Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Kaya (2/14/07)

Farofa and French Fries will take almost any excuse to have a romantic dinner out - and Valentine's day is no exception... except that all our favorite restaurants jack up their prices to high heaven. We decided on Kaya because it's been a long-standing favorite of ours for evenings when Farofa knows that she'll want meat, and French Fries wants 'fancy vegetarian' and their fixed price menu was actually comparatively reasonable - $45 for a vegetarian tasting menu, and $55 for the meat-eater's version. In the past we'd been really impressed by Kaya's small plates, and the idea of a chef's tasting menu with lots of small plates seemed like a sure bet for good food, even on night that is apparently the restaurant business version of 'amateur night'.

First Course: Farofa got seared rare tuna with avocado, ginger-horseradish pickle, and shiso leaf, and French Fries the vegetarian starter of papaya and mango salad with romaine, dressed with a chili-lime vinagrette.

Seared tuna

Farofa: Having been spoiled by my first sisho experience, I admit my hopes were way too high for such a standard dish. It was a fine piece of tuna (3 actually, which was 2 too many) and I really liked the shreaded ginger on top, but the sisho had no place in this plate and tasted like an elder house plant.


French Fries: In retrospect, I actually think that this salad may have been one of the better parts of an overall disappointing dinner. At the time, there was some grinching on my part about the not-quite-ripe mango, but the warm papaya, sweet corn and the cilantro and lime dressing made up for that slight failing. It was crunchy and fresh tasting - hard things for a salad to manage in Pittsburgh in the middle of a blizzard - and I cleaned my plate - which wouldn't happen again until dessert.

Second Course: Farofa had lobster beignets with a lemon-chili mojo and French Fries gobbled some shiitake mushroom dumplings with sweet soy dipping sauce.

Lobster dumplings and zesty chipotle sauce

Farofa: Yikes! This sauce was so hot the tears rolled down. Even though it was a bit too much to enjoy in larger amounts, it was tasty and zesty, a good combination with the would-have-been lobster beignets, had there been any lobster in them. At first I thought I couldn't taste it because the dipping sauce's flavour was too overwhelming, but it turns out it was just fried dough - maybe they had a lobster in the kitchen *while* they were frying it...

valentines-day 046

French Fries: I did gobble these - but it was hunger providing most of the appeal, as the balance of flavors was tipped way too far towards sweet, even for my notoriously limitless sweet tooth. Maybe I'm just old-fashioned, but I like shitake and soy far better when they are savory and salty, respectively. I think most of the fault with this one fell on the dumpling wrappers rather than the actual choices made for the filling, but still, not an appealing dish aesthetically or gastronomically.

Farofa: The first thought that came to mind when French Fries plate arrived was how it looked like something from Top Chef, where every contestant used a porcelain spoon to serve sauce at one point or another.

Third Course: Farofa was given striped bass, served with littleneck clams in a coconut/chili broth with potatoes, corn and bok choy. French Fries instead had Tofu Pho.

bass and mussels

Farofa: The Striped Bass was flavourfull and the the tasty coconut sauce made me wish for a nice piece of bread for dipping, but I could have done without the clams (which were a bit chewy).

a huge block of tofu

French Fries: While I know that even the concept of vegetarian phở is blasphemy to true phở purists, I was looking forward to a nice big bowl of broth with, I had assumed, thin slices of fried or fresh tofu and lots of rice noodles and chile. Instead, I got a VERY large block of lightly fried tofu set atop some rice noodles that appeared to have had something of a passing acquaintance with broth in their past. I tried to keep my hopes up in the face of the lack of resemblance to the phở of my dreams - and, while the noodles were indeed flavorful and tender, the dish couldn't overcome the fact that the tofu hadn't been marinated (or had any attempt made to produce a flavor in it other than 'soy product') and the carrots were raw- their crispness in awkward contrast to the soft rice noodles.

Fourth Course: Farofa had a filet of beef with guajillo chili jus, served over warm chayote an hominy salad and French Fries had grilled tempeh served with fried pole beans, cauliflower puree and black olive mojo.

The most perect beef I had in the last 12 months

Farofa: Hands down the best piece of beef I have had in a months. Maybe one of the top 3 I have ever tasted in the United States. It was cooked to medium-rare perfection and and I delighted myself in it slowly and hapilly - the reduce wine sauce was a perfect match, just tangy enough but not too sweet - This was also my introduction to hominy, accompanied by seasoned carrots and chayote, complementing the stellar beef. The serving was probably larger than I needed, but I licked the plate clean.

Burnt seitan

French Fries: Farofa's meat came out before my 'main dish' and looked beautiful even to my vegetarian eyes. It looked even better in comparison when my dish appeared and the seitan not only suffered from the same lack of seasoning that the chunk of tofu had before it - it also had the addition of a centimeter of burnt char on the bottom. I tried a bite - it was inedible. I ended up eating the fried pole beans which were tasty, if a little over salted. I've never had burnt food at Kaya before, so I have to assume this was an aberration for the restaurant as a whole - but in the context of this dissapointing meal, it was the last straw.

Dessert: Farofa lived the V-day dream with a chocolate torte with raspberry-chili coulis and French Fries gratefully munched on Banana Cake served with caramelized banana compote and rum syrup.

Chocolate targe tasted really boring

Farofa: After this, I decided I don't like chocolate custards. I'm sure it was perfectly fine as a dish, but I need some flour in my chocolate dessert.

Banana cake, yumm

French Fries: Basically just banana bread with smashed, rum-drench banana on top, but it was filled with cinnamon and soft and tender in my mouth and so, blew the rest of the meal away by dint of not being burnt, bland or boring. If only the rest of the meal had stuck to these basics, I would have been so much happier. And while I haven't mentioned either the service of the ambiance up to this point (too distracted by complaining the crummy food) - both were warm and welcoming, especially nice because the weather outside was so lousy.

Farofa: **** out of 5
French Fries: * out of 5

Forks Down Verdict: An outstanding filet trumps any meal shortcomings. Unless you are a vegetarian.

2000 Smallman St
Pittsburgh, PA 15222

(412) 261-6565

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Delica rf-1 (2/11/07)

Coming soon to this very spot, a review by the traveling Farofa of her lunch at Delica rf-1 in San Francisco 's inimitable Ferry Building. (French Fries didn't get to go along to San Francisco, and is shamelessly hoping that Farofa picked up some toothsome goodies that will survive the trip back well). In the meantime, nosh on these yummy pictures.

Farofa(F): As a first timer in San Francisco I was overwhelmed by the possibilities of places to eat, but having only one day of leisure I had to place my bet on a few options; I decided to spend the day walking around and ended up by the water at the inimitable Ferry Building, where I had lunch at Delica rf-1. Despite the bizarre name, it is a pretty outstanding place to eat.

Delicia rf-1 is the brainchild of Kozo Iwata, apparently inspired, as many other restaurateurs before him have been, by the Alice Waters 'fresh, local, delicious' mandate. The whole 'Japanese Deli' concept sounds a little funny at first, but it breaks down into a little bit bento, a little bit blackboard, a lot of very good produce made into very good food. It's in an ultra-modern space in the high-rent district of the Ferry Building just south of Chinatown), and the prices reflect that to a certain extent, but are overall pretty reasonable.

Though I generally don't care about vegan options, this might be a good place for those into non-dairy meat-free cuisine. The menu is vast and I wanted a little taste of everything... but restrained myself to a few samples – something fried, something soupy, something veggie, and something weird/different.

Above: Miso soup, Fried Oyster, Kakiage Tempura and Roast Beef Sushi

I like tempura and it’s often a sure bet for comfort food. There is only one way for tempura to be bad: if it's cold. The Kakiage Tempura (mix of shredded burdock root, carrots, onions, and edamame with white shrimp) was cold tempura. Is it too much to ask for tempura to be fried shortly before serving? Maybe I've been spoiled by the other 4,782 Japanese restaurants I have been to in my life, but it was most disappointing because the produce used was clearly fresh and good.

Fortunately, that was the only bad thing about Delica rf-1 (my mother would add that the tableware was also lacking, but I was hungry enough to not care). The fried oyster had a perfect crunchy outside and soft warm inside. I almost got another one because It had been a while since I had good fried Oyster (warning: stay away from Reading Terminal's Pearl's Oyster Bar in Philly). And while the tableware may not have been much, the view was spectacular.

I ordered Roast Beef Sushi for fun, it just sounded weird (and I’ve had successful experiences with weird-sounding sushi - fois-gras sushi being the best). The menu said “Our original sushi dish with Meyer Ranch natural, hormone-free beef, topped with baby arugula, minced shallots, and julienne radish, wrapped with Nori seaweed. Wasabi is included.” – and the result was a tasty sushi, though it had also been sitting on display a little longer than I would have liked. Interestingly, even though it was a two-bite investment, it filled me up the way a good roast-beef platter fills you in. I felt a bit like Alice in Wonderland.

Miso soup with Shimeji mushrooms, brown mushrooms, and age tofu. ($3.25)

I don't think anyone would consider Miso soup the highlight of a meal, but this one was a star. It was by far, the tastiest miso soup I have ever had - and I love miso soup. Miso soup is supposed to be served with sashimi to clean your palate in between different fish (among other things), but this one was made to shine: The miso was high quality, the shimeji and brown mushrooms were fresh, and even the age tofu (which I'm not a big fan of), was filled with the flavorful broth, making every bite as pleasurable as the last. I had a big smile on my face.

French Fries Note from Afar: Some bonus linkaliciousness with a recipe to duplicate Chef Iwata's sesame dressing (it says for over asparagus, I say for over anything)

Farofa: **** out of 5
French Fries: "Whining at the unfairness of the universe."

Forks Down Verdict: Farofa says YUM to this great lunch spot, but she hopes that if she ever goes back the tempura is hot.

Delica rf-1
1 Ferry Bldg
San Francisco, CA 94111

(415) 834-0344

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Ferry Building Marketplace

Farofa is in San Francisco for a few days for a seminar and decided to take one day to explore the city. Having never been here, there is much to choose from but culinary explorations always come first, so with less than 6 hours to spare, the Ferry Building Marketplace seemed like the best choice.


The place is gorgeous and even though it only has about 40 fairly small merchants, it puts Reading Terminal Market to shame. Farofa is a big fan of open markets, specially the kind that mixes high-end cuisine and straightforward local produce. Mercado Municipal Paulistano is and always will be the number one on the list, but Ferry Building Marketplace has made its mark.

Fresh produce

It's hard to walk around in a place like this and not be able to buy fresh produce (they wouldn't have survived the trip home 3 days later). Cowgirl Fromagerie was hard to stay away from - I looked like a Dickens character staring in from the window, hopeful and wishing for the wondrous contents of the display.

Fresh cheese
Creme Fraiche, Mascarpone, Ricotta...

For lunch, I decided to go to Delica rf-1, which deserved its own review. I also picked up two bottles of rosé (French Fries' favourite), a 2005 Bandol Terrebrune that was recommended to me, and a 2005 Mount Tamalpais Gris for a taste of the local variety.


All the walking around called for a snack; found one at the Golden Gate Meat Company in the form of a quarter pound of Hot Coppa - which was so unexpectedly spicy that demanded a full water bottle and a can of coke. Totally worth it!

More meat

The best stop was at Stonehouse California Olive Oil, where I got an 8oz bottle of their Lisbon Lemon extra virgin olive oil (made by crushing fresh, tree-ripened citrus fruit together with the olives at the time of pressing). Of course, this decision took a good half hour and forced me to try all of their various pressings and blends. Oh the hardship...

I learned that citrus oils make wonderful vinaigrettes when paired with white balsamic vinegar, which I had not tried yet (we did try the oil at home with rigatoni and fresh Parmesan and it was spectacular).

Stonehouse California Olive Oil

To wrap up the tour in style, I had to visit French Fries' preferred chocolate store, See's Candies and get a box of her all-time favorite, California Brittle (half dark, half milk chocolate). It was just what was missing to complete the pile of gifts accumulated over my long trip to get to snowy Pittsburgh for Valentines Days.

All the yumminess

Farofa: **** out of 5
French Fries: approves of all the gifts!

Forks Down Verdict: Fun place to spend a weekend morning and have brunch - will come back next time in SFO

Ferry Building Marketplace
1 Ferry Bldg
San Francisco, CA 94111

(415) 834-0344