Categories
dessert reviews

Ici

Ici specializes in artisanal ice cream, made fresh daily in small batches, and it’s been described as some of the best ice cream in the Bay Area. It was smoldering here in the Bay Area last week (90+ degrees in SF???), so we stopped by Ici on our way to Bakesale Betty. Yes…dessert before lunch.


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We got six scoops between the three of us and got to sample a wide range of flavors. I don’t think all the flavors necessarily worked, but you have to appreciate the care and the commitment that goes into every batch of ice cream.

  • Chipotle Chocolate Chip – good, but the heat from the chipotle threw me off. I wished it was chipotle, chocolate chocolate chip. I think a chocolate ice cream would have gone perfectly with the heat of the chipotle.
  • Malted Vanilla – good…mild vanilla flavor.
  • Lemon – loved it…sour at first but I like how it mellowed out.
  • Fresh Peppermint – good minty flavor…not overbearing.
  • Saffron/Orange Blossom – I thought it tasted like Indian food (I know that sounds odd) and my wife was trying to figure out what orange blossom actually tastes like. She liked it though.
  • Peach/Habanero Sorbet – i didn’t think this one worked at all.

I also tried the basil ice cream as a taster and thought it was interesting, but I don’t know if I’d want a whole scoop of it.

Flavors change daily and I’d like to go back and try some more of their ice cream, but I hesitate to join the chorus of folks anointing it the “Best in the Bay,” especially when I didn’t think any of the flavors we tried topped Bi-Rite Creamery’s salted caramel (and I’m not even a caramel fan) or the Milk and Cookies or Orange Sherbet from San Rafael’s Three Twins.

However, it is nice to know that there are so many artisanal ice cream shops are out there making small batches of fresh, natural ice cream, and having more options just makes trying to figure out who’s best more fun and challenging.

INFORMATION
Ici
2948 College Ave
Berkeley, CA 94705 map
510.665.6054
Web site

Categories
dessert fried chicken fried rice Peruvian reviews Southern California

Mario’s and MILK

We just spent another long weekend in SoCal, where we amazingly escaped the oppressive 100+ heat of the Bay Area for much more manageable high 80s/low 90s temperatures (and 70s overnight). My wife had to work Thursday and Friday, so we didn’t get to visit a couple places that were on our list, but we did get to revisit some old favorites.

On Thursday, we went back to Mario’s Peruvian and Seafood Restaurant in Hollywood and fell in love with the place again. I tried the Arroz Chaufa, a simple Peruvian fried rice with beef, green onions, and scrambled eggs that didn’t look like much on the plate, but when you eat it, the flavors really jump out at you. It’s probably because the dish also included MSG, which I’ve got no issues with since it makes everything taste better. Thank you, Ajinomoto, for your umami-enhancing seasoning.


Arroz Chaufa

After Mario’s, I was set on going to Pinkberry for dessert, but I seemed to be the only one. My friend Alfie suggested that we go to MILK. Alfie lives nearby, and she’s become such a regular that MILK chef/owner Bret Thompson greets her whenever she drops by. We got to meet him when we were there, and he’s a really cool, laid-back guy.

I wasn’t able to order for myself since I was trying to find parking (probably MILK’s only drawback), but my wife made some great choices. She picked up a Grasshopper, an amazing ice cream sandwich featuring mint chip ice cream between two huge mint-flavored macarons and dipped in chocolate.


Grasshopper

She also got the Cookies and Cream Ice Cream Bar, a vanilla ice cream bar on a stick that’s dipped and coated in chocolate and Oreos.

Cookies and Cream Bar

It’s hard not to come down to LA and spend all of our limited eating time at either Mario’s or MILK, but both places are so good that they demand repeat visits. But this was just day one of our trip, and we were still planning a trip back to The Oinkster.
 

Categories
chocolate dessert recipes

Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Filling

I came upon the recipe for Double Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Filling at Food & Wine’s Web site while doing research for a cupcake contest I was planning on entering about a month ago. Eventually, laziness set in and I didn’t enter the contest, but these cupcakes were still on my mind. When our friends decided to have folks over this past holiday weekend, I thought it would be a good time to break out some cupcakes.


Glossy ganache tops this cupcake

I love the double-dipped ganache topping as opposed standard frosting. It’s much easier than making frosting, and the cupcake has a lower profile so it’s easier to eat. The peanut butter filling was really good too, but I ended up getting a little sick to my stomach after OD’ing on peanut butter while I was making it. :-)

Mmmm...peanut butter

Credit must be given to my wife for making these cupcakes look so good. I tasked her with doing the ganache and dipping the cupcakes. She’s really good at making things pretty.
 

Categories
barbecue dessert drinks Filipino pork reviews sandwiches Southern California

The Oinkster

The OinksterWhen I’m home in SoCal, heading out to Eagle Rock isn’t normally on the agenda, especially for food. But when some friends told me about The Oinkster’s house-cured pastrami sandwiches and ube milk shakes, Eagle Rock started sounding mighty nice.

The Oinkster is the brainchild of Andre Guerrero, a Filipino American chef who’s a veteran of the Southern California restaurant scene. His other restaurant, Max in Sherman Oaks, offers contemporary Pan-Asian fine dining that’s a stark contrast to The Oinkster’s laid-back, order-at-the-counter vibe. (We also took my parents to Max for a Mother’s/Father’s Day dinner, so basically it was an Andre Guerrero weekend.) We ended up going to Oinkster twice in four days and were able to try a good cross section of the menu.

The Oinkster Pastrami sandwich is a thing of beauty—pastrami with Gruyere and a red cabbage slaw. The pastrami is cured for two weeks (the old-fashioned way) according to a recipe Guerrero developed over a period of two years. It’s not a melt-in-your-mouth pastrami like they have at Katz’s in New York, but it’s definitely the some of best pastrami I’ve had on the West Coast.


Oinkster Pastrami

Aside from the sandwiches, the pastrami also tops the Royale burger, and it’s also featured in their excellent chili. If you’re from Southern California, you’ve likely had a chiliburger at one of the many Original Tommy’s hamburger stands that are down here. Tommy’s chili is legendary in L.A., so it may be blasphemous of me to say this, but…The Oink’s chili is so much better. In fact, I don’t know what I really saw in Tommy’s chili other than the novelty of it. I went back to Tommy’s with my wife a few months ago, and on its own, the chili reminded me of dog food. It really needs to be paired with fries or a burger. The Oink’s chili can definitely stand on it’s own, and it has a freshness that you’ll never get from Tommy’s chili.

Categories
bakeries dessert recipes Thomas Keller

Brownies a la Bouchon

Chocolate BouchonOur trips up to Yountville are never complete unless we stop in at Bouchon Bakery to pick up some goodies. If it’s your first visit, you must try the chocolate bouchon (right). It’s a cork-shaped brownie bite that’s their signature delicacy, and it puts those mass-produced Costco ones you’ve probably had to shame. If you’ve ever had the warm chocolate brownie for dessert at Ad Hoc, it’s the same thing…but bigger.

I’ve been wanting to make these ever since I got the Bouchon cookbook last year, and when I saw Sunday Nite Dinner’s epic Valrhona v. Scharffen Berger Chocolate Bouchon Battle, I was even more inspired. But I didn’t want to make the bite-sized bouchons. I was going for brownies.

This recipe is actually quite easy. The most difficult thing about it was getting the freshly mixed batter into a piping bag. I used a jumbo muffin tin because it was the shape and size that I was looking for, but if you actually want to make the bite-size bouchons, I’m sure you can find that online somewhere. Baking time on the muffin-sized brownies is 30-32 minutes. I had some left over batter that I refrigerated, and the next day I made some mini cupcakes using a mini muffin tin. Baking time on the mini cupcakes was around 12 minutes. (no pictures of those…sorry!)


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The original recipe calls for Valrhona Equatoriale semisweet chocolate (55% cacao). Normally I can find Valrhona at Whole Foods, but we missed our opportunity to look at the San Ramon store because they inexplicably close at 9pm when every other Whole Foods in the area closes at 10pm. (Damn bedroom communities!) I ended up finding some E. Guittard Tsaratana semisweet (61% cacao) at Nob Hill and snapped them up since I’m a big fan of Guittard chocolate. The cocoa was Hershey’s unsweetened.

When they’re finished, the brownies are dense and rich with little gooey chunks of chocolate. We tried them both fresh out of the oven and after they’d cooled, and they’re great either way. They’re even good reheated with some ice cream.

Categories
beef Best of Inuyaki chocolate dessert Northern California reviews

Alexander’s Steakhouse

Special occasions call for special restaurants, and when a friend and former coworker decided he was going to pack it up and move back home to the ATL, it was the perfect time for some old friends to get together, reminisce about the good old days and send him off in style. We quickly came to a consensus on Alexander’s Steakhouse in Cupertino, a modern American steakhouse with Japanese influences that does some pretty amazing things with meat.

The first thing you notice when you walk into the restaurant is the meat locker on the left that contains huge slabs of dry-aged beef. It’s always nice to know when a restaurant is aging its own beef, and as a meat lover, it’s really a sight to behold.


Beautiful Aged Meat

We were presented with a really nice ahi tartare amuse bouche to kick off the meal. A few of us decided to try the Hamachi Shot off the small plates menu, one of Alexander’s most popular appetizers (it’s also the cheapest at $4). It’s a shot glass filled with hamachi, red chili, frizzled ginger, avocado, and truffled ponzu, and you simply stir it up a bit and then shoot it. It’s quite a rush, and I loved the slight kick you get from the chili.

Salads quickly followed, including my Baby Lettuce salad with yuzu vinaigrette, red radish, ten kasu, and the optional bacon lardons (of course!). The Iceberg Lettuce salad featured living watercress, point reyes blue cheese, and apples and was plated beautifully. Before our main courses arrived, we cleansed our palates with an intermezzo—a refreshing shot of mango juice and chopped strawberries.


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Between the eight of us, only three different entrees were ordered—five orders of the 10 oz. filet mignon, two orders of the Melange a Trois (including mine) and one Misoyaki Sea Bass. The filets were excellent and topped with shiitakes and candied bacon. The sea bass was served with sansho crispy squid, tempura green beans, curried trout roe, beurre noir, and their crunchiness was a nice contrast to the buttery, melt-in-your-mouth fish.

The guest of honor and I both ordered the Melange for its variety—Prime Rib in Natural Jus, Braised Shortrib with Brie en Cocette, and Bavette Steak with Green Olives and Bleu Cheese. I also added a piece of Seared Foie Gras to “round out” the meal. :-)

Categories
dessert entertainment Filipino Top Chef TV

Dale “Busts Out” Halo Halo on Top Chef

I’m a big Top Chef fan, but I’ve been watching the Chicago incarnation with great interest because of Dale Talde, the ornery and talented Filipino American sous chef at Buddakan, an upscale Chinese restaurant in New York. During the first six episodes of the season, the Chicago native’s dishes have reflected a pan-Asian influence, but last week, Dale got to express his Filipino side during a dessert Quickfire Challenge and received praise and Top 3 finish from guest judge Johnny Iuzzini, the pastry chef at Jean Georges.



Dale chose to make halo halo, a classic Filipino treat of shaved ice, milk (usually condensed or evaporated) and any number of other tropical ingredients, such as sweet beans, tropical fruits, and ice cream. Because of the variety ingredients and personal preferences, there isn’t one set recipe for halo halo, and Dale’s is no exception—a combination of shaved ice, avocado, mango, kiwi and nuts. Sure it was a non-traditional, upscale interpretation, but this is Top Chef, and it was nice to see him bring Filipino culture to the table.

This season of Top Chef hasn’t been nearly as exciting or dramatic as previous seasons, but I still love the show. Dale got off to a slow start, but as the season has progressed, I think he’s found his groove and is now one of the favorites to win. He even showed his “gangsta” side when he grabbed his crotch and went off on Lisa Fernandes after she pandered to Ming Tsai’s “Asian-ness” and then won a trip to Italy despite being negative, whiny, bitch-ass teammate. (Can you tell I really don’t like Lisa?)

Dale goes GANGSTA!What? You say something?

Are you watching Top Chef? Who do you want to win? Should there be a faux-hawk ban next season?

Categories
bacon dessert recipes

With Warm Weather on the Horizon…

I’m definitely trying David Lebovitz’s recipe for Candied Bacon Ice Cream. Here’s a little tease…I only hope mine comes out looking this good.


BACON   ice cream

Then again, why wait for warm weather? Maybe I’ll make some this week! :-)

Categories
bakeries Best of Inuyaki chocolate dessert recipes Thomas Keller

Christmas Cookies – Thomas Keller Oreos

If you’ve ever been to Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery, chances are you’ve seen or eaten one of his famous TKOs, a.k.a. Thomas Keller Oreos (below).


TKO

Like most of Keller’s food, his take on the classic Oreo is a textbook example of refined simplicity — white chocolate ganache sandwiched between two chocolate shortbread cookies. They’re one of our favorite cookies, and I thought it would be fun to make them for Christmas presents.


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The Las Vegas NBC affiliate, KVBC, posted the TKO recipe on their Web site, which I thought was odd, but then I remembered that Keller opened a Bouchon Bakery in The Venetian a few years ago. We lengthened the the baking time from 8 minutes to 20 minutes after an unsuccessful first batch and the 20-minute baking time worked out much better. We also made a seasonal, mint-flavored TKO by adding some mint extract, peppermint extract and green food coloring to the ganache.

CHOCOLATE SHORTBREAD COOKIES
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 pound (4 sticks) butter
18 oz (by weight) all purpose flour
12 oz (by weight) sugar
1 teaspoon Salt
6 oz Cocoa powder

DIRECTIONS
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
2. Cream butter with paddle on mixer until smooth, then add sugar and mix until combined, scraping down the mixing bowl.
3. Sift dry ingredients. Add dry ingredients to mixing bowl and work dough until just combines. (it should look kind of like brown sand)
4. Roll dough between two sheets of parchment paper until 1/4 inch thick. Cut each cookie with scalloped cutter.
5. Bake at 325 F for approximately 20 minutes
6. Let cookies cool and then sandwich together with the following filling:

GANACHE FILLING
4 oz white chocolate (cut into small pieces or buy white chocolate chips)
1 oz heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon mint extract (optional, for mint filling)
1/8 teaspoon peppermint extract (optional, for mint filling)
green food coloring (optional, for mint filling)

DIRECTIONS
Bring cream to a boil and pour over chocolate, then mix until emulsified. Allow ganache to set up for at least an hour before using. Ganache should be spreadable, kind of like peanut butter.

To make the mint ganache, add mint extracts to ganache along with food coloring just before placing between the chocolate shortbread cookies.

The white chocolate ganache is perishable, so if you’re making these, make sure their consumed within three days. This can be difficult, because these cookies are really rich and it’s sometimes hard to eat just one. Enjoy!

Categories
bacon candy chocolate dessert

Bacon + Chocolate = LOVE!

If you believe that bacon makes everything better, you really need to try it with some chocolate. That’s what some of the higher-end chocolatiers are doing, and it really is a match made in heaven.

The salty/sweet combination works in mysterious ways, especially with fried chicken and waffles, bacon and maple syrup (which is often accidental), and the classic peanut butter and chocolate. But bacon and chocolate is combination I’d never considered or even heard or until my friend Soo Jin gave me a piece of Zotter’s Bacon Bits bar. The finely chopped bacon bits are incorporated throughout the bar giving it a subtle, salty bacon flavor that was really nice.


zotter bacon bar

Let it be known that Soo Jin is my chocolate enabler, having introduced me to Fog City News, one of San Francisco’s best newsstands. It’s also one of the city’s best chocolate shops, sporting an extensive selection of imported chocolates from around the world. They offer a Premium Chocolate Passport, a frequent buyer program that gives you a free premium chocolate bar for every 10 bars you buy. Needless to say, Fog City News is an excellent place to try some exotic chocolate concoctions.

Last week, I got an email about one of Fog City’s chocolate tasting events, and here’s what caught my eye:

Meatpaper and Meaty Chocolate Tasting
We hope to see you tomorrow (Friday) between Noon and 2pm when you’ll have the chance to meat (sorry, couldn’t resist) Amy and Sasha, the editors of this unique new “magazine of art and ideas about meat.” And what could be more appropriate than trying samples of the latest chocolate bar with applewood smoked bacon which are being donated by the sweet (can’t help myself today) folks at Vosges? Be among the first to pick up the premiere issue of Meatpaper (Members take 10% off the magazine at the event) and learn about the trials and tribulations of launching an independent print publication in the electronic age.

First, there’s a magazine called Meatpaper? I gotta really look into that!

Since Soo Jin works nearby, I suggested that she stop by on her lunch break and she was happy to oblige. She ended up enjoying herself and picked up a Vosges bacon chocolate bar for us. Vosges has been a sentimental favorite of mine for awhile; I bought my then-fiancee some of their fabulous truffles when I was in New York on business a few years ago, and recently we discovered their delicious chocolate bar with goji berries.


Vosges bacon bar

The Vosges bacon chocolate bar is fantastic. Instead of finely chopped bacon bits like the Zotter, there are much bigger pieces of bacon in the Vosges bacon bar, and it’s got a hearty, smoky, salty kick that the Zotter lacks. So if you see a Vosges bacon chocolate are at your local market…make sure you pick one up and give it a try.

And remember…bacon makes everything better.