Chinese Food Reimagined At Mister Jiu’s

Chef Brandon Jew expediting in the kitchen of his Mister Jiu's.

Chef Brandon Jew expediting in the kitchen of his Mister Jiu’s.

 

For many years, my Uncle George had his insurance office on Waverly Place in San Francisco’s Chinatown. He’d often take clients for lunch or drinks to Four Seas restaurant across the street. Back then, it was the place to socialize, a glamorous spot where so many friends and family members of my generation remember attending celebratory banquet meals.

So maybe it was appropos that my first visit to Mister Jiu’s, which reincarnated that space a year ago, came just a few weeks after my uncle’s passing last month. Making my way through that tucked-away street, I somehow felt I was walking in his shoes, seeing this venue past, present and future.

Chinatown stopped being a destination dining scene long ago for so many Chinese-Americans of my generation. These days, if we head here at all, it’s because we’re playing tour guide to visiting friends. But Chef Brandon Jew, who grew up in San Francisco, was lured here to create a restaurant that he hopes will reinvigorate this historic neighborhood.

Certainly, he’s succeeded in drawing more Millennials, Generation Xers, and Baby Boomers to this area, as evidenced by the crowd I saw dining here on a Saturday night.

Original chandeliers from the Four Seas.

Original chandeliers from the Four Seas.

The open kitchen can be seen from the dining room.

The open kitchen can be seen from the dining room.

Located on the second floor, the restaurant has a wall of windows that overlook bustling Grant Avenue. The lotus-flower chandeliers from the original Four Seas have been polished to a gleam, giving a touch of elegant nostalgia to the space.

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Nancy Silverton’s Polenta Cake with Brutti Ma Buoni Topping

A cake for nut lovers.

A cake for nut lovers.

 

Sometimes you feel like a nut. Sometimes you don’t.

In my case, I always do. I’m the person who won’t even dive into a box of See’s candies unless it’s “nuts and chews.” For me, it’s M&M’s with nuts all the way. And I can happily munch on almonds by the handful, day or night.

This is a cake that appeals to nutty folks like me.

“Polenta Cake with Brutti Ma Buoni Topping” is from “Mozza At Home” (Knopf), of which I received a review copy. It’s the newest cookbook by Nancy Silverton, the chef who helped kick-start the modern-day artisan bread revolution. She’s also the chef/co-owner of Pizzeria Mozza, Osteria Mozza, and Chi Spacca, all in Los Angeles.

As Silverton writes in the book, this cake is the happy marriage of a classic polenta cake, and a traditional meringue and nut cookie called brutti ma buoni, which means “ugly but good.”

Crunch-a-licious.

Crunch-a-licious.

Personally, I prefer “distinctive” over “ugly” because I think that’s what this bumpy-topped cake is, owing to a profusion of almonds and hazelnuts mixed with egg white, honey, vanilla and orange flower water that’s strewn over the cake before it finishes baking.

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Bee Free Honee — It’s Like Honey, But It’s Not

A honey-like product that tastes of apples.

A honey-like product that tastes of apples.

 

With its golden, amber hue, it looks a lot like honey.

But from the moment you unscrew the cap on the jar, you get the unmistakable whiff of sweet apples.

Bee Free Honee is a honey substitute made from organic apple juice, cane sugar and lemon juice — all cooked down until sticky and viscous.

The company was founded by Minneapolis-based Katie Sanchez, who grew up on an apple orchard with a father who was a beekeeper. One day, while trying to make a less sweet apple jelly, she accidentally created this syrupy concoction instead.

It’s vegan, and safe for anyone who has a honey allergy. Use it just like you would honey.

With bee populations decimated over the past decade, it’s also a way to enjoy a honey-like product while stressing bees less. Moreover, for every jar sold, Bee Free Honee donates 10 cents to pollinator-friendly groups.

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Sweet on Sweet Potatoes — All Year-Round (Sponsored Post)

Sweet potato roasted in ash.

Sweet potato roasted in ash.

If you think sweet potatoes are only for Thanksgiving, think again.

This Easter, make sweet potatoes the centerpiece of your spring holiday with this easy, dramatic and mesmerizing dish: whole sweet potatoes buried in ash, and roasted until blackened on the outside, and sweet, smoky and luscious within. Forget the colored eggs; all eyes will be on this beauty when it comes to the table.

Spread the flesh on warm tortillas with a dollop of creamy chipotle sauce enlivened with fresh orange zest, because we all know just how wonderfully sweet potatoes marry with sweet citrus.

This simple, sublime dish will make you look at sweet potatoes in a whole different light. It’s sure to become a year-round indulgence, whenever it’s grilling weather outside. It’s even vegetarian and gluten-free, to boot.

After all, California’s envious climate allows for sweet potatoes to be available year-round, according to the California Sweetpotato Council. They are grown in the San Joaquin Valley’s naturally sandy loam, cured in the ground first, before being harvested and cured in sheds.

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Santana Row Welcomes Oveja Negra

The black sheep is the mascot of the new Oveja Negra.

The black sheep is the mascot of the new Oveja Negra.

 

Out with Citrus; in with Oveja Negra.

The Hotel Valencia in San Jose’s Santana Row has transformed its former restaurant into a new concept with a new name. Chef Ocean Orssten still remains at the helm, but now he’s creating a menu of “unruly tapas.” Hence the name, Oveja Negra, which in Spanish means “black sheep” or refers to the odd man out. It’s his whimsical way of saying he’s not necessarily doing typical traditional tapas here, but more globally-inspired, off-beat small plates.

I was invited in as a guest of the restaurant recently to check out its new look, which sports brass tack-hammered, dark banquettes, white curved-back chairs, and Moorish accents.

Shrimp and grits -- Indian curry-style.

Shrimp and grits — Indian curry-style.

The signature cocktail is the Mezcal Brillante ($14) that puts smoky mezcal in the spotlight with the tartness of grapefruit. A rim of freeze-dried yuzu with yuzu marmalade gives each sip an extra sweet-sour pucker.

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