Sunday, December 10, 2017

Amrutha Aappakadai Indian Chettinad in Fair Oaks, CA

Kerala Chemmeen Curry & Lamb Vindaloo at Amrutha Aappakadai Indian Chettinad, in Fair Oaks, CA, just outside Sacramento.

Our friend Dave, now living in Portland, but previously from Sacramento, recommended Amrutha Aappakadai to us. Dave has done quite a bit of travel around the world, including trekking around India on a motorbike. We took his recommendation seriously. Glad we did. I have never before experienced Indian cuisine of this calibre.

Kerala Chemmeen Curry, a coconut-based curry with prawns, exploding with a vivid array of spices and herbs, including curry leaves. Absolutely sublime.

Lamb Vindaloo. A Goan approach to a tangy, rich sauce, redolent of spices, big chunks of lamb and potato. A stunning, arresting earthy contrast to the ethereal Kerala Chemmeen Curry.

OK, this is just basmati rice and garlic naan (both perfectly executed), but I only included this because we were doubled over in laughter, so pleased we were that the bathrooms and hallway just outside was heavy with the pleasant aromas of Naan with Ghee.

And, to put an exclamation point on one of the best meals we've ever had, here's the Goat Biryani, with chunks of roasted goat on the bone, infusing the rice with deep umami richness, served with a spicy sauce and the yogurt raita that usually comes with Biryani, absolutely delicious and fresh.

Amrutha Aappakadai Indian Chettinad
8121 Madison Ave, Fair Oaks, CA 95628

Yuba Watershed Institute Mushroom Foray

The Yuba Watershed Institute is hosting a Mushroom Foray at the Shady Creek Outdoor School and Event Center (a few miles north of Nevada City) this weekend, and I just wanted to share some photos of the beautiful venue. First, there's the main hall's wooden dome ceiling, then a shot of the same from the outside, where you can see the Rammed Earth construction, a series of domes connected by rounded halls, and finally a naturally occuring boulder on the land. There's a constant roar of the river falls issuing from the hollow thicket below.

We arrived at the venue a few hours late because we thought it was starting later in the morning, and also Robin got a flat tire in Sacramento, where we had stopped at the Co-op to get a few groceries and more coffee.

But the vendors said it was no big deal as the forayers didn't tarry at the venue long. They set off into woods almost as soon as they arrived.

A series of speakers would start doing talks around 2pm, so we expected the mushroom hunters to begin returning about 1pm for lunch, which included a Bolete Potato Leek Soup, and a Herb Morel Onion Soup.

As you've already seen, it was quite the bonanza for those searching for mushrooms, the results of the hunt laid out on 5 picnic tables. Numerous experts on all things mycological were at hand, including my buddy Mike Wood, one of the authors of the definitive book, California Mushrooms: The Comprehensive Identification Guide.

Accounts from the mushroom gatherers all agreed, the land was generally pretty dry, as they searched around wooded paths at the foot of a hill. At long last, they rounded the other side of the hill, and came to a spot where there was ample evidence of underground water, then Eureka! Hundreds of mushrooms of all types, including many prized edibles.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Szechuan Cuisine, Outer Sunset, San Francisco

Fried Sliced Mutton with Cumin (& chiles, garlic, scallions, and more). Quite a bit of luscious mutton came with this dish. Delicious deep umami flavor of the mutton complemented by the array of spices and aromatics. Close to China Village in terms of execution, just a different more local regional take.

Poached Fish (Sole) Fillet in Chili Oil. We've had at least 8 different versions of this dish in the last few years, and they're all similar, every version really stands out, probably because the chef(s) are doing what their family made. This version stands out for the inclusion of pickled vegetables and braised leeks cut on the bias, plus the spices (Szechuan peppercorns especially) taste seriously fresh, yielding a tongue-numbing result.

Pork Dumplings with Chili Oil, made in house. And boy can you tell the difference, the dumpling skins were just perfectly supple and consistent, the pork filling exploding with umami and a subtle whisp of salt.

Szechuan Cuisine
1920 Irving Street
San Francisco

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

3 Star Restaurant: Filipino & Cantonese Cuisine in Vallejo

Garlic Sauce Chicken Wings at 3 Star Restaurant

We were looking to try some place new, and we had dismissed looking in the part of the strip mall where 3 Star is located because it used to be a vacant storefront that looked a bit dingy, but now it looks neat, clean & tidy. Most of the online reviews looked very positive, but we tend to be skeptical. 

Above and below: House Special Chow Fun With Gravy. Noodles, Bok Choy, Carrots, Pork, Chicken,  Mushrooms, Shrimp. Solid Umami flavors, meats tasted good, not spicy. Noodles were probably dry, and a bit on the overcooked side in my estimation. Bok Choy cooked perfectly.

Above and below: a selection from the Filipino Menu, String Beans With Coconut Milk (tomato, onion, shrimp, pork). You'll also notice tender strips of kabocha squash, which reinforces the fact this is comfort food. I assumed that the combination of tomato with coconut made this dish pink, but there were also pink flecks, maybe from some sort of shrimp paste. Nice, welcoming flavors, not very spicy, but there's a bowl of chile sauce at the table if you need it. 

OK, here's the jackpot dish. Garlic Sauce Chicken Wings, very similar to the chicken wings at San Francisco's San Tung restaurant. One of the top best dishes in Vallejo, and by far the best chicken dish. I can't think of one that comes close. Perfectly fried chicken wings in a slightly spicy sweet garlicky sesame sauce; the crunch on these babies is as perfect as can be.

3 Star Restaurant

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Smashburger in Emeryville

Salted Caramel Shake. Using Haagen Daz. Thick, rich and completely decadent. This is the gold standard, as far as I'm concerned.

Bay Burger: mushrooms, swiss cheese, spinach (my choice), arugula, truffle mayo on ciabatta--absolute perfection.

Robin got a Turkey Burger Club. She wolfed it down with a look of ecstasy on her face.

Sweet Potato Fries. Great like last time. One order was more than enough.

We also shared one of their salads, a Cobb. Fantastic with very fresh produce, and gigantic. Definitely an excellent value.

Bacon Avocado Burger at Smash Burger with Sweet Potato Smash Fries

Smashburger is one of those new hamburger chains offering upscale burgers & fries, along with healthy alternatives. Looks like they also have vegan & vegetarian options, which we'll try on subsequent visits, but this time we decided to try some basic burgers. Here, I'm having the Bacon Avocado Burger, and I was particularly gratified I could add fresh spinach for free. The burger itself was tasty and comparable to burgers by close competitors: The Habit, In & Out, Five Guys, Super Duper. The overall sandwich is what's best, because how many places have different sort of buns? (Mine was multi-grain). Produce was fresh and the spinach especially had a nice lively texture to it.

The calibre of the beef here (and the other places I mention) are far better than fast food burgers, but also lag far behind the best burgers you can get, particularly from the Farm Burger chain. You just can't beat grass-fed, dry-aged and fresh ground beef. And I'm sure there's even more expensive, higher end restaurants serving Wagyu burgers.

But the real star of the meal were the Sweet Potato Smash Fries. Cut like frites, these are topped with a rosemary & garlic infused oil, a combination you have just got to try. 

Here, Robin's having the Buffalo & Blue Cheese Burger, which she loved, judging by the silence and look of bliss on her face. Notice, though, the Haystack Onions. Some of the best onion rings I've ever had, in fact, probably the best. Very thinly cut, fried to perfection. Plus served with a delightful horseradish sauce, seen below.

Here you can see the residue of the rosemary & garlic oil used on the Sweet Potato Smash Fries. The put just the right amount on, with a little bit of runoff to dip in. 

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Chef's Wok in Alameda

Mixed Mushrooms in BBQ Sauce at Chef's Wok in Alameda.

Robin used to live close to Alameda in Downtown Oakland and has been telling me about this place for years, but somehow we hadn't made it before. Judging from the menu, it seems to be a bit on the Cantonese side, but cross-regional, and a relaxed down home sort of place. The calibre of the cuisine is quite high and the service top notch. Here's the salty peanuts and tea they bring you when you sit down.

Here's a classic Hong Kong dish: Honey Walnut Prawns. Shrimp tossed with mayo, with walnuts, served atop shredded lettuce. One of the best versions of the dish I've had. Spot on.

This appears on the menu as Mixed Mushrooms In BBQ Sauce, but it's more like Beef Fajitas, Chinese Style. Several sorts of delectable grilled mushrooms (abalone, trumpet, white), tender grilled beef, grilled onions, peppers and peas. The sauce was relatively subtle, and tasted like black pepper, garlic and a tiny bit of soy. Fantastic dish, never had anything quite like it, and reason enough to come here.

Salt and pepper fried squid, & a gigantic portion at that. Probably dusted with rice flour prior to frying, and probably frozen squid, but I thought it was pretty good, though not as stellar as the prior two dishes. Plus we were pretty full by the time this came out, and hadn't even finished the earlier dishes. But rather than evoke a wafer-thin mint, we had most of this boxed up, and I had tons of leftovers later.

This was really tempting Mr. Creosote territory, this being a slightly sweet Red Bean & grain pudding that is often served as a complimentary "dessert" in some Chinese restaurants. A few sips was all I could handle, but absolutely sublime, nevertheless. 

Chef's Wok

1821 Webster St, Alameda, CA 94501

(510) 337-9388