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My 24 Hours in San Francisco – Part 2 (aka how to eat through a city)

November 5, 2011 Leave a comment

So we left off with my returning to the hostel after a fun night in Chinatown and Fisherman’s Wharf. I knew that I would have to leave for the airport around 6:00 pm to catch my flight so I woke up at the nice and early hour of 7:30 to get a start on the day and pack in as much as I could! It was an absolutely perfect day to explore the city, perfectly clear and sunny out with a high of 25 °C. By the end of this day I was full of food and exhausted from walking around the city for a solid day (man those hills are big!).

The Ferry Plaza Farmers Market

The Ferry Building, home of the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market

From the moment I started planning my SF trip and realized I would be in town on a Saturday, I knew that my first stop that morning would have to be the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. Over the past year I have seen amazing photos from this market and heard about the amazing produce and food that can be found there from one of my favorite food blogs (www.summertomato.com) so I couldn’t pass up the chance to visit in person! The market is located in the ferry building, right at the end of Market St. on the water, with a spectacular view of the Bay Bridge. Inside, the building is full of artisan food vendors and shops selling things like: the best coffee you have ever tasted, amazing olive oils, fresh seafood, beautiful chocolates, and much more! The inside of the building was quite beautiful and over the approximately 2 hours I spent at the market (I know, it’s a long time but there was so much to see!) I walked through it at least twice.

The early morning view of the Bay Bridge from Ferry Plaza Farmers Market

All along the outside of the building is where the true farmers market sets up, with the main area concentrated to one side (with a fantastic view of the Bay Bridge) and behind the ferry building itself. The vendors here sell only locally produced vegetables, fruits, meats, and prepared foods. All of the produce looked incredibly delicious and fresh, I have never before seen such a bounty of beautiful looking (and smelling) produce in my life (for great pics, check out summertomato.com for the weekly farmers market updates). Besides how beautiful it looked (and how great it tasted) the thing that struck me most was the incredible variety of produce items available! Many vendors had interesting fruits like pluots (cross between an apricot and a plum), I have seen these before but neer have I seen two or three varieties in the same place! Most of the vendors has plenty of samples to try, and I took full advantage of it! The tomatoes, pears, pluots, apples, and more were all delicious! I also bought a few different fruits to eat as I walked around the market, it was delicious! With produce like this its no wonder SF is the capital of great food in the US!

Amazing produce at the market

Now for the food! The first vendor I saw right at the entrance was Blue Bottle Coffee. I had read about this coffee before and it was definitely on my list of things to try. Their website says that they commit to all their coffee being brewed from beans which were roasted no more than 48 hours earlier. Unlike some other drinks (Champagne, scotch, some wines) coffee is not meant to age, so this short time between roasting and brewing means the flavour stays full and fresh. I purchased a simple black coffee, prepared using an old-fashioned drip method where the hot water is poured from a kettle (heated over a propane stove) directly onto the ground beans in a filter. The coffee flows out the bottom into the waiting cup below. I had to wait about 10 minutes for my cup but it was well worth it. The coffee was delicious and strong, and it was a great experience just savouring it while looking out across the water.

Awesome apple pancakes

I did a quick lap around the market to get my bearings and figure out what the various food options were. Having not had any breakfast yet and wanting to try something delicious I decided to break with my typical high-protein breakfast and go for a delicious apple-pancake. This thing was huge and very, very good! Great apple flavour and texture. I enjoyed it immensely but did not finish the whole thing (had to save room for later!). Over the next hour and a half I explored the market in detail while it began to get busier and busier. After thoroughly exploring every booth (and sampling a number of products!) I decided I was slightly hungry again.

My strategy this time was to pick the food vendor with the longest line, I figured the locals would know what was best! The longest line turned out to be for a vendor called La Primavera, who oddly enough was preparing some the most amazing looking Mexican food I have ever seen (SF is famous for its Mexican food). The thing that immediately caught my eye on the menu was the chicken empanadas in mole sauce for a few reasons: I had never had mole sauce before and always wanted to try it, I had never had a real empanadas before, and, most importantly, it was one of the few dishes you could buy a half portion of! The empanadas was delicious, full of delicious chicken with a great crust. The flavours were just ridiculously intense and I loved the mole sauce. I didn’t realize how well the flavour of chocolate pairs with a hearty and savory dish like this!

Chicken empanadas with mole sauce

Now being thoroughly stuffed, I decided it was time to bid farewell to the market. I had a hard time leaving, I had high expectations for this place and it delivered on every one of them. What an amazing way to spend a morning! The best part though is that I had done so much and it was before noon! Next I decided to walk towards another SF destination I had been dying to visit, Samovar Tea Lounge.

This sign caught my eye at one of the many food vendors

Samovar Tea Lounge (part 1)

Samovar Tea Lounge

So after a full morning on my feet I decided it was time for a little rest and relaxation. About two years ago I started to drink a lot of tea. I think it started for me during an exam period when I discovered a new loose leaf tea shop in the local mall. I had heard people exclaim the benefits of using loose-leaf tea over the bagged stuff so I figured I would but a bit to give it a try. Ever since then I have been hooked. Tea-bags, which are undeniably convenient, just can’t compete with the flavour and taste experience you get from brewing real loose-leaf tea. It’s not only the vastly better taste, but I really enjoy the ritual of preparing loose-leaf tea itself. Dropping a bag of ground up tea into a mug of water is just not the same as portioning out the leaves yourself and watching them expand and change as they steep. You also can’t infuse tea-bags multiple times like you can with many loose-leaf teas (oolong anyone) and appreciate how the flavour changes with each infusion.

Needless to say then, with my love of tea, I needed to visit Samovar Tea Lounge, a place I have read a lot about. Samovar three locations throughout the San Francisco area, each of them beautifully and meticulously designed to be an incredibly relaxing and comfortable spot. I visited their location in Yerba Buena gardens, right in downtown SF behind the Moscone Center (famous for being the location of many an Apple press conference). The setting is amazing, looking out over a beautiful park/garden in the middle of the city. Walking into the area of the restaurant (I sat outside) you can just feel in the atmosphere that this is a place for relaxation, whether that be with a good book, a good group of friends, or just some quiet time to think.

The view from Samovar Tea Lounge at Yerba Buena Gardens

The teas featured at Samovar are not like the ones you find in many of the chain tea shops throughout many cities (Teopia, David’s Tea, etc.). First off, you won’t find tonnes of crazy flavored teas here, no “maple walnut candy spice green tea”. While you will find a few subtle flavored teas (like the vanilla oolong or blood orange pu-erh), the majority of the selection focuses on high quality and delicious “straight” teas; green, black, oolong, pu-erh, and herbal are all represented. The second major difference is in price, there is no getting over the fact that tea at Samovar is more expensive, with typical tea prices ranging from $9 to $17 for the most expensive. However you must remember that you are paying for not only higher quality tea here (which you can clearly taste the second it hits your lips) but the wonderful experience as well. The tea is served in a beautiful fashion (the exact way depends on the particular tea). I ordered a Darjeeling (black) tea which was served with the leaves in a small pot, with a small cup and beautiful cast-iron kettle. I had never brewed tea like this before, small cups each individually brewed with quick infusion times, and it was a great new experience. The flavour you get with this quantity of leaves in less water is simply fantastic, and it is interesting to see how the flavour changes with each infusion. There was also something much more satisfying about drinking tea this way, and I think it definitely has to do with the ritual aspect I mentioned earlier.

The Darjeeling tea at Samovar Tea Lounge

In addition to great tea, Samovar also has a pretty impressive food menu. I thought their “tea service” options were really cool; you pick a tea service theme (e.g. english, indian, moorish, palaeolithic…) and they pair up a particular tea and food selection based on that theme. If I hadn’t been so full from the market that morning I definitely would have tried it! The menu also features a number of interesting standalone dishes (which change over time), some featuring tea itself as an ingredient (e.g. tea soup). Not being terribly hungry, I opted for a delicious sounding fruit and cheese platter, that also came with a nice piece of honeycomb. The platter was beautifully presented (I love it when food is served on wooden boards) and it was all delicious. The cheese in particular went really well with the honeycomb and it all worked pretty well with the Darjeeling tea as well (my extremely knowledgable server helped pick the combo).

Tea and fruit platter at Samovar Tea Lounge

Overall my experience at Samovar could not have been better. The owners have really created a special place where you can enjoy a truly relaxing and immersive experience. I wish I had a place like this at home to escape to every so often. If you are in SF, do yourself a favour and take an hour or two to enjoy some delicious tea and food, and to have an incredibly relaxing and memorable experience.

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Well that’s it for this post, stay tuned for Part 3 of my SF adventure featuring the best ice-cream and pizza I have ever had!

-JR

Growing Herbs – Part II

May 9, 2011 Leave a comment

Wow! Its been a pretty crazy week (hence the lack of posts) but I really wanted to give this quick update on the status of my window-box herb garden. So just to recap, at the end of April I started to grow some herb plants on my apartment windowsill. I started off with two plants from seed (cilantro and Thai basil) which I had just planted. I also had future plans to buy some more herbs as seedlings to add to the collection.

Last weekend at the farmers market I picked up a rosemary plant, which is one of my all time favorite herbs and definitely the one I am most looking forward to using. I also bought some thyme as it is frequently used in French cooking, something that I want to explore a bit more this summer. Both plants are doing well so far and I have definitely seen some growth in the rosemary plant especially just in the one week I have had it. Probably in another week or two they will be ready for use!

Now onto the seeds I planted myself. Much to my great surprise within a mere week of planting the seeds I started to see some green poking out of the soil in the tai basil pots! The cilantro began to follow a few days later and rapidly started to outgrow the smaller Thai basil. I was really surprised at how easy it was to get the seeds started; just daily watering and a sunny window. Now that we are starting to get more sunny days hopefully the plants will start to grow even faster. The cilantro is growing incredibly and I will have to start thinning out some of the plants soon so they don’t compete for space too much. The Thai basil, while off to a good start, seems to have slowed its growth so I will be keeping a close eye on it in the next week.

So far I have really enjoyed this experience of growing my own herbs. It is definitely rewarding and I can’t wait to use them in  my own cooking (lamb with rosemary anyone?). I still plan on adding a few more plants in the coming weeks (mint, sage, basil) and will post again about the status soon!

-JR

Wild Leek Frittata

April 30, 2011 2 comments

So today I made it out to the Farmers Market bright and early (7:45 am to be precise!). I am really starting to like this Saturday morning routine and it’s getting even more enjoyable now that I am not freezing my hands off the entire time! This being South-west Ontario it is still a little too early for a lot of the local produce, however that doesn’t mean that there isn’t any! I picked up some great looking hot-house tomatoes, cooking onions, fuji apples, fresh-baked bread, eggs, and….wild leeks!

Wild leeks are a new ingredient for me, I have never seen them before and never cooked with them before. However I figured they were worth getting as I heard a lot of excitement about them from some of the local chef’s I follow on twitter. For those not familiar with wild leeks (also called ramps) you can check out this Wikipedia article here. In general the flavour of a wild leek is said to contain elements of both onion and garlic (and once I got them home, I could definitely smell it!). Both the leaves and the stems of the leek can be used, with the stems having a stronger flavour to them.

So once I got home I decided to try making a frittata, something I have never made before! In order to add a bit more heft to the frittata, I decide to also use a nice ripe tomato as well as some pitted black olives that I had in my fridge.

The veggies!

After chopping off the roots from the leaks, I diced up the bulbs/stems and also cut about half of the leaves into thin slices. I saved the other half for later wrapped in paper towel in a ziplock. After cooking the leeks and tomatoes in some butter I added a the egg mixture and put the olives into the pan as well. At this point the smells coming from this pan were amazing! The leeks had this awesome garlic aroma that was not too overpowering.

In the pan!

After browning the bottom of the eggs for a few minutes, I put the pan under the broiler until the top of the frittata cooked (this by the way is one of the major distinctions between an omelet and a frittata, the frittata is finished under the oven and not folded over). Then it was out of the pan and onto the plate (I am very proud that I managed to get it onto the plate without breaking it!). Interestingly, Wikipedia tells me that frittata are commonly sliced and served unlike an omelet which is made for one person. So since this is just for me I guess it’s not a true frittata! 🙂

The finished product!

It tasted amazing! The wild leeks gave it a nice garlic flavour and some nice colour as well. The tomatoes were soft and flavourful and the olives really finished the dish off nice, adding a good salty taste. I really liked the texture of the frittata compared to an omelet as well! Overall I would definitely make this one again (maybe with some herbs from my window box once those get going).

-JR

Recipe: Wild Leek Frittata (About 20 minutes total).

Ingredients:

  • 3-5 wild leeks (depending on how strong you like the flavour)
  • 1 ripe tomato
  • 5 black olives (pitted)
  • 2-3 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • salt and pepper to taste

Steps:

  1. Start to pre-heat the broiler
  2. Clean and chop the leeks and cut the tomato into small pieces, heat the butter in an oven-safe skillet on medium temperature
  3. When the pan is hot and the butter has melted, add the leeks and tomatoes. Cook with occasional stirring until the tomatoes have become soft but not falling apart (about 4 – 5 min). While the tomatoes and leeks are cooking whisk the eggs and milk together
  4.  Add the egg mixture to the pan and then add the olives placing them evenly around the pan. Add salt and pepper.
  5. Allow the eggs to cook undisturbed until the bottom 1/2 or so is firm and the very bottom is starting to get a nice golden brown on it (4 -5 min)
  6. Remove the pan from the stove and place under the broiler until the top of the eggs begins to brown (2 – 4 min)
  7. Remove from pan, serve and enjoy!
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