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.


Tocino Sliders with Atsarang Mangga

Tocino Sliders

After making a large quantity of tocino in my previous post, I could’ve easily portioned out what I had on hand and kept the surplus in the freezer, but a friend was having a barbecue and sharing it was a much better plan. I started thinking of other ways to serve tocino since I wasn’t going to make my friends breakfast, and sliders were the first thing that came to mind.

When I Googled “tocino sliders,” I discovered that they were on the menu at Purple Yam, Chef Romy Dotoran and Amy Besa’s new restaurant in Brooklyn. Besa has said that Purple Yam’s tocino sliders, served with pickled persimmons on mini housemade purple yam pandesals, were inspired by Vietnamese bánh mì, which is simply grilled meat, pickled veggies, and fresh bread. This idea is fairly common—Momofuku Pork Belly Buns and Korean BBQ Tacos, and brats with sauerkraut also come to mind. My friend Steph (a.k.a. urbanfoodie), recently visited Purple Yam and said she liked their tocino sliders.

Purple Yam’s Tocino Sliders (Photo by The Village Voice)

Although the tocino slider is a fusion concept, I wanted to keep the components as Filipino as possible. I love that Purple Yam uses mini pandesal for the bun, so I picked some up at the market instead of using the more obvious King’s Hawaiian Rolls. For the pickled vegetables, it was only natural that I make atsara (a.k.a. achara or pickled green papaya) to dress the sliders. The funny thing is, I had never eaten atsara in my life. In fact, I always hated pickles when I was a kid, but as an adult, I’ve grown to love other pickled vegetables. (Sauerkraut ended up being my gateway pickled vegetable.)

I knew I could’ve bought some atsara at the store, but I wanted to make it from scratch (recipe below). Luckily, Marvin at Burnt Lumpia has a great atsara recipe, and I would’ve followed it to a T if I didn’t buy the wrong papaya at the market. Atsara calls specifically for green papaya, and in my haste, I bought a couple ripe Hawaiian papayas that were ill suited for atsara. I didn’t realize this till around midnight, and the Asian supermarkets aren’t open that late, so I picked up some unripe green mangoes to substitute. I’m not sure if mango atsara is an actual “thing” in the Philippines, but it ended up being a great substitute. I’ll definitely use green papaya next time I make atsara.

Atsara Mangga (pickled mangoes)
Mango was a nice twist to this atsara.

Since I had access to my friend’s grill, I grilled the tocino instead of pan frying it, and I think grilling is definitely the way to go. It will still be good pan fried, but if you can, grill them. I gave them a good sear for a couple minutes on each side and then finished them off on a cooler part of the grill.

Grilled Tocino
Grilled tocino is a good thing.

Assembling the sliders is easy. Cut the pandesal in half so they look like buns and then toast them to your preference. Put a slice or two of tocino on the bottom half of the bread and then top with the atsara.

Atsarang Mangga (pickled mangoes)

(adapted from Burnt Lumpia.)

2 cups cane vinegar
½ cup brown sugar
1 Tablespoon salt
1-inch piece ginger, peeled and julienned
4 garlic cloves, chopped
2-3 unripe mangoes (about 1½–2 lbs.), peeled, seeded, and julienned
2 small carrots, peeled and julienned
1 small onion, thinly sliced
Salt and pepper, to taste
Red pepper flakes, to taste (optional)


  1. In a medium saucepan over high heat, combine the vinegar, sugar, salt, ginger, and garlic and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring to ensure sugar and salt have dissolved. Remove from heat and allow mixture to come to room temperature.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, then drop the julienned mangoes into the pot for 1 minute. Remove mangoes from the boiling water and place them into an ice bath to stop the cooking. Drain the mangoes and place in cheesecloth or paper towels, squeeze to remove any excess water.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the mangoes, carrots, and onion. Pour the room temperature vinegar mixture over the vegetables and season with salt and pepper and red pepper flakes. Mix well, cover and refrigerate overnight.
Filipino pork recipes sandwiches

Homemade Pork Tocino

A few weeks ago, I got this urge to make my tocino, the sweet cured pork that’s a staple Philippine breakfast meat. It’s probably most commonly served as tosilog, which is portmanteau of tocino, sinangag (garlic fried rice), and itlog (eggs). (I discuss “silogs” in my Best Breakfast Ever post from a few years ago.)

Tosilog - Cherry Garden
Tosilog — the breakfast of champions (from Cherry Garden in Fremont, CA)

My first attempt at tocino used the simple salt/sugar/achuete cure from the book Memories of Philippine Kitchens by Chef Romy Dotoran and Amy Besa of New York’s famous-but-now-closed Cendrillon. but that recipe didn’t work for me at all. The tocino ended up being way too salty, and it was almost inedible. (There’s a good chance that the recipe’s failure was my fault, so I’ll have to revisit it one of these days.)

While discussing my tocino plans with a couple other food bloggers on Twitter, Mark Manguerra of No Special Effects said that he’d always want to try Simply Anne’s tocino recipe, so I decided to give it a shot. In short, the recipe is good and with a few adjustments, the tocino was exactly what I wanted.

Pork Tocino

(adapted from Simply Anne’s.)

3 lb. boneless pork shoulder roast
1¼ cups pineapple juice
½ cup ketchup
½ cup lemon-lime soda
1/3 cup light soy sauce
2 cups brown sugar
1 Tablespoon garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper


  1. Freeze pork shoulder roast for an hour or so to firm it up so that it’s easier to slice. Cut 1/4-inch slices of pork shoulder and place in a one gallon zipper-lock plastic bag.
  2. Mix the rest of the ingredients in bowl and then add to the meat. Seal the bag, doing your best to remove excess air. Let the pork cure in the refrigerator for a 4-5 days, flipping over the bag every day or so.
  3. After curing, you can either cook the meat or portion them off into smaller bags and freeze them.
  4. To cook the tocino, add a little water, marinade and a few slices of meat to a skillet. Over medium heat, let the liquid boil off and then fry the meat for a couple more minutes to caramelize it. There’s a lot of sugar in the marinade so make sure you don’t burn the meat.You can also grill the tocino, which is my ideal method, by searing both sides on a grill over high heat and then letting them finish cooking over low or indirect heat. You can replicate this method indoors using a grill pan to sear and a low oven (around 250F) to finish.
Grilled Tocino
Pan frying tocino is traditional, but I prefer it grilled.

There’s a lot of tocino in that picture, isn’t there? I’ll show you what I did with it in my next post… :)

Northern California Oakland reviews sandwiches

Eating Downtown Oakland – Cam Huong and Battambang

I know it’s been awhile since I’ve written, and I could offer any number of excuses for my hiatus, but I’ll go with this one…

After more than five years of working in the sleepy suburban town of Livermore, CA, I started a new job in downtown Oakland last month, and this change of scenery has led to several adjustments to my daily life. I no longer drive my car to work and am happily commuting via BART. This requires both my wife and I, who are notoriously late risers, to wake up a lot earlier than we’re used to so that I can catch the train every morning. While the drastic reduction of our overall fuel consumption has been good for the soul, my new office has been excellent for my stomach. It’s location at Oakland’s 12th Street City Center puts me blocks away from dozens of great lunch options, a world away from the limited options available to me in Livermore.

Before my first day of work, I began compiling a list of recommendations from friends who knew the area well and I combined them into this Google map.

I was most excited to be near Oakland Chinatown, which is smaller but generally better than the larger “tourist trap” Chinatown in San Francisco. Ironically, my two favorite places in Oakland Chinatown aren’t Chinese.

Cam Huong

Cam Huong is a hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese deli that serves up a variety of hot and cold Chinese and Vietnamese dishes, but I go there for the bánh mì (Vietnamese sandwiches) and fresh spring rolls. I went back the other day and got the #1, which is a cold cut combo with pate (hold the cilantro because I can’t stand the stuff). With the fresh bread, delicious meats and the pickled veggies inside, this is a perfect sandwich.

Cam Huong’s #1 is aptly named.

I always supplement my sandwiches with a three-pack spring rolls, and I really like the variety pack with goi cuon, bo bia and bi cuon (summer roll, sausage roll, shredded pork roll).

Spring Rolls - Cam Huong
A spring roll three pack.

The sandwiches are all under $3, and when you include the spring rolls, I get out of there for just under $6. This makes the Subway $5 Footlong look like a bad deal. Next on the agenda is the grilled pork and cha gio bun, one of my all-time favorite Vietnamese dishes. I hope there’s a table open next time I’m there.

Cam Huong Cafe
920 Webster Street
Oakland, CA


Battambang is a Cambodian restaurant just a few blocks down the street, and it’s already one of my favorite lunch spots. This is the dish that got me hooked…

Grilled Chicken Skewers - Battambang
Moarn Aing – grilled chicken skewers.

…and this is what I ordered on my return:

Grilled Combo - Battambang
Lunch Combo – grilled chicken, beef, and shrimp skewers with fried rice.

I haven’t had a lot of Cambodian food, and I’m sure there’s more to the cuisine than grilled meat, but I’d seriously consider forsaking all other skewered meats to settle down with either of these dishes. If I had to choose, I’d stick with the combo for variety and the fried rice, but the spicy lime sauce it’s served with really pulls both of these dishes together. When I first saw it, I thought it was going to be similar to Vietnamese nuoc mam, which is one of my favorite things, but I really like the spicy lime sauce a whole lot more.

Looking over their menu, there’s a lot of other dishes I want to try, but the grilled meats keep me happy for now.

850 Broadway
Oakland, CA
Web site

I’m thinking of making Eating Downtown Oakland a running series, and there are a bunch other places around here that are worth discussion. Cam Huong and Battambang were fast favorites, and I can’t wait to see what else I can find in my new urban playground.

dessert Hawaii Hawaiian Oahu plate lunch

Ted’s Bakery – Sunset Beach, HI

When people talk about Ted’s Bakery, they’re usually talking about one thing: chocolate haupia pie. I’ve had Ted’s famous pie before, and you can get their pies at almost any market on Oahu, but on this trip, I wanted to get one directly from the source. But Ted’s has a lot more to offer than just pie; their selection of bentos and sandwiches is pretty impressive too.

Ted's Bakery

Let’s start with the pie since I ate a slice while I was waiting for the rest of our food to arrive. It’s a simple pie crust with chocolate filling on the bottom, a layer of haupia in the middle and topped with whipped cream. The consistency of the chocolate filling is somewhere between pudding and mousse; it’s light but sturdy enough to support the denser haupia on top. Aside from the flavors, the texture contrast between the chocolate and haupia might be the best thing about this pie. The pie crust is forgettable so it’s only real purpose is to provide structure, but it’s blandness also lets the rest of the pie shine.

Chocolate Haupia PieTed’s Famous Chocolate Haupia Pie

My wife ordered the Crab and Bacon Combo off the Hot Foods menu. It’s basically a crab salad and bacon sandwich served on a hamburger bun and served with fries. This sounds weird on paper, but it’s a brilliant combination.

Crab & Bacon Combo SandwichTed’s Crab & Bacon Combo Sandwich

I ordered the Ted’s Bento, an amazing array of Hawaiian plate lunch standards—teriyaki beef, fried SPAM, fried mahi mahi, and fried chicken—served inexplicably over four scoops of rice. I only ate half the rice and think the folks at Ted’s would really be onto something if they went with two scoops of rice and then topped this bento with a fried egg or two on top. Doesn’t that sound perfect? ;)

Ted's BentoTed’s Bento

If you’re on the North Shore and looking for a great alternative to all the shrimp trucks that roam the area, look for Ted’s. They’ve got a lot going on besides those famous chocolate haupia pies. My only regret was that we didn’t get there in time for breakfast.

Ted’s Bakery
59-024 Kamehameha Highway
Sunset Beach, Hawaii 96712
Web site

Ad Hoc beef seafood Thomas Keller

Know Your Ribeye, a.k.a. New Year’s Eve at Ad Hoc

I know we were just at Ad Hoc 11 days before, but I made our New Year’s Eve reservations way before they put grilled short ribs on the menu the same day we were going to The French Laundry. And I certainly wasn’t going to turn down a special end-of-2009 dinner of Prime Ribeye and Maine Lobster with Truffle Butter.

Steak and Lobster
Prime Ribeye and Maine Lobster with Truffle Butter

I’ve had ribeyes at Ad Hoc before, but this was the first time Ad Hoc was allowed to serve the calotte (ribeye cap) alongside the ribeye. Normally, the calotte is trimmed from the rib roasts and sent up the road to The French Laundry where they serve it like this:

Calotte de Beouf Grillée
The French Laundry’s Calotte de Beouf Grillée (12.08.08)

You know how prime rib has that ring of meat on the outside that tastes way better than the middle? That’s the calotte. If you’re a real fan of beef, you already know that the calotte is considered the best part of the cow because it’s tender and loaded with flavor, and chefs have been known to save the calotte for themselves.

Ad Hoc Blowtorch Prime Rib
Ad Hoc Blowtorch Prime Rib

Here’s the ribeye broken into separate components.

Anatomy of a ribeye, from left: rib bone, the eye, and the calotte.
Picture from

Everything at Ad Hoc is served family style, but they portioned each platter so that everyone at the table got two pieces of calotte, two pieces of ribeye, a whole lobster tail and a whole lobster claw. It was served with steamed broccolini and Carolina red rice with black eyed peas. I don’t mean to besmirch the meltingly tender lobster—the whole claw fell out of its shell when it was picked up—the perfect medium-rare ribeye, or the accompaniments, but really…this meal was all about the calotte. It was especially gratifying to find out that the calotte and lobster tail were separate courses on The French Laundry tasting menu that evening, as well.

A full plate
A full plate of food to close out 2009.

Normally, you can ask for seconds at Ad Hoc and they’ll oblige, but not on this night. It wasn’t a problem because my wife gave me some of her calotte because she was getting full and saving herself for dessert. The Chocolate Bombe was a dark chocolate hazelnut mousse served with caramel sauce and hazelnut brittle, a lovely way to end 2009.

Chocolate Bombe
The Chocolate Bombe was the bo— nevermind… ;)

Here’s pics of the rest of the meal:

And here’s Cibo Matto’s – Know Your Chicken on YouTube to ring in 2010!

Ad Hoc The French Laundry Thomas Keller

The French Laundry (with an Ad Hoc chaser)

We went to The French Laundry last year around this time and didn’t think we would be back so soon. But when our friend Simone said she had a reservation for four to celebrate her boyfriend Seb’s birthday on December 20 and asked us to join them, the only real answer was, “Hell, yes!”

The Clothespin

Seb and Simone (S&S) are a great couple to know because aside from being two of the most generous people we know, when it comes to food, they’re hardcore, balls-to-the-wall omnivores and cooks. This was their second trip to The French Laundry, as well, and while we both knew what to expect when we walked in the blue door, none of us had any idea how awesome this day was going to be.

What's behind the blue door?
The blue door beckons…

Since it was right before Christmas, the restaurant and grounds were decked out with holiday flair, including a Christmas tree in the garden with clothespin ornaments.

Clothespin Ornaments

We were seated upstairs by a corner window with a view of The French Laundry garden across the street. This location was great because there was lots of natural light for pictures. (It’s also right by the restroom, which is helpful when you’re going to be sitting for a few hours.)

S&S and I got the Chef’s Tasting Menu and my wife opted for the Tasting of Vegetables, which isn’t vegetarian but gives prominence to vegetables. S&S both opted for the wine pairings and the truffle course, while I did a non-alcoholic pairing featuring a selection of by GuS and DRY Sodas and my wife stuck to the complimentary NORDAQ-filtered water.

I don’t want to go into every dish of this meal, but here are some of the highlights. You can also view a slideshow of the full picture set below.

The Vol au Vent de Legumes D’Automne was the second course of the Tasting of Vegetables and it was one of the most beautiful dishes of the afternoon.

Vol au Vent de Legumes D'Automne
Vol au Vent de Legumes D’Automne
Romaine Lettuce, Sugar Snap Peas, Fennel Bulb, Radishes and Port Wine Reduction

My third course was the Grilled Pavé of Japanese Toro, and they showed us the slab of fatty tuna they were using before they brought out the dish. It looks just like my favorite luncheon meat in a can! :)

Toro or SPAM? Either way, it’s all good.

Here’s the final plated dish:

Grilled Pave of Japanese Toro
Grilled Pavé of Japanese Toro
Satsuma Mandarins, Eggplant, Fennel, Nicoise Olives, Arugula, and Pimenton

I’m so happy that Seb & Simone ordered the truffle course because I’m wouldn’t normally break down and get the truffles. These were white truffles from Alba grated over a bowl of risotto, and as you can see, it was a generous helping. (photo by Simone)

Risotto with White Truffles from Alba
Risotto with White Truffles from Alba
Brown Butter

In lieu of a big bowl risotto and truffles, we were presented with a White Truffle-infused Custard with Black Truffle Ragout and Chive Potato Chip, served beautifully in a hollowed at egg.

White Truffle-infused Custard
White Truffle-infused Custard
Black Truffle Ragout and Chive Potato Chip.

Coffee and Doughnuts are a French Laundry classic. This isn’t on the menu, so make sure you request this when you make your reservation or ask the server when you arrive to see if it’s available.

Coffee and Doughnuts
Coffee and Doughnuts
Cinnamon Doughnuts and Coffee Semifreddo.

After the Coffee and Doughnuts, we took a short break to visit the kitchen before the dessert courses started. When we first sat down at around 11:15am, we asked if Thomas Keller was around, and our server Mischa said she hadn’t seen him. It was around 4:30pm when we got to the kitchen, and the first thing we saw when the kitchen door swung open was Keller expediting dishes. It had been two weeks since the four of us first met Chef Keller at the Ad Hoc at Home book signing (S&S were our guests). S&S met him again the next day at Omnivore Books in San Francisco because Seb wanted to buy a signed copy of Under Pressure and get the Keller-authored pamphlet included with his new Polyscience Immersion Circulator signed by chef, too. Ahhh…stalk— I mean fanboys. :)

Hangin' with Mr. Keller
Reunited and it feels so good…

We reintroduced ourselves to Keller, and he said he remembered us from the book signing(s), which made three out of the four us giddy. Keller gave us a brief overview of the kitchen as Seb and I drooled over the half-size hotel pans fitted with immersion circulators and filled with butter—this is where lobsters spend their final moments.

The Kitchen
See those pans filled with butter on the left? That’s where the best lobsters go to die.

There are many cool things in kitchen, but one of the best is the live video feed with the Per Se kitchen in NY. This allows Keller to keep an eye on things at his restaurants, and I read somewhere that a video feed from the Bouchon Beverly Hills kitchen is in the works.

Chef Thomas Keller
The Eye of Keller is on Keller Earth
(i.e. the TFL and Per Se kitchens).

I received the daily Ad Hoc menu email during the first part of our meal, and we started joking about going there for a “dessert” of grilled short ribs. We were going there anyway because I had to pick up a couple prizes for Menu for Hope, and when I mentioned this to Keller he seemed surprised yet fascinated by this plan, but I don’t think he thought we would follow through.

We returned to our table jazzed at meeting Keller again and ready to polish off dessert so we could head down to Ad Hoc. We were celebrating both Seb and my wife’s birthdays, so their desserts got an little extra flourish. Here’s Seb’s:

Gateau Saint Nizier Au Manjari
Gateau Saint Nizier Au Manjari
Mango Chili Relish, Valrhona Cocoa Nibs, Lime Foam, and Coconut Milk Sorbet

And here’s my wy wife’s birthday opera cake:

C's Birthday Opera Cake
Opera Cake
Praline Namelaka, Milk Granité and Coffee Ice Cream

The mignardises included a pecan pie with creme chantilly, a selection of chocolate truffles, and some amazing toasted macadamia nuts that were rolled in chocolate and caramel and dusted with confectioner’s sugar.

Pecan Tart with Creme Fraiche ChantillyMignardises

As we left the restaurant we were presented with menus signed by Keller, some French Laundry shortbread cookies, and the birthday kids got a package of French Laundry chocolate bars—think Nestle Crunch but 1000x better.

Birthday Chocolate Bars and TFL Shortbread
Parting gifts…

While our first trip to The French Laundry was an amazing experience, I think I got caught up in the mystique of the restaurant and was really nervous and uptight the whole time. This time I went in with a really laid-back attitude, and it made the experience a lot more enjoyable and relaxing.

The Ad Hoc Chaser

We left The French Laundry happy and sated, but we weren’t that full so we headed down to Ad Hoc. After being welcomed by Ad Hoc General Manager Nick Dedier and the rest of the Ad Hoc crew, we took our places at the bar and ordered two a la carte orders of grilled short ribs (one for each couple) and four ice cream sandwiches, you know, just to finish off the day with something sweet.

Grilled Short Ribs
Ad Hoc’s Grilled Short Ribs
TFL garden tokyo turnips, French round carrots, red radishes, baby leeks, Colorado rose potatoes

As we were waiting for our food, Keller showed up to drop off a bottle of wine for another party that was dining there. Keller saw us sitting at the bar and said, “Oh, you’re here!” and bid us good eating. Ad Hoc Chef de Cuisine Dave Cruz came out a little later and said, “Not bad. Twice in one day.” (Simone is now convinced that Keller stalked us!)

As I was finishing some of the best short ribs I’ve ever eaten, Nick came over and said something to the effect of “I’m so proud right now.”

Ice Cream Sandwiches
Ice Cream Sandwiches
Chocolate Chip Cookies and Vanilla Ice Cream

Seven hours later, we finally left Yountville a little “food drunk” but blissful and elated at how an unassuming December day unfolded into truly memorable one.

Happy New Year and all the best for 2010!

Ad Hoc beef recipes Thomas Keller

Cook the Book: Ad Hoc at Home – Blowtorch Prime Rib

When I first saw the Blowtorch Prime Rib recipe in the Ad Hoc at Home cookbook, I knew I was going to make it for Christmas dinner. But this technique is so easy, there is no reason to save it for special occasions.

Blowtorching Prime RibBlowtorching meat is fun!

Of course, the first step is actually buying a blowtorch, and there are several options available. My first choice was the Iwatani Professional Torch Burner because it’s compact and just plain looks cool. The butane cartridges are proprietary, but with all the Asian markets near me, they’re not hard to find. Being the chronic procrastinator that I am, I had to settle for what was available down the street at Lowes. The BernzOmatic TS3000 was cheap (~$26), came with a big can of propane called the “Fat Boy,” and I love the name BernzOmatic. :)

The BernzOmatic TS3000
The lovely blue flame produced by the BernzOmatic TS3000.

Roasting the prime rib can be broken down to three steps. I used a 2-bone, 4½-pound standing rib roast that easily fed 6 adults, but you could use this technique with any size roast.

  1. Place the rib roast on a rack in a roasting pan and sear the meat with the blowtorch until it starts turning gray and the fat starts rendering.
  2. Season the rib roast with generous amounts of kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper.
  3. Roast in 275F oven until the meat reaches an internal temperature of 128F. For our 4½-pound roast, this took about two hours. I use a digital probe thermometer so that I can monitor the temperature of the meat without opening the oven.
Out of the Oven, Bones Removed
The blowtorch jumpstarts the development of the crust
that’s characteristic of good prime rib.

Roasting the meat at a low temperature ensures a beautiful shade of pink all the way through the meat. Rest the meat for at least 30 minutes before cutting into it.

Perfect Medium Rare
Perfect medium rare after resting for 40 minutes.

Since everything at Ad Hoc is served family style, the prime rib is cut into thick chunks instead of more traditional individual slices. I think this allows a smaller rib roast to serve more people and cuts down on wasted meat, especially if there are light eaters at the table who can’t finish a whole slice of regular prime rib.

To serve the meat, cut the roast in half down the center and put the meat cut side down on the cutting board. Then cut each half into ½-inch slices. I think serving the meat this way is great because each piece is thick and has a lot of crust. Before bringing the meat to the table drizzle it with a little fleur de sel or kosher salt and some coarsely ground pepper.

Blowtorched Prime Rib with Horseradish Cream Blowtorched prime rib with horseradish cream

The low cooking temperature means that there’s hardly any drippings in the bottom of the pan to make jus, but you don’t need it. The meat’s beefiness comes through loud and clear, and it goes beautifully with this horseradish cream.

Horseradish Cream (adapted from Ad Hoc at Home)
½ cup very cold heavy cream
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
¼ cup drained, prepared horseradish
½ teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste

Put the heavy cream and vinegar in a bowl in a medium bowl and whisk until the cream and holds a soft shape (just before soft peaks). Whisk in horseradish, salt, and pepper until smooth. Cover and refrigerate for up to a week.

Ad Hoc cookbooks Thomas Keller

A Morning with Thomas Keller: Ad Hoc at Home Book Signing

Ad Hoc hosted a special book signing event called “A Morning with Thomas Keller” at the restaurant yesterday, and I was lucky enough to get an invitation. Chef Keller spent the morning signing Ad Hoc at Home cookbooks alongside Ad Hoc Chef de Cuisine Dave Cruz as the Ad Hoc staff served up hors d’oeuvres featuring selected recipes from the cookbook.

The Invitation

It was an exciting day for me because I finally got to meet Thomas Keller and shake the hand of a man whose restaurants have changed my life. As I’ve written before, my first meal at Ad Hoc in June 2007 was a major culinary epiphany for me. It changed the way I thought about how food was prepared and sourced, and it made me appreciate a level of dining that I normally would’ve avoided based solely on cost.

Plowing through books
Ad Hoc Chef de Cuisine Dave Cruz (left) and Chef Thomas Keller

When I approached the table, Chef Cruz leaned over and told Chef Keller about my blog and the Ad Hoc Menu Archive. I told Chef Keller about our dinner at the brand-new Bouchon Beverly Hills last weekend (took my mom for her birthday), and he was glad to know we had a great dinner. I also let him know that the entire city of Los Angeles is anxiously awaiting the arrival of Bouchon Bakery. He didn’t really respond to that, but I think he knows that LA wants that bakery. :)

Meeting Thomas Keller...
Is he really interested in what I’m saying or does he think I’m a crazy fanboy?

In the end, Chef Keller shook my hand, thanked me for all the support and graciously posed for a picture. Thanks, Simone for snapping this pic. :)

I think this moment could only be topped if I ever met Magic Johnson. :)

Now that that’s out of the way…on to the food! The first thing we were offered were the Albondigas, a veal meatball atop a tomato compote. Unfortunately, I was too busy devouring these to take a picture. Here’s the rest of the spread…

Toast with Fig Jam
Toast with Fig Jam

It’s not really an Ad Hoc party without some fried chicken.

Fried Chicken Lollipops
Fried Chicken Lollipops
Beef Stroganoff
A bit of beef stroganoff.

The ratatouille was a simple and brilliant spoonful of soffrito topped with tomato confit, eggplant confit, and zucchini confit.

Ratatouille as you’ve never seen it before.

The lemon bars were like mini lemon meringue pies but also reminded me one of my favorite desserts, Bouchon’s Tarte au Citron.

Lemon Bars
Perfect Little Lemon Bars

What more do you need when there’s chocolate cupcakes?

Chocolate Cupcakes
Chocolate Cupcakes

Overall, it was a really fun event, and I was honored to have been invited. Thanks to everyone at Ad Hoc for always making me feel at home.

David Chang Momofuku pork recipes

Chicharrones (Fried Pork Rinds)


In my world, there is no finer snack than some chicharrones, a.k.a. fried pork rinds. It’s something I’ve been eating since I was a kid, and Filipinos love it with sukang sili (chili vinegar) and beer.

Over the past year, chicharrones have been embraced by the “mainstream” through the efforts of chefs like Ryan Farr of 4505 Meats, whose chicharrones, despite my initial apprehensions, are other worldly. They’re incredibly light and when they’re fresh, they snap, crackle, and pop in your mouth like porky Rice Krispies.

4505 Chicharrones

Because they’re so cheap and readily available near me, I’d never considered making chicharrones at home until a couple weeks ago. I had some pork skin left over after removing it to making the Momofuku Pork Belly, and it would be a shame to waste such a nice piece of pork skin. There’s also a recipe in the Momofuku cookbook since they serve a piece of chicharron to every guest as an amuse bouche at Momofuku Ko.

The process is pretty simple. First, put the pig skin in a pot of water and boil it for about an hour a half, then chill it in the refrigerator for a few hours.

Boiled and Dried Pig Skin
Pig skin after chillin’ out overnight.

Use a spoon to scrape off any excess fat left on the skin and put it in a food dehydrator for 12 hours. It should look like a brown piece of plastic.

Dehydrated Pig Skin
Break this into small pieces and fry them up.

Next, break the dehydrated pig skin into 1×2-inch pieces. This doesn’t have to be exact, as the small pieces make nice chicharrones, too. Heat some oil (preferably one with a high smoke point) to between 390-400F in a deep pot. Drop a piece of pig skin into the oil and agitate it a bit until it puffs up. This should take about 10 seconds. Fry each piece one at a time, so they don’t stick together. Here’s a short iPhone video I shot to give you an idea of how long it takes.

After frying, season the hot chicharrones with a mixture of equal parts togarashi (Japanese 7-spice powder), sugar, and kosher salt. Serve them hot or at room temperature. You should eat them within a few days when they’re still crunchy, but I doubt these will last more than a few minutes. :)