of bread). It looked and felt like a poached egg white, but it also sort of broke apart like Gak. (Remember Gak?). I know it’s the grossest comparison ever, but trust me that sweet, creamy cheese Gak is the best invention ever. It’s nothing like brie, which I can’t really stand. The “chow chow” provided a nice crunch and some mystique to lunch, as we read the menu and wondered what the heck it meant before being served.

Oh yeah, and the whole reason we got this dish was because E (a fellow veg) and I had never tried fried green tomatoes. These were what I expected, which wasn’t much. Deep frying always sounds appealing but the super sour tomatoes had the common problem of falling away from the batter, which was the actual tasty part. With this, I also had a salad that was so unremarkable, I forgot to take a good photo of it. The meal consisted mainly of me stuffing my face with bread and burrata, trying to wave the waitress down for more bread, and stealing everyone else’s bread. But other people ate nice-looking dishes.

A comforting meat loaf sandwich was the day's "Green Plate Special".

Spaghetti with scallop meatballs.

The CIA was entertaining but the food was pretty expensive, and had very few vegetarian options and zero vegan. I asked if they were open to making substitutions or changes for vegans, and it seemed pretty difficult to do so, unless you’re just taking off the cheese or something. They did say they were developing a full vegan entree though…Overall, not the best place to eat adventurously because everything is pretty strict in order to best teach the student workers.

But I thank it for introducing me to burrata.

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Tru dat.

Okay, we’re close to the end! That evening, after stopping by various Napa food landmarks such as Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery and The French Laundry, we ended at Mustards Grill, made famous by Bobby Flay who said it cooked his favorite pork chop. This menu looked promising and it took me forever to decide which dish to get, unlike at the CIA.

Who needs a basket when you have perfect French bread?

This bread was nothing like Poesia’s but so tasty in its own right. I can’t stop looking at this photo.

The waiter accidentally dropped our plate of fries and half of them flew across the table, one into my drink. He brought us more fries later. I kind of love when these things happen.

E and I were in the mood for more fried goods so we got a plate, with watercress dipping sauce. These fries didn’t meet my standards, though. Rather mealy inside (I don’t care if you’re not Belgian. Twice-fry! Always twice-fry!), under-seasoned, and soft. I was jonesing for ketchup but the service was less than attentive. The place looks casual but the people and the vibe is kind of uppity. The decor and cramped space felt like a Marie Callendar’s but the prices did not reflect.

However, I did relish watching the middle-aged Cantonese couple to our left eat plate after plate of food like their lives depended on it. They had at least two apps, three entrees, dessert, and coffee between the two of them. Gloriously gross.

Tamales are one of my new favorite foods. I had a kick-ass vegan one two days earlier, which I kick my ass for not documenting.

Everyone agreed that my tamales (10.50) were delicious. Two pillows of sweet corn and mushrooms drenched with butter and topped with avocado-tomatillo salsa, pepitas, and greens looked small, but definitely started getting to me towards the end. It’s meant to be an appetizer so I’d split this with someone in the future. E’s mushroom burger, which I’d debated getting, was fantastic, if not also too rich to enjoy in mass quantities.

Done dealin'.

I think everyone else was still eating as I scraped my husks clean like a plebian.

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edible landscape

I am absolutely enamored with the latest pictures and recipe on Golubka, one of my favorite food blogs. Even though I strike a balance of 50/50, the raw food movement will always softly beckon to me. And sometimes I answer it by eating an entire papaya and falling into a coma (but mostly because papaya is soooo delicious in a gross way), which reminds me why I can’t do high raw. But if I had a mother/cook like this lady it’d be a different story.

My Favorite Things in the World:

Avocados
Landscapes
Coconut
Cream parfaits
Blueberries
Winning the Lottery

Five out of six ain’t bad, for this work of art. Maybe I’ll put aside a day to make this to christen my new place.

P.S. I’m reading Raw Food/Real World right now, after like a year of anticipation. I must get to NYC!

5×5

earlier obsession with red curry

and oats in beloved bowl

gave way to berry mania

tofu scrambles with marmy toast

and kitchen sink stirfry dinners

Mission: Delicious

Last weekend S and I went to scope out neighborhoods in Oakland and SF for our move this Fall. After a quaint quiet walk around Lake Merritt, we headed to an open house in the Mission.

This area combines the perfect amount of affordable housing, delicious restaurants, literary/art culture, creative youth, Hispanic families, sun-drenched parks, thrift shops, and catholic churches. And 2 for 1 avocados. We happened across a juice bar with homemade kombucha and I thought I'd try something other then the bottled kind for once.

The Hangover - half young coconut water, half kombucha. I bought this mostly to feel healthy after a carby breakfast - the kind of health you can only get from a disgusting lukewarm $4 beverage. Clearly, I should stick to the commercial stuff if I ever need to scratch the 'bucha itch again (I don't see that happening too often). Not to be gross, but it tasted similar to what I imagine urine to taste - bland and warm but with a slight fermented kick. Next time, I'm drinking coconut water and 'bucha separately. Poor S - this is around the time she started getting a stomach ache from some probiotic hummus(?)

After the open house (we weren't seriously looking since it's too early - just getting a feel of things) I carried a limping S to Herbivore. As a well-established chain in this area, it's a convenient and reliable place to get your greens on.

I always have so much trouble choosing off their massive menu though! This veggie ceviche (7) had lime-marinated oyster mushrooms, tofu, red onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, cilantro and jalapeño peppers, served with toasted crostini. Everyone who worked here was lovely and made my food into art! An avocado man...boy they sure know the way to this girl's heart. I haven't had real ceviche before, but this dish was exactly what I'd been craving that day - fresh, bright, and still packed with fat/protein. I'm not a huge lemon/lime dressing fan, so the strong acidity was the only reason I won't get this one again - mostly because I want to try everything else first! The crostini doesn't look like much but it was chewy crusty carb-heaven.

S likes their Marinated Tofu sandwich so much she has never gotten anything else here. I can't fathom this, but I admit it was tasty alongside the mac salad. This tofu is similar to my mom's cooking though, and was too heavy on soy-sauce.

I say if we can fit into the chairs we are still children

Herbivore – The Earthly Grill

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Youth is forever mine! The place was packed with kids on a field trip or something, so this mini table next to the window was the only available area.

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After dinner, we realized we misplaced our car, along with any hope for SF “street smarts”. As we roamed the area looking for a semblance of either of those things, we came across something much better: Mission Pie! I remember when this place was a tiny hidden gem that took me forever to find. Since then, they’ve expanded their space and menu to ensure ease of pie-consumption.

This vegan macaroon with cacao nibs had a chewy caramelized base. Perfect mildly-sweet treat to end on.