burgers French sandwiches Seattle

IFBC, Seattle Food Porn, and the iPhone 4

Octopus at Bastille
Grilled Octopus with Chickpea Panisse and Preserved Lemon at Bastille in Seattle,
taken with an iPhone 4.

I was in Seattle last weekend to attend the 2nd annual International Food Bloggers Conference (IFBC), but I was a very bad food blogger because I forgot to bring my trusty Panasonic Lumix LX-3 with me on both days. This meant that the only camera I had on me was my iPhone 4. Since it’s always with me, my iPhone 4 is the most convenient camera that I own. When light is plentiful, the iPhone 4’s built-in 5-megapixel camera takes beautiful pictures. The new built-in flash helps in low light, but you really have to work to get a great shot.

lx3 iphone

As much as I love the idea of owning a fully loaded digital SLR, I don’t want one because they’re bulky and heavy, and I like to travel light. The LX-3 is a fantastic point-and-shoot camera that’s great in low light and has a 24mm ultra-wide-angle lens that makes it easy to capture fully composed plates of food at restaurants. It also has a ton of manual features, but in general, I just put the thing in “Food” mode, flip the “Macro” switch and go to town. We bought it as our restaurant camera before our trip to New York last year, and nearly every picture on this site since late 2009 was made with that camera.

One of the first questions budding food bloggers ask about cameras is something along the lines of “which digital SLR is the best for food blogging?” While a good camera definitely helps and you’ll need one to take your pictures to the next level, if you don’t have a good eye, then the camera doesn’t matter.

Inspired in part by my fellow IFBC attendees and Saveur Magazine photographer Penny de los Santos, whose images and overall dopeness in the photography session inspired all of us to starting “making” pictures instead of taking them, here are some of my favorite iPhone 4 pictures from the weekend.

Pre-IFBC Eats

We arrived Wednesday night and went to Wallingford for ice cream at Molly Moon’s and burgers at Dick’s Drive-In. Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures of ice cream because I was too busy eating it, but here’s a picture of the Dick’s Deluxe Burger, shot using only the typical available lighting you’d find at a burger stand at night. It’s not the most attractive burger, but it’s a pretty good macro shot considering the circumstances.

Dick's Deluxe Burger
Dick’s Drive-In’s Deluxe Burger

The next morning, my wife and I walked from our friend’s house to Anita’s Crepes in Ballard, and I had one of my favorite things on this trip, the Lemon Sugar Crepe. Fresh lemon juice and the crunchy bruléed sugar made it seem like I was eating candy for breakfast. In this picture, sunlight was coming in from all around but mostly from the right.

Anita's Lemon Sugar Crepe
Anita’s Lemon Sugar Crepe

After Anita’s, we headed over to Top Pot Doughnuts in Queen Anne for my favorite doughnuts in the world. I played around with the composition a little here with my Ovaltine latte and lemon old-fashioned in the foreground and my wife’s cup of soy milk in the back.

Top Pot Lemon Old Fashioned
Top Pot’s Lemon Old Fashioned

After crepes and doughnuts, we needed to walk around, so we headed downtown and ended up at Pike Place Market where I spotted these colorful hanging peppers being sold by a street vendor (presumably to tourists). :)

Hanging Peppers
Colorful Hanging Peppers at Pike Place Market

We headed up to Woodinville to partake in one of The Herbfarm’s 100-Mile dinners. All the good dinner pictures were taken with the LX-3, but I did manage to get a nice picture of The Herbfarm’s sign before we went inside for the meal.

The Herbfarm
The world-famous Herbfarm

On Friday, we went to Ballard’s Lunchbox Laboratory, a place that destroys any expectations you have of burgers, fries and shakes. The burgers might be excessive and messy, but they’re delicious, and the perfectly fried tater tots with sea salt and pepper are killer. I paired the burger below with a dark chocolate and orange milkshake.

Lunchbox Laboratory
Lunchbox Laboratory’s “Homage to Dick’s” burger
with 1/2 pound dork patty (duck/pork) and tater tots


You’d expect us to eat well at a food blogger’s conference, and you’d be right. On the first day of the conference, some of Seattle’s best chefs came out to prepare lunch for us. The marinated octopus dish below is the similar to the dish at the top of this post, which my wife ordered the next evening when we went to Bastille with our friends.

Bastille Octopus
Marinated Octopus with Chickpeas, Preserved Lemon and Chorizo Vinaigrette
by Chef Shannon Galusha of Bastille
Lunchbox Laboratory
Beef Tartare by Chef Daisley Gordon of Campagne
Salmon Carpaccio
Salmon Carpaccio by Chef John Howie of Seastar

I wasn’t sated after lunch, so I skipped a session and joined an IFBC splinter group that ventured up to Paseo Caribbean Food on my suggestion for some of their famous sandwiches. I was a little late to join the group, and they had already ordered when I got there, but one of them inexplicably (and thankfully) ordered two separate dishes and offered to share her food with me. We took our food down to the Buckaroo Tavern, a Harley bar a couple doors down that’s closing after 72 years in business, so we could sit down and have a beer. The table was crowded and filled with food and beer, but I managed to get off a quick shot before scarfing down half of this incredible grilled pork sandwich.

Paseo Sandwich
Paseo’s Grilled Pork Sandwich with a Black Butte Porter

I ended up tweeting this picture, which got more than a few conference goers a little jealous. :) And FYI, if you’ve been to Paseo but haven’t tried their Smokin’ Thighs dinner plate, make sure you order that next time you’re there.

Some of Seattle’s best food trucks served us lunch on Sunday of the conference, which partially made up for the fact that I missed the Eat Real Fest in Oakland that was going on concurrently. I was really happy to see Skillet Street Food there, but I forgot to buy a jar of their famous bacon jam before I left.

skillet slider
Snake River Farms slider by Skillet Street Food

Kaosami Thai Food served up Larb Gai in a Thai taco, something I’d never even I’d never considered before. I thought the Larb Gai was good but it was served on a dismal corn tortilla that made it seem like an afterthought. Despite this, I chose this picture because I’d been inspired by all the overhead shots Penny showed us in her slideshow.

Thai Taco
Larb Gai Taco by Kaosami Thai Food

Hallava Falafel seemed to have some logistical issues to sort through when lunch started (in otherwords, their line was slow), but they made a pretty good falafel. I like this picture because it shows that the iPhone 4 camera actually has some depth-of-field capabilities.

Hallava Falafel
Falafel by Hallava Falafel

I left IFBC after lunch to meet up with my wife and friends and have an early dinner at Bastille (the eating didn’t really stop for five days). Aside from the octopus we had at the top of the page, two of the more photogenic dishes were the Pork Cheek Terrine and Grilled Heirloom Eggplant.

Pork Cheek Terrine
Bastille’s Pork Cheek Terrine
Pork Cheek Terrine
Bastille’s Grilled Heirloom Eggplant

Final Thoughts

Most of the pictures I posted above were taken in the daytime in broad daylight or in restaurants where we were seated by a window. This is essential if you’re taking pictures with a mobile device like the iPhone 4 because a lot of light is required to properly expose the picture.

An hour after I posted this, Apple announced support for HDR photos in its iOS 4.1. In a nutshell, it takes three pictures—one normal, one underexposed, one overexposed—and then merges them all together. Wish I had that feature this weekend. ;-)

As mobile devices get more advanced, they’re likely to include some form of built-in high-resolution camera, which makes them ideal for the food blogger on the go who might not have their camera with them at all times but wants to take a good picture. Since I’m so forgetful, I definitely fall into this category.

French reviews Southern California

Ludo Bites at BreadBar

Chef Ludo Lefebvre’s pop-up restaurant experience known as Ludo Bites ends its run at BreadBar tonight. If it weren’t for some prior obligations, we would have been in LA this weekend for one last meal. (We actually had reservations this weekend but had to cancel when I was reminded of a prior engagement.) We only went to Ludo Bites once, but the meal was so good that we became instant Ludo fans and can’t wait to see where he sets up shop again.


Ludo’s food may be rooted in French tradition, but everything on the menu is playful and inventive. Of course, this means you might not like every dish, but you still come away respecting what Ludo was trying to accomplish.

We started with a Porcini Veloute that featured porcini ice cream, egg, crispy sage, tobacco powder. My wife wanted this one because she loves mushrooms, while I’m just starting to get over my disdain for them. The combination of the veloute, ice cream and egg made for luscious and rich starter, but I still found it a little too mushroomy for me. My wife loved it and probably would have finished it, but she couldn’t get past the flavor of the tobacco powder.

Porcini VeloutePorcini Veloute

Next up was the Foie Gras Black Croque Monsieur, a play on a traditional croque monsieur that uses squid ink bread and adds a piece of foie gras to the mix. I’ll let the picture speak for itself. :)

Foie Gras Black Croque MonsieurFoie Gras Black Croque Monsieur

The Creamy Polenta and Oxtail might be one of my favorite dishes of the year. It’s such a simple dish and doesn’t look like much when it’s brought to the table, but after the first bite, we were hooked. The polenta, with Cantal cheese and bits of black truffle, was great on its own, but it’s the oxtail that brings the dish home. This isn’t the most appetizing picture, but it still makes me yearn for the dish.

Creamy Polenta and OxtailCreamy Polenta and Oxtail

Another one of the evening’s highlights was the Pork Belly with Frisee and Mustard Ice Cream. That’s right…mustard ice cream. Basically, the savory mustard ice cream was just a frozen dressing for the frisee, so while waiting for that to melt a bit, we worked on a perfect piece of glazed pork belly.

Pork Belly with Frisee and Mustard Ice CreamPork Belly with Frisee and Mustard Ice Cream

If you saw Fried Chicken in Duck Fat on menu, you would order it right? I knew you would. It was accompanied by some perfect roasted fingerling potatoes, tapenade and are really good red pepper ketchup.

Fried Chicken in Duck FatFried Chicken in Duck Fat

At this point, both of us were pretty full, but dessert was on the horizon, so we buckled down. Our first dessert was the Chocolate Cupcake, but this was no ordinary cupcake, featuring candied bacon-almonds, maple syrup, and a foie gras chantilly frosting. If foie gras frosting sounds intimidating, it is. We ate around it for the most part because it was way too rich and savory for our taste. The rest of the cupcake was really good.

Chocolate CupcakeChocolate Cupcake

Our second dessert was the Vanilla Panna Cotta, another challenging but ultimately successful dish. It was served on a pool of caramel and topped with caviar, which may seem odd, but when its briny saltiness was combined with the caramel and the panna cotta, it works perfectly.

Vanilla Panna CottaVanilla Panna Cotta

The last dessert, Strawberry Cream Pop Rocks, intrigued me when Ludo first mentioned it on Twitter (follow him @ChefLudo). It was simple concoction of with strawberries, whipped cream and that old childhood favorite, Pop Rocks. We were so full that we weren’t going to order it, but Ludo’s wife Krissy brought some out for us, since I had expressed so much interest in it already. It was the perfect way to close our meal.

Strawberry Cream Pop RocksStrawberry Cream Pop Rocks

Most of you probably know Ludo as the intense, cocky, foul-mouthed French chef on Bravo’s Top Chef Masters who lost to the show’s eventual winner Rick Bayless. But in person, Ludo is a really cool guy who loves cooking. We had a nice discussion about food and blogging, and I found out that Ludo loves Korean food when I told him about the Korean BBQ tacos I was making the next day. (It’s my next post…I swear).

Both Ludo and Krissy take the time to greet all of their guests and make sure they’re enjoying themselves, and overall, Ludo Bites was just a fun place to eat. Ludo told me that he worked in fine dining most of his career and after the Ludo Bites experience, he never wants to work in a fine dining environment again. I think this suits his personality, his food, and the City of Los Angeles, just fine, and I can’t wait to see where Ludo pops up next.

Anthony Bourdain beef French Northern California recipes

Beef Bourguignon

After the success I had with the Momofuku-inspired Braised Beef Short Ribs a couple weeks ago, I thought I’d give braising another try, this time with Beef Bourguignon. There are so many ways to prepare this classic dish, but I was looking for something quick and dirty. This is where Anthony Bourdain comes into the picture. Bourdain’s Boeuf Bourguignon recipe has been hailed for being both delicious and incredibly easy, so I went looking for it online since I don’t own the Les Halles Cookbook yet. A little Google-fu led me to the Washington Post, and I was on my way. Here’s a picture of the final product, and yes, it was as good as it looks.

Beef Bourgignon

I had to tweak the recipe a bit to accommodate the ingredients I had one hand. To start, I used four pounds of bone-in English cut short ribs. I only had one onion, but we did buy an enormous leek at the farmer’s market that morning, so I used that to compensate. I also didn’t have a bottle of Burgundy handy, so I used a bottle of Magnificent Winery’s House Wine that was left over from our 2005 wedding.

To finish the dish, I strained the braising liquid before reducing it down a bit, and then roasted some carrots and potatoes in a separate pan before adding it to the meat. This finishing step ensures that you have freshly cooked vegetables in the stew and not the mushy ones from the braising liquid.

The recipe that follows after the jump is basically how it was printed, but with my modifications.

French Northern California reviews

Chez Maman

Chez Maman sounds like really fancy place, doesn’t it? Well, in truth, it’s a small, neighborhood cafe that seats only 14 people, and it’s easy to see how this place could get packed during a rush. Most of the seats are at the bar, which gives diners an intimate look at how this place runs.

I ordered a burger, my wife got the Crepe Savoyarde and our friend ordered the Croque Madame. We also split an order of frites and a side of ratatouille. The cook was fast, efficient and truly a sight to see, working by himself to make all of our dishes with only seconds to spare before foods went from perfect to burnt. It went a little something like this:

– Slap burger down on the grill
– Drop frites in the fryer
– Assemble Croque Madame, place in panini press
– Move to crepe station and start the Crepe Savoyarde
– Flip the burger
– Flip the crepe
– Pull frites out of fryer
– Finish Crepe Savoyarde
– Start egg for Croque Madame
– Assemble and plate burger
– Remove Croque Madame from panini press, top with egg

Amidst all the action, I can’t remember when the ratatouille made its appearance except when it showed up with the rest of our food. I’d never had ratatouille before, but after seeing the movie, I wanted to give it a try and was pleased to discover that it’s a very simple and hearty dish.

Frites were perfect. If you’ve had perfect frites then you know what I mean.

My burger was really good. I had it with swiss and bacon, and the combination was pretty amazing (but then again, in my book, it’s really hard to screw up a bacon cheeseburger.) I’m not normally big on round burgers on square bread, but the bread was pretty damn good. It did start falling apart at the end, but I didn’t really mind.

My wife’s Crepe Savoyarde was cooked perfectly and you can’t really go wrong with a tomato, bechamel, prosciutto and brie filling.

I’m really big on fried eggs in (or on) sandwiches, so when I saw our friend’s Croque Madame, I got really jealous. A sunny egg tops a ham-and-cheese sandwich on pain de mie that’s pressed like a panini to get those appetizing grill marks. It was beautiful. Apparently it’s so good that it’s the only thing Sooj has ordered here. I’m definitely getting this next time.

We finished off the meal with some great, perfectly cooked sweet crepes. Our friend ordered the Crepe Tatin (carmelized apples with creme chantilly) and ours was filled with Berries and Creme Fraiche.

Chez Maman may not look like much when you first walk in, but grab a seat at the bar so you can witness and taste the magic.

Chez Maman
1453 18th Street
San Francisco, CA 94107 map
Web site
Chez Maman on Urbanspoon

breakfast French New York reviews


There was only one reason I was eating at Balthazar this morning — brioche French toast. I had never had it before but Sooj’s raving about it during our regular IM sessions about eating got me fixated on trying it. I mean, does brioche really make the difference between good French toast and great French toast? The answer is “yes.”

Why Balthazar? Well, during my online research preceding our trip, it was one of the only places that served it as part of their regular breakfast menu and not just during Sunday brunch. I had no idea that it was one of those places where you might see a celebrity or two, or that it’s actually pretty famous on its own. All I knew was that they had what I was looking for, and it was walking distance from my friend’s place, so I made a reservation.

We were seated promptly on arrival at 10am and the restaurant was already bustling. It’s very loud and busy, even at breakfast, and it was everything I ever imagined a New York restaurant would be. I wonder what this place is like at dinner. We started our breakfast with an apple galette and a homemade doughnut. The galette wasn’t very big, but was the perfect breakfast “appetizer.” The apples were tart and the pastry was buttery and flaky. It would also make a perfect dessert. The doughnut was a light, cake donut with a bit of sugar sprinkled on top. This was also good, and I’m not normally a fan of cake doughnuts.

Scrambled Eggs in Puff Pastry

My wife ordered scrambled eggs with asparagus and wild mushrooms in a puff pastry. The scrambled eggs were perfect and you could tell that the eggs were very fluffy, a sign of fresh eggs. You could taste every buttery layer of eggs but it wasn’t heavy at all. The puff pastry was perfect, and my wife was happy because we had been having bad luck with puff pastry at restaurants in the last few months.

Brioche French Toast

My brioche French toast was great. The thick slices of light, eggy bread were topped only with powdered sugar and two slices of applewood smoked bacon and served with a side of syrup. One bite and I was hooked. the crust was super crispy but not burnt, and I proceeded to cut the corners off the French toast to maximize the amount of crust in each bite. The bread was soft and pillowy and soaked up the syrup nicely. I normally like my bacon crispy, which wasn’t the case with Balthazar’s bacon, but I didn’t care because the smokey flavor that permeated the meat more than made up for it.

This New York trip, coupled with my addiction to Yelping and eating out, has helped me understand why people pay a little bit more money for good food. The simplicity of Balthazar’s French toast paired with only a side of bacon may seem sparse and cost twice as much when compared to your typical American restaurant breakfast. I mean, I could have easily gone to IHOP or Denny’s for French toast with eggs and bacon/sausage and hash browns, etc. and that would have filled me up, but was it really satisfying? Even when combined with the galette and the donut, our breakfast at Balthazar was both excellent and extremely satisfying without putting us into a food coma for the rest of the day.

80 Spring Street
New York, NY 10012 map
Web site