Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Ruthies Caribbean Kitchen in Vallejo

Oxtail Platter at Ruthies Caribbean Kitchen in Vallejo.

When I first moved to Vallejo, I noticed this place on Sonoma Blvd. called B&W Cafe. I never went there, and about a year or so back it closed. Recently we saw signs of a new place setting up shop, and right now, Ruthies Caribbean Kitchen is in Soft Opening mode. They've got a bunch of interesting juices (including Sorrel, Sour Sop and Sea Moss), but I opted for Gingerade, which tastes like a gingery lemonade.

We took a peak at their menu yesterday, so we already know what we wanted. Goat and Oxtail. I joked that they probably source their meat from our favorite neighborhood Carniceria, Mi Ranchito. Sure enough, after we placed our order, in walks the owner of Mi Ranchito, with two bags of Oxtail!

Here's the Oxtail Platter, with Roasted Vegetables and Red Beans and Rice. 

Unctuous, tender, fall off the bone meat, with a sauce that tastes of Caribbean spices, though nowhere close to the aggressively spiced Chettinad Indian restaurants we've been to recently. It seemed like I could detect the faintest flavor of Allspice.

Roasted vegetables were perfectly done--softly sauteed but not hammered, very flavorful. Red Beans and rice done just right too, I loved that the beans were perfectly done, not too wet, so that they made a nice top on the rice. I recommend this dish to sop up the delicious flavors from the Oxtail sauce.

Here you can see Robin got the Goat Curry, Plaintains and Red Beans and Rice. Once I tried these, I knew this place wasn't based on the cuisine of any of the usual suspects. I've never had plaintains done this way by Dominicans, Cubans or Puerto Ricans. The Goat Curry was similar to the cuisine from Trinidad, but not quite spiced that much. This wasn't Jamaican cuisine either (though the menu does feature a sort of "Jerk" Chicken). 

More shots of the delicious Goat Curry Platter.

Beef Roti. Tender, spicy & delectable. 

So once we were done and I was paying for our scrumptious meal, I had to ask our hostess: where does this cuisine originate? St. Lucia?! Where the late great Poet Derek Walcott hailed from? We'll I'll be. 

I highly recommend this new restaurant in Vallejo, and we'll certainly be returning for more.

Ruthies Caribbean Kitchen
2632 Sonoma Blvd (0.15 mi)
Vallejo, California 94590
(707) 731-0452

Monday, February 12, 2018

Anjappar Chettinad Indian Restaurant in Santa Clara, CA

Deer Masala at Anjappar Chettinad Indian Restaurant in Santa Clara.

So apparently branches of this restaurant are all over the United States, including Newark, NJ, Bellevue, WA, Houston & Plano, Texas. All these place have high tech workers from India, and although there are many solid Indian restaurants in all these places, given some of the horror stories I've heard from friends in the industry, it is no wonder that we're starting to get even more truly great Indian restaurants in the United States. This is one of those that doesn't ask how spicy you want the food. Which means: it's going to be very, very spicy.

Above, you can see it looks like another Indian restaurant in a strip mall. Below, check out the interesting decor.

We arrived just in time for lunch, and ordered up a couple of Thali plates. Above: the Mutton Thali plate: clockwise from 9 o'clock: lime pickle, yogurt, coconut porridge, spicy Indian beets, rasam, kootu (mixed vegetables), carrots, Mutton Curry, rice, chapati.

Above: Mutton Biryani Thali, with Raita, coconut porridge, Chicken Masala, and a chapati atop the Mutton biryani.

Deer Masala. Tender and exquisite.

The level of spice here is otherworldy, because of the amount used, the fresh flavor of the spices both in ground and whole form. If you don't like spicy food, go somewhere else. Based on our lunch today,  and reaffirmed by the leftovers we just finished, the chefs here are operating on a very exalted level. This is currently my favorite restaurant in the Bay Area. Looking forward to trying their other restaurants, and yet another great-sounding Chettinad restaurant for comparison sake. 

Anjappar Chettinad Indian Restaurant in Santa Clara, CA
777 Lawrence Expy, Santa Clara, CA 95051

Longo Seafood Restaurant in Rosemead, California (Dim Sum)

Scallop Dumpling with Roe at Longo Seafood Restaurant in Rosemead, CA

Robin & I were eager to check out this new Dim Sum place after Jonathan Gold's glowing review, but also I've been hearing for years that this entire area, east of Downtown Los Angeles, is crawling with world class Dim Sum restaurants, and that the competition for business lunches here makes this the best Dim Sum scene on the planet. The over-the-top decor seems so LA to me, especially the massive  High Definition Television on the wall on the left, which was constantly showing video footage of Chinese folks catching fish, harvesting herbs, gathering shellfish from the shore with huge nets, dispatching a sheep and cutting it into pieces, then grilling the pieces over live coals. Some of it seemed a tad bloody to me, but nobody else around batted an eye. After all the food on the video looked beautiful and delicious.

Speaking of dispatched animals, check out the carcasses draining just beyong the kitchen doors.

First Dim Sum Offering: Mixed Mushrooms inside Tofu Skin. Silky texture.

This was the one Entree selection we made: Salt & Pepper Squid. Absolutely perfect on many levels. The Squid was the perfect texture, cooked exactly the right time, the breading was light, and not too salty with just the optimal amount of black pepper. Even better, these were served with thinly-sliced scallions & chiles, the red jalapenos were a particularly delightful piquant touch.

Above & below: shrimp & chive dumplings. Similar to good ones I've had in SF, except the ingredients, especially the shrimp, is of particularly good quality. All the seafood I had at Longo was top notch, with a nice sweetness.

Pork Dumplings, above and below.

Above & below: shrimp and fungus dumpling.

Shrimp dumpling.

And, at last, scallop dumpling with roe. Scallops were very sweet. 

Longo Seafood Restaurant
7540 Garvey Ave, Rosemead, CA 91770

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Tommaso's Italian Restaurant, North Beach, San Francisco

A slice of Clam Pizza at Tommaso's in North Beach.

My old friend Ed Ward has been visiting San Francisco this week, in part to see the Robert Rauschenberg show at SFMOMA, but also to do research for book projects. We had some unfinished business, since last time he was in town, when we tried to check out Tommaso's on Easter Sunday, 2015, and most restaurants in North Beach were closed.

Ed used to write for Rolling Stone when it was based in San Francisco, and also wrote for Francis Ford Coppola's City Magazine in the early 1970s. I met Ed in the late 80s when he was working for the Austin Chronicle, and I did a few freelance pieces here & there over the years, including a few restaurant reviews. Ed happened to be in Berlin when the Wall fell, and he moved out there shortly afterwards. After more than a decade in united Germany, he moved to the south of France. We'd see each other off and on through the intervening years, usually during South By Southwest, and usually over a nice meal, typically Texas BBQ or Mexican food. 

Just as Ed was about to move back to Austin, someone here in the Bay Area made me an offer I couldn't refuse. I was here within a week. However, it took some time for me to get my bearings and get up to speed with the vast culinary scene in the Bay Area. Thankfully, I met my beloved Robin a few months after arriving, and since she's a native, she's quite a pro when it comes to the epicurean scene. However, there was this one piece of unfinished business. And last night, I found out why Ed's been singing the praises of Tommaso's for years.

Pictured above: Toasted Peppers with Olive Oil & Lemon. Below: Zucchini a la Vinaigrette. Both outstanding salad dishes, especially the superb Zucchini, with the firm texture and hit of herbs with the vinaigrette, just absolutely heavenly. I've never had a dish quite like it.

So anyway, back in the early 1970s, as Ed tells it, the Pizza scene on the West Coast was just OK, especially to New Yorkers like him who could easily discern between the dialed-in versions, and the truly outstanding purveyors of this classic Italian-American cuisine. Apparently this joint was the first  Pizza place on the west coast when it opened in 1935, called Lupo's. Fast forward to the early 1970s with new owners and the new name Tommaso's, by this time the place wasn't as popular as it was around World War II. City Magazine was looking for the best Pizza in San Francisco for a profile, but the results were for the most part dissapointing. Then one day, Coppola brought in a stack of Pizzas from Tommaso's ("right under our noses"), and the rest is history. Ed and others wrote glowing reviews, and next thing you know, there were lines going down the street. 

Part of the deal is the new owners kept many of the old recipes on the menu, including the utterly fantastic Baked Fresh Coo-Coo Clams, pictured above. These are so fresh, so I'd guess they have a local source, most likely a fisherman who harvests the clams from Tomales Bay. The sauce seems pretty simply--Ed says it's only five ingredients, and I'd guess those are white wine or white wine vinegar, lemon juice, dried basil, shallots and extra virgin olive oil. Probably a guarded secret, but, as Ed's suggesting, and I think he's right, that the real secret is the process of cooking the sauce. I wouldn't be surprised if it's similar to making Beurre Blanc: saute herbs and garlic/shallots with lemon, white wine, and or some other light acidic liquid (possibly vinegar or other spirit) until the alium component has softened, then add the butter once the liquids are boiling, but take the pan off the heat, and stir in the butter. I'm guessing they're doing that with adding the olive oil at the end. It's both Science and Art. Surely somebody figured it out a long time ago, and made a sauce that's quite unique. Needless to say, perhaps, I'm sure the liquid from the Clams themselves is an important flavor component to this dish. It wouldn't taste like this at all if these were previously frozen clams. Here's another dish I've never encountered before, though I have had some slightly similar ones, using Mussels.

Here's the best Pizza I've ever had, so satisfying. Pictured above, Clam Pizza, each slice with a Clam in the shell on it, and more chopped up on the slice. Below: Mushrooms and Sliced Italian Sausage Pizza. The Sausage is sourced especially from a local butcher for Tommaso's, as in you can't go there and buy it. Though I can assure you if it's Little City or Molinari's or one of the other great local traditional Italian butcher shops, they'll have Italian sausage they've made on the premises that's as good if not better than any you've had before. Great flavor to the meat itself, not overwhelmed by too much salt, fennels, chiles, pepper or anything else. Same thing about the tomato sauce on the pies--perfect balance.

Keep in mind Tommaso's is closed on Mondays, and I've heard the lines can get really long on Fridays & Saturdays, and they aren't open for lunch.

Check them out here:

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Chopan Kabob, Afghan Halal Cuisine - Concord

Banjan Borani at Chopan Kabob in Concord.

We've been hearing about this highly-regarded Afghani Restaurant in Concord for some time now, and gave it a go last night (1/29/18). This first dish consists of fried eggplant with a house-made masala sauce, topped with yogurt and mint. All the constituent flavors and textures seemed familiar, and given the presence of the Silk Road, it makes sense that one would find elements in this cuisine east and west, and yet, the sum is greater than the parts. In this dish, and with the Aushak, I felt like I was eating Afghani Cuisine for the very first time. I wonder what elements are left out because they might be challenging to American tastes? Such as Goat meat and Goat milk products?

House-made naan.

Aushak: steamed dumplings filled with leeks, topped with vegetable sauce and garlicky yogurt sauce. Pronounced lemon flavor. Dumpling skins similar to Chinese rice flour dumplings, almost translucent. I've never tasted anything quite like this.

Chopan Kabob: Freshly grilled lamb chops in tandoori oven seasoned with herbs and spices. Served with rice, naan and a garden salad. Perfectly tender lamb chops.

Bite-size portion of the Aushak dumplings.


Friday, January 26, 2018

Michael Roman: Stenciled Visions of Love, Peace and Chaos, @ The Mission Cultural Center for Latino Art

Michael died 13 months ago today. A year ago we went to a memorial hosted by the Coltrane Church.   this is a fantastic selection of his work, many of these pieces I'd never seen before.

From the installation with Michael's silkscreens.

Frida Kahlo on a pizza box.