Category Archives: General

Fried Chicken, Paella, and More At Citrus at the Valencia Hotel

Let the good times roll at Citrus in the Valencia Hotel.

Let the good times roll at Citrus in the Valencia Hotel.

 

Chef Ocean Orssten acknowledges his parents were hippies who happened to be living in Capitola at the time he was born. Hence his unusual first name.

But the chef with the water-themed moniker also knows the land equally well. He grew up in the Napa Valley, raising heritage breed pigs at age 12 and developed a love for agriculture.

Is it any wonder that by the time he was a young teen, he knew he wanted to be a chef?

After stints at Arcadia in San Jose, La Folie in San Francisco, and Campton Place restaurant in San Francisco, Orssten took over the helm at Citrus at the Valencia Hotel in San Jose’s Santana Row in 2011.

It’s a restaurant I’ve longed wish more people would find out about. You have to know it’s there, as it’s not at visible at street level as all the other eateries at Santana Row. Instead, you have to take an elevator up to the third floor to get to it. But that trek rewards you once you arrive with a tucked away, intimate dining room that feels cloistered from the hubbub of the rest of the retail-residential center around it.

An unexpected and delightful goat arepas.

An unexpected and delightful goat arepas.

Recently, I was invited in as a guest to try Orssten’s recently revamped menu. There’s the expected rib eye and flatiron steak. But also offerings you don’t expect. Like the Jamaican curry goat arepas ($14). The stewed goat was tender and full of flavor atop the soft corn arepas. The poblano creme fraiche added a smoky, creamy heat, though, there may have been too much of it on the plate.

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Take A Whiff and A Taste of The Violet Bakery’s Ginger Molasses Cake

A cake that smells of Christmas.

A cake that smells of Christmas.

 

For some people, their favorite kitchen scent is onions and garlic sauteing in a hot pan.

For others, it’s that yeasty smell of fresh bread baking in the oven.

For me? It’s that intoxicating fragrance of warm winter spices — cinnamon, cloves, and ginger. Loads of ginger.

That’s why this cake had me at first smell and at first bite.

“Ginger Molasses Cake” is from the new “The Violet Bakery Cookbook” (Ten Speed Press), of which I received a review copy. It’s written by Claire Ptak, a former pastry chef at Chez Panisse, who moved to London to open her Violet Bakery in 2010. Jamie Oliver has called her “my favourite cake maker in the whole world.” So you know she has it going on.

VioletBakeryCookbook

The recipes in this lovely cookbook are arranged by time of day with treats such as “Yellow Peach Crumb Bun” for morning, “Olive Oil Sweet Wine Cake” for the afternoon, and “Chocolate, Prune, and Whiskey Cake” for the evening.

As you can tell, these are baked goods that don’t try too hard. They aren’t complicated with loads of unusual ingredients. They don’t take and arm and a leg, and a whole day to make. Instead, they tantalize with their homespun yet precise character.

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From Truck to Storefront: San Francisco’s Del Popolo

Winter squash pizza at the new Del Popolo restaurant.

Winter squash pizza at the new Del Popolo restaurant.

 

After three years of rumbling around San Francisco, the hulking Del Popolo pizza truck — with its 5,000-pound oven hauled around in a deconstructed shipping container — has finally added a real brick-and-mortar venue.

Opened just about a month ago on Bush Street in Nob Hill in a 1,700 square foot space once used by a theater company, the new pizza joint is as full of character as its justly famous pies.

The centerpiece, of course, is the imported Italian wood-fired brick oven easily viewed from anywhere in the small dining room.

The dark gray walls enclose the space with a sense of coziness. The plethora of “Soviet-style” oil paintings hanging all over the walls add whimsy. Owner Jon Darksy apparently purchased them all online and put them on display in a nod to Del Popolo’s name, which translates to “of the people.” General Manager Essam Kardosh says the staff has so taken to them that they’ve made up back stories for each of them.

The blazing wood-fired oven.

The blazing wood-fired oven.

The fun, eccentric decor.

The fun, eccentric decor.

When I was invited in as a guest of the restaurant recently, the place was already humming and packed when I arrived at 6 p.m.

You may come here for the pizza. But don’t neglect the rest of the menu, which is overseen by Chef de Cuisine Jeffrey Hayden, who has worked at wd50 in New York; Blackbird and Alinea, both in Chicago; and Boot and Shoe Service in Oakland.

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Introducing Cookies & Beer — Really!

Would you like a cookie with your beer?

Would you like a cookie with your beer?

 

If you’re like me and usually associate drinking beer with noshing on salty, savory or spicy foods, then you’re in for a delightful surprise with “Cookies & Beer” (Andrews McMeel).

The fun little book, of which I received a review copy, is by Jonathan Bender, a Kansas City-based journalist and founder of Recommended Daily, a site devoted to local food news.

Bender solicited cookie recipes from chefs around the country. With each, he’s paired a specific beer, and tells you his reasoning behind his picks. It will definitely make you see beer — and cookies — in a new light.

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Delectable Stocking Stuffers and Host/Hostess Gifts

Studded with candied citrus peel, Emporio Rulli panettone is always a treat.

Studded with candied citrus peel, Emporio Rulli panettone is always a treat.

For The Holiday Sweet Tooth

Nothing says Christmas like a fluffy, buttery, sweet panettone.

And nobody makes them as irresistible as the Bay Area’s Emporio Rulli.

Chef Gary Rulli makes this 16th century Italian specialty in the time-honored tradition.

The Panettone Milanese, which I had a chance to sample, is made with plenty of butter, egg yolks, golden raisins, acacia honey, and Italian candied orange and citron peels. It’s yeasty bread meets cake.

Enjoy a big wedge on its own, or toasted and smeared with butter or jam, or as the foundation for an over-the-top bread pudding or French toast.

Rulli only makes them at this time of year. So don’t miss out. A small is $23.95; a large is $29.50.

For The Outdoor Enthusiast

If you thought Patagonia only made outdoor clothing and gear, you’re in for a surprise with its Patagonia Provisions, a line of food products made to be enjoyed on-the-go. I had a chance to sample a few.

The “Wild Sockeye Salmon, Lemon Pepper” comes in a shelf-stable package. The salmon is rich and meaty tasting, and not overwhelmed by a heavy-hand of smokiness.

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