Sunday, January 31, 2010

Absinthe Brasserie & Bar: San Francisco

Date:  samedi 30 janvier 2010
Location:  398 Hayes Street @ Gough
San Francisco, CA 
Tel:  +1 415 551 1590

Absinthe's Executive Chef is Jamie Lauren, whom I met through my dear friend Hosea Rosenberg (winner of Top Chef Season 5).   I found myself craving a hot bowl of French Onion Soup after a 2pm showing of SF Ballet's Swan Lake by Tchaikovsky (which moved me to tears!).  Actually moving backwards, I first stopped off at Paulette Macarons to have a few tasty morsels of my favorite macarons in the world (after La Duree, of course).  The sun was just starting to set.  I still felt cold despite a hot cup of vanilla decaffeinated tea to complementing my macarons just perfectly.  So, I set out directly across the street to Absinthe. 

Walking in, Absinthe is indeed reminiscent of a French brasserie.  Heavy brass and marble bar area.  Warm, amber lighting throughout the restaurant, just beckoning patrons inside from the cold.  The menu is beautiful, everything just looks delicious.  If I wasn't coming off my fasting/cleanse, I would have ordered a full meal.  So, I just ordered exactly what I had set out for - French Onion Soup. 

It arrived perfectly hot, with julienned onions melted in the soup... with a delicious piece of soggy bread sopping up all the yummy goodness of the soup and the melted gruyere cheese on top.  I was ecstatic!  It was the perfect way to top off my afternoon after the Swan Lake Ballet just a few blocks down.  Perfectly salty - I could not have been happier enjoying this meal all unto myself.  Sometimes, a great meal is experienced most intimately when you are alone.  No one to rush you, no conversation needed... just you and your meal.  Internalizing every bite, every taste, every tiny ingredient that was added with care and strategy to appeal to your palate. 

I was just at Absinthe last week.  I met my girlfriend there for a snack before we headed off to the San Francisco symphony to see Yo Yo Ma, the brilliant violinist.  In the past, I have enjoyed an amazing Neiman Ranch burger with Gruyere cheese.  Oyster shots are also scrumptiously to be had at Absinthe (and very hard to find in the city, mind you). 

I saw Chef Jamie cook live this past summer at the Kendall Jackson Tomatoe Festival, where she won competing against Chef Hosea and Kendall Jackson's Executive Chef.  I must say that I love her style of cooking.  Seasonal (of course, from San Francisco!), clean, simple, and totally savory.  I also love her rock solid personality.  No nonsense, no bullshit.  She is true to herself, and consistent in her persona no matter what the environment.  She has an amazing and very respectable bio.

I can relate to Chef Jamie 200% when she says, "...And a lot of love goes into each dish.”  Just like Soledad's dinners.  I admire and respect these amazing chefs so much for their ability to hone their craft to such heightened perfection, sharing their love with all the world, through their soulful food. 

Here's to you, Jamie and Hosea.  With love, from Soledad.  Bisous. 

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Crab Cakes, Mandarin Marmalade & Flat Bread: San Francisco

Date:  jeudi 14 janvier 2010
Location:  Maison russe en SOMA
San Francisco, CA

San Franciscans LOVE to cook - and cooking on a school night is an especially fun treat when cooking with my resident Soma Russian chef friend.  

Tonight was just another casual evening - turned exquisite - with surprise recipes of tangerine marmalade jam made from homegrown backyard santa barbara tangerines.  Fantastic!  The recipe was simple:  equal parts water, tangerine slices (de-seeded), and sugar.  Boil and reduce to simmer until the concoction becomes a syrupy mixture.  Then, transfer into airtight container.  Et voila!  Ohhh the bright orange colors in the jar were marvelous!

For the main meal, we made homemade crabcakes - with only 3 ingredients:  1 large CRAB from whole foods, 2 eggs to keep the crab together, and finally, lighted breaded with bread crumbs.  Very easy to make, only high maintenance (haha) part is having to pick the meat out of the crab.  Luckily, Whole Foods does such a great job of cooking it and cracking it for you, that you can just take it home and eat it.  Honestly, I really did not want to help with the crab part, but how could I not?  Personally I detest eaters who do not help out in the prepping, and picking crab meat out of the shell, though not fun and a bit messy, is not rocket science.  Anyone can do it!  During the process, I did find it fun because I got to sneak a few pieces of whole, warm, fresh, tasty crab meat chunks into my mouth.  Yummyummmy!!!  The crabcakes tasted MARVELOUS.  The best crabcakes ever!  100% crab in these crabcakes, no filler whatsoever.  I appreciated and ate up every single bite down to the very last teeny tiny morsel. 

Then, the homemade flat bread was kneaded, and put into the oven one by one... I watched them rise so high in the oven that I was gleefully in joy!!  They were SOOooOOO CUTE!!!!!  Homemade anything is almost always better than outside, and fresh, hot, flat bread is definitely one of those items.  These flat breads are exactly similar to the ones made in Beirut, except ours were smaller in original size.  In Beirut, instead of cooking the flat breads inside an oven, they are cooked on a large rounded stove, sometimes over stones if it is super old fashioned.  Both ours and the kind in Beirut is torn up and served with a meal.  Who knew I would be transported back to the Medi this night?  COOL!

For dessert, we enjoyed hot flat bread fresh from the oven, melted brie, and tangerine marmalade.   Heaven!  I still dream about it everyday.  I wake up night and I think about the tangerine marmalade jam.  I think about it during the day, the sweet honied jam juices and the just slightly bitter tangerine peels!  And next week, I am bringing a large jam jar to my friends house to stake my claim on some homemade JAM!!!!!!  Soledad is passionate about fresh, homemade tangerine marmalade JAMMMM.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

le diner d’hiver de Soledad Bleu, Soledad's Winter Dinner, SF; 9 janvier 2010

Date:  samedi 9 janvier 2010
Location:  chez jennifer a san francisco

Dream.  Come.  True. 

Soledad's very first hosted dinner.  The art of entertaining and fine dining.  It is not about the formality and perfection of the dinner's final presentation (the menu, the matching name cards, the perfectly paired wine, the place settings, sparkling waterford crystal, shining silverware, gold plated china... special edition riedel flutes, riedel bordeaux wine glasses, spieglau digestif wine glasses - the exquisite and meticulously prepared meal!) - though all of that really is indeed a minimum standard requirement.  It does not get more decadent than this type of presentation, nestled in Russian Hill San Francisco to top it off.  Yet underlying all of that shiny perfection and surface grandeur, lays a genuine appreciation and passion for real eating.

Under the gorgeous (and perhaps pretentious to some) display of an environment rich in its proper dining and serving accoutrement (many thanks to wonderful help), dinner that night reflected the true essence and culture of passionate San Franciscan foodies who are simply everyday people at heart.  This is the core of a Soledad fine dining experience.  Dinner conversation is rich with experience from careers and travels around the globe... keen and witty intellects synergizing, laughing, sharing life experiences together around a beautiful table.  Beautiful food, and the best company. 

The four guests who came to dine tonight were selectively chosen by Soledad:  A handsome, world class French sommelier.  A striking and stunning British, who dabbles in day trading emerging markets stocks (_female_ - probably the only one in the world).  A successful CEO who grew up in the rough parts of town, who played his way through Catholic high school and College via football scholarships. And finally, Soledad, a business IT consultant by day, and foodie by night.

Each menu item was strategically planned:  what seasonal dishes would pair well together?  What would be pleasing on the palates of the guests?  Actually, never mind that - Soledad's guests do not discriminate when it comes to fine dining, wines and spirits.  They love it all.

Tonight's unique and seasonal menu was themed with an ingredient that carried through all the dishes from beginning to end.  The idea was to tie the menu together entirely - inclusive of the perfect wine pairings arranged by the French sommelier.  For tonight's menu, mint was the clever herb that meandered its way through each dish.  Either directly as an ingredient, or served as a garnish for a hint of aroma.  

As the guests arrived around 4pm, the evening miraculously came together just like a well orchestrated event.  There were no novices here tonight.  Soledad prepped her dishes during the day, reducing the port wine reduction sauce for hours, ever so gently.   The French sommelier and the CEO arrived with confidence and swiftly took over in helping to finalize the cooking of the salmon and the 100% grass fed lamb.  Soledad stepped back in to carefully place the ingredients on each delicately gold plated china plate before serving them to the table.  The British beauty ensured that the silver for the table was impeccably sparkling, cotton napkins ironed, Waterford crystal glasses filled with none other than the most refined, imported sparkling water.  

Dining privately in this manner is richer and more intimate than dining in a 3 star Michelin.  You pour your own wines.  You enjoy dinner and company for as long as you like without anyone rushing you.  The music is to your liking, played at the perfect decibel.  Most of all, the dishes are each intimately prepared with love.    

Soledad's dinners strive to create a dining experience that is all encompassing.  Six and a half hours later.  Gorgeous food and wine,  replete with honorable guests who passionately appreciate the art of fine dining and diverse conversation.   Thank you, guests - for helping to create the grandest and most decadent dinner evening - never to be forgotten.  This one will be difficult to replicate.  Bravo!

Cress and Saint Agur Blue Cheese Toasts on Tartine Walnut Bread
Domaine Simonnet-Febvre Cremant de Bourgogne Rose NV
(Sparkling wine from Burgundy region)

First Course:
Salmon Salad with Fennel, Orange, and Mint
Louis Latour Montagny 1er Cru La Grande Roche 2006
(White Burgundy: Intense bouquet of acacia, honey and lingering apricot finish)

Main Course:
100% Grass Fed Lamb Small Loin Chops
Prepared in Hand Pitted Cherries and Port Wine Reduction Sauce, St. Dalfour Black Cherry Jam, Ground Cardamom, and Mint
Served on Bed of Quickly Braised Escarole
Louis Latour Beaune 1er Cru Vignes Franches 2005
(Red Burgundy: Complex flavors of berries, coconut, and licorice; soft tannins, elegant finish)

Cheese Selection and Fresh berries or Chocolate Souffle and Mint
Chateau Grillon Sauternes 2006
(Bordeaux: Medium bodied dessert wine balanced with underlying citrus and tropical fruit flavors)