Kurobuta Pork Chop (and Three Other Courses) @ Auberge du Soleil, Rutherford

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Third Course: Kurobuta pork chop with apples, kale, whole-grain mustard spaetzle, cipollini onion, and apple cider sauce. Kurobuta is Japanese for Berkshire.

Here in the Napa Valley (and I believe in other parts of the country as well), January is Restaurant Month. There’s quite a few deals being offered throughout the area, but the best, by far, is the two-course lunch at Auberge du Soleil. This year, lunch at Auberge in January will cost you $20.14 — just a penny more than last year.

I will admit — at the risk of over-populating California — that today was another 70-degree day, not a cloud in the sky, with a slight breeze. Sorry if you’ve been trying to catch a flight out of New York; I’ve been trying to figure out whether or not to drop the top on my convertible (full disclosure: I don’t own a convertible).

As long as I’m being honest, I should also admit that I used to cook at Auberge. I can never review a current or former workplace with complete impartiality, so I don’t even try to do so. I will just say that from a professional standpoint, I left Auberge today feeling really proud to have worked there. I was lucky.

Every course today was spot on, right down to the last vegetable, right down to the two kinds of freshly-baked bread, and right down to the complimentary chocolate biscotti. Of course, I did receive a few extras beyond the norm — not bribes, and not for this blog — but just because I’m in the industry, I’m an Auberge alum, and I have friends who still work there (my friends at Auberge are actually the ones whom I’ve known the longest in the Napa Valley).

So don’t consider this a review. Think of it as my food journal from today. The pictures should speak for themselves (but I’ll write a few captions anyhow). As for the wine, I chose a Leitz Rüdesheimer Rosengarten Riesling Kabinett 2012 (offered by the glass) — perfect with the scallop and the pork chop, and perfect for another pseudo-Spring day in wine country.

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First Course: Beet salad with arugula, frisee rosemary croutons, and sherry vinaigrette. This salad, along with the pork chop above, comprised the $20.14 lunch for today.

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Second Course: Seared diver scallop with blood orange supreme, Brussels sprouts, diced carrots, pomegranate seeds, miso-butter sweet potato puree, and black garlic vinaigrette. The scallop was cooked to perfection. I have an interior shot in my Instagram feed.

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Fourth Course: Deconstructed key lime pie with coconut ice cream. The little cubes are coconut gelee.

The Last Days of Pacific Books and Arts, Inner Richmond San Francisco

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One of the last morsels from Pacific Books and Arts…

I’ve been rediscovering San Francisco’s Richmond District lately because, well, I feel like I’ve probably devoted most of 2013 to eating through the East Bay. My epicenter for this exploration has usually been 8th and Clement, a locale that places more than a day’s worth of attractions within easy walking distance.

The five-block stretch of Clement between 5th and 10th includes such noteworthy restaurants as Good Luck Dim Sum, Clement Restaurant, Burma Superstar, Halu, Cherry Blossom Bakery, Pizza Orgasmica, and many others. There’s also a fantastic bookstore in the mix — Green Apple Books — which easily boasts the city’s best used cookbook selection.

I noticed today that another bookstore in the area, Pacific Books and Arts, was closing down. I hate to see mom-and-pop bookstores disappear, but Pacific Books was liquidating its inventory as part of a “retirement” sale, which is bittersweet.

I talked with the elderly gentleman who owned the shop, and he said that Pacific Books has been open for 20 years. The small curated store sells Chinese-language books exclusively, all of which were discounted at 40% to 70% off.

My heart sank a little when I noticed the large gap of empty shelf space in the cookbook section, which was marked with a 60% discount. Clearly, the cookbooks had already been pretty well picked over, but there were still about 100 remaining, so I scoured through them for any remaining gems.

Of course, I can’t read Chinese, so my goal was to simply find the books that featured inspiring dishes and great photography. After a half-hour of flipping through paperbacks (and becoming accustomed to having the spine on the right-hand side), I only found one title that I really wanted, a large-yet-slim volume that featured Japanese vegetable carving (mukimono).

Sadly, I couldn’t tell you the actual title of the book, but the color photos at the front are exquisite. From what I can tell, the original Japanese version of this book was published in 2006. If any Chinese-speaking readers would like to offer any translations, please feel free to comment.

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Tasting Notes, 2013: Turnbull Wine Cellars

Turnbull Wine Cellars has long been one of my favorite Napa Valley producers, although the winery’s portfolio has evolved in ways that make me somewhat ambivalent, if I can be honest. There was a time, not too long ago, when Turnbull produced its Old Bull Red, an inexpensive (around $20) catch-all blend with plenty of terrific Oakville pedigree. Unfortunately, Turnbull ceased production of the Old Bull Red with the 2009 vintage, thus ending the availability of one of my staple “pizza” wines.

At the other end of the spectrum, Turnbull has developed an amazing single-vineyard program over the last several years, showcasing the winery’s four Napa Valley properties. These are delicious wines, to be sure, but they definitely command single-vineyard prices. With that in mind, I am thankful that Turnbull still produces its Napa Valley Estate Cabernet, a wine that ranks as one of my top 20 Napa Cabernets for under $50.

I had the pleasure of tasting a handful of the Turnbull wines last week, and my overall assessment of the portfolio is that the wine-making has headed in a decidedly elegant direction with finesse to spare. Although I miss the Old Bull Red, I suppose that evolution is a good thing.

2012 Turnbull Old Vines Sauvignon Blanc, $34 This wine is crafted from 40-year-old vines from Turnbull’s Fortuna Vineyard. The oak regimen is subtle, with 12% spending 2-3 months in French barrels. The main thing that struck me about this wine (aside from the atypical Burgundian-style bottle) is that it’s more mellow than crisp. I would classify this wine as a Chardonnay drinker’s Sauvignon Blanc.

2012 Turnbull Rosé, $22 • Ostensibly, this is the wine that “replaced” the Old Bull Red (both wines being by-products by nature). The 2012 Turnbull Rosé is 65% Syrah and 35% Cabernet, and I’m not sure how much these components will dictate future blends. I found the wine enjoyable, although my favorite California rosé (non-sparkling) is produced by Unti Vineyards. 

2010 Turnbull Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon, $60 • Three of the winery’s estate vineyards (including the tasting room property) exist within the Oakville appellation, and this wine encapsulates each of them. The majority of the blend (55%) is derived from the Leopoldina Vineyard and the wine itself is 89% Cabernet, with the balance coming from other Bordeaux varietals. It’s pure velvet on the palate.

2010 Turnbull Leopoldina Cabernet Franc, $70 • An elegant wine with an exquisite nose, this Cabernet Franc is bolstered by 4% Cabernet Sauvignon.

2007 Turnbull Amoenus Cabernet Sauvignon, $120 • Located in Calistoga, the Amoenus Vineyard is Turnbull’s one non-Oakville property. A terrific wine all around, the 2007 Turnbull Amoenus certainly captures the excellence of this particular vintage. The wine is 92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Petit Verdot, and 1% Malbec.

2010 Turnbull Leopoldina Cabernet Sauvignon, NA • This wine is available only through the Turnbull wine club, and even then, is only available as part of a three-pack. I’m not one to advocate joining a wine club just to purchase a wine, but if I was already a Turnbull club member, I would definitely splurge on that three-pack. It was my favorite wine of the tasting; I bought Turnbull’s 2010 Oakville Cab just to have another glimpse of it.

Double Cheeseburger @ Solbar, Calistoga

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The Double Cheeseburger @ Solbar, Calistoga. The fried pickles are an indulgent touch.

There’s a lot to like about Solbar’s double cheeseburger, including the signature fried pickles that send this dish over the top. All of the other elements hold their own nicely: The cheddar cheese is sharp and beautifully melted, the Bibb lettuce is impeccable, and the patties always arrive in pairs (the option for a single cheeseburger, or even a simple hamburger, is not featured on the Solbar menu). I appreciate the fact that Solbar offers a double cheeseburger as its default burger option, though. There’s no half-stepping with this decision. If you feel like having a burger for lunch, then be prepared to fully conquer your craving. Of course, the two planks of fried pickles will play a strong supporting role in this endeavor.

Eight Los Angeles Food Photos

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Tonkotsu Ramen @ Daikokuya, West Los Angeles. This bowl of ramen contends for the best bowl of ramen that I’ve ever tasted. I still have a strong allegiance to Ramen Dojo in San Mateo, but Daikokuya is equally sublime, if not a bit more simple. The perfectly-cooked egg reveals a keen attention to detail, and the broth is amazingly good. I ate ramen almost every day when I was in Los Angeles, but this bowl (my first of the trip) really resonated with me, and it continues to do so.

I’ve finally uploaded my photos from my trip to Los Angeles earlier this month. It’s a little strange to go back to a place where I once lived for about 10 years, now that it’s also been about 10 years since I’ve lived there. Though the city’s main infrastructure remains familiar, the details have become a bit different over time. Sure, I still know most of the workarounds and shortcuts when it comes to L.A. traffic, but I don’t know any of the newer restaurants. It’s like knowing how to get places, but not knowing exactly where to go.

Before my trip, I had outlined a list of about 10 old favorites that I couldn’t bear to pass up, must-eat destinations like Roscoe’s House of Chicken & Waffles, Paco’s Tacos and Chili John’s. Initially, I thought this list would prove to be a daunting agenda for a five-day trip, and I figured that I might become so consumed with nostalgic visits that I probably wouldn’t have much time to investigate any new restaurants. Of course, I had been underestimating myself. As it turns out, with five full days in Los Angeles, I can eat plenty. And I did.

If you follow my Instagram feed (or if you follow my Facebook page), then you’ve probably seen a few previews for this post. Unlike those cellphone pics, however, I snapped these photos “offline” with my DSLR camera, and that’s why it’s taken me so long to post them. It’s finally the super hi-res food porn that you’ve been waiting for. Click on any photo for the insanely large version. Enjoy!

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The Godmother (with The Works) @ Bay Cities Deli & Bakery, Santa Monica. The key to this iconic sandwich is its blistered-up roll, which is baked in-house. It’s this proprietary element that guarantees that the Godmother cannot ever be duplicated, and the reason why the line at Bay Cities can be ridiculous during peak hours. The interior of the Godmother is an amalgam of glorious Italian  flavors, pickles and peppers mingling with cured meats and plenty of mustard and mayo.

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The Tacos with Cheese @ Tito’s Tacos, West Los Angeles. Tito’s was one of my earliest favorites and definitely one of the things I had eaten the most of when I lived in Los Angeles. Eating there takes me back 20 years, and for a moment, I can even forget that I don’t live in Los Angeles anymore. Tito’s remains so familiar to me, even years later, that it will always connect me to the Westside.

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Tsukemen Ramen @ Tsujita LA Artisan Noodle, West Los Angeles. Profound flavors abound in this deconstructed version of ramen, the broth of which combines a rich pork stock with scallops and whitefish. The flavors are mind-blowing, and the broth is almost sauce-like in consistency, while the noodles are fatter and more tender than most conventional ramen. The noodles are dressed and eaten. This “dipping ramen” is the ramen 2.0 of the moment — apparently the next sub-trend — though tonkotsu-style ramen will always be my favorite, no matter what. That being said, I’ll be sure to try Tsujita’s tonkotsu ramen the next time I return.

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The King Size Fish and Chips @ King’s Head Pub, Santa Monica. This restaurant is one of the vestiges of the Third Street Promenade as I first knew it. During the early dotcom boom, I was fortunate to work in an office on the Promenade, which was a killer location at that time; lunch offered so many different options back in those days, since the Promenade was robust with unique restaurants. As one might imagine, a mid-day session at the King’s Head usually meant for a pretty unproductive afternoon.

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The Falafel Pita @ Falafel King, Westwood. If I thought the Third Street Promenade had taken a turn for the worse, Westwood was even more dismal in my eyes. The area has been stripped and purged of its charm over the last 20 years, and the neighborhood seems vaguely dismal and unfamiliar to me now. Westwood is now full of mediocre chain restaurants that you can find most anywhere else, including the frozen section of your local supermarket. I had a scare when I tried to go to Falafel King, and I discovered that Five Guys now occupies their old storefront. I already think that Five Guys sucks, and I was convinced that corporate fast food had run one of my old favorites out of Westwood. I was disgusted. Luckily, I turned around and noticed that Falefel King had simply moved across the street. Keep on keeping on, Falafel King.

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The Cuban Roast Pork @ Versailles, Los Angeles. This restaurant was my first stop in Los Angeles (my original thought was to visit Tito’s, but just as I was pulling in to park, I realized I didn’t have any cash). The pork at Versailles is tangy with citrus and garlic — an apt counterpoint to the wonderfully sweet plantains that garnish the plate.

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Pork Cutlet @ Hurry Curry of Tokyo, West Los Angeles. I enjoyed plenty of meals along Sawtelle Boulevard during my trip, and Hurry Curry was actually my last meal in the city, a quick last stop on my way to LAX. Compared to Indian curry, I feel that Japanese curry remains relatively unknown in the United States, but I think it’s a fantastic dish. What’s not to like about a crispy, panko-crusted pork cutlet, smothered in a rich, slightly sweet, spicy curry sauce?

Wine Tasting Notes, 2013: Chateau Montelena and Summers Estate, Calistoga

montelenaAlthough the Napa Valley has now become synonymous with wine, history shows that this area can sustain a wide array of crops. In the previous century, the Napa Valley was once home to vast orchards of walnuts, prunes, and pears. These crops became especially dominant during the 1920s and 1930s, with Prohibition mitigating the grape-growing industry (because home wine-making remained legal under the Volstead Act, plenty of wine grapes still existed in Napa during Prohibition — the only difference was that the emphasis shifted to lesser-quality grapes that could survive a cross-country trip by rail car).

If we turn back the clock 150 years and revisit the Napa Valley on the heels of the California Gold Rush, the original crop here was actually wheat, planted heavily throughout the mid-1800s, before the first wave of wine production began at the end of the century (the Bale Grist Mill in Calistoga, originally built in 1846, remains a vestige of the Napa Valley’s wheat industry — it’s worth visiting if you appreciate a glimpse into 19th-century food production).

I mention the past only to illustrate how much the Napa Valley has now edged towards a very specific type of monoculture: Not only has this area been planted over almost exclusively to wine grapes, but in particular, Cabernet and Chardonnay dominate the present landscape. Of course, this trend is a simple function of economics — there is a tremendous opportunity cost to planting anything other than Cabernet or Chardonnay, since these grapes fetch the highest prices on the market.

Still, I have a fascination for the early days and the old ways. And as much as I enjoy Cabernet, I also like things that are different and esoteric. I recently spent the afternoon wine tasting along Tubbs Lane, a short stretch of road that links two noteworthy Calistoga wineries, Chateau Montelena and Summers Estate. Both of these wineries acknowledge the past in interesting ways, as I’ll point out in my wine notes:

Chateau Montelena 2012 Potter Valley Riesling, $25 • I sometimes consider Riesling to be the ultimate wine grape because, at its very best, Riesling seems to be greatest conduit of terroir. Naturally, I’m talking about German and Alsatian Rieslings in particular, but I tend to welcome Napa Valley Rieslings into my cellar as well. When the German settlers, such as the Beringers and the Krugs, planted the Napa Valley’s first wine grapes, they planted their native Riesling.

Ultimately, Riesling remained somewhat common in the Napa Valley until the Chardonnay boom of the late 1970s pushed it out. Chateau Montelena began its current wine production in 1968, and Riesling was part of the early business model. Although times have changed, the winery still offers this varietal (almost exclusively through the tasting room), and I appreciate the nod to the past, even if this Riesling is technically from Mendocino County.

The 2012 Chateau Montelena Riesling features about 0.5% residual sugar, meaning that it offers a noticeable sweetness along with its core acidity. For that reason, it’s extremely approachable. Best of all, it’s $25 and it’s not Chardonnay.

Chateau Montelena 2011 Chardonnay, $50 • I mentioned the Napa Valley Chardonnay boom of the late 1970s, and the Chateau Montelena Chardonnay had everything to do with this paradigm shift. After all, it was the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay that won the Judgment of Paris in 1976. Almost 40 years later, Chateau Montelena Chardonnay remains iconic in the Napa Valley, and the wine remains Burgundian in spirit, with zero malocatic fermentation and 10 months in French oak. But at the same price as the 2010 Chateau Montelena Cabernet, I would tend to choose the latter.

Chateau Montelena 2010 Napa Valley Cabernet, $50 • I have a list of the best Napa Valley Cabernets under $50, and this wine certainly deserves consideration when I do my updates and revisions next year. Once again, it’s the well-established wineries that have kept Cabernet prices relatively moderate. The 2010 Chateau Montelena Cabernet is based largely upon Calistoga fruit, with a blend of 91% Cabernet, 7% Merlot, and 2% Cabernet Franc.

Chateau Montelena 2009 Estate Cabernet, $150 • Let’s not forget where we are. Right or wrong, many Napa Valley Cabernets still command big prices. The 2009 Chateau Montelena Estate Cabernet is 98% Cabernet and 2% Cabernet Franc. It’s a delicious wine, balanced and well-made, but I’d be more likely to buy three bottles of the 2010 Chateau Montelena Napa Valley Cab.

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summerscharbonoTubbs Lane is named after Alfred Loving Tubbs, who purchased 250 acres in Calistoga in 1882, after making a fortune during the Gold Rush (like most people who became wealthy during this era, Tubbs didn’t discover gold, he manufactured and sold rope to the miners). Tubbs constructed Chateau Montelena, and produced wine up until Prohibition. Though the Tubbs family sold the property in the 1950s, Tubbs Lane remains their namesake. Chateau Montelena now shares Tubbs Lane with one of my favorite “new” wineries, Summers Estate, which purchased its current tasting room location in 1996.

Summers Estate 2012 Stuhmuller Reserve Chardonnay, $32 • I suppose the irony of Summers Estate is that their Cabernet and Chardonnay aren’t from the Napa Valley. I don’t mention this fact as a criticism, just something unique. The 2012 Stuhmuller Reserve Chardonnay is from Alexander Valley, and the wine is medium-bodied thanks to a regimen of 30% malolactic fermentation and 30% new French oak.

Summers Estate 2010 Villa Andriana Vineyard Charbono, $32 • Summers Estate has always been one of my favorite Napa Valley wineries because it’s the world’s largest estate producer of Charbono., a grape that was once popular in the Napa Valley during the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, but which has virtually disappeared from production. Only about 100 acres of Charbono remain in the world, and the grape has been listed on Slow Food’s Ark of Taste. Originally from Italy, Charbono is an eminently enjoyable red, and it’s the signature wine from Summers Estate.

Summers Estate 2010 “Four Acre” Estate Zinfandel, $34 • This wine is a beautiful single-vineyard Zinfindel, and at just 14.2% alcohol, it shows more finesse than heady fruit. Really nice Zin.

Summers Estate 2010 Knights Valley Reserve Merlot, $34 • One of the few blended wines at Summers Estate, this offering is 88% Merlot, 8% Cabernet, and 4% Syrah. I felt that this wine was a terrific example of Napa Valley Merlot, and I felt that it trumped both of the Cabernets from the same vineyard, both in terms of complexity and completeness.

Summers Estate 2010 Knights Valley Cabernet, $38 • As I mentioned above, I would opt for the Merlot, but at $38 for Cabernet, I still feel this wine is fairly priced. The Merlot juts seems to offer greater value.

Summers Estate 2010 Knights Valley Cabernet Reserve, $59 • Summers Estate selects the 20 best barrels from their Cabernet program for this reserve bottling. Again, $59 is not outrageous for Cabernet these days, but the Merlot is the smart move.

 

Wine Tasting Notes, 2013: St. Supery, Napa

stsuperymoscatoThe first bottle of Napa wine that I ever purchased was St. Supery’s Estate Moscato. Of course, that was quite a long time ago. Life was simple then, and my tastes were simple, too. To paraphrase Dr. Steve Brule, the St. Supery Moscato tasted like fruit (perfectly-ripened apricots, as I recall) and that was enough for me. Although my horizons have broadened over the years, I still return to the St. Supery Moscato because it offers surprising versality. In a formal setting, this wine can be paired alongside aged cheeses (my favorite pairings include San Joaquin Gold, any Dry Jack, and cave-aged Gruyere), or it can pair alongside any salad that features stone fruit. On the casual side, St. Supery Moscato is also an ideal wine for picnics and barbecues: It’s low in alcohol, it’s relatively inexpensive, and it’s refreshing when served at ice-cold temperatures. If you end up drinking this wine out of a red plastic cup, it won’t be the end of the world.

During my last visit to St. Supery, I tasted several of their wines, and I was once again impressed with the overall quality of the white wine program. The St. Supery Estate Moscato is a nostalgic pick, but Sauvignon Blanc is the winery’s strongest effort overall. I took a few notes during the tasting, though mainly just some details that I found interesting. I’m not big on telling people what flavors they “should” taste in a wine — I think there’s already enough of  that out there already. I also think it would be silly for me to “score” wine. Ultimately, wine is a binary decision: Do you buy the bottle, or not? My approach is to judge a wine against its price, and then just shoot from the hip. If you need clarifications, or if you have another opinion, just leave me a comment.

2011 Dollarhide Estate Vineyard Saunvignon Blanc, $35 • This wine is a classic Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc, with just a touch of oak (20%, to be exact). The Dollarhide Vineyard is located in Pope Valley, and the pricier wines tend to originate from this vineyard, but to be honest, I tend to prefer St. Supery’s Rutherford wines. The Dollarhide Sauvignon Blanc is fine, but there is tremendous value in the St. Supery Estate Sauvignon Blanc, which is only $20.

2011 Napa Valley Estate Virtú, $30 • The Napa Valley has become so homogenized with Cabernet and Chardonnay that I tend to applaud anything different. St. Supery’s homage to white Bordeaux is 60% Semillon (aged in oak) and 40% Sauvignon Blanc (aged in stainless). It was crisp, and I was into it.

2012 Dollarhide Ranch Chardonnay, $35 • I’m a California Chardonnay drinker, but not a California Chardonnay buyer, if that makes any sense. I appreciate Chardonnay but I don’t go out of my way to fill my cellar with it. The Dollarhide Chardonnay was good (I think the price-point is right on), definitely medium in body, and not overly malolactic in character.

2009 Dollarhide Estate Vineyard Malbec, $50 • I like seeing Malbec in the Napa Valley, and this is a very likable red wine. I’d be a bit more enthusiastic if this bottle was $40 — $50 is my upper limit for not-Cabernet. St. Supery also offers a Petit Verdot at the $50 level, though I didn’t taste it.

2010 Napa Valley Estate Élu, $65 • As the red counterpart to the Estate Virtú, the Estate Élu is a Bordeaux blend comprised mostly of Cabernet Sauvignon (historically, this wine is usually about two-thirds Cabernet, but the 2010 vintage checks in at 76%). It’s solid, and at $65, it’s probably the winery’s best Cabernet value.

2009 Rutherford Estate Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, $85 • Rutherford Cabs are among my favorites, though for $85, I’d like to have more of that dusty character. I’m not sure if that’s a fair criticism, since my penchant for “Rutherford dust” is just personal taste. It’s kind of how I felt, though. I just wanted a little more cow bell.

2012 St. Supery Estate Moscato, $25 • Is it over the top to call this wine a Napa Valley classic? Can a classic be $25? I will say, however, that I prefer the old label design.

The Dim Sum @ Ton Kiang, San Francisco

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A Few of Ton Kiang’s Greatest Hits: Shrimp-stuffed crab claws, pot stickers, foil-wrapped chicken, and steamed pork buns.

Living here in the Napa Valley, San Francisco’s Richmond District has been my gateway to the city over the years. For those who aren’t well-versed in San Francisco’s traffic culture, the Richmond District is definitely the “easiest” neighborhood in the city: There are no hills, there are very few one-way streets, parking is relatively plentiful, and the north-south avenues are all numbered. Add on the fact that it’s the first neighborhood that you encounter when taking the first exit from the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Richmond District feels almost like a San Francisco suburb, despite its geography. It’s a great way to visit the city without going (not just) knee deep into the mayhem.

Although you can find either cheaper (Good Luck) or better (Yank Sing) dim sum in San Francisco, it’s tough to top Ton Kiang for its excellent price-to-value ratio. I consider this restaurant to be one of the true gems of the Richmond District, along with Aziza (right across the street) and Burma Superstar. I’ve eaten dim sum (and only dim sum) at Ton Kiang several times over the years, and it always provides a proper fix. Its location in the Richmond is merely a bonus, and reason enough to visit the city on a whim.

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Chinese donuts are a must. A must.

Book Review: “Hong Kong Dim Sum 60” by Various Authors

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The cover of “Hong Kong Dim Sum 60.”

This book review is going to be woefully short on text, since I don’t read or speak a lick of Chinese. I’ll try to make up for it with pictures. I found “Hong Kong Dim Sum 60” while I was browsing through Kingstone Bookstore inside Richmond’s Pacific East Mall (perhaps better known as the “99 Ranch Mall” by some). This cookbook was a serendipitous discovery — as many times as I’ve visited the Pacific East Mall, I had never before recognized Kingstone as a bookstore. Honestly, this little shop is surrounded with so many Hello Kitty knickknacks that it’s easy to overlook the main book section in the center.

Recently published in Hong Kong, “Hong Kong Dim Sum 60” is a beautiful paperback collection of 60 dim sum photos, food created by Hong Kong’s most revered dim sum chefs. Of course, I’m just assuming that last part. “Hong Kong Dim Sum 60” is written completely in Chinese, so for me, it’s merely a picture book, albeit one that captures my imagination. However, I can tell that most of the chefs featured in the book (about two dozen in all) appear to be over 40 or 50, and a few of them are easily 60. They are also all male, except for one. I suspect that for the most part, these chefs represent the old masters, and not just because of their age, but because their food looks exquisite. This is hardcore food pornography.

If you know anything about this book, or if you can translate the bits of text that appear in some of these photos, please drop me a line in the comments section below. Here are a few book scans to enjoy:

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The swans on the cover make another appearance in this photo, but the dim sum in the foreground is even more interesting. The centers have an amazing texture, created by the process depicted in the inset photos at the top (many of the dishes in this book have these accompanying step-by-step photos: some are inset, like this one, and some are on separate pages).  Not sure what the flavors are, though.

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By the photos that accompany this dish, I know that these are little stacks of hand-pulled noodles, which surround what looks like chopped peanuts. You’ll notice that these noodles are impossibly thin, filaments really, and there looks to be thousands of them in each cluster. It requires sheer badassery to produce something this delicate. I can’t imagine what the texture is like, but I suspect that it’s completely unique.

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These are tiny little tea cookies that are carved from balls of dough before they’re baked. The design is truly next level. A phenomenal level of detail.

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This dim sum recreates the strawberry in an abscract and clever way. I suspect that the seeds in the dim sum strawberry may actually be hydrated basil seeds, but again, I can only speculate. I assume these are set with gelatin, like a strawberry gelee over a stiff panna cotta.

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Here, a tiny crab claw, which serves as a handle, emerges from a beautifully constructed pastry. I’ve had a similar dish, where the crab meat is coated with panko and fried. These have obviously been baked in a small fluted cup.

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Shrimp tails emerge from a wonton wrapper, perhaps filled with shrimp mousse? I’m impressed by how thin the garnish has been cut. The chef obviously has an amazingly sharp knife.

The Torta Cubano @ Healdsburg Bar & Grill

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The Cubano Sandwich @ Healdsburg Bar & Grill.

There are two distinct schools of thought when it comes to the torta cubana: One school adheres to a traditional standard of ham, roasted pork, swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard. The other school remains much more spirited and open-minded in its approach, with Mexican-style tortas that may include hot dogs, beef milanese, fried eggs, guacamole, and several other additional condiments. This latter style of sandwich is best embodied by the über-torta at That’s It Market in San Francisco. The That’s It sandwich remains a beast by anyone’s standard, and it has become infamous for its sheer, all-inclusive decadence.

In comparison, the traditional torta cubana, like the HBG version pictured above, seems almost subdued by nature, quaint in its conformity. At its essence, the traditional cubana lacks the comprehensive, hangover-curing potency of its Mexican cousins, but the sandwich can still succeed within its own simplicity. After all, tradition is typically rooted in purpose: With the classic cubano, the acidity of the pickles and mustard deftly offset the richness of roasted pork, cured ham, and melted cheese. The HBG cubano hits its mark, even if it doesn’t shoot for the moon.

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