Monday, June 13, 2011

AT&T Ball Park Series #1- Crazy Crab Sandwich

It was a beautiful evening at the ball park last night. Summer is finally coming around and with a nice 5 pm start time I was looking for a really satisfying dinner at the park. I wanted to start this series off with a unique item that really typified San Francisco. The Crazy Crab'z sandwich was an excellent choice. Located on the
Promenade level behind the bleachers at Center Field the Crazy Crab'z booth is a part of a unique food court of sorts featuring many "one of" options in the park. I was glad we had arrived early so I could make the trek from my seats in view reserve down to the booth. I had heard rumors from other fans that this sandwich could not be beat. As a specialty item I think that it is definitely not an every game meal but a special occasion treat. It's singular location and high end price (The Crazy Crab is $15.50, There is a dungeness crab sandwich for $11.50, I am unsure at this time what the primary difference is that lowers the cost) will probably keep me from indulging frequently but that is ok because it will give me something to look forward to. As I approached the front of a quick moving, not excessively long line I was pleased to see the the delicious aroma I was smelled was the thick cut sourdough bread spread with garlic butter grilling on a larger griddle. Piled high with crab meat lightly dressed in mayo and served with sliced fresh tomatoes I couldn't wait to get my sandwich back to my seat. Unfortunately the national anthem began as I walked away from the booth so I stopped out of respect carefully wrapping the sandwich in the paper lining while Nancy who had accompanied me to the game tried to protect it in her jacket ( I'm sure we made quite the picture, but I wanted to know I was trying it at it's optimal serving temperature). I hustled up to my seat (no small feat, if given the time next time I'll enjoy my sandwich at one of the standing room cocktail tables scattered throughout this concession area) and prepared to dig in. The bread had a nice golden toast on it and tasted amazing. I was wary after the first bite that it might be imitation crab but on closer inspection there was no unnatural pink parts and were in fact a few nice chunks of claw meat. The cool fresh tomato was just the right balance with the rich crab meat and mayo and lightened it up with it's natural acidity. They provide lemon wedges on the side and I did a light squeeze over the crab meat on my second half. It did add a nice component but wasn't really necessary, probably more of a personal preference addition. All in all the sandwich was a great experience & I would highly recommend it to someone wanting to make their ball park experience a unique one, especially out-of-towners who want to soak in as much SF as they can.

Location: Center Field, Promenade Level (1)
Price: $15.50
Value: Lots of crab meat and great Bread. If this were served in a restaurant at the same price it would probably come with french fries or another side dish to add to the value, however for a specialty item at the ball park I think it was alright, a little too pricey to get every game.
Average wait: 5-8 people but moves quickly since it is a specialty item and minimal customization options
Over all flavor and Satisfaction: 10 -10, was tasty and plesantly filling without the risidule junk food feeling that many ball park options have.
Game Score: Giants Win! 4-2 over the Reds

Friday, June 10, 2011

Marlowe SF

One of the things I love most about San Francisco is the ability, no matter where you are in the city, to stumble upon amazing unique dining experiences. As you know I go to the ball park a lot but it's rare that I wander around the area much. We go up to 21st Amendment occasionally for a beer and a nosh before the game (highly suggest it by the way if you have never been, awesome burgers and their own unique watermelon beer) but beyond that we don't spend much time in the area.

A few weeks ago we were leaving a night game awaiting the next Caltrain to take us home when someone suggested we grab just one more beer before we depart. For those of you familiar with the area adjacent to the Caltrain station there aren't an abundance of options beyond Safeway and some counter service restaurants across the street that weren't open at the time. A few people from the group began walking down the opposite side just to do a little recon into the area. Lo and behold they found a small restaurant just across the street from the station that was still serving drinks! Although the kitchen was closed I couldn't help eagerly looking at the menu. There are a few key words that make me instantly want to try a restaurant- Brussel Sprouts, Buratta Cheese, Truffle anything, & Sweet Corn Soup. One of the remnants of my years at Pizza Antica is an undying devotion to Brussel Sprouts and the constant promotion of them as "not the gross veg you remember from childhood". Imagine my joy when I saw brussel sprouts 2 ways on their menu along a Buratta special, a Truffled Pecorino in polenta, along with Sweet Corn Soup with mmmm.... chili oil!
As soon as I got home I got on Marlowe's website to scout everything out. Young yet seasoned restaurateur Anna Weinberg created Marlowe along with her Chef Partner Jennifer Puccio. The cozy and classic Bistro ambiance has just the right balance of refinement with rusticity that sets the stage for the cuisine of high end comfort food. I was excited to see that I soon had a day game on the calendar with 3 of my best foodie girlfriends. I couldn't wait to share this experience with them as there is no greater joy than sharing great food and drink with great friends!
We made reservations for 5:30 and hoped our game would end in time. We were in luck and ended with about 45 min to spare, just enough time to move the car and get to the restaurant. As an FYI, we were able to find ample parking on the streets surrounding the restaurant however be sure to read carefully, most of them are only metered till 6pm then you are in the clear. 5:30 is Marlowe's earliest reservation and believe me YOU WANT IT. We were the third group seated of about 5 groups waiting when they opened the door at 5:30, by 6 it was full, by 6:30 one of the specials had already sold out. When I made the reservation the manager asked if I would be ok sitting at the communal table down the center. I said we were and it worked out just as well as any other table. We were between two other groups of six but had plenty of elbow room and did not feel like we were too close for comfort. The only draw back was the exposed metal support beam that crossed through the table right about where we were seated. We chose to share a number of plates and this did make coordinating their placement a little tricky. Since I had already become some what familiar with the menu as soon as we were seated I took a look at the wine list. Wow. I am not a wine snob but I know what I like and I know the price points I like to pay. Most places I go and it's usually pretty easy to narrow down what I am going to get due to lack of options, never have I been to a place where there were so many by the glass that I couldn't choose! I had read on their web site that the General Manager and wine buyer, Sarah Varley, had created a list of affordable options with lots of different non-traditional varietals that she has a particular affinity for. There were so many great options, all hovering around $9-$10 it was really hard for me to choose but after we talked about what we were ordering I went for a nice dry Rose from Provence (just can't go wrong with that on a summer day!). Tori had their "Butcher's Mistress" the drink special which they change daily, today it was Proseco (dry Italian sparkling wine) with fresh lime and pomegranate juice. Kerry had the Chenin Blanc, and Abbie went with a non alcoholic Bundaberg Ginger beer which came in an adorable bottle with Kangaroos on it! Everything looked so good that we decided our best option was to pick a number of things to share so we could all enjoy them and I could get constructive feed back for the article. Gotta love friends who are down for the cause! We chose (3) appetizers, (2) mains, and (1) side dish to share. The first item to arrive were our brussel sprout chips. Right out the gate we were impressed. With just a light essence of lemon juice keeping them fresh and a sprinkle of sea salt to accentuate the natural nuttiness these chips were to die for. Nice and hot out of the oven or fryer we couldn't help extolling the virtues of these amazing chips. Crisp and full of flavor the verdict around the table was we need a huge bowl of these to snack on for our next movie night! Delicious and no guilt! We were about two thirds through the basket when our waitress set each of our place settings with a spoon and brought out the sweet corn soup. Before I get too deep into the description I want to take a moment to say how friendly and professional the staff was. You could tell they were well trained and truly enjoyed working there which is always such a joy to experience, especially from the perspective of a former server!
We each took a spoonful of the soup being sure to incorporate the chili oil as well as the crisp potato shavings on the top. Piping hot the soup was sweet, creamy and delicious. You could tell that the corn cobs had probably been utilized in the stock because it was full of flavor. The texture was silky so it also must have been well strained. Although I do enjoy some whole kernels in my corn chowders I did not miss them in this soup. I also really enjoyed the cute plate it was served on. The small floral pattern gave me the feeling like I was being served from someones home kitchen and I thought it was a really appropriate touch, giving the whole presentation character. Another great character point was the large roll of butcher paper hanging on the far wall promoting the evenings specials. This was such a hand shaped creative touch that I thought really brought the image the restaurateur was going for to life. The bold print grabs your eye as soon as you walk in and I was giddy to see the Roasted Beets and (local) Berkeley Buratta with herbs. It took very little convincing of the girls that we simply had to order this dish and we were lucky to get it. Just an hour later it had already sold out! Artfully displayed on a long rectangular plate the brilliant red and golden beets shown like gems amongst the fresh green herbs and luscious fresh buratta cheese. All of this was drizzled with a not too overwhelming balsamic reduction which enhanced the sweetness while still providing a nice acidity to balance everything. I could easily have eaten this entire dish myself. The herbs each played their flavors into the other elements and although the beets were roasted they were still firm enough to be toothsome. The girls were kind enough to let me have the last extra portion and I greedily nibbled it down. None too soon were our starters finished as our mains had arrived! It isn't often that I order chicken at restaurants. For whatever reason I have programmed myself to think of it as the "safe" choice, an add on by the chef who needs something for picky eaters. Thankfully I did not let this preconception get in the way of our ordering the "Poulet Vert" (hey 2 years of french in High School finally paying off! I knew that meant Green Chicken!). Served with Broccoli Di Ciccio pumped up with some chili and the cutest Marble Potatoes (they literally looked like little assorted color marbles, I have to figure out where I can buy them) the chicken is a full wing on breast piece with two little leg pieces. All served bone in with the skin on to really hold the moisture and the flavor from the sauce. I am undecided if this should be described as a sauce or a gravy but whatever it was IT WAS AMAZING. So full of flavor we couldn't help trying to soak up as much as we could with each bite. Although I'm usually not much of a skin eater (if there is any fatty texture I just can't enjoy it) I barely noticed the skin on this dish. It had just enough crispness that it added flavor and texture to the meat but none of the slimy characteristics I dislike. The potatoes were sweet and had great texture and the kick from the chili in the broccoli di ciccio brought it's own unique component to the dish as a whole. We were all overwhelmed by how much we enjoyed the chicken, agreeing that the sauce/gravy was what made it really special.
As soon as the polenta was set on the table the aroma of truffle wafted up to our noses. Warm, earthy, and inviting I couldn't wait to dive in. The large white bowl was layered first with warm creamy polenta, then the sauteed wild mushrooms (it looked like as many as 5 varieties), a bed of young greens, and lastly a poached egg and shaved pecorino cheese. We first broke the egg letting the viscous yolk spread amongst the greens and drip down into the mushrooms and polenta below. Passing around the bowl I tried to hold myself back starting with just a small serving making sure incorporate all the elements in my first bite. As if I haven't said this enough this article: WOW. This dish was so enjoyable to eat. The variety of textures were delicious and the earthiness of the whole thing was incredibly fulfilling. I was definitely glad I was sharing it however because all of the elements combined made it very rich. The greens added a nice lightness to help balance it out but with everything we had already eaten we were getting pretty close to overload! ... and then we tried the Gratin.
The small florets were smothered in provolone and smoky cheddar cheese with a nice crisp broiled top. By this point in the evening I could only manage a couple bites but the side dish was really yummy! It was served in an adorable cast iron dish straight from the oven on a kitchen towel and plate. The rustic appeal was wonderful and even though I couldn't eat much of it I enjoyed the dish!

Although we were about to burst there was an unsaid agreement that no restaurant can be fully reviewed without tasting dessert. I am sad to say I almost wish we hadn't. Pre-made and served in cute jars we chose the Chocolate Cream Pie and the Lemon Souffle Cake . Of the two the Lemon was the hands down winner. I am a lover of chocolate but the cream had an unpleasant sour characteristic and the "crust" at the bottom of the jar was overwhelmed with sea salt. I can see where they were going with this and maybe we just got an off jar, but I think we all found it really unenjoyable. Although we liked the lemon better, it was relatively uninteresting and it was difficult to enjoy all the layers with the jar presentation. I am sad to say that I have to suggest skipping dessert and maybe enjoying a dessert wine or coffee instead.

Over all though I cannot wait to go back. All things included (beverage, meal, dessert, tax and tip) we spent $43 a piece which when you break it down is pretty good! We all had a fabulous time deconstructing each dish as we ate it and as always a memorable time being together!

Monday, June 6, 2011

New Series! AT&T Ball Park Bests- Introduction

I am so excited because this is my first year ever as a SF Giants Baseball season ticket holder! I've already made it to 9 games and it has been great. You may be like me and many others in that you have your standard ball park meal. You always have your hot dog in the first few innings, then maybe a chocolate malt or something else sweet in the seventh inning stretch. We all have our favorites and those classic foods that never cease to make us feel like kids again watching the game. AT&T is one of the most beautiful ball parks in the whole country and one thing that really sets them apart is the food! These booths often go far beyond concessions and go right to culinary. Over the rest of the season it is my goal to try each of the unique offerings at the park let you know where you can get the best bang for your buck and what is not to be missed! Each game I go to I'll report back with that nights selection, including pictures and factors like price point, cash only or credit accepted, accessibility factors like length of lines on average and how many locations there are in the park, and of course, How it Tastes! At the end of the season I'll wrap up with a best and worsts list and an over all comparison. I hope you will all look forward to this series as much as I am and will find a new ball park favorite for yourselves!

Cointreau Crepe Cake

My very first experience making crepe's was while I was living in Australia with my boyfriend's Aunt and Uncle. As a thank you for letting us live at their house for free for 3 months we would often cook dinner or other treats for the family. One thing we quickly learned- we DO NOT work well in the kitchen together! He would have one idea and I would want to do things my way, he would get in my way or touch something and I would get frustrated. It led to more than one yelling match, which we are able to joke about now thankfully. By the time I decided to try the Tyler Florence Blintz (sweet ricotta cheese mix filled crepes) recipe he had learned to stay out of the kitchen till it was time to do the dishes. One of the trickiest parts of cooking abroad was the need to convert all the measurements and temperatures, along with the fact that there were occasionally ingredients that were not available. I may have almost cried in the "Mexican" aisle at Safeway one day when I could find beans to make burritos. Luckily I was able to gather pretty much everything I needed for that particular recipe. My boyfriend's family is Hungarian so as I described to his uncle what I wanted to do he instantly declared "ahhh you are making Palacsintas! I used to make those all the time!" Palacsintas are Hungarian crepes served just as other crepes are with a variety of sweet or savory fillings. After I whipped up the batter he helped me perfect my technique showing me how to slowly tilt and swirl the pan just so to get a (basically) round thin crepe, showed me how to flip them over when the edges began to get golden, and helped me create a nice little stack of them to fold into Blintz's. With my new found crepe confidence I made this recipe many times at home purchasing a nice light and very flat Non-stick pan that made making the thin crepes much much easier. I soon experimented with different fillings (Nutella and strawberry's is always a hands down favorite, I always keep a nice big jar of Nutella around in case I need to whip up a batch for friends during a late evening gab session!)

A few months ago my mom and I had the Martha Stewart show on in the back round while doing things around the house. We were instantly engaged when her cooking segment began preparing a gorgeous layered crepe cake filled with thick hand made whipped cream. It looked exceptionally extravagant with its many layers and totally unique to any cakes I had seen before- I had to make one! We printed the recipe off the web-site and I carried it around for a little while but after a few weeks, like many recipes I become enthralled with, with no appropriate event to make it for I sort of forgot about it. I recently remembered the recipe and decide event be damned I would make it for fun and see how many girlfriends I could gather to eat it! Since I am very comfortable making both crepes and hand made whipped cream I was really pleased with how easy it was to make. My one frustration was that I don't have a blender (I know of all things not to have, a blender? really?) and that really is the best way to make smooth crepe batter. I tried to use a hand mixer which basically did the job however there were a few small lumps that for the life of me I could not get out. Thankfully they would be invisible in between the sumptuous layers of whipped cream.

Grand Marnier Crepe Cake: Gourmet Magazine March 2008

First Side
 Blend 6 eggs, 1 cup milk, 1/2 cup cream, and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla with flour, salt, 1/4 cup confectioners sugar, and 1 teaspoon orange zest in a blender until just smooth.

Brush a 10-inch nonstick skillet lightly with some of melted butter(my non stick does not require butter so feel free to try both ways), then heat over medium heat until hot. Pour in a scant 1/4 cup batter, immediately tilting and rotating skillet to coat bottom.

Second Side
(If batter sets before skillet is coated, reduce heat slightly for next crêpe. I will sometimes wave my skillet around in the air cooling it off slightly before the pour...this is probably kind of dangerous but hey, if you don't want to risk a burn get out of my kitchen!) Cook until underside is golden and top is just set, 15 to 45 seconds. As you can see I have a square pan so my crepes often end up more.... "rustic" in shape, a round pan may help you have a more consistent shape. Really try to stick to the quarter cup up batter this will also help you keep consistent size.

Finished Whipped Cream
Beat remaining 2 1/2 cups cream, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, 3/4 cup confectioners sugar, 1 teaspoon zest, and Grand Marnier (or Cointreau) in a large deep bowl with an electric mixer until cream holds stiff peaks.

Feel free to prepare the whipped cream after all the crepes are cooked. You will need the crepes to be fully cooled before you can begin layering them with the whipped cream other wise the whipped cream will melt and the cake will not really be cake but just sticky crepes!

Don't be stingy with your whipped cream between layers. The whole batch will go farther than you think. Make sure to try to get as close to the edge as possible. I used a nice flat little spatula to help spread mine.

Once all the layers are complete cover and chill in the fridge for 4 to 24 hours. This is relatively easy and quick to assemble but won't reach it's potential if it doesn't have time to set.

The recipe on epicurious did not include a sauce but I thought a nice warm syrup would really add that extra edge to this cake. In a small sauce pot I combined 1 orange peeled and sliced, 2 cups sugar, 1 1/2 cups water and a half cup Cointreau (I had some lying around and spending $25 on a bottle of Grand Marnier to make one cake just seemed silly!). Bring all the contents to a boil, maintaining a simmer lower to medium and stir occasionally till reduced by half. I strained out the majority of the fruit leaving just a little bit for texture mostly you just want to cook it down for flavor. Pour over individual slices at service! This is a lovely light cake perfect for summer evenings.

So tell me, do you cook well with your significant other or do they get banished to the other room as well?