Category Archives: Chefs

Abaca Fulfills The Promise

House-made Longganisa pork sausage with egg yolk at Abaca in San Francisco.
House-made longganisa pork sausage with egg yolk at Abaca in San Francisco.

For more than 15 years, food writers like myself have predicted that Filipino cuisine would be the next big thing.

After all, Filipinos have been immigrating to California for more than a century, and Filipino Americans make up one of the largest Asian-American ethnic groups in the state. Certainly, the time was nigh that its cuisine get the attention and due that Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Indian and other Asian cuisines have long had here.

While there have been plenty of mom-and-pop Filipino eateries over the years, however, there had never been an upscale restaurant to take Filipino cuisine to new heights.

Until this August, when the groundbreaking Abaca opened its doors at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.

Housed in the new Kimpton Alton Hotel, Abaca is the creation of Chef-Owner Francis Ang, his wife, co-owner and director of operations, Dian Ang, and Chef de Cuisine Danica Alves.

Ang may be best known for his star turn as pastry chef at the Fifth Floor in San Francisco, which earned him a “People’s Best New Pastry Chef” honor from Food & Wine magazine. But his talent on the savory side began to shine brightly with his pop-up Pinoy Heritage, and only escalated during the pandemic with his beautiful, multi-course feasts packed immaculately for takeout.

The stylish dining room.
The stylish dining room.

Abaca, named for a native Philippine banana species, takes the soulful, homey, yet bold tastes of traditional Filipino cuisine and infuses it with California flair and freshness. That’s what I found when I dined last week. While my husband and I paid our own tab, Chef Ang added some of his signature dishes on the house.

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You Need Char Siu Yams In Your Life

Grilled sweet potato wedges that taste just like Chinese barbecued pork. Who can resist?
Grilled sweet potato wedges that taste just like Chinese barbecued pork. Who can resist?

Imagine the smoky, sweet, star-anise warmth of everyone’s favorite Chinese barbecued pork.

Now, consider those same devilishly delightful flavors enveloping sweet potatoes instead.

That’s exactly what’s in store for your taste buds with “Char Siu Yams.”

This clever, addictive recipe is from “How to Grill Vegetables: The New Bible for Barbecuing Vegetables over Live Fire” (Workman Publishing) by one of America’s great grill meisters, Steven Raichlen.

In his myriad of grilling cookbooks, Raichlen has always included vegetables. But this book, of which I received a review copy, represents the first time he’s put the entire focus on them.

Learn how to grill, wood-smoke, cedar-plank, hay-smoke, and fire-blister veggies to add flavor and depth. The recipes span the gamut from “Smoked Hummus with Sesame Grilled Pita Chips,” “Rotisserie Brussels Sprouts with Turmeric Oil and Curry Leaves,” and “Nashville Hot Cauliflower” to “Cedar-Planked Eggplant Parmigiana,” ” Smoked Deviled Eggs with Wasabi,” and “Hasselback Apples Grilled on Cedar Planks.”

To make “Char Siu Yams,” you’ll need a disposable aluminum foil pan, plus wood chunks or wood chips (pre-soaked) for even more smoky flavor.

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Where I’ve Been Getting Takeout of Late, Part 37

Butter & Crumble's lavishly layered Cinnamon Brown Sugar Almond cake.
Butter & Crumble’s lavishly layered Cinnamon Brown Sugar Almond cake.

Butter & Crumble, San Francisco

After being furloughed during the early days of shelter-in-place, Chef Sophie Smith thought she would pass the time by baking cakes for fun.

Little did she know that it would turn into a sweet new business that set her on an entirely new career path.

As she started baking cakes for her nascent Butter & Crumble, she wondered if anyone in the world would want an entire cake while stuck at home.

Turns out loads of people did.

She now runs her baking business out of bar in the Marina District of San Francisco that has a full-fledged kitchen. That’s where customers can pick up their pre-ordered cakes, too.

On an outing to San Francisco recently, I decided to to try one, myself.

The lofty, 4-inch-tall, 6-inch-diameter, three-layer cakes can serve 8 easily. They are priced at $45 on up, depending upon the flavor. There are usually at least nine different ones available, including Lemon Ricotta Pistachio, Chocolate Ganache Toffee, and Chai Creme Brulee.

I went with the Cinnamon Brown Butter Almond ($48). Styled after the “naked cakes” made famous by Milk Bar, Smith’s creations also sport unfrosted sides that reveal every layer clearly.

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Blackberry Oatmeal Cake

Wake up to "Blackberry Oatmeal Cake.''
Wake up to “Blackberry Oatmeal Cake.”

This is not a fluffy, lavishly adorned, and fancifully frosted cake you indulge in wickedly.

Rather, this is a cake that will stick to your ribs and set you up for a long, arduous day ahead.

Yes, “Blackberry Oatmeal Cake” is far from dessert, my friends. It is unapologetically breakfast through and through.

It’s austere and hearty, loaded with a ton of oats, a big handful of toasted pecans, a little strawberry jam for the merest sweetness, and fresh blackberries for summery goodness.

The recipe is from the wonderfully titled new cookbook, “Life Is What You Bake It: Recipes, Stories, and Inspiration to Bake Your Way to the Top” (Clarkson Potter), of which I received a review copy.

It’s by Vallery Lomas, who knows a thing or two about the energy and sustenance it takes to forge ahead when the going’s not easy.

The Louisiana-native used to only bake for the holidays. But after taking a gap year in France after passing the bar exam, this lawyer found herself captivated by macarons. Who can blame her? So much so that when she returned to New York City to take her first job as an attorney, she somehow managed to set up a side business selling her own macarons, as well.

It wasn’t long before Lomas, who had begun the blog Foodie in New York during her last year of law school, started getting noticed. She was swayed to compete on “The Great American Baking Show,” and ended up not only triumphing, but became its first Black winner.

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The All-Natural Red Velvety Strawberry Cake

A most unique red velvet cake.
A most unique red velvet cake.

Admittedly, the hoopla over red velvet cake has always left me perplexed.

Sure, the dramatic color captures your fancy — for a hot second.

Then, as quickly, reality tells you that’s all due to red food coloring. At which point, I say, “Pass me a wedge of all-real devil’s food cake instead.”

“Red Velvety Strawberry Cake,” though, sparked a far different reaction.

It had me all in from the get-go.

Nope, no artificial anything in this stunning cake. No food coloring whatsoever — only an entire bottle of red wine.

And if that doesn’t grab you, I don’t know what will.

Now, that my friends, is a cake.
Now, that my friends, is a cake.

To be fair, this cake doesn’t possess that vivid maroon you expect from red velvet. Instead, the wine, which first gets reduced before being added into the batter, adds the merest bit of rosiness to the dark chocolate-colored cake. The wine (I used a Pinot Noir) also adds a touch of acidity to balance out all the sweetness.

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