Posts Tagged ‘Wondercon’
March 31, 2011
I woke up and discovered that Dynamo has two more flavors I’d not yet tried, so I made the early morning call and asked them to put aside a box. ‘Twas a small box. What followed was a full-blown donut melee. I won. Well, Sara Spearin really won, having not only scored my donut money but $20 for a t-shirt. But I felt like a winner, and that’s all the really matters, right?
Loria was scheduled to help her sisters set up the WonderCon booth, so Ainsley and I had an afternoon of cuddle time on the docket. Her sisters arrived in town and declared themselves in need of a dim sum fix, so I was off like a shot to a lunch spot that, after reading a bit, I decided I must try and discovered that this was probably my last chance on this trip to do so due to some upcoming renovations.
Naked Lunch – Artisan Foie Gras Torchon & Duck Prosciutto Sandwich, Smoked Pork Loin and Chorizo Sandwich, and 4505 Chicharrones
Read that first sandwich name again. Take a second to reflect.
Add to it that it is served with a slice of heirloom tomato which reminded me all over of what an actual tomato tastes like, butter lettuce, and black truffle salt, an ingredient that I have come to appreciate the power of in my home kitchen. I loved this sandwich so much that had I not been scheduled to take care of the little girl, I might have run back up to see if I could score another one. And I nearly strapped her into the baby Bjorn and did so anyway. It defines the word unctuous, with just enough herb from the lettuce and acid from the tomato to balance things out. And as over the top as foie gras on a sandwich sounds, duck prosciutto is even more so, in a good way.
I’d read a few reviews talking about the sandwich being very rich, so we decided to venture a try on chef Ryan Maxey’s latest brain child, a smoked pork loin and chorizo sandwich. It seems odd to call a pork and sausage sandwich light, but it certainly felt light next to the foie gras. Very thinly sliced pork loin with the perfect amount of smoke, just a touch of chorizo, and a creamy sauce. If I’d gone back for another foie gras, I might have needed to grab one of these to throw in the fridge and eat later on.
I’d also read nice things about 4505 Chicharrones, so I grabbed a bag.
Quick side note: after some hard-won weight loss over the past few years, I am a diet-controlled diabetic. When I was first diagnosed, I turned to pork rinds as a low carb snack for my Friday night game nights. Although they provided me with something to cram in my gob to help me avoid eating the other snack delights that generally grace the gaming table, even the hot variety that I could find locally available had the personality, texture, and flavor of packing peanuts. This goes by way of saying that my expectations for what a chicharron could be were fairly low – I figured I’d done my time in that particular circle of gastrointestinal hell and they just weren’t my thing.
Here’s to my sweet pork skin. I was so very wrong.
These little crunchy treats are light and airy. They coat the inside of your entire mouth from the first bite with a pleasant film of porky goodness. The seasoning on them is at once spicy, sweet, and happiness inducing. Had I gone back up with Ainsley to grab another couple of sandwiches, several bags of these would have been acquired, too. Fortunately, although I didn’t make it back up to North Beach for food, we did run across the 4505 booth at the Ferry Building just as they were closing down on Saturday and snagged another couple of bags, including a big one that I shared with my gaming group this past Friday. I was crushed to find out that FDA regulations prevent them from shipping out of state, but plans are in the works to have locals acquire a life-giving box of them to be smuggled across state lines.
Like Dynamo, Bi-Rite, and Out the Door, Naked Lunch has entered my list of places that I’ll need to hit at least once during a trip to San Francisco in order for the trip to be complete. There is some crazy alchemy going on there and I wish I could make myself a regular customer. Hear that, universe? Move the Naked Lunch madmen to Utah, please.
Ainsley and I played away the afternoon. Mom arrived back at the room hungry, which was good because we had reservations for dinner. We had every intention of hitting this spot during our last vacation in San Francisco, but every time dinner rolled around and I looked at that one, lone map marker way south of everything else, the will to travel left me and we opted for something closer to the hotel. Hungry and excited, we hit the Muni J line and, a rickety train later, we were in Noe Valley.
Incanto – Porchetta di Testa, Handkerchief Pasta and Rustic Pork Ragù, Pork Cheeks, Cippolini and Polenta, Sticky Toffee Pudding and Spice Ice Cream
Many pigs died to bring us this meal. They were appreciated by the diners and honored by the chef.
We’d loved our visit to Chris Cosentino’s Boccalone in the Ferry Terminal last trip and vowed that we’d make it to his restaurant Incanto this time around. Judging by the pictures on the website, we figured it was upscale enough that we ought to call ahead to make sure that Ainsley would be welcome there. The staff were enthusiastic in their positive response, but we booked an early reservation, figuring that on the slim chance that she might get fussy, there would be fewer diners around to be disturbed. We timed our arrival well: the doors opened as we walked up, and Ainsley had conked out on the train ride over.
“Are you adventurous diners?” our server opened his introduction of the menu by asking. Looks like we’re in the right place.
Porchetta is a lovely boneless pork roast constructed with layers of pork flesh, fat, and stuffed with herbs and spices. Porchetta di testa is basically the same thing, only instead of using various parts from the entire pig, it uses an entire pig’s head with the bones removed. Alternately, think of it as a very sophisticated and intricate head cheese without the gelatinous bits. The dish was presented with a salad of greens dressed with an acid-heavy vinaigrette. Loria discovered something interesting early on about the dish: the balance was so well-conceived that there were parts of the thinly cut meat that were relatively bland without a bit of the salad to accompany them, but that lit up with flavor with the addition of the acid and herb. I’m really glad we ordered this to start.
Our entrees arrived and we eagerly devoured both. The ragu had some particularly light and enjoyable pasta. The standout for me, however, were the pork cheeks. The meat was fork tender and had a deep, deliciously meaty flavor and the onions a sweet note that paired well with it. The polenta was perfectly cooked, creamy and rich. The star of the dish was the sauce. A dark, rich concoction that I bore no shame in mopping every drop of from the bowl.
If I have a complaint, it was about dessert. The sticky toffee pudding wasn’t bad, really, just not up to the standard of the rest of the meal. The cake portion of ours was a bit dry, even with generous application of the toffee sauce and ice cream. It also felt a bit small for the $8 price.
That small quibble aside, we loved our evening at Incanto. Between our mains and dessert, Ainsley woke up and one of the servers wandered by to play with her a bit. I really got the sense that we were welcome. It’s a warm space with warm people in it. One of my real regrets from the trip is that had we stayed an extra night, we might have been able to make Cosentino’s annual Head to Tail dinner. Maybe it’ll happen the week before the convention next year and we’ll be able to attend. In lieu of that, we’ll invite nine friends there to do one of his whole pig evenings.
Up next: somewhere Ainsley ain’t so welcome.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.