Category Archives: Great Finds

Three Great Reads For the Lunar New Year

“Invitation to A Banquet: The Story of Chinese Food”

Settle into your favorite chair and prepare to get hungry as you immerse yourself in “Invitation to A Banquet: The Story of Chinese Food” (W.W. Norton & Co., 2023).

London-based Fuchsia Dunlop has long been one of my favorite writers — and speakers. The first Westerner to train as a chef at the Sichuan Higher Institute of Cuisine, she is fluent in speaking, writing, and reading Chinese. Her knowledge of the foods of every region in China is bar none.

In her newest book, of which I received a review copy, the four-time James Beard Award-winning cookbook author explores the historical, philosophical, and technical aspects of the vast range of Chinese food by presenting a literary banquet of 30 dishes. Each chapter hones in on one particular regional dish, serving up not only its origins and the importance of its ingredients, but the food producers, farmers, chefs, and home cooks who have put their indelible stamp on it.

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Cozy Up To Chicken and Rye Dumplings

Chicken stew with fluffy dumplings made with rye flour.
Chicken stew with fluffy dumplings made with rye flour.

It may be Lunar New Year, when all eyes and stomachs turn to devouring dumplings for their pouch-like shape that signifies fortune and prosperity.

Me? As someone who considers themself inclusive, I endorse broadening that range, After all, I don’t think I’ve ever met a dumpling of any origin that I didn’t like.

That’s especially true when it comes to “Chicken & Rye Dumplings.”

This is a seriously comforting dish, one with a soulful poultry taste, substantial amounts of veggies like homemade “Chunky Soup,” and a raft of fluffy, nutty tasting dumplings galore.

The recipe is from “The Complete Beans and Grains Cookbook,” of which I received a review copy, by America’s Test Kitchen.

You’ll find more than 450 recipes for beans and grains, those economical, nutritious, and versatile staples that do a body good, especially when combined together for a punch of protein-packed carbs.

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Dining Up On The Third Floor

The incredible duck soup at The Third Floor in San Francisco.
The incredible duck soup at The Third Floor in San Francisco.

Can we talk duck soup?

Because we must.

The kind redolent of star anise plus a pop of chili. The kind with an aroma that tantalizes with warm spices from the first whiff. And the kind that soothes, satisfies, and lingers on the mind and palate long after the last slurp.

I’m talking about the superlative duck soup at the new Third Floor Restaurant and Lounge, which opened late last year inside San Francisco’s 25-story Jay Hotel near the Embarcadero.

It’s the first hotel restaurant by the Omakase Group, the force behind such celebrated establishments as Niku Steakhouse, Omakase, and Dumpling Time.

The Third Floor dining room.
The Third Floor dining room.

What was formerly Le Meridien hotel has undergone a multi-million-dollar renovation that includes a sleek contemporary yet soothing pale earth-tone interior design by AvroKO, which also did SingleThread Farms in Healdsburg. The look was inspired by the organic and natural sculptural style of the late-great Ruth Asawa.

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Kung Pao Sweet Potatoes to Usher In the Lunar New Year

Sweet potatoes get swapped in for chicken in this clever take on Kung Pao.
Sweet potatoes get swapped in for chicken in this clever take on Kung Pao.

Start the Year of the Dragon off with a bang with something fiery and inspired.

“Kung Pao Sweet Potatoes” certainly isn’t traditional fare for the Lunar New Year, which starts on Saturday. But the dish certainly makes for an exciting and enticing new addition to the celebratory feast. Plus, it’s perfect for vegetarians, vegans, and anyone who enjoys twists on the classics.

This fun recipe is from “Veg-Table” (Chronicle Books, 2023), of which I received a review copy. It’s the newest cookbook by Los Angeles-based Nik Sharma, a former molecular biologist turned James Beard Award-winning, best-selling cookbook author, photographer, and recipe developer.

He brings his scientific background, precision for recipes, and love of big, bold flavors to bear on this collection of vegetable-focused recipes. It’s not a strictly vegetarian cookbook, but even when animal proteins are included, they play a more supporting rather than starring role.

The cookbook features more than 50 types of vegetables with recipes organized by plant family, including such temptations as “Kimchi Creamed Corn,” “Crispy Salmon with Green Curry Spinach,” “Cauliflower Bolognese,” and “Carrot, Apple, and Harissa Soup.”

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For the Big Game — Chicken Wings Of A Different Sort

Japanese-style chicken drumettes cooked with orange marmalade.
Japanese-style chicken drumettes cooked with orange marmalade.

San Francisco Chef Sylvan Mishima Brackett fondly remembers his mother cooking up a pan of chicken drumettes with sake, shoyu, and a copious amount of orange marmalade.

The resulting thick, sticky, sweet glaze would coat every inch of the tender drumettes that were savored hot or room temperature on New Year’s Day.

It wasn’t necessarily a classic component of the traditional Japanese New Year meal known as osechi. But in his family, it sure made for good eating on that day or any busy weeknight.

Me? I think it would score big-time on Super Bowl Sunday.

I mean, why pay homage to Buffalo, NY with been-there, done-that, fiery red-sauced wings when you can support the home team by indulging in a version from a bona fide San Francisco Mission District chef instead? That’s got to make for good juju, right?

The recipe comes from his debut cookbook, “Rintaro” (Hardie Grant, 2023), of which I received a review copy, that was written with San Francisco food writer Jessica Battilana.

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