A Visit to Sam Choy’s Poke to the Max

A huge musubi with Spam and green onion omelet at Sam Choy's Poke to the Max.

A huge musubi with Spam and green onion omelet at Sam Choy’s Poke to the Max.

 

At first, you might scratch your head at the fact that Hawaiian celeb Chef Sam Choy picked a sleepy block in San Bruno, right across the street from Artichoke Joe’s Casino, for the first California franchise of his Sam Choy’s Poke to the Max.

But the reason for the unlikely location becomes crystal clear when its head Chef Wade Tamura explains: First, the seafood gets flown in regularly from Hawaii, and San Francisco International Airport is just a short hop away. Second, one of Choy’s favorite vacation spots just happens to be San Francisco.

With poke places seemingly popping up on every block these days, what sets this one apart? I had a chance to find out, when I was invited in as a guest of the fast-casual eatery a week ago.

Chef Wade Tamura.

Chef Wade Tamura.

First, there’s no denying the pedigree of having a James Beard Award-winning Hawaiian chef behind it. Choy comes out to the Bay Area at least four times a year. And Tamura, who was previously at Facebook, Google, and the Slanted Door in San Francisco, also has worked with Choy for more than two decades.

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Relishing the Simplicity of Rice and Peas

So simple, so satisfying -- Italian rice and pea soup.

So simple, so satisfying — Italian rice and pea soup.

 

Peas and rice make more than nice.

Together, they make total comfort in a bowl, too.

In fact, “Rice and Peas” (Risi e Bisi), an almost porridge-like dish of Italian rice, pancetta and peas reminds me very much of Chinese congee. But it’s quicker to make. Yes, imagine that — an Italian version of Chinese jook, if you will.

The recipe is from the wonderful new cookbook, “Tasting Italy: A Culinary Journey,” of which I received a review copy. It’s a beautiful coffee-table book. But with fuss-free recipes you will actually make. It’s a collaboration between National Geographic, which provides the photos and narrative about the various regions in Italy, and America’s Test Kitchen, which came up with the recipes.

Read a travel log on each distinctive region of Italy, then get to know it even better by cooking one of its iconic dishes. For instance, “Rosemary Focaccia” from Liguria, Italy’s northern Mediterranean mountainous coastline; “Jewish-Style Artichokes” from Lazio, home to Rome, famed for its thistles; and “Tuna with Sweet and Sour Onions” from Sicily, an area awash in olive groves and citrus trees.

TastingItaly

For generations, Venetians have served “Rice and Peas” (Risi e Bisi) on April 25 for St. Mark’s Day to celebrate spring peas and to shine a spotlight on rice producers in the Veneto region.

But nowadays, frozen peas mean you can enjoy this dish anytime.

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Sensational Seared Miso Mushrooms

What's in this bowl? An umami bomb, that's what.

What’s in this bowl? An umami bomb, that’s what.

 

There are only three ingredients in this recipe and none of them is meat. Yet you won’t believe the powerhouse of earthy, meaty flavors it possesses.

The secret is red miso.

“Seared Miso Mushrooms” is a recipe from the new cookbook, “Feasts of Veg: Plant-Based Food for Gatherings” (Kyle), of which I received a review copy. It’s by Nina Olsson, a Sweden-based photographer and recipe developer who created the blog, NourishAtelier.

The book is a collection of vegetarian recipes that take influences from around the world. Think “Caramelized Onion Tarte Tatin,” “Smoked Tofu Rillette,” “Chipotle Jackfruit Tacos,” and “Sweet Tahini Babka.”

Feasts of Veg. jpg

Miso is made from soybeans fermented with rice or other grains. If all you know is the lighter tasting white and yellow varieties, it’s high time you tried its deeper, darker cousin that’s been fermented even longer. It is much more pungent, with a much deeper and stronger earthy funkiness that will give anything it touches a big boost of umami.

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You Can Never Go Wrong at Rich Table

Broccoli tamale at Rich Table.

Broccoli tamale at Rich Table.

 

Rich Table is one of those restaurants that confounds.

In the best of ways.

What other place thinks of threading whole sardines through potato chips? Or baking levain bread with dough infused with Douglas Fir? Or tossing a tangle of pasta with sauerkraut and pastrami?

Only this San Francisco establishment founded by husband-and-wife chefs Evan and Sarah Rich.

No wonder this casual, relaxed place has earned a Michelin star.

Step inside the casual Michelin-starred restaurant.

Step inside the casual Michelin-starred restaurant.

A little bathroom humor on the bathroom wall.

A little bathroom humor on the bathroom wall.

Even before garnering that honor, Rich Table was always a tough place to get a reservation. It’s even more so now. But plan ahead to score a table and you will be richly rewarded, as my husband and I and our friends were on a recent Sunday night. We paid our own tab at the end, but Chef de Cuisine Brandon Rice did send out a parade of desserts on the house at the end.

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Slow-Braised Lamb Ragu with Rigatoni and Whipped Ricotta

Whipped ricotta with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil finish this lamb ragu with rigatoni.

Whipped ricotta with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil finish this lamb ragu with rigatoni.

 

Winter’s chill begs for a robust dish.

One that demands an equally powerful wine alongside, too.

So stir up a big pot of “Slow-Braised Lamb Ragu with Rigatoni and Whipped Ricotta” and pop open a bottle of Italian Barolo — and you can’t go wrong.

The recipe — and pairing — is from the new “Wine Food: New Adventures in Drinking and Cooking” (Lorena Jones Books), of which I received a review copy.

It was written by Dana Frank, a Portland sommelier who co-owns the wine bar Bar Norman and urban winery Bow & Arrow; and cookbook writer Andrea Slonecker.

Wine Food Cookbook

Packed with more than 75 recipes, this book makes pairing easy and understandable, by not only suggesting the best wine for each dish, but giving recommended producers, too.

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