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Posts Tagged ‘Lemon Pistachio

San Francisco Strikes Back – Day Two

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March 30, 2011

Ainsley, although usually a very calm and agreeable child, did not approve of her hotel-provided crib. So I was up early and decided to check Dynamo’s Twitter feed to see what they’re making. I had no plans to make the hour-long bus trip there and back since we had a rental car for a day trip up north, and I was going to need all of the stomach room possible for an afternoon of Thomas Keller’s food.

Rats. They were making several flavors that are on my list to try this time around. Chief among those is the cornmeal cherry that eluded me last time. I mentioned my dilemma to Loria and she, ever pragmatic, said that I have four donuts on my list and that if we split them all, that’s really like only eating two donuts apiece. That can’t possibly spoil my appetite, she sagely reasons. I was halfway out the door before she finished the sentence.

Dynamo Donuts – an unwholesome variety and quantity of donuts

As mentioned before, I love donuts more than I can accurately explain. One of the biggest losses in my everyday life over the past year was the closing of the Dick’s Market up the street. Rather than taking that as evidence of my living a particularly charmed life, consider it a statement of how much donuts and I get along. The in-house bakery at Dick’s was amazing, and their apple fritter had become a regular part of my diet. It helped that the store resided in the same strip mall as my gym, so I could get my workout in and easily rationalize the pastry afterward. I’d earned it. Dick’s, you will be missed.

Dynamo, how I missed you. Over the course of this last week-long trip, I made the long trip there three times. If they weren’t closed on the day we left, I suspect there would have been one last trip there as our final stop on the way out of town. I say this despite finding out late last trip that the bus route from our hotel and Dynamo apparently also serves as the most convenient way for the denizens of the Tenderloin to get to the closest methadone clinic. So, needless to say, our merry band of bus riders are a colorful lot. I barely noticed on the way there, anticipation drawing my attention to the countdown to my 24th Street stop; the way back is fraught with terror as I will myself and, more importantly, my box of $3 donuts to be invisible.

Here’s what we ate during the entire trip. I’m sure if you do the math you’ll realize that if only four of these happened on this first day, we had a couple of really piggish days thereafter. Maybe it’s better if you just don’t do the math.

The Old
Meyer Lemon Huckleberry – this one is nicely tart due to plenty of lemon zest.

Maple Apple Bacon – same and brilliant as it ever was. I may or may not have eaten one of these myself each time I went.

Lemon Pistachio – beautiful middle Eastern flavors with the lemon glaze being much more acidic than you’d find on a normal lemon donut.

Hot Cross Bun – hint of nutmeg in the pastry cream filling.

The New
Molasses Guinness Pear – dense molasses donut with Guinness-soaked pears, crystallized ginger, and raisins with a molasses glaze. I love pears, crystallized ginger, and desserts, so this donut should be a no-brainer favorite. Instead, I found it rather muddled. I’m not sure if it’s a function of there being too much going on or a function of the donut being particularly dense and smothering the other flavors, but I could taste only a touch of pear, plenty of molasses, and not much else. That being said, the worst Dynamo donut is better than most other donuts I have available, so still a very pleasant experience.

Cornmeal Rosemary Cherry – cornmeal donut with rosemary and dried cherry with a buttermilk glaze. I love the idea of cornmeal in a donut. As a flavor, it doesn’t show up much in this one, being taken over by the glaze.

Monte Cristo – donut with chunks of gruyere and ham in the batter filled with a house made jam. Great jam, though I could have used more of it. And, while we’re at it, more of the ham and cheese would have been good, too. The one bite that I got that contained all three was sublime, though.

Bitter Queen – candied grapefruit donut with an Elderflower glaze and dusted with Campari sugar. Brilliant little pastry, this. First of all, there is much more sourness and bitterness than I anticipated in a donut. The Campari sugar is very flavorful, but the candied grapefruit makes this donut for me. Seeing this on their daily Twitter feed will give me serious hunger pangs from here on out.

Blueberry Cornmeal – cornmeal donut with fresh blueberries and a lavender glaze. I preferred this version of the two cornmeal donuts. Clear, copious amounts of blueberry flavor and a nice compliment from the lavender.

Strawberry Earl Grey – donut with dried strawberries and a double bergamot Earl Grey glaze. Orange from the bergamot oil in the team and strawberries, both very prevalent. I wish I’d gotten a second of these, as the half that I had didn’t have many dried strawberries.

Peanut Butter Banana – banana donut with peanut butter glaze. I’ll admit to not finding much banana flavor here, though the peanut butter glaze was delicious.

Dynamo Donuts & Coffee on Urbanspoon

Our appetites properly piqued, we picked up the rental car and headed north over the Golden Gate through Napa. It’s a beautiful drive that would, I’m sure, have been greatly augmented by an occasional stop at a winery for a tour and tasting. We don’t drink, though, so we blow right past Napa on up to Yountville to visit

Bouchon Bistro – Rillettes, Lobster Bisque, Poulet Rôti , and Gnocchi à la Parisienne

Our previous visit to Bouchon in Vegas was a memorable meal. We are also avid fans of the bakery, so we figured that it would constitute a nice side trip to visit the mother ship of both. We encountered what was to become a running theme on the trip: the wait staff, as happy as they are to see us, are over the moon about having Ainsley dine with them. Both the our server and the greeter are both lavish in their praise of her beauty and behavior. And, as much as I feel immune to a wait staff who butters me up personally, appreciating my child seems to wonder for my mood and the size of the post-meal tip.

This incarnation of Bouchon is a much smaller, more intimate room. I’m fairly surprised that we are one of maybe five tables occupied. The lobster bisque arrives and I’m surprised to find a deep, rich, and complex flavor more akin to a beef stew than the seafood-enriched soup I’m expecting. In fact, without the benefit of having been the one ordering it, I don’t know that I could have identified it as a seafood dish at all. It’s not bad, but definitely not expected. The rillettes, on the other hand, comes exactly as described: meat cooked into a tender paste, packed into a small crock, then topped with apricot preserves. It’s served with small grilled pieces of toast which I feel duty-bound to pile as high as I can with the tasty mix. The flavor balance is dead on, with the preserves providing just a bit of acid to cut the fat of the meat. I kind of wish we’d ordered two of these and skipped the bisque.

There are no surprises with the mains, however: the roast chicken is juicy, flavorful, and perfectly done. I recall there being vegetation that accompanied the dish, but it hardly mattered. I was too busy denuding the bones of my part of the chicken to pay much attention. The gnocchi is the best I’ve ever had. It is light, airy, and the browned butter sauce around it is beautiful.

We’re offered dessert, but plan on the bakery next door.

Bouchon on Urbanspoon

Bouchon Bakery – small assortment of desserts

I don’t know whether I was full or simply sated after the Dynamo run, but a trip to Bouchon Bakery, usually an expensive endeavor, turns into a fairly cheap affair. We grabbed a chocolate eclair, which was rich and decadent and that I would gladly enjoy again. I also grab a blackberry pâte de fruit (mispronouncing it as “pa-tay d’froot” only to find it’s actually “paw d’fwee” (die in a fire, French language)) and two macarons. Among them, only the passion fruit macaron stands out as being anything special.

I’m certainly open to admitting that, after a day of food indulgences, my palate was shot. The next time we’re in Vegas, I certainly will be excited to visit the version of the Bakery in the Venetian. This one in Yountville has a larger selection, adding a robust selection of breads to the menu. Since we were there for dessert, I was mostly focused on those and surprised to find that there are very few choices here that can’t be had in Vegas.

Bouchon Bakery on Urbanspoon

The drive home was trying. We managed to nail rush hour between Napa and Oakland, and sit in the car for an extra 45 minutes. Ainsley’s patience finally runs thin, and by the time we’re dropping the car off at the hotel, she’s in real need of feeding and a nap. As such, when dinnertime rolls around an hour or so later, I head out to forage for food to bring back. Since the mall is just next door, I opt for an old friend.

Out the Door – Green Papaya Salad, Steamed Pork Bun, Crispy Jumbo White Shrimps with Garlic Shanghai Noodles, and Lemongrass Pork Noodles

Among my proud accomplishments this trip is that I have both convinced and addicted Loria to the joys of Out the Door. The fast-food incarnation of the famed Vietnamese restaurant The Slanted Door offers impressively seasoned and conceived dishes to go. My experience with them last trip was marred only by the fact that I discovered them the day before we were leaving, so I didn’t get to try everything on the menu.

I’d had the green papaya salad last time and loved it, and grabbed one again this time to make up for the last time I talked Loria into a papaya salad at a local Thai place that was dreadful. She agreed that this version was crisp and delicious and has rhapsodized about its joys since then. The steamed pork bun was the same as last time, with bonus points being awarded for it not being the disturbing color of blood red that most similar buns in San Francisco are on the inside.

Of the two entrees we got, Loria picked better than I: while the shrimp noodles were good, I found somewhere halfway through my dish that I’d had more than enough of them. Instead, I finished up the lemongrass pork noodles and wished that I’d gotten the caramelized chicken that was on the menu.

One note: the online menu appears to be somewhat out of date, as the lemongrass chicken that appears there wasn’t available. I’m not sure if that had something to do with our being there somewhat late in the day, but good to know if you’re headed there that it’s best not to get yourself married to any particular dish until you arrive and see what they are actually offering that day.

Out the Door on Urbanspoon

Up next: a naked song. Cringe, San Francisco, cringe.

What I Ate in San Francisco – A Confession

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March 30 – Day One
We started our SF visit – nominally motivated by Wondercon, which Loria was working and I was attending – at the Ferry Building. And we chose well. And then, shortly thereafter, not so well.

Boccalone – Meat Cone

Chris Cosentino’s salumeria, the offspring of his local Incanto restaurant, is filled to the brim with preserved pork. A smaller shop than I’d envisioned, it didn’t disappoint with the meat cone, a selection of the shop’s delectable pork treats served in a small paper cone of the type you’ve probably had a shaved ice in. Ours had capocollo, prosciutto, and soppressata in it. At $3.50, it’s a tasty, tasty bargain that reminded me just how magical an animal the pig is.

Boccalone on Urbanspoon

Not surprisingly, we weren’t full, having not eaten since a hurried breakfast at 5am. I do truly hate early morning flights. So, we walked around, looking at other options in the Ferry Building, which has a wide variety of small food stands. Several of them, like Slanted Door and Hog Island Oyster Company, I’d heard of and was interested in trying. We had many miles of trudging to do in search of good food, though, so we opted for

San Francisco Fish Company – Crab Cake Sandwich and Clam Chowder

You’d think that combining “San Francisco” and “Fish,” this place would be a no-brainer for good food, right? Instead, we ate a mushy crab cake so overpowered with parsley that I couldn’t even begin to taste the crab, and a cup of the thickest, blandest clam chowder I’ve ever had. It was enough to stave off the hunger pangs long enough to arrive at our next feeding trough, but wasted money, calories, as well as the commodity that proved to be the most valuable on our trip: stomach capacity.

To get to that trough, we took the BART from Embarcadero to the 24th Street station and started walking to

Humphry Slocombe – Boccalone Prosciutto, Toasted Coconut Caramel Candy Cap, and Secret Breakfast

This ice cream shop specializes in wild, out there flavors. As far as flavor went, I couldn’t taste much of a piggy note at all in the prosciutto ice cream, which I’m sure some would argue is a good thing. However, if I’m brave enough to order such a thing, I would at least like some hint of meat in my treat. Instead, it tasted a lot like bland ice cream base.

The Candy Cap in question is a mushroom. It adds a nutty quality to the dessert, and this was by far the best flavor of the three. Secret Breakfast, which I tried just a sample spoon of, is intended to be Irish Whiskey and corn flakes. I couldn’t really taste any of the cereal, so basically it was a half-teaspoon of whiskey ice cream. That’s not a bad thing, per se, but isn’t exactly revolutionary.

My biggest problem with all three ice creams was the texture. Try this experiment: go buy yourself a good premium pint of B&J and leave it on your counter for an hour. Refreeze it, then taste the outer surface. Every one of the Humphry Slocombe ice creams that we ate had this same kind of grainy consistency. It’s likely that the flavors that I wasn’t getting were being washed away by the huge ice crystals ensconced in the ice cream. At any rate, it’s not a pleasant texture for ice cream, and seems like the sort of thing that a pro can easily avoid. Looking at their flavor list, I think we kind of lost out on some of the potentially exciting ones. Unless of course, all those flavors end up just as bland as those we tried. Color me disappointed, overall.

Humphry Slocombe on Urbanspoon

Out the door and a few blocks up the street

Dynamo Donut and Coffee – Ostensibly the Maple Glazed Bacon Apple, but so…very…many

A small, easily missed shop unless you are looking for it specifically. Which, fortunately, we were. I love donuts to a nearly unnatural degree. Put a high-quality, crunchy and sweet apple fritter in my hands and all is right with my world. Ditto a good, dense buttermilk bar or old fashioned. I can tell a good donut shop from a bad one easily by the look of the pastries, and sometimes just from smell.

Dynamo is the real deal.

In total, we visited Dynamo three times in a week, each trip requiring a half hour on public transit each way. We dropped an obscene amount of money on what would would consider to be mere snacks. I would have considered it a happy, happy trip had we subsisted entirely on them. The majority of my weight gain over the course of the trip was due to them, I’m sure. Even the weaker entries were better than the majority of donuts I have readily available to me locally. I gave serious thought to asking about franchising opportunities.

Here is the butcher’s bill for the entire trip. Stop judging me, please.

Chocolate Rose – dense chocolate cake donut with a rose-infused sugar glaze. Just enough of the rose to detect and enjoy, and that chocolate cake is the best I’ve ever had. I wasn’t surprised, on the last of the three visits, to see the baker pull out a large bag of Valrhona chocolate powder. Use the best ingredients when cooking and you’re halfway there.

Spice Chocolate – same dense chocolate cake but dredged in cinnamon, sugar, and chipotle powder. I’ll admit openly that I tasted no heat at all here. I would like to have done so – the combination of chocolate and spicy ingredients really do please my palate. Maybe I hit them on a weak day.

Saffron Chocolate – alleged to be a raised donut with saffron and orange zest in the pasty and glazed with a chocolate saffron glaze, I really only tasted the orange in the pastry and chocolate in the glaze. I would be willing to sit down with a large cup of the regular chocolate glaze and the saffron version to do an in-depth taste test, though.

Vanilla Bean – clean vanilla taste in the glaze

Maple Glazed Bacon Apple – this is, I’m pretty convinced, the perfect raised donut. The apple in the pastry part is crisp and tart. The maple glaze has the sweet, earthy flavor that only comes from the real stuff. The crisp little bacon bits on the top push it over the top. It’s a perfect balance of salty and sweet. I will cop to the flavors of donuts I had during our trip, but refuse to disclose the numbers of each that I consumed. If I did so, a shameful number would be these bad boys.

Caramel de Sel – a nutmeg donut with a layer of fleur de sel caramel. I suspect these are much better eaten when warm. Mine was cold and the hardened, sticky caramel coated the inside of my mouth and made tasting any of the pastry impossible.

Lemon Pistachio – if you’ve had much middle eastern cuisine, you’ll be familiar with the combination of pistachios and lemons. This is a great interpretation, though I admit that I could have used more nuts on the outside.

Lemon Sichuan – vanilla donut filled with honest-to-goodness fresh lemon curd rather than that nasty, dayglo stuff you find in most donuts, then dredged in sugar and sichuan peppercorns. I was hoping for more pepper, as I didn’t really taste any, but I still love this donut a lot.

Lemon Thyme – lemon zest and thyme in the pastry and a honey lemon glaze. Of the more exotic herb-and-spice flavored donuts, this one had the most herbaceous taste. It’s a really inventive combination that works really well.

Candied Orange Blossom – candied orange blossom in the pastry and glaze, and a drizzle of bittersweet chocolate. I think I tried this last on the most donut-heavy day, and my ability to enjoy was getting muted. It was fine, if not entirely memorable.

Apricot Cardamom – cardamom, dried apricot and current pastry with a cardamom glaze.

Chocolate Star Anise – chocolate cake donut with chocolate and star anise glaze. I didn’t really taste much anise, which is fine with me as I’m having a hard time imagining it pairing well with chocolate.

Chocolate Rosemary Almond – chocolate cake donut with rosemary chocolate glaze covered in rosemary-fried almonds. The rosemary is pronounced enough to detect and doesn’t match particularly well with either almonds or chocolate. Or maybe it’s the entire package that I objected to…at any rate, not my favorite.

Meyer Lemon Huckleberry – raised lemon zest donut with lemon glaze, then covered in huckleberry glaze. Tart and sweet, I really enjoyed this one.

Sticky Bun – basically scraps of all the other donuts drenched in a caramel glaze. Better sounding than tasting, in my humble opinion.

Milk Chocolate Passionfruit – raised donut with a passionfruit glaze covered in milk chocolate crumbs. Despite not being a huge milk chocolate fan, the big huge passionfruit flavor won me over on this one.

Hot Cross Donut – a special for Easter, I gathered, this was a filled pastry cream donut that I recall loving and cannot, for the life of me, remember a single flavor involved. I would buy and consume one right now if asked, though, if that gives you any indication how I felt about it.

I got skunked trying to get a Cornmeal Cherry on two separate occasions, so it along with Pumpkin Spice and Guinness Chocolate will need to wait for another day.

Oh, Dynamo. I miss you already.

Dynamo Donuts & Coffee on Urbanspoon

We needed a nap after this. I woke up hungry, against all odds, and searched online for options and found

Sotto Mare – Clam Chowder, Shrimp Cocktail, and Sand Dabs

Neither of us were ravenous, so we decided to walk from our hotel on Market and Fourth to this little gem in Little Italy. The reviews were raves when it came to the seafood. It was a much longer walk than we’d anticipated, so by the time we arrived we were ready for food. We split soup, appetizer and entree. It was uniformly amazing. I thought I’d pretty much seen all that clam chowder had to offer, but this bowl was revelatory: very little cream, all clam flavor. The reviews all mentioned sand dabs as a standout favorite. I love seafood, but hadn’t ever had them. We got a plate with some vegetation and 8 small, pan-fried fish that were rich and satisfying.

I’d go back here in a heartbeat.

Sotto Mare on Urbanspoon

Next time: day two, where we learn that getting into prison is harder than one might imagine, and that I really ought to think more literally when trying to decipher a menu.

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