Considering that Adam took over 130 pictures of London restaurants we ate at, it was only natural that we start chronicling our thoughts and opinions about the food we eat. We've totally become accidental foodies. It all started out when Sheila started calling Adam "the human trash compactor"; since he eats almost anything. But somewhere along the way we started having discussions about food and seeking out culinary adventures when on travel. We bring a unique perspective to this arena as we're both vegetarians (no meat, poultry, or fish). I suspect we will both have varying opinions on the food, and hope to not only have a record for posterity, but provide some fun, useful if not amateur insight.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

serious pie

Tom Douglas is Seattle's celebrity chef - won a James Beard award in the mid-90's and opened a slew of popular eateries across the Emerald City. One of those is Serious Pie in the Belltown district. Just like the name, Serious Pie is all about the pizza!

This place doesn't take reservations, so after putting our name on the list, we headed next door to Dahlia Lounge (another Douglas joint) for drinks. 45 mins later it was our turn. The restaurants is cramped full of bar height and standard communal tables spread amongst multi-level rooms. The wood fired pizza oven takes center stage along with providing some warmth on those cold Seattle nights.

We ordered three pies in total for four people - two buffalo mozzarella with san marzano tomato pies and one chanterelle mushrooms with truffle cheese pie. Meant to be shared, they came out of the oven on wooden pizza peels piping hot with golden brown/charred crust. As expected, the mozzarella was amazingly fresh and mild flavor. The tomatoes were on the sweet side, but were perfectly offset by the sea salt sprinkled over the top. My one complaint was that the salt was overpowering when only tasting the crust. As for the mushroom and truffle cheese, it tasted like an above average herb-infused flat bread more suited for an afternoon snack at a bakery then Saturday night dinner. That night, their veggies pies on the menu and we opted to not try the potato one for fear it would be too heavy.

To end the meal, we shared the tiramisu. It was rich in flavor with a hint of bitter from the dark chocolate and balance by the rum infused fingerlings - probably one of best and I've had 40 - 50 tiramisu in my lifetime. I wish it was about twice as big though, especially since we shared it amongst four. To recap, Tom Douglas does make some serious pies. However when we go back to Seattle, I'll be hitting up the other two venerable pizza joints - Via Tribunali or Tutta Bella - in order to proclaim the best in the Pacific Northwest.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

curry on a taco truck

If you've watched Food Network lately, it's easy to see that the food truck craze has gone mainstream. With Nom Nom, Grill Em All, Spencer on the Go all appearing on TV, gourmet cuisine can now be found in a parking lot near you! The latest one is Curry Up Now.

Based in San Francisco, Curry Up Now sells a short menu of fusion Indian street cuisine - kati rolls, deconstructed samosas, and punjabi burritos. A few Friday's ago, the truck made a stop for lunch in FiDi and I couldn't pass up the opportunity. Arriving at 12:05 at the corner of Sansome & Bush, the line was circa 15 deep. By 12:15 when we at the front of the line, it's was 45 deep; proof positive that social media does really work!

I ordered the paneer tikka masala burrito and mango lassi. First the lassi - smooth, rich, and not overly sweet. But I could tell it was made from the standard canned mango pulp you find at any Indian grocer. At 12 oz it ended up being too small for the burrito given that I needed its coolness for the rest of the afternoon.

Next the burrito - made with paneer, tikka masala sauce, basmati rice, garbanzo beans, and cucumber raita. On first bite the spice hits you - not in the mouth on fire way; rather in the heart burn after two hours way. S noted that it's caused by a heavy hand of garam masala. To be honest, I thought the food would be more fresh - paneer chunk were from the grocer and tikka masala from a bottle; especially if you've tried Kasa in the Mission. The rice and gabanzo beans were cooked well, but their taste was lost over the garam masala.

However with all that said, I would rather go back here than the other Indian joints in the Fidi (Naan & Curry, Gaylord's, India Oven, Clay Oven). This time it'll be the smaller kati roll (made using a paratha rather than tortilla) and the deconstructed samosa (inside out).

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

the third wave

Seattle is the undisputed capital of coffee houses and birthplace of the "second wave" with Starbucks, Seattle's Best Coffee, and Tully's. However there is a new crop of private gourmet coffee houses that is forging the "third wave".

Third wave refers to a current movement to produce high-quality coffee in which coffee is considered an artisanal ingredient (i.e. wine, cheese) rather than a commodity (i.e. wheat, sugar). This has driven improvements in all stages of coffee production: from bean growing, harvesting, & processing; to stronger relationships between growers, traders, & roasters; to higher quality & fresh roasting. Some examples would be Blue Bottle and Ritual Roasters in SF.

With that intro, here's a culinary tour around some of Seattle's coffee house hot spots...

Starbucks (the original location & a second wave member)
It's definitely a tourist "distraction" as the line stretched 30 deep along the sidewalk of Pike Place despite the rain. They were joyfully taking pictures of the original mermaid logo, buying tumblers & mugs, and of course drinking their favorite grande double shot caramel macchiatos with low fat milk, extra foam, no whip, add hazelnut. We opted for the in-season pumpkin spice latte. I have stay - go once to say you did. The coffee is standard Starbucks, heavy handed on the syrup which makes it too sweet, coffee grinds at the bottom, milk tends to be too rich / creamy. With such brand recognition the original Starbucks has certainly become a "check it off my tourist itinerary list" spot. I would go there for my morning cup if living in the area though, even if there wasn't a line.

La Panier (a third wave sleeper disguised as a fantastic french bakery)
A few storefronts down from Starbucks on Pike Place is La Panier, the quintessential french bakery with decadent pastries and surprisingly delicious lattes! By virtue of being in every Seattle guide book (at rightfully so), it can certainly be a challenge to land the first come first serve tables and bar areas. We did after 10 minutes or so. S opted for the amondine and I took the waitress' recommendation for the pain au chocolat. Both were flaky (sign of the right balance of butter and dough kneed / preparation) and extremely fresh. However the best part of our quick french breakfast experience was the latte. The espresso was mild (i.e. not bitter) and the milk smooth / rich. In it's raw form with added sugar or syrup, the latte was a perfect compliment to our pastries. A recommended place in anywhere near Downtown. It's place along Pike Place Market draws in the tourist, but I saw an equal number of locals which says a lot give the location. One of the best french bakeries we've been to outside of the France; and one of the best latte we've ever had!

Zeitgeist (the third wave cool kid)
Tucked away beyond Pioneer Square in an exposed red brick façade building is the Zeitgeist Kunst & Kaffee. It a local joint that serves up one of Seattle’s best cups. The clientele are locals, with a sprinkling of tourist who enjoy taking pictures of everything around (entry doors, menu, tumbler, logo). Okay I lied; only one tourist was snapping photos. Bet you can guess who?!?!

You can tell that the others in front of us are fiercely loyal to Zeitgeist and have made a habit of turning the coffeehouse into their third place. The space moonlights as an art gallery with local pieces hanging on the wall for purchase under a high ceiling loft-like space. The seating and layout are inviting with an 80s ambiance, less Starbucks and more airport lounge. Enough of the architecture, let’s get to the good stuff.

We ordered a latte. It was strong, better yet bold. The aroma and flavors shined through with our frothy smooth milk. The overall mix was not too sweet, not too bitter. However, it was not as memorable as others we’ve had. I don’t know if was the fact we ordered the latte to go or just the overload of lattes drank of the few days in Seattle. S my advice, stop in for a latte to go if in Pioneer, then lose yourselves in the labyrinth of art galleries around Zeitgeist, but don’t make a special trek just for the latte.

Monday, October 11, 2010

the flagship of the emerald city

Our friends CGNV and PV, who have visited Seattle on several occasions, told us not to miss out on Beecher's amazing mac & cheese. So on their recommendation we ventured over to Pike Place Market for a sampling. We ordered the "world best" version and a herb bread twist.

The mac & cheese was made with penne, which for someone who grew up on Kraft, was a pleasant surprise. The cheese, Beecher's flagship, had a nutty flavor with being overly oily. The storefront also acts as working factory, artisans were on display working through large stainless steel vats of cow's milk while curious tourist acted like paparazzi, including me.

I have to say, Beecher's mac & cheese does live up to the hype. The cheese had the right balance of salt and cream and the penne was cooked well. I can see why the America Cheese Society and Martha Stewart are singing its praises. Only if I had room for the grilled cheese with basil and tomato displayed in the sandwich window. Alas, I'll have to come back to Seattle soon!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

mock chicken, really?

The thought of mock chicken, soyrizo, or tofurky doesn't quite resonate as appetizing in my book. But as I learned recently, don't mock it until you've tried it! We always been the adventurous foodie and I've been the conservative human trash compactor. So when she first brought home leftover from Merit Vegetarian in Sunnyvale, I was bewildered. After some coercing, I had a bite of her gourmet mock chicken and the rest of history.

Of all places for vegan friendly joint, you would not expect Westfield SF. However, there stands Loving Hut amongst the familiar favorites Out the Door, Pasta Moto, SF Soup Co, and Bistro Burger. It's outpost of the fast growing chain of 15 or so restaurants, only serving family style Southeast Asian inspired creations.

Ever time we're in the Union Square area and headed home on BART, S and I contemplate if we should eat there. Suffice to say we have succumb and it has become our guilty pleasure. We always order the same thing - the two item combo of sweet and sour chicken, lemongrass tofu, and fried rice. I happen to love combining both dishes into one as the sweat and sour sauce is a great compliment to the earthy flavors of the lemongrass. The gluten nuggets mixed with pineapples, peppers, and onions is not overpowering with spice (i.e. no post mean heartburn). I could eat the entire plate, but that would feed the myth of my human trash compactor status.

It took me a white to realize that benefit of gluten, seitan, and tofu are great substitutes for protein in my diet. I definitely feel the love at Loving Hut, it no frills and seems to be doing well. There's an outpost in Chintown several others scattered around Nor Cal. We didn't think it could survive in a mainstream mall like Westfields, but six months later there she stands. If it takes more than three visit to a restaurant before elevated to "regulars" status, we should be added to their christmas card list!

Take a chance, be adventurous, try Loving Hut. I did and feel so much better for it.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

una pizza napoletana

Is this an installation at MOMA or a Pizzeria? One thing is for sure, it's an experience you have to try once. Anthony Mangieri is the owner of Una Pizza Napoletana, a new hot dining spot in the not so hot Market/Van Ness area of town. He closed up shop in Manhattan and open a mirror image on the Left Coast. Very simple - five authentic napoletana pizzas (all vegetarian), some glasses of wine, and no other frills.

The restaurant is behind a derelict old roll up door, white walls, only 32 seats, no reservations, no waiting area. We arrived at 4:45 and the line was already around the corner for the 5:00 opening. It felt a bit like Sunday morning outside Tartine. Note to all, bring a book, iPad, or someone to converse with as the wait is long!

At the heart of this pizzeria is an open kitchen all to see - a custom made blue tiled wood fire oven from Naples, a old farmhouse sideboard use a prep table, a iron shelf with wood, and trays of pizza dough. Mangieri is on display making pizzas (only three at a time), tending the the wood fire, mingling with on lookers. It really does feel like a museum with a curator obsessed with putting on the best show, I mean pizza. That is of until he runs out of dough each night.

We ordered two - the margherita and filetti. Quite simply the best pizza dough I've ever tasted. Shefali has other thoughts so I'm writing my own opinion. He's a perfectionist and it comes through with every pie prepared. Only the freshest basil, zero zero flour, buffalo mozzarella, evoo, and san marzano tomatoes are used. However at $20 each, you are certainly paying for the right to say you've eat a hand prepared Mangieri pizza. Makes me wish Charlie Phan will be in the kitchen when Shefali and I go to Slanted Door in two weeks.

This place has hype and the line of loyal pizza snobs to prove staying power. Although the meal was good, neither of us would be willing to wait an hour outside, then another 35 mins inside for our pizzas. This is despite Sophie (the front of house lady) kindly checking in with the crowd, handing out menus, and explaining the story of UPN.

All that said, glad to have tried Magnieri's master creations...

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

zero zero

Magherita Extra $13.95

Ambiance is amazing, a loft like space that reminded us in scale to Dosa on Fillmore. The place is definitely hopping and was completely packed by 6:30 on the Saturday we went; especially the two bars! We both agreed it's a great place for a group meal with close friends given the ability to cater to more that a two person crowd.

On to the pizza, the dough was incredibly chewy after a two-minute bake in the 900-degree oven. The chewiness is undoubtedly a byproduct of the famed Napolitano zero zero flour. Of course the buffalo mozzarella and tomato sauce were top notch. However overall it was not memorable. Similar pizzas are being made all over the city. Instead the inventive cocktails (picco collins and spiced pimms cup), organic beets with faro & pistachios and wild nettle angnotti with chanterelle did steal the show for us.

Bottom line, we'd go back with close friends for happy hour or a nice night out, but won't become regulars.

Next up, Una Pizza Napoletana…

Monday, October 4, 2010

the great sf pizza debate

San Francisco is truly a foodie capital, on par with New York. However, we feel our city has become pretentious when it comes to pizza joints. I should re-phrase - specialized pizzerias. GQ, Sunset, NY Times, 7x7, and CN Traveler have been singing their praises. Now they seem to be outdueling each other. Even funnier, they are sprouting up in evey SF neighborhood!

We've been on a mission to decipher what really sets SF's hallowed pizzerias apart? Zero Zero in SOMA, Una Pizza Napoletana in SOMA, Flour + Water in the Mission, Beretta in the Mission, Delarosa in the Marina, Pizzeria Delfina in Upper Fillmore, Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in North Beach, Credo in FiDi, Pizzeria Delfina in Upper Fillmore, and Gialina in Glen Park. The latter two will be reviewed in depth on a future blogs, so for now we'll focus on the formers.

Our focus is on fresh margherita pizzas served in small batches across this city. From the use of buffalo mozzarella, san marzano tomatoes, hand picked basil, and zero zero flour, and the finest extra virgin olive oil - the ingredients couldn't be any simpler. Couple that with wood-fired ovens and you have the makings of something special, right?

The difference? Not very much. The ingredients are fresh, no doubt. So can high-end pizzerias survive in SF, especially when their pizza menus and preparation are so similar? Let's break it down over the next few days.

First up, Zero Zero...

mehta's graffiti masterpiece

Do you know Jehangir Mehta? He's the heralded pastry chef who was also runner up on last season's The Next Iron Chef. Well he owns Graffiti, a tiny restaurant in the East Village.

So when we were going to be in New York and Philly for a weekend wedding, I jumped at the chance to make reservations; mind you more than a month in advance and good thing I did!

Graffiti is an unassuming storefront on a tree lined street just east of NYU's campus. Heck, we would have passed it by if not for the that had line formed outside! Inside the place is super tiny, not much larger than our bedroom. It has bar height communal tables bunched against each other and you're literally eating off your neighbor plate. White table clothes this is not; try newspapers as place mats and I counted only 30 seats. Our reservations were at 5:30; by 6:00 the place was packed and rightfully so.

tapas style modern Indian cuisine done exceptionally well! Plus the menu can be modified for vegetarians. The wait staff was cordial and took the time to explain each dish's complexity after it's arrival at the table. Despite the cramped quarters, the restaurant was very inviting.

If in New York, this is a can't miss experience. So here's a synopsis of our meal -
  • Prosecco lychee martini - could drink them all night if not for our theater tixs for 8:00
  • Green chili paneer served with warm mini naans - the right balance of heat to start with
  • Veggie dumplings with grapefruit sauce served under fried noodles - an interesting mix of Chinese and Indian that I enjoyed much more than Shefali
  • Eggplant steamed buns with thyme fennel relish - our favorite dish; words can't even describe so you'll have to taste for yourself
  • Veggie sliders with chipotle mayo - a fresh take on Bombay street food; better than I've ever tasted in India
  • Coconut macaroons with dulce de leche - the perfect dessert to end this amazing meal
Bottom line is if you want to understand why New York is the foodie mecca, try Graffiti. It embodies all that New York is - a melting pot of cultures and culinary experiences. Go check it out and make reservations for four, Shefali and I will be joining you!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

a new project...

Considering that A took over 130 pictures of restaurants we ate at in London, it was only natural that we start chronicling our thoughts, opinions and feelings about the places we eat.

We've totally become accidental foodies. It all started out when I started calling A "the human trash compactor"; since he eats almost anything. But somewhere along the way we started having discussions about food and started to seek out restaurants when we visit cities. We bring a unique perspective to this arena as we are both vegetarians (no meat, no poultry, and no fish). I suspect we will both have varying opinions on the food, and hope to not only have a record for posterity, but provide some fun, useful if not amateur insight.

So here goes nothing....