The Epicurean Zealot


An opinion-laden guide to San Francisco's culinary culture.

Opposite Day

Opposite Day

A comparison of Politifact’s Truth-O-Meter shows Hillary Clinton statements rated ‘False' or 'Pants on Fire' 13.33%, which is one of the best ratings of any candidate for as long as they’ve been checking. Donald Trump, when fact checked, is shown to tell some form of lie 78% of the time.

To a sane person this is very frustrating. Essentially, what this tells us is that you cannot bring facts to a bullshit battle, as Trump continues to garner over 40% of the voting population. Trump supporters go so far beyond not doing their homework – they don’t care that reality exists. For whatever causes of their perceived suffering, they actively reject a logical, sensible world where truth, honesty, integrity and accountability exist side-by-side.

But at times, the lying seems to go beyond false representations of Hillary’s past, or interpretations of polls, or bragging about how amazing he is, what a great temperament he has or his black-magic method of calculating net worth. There have been a number of times where Trump has over-lied to a point where I believe he is employing a strategy of suggesting that something is opposite of what it is, because he is actually guilty of that very thing. He believes that if he makes an accusation on others, he won’t be seen as guilty. From my view, Trump is living in a perpetual game of Opposite Day.

Here are some examples:

The Drug Test: Before the second debate, Rump made an incredibly bizarre statement that he thought they should take a drug test because Hillary had way too much energy in her attacks against him. Immediately I thought about the incessant sniffling and mood swings of Trump during the first debate, which seemed to only intensify at the subsequent debates. It seems pretty clear to me that the entire mentality of this man-cheeto is stuck in the 80s, so he likely is still nursing an cocaine addiction, which he needed to get through the debates. So why not shut down the possibility of accusations by suggesting to take a drug test and attacking his opponent at the same time? Clearly he was doubling down on the booger sugar, so why not throw some mud to deflect?

Crooked Hillary: By seizing on the battle cries of “Lock her Up” essentially Drumpf is suggesting that Hillary Clinton is somehow a criminal for her ‘scandals’. But let’s be very clear, every scandal that has befallen her has been at the hands of her opponents, who seek to tarnish here exemplary career. When you dig (as I have repeatedly) there is no merit to any suggestion of criminality in her actions. And I'm not being her rube here - I’ve dug, and she always comes out clean, with perhaps some questions of judgement. It’s just plain conspiracy. But he needs this narrative to deflect from his own shortcomings. The Tangerine Tornado's checkered past is likely to come back to haunt him. Having thrust himself so forcefully into the public eye with his sham of a campaign, Trump is now exposed to revisit the sins of his past. He’s already facing a fraud trial in Nov and child rape charges in December. If the multitude of groping victims erupts into sexual assault charges or any of the businesses and people he’s screwed over his lifetime decided to seek revenge, now is the time – as he’s never been so vulnerable (in the past people wouldn’t come forward because they were afraid of his power and bullying mentality). Crooked Donald!

The Liberal Media: I’m so sick of hearing this. In the past I would agree that certain media outlets would slant toward liberal. But lately, I’ve been reading and watching Fox News to find balance. It’s fucking painful, because there is a mix of sincere attempts at journalism muddled up with extreme conspiracy theorists. It’s designed to give people who watch a feeling like they’re being fair journalists, but the overall tone is that Hillary is the antichrist. Whereas ALL of the rest of the mainstream media are focused on reporting accurately, sometimes over-balancing to appear fair (could the media have possibly done worse on the recent FBI situation??). But accuracy is simply against the Tiny Hands Baboon. His own words are all that is necessary to support most of the claims made against him. So when the Orange Manatee rails against the liberal media, he’s just railing against fair reporting, which happens to be the sensible interpretation of his bullshit.

The Rigged Election: As Bill Maher loves to point out, Stump is a 'whiny little bitch'. Any time something doesn’t go his way, his default excuse is that it’s rigged. He’s been crying foul about election day from the start and has famously defied our democracy by suggesting he will wait and see if there isn’t rampant voter fraud. Yet, all accounts of fraud and voter intimidation so far have been at the hands of his supporters. He is personally encouraging people who have already voted to re-vote “just in case it is not counted”. Moreover, multiple instances of armed intimidators have been reported at polling places in Trump garb. Rest assured that these will not let up. The more we hear Fuckface Von Clownstick complain about rigging, the more you can count on him scheming to cheat.

There’s a mountain of more, but I think you get the point. I’m ready for Tuesday. I want to feel there is some sanity left in America. If Hillary gets less than 300 electoral votes, I’ll be happy she won, but very disappointed for our nation. Only at over 340 votes will there be a clear sign that people are willing to shut down this culture of hate, lying, fear and misdirection. I would love to see a resounding stamp that we will not fall prey to the perpetual game of Opposite Day.

Taste of Potrero 2014

Taste of Potrero 2014

And so it is... another year, another event. My posts have become so infrequent that you're likely to find the annual ToP post half way down this same page. It's not because I don't love you, my dears. Rather, it's because I'm focused on the just living the epic life and have decided that part of it is not talking about it so much. You remember my post on the social media narcissist back in 2010? Well, I decided to try and practice what I preach. But there are a few reasons I'll sweep off the cobwebs and pull out the soapbox. Judah, who turns nine on Thursday, is a big reason. He continues to illuminate my own existential cobwebs with every brilliant and innocent thought that comes from his brain. Together we're writing our own blog by just being us, together, and it manifests in the way he shines his light on the world. I can't wait to see what he becomes but will fight bare-knuckled to remain present in him, now. Every day I find myself in gratitude, high on my great fortune to be his dad.

And that leads to Taste of Potrero. I do it for him. Plain and simple. When we made the choice to forego private school and embrace public education in San Francisco, I vowed to myself that I would do everything in my power to give him an experience that was comparable, if not better. Money was the issue, so we found a way to raise some. And it continues to grow. With Taste of Potrero we've reached the levels of the fundraising efforts of schools with very active and endowed parent communities, which we don't. We cannot have an auction within our community and walk away with $200k. We had to go outside.

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This year the event has matured. Last year was hands-down the best event for many reasons. Very few hiccups, great flow, great food, great drinks, big money. We figured out most of the details that make this a successful party and kept the formula. 2014 proves to be another level...here's why:

  • We've moved to the NWBLK at 1999 Bryant. The venue is bigger and sexier. The event should big bigger, but won't FEEL bigger.
  • San Francisco Magazine is our media sponsor. They bring big chops.
  • The restaurants and bars are all amazing. This year the cocktail offerings will blow your mind thanks to Anchor Distillery.
  • We've got live entertainment and food trucks outside (Del Popolo, El Sur, Gabriel Angelo - the Trumpet Kid and Gabi Holzwarth).
  • It's all you can eat and drink for $100, $200 for VIP. Every penny goes to public education.

Tickets are nearly sold out, but I'd love to keep it in the family - so snag up the remainders.

May 8, 2014 NWBLK 1999 Bryant Street General Admission 7-11pm $100 VIP 6-11pm $200 tasteofpotrero.com

Twilight at the Presidio

Tonight the LAST NIGHT for Off The Grid's amazing Twilight at the Presidio event. Come out for cocktails, cabanas, campfires and [food truck] cuisine (didn't think I'd get the complete alliteration, did you?). It's really one of the unique SF events that makes this place so great. Presidio Main Post Lawn, 5pm-9pm.

Click here for more details

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Banana Pudding

THIS IS A GUEST POST FROM MY DEAR FRIEND STUART SHELDON. IT'S DESTINED TO BECOME A CLASSIC. ENJOY AND COMMENT, PLEASE. BananaPudding

Food is magic.

We all have that special dish, the one that instantly activates the way-back machine and jumpstarts a potent emotion. What is yours? For me, it’s banana pudding.

Whenever we visited my grandparents mobile home on the other side of Florida, my younger brother and I beelined it to the fridge the moment we arrived. There, bathed in cool light on the second shelf, stood neatly arranged cups and cups of pudding. Banana and chocolate. Smooth as velvet and dolloped into small glasses the size of an open palm.

My mother’s parents loved each other with a rare intensity that started as handsome high school kids in Queens, New York. They never went with anyone but each other, and when he asked for her hand, my grandfather bestowed upon his beloved a simple elegant diamond solitaire which cost all his money and which she cherished and wore always … until a three-pack-a-day habit killed her at fifty five. That was July 1970, a month before I turned seven.

Lovebirds, 1931

My mom was crushed to lose her anchor so young. To watch her mother succumb to the brutality of lung cancer. See her lithe body dwindle. Hear her gasps.

Me? I saw none of that. I ate pudding.

My specific memories of my grandmother are scant. A squinty smile dusted with a marvelous hint of naughtiness. A nonchalant way of standing with her hip cocked. She was not girly but certainly feminine. She favored pants to dresses. Camping out West to fancy hotels.

One memory, however, burns bright yellow. Standing before the glowing fridge, I’d seize a cup of banana and begin my ritual with the big cold door still open. The tip of my teaspoon cut a fingernail-sized crescent into the unwrinkled, neon-lemon-colored skin. I dabbed the tip of my tongue, shut my eyes and absorbed. The next bite got slightly larger, half a spoon’s worth, eaten slowly to savor. Those that followed increased in size and vigor until I scooped like a gravedigger, occasionally pushing pudding through my missing front tooth hole to make my brother laugh. Lastly, I scraped and clinked and licked that glass clean of every trace.

Unbeknownst to my grandmother, her pudding was the magic potion she conjured to make her eternal in my heart.

My beautiful mom's beautiful mom

Last night, my wife and I attended a dinner party, where a guest brought banana pudding made with love from a recipe gleaned from an upscale Manhattan bakery. The color resembled French vanilla ice-cream, not the too-bright synthetic “banana color” in the stuff my grandmother made. Instead of little glass cups, my friend scooped her pudding into ceramic dishes from a large glass bowl that featured crushed Nilla Wafers across the top. The surface was lumpy with chunks of banana, not flawlessly smooth like my grandma’s little servings.

BUT … that first bite was all Marian Saltzman.

Flooding back through 50-year-old lips came the selfless love of a woman who knew how much two little imps cherished her simple treats. Who made trays and trays of the stuff so we could finish one and grab another. And even a third. Whose whole face laughed when she did, her joy ironically amplified by laugh lines deepened by cigarettes.

Today, Marian Saltzman lives in the rich, squinty smiles of my sons. My mom still speaks with her out loud. And my wife proudly wears her engagement ring, a daily reminder of what a marriage is supposed to look like.

Spoonful of pudding

And, for me, my grandma lives forever in the tip of my spoon.

It's Tricky

I've decided to like hipsters. It's not because I particularly have much in common with hipsters. I don't possess industrial-ultra-slim clothing, ironic facial hair, youth, tattoos. I don't live in the Mission, slackline or hula hoop in Dolores Park, drink trendy coffee or date girls with thick-framed eyewear and colorful tights. Photo Courtesy of FogandFoundry.com

In fact, for the past couple of years I've been known to ridicule hipsters. Not necessarily because I had anything against them, but more so that I bought into a covert trend unto itself. The anti-hipster club (kinda like the he-man woman hater's club of Lil' Rascals) is a prodigious movement that can be traced to it's origins in the darkest corners of places like 25 Lusk, RN74 and Delarosa. I often think that nobody actually believes themselves to be a hipster. I've never met a person that has self-identified in this way.

Yet, there is no doubt that there is a citywide class war being waged between Mission hipsters and Marina types. Cute and fuzzy bunnies (points for the knowing the reference) and professionals of the North gaze somewhat scornfully at hipsters.  I secretly think they desire or envy the hipster indifference, while at the same time loathing their fashion sense. Whereas the hipster looks towards those from the Marina with decided scorn.  I don't believe there's anything about the Northern life that appeals much to the hipster, except maybe said cute and fuzzy bunnies.

Photo Courtest of Sf.FunCheap.com

I'm between worlds. I run with all crowds. I can hang with the cutest and fuzziest of them, doing my Mayurasanas, Adho Mukha Vrksasana and Koundinyasana B (don't press me on hip-openers tho). But also spend most of my time Southside, with the exception of the essential Nopa late-nights (neutral territory), and SPQR, who equals my beloved F+W for pasta supremacy. Plus, I live in the Dogpatch where I prefer the sunshine and the shipyard views – and is also the neighborhood where aged hipsters go to nest.

To the point: One thing the hipsters and I do share is Trick Dog. The brainchild of the Bon Vivants (and decidedly hip) Scott Baird and Josh Harris, Trick Dog is a Gastropub that appeals to my sensibilities for Gastro-ing and Pub-ing (really, you went there?). And apparently it also appeals to those of the Mission-hipster species, because it's teeming with them.

Photo Courtesy of SFGate

The aesthetics of Trick Dog are lean and modern with elements of Prohibition-era charm, mixed with some steam-punk accents. It feels very hip without being ironic or cliché. Scott and Josh themselves have formed a design business based upon the work they've done at the bar. There's a cutting edge European sensibility to the layout, that reminds me of some of my favorite places in Madrid, Barcelona, Rome and Paris. You could easily find this bar tucked away in the Marais, The Born or the Chueca (yes they are all the gay neighborhoods – problem?).

But moreover, it's about the food, the drinks and the intangible in the atmosphere that keep me coming. The crowd never gets too dense, and always feels upbeat with lots of engaged groups split between the upstairs in the downstairs. The upstairs being a compact sit-down dining space – the downstairs bar stacked a few deep with some open floor area to stand around. Flow is well considered. Noise is manageable.

Photo Courtesy of SFChonicle

The cocktails are exactly what you would expect from the Bon Vivants. Everything has been very, very well-considered. The drinks are incredibly balanced, often surprising in their subtleties: never sweet, never heavy. They go down easily, too easily. I love me some Baby Turtle, a concoction with Ocho tequila, campari, grapefruit, cinnamon, lime, egg white. And the bartenders themselves could be the most affable lot I've encountered in any trendy establishment in town. Just plain good-folk.

But it's the food that really stands out to me. Not what you'd expect from a bar's bar. The menu is not extensive – it's very accessible. Yet, there are enough options, and it changes regularly, so that you could go a few times and still find surprises. Most things are functional for sharing - and share we do.

Some of the standouts are the Salt Cod Scotch Egg, which has a gooey yolk to balance the fishy crust and a lovely shredded beet salad underneath. The Fried Green Tomatoes they're serving right now are outstanding - crispy, yet light with an al dente tomato center. The Radishes with Campari Butter and Smoke Se Salt are incredibly surprising in their simplicity, yet thrilling in their complexity.

Almost everything is good here but the real standout to me are the French Fries. They have an option of Manimal Style which emulates In-N-Out Burger with a tangy sauce and fried onions. And these could be the best french fries I've had in San Francisco and beyond. In fact, I was recently in Belgium and I'd put them up against the best I had there. They're listed as thrice-cooked, which I assume means they've been boiled and then fried a couple of times. No matter, they got it right and they're the most crispy delicious flavorful little piles of spuds you'll find anywhere.

It took a few visits to slide into the vibe at Trick Dog and frankly, in the early weeks they were still cutting their teeth. After The Bauer gave them three-stars for food, the crowd settled in and the bar hit its stride. It's too easy to pop in on a weeknight after some Tittibhasanas and Tolasana through to Vinyasa. I'm even thinking about getting a few tattoos and maybe reconsider my stance on dates with thick-framed eyewear – so that I can move freely amongst the hipsters as a regular.

What is Beautiful?

I rarely link out to other blogs. Not that I wouldn't, but my posts are so infrequent that I often focus on what is important to me. Tonight I was reading my friend, Caroline Wachsmuth's magnificent collection of impressions on the topic of "What is Beautiful?". She has curated the posts from her inspiring and creative community and each perspective shines a unique light on interpreting beauty. I am drawn to, and inspired by, the notion that there is no formula for beauty. In fact, the clichés and conventions that commonly define attractiveness don't apply to these enlightened perspectives on beauty (many of whom work in fashion and beauty in France and abroad). Rather, they are shadowed by an appreciation for elements like metamorphosis, originality, emotions, balance – it is ephemeral, unexpected, free, nature.

But my favorite came from textile artist Sasha Duerr, who said "For me, Beauty is often planted in the now. Grown in the process. How just a moment can encompass a memory. A glimmer of being able to see the visible in the invisible."

I encourage you to visit and perhaps find inspiration for your own take on beauty. Click the image to visit her blog:

What is Beauty

Son

Eight years in and I still cannot begin to evoke the words to properly describe the feelings.

As I navigate this world I have encountered many words to describe myself – I am a man, an entrepreneur, a friend, a traveler, a chef, a community activist. I am passionate, capable, smart, generous, creative. I am stubborn, reactive, opinionated, disorganized. But no words, no descriptions, no associations or character traits can compare to this – I am a father.

Every moment of every day, I am grounded by the fact that this person and I get to navigate the world together. I guide him the best I can but he often teaches me more than I could ever envision. His intuition, strength, pure emotions and fearlessness serve to guide me to become a better man, and hopefully a better father.

There is rarely a day that goes by where someone does not tell me what a great person Judah has become. They don't have to say it, he just inspires it. My pride as his father is only exceeded by the joy that I get to be a part of his continual development as the world unfolds. Son, I look forward to experiencing it all together. Son, I am proud to be your father.

Happy birthday Judah.

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Taste of Potrero 2013

My darlings,

Tis' the season where my world is consumed with the spirit of giving and good will to man. That's right children, it's Xmas in May, better known as Taste of Potrero.

You all know the story by now... My kid goes to public school. The system is in the shitter. We need serious shekels to keep the thing going. So, we do what every poor school would do, we put on a serious food event. Duh!

First year brings in $40k. Second we hit $93k. But this year is different. The school has grown by small bits, which puts us in a different bracket for district funds. So, get this... we are in an even deeper hole. We barely were able to get PE, art, computers, literacy and supplies last year and the funding drops out so we're short two (that's 2 not 1 but 2) teachers for next year. We're nearly $200k behind in our budget. We've got some fundraising to do.

Taste of Potrero always had great talent. Restaurant owners and chefs are rockstar heroes for this sort of stuff. First year we led with Flour + Water, Hapa Ramen, Bon Vivants, Tacolicious. Next year we brought in Ame, Comstock Saloon, Nojo, Hog & Rocks. There's never been a question that this event is top-knotch.

But we've just completely outdone ourselves for 2013. Make no mistake about it - we have the best lineup of restaurants of any event in the city. Add to that the fact that tickets are all-inclusive this year (meaning taste and drink to your heart's / liver's delight / demise). VIP ticket holders will get exclusive access to Trick Dog, Smitten Ice Cream, American Bao Bar, Commonwealth and, get this, State Bird Provisions.

Not to be outdone, general admission will add in the likes of HiLo BBQ, Wise Sons Deli, Lolinda, Roli Roti (yes, the ones with the lines) and Beretta, Comstock, Homestead pouring their devilish elixirs. There's nearly 30 vendors this year and EVERY last one of them are high quality. Check out the full list here

We've also got a sexy little video here.

So, if you like food and are a human living within a driving distance to San Francisco, you owe it to yourself, the kids, your holy maker and me to get you're butt over to Taste of Potrero. Details follow. Tickets on sale now.

Taste of Potrero
May 9, 2013
SomaARTS Gallery
934 Brannan St., San Francisco
6-7pm (VIP Exclusive Preview)
7pm - Midnite (Main Event)
Tickets Here

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Get Wise, Son.

There are a number of foods I claim to know a lot about. I can talk pizza with the best of them. Ask me about a good burger, I gotch-ya-back. Pretty much covered with most Italian, Thai and an assortment of other passion centers. But the one cuisine of which I've made a practice...the one that I can profess superior understanding...the food that is programmed on my DNA... is deli. That's right, Jew food. Old-school, East-Coast, Matzoh Ball soup, pastrami, latkes - deli.

It starts, as many of my stories start, on the milk crates in my mom's restaurants. Where I used to sit in her kitchen, as a young boy, during summers, sick days and other days off. She had what we called a 'coffee shop' that I've explained is most like a diner, but has a lot of overlap with the world of deli. She house-made her corned beef, she had a mean matzoh ball soup on occasion, she fried up the matzoh brie and the blintzes. It wasn't true deli, but it hinted.

Moreover, we were east coast Jews, so we ate lots and lots of latkes (and other such curios). I had a lot of family: grandparents, great aunts & uncles, cousins - old people. And old people love deli. So, anytime we gathered, we ate bagels, lox, lox-eggs-onions, smoked fish of all varieties, kasha varnishkes, pastrami, brisket, stuffed cabbage, gribenes, kishke, kreplach, kneidlach...

My closest friends and family don't quite know the extent of my passion. I make matzoh brie weekly, I do matzoh ball soup monthly, kasha varnishkes on occasion. My interest is tolerated and not often shared by those that know me best (matzoh brie is an acquired taste). But the obsession goes deeper for me as I frequent the delis that dot the bay area and make pilgrimages to delis when I travel. I've conducted extensive tours of the major cities, often comparing my favorite dishes from multiple establishments in a single weekend (blintzes and pastrami in LA, whitefish, bagels and MB soup in NY).

But San Francisco has always been a slight disappointment. I wouldn't go the extreme like many who claim there is NO good deli here. Millers on Polk has decent fare (especially their egg/bagel breakfast sandwich) - the MB soup is satisfying, albeit a little busy, their chopped liver is a little dense, but tasty, the meats are solid - not anything to write home about, but it'll do. Moishes Pippic in Hayes valley has even better soup and great Chicago-style hot dogs. They also do better pastrami, corned beef and a delightful brisket special on Fridays. House of Bagels has quite good whitefish salad and liver - their bagels are passable, considering the alternatives. Sauls in Oakland never did much for me, but again, it is passable for high holidays and occasional fare.

But then came Wise Sons. I was skeptical. Mission hipster jew-food? I went in with every expectation to be critical. On my first visit, I was somewhat disappointed. I ordered the Matzoh Ball Soup and was told they were out of the balls. I got some of the broth and noodles, but sat in sadness lamenting my missing balls. I love those balls.

The pastrami was redemptive. I had a reuben and was amazed by the balance of brine and fat, spice and texture. It was up there at the top of the canon of pastramis (Langer's in LA still holds top position). Great rye, sauerkraut, dressing - there was hope.

I since returned multiple times and tested out most of the menu items. And I am here to say that San Francisco is finally not only a contender in the deli world, but a dominant force, thanks to Wise Sons. What Leo Beckerman and Evan Bloom have accomplished is nothing short of legendary. They have managed to take the recipes of old-school, proper deli and bring them into a world of local sourcing, farmer's markets and high-cheffing.

Let's start with the Chocolate Babka. It's an easy target. It sits next to the cashier and taunts you: "hey, fatass, eat me. no, you won't pass me by". Then there are the breakfast call-outs. The semite is a tasty grilled sandwich with eggs, cheese and a crispy pastrami. Their matzoh brie is legit. I like mine cooked well, but they understand texture and salt (Evan told me he uses maldon, like I do with mine - instant props). On the weekends they have Beauty's Bagels from Oakland (Montreal style, cooked in wood-fired oven) which are seriously the best we have to offer in the Bay Area. Pair these with the incredible off-the-charts smoked trout salad.

There's a dozen other breakfast dishes, all worth the visit. And here's the thing...the place isn't that crowded at 10am on weekdays. Go sit without waiting on line, like the weekend hoards do. You're in the know now.

For lunch, it's mostly about the Pastrami. Try the rueben, try the standard one double-baked rye. Get nasty with pastrami fries, smothered in russian dress (shut the front door!) Or go for the gusto with the Deli burger, ground with pastrami in the meat (i think about 1/3). Read the fine print to see the 1/2 sandwich and small cup of the matzoh ball soup.

They still set up at the Ferry Building Farmer's Market on Tuesday. They cater so you can have Wise Sons at your holiday meals. So stop bitching about deli and bagels in San Francisco. Those days are over. We're a powerhouse now. I only wish I thought of it first.

 

Wise Sons Deli on Urbanspoon

Spot This!

I'm here to shill again. Over the past year I've been transitioning my career. I've made it known that I am leaving behind the brick-and-mortar lifestyle of the mom and pop entrepreneur and am throwing my hat into the technology ring. Reinventing myself suggests I get to be/do whatever I want, so I've decided to marry my greatest passions, food and technology as I travel down new paths. The entrepreneurial skills I've amassed over 20 years allows me some flexibility to hone in on where I can best contribute.

I recently landed as a consultant at a company called Foodspotting. They've asked me to help them reach the next level in the evolution of the company. They started as a vehicle for food enthusiasts to take photos of food, dishes specifically, and share them with the world (on Foodspotting itself) and throughout your social networks. As a result of the millions of photos they quickly amassed, Foodspotting morphed into a serious discovery tool for people who are looking for something to eat. By browsing the best dishes nearby or searching for particular dishes, FS became a top player in connecting hungry people to yummy food. Looking forward, we believe there is an opportunity to help restaurants connect more closely with their patrons. I'll be sharing more on how later.

But today I am sharing the news that Foodspotting launched their new website. And as jaded as I have become about much of the food and technology scene, I'm blown away by what you can do with this site.

So let's say you're someone who likes Unagi. Go to http://foodspotting.com and search for Unagi and you'll get a stunning photo wall of the most popular unagi dishes in the world. Enter a destination, say San Francisco, and get the most popular (or latest if you prefer) unagi dishes in San Francisco.

One of my favorite dishes, as I illustrated previously, is Cacio e Pepe. Or how about Roast Pork Sandwich in Philadelphia, or Pizza in New York, or Naples, or even Bangkok! Search on anything, anywhere, and you'll get serious food porn that you can share on your networks (the share icon is next to the search bar). I've spent the past few weeks playing on the beta site shooting links to all of my food friends.

Moreover, this is an amazing way to really drill down on what is good in a place. The truth is that the more people shoot photos of any particular dish, the more popular it is within the food crowd. I've found no other resource for democratizing food discovery than this.

Try it and you'll see. If you know an area and you search for the most popular dishes, it's going to be spot on. For example, in the Mission District of San Francisco, you can't argue that Salted Caramel at Bi-Rite, Secret Breakfast at Humphry Slocombe, Morning Buns at Tartine and Pizza Margherita at Delfina aren't the must-have's in the neighborhood. Dig deeper and you'll find the secret gems that only foodies know about (can you say bacon-wrapped hot dogs?). It's the perfect food-crazed travel tool.

I look forward to utilizing this more as a blogging tool. Any time I talk about a dish, now I can show you with other people's (mostly great) photos. Now go spot some food and share it with me. What is the coolest search you can do on the new Foodspotting?

A Tale of Two Delis...

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

And so it is, we are faced with two new sandwich shops for comparison. In the summer of Aught'Twelve, a time of culinary bounty and impending depravity (we shall miss you dear foie), there lie two places - on opposites sides of town, with opposite sensibilities and objectives...and yet both are deeply satisfying.

PRIME DIP - 1515 Fillmore - http://www.primedip.com/

I heard of the legend of the Surf-N-Turf. It made it's way around the blogosphere and I was intrigued. A lobster roll is an epicurean treasure, not to be taken lightly. Not to be slathered with mayo (in my book). Rather, it should be gently poached and dealt with in butter, on a roll. A simple roll. Not much else to it. It's often expensive beyond reason. But it's to be savored and relished and adored.

A good prime rib dip may not be as elegant, but can also satisfy in ways that calls one to travel for her pleasures. Give me au jus or give me death. Make it thin, pink and tender. Make her broth savory. Again, the roll is important. Horseradish is a plus.

Bring them together in combination, half on each side of a serving vessel and one might gaze quizzically at first, but ultimately understand. The intersection of buttery lobster and horseradishy beef looks a little jumbled. I pushed them apart before I dug in. They weren't supposed to mingle that closely. And they were delicious (and only $11, including a side of my choice).

Prime Dip is nothing fancy. I think I heard they are using rolls from Lee's Deli. But this is definitely a step up from Lee's. They have created some lovely, satisfying sandwiches that will bring me back. The sides are nothing to write home about. The atmosphere is uninspired. But on cross-town jaunts that hit lower Fillmore, it's worth a stop.

SALUMERIA - 3000 20th Street - http://www.salumeriasf.com/

Occupying the realm of complete opposites to Prime Dip, Salumeria, the offshoot of her big sister Flour + Water, is a darling little gem of superlatives. The design and decor is painfully perfect. Apparently the space was an old sausage factory that was aptly repurposed for our deli delights. But the food is what really shines.

Where Prime Dip offers pedestrian sandwiches, Salumeria goes farm-to-table and brings some of the F+W soul along for the ride. Delights like a roast beef on house made pretzel roll will boggle your mind. Duck confit or any variety of house made salumi and charcuterie find their way into creative assemblies along side stunning salads / antipasti.

Everything at Salumeria can be enjoyed in the adjacent courtyard shared with Central Kitchen, the third project by the F+W guys (review to come later when I've been a few times). The whole space feels like you landed on a photo shoot for Sunset Magazine. It's the epitome of NorCal style and grace, smack in the heart of Mission Gulch. And of course that means there will be hipsters.

Moreover, you can purchase the salumi, cheeses, etc. as well as house-made ricotta and pastas from Flour + Water. To me, that's a huge bonus. In fact, they just stepped up to Fatted Calf and said, yes we can. I recently hosted a dinner party including a number of their treats. And my guests claimed yes they did.

And so I declare that I am satisfied by both. I am a man of contradiction, but I follow my heart. And I shall always follow my heart. So I leave you with Dickens...

He knew enough of the world to know that there is nothing in it better than the faithful service of the heart.

Salumeria (Opening Soon) on Urbanspoon

Prime Dip on Urbanspoon

Eat Shit!

My father just visited and it reminded me of a post I've been pondering for a while. This one is completely dedicated to him and the [very pleasant] childhood memories I have of his influence on my eating habits. Dad, I will always be proud to credit your for my joyous propensity to eat shit. I grew up in a restaurant family. My grandparents and their siblings, my parents and extended family were mostly in the business. I was surrounded by food all of the time. In New Jersey in the 70s there wasn't much more than diners, greasy spoons, coffee shops and luncheonettes. One could debate the actual classifications of our restaurants (as my father and I did this weekend) but they're all really just variations on similar themes.

We're talking breakfasts of bacon, eggs, pancakes, sausages, hash browns, omelets - and, because were close to Philly, scrapple and creamed-chipped-beef. For lunch it was soups, sandwiches with house-roasted turkey and corned-beef, meatloaf, steak-fries, beef stew, spaghetti & meatballs, pies, ice cream and milkshakes. Needless to say, I wasn't exposed to many vegetables or healthy meals in my youth.

The other factor that influenced my love of all-things-crap was growing up at the Jersey shore. The staple of our diet was the sub (please don't call it a hoagie, grinder or other such abomination). We ate subs. Serious subs. The "regular" or "italian" sub was a concoction of assorted deli meats, including mortadella, salami, ham, capicola and provolone cheese - slathered in oil and vinegar and stuffed into a hollowed out Formica Brother's Roll (it has to be this bread - nothing else will do).  There was also great meatball, cheesesteak and tuna versions. A "half-a-sub" was about 12" - not the healthiest proportions or ingredients. But so fucking good!

The Zolot men are lucky, beyond compare. We are graced with a metabolism that allows us to consume ungodly quantities without gaining an ounce of fat until we hit 40 and even then it's just plain unfair what we can get away with into our 70s. This leads to many interesting habits formed over a lifetime of indulgence. My son is clearly following in our footsteps as he consumes three breakfasts daily and remains a bean pole. This explains how things go even more awry. But I digress, so back to the tales...

I first started to notice my father's monstrous appetite at a young age when, at any dinner table, plates would be shifted in his direction at the end of the meal. Anything not consumed by anyone present would be devoured and treasured by this champion eater. He'd laugh and joke as he consumed everything we'd leave behind. There were times where you'd have to protect your plate because he would be eyeing something across the table (before you were finished) that appealed to him, a defense you'd be smart to practice even today in his presence.

I started to come into my own as our family began taking regular trips to Boston to visit relatives. Here, our prized site was Quincy Market at Faneuil Hall. This was the holy grail of food courts in the country at the time. And we would eat our way from end to end. We'd order everything from pizza to sausage and peppers to seafood to bbq and on and on. My goal was to keep up with Dad. It was our bonding moment. We did well. I grew into a champion myself.

Fast forward. I am 43 years old and I still crave the foods of my childhood. So much so that I almost feel like I lead a secret life. Even the people that know me the best don't quite understand the depth of my compulsion towards these sorts of foods. When I was working a job that required me to travel around all of the neighborhoods in San Francisco to call upon clients, I had a mental map of the places, these special places, that satisfy my deepest cravings. I'd relish the opportunity to visit my most miserable Pacific Heights clients because of the opportunities that bordered me by both north and south. The rare call in the Mission led me into serious naughtiness. Even today, my girlfriend lives just off Polk Street and I can do some serious damage within two blocks...

With all of this buried deep inside me, it is time that I expose my inner-map and share the wonders of shitty eating in our wonderful town. As it is past midnight when I write this, I will start with the obvious. When inspiration brings me to add to the list, I will update. Certainly bookmark if you share my obsession. And if you don't, please refrain from judgement, as I am merely a product of my genetic disposition and environment. Thanks Dad!

Bob's Donuts - Since I am sitting a block away and can smell the frying of the apple fritter [in my mind at least] let's start here. This is old school donuting. Nothing fancy, but seriously good. The above mentioned fritter, the crumb, the buttermilk. Try those first.

Miller's East Coast Deli - A 1/2 block in the other direction. Here you can do damage with Matzoh Ball soup, latkes and blintzes, but what moves me to post is the breakfast sandwich. A bagel (flown in from NYC), egg and cheese with bacon or ham? Get the eggs fried so the yolks ooze onto the bread. This is the closest you'll find to the real deal.

The Cheesesteak Shop - This small chain (my outlet is on Divis) brings everything in from Philly. But you have to know how to order. Get the meal deal with steak fries (curly fries are for girls) and make sure to get the extra meat (they tend to be weak on it with a regular order - that's the big difference in making this authentic). Don't forget to order TastyKakes for dessert - my favorites being Butterscotch Crimpets (my father too) and Peanut butter KandyCakes.

Lucca Deli - The one in the Marina, not on Valencia. Big difference. Here you get deviled eggs. Crazy good potato salad - I'm serious you MUST try this stuff. Try a mortadella sandwich on acme sweet with imported provolone and olive oil and vinegar. Maybe a side of their meat ravioli (eaten cold with your sandwich).

Molinari Deli - Molinari lacks in the deli case compared to Lucca in my opinion. But not to be outdone they'e got a chicken cutlet that makes me do backflips. I'll eat them plain, but to really go for it is to get a chicken parm sandwich. Get extra sauce so you can dip. I dare you to grab a cannoli from Stella Pastry up the street. I'm not dicking around here, people.

Gaspare's - So, while we're talking chicken parm, there isn't a better one on the west coast. Or a better lasagna or veal milanese. All of them are heart stoppers. But you also come for the pizza. You knew that. It's the most satisfying non-neapolitan pie in the city. Order it with pepperoni for sure, but if you're me, you might add meatballs AND sausage.

Russian Bakery - Did you think you'd leave Geary & 19th (just next door to Gaspare's) without some treats to take home? How about Russian meat-stuffed donuts, also known as piroshki? They also do them with cheese. Or maybe some blintzes, or pastry of all sorts. I couldn't tell you the names, but the thing with the poppy seeds and the napoleon-type thing. Sublime.

Flower Market Cafe - You didn't think there were diners in San Francisco that come close to New Jersey. Well, you're right. But I do enjoy the [lack of] ambiance and [lack of] charm of the Flower Market cafe. And the food actually isn't so bad. I come for the corned-beef hash. It's old school. So not fancy. Smothered in ketchup.

Pork Store Cafe - The most satisfying breakfast for me is at this Mission or Haight eatery. I ignore the entire menu in favor of bacon, eggs and hash browns (yes, real greasy crispy HBs) and a biscuit with a side of sausage gravy. You try this and tell me your day won't include a nap and a serious bout of deep moral regret. And smiles.

St. Francis Fountain - milkshakes & french fries. Nuff said.

Hamburgers - That's right, it's the name of the place. 737 Bridgeway in Sausalito. I will drive across the bridge regularly for these puppies. A rotisserie grill, spinning perfect, unfancy burgers with crinkle-cut french fries. Call your order in ahead. The line can get insane in the summer.

Da'Beef - I love a proper Chicago dog. If you don't know what this means, you might not get it. For those who do, there are two places I know of to get them. This cart keeps sporadic hours on the corner of 7th and Folsom. It's worth tracking them down. Their italian beef isn't bad either.

Moishe's Pippic - If you want a more regular shot at the Chicago Dog, this Hayes Valley gem does them perfect. Plus you can get a mean Matzoh Ball soup, corned beef, pastrami, chopped liver and brisket (on fridays) sandwich. Plus Abel and Joe and two of the most affable people you'll meet.

Gorilla BBQ - Drive down to Pacifica so you can eat solid BBQ out of a train caboose. The novelty is fun, but the food isn't so shabby.

Memphis Minnies - But if you're looking for decent BBQ in the city, Minnies is my pick. I like the unencumbered meat and their sauce choices. The mac and cheese is respectable.

Ok, you've got a great start here. More to come soon, I promise. And show me some love if you like these. I want to hear your favorites.

And more...

Arinell is what a New York slice of pizza should be (on Valencia St). It's greasy, it's big, it comes with tattoos, meth heads and a ton of funk. And they've got a proper slice of Sicilian. That is real east-coast.

McDonalds - I'm gonna go out on a limb here. Piss off some people. But at breakfast time, the unholiest of chains has the deal of deals on a satisfying tidbit. The dollar menu. Hash browns and Sausage McMuffin or Sausage Biscuit $2.17 with tax - yes I know that. There, I said it. I do this sometimes and I'm tired of hiding it. And it's really fucking satisfying in a way for which I should be locked up. Sue me. Take away my foodie creds. You're all snobs anyway.

Speaking of satisfying, I have to mention, with no apparent benefit to anyone, that I tried to most amazing breakfast burrito last year at my friend's annual party in Paso Robles and I cannot wait to have it again this year. The crazy woman who made these put eggs, sausage, crispy hash browns, bits of biscuits and sausage gravy in a burrito. Never had better.

Ketch Joanne - I failed to get enough deep fried action for you. And for that, I'm headed down to Pillar Point Harbor, right where I get my crabs off the boat. Fish and chips, fried shrimp - anything fried is good here, and also clam chowder. Run down, down home, home style - all good.

Tu Lan - Continuing with fried, their fried spring rolls are nom nom times nom nom. Sure, get some ginger chicken or other such nonsense, but a proper Vietnamese spring roll (done with lettuce, noodles, carrots, sweet sauce, mint) is a thing of epic beauty. Plus it's 6th Street. And if something is going down, it's going down on 6th Street.

Don't Call It A Frittata!

The Tortilla Espanola suffers an identity crisis here in the United States. Call it simply a Tortilla, as they do in Spain, and it is mistaken for the flat flour or corn wrap used in Mexican cuisine. Serve it at a dinner party and invariably it will be referred to as a Frittata, an Italian omelette of similar shape that is stuffed with veggies, meats and cheeses. The English translation is commonly "Spanish Omelette", but order one of those in a New Jersey diner and you get a regular omelette with peppers, onions and other such stuff. To me, the Tortilla Espanola shames all comparisons with it's casual elegance. There is a rarefied space in the world of cuisine where certain dishes can achieve such elegance with only a few ingredients. It is the sum of their parts that becomes transcendent.

If there were a national dish of Spain, I'd look to the Tortilla. It's everywhere. Pull in to a gas station in Rioja and there's one cooling, fresh from the oven. Every cafe in Madrid has a line of them. North, South, East, West - the Tortilla is ubiquitous. Even in Basque country, where they posses their own cuisine, the Tortilla shines amidst all of the magnificent Pintxos.

TapasenBarcelona

In my obsession to elevate simple foods by focusing on the ingredients, I've crossed the Tortilla's path many times. Anyone can make the dish. Most will be pretty good. But, in my opinion, to do it right, you've got to start with the finest components. Here's how it goes.

Eggs, onions, potatoes, oil, salt and pepper. That's it. Easy right? Yes, actually. But break it down a bit. We've talked about pastured eggs before. Here is one of the perfect places to let those eggs shine. The deep yolk egginess goes perfectly with the potatoes and onions. The salt takes it higher.

For the potatoes, I'm spoiled. Our farmer's market has a stall with the most insane varieties of deeply flavored, well-cared-for spuds of all shapes and sizes. I particularly like these banana fingerlings I picked up last week. But any flavorful potato will do. Avoid waxy or watery varieties. A good yellow would do the trick. Peel and cut them to about 1/4" thick on a mandolin or in your food processor. Make sure the pieces aren't bigger than 3/4" in any direction. It helps with layering the final product.

Some nice sweet yellow onions are next, sliced thinly. I picked up Dirty Girl farms onions this week. This is my favorite farm. They can do no wrong. For salt, I'm partial to Maldon Sea Salt. Oil is mostly always Bariani in our house.

Sauté the onions and potatoes slowly in a non-stick fry pan with some olive oil. Use enough potatoes to fill the pan about half way. Cover them and toss them frequently to evenly cook. Do not let them brown. They're done when the potatoes are fork tender, al dente and the onions are golden. You'll get the feel.

I prefer to let the mixture cool down before combining with the eggs. Salt them to taste. Whisk up the eggs with a splash of milk until fully combined. Use enough eggs to envelope the potatoes and onions, but not so much that it is soupy. Think stew'y, like 40% egg 60% potato. Mas or meno. Salt again. You'll get the feel.

Clean out the fry pan and re-oil. Make sure it is clean so the Tortilla doesn't stick. Return the mixture and cook on low-medium heat until the sides start to form. Run a spatula around the edges to keep from sticking. Add more oil if necessary. When the circle starts to set about 1/4 distance from the edges, transfer the pan to a 350° oven until the eggs are fully set. Just before pulling it out, turn on the broiler for a minute to lightly brown the top.

Remove from the oven and run the spatula through again. Shake the pan to loosen the Tortilla. When you're certain it is free, place a plate on top so you can flip it out. Let it cool down to room temperature or cooler before serving. This dish is definitely better at cooler temps. Too hot just doesn't do it justice.

Not sure how I got to 700+ words on Tortilla Espanola already, but that speaks volumes about the dish. So, stop calling this a Frittata, place it in the pantheon of your best, most trusted dishes. Serve it once a month at a dinner party, with the cheeses as a starter. Pair it with a crisp white wine and live like a Spaniard! You'll get the feel.

Happy-Ness

We tend to go through our lives, head down, plugging away at the things we do to pay our bills, to entertain us, to keep in shape, to connect with our community and to stimulate our minds. This is the best way I can describe life in the modern era. We use technology to attempt to better our existence, but I believe in hindsight these will be seen as the dark ages. We're suffering through inefficiencies in order to embrace the possibility of better living through technology, but we're far from there.

Last year I had an idea. A clear vision, that made my heart race and kept me up at nights with child-like excitement that I may have found my way to contribute to the collective. A solution to a problem. A big problem. The right solution.

I shared my idea with a handful of my circle and it was deemed a great idea, for the most part. I enlisted my greater community to guide me is moving this idea forward and connect me to others that could help complete the vision. I sat in front of a handful of generous colleagues in the venture capital world who would help me to refine this idea and take steps towards building something.

One of my advisors put me in touch with a lovely and talented young lad named Ben. Ben is a rising star in the tech world and holds the attention of many people through his popular reporting and musings on the business of tech. Ben flipped for the idea and saw a better future as a result of it. We instantly clicked and decided to partner and get down to business.

I quickly learned that most technology startups need to be bootstrapped to create a product, any product, before any investor will talk to you. It's the way things are done now. Ideas don't float like in the days of bubble and bloat. You need a tangible representation of your ability to build and create. I leaned that a startup is best founded by the general personality types of a designer, a distributor and a developer. We needed a developer.

I soon learned that many of the great software developers are poached early-on to work for Google or Facebook. And those with experience often start their own projects. I went to "Founder Dating" events to track down engineering talent and realized that there are many many people who are trying to fulfill their dreams of better living through technology. I learned that most people don't go very far with it.

Ben and I hit a wall. This idea was just too good to let it slip away, but neither of us were able to find an entrepreneurial-minded engineer co-founder. We had to pay our bills. We gently let the idea slip. I took the summer off to hang out with my son. Ben starting looking around for other things.

Whilst exploring the world of internet startups, two of my advisors told me about a similar concept that was under development by a team of young, enthusiastic and well-connected silicon valley / Berkeley minds. I was intrigued. Truth be told, after twenty years of doing the entrepreneurial heavy lifting, I was ready to consider a back seat. Perhaps my next pathway was on the shoulders of those smarter and more aggressive than I?

The idea that I had last year, the one that kept me up at nights and that offered better living through technology was essentially directed at this problem... The thing we lack most right now in our daily attempts to use technology to get what we want, is relevancy. We search, research, click, dig, read, review, filter, sort, gauge, judge, ask, refine, share, borrow, test, report, compare, and on and on. Then, after all of this, we decide. It all just seems like we've given ourselves information overload through the likes of Google and Yelp and we've complicated life rather than simplify it. Technology is not helping us.

There are a lot of people trying to solve this problem. Unfortunately, I think most of them have missed the target. I won't get into specifics and only time will tell who floats to the top. Sure there are many ways to skin a cat (by the way, how much do I LOVE this phrase and hate cats at the same time!), so time will tell who has the secret sauce. Enter Ness.

Ness is short for Likeness (http://likeness.com) and is answering the problem in the exact way I envisioned, perhaps even better. They are using machine learning to predict human behavior and suggest solutions to the shit over which we obsess and waste time. The idea is that everybody has their own "Ness". I have AdamNess, you have YourNess. It's the thing that defines us. It's what separates us from each other. Yet we overlap, we cross-pollinate, we share and influence and make similar choices. So, Ness understands who we are and who others are enough to recommend things we'll likely like.

Their first demonstration of this technology is in the Ness Dining Guide iPhone application (link to iTunes). Check it out. See how it does for you. I'd love to hear what you think. Why? Because the Zealot is entering the workforce again. Yes, so you've probably figured out that this post is a pitch in support of my current employer (currently as a consultant). But I don't shill for just any company. These guys are the real deal and I believe in this thing. So, I'm giving you the inside scoop. Go get yours.

There are many ways this technology could help us beyond food: books, movies, events, travel, etc...Ultimately Ness can change the way we make decisions. In theory, if something knew us well enough to narrow our choices, technology would actually make our lives easier. It's a simple concept with a complicated solution. It's the current tech holy grail.

So off I go into that goodNess. I shall continue to muse to you, my loyals. And perhaps one of these days I'll get back to talking about restaurants or food. Or, maybe, you won't need me anymore if Ness does its job.

The Secret Sauce

I've lived a fine life. When I was 16, as many young American Hebrews do, I took a trip to Israel to explore the motherland and deepen my connection to the religion. For me it worked in the other direction. I saw so many secular Israelis, seemingly fulfilling the Zionist mission, yet absent of piety and reverence. They just were. People connected to their history but not wrapped up in god or dogma. I never looked back. Then came college. Somehow, I cannot recall how I wound up doing my final year abroad in Italy. Seriously, I don't know what led me to this decision. I knew nothing abut the place, had no connection (other than my mother's half-Italian heritage, which merely meant good spaghetti and meatballs in our house). But there I was, deep in the experience of learning Italian history, culture, language, art, archaeology... I never looked back.

After I graduated college my first and only job was in the travel industry. I stumbled upon it while looking for anything I could do after moving to Boulder, Colorado on a whim. I was planning to study nautical archaeology at CU, as there was a professor who focused on Roman ports in Israel, the perfect marriage of my passions. To pay the bills, I took a position with a tour company specializing in adventures in Southeast Asia. I was a Mac guy that could work magic on their Filemaker database. Soon I was spending months a year in Asia building their sales division and becoming a noted expert on travel in Asia. I never looked back.

I'm fortunate to say that travel is my greatest passion that I've continually fulfilled. It's my familiar. I slip it on easily. Throughout the ups and downs of life, I always seek to create new experiences by discovering new lands. In fact, I really live for the next trip. No matter what I'm doing, I want to know that I have two or three weeks in the not so distant future that will recharge my batteries. It the only way I know how to accept and manage the doldrums of normal life (ok, it's not so bad, really...but you get the point).

Now, on the road in Argentina, discovering a new place, yet again, with a life very different than my last trip to Spain in 2010 and Greece in 2009, I've noticed a trend. First, it doesn't matter where life has taken us, when we travel we reconnect with ourselves. Without the pressures of our daily grind, the expectations we set for ourselves, the routine...it's easier to get to the root and be present. Moreover, when we experience another culture a traveler will relinquish his predisposition, ignorance and fears and become more receptive to what the universe offers. We let go a little easier, we experience a little deeper.

On this trip I've already found a deep connection to Argentina. I know it, even after just a few days. The formula adds up - they have the secret sauce. It's not hard for my readers to see that my favorite places in the world are Thailand and Italy. I speak both languages passably and have returned time and again, something I haven't done in many of the other lands I've visited. When I look at the commonalities between the places, and now add Argentina to the mix, there is a pattern: I like places that have a broad geographical diversity, Thailand's north and south couldn't be more different. Italy's have practically seceded from each other. Argentina has Patagonia and wine country and Buenos Aires and more. There's a casual elegance about everything here. Its not Europe, but it's got the same charm. Then there are the people, friendly and welcoming all across the board. In each of these places you really feel like you can get a sense of their true experience. They welcome you to participate.

But most importantly, and I wouldn't be the Zealot if it weren't so, each country reigns supreme on their continent for food. Sure, you can argue that Vietnamese is better than Thai or French is superior to Italian or the Brazilians or Chileans outdo the Argentines. But this is my blog and I'm the one ranting. So, I'll say it. Thai, Italian and Argentine food sensibilities speak to me and I consider them the best. I dream of Thai noodles and curries. I lust after handmade pasta and regional Italian cuisine. And so far, I'm quite impressed with Argentine seafood, empanadas and of course the beef. I'm looking forward to two more weeks of exploration.

I love that there are common threads in these places. I am glad to be uncovering this secret sauce of my own. I'm positively certain we all have our own secret sauces. It helps me to understand me a little better. It gives me joy to have places that I can return and feel at home, so far away, yet so familiar. I'm loving being present. And, I'll never look back...

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It's The Ingredients, Stupid!

I've reached the ass-end of the world, and it's actually quite lovely! No joke...after a three hour flight to Dallas followed by a ten hour flight to Buenos Aires, then a fourty-five minute bus ride to Aeroparque and a four hour flight to Ushuaia, you just run out of room. There ain't much further you can travel. In fact, when looking at the expansion patterns of early man, starting in the Rift Valley, across the Bering Strait land bridge, through the Americas - this was the last place they landed. 10,000 years ago, when civilizations were starting to develop in earnest (good morning Mesopotamia!), the last place mankind reached was here. Tierra Del Fuego. Cape Horn. Bumfuck Argentina.

There's a barren windswept quality to the place. Rugged mountains, frigid seas. Big ice-breakers and Antartica-bound cruise ships. Yet it is still Argentina, which means really-charming, European (almost), civilized, and... well-fed. Stunning, actually. And who would expect, a place to find a really good meal. Really good.

I'd read about the quality restaurants in Ushuaia, but that's very relative and subjective. I certainly can't trust Yelp or Tripadvisor for relevant reviews. Ness, the only recommendation resource of any worth, hasn't expanded outside of the USA, so I'm left to my own devices. Tales of legendary fish at a place called Kaupè lured us to try, even though prices were more in line with Danko than Ushuaia. Lonely Planet ranked this place the #4 restaurant in South America. Here? Really?

We entered a lovely house-like dining room where the chef-owner was standing in his whites, talking to guests. The place had a hush to it like many temples-of-food I'd visited in the past. Not as quiet as French Laundry, but that similar anticipatory reverence. The view is lovely, with large windows opening up to the Channel Beagle. There were large hunks of pure white fish on most plates, blinding white, impossibly white. There were few accoutrements.

We ordered from a small food menu and a massive wine list of argentine varietals. Katia would have a Sea Bass in black butter. She was craving fish, singing about it, dancing at the thought after our two days of travel and airplane food. King Crab in the chef's sauce for me. Carpaccio and scallop appetizers. Malbec.

Hot yummy house-made bread was delivered with a spinach cream in lieu of butter. Heavenly. The wine was sublime. Scallops were fresh and tasty swimming in a light interpretation of Lyonaisse. The carpaccio was outrageous, topped with a local cheese and large capers. Everyone talks about the quality of Argentine beef. My first taste was raw and it was magic.

But it was the white brick of fish we wanted. When it came to the table we nearly needed sunglasses. Did I mention it was snow white? One bite and Katia melted: "best fish I've ever had". The sauce was excellent, but it really just complimented the moist and tender sea bass. It didn't need much. We plowed through it with abandon, almost treating my wonderful king crab as a side dish.

A quick non sequitur. The one side dish we did have were some potatoes with a light mustard sauce. Any time I travel, potatoes are extremely different than home. Small in stature, deep in flavor, the non-US potato is a treat. Most US potatoes leave me flat. Why can't we figure this one out. Even the best farmers market potatoes seem to lack that non-US depth of flavor. Maybe it's the water?

Which leads me to the title of this post. After our meal we sat and talked with the chef until closing time. He was quiet and affable, self-taught...a local, in fact. This left me quizzical. what was his preparation of this fish, what was the technique? How did he accomplish what our trained chefs in SF seem to miss so often with fish? He smiled and said "it's the ingredients" (I've added the 'stupid' part to reflect my own snarkiness). The fish, the beef, the potatoes - he gets them every day from the source and they happen to be very good sources.

I'll give the man more credit for his handling of these ingredient, but as we all quest for perfection in our culinary goals it's not a bad mantra to keep in our heads: As we murder, molest, marinade and mangle our food sometime we need to just step back, get to the root of flavor and remember that "It's the ingredients, stupid".

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The Five Course Thanksgiving

I'm just scraping myself up off the floor. Literally. Last night I slept on my couch, in my bed, on my ottoman, on a storage bench and, yes, on the floor. You see, I think I've been very vocal about our Thanksgiving tequila tradition. Last night was no exception. In fact, it was epic. There were loving, heated discussions at decibels that can crack ear drums. There were torrid hookups and meltdowns, singing, crying and vomiting. There was also a lot of love. My family and friends came together and weren't shy about expressing their feelings. Aided by the tequila, it was a true love fest. And I got shitty drunk.

Now, as a look back on the day, which began at noon and ended around 10:30pm, I can't recall any stress from cooking or the flow of the night. Everything went nearly perfectly. I'll blame the tequila for the slightly overcooked bread puddings and definitely for the full-on-burnt-croutons. Imagine how I could fuck up BOTH dishes with Tartine Country Bread? Oy.

So, I'm standing by my previous post. My preparations were spot-on and the food exceeded my expectations. Which leads me to another topic on Thanksgiving that is post-worthy. How do you plan a day of food, with a lot of attendees without suffering from cacophonous plate syndrome? Typical Thanksgiving just doesn't work. Sweet potatoes AND mashed potatoes on the same place? Turkey, stuffing, cranberries, vegetables, bread rolls side by side? Sorry - it's just doesn't work. Yeah, I know, it's your tradition - you look forward to it every year. But from a foodist perspective, it's just plain wrong.

So, for the past ten years or so, I've been doing Thanksgiving in courses.  Start early, plan to include some of the typical flavors in the starter courses, but eliminate some of the clutter from the main course. All tolled, I probably cook 3-4 starter dishes, small plates, lots of flavor. Then comes the main course, typically with Turkey, potato, stuffing, veggie. It's still a lot, but works a lot cleaner than the norm. Then we have two or three dessert options.

I typically reinterpret sweet potatoes. This is a food that can have many faces and has shown up as Sweet Potato Risotto, Sweet Potato Tortilla Espanola, Sweet Potato Gnocchi and this year's Sweet Potato Agnolotti with Browned Butter Sage Cream. I used a Thomas Keller Recipe 'to the letter' and it was drop-dead amazing.

This year, the menu looked like this:

Guests arrive at noon. Cousin Amy rocked a charcuterie ensemble for the ages. AND she made Gougères, straight outta Julia Child. They were stunning.

1. (1:00pm) Crab-Cake-Style Shrimp Cakes with Poblano Greek Yogurt Puree 2. (2:00pm) Sliky Celery Root Soup with Black Forest Bacon 3. (3:00pm) Sweet Potato Agnolotti with Browned Butter Sage Cream 4. (5:00pm) Cider Glazed Turkey with Lager Gravy Savory Bread Puddings with Green Onion, Sage Sausage and Goat Cheese Marsha's Mashed Potatoes Dirty Girl Farm's Radicchio Salad with Pomegranate Vinaigrette 5. (8:00pm) Amy's Pear Crisp with Bourbon Cream Tartine Coconut Cream Tart and Assorted Cookies "Baked" Red Velvet Layered Cake

The timing went off without a hitch. Because everything was prepped, it was just a matter of minor finishes and assembly for each dish. After we finished a dish it gave us a chance to clean up and mingle. It feels like you really get to catch up with people this way.

I'm happy to share most of these recipes, but frankly, you can google or search foodandwine.com to uncover many of them (my crab cake recipe is on this site). I do a lot of interpretation and adaptation of the base recipes, but it's a good start. Some day I should share the soup recipe - I kinda rocked it.

So ditch the traditional nonsense. Go for Thanksgiving in courses. Your guests will appreciate it and soon forget the messy plate piles of portions past.

* Note: Crab season didn't happen this year. The fisherman are in dispute with the buyers over $.50 per pound. It's a shame, as this is our favorite tradition each year. The substitution of shrimp was a game-saver (they were quite good), but it just isn't the same. A big shout out to Tom Borden for paddling his surfboard out in epic swells to drop traps. Unfortunately he on came up with two crabs (he believes the traps were poached).

The Four Days of Thanksgiving

By choosing atheism I have taken the wind out of a lot of holidays. I could easily get bogged down in a defensive posture to rally against the inconsistencies and fairytales that comprise the pandemic delusions we call religion. Ebenezer Scrooge ain't got nothing on an atheist. With all of our crazy 'logic' and silly 'reason' we approach the holidays with skepticism and sensitivity that can suck out the joy and the merry.

Some could argue that we don't deserve to celebrate many holidays and we should just leave the praising parties to the pious. Historically, I call foul. Atheists love to point out that many of the holidays celebrated today are actually poached from pagan traditions. Your Christmas was really winter solstice. Your easter was a fertility festival. And we all know that Hanukah is just an excuse for Jews to give presents, not to be outdone by their Christian neighbors.

Thanksgiving, while decidedly non-religious, isn't without exception. In my twenties and thirties I would call it "the rape and pillage of the Native American homeland day". Today, that just seems douchey. In my forties life is all about acceptance, awareness and balance. Moreover, I'd rather focus my energies on being a foodist and a hedonist. A Holiday centered around food. Sign me up!

Plus there's this whole idea of giving thanks - what a novel concept! In the past few years I've undergone a deep exploration of the nature of appreciation, giving and receiving. A dear old friend and mentor, Jim Freedom recently told me "If you ask yourself what you really want from life, would that not include what we call the 'light'; appreciation, joy, love, gratitude? And that comes with practice. The quality of our life experience is reflected in how we emotionally react to what life is offering." Damn, that's some good juice!

So what better way for me, the zealous epicurean, to offer thanks & appreciate to my community - to the universe, than through food! Thanksgiving is the perfect holiday for me and mine. As a child I loved visiting my relatives in Boston for Thanksgiving, who now live out here in California. We've re-dedicated a tradition to celebrate together with my friends and extended family here. Through college and beyond I developed many of my current Thanksgiving practices (tequila, in particular) with the Colorado contingent of my family. I miss celebrating with them and hope someday we can join forces again. And, for the past decade, I've become the host. I own Thanksgiving. It's my hold-it-now. It's my rhyme.

I hear many people get nervous about preparing the annual meal-of-meals. Like New Year's Eve is for partying, Thanksgiving is amateur night for cooking. It's the one time a year many people will host a dozen-twenty people and they're stymied. The problem is in the preparation. Many people don't allow themselves the time to tackle turkey-day tenderly. It's a four-day event, people. No more, no less. You don't need full days, just a few hours each to get in stride for cooking on Wed.

DAY 1 - Monday You should have planned a menu a while ago. In my next post I will share with you my 2011 menu. I like to reinvent traditional dishes and sometimes tackle a theme. With the right preparation you can actually get creative. Go to foodandwine.com or saveur.com or epicurious.com - narrow down your choices and print out a stack of options. Plan to enter Monday with recipes in hand, raring to go.

Create your shopping list today. I find the best way is to take all of the recipes and go through them one by one, listing the ingredients on a spreadsheet. Then put the amounts of each item in the row (for example butter might have 8tbs + 2 sticks + 4tbs for multiple recipes). Then I'll add up the amounts and round them up to cover my butt. I'll add a column to identify which store to obtain the item (I often hit 3-4 stores for Thanksgiving). You could even break it down by sections within the store (produce, dairy). This makes it easy to tackle the shopping tomorrow.

Day 2 - Tuesday Get your shopping done today. Everyone else is going to be clambering at the stores on Wed. go early when the shelves are stocked and the staff aren't burnt out.

I also use Tuesday to do my most advance preparations. Anything I can cut, prep, chop or prepare and freeze today, knock it out. The more you finish today, the easier tomorrow will be.

Day 3 - Wednesday This is your big day. If you want to actually enjoy Thanksgiving, get it done today. It is important to think about execution tomorrow and how you can utilize the available oven and stovetop space effectively. Remember, the turkey is going to take up the entire oven for most of the day. If you can prepare the other oven dishes to near finality, you can heat them up while the turkey is resting. We often plan our meals in multiple courses to avoid the major crush of turkey time. It allows us to space out the day and relax a little bit, enjoying each dish on it's own (of course you want to have your turkey and it's sides together, but try to keep the plate piling to a minimum).

Prepare everything so that the dishes that must be cooked tomorrow (turkey and mashed potatoes are the only ones I leave for Thursday) can be done with ease and focus. Brine or season your turkey and put it aside. Start your gravy with the neck and giblets and put it aside to add turkey juices tomorrow. Get all of your side dishes completely done and ready to finish a la minute. Your fridge should be stacked high with everything labeled and a schedule in hand of how you will execute. Moreover, you should prepare your serving dishes (with labels) and serving utensils. Don't leave anything to chance.

Day 4 - Thursday I put my turkey in the oven early. I cook it low and slow. Real slow.  Potatoes go along side. Everyone else is busying setting the tables and decorating so I can focus on basting the bird, pulling things in an out of the oven and executing dish after dish with minimal effort. When my guests arrive (we start at noon), I want to be able to mix and mingle and only return to the kitchen to put the final touches on something before it is served.

So, on this day of Thanks - I wish my best to you and yours. Many of my readers are part of my family, my community. We're all connected in one way or another. I revel in the glory of connection. I am thankful for the wonderful people in my life and for the opportunity to share my views and be heard. Enjoy your Thanksgiving, hopefully with some organized calm. If not, next year. Now you know.

Legendary Brussels Sprouts

I apologize Mom, but I'm about to throw you under the bus. Growing up we did not eat many vegetables. And if we did, they probably came out of a can. My mother will argue the point. "We ate veggies", she protests, "carrots, peas, corn". I do have some recollection of the canned peas and butter with mashed potatoes on meatloaf nights. Carrots were special occasion food, often glazed. Corn, well, I suppose - canned, creamed, cobbed - is that a vegetable? But my body chemistry is comprised primarily of pasta, tomato sauce, Spaghettios, meatloaf, meatballs, beef stew and Dino's cheese tuna.

For restaurant people, this might sound strange. But we served diner food and were ashkenzaik Jews. There must not be a lot of arable land in Israel or Eastern Europe, cause the veggie seems to have escaped the ashkenazi diet (except overcooked carrots in brisket and soup). I simply don't recall ever seeing a green vegetable. My sister, though non-confrontational when it comes to family issues, would likely concur.

As an adult I've gone kicking and screaming into the world of vegetables. Steamed or boiled are the worst. I mean really - these things don't taste good naturally, so why kill the texture without adding flavor? Raw is better, but I'd opt to throw them in a juicer rather than choke down the acrid flavors of raw broccoli or chard. Give me au gratin or a puree with parmigiano or anything else to disguise or enhance.

Yet, somehow I've managed to find enjoyment in one of the most universally despised members of the vegetable kingdom, the brussels sprout. In the 70s and 80s the brussels sprout was the stuff of legendary tales of woe. I don't think I ever actually saw one in person, but it was synonymous for the avoidable. Images of kids making foul faces while choking down brussels is all I needed cement my impressions.

As I have grown into eating seasonally and exploring different flavors I've naturally been exposed to brussels sprouts in Northern California. They're everywhere. And people seemed to love them! Wha? Huh? C'mon. For reals, yo? Yup, true dat. So gently I wandered into that good night. And to my surprise, I loved them too! When roasted or pan fried they can gain a sugary crust and people were pairing them with bacon, well...anything with bacon works for me.

Over the years I've played with different recipes and massaged my favorites toward the exceptional. My dear friend, and talented designer, Jennifer Kesteloot [click to see her awesome site] claims that I make the best brussels sprouts ever. Don't go near her at a dinner party where they are served, because she'll eat your hand off if you linger too long by them. I recently received a request on Facebook to post a recipe from a batch I made at Sundance festival last year. Word is out.

So, here we go with my go-to recipe, and if I can muster the energy, I'll give a newer variation at the end.

Brussel Sprouts with Pancetta and Vinegar

Preheat and oven to 350. Allow for about 5-10 whole sprouts per person. Remove any brown leaves. Cut them in half and place them face down in a sauté pan in a single layer - don't stack them. I often have to use two or three pans to accommodate my parties. Drizzle some olive oil over top of them and in between them. Perhaps about two tablespoons per 12" pan. Cut some pancetta into thin slivers about 1" tall and 1/8" wide. Spread them over top of the sprouts liberally.

Turn the flame on to medium high to high. Don't be afraid of the heat. Let them sit. Let them sit. Let them sit. The trick here is to develop a char on them. Leave em alone and wait until they get pretty brown. The natural sugars here will seal in flavor and add sweetness. Check them by just turning one over too see and when they are all brown enough, give the pan a few shakes to loosen them all up. Once they are loose you can toss them about to get the pancetta spread around and starting to cook for a moment.

Next, grab some vinegar and deglaze the pan, while tossing the sprouts. Be liberal. I have been using Sherry vinegar lately with great success, but if you prefer sweeter try balsamic or even some of the fancy flavored ones like a citrus or pomegranate. Experiment. Then take the whole pan and put it in the oven until the pancetta crisps and the sprouts are fork tender. You can keep them warm in here by turning the oven to 200 if you want to prepare ahead.

Lastly, when you are ready to serve, toss some more vinegar, salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm.

Ok, quickly, I'll give you number two...

Fried Brussels Sprout Leaves with Lemon

Take the sprouts and peel the leaves. This is tedious but worth the effort. Collect the leaves in a bowl. Prepare a deeper pot with about a cup of oil - olive or canola or a mix, depending on how much flavor you want to add. Get the oil to 350 degrees and toss in the leaves. Stir them and fry them until they are tender and slightly crispy. Not too much, not too little.

Drain the leaves well on paper towels and put them in a metal bowl. Add some flaky sea salt, pepper, lemon zest and juice to taste. Toss the leaves and add some freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Serve warm.

Become the legend within you with these recipes. Embrace your inner herbivore. My mom is coming to visit next week, so I'm bound to get an earful. Just know that you can break the cycle...my son eats his vegetables!

Thought Different

I'm not much for mourning. Truth is, I tend to take the cosmic view that we're just a bunch of worthless meat-sacks that occupy a cooling lava rock with an incredibly random collection of evolutionary circumstances that keep us ahead of our ever-impending extinction. We're always just one meteor strike shy of going the way of the dinosaur. Someone dies. Yes, and... But with Steve Jobs I feel like I've been witness to the life of a historical figure that rivals the greatest that have ever occupied the planet.  To me, Steve actually helped to make it worthwhile to live on this rock. He fused the realms of work and leisure into a holistic life, fueled by innovation in the exciting world of computing technology. He dared to analyze the way humans interact with themselves, each other, things - and decided to change it by enlisting some of the greatest minds of our time to simply make life better. Thousands of years from now (if the meteor hasn't hit yet) people (or whatever evolves [x-men] or devolves [tea party] next as the dominant beings) will remember Mr. Jobs singularly. When you weed out the riff raff of potential historical potent potables spanning the centuries that comprise the American Empire, I believe that the legacy of Apple Computer and the era of Steve Jobs will be at the top of a short list of those that have profoundly had an unquestionable affect on the course of humanity.

Steve Jobs

This may sound like extreme fanboyism. I'll allow myself such extremities. If there is one avenue that I have traveled without falter over the last 25 years, it is my unswerving dedication to all things Apple. I can proudly say that since 1985 I have not used any other brand of computer as my primary instrument of work and pleasure than an Apple. I have owned Plus, II, SE, Classic, Quadra, Powerbook, Powerbook Duo, LC, PowerMac, Power Macintosh, G3, G4, DV, iMac Colors, iMac DV, iMac Soccer Ball, iMac Silver, iBook, Mac Mini, Macbook Air, MacBook Pro, iPod, iPhone, 3G, 3GS, 4, Nano, Shuffle, Touch, AppleTV, iPad (yes, Newton is missing - so sue me). I have never had a friend, business colleague or family member that I did not attempt to convert to the Apple world (and was successful in most cases - finally Dad!). The dirty little secret that I held in my judgement of people was that if you weren't a Mac person, you weren't getting it. Life, as defined by PC or Mac, was the neatest little compartment I could use, above all others: Democrat or Republican, Jew or Goy, Star Wars or Star Trek, Cagney or Lacey...When I met someone new, if I determined they used Macs, we were immediately simpatico.

The passing of Steve, in itself, isn't terribly shocking. He's been sick for years. We've had time to prepare. His resignation last month was a clear indication that he received the news: your time has come. He was smart enough to step down and take his final days to pass the torch, as best he could. We should have been more prepared. But yesterday hit me, and billions of others, like a ton of bricks. Why were we so affected? I think the world took a collective gasp, not for what we will miss about Steve Jobs as he lived, but more for what we will miss about Steve Jobs had he continued to live.

What saddens me most, and I think I can speak for the billions, is that the work of Mr. Jobs isn't done (as the iPhone 4S clearly shows). The next äppärät that changes the world is now left in the hands of lesser beings. As much as I don't want to succumb to such reverence, I look around at the other lifestyle brands in the world and I'm actually scared. Over the past 30 years, so few companies have been able to create anything close to a product with the same impact as this one company, headed by this one man...

But hope does exist. One of the greatest emotions I experienced yesterday was a surge of enthusiasm for what I could personally do to emulate the vision of Steve Jobs and change my own little slice of the world. With the passing of Steve, I was able to finally bottle my reverence for the man and determine to put it to use in whatever path I choose to travel (drinking the proverbial Kool-Aid). I shared this with my friend who is living in Bali, trying to make his own changes, and I realized that this could be viral.  He too had the same thoughts and feelings. Apparently, people around the world are processing the death of their hero by capturing some of his essence and applying it to their lives. Go figure.

So as we move into a Post-Steve era, I will remain optimistic. Apple will continue with the minds that Steve approved. They probably have a life-cycle of at least 5 years of products that Steve green-lighted before he passed. There's more to come. But moreover, perhaps there's a spark, a light, some vision, that has passed on to the masses that will lead to the next era of innovation. Maybe Apple's stranglehold of superiority in industrial design, human interface and problem-solving-through-technology will find its way into the soul of a generation of entrepreneurs, visionaries and super-industrialists? Maybe we can stand on our own two feet, learn from the master and change the world ourselves. Maybe Steve's greatest legacy is actually...us? Genius.