Smitten with Smitten’s pumpkin

October always finds me in the midst of a serious pumpkin binge. I’m one of those people, the pumpkin obsessed. This year, of course, has been no different, and while I’ve already eaten plenty of tasty pumpkin treats, my favorite, by far, is unfortunately almost 3,000 miles away.

It was during my days in San Francisco that I ate the most delicious ice cream to maybe have ever landed in my mouth, the maple brown sugar squash ice cream at Smitten Ice Cream in Hayes Valley.

Pumpkin

Pumpkin ice cream I could eat all day every day

All of Smitten’s ice creams are made to order on the spot using liquid nitrogen to freeze the ingredients at crazy low temperatures super fast. In this case, the ingredients were pumpkin, milk, molasses, cinnamon, cardamom, brown sugar, nutmeg and ginger. If you want the whole scientific breakdown, better read this than try and get a proper explanation from me. What I can tell you, however, is that this ice cream is phenomenal. Thick and deliciously creamy, with all the spicy warmth of pumpkin pie spices, this was the ice cream version of the best imaginable pumpkin pie.

It’s a seasonal ice cream but all kidding aside, I could eat this year round, every day actually.

Smitten Ice Cream on Urbanspoon

An old favorite in a new way

Even though I was born in Costa Rica and raised in Miami, mine wasn’t the typical Hispanic household. (My dad, a crotchety old Italian-American, is to blame for this.) We never salsa danced,  celebrated Noche Buena, or had abuelitos and dozens of assorted family members.

But if there’s one stereotype we absolutely perpetuated, it’s eating sweet plantains, or platanos maduros as my mom calls them.

They’re usually a side dish, served alongside rice and beans as I most frequently had them growing up, but really I could eat a whole mountain of plantains just on their own, I love them so much. So recently, during my visit to San Francisco, when I saw a burrito at The Little Chihuahua that was stuffed with plantains instead of meat, I HAD to have it.

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A not-so-great photo of a fantastic burrito stuffed full of sweet plantains

The Little Chihuahua’s plantain burrito is first of all, anything but little. It’s a hold-it-with-two-hands heavy affair of sweet fried plantains, black beans and rice, pico de gallo, roasted red peppers, sour cream, cheese, salsa, cilantro and onion.  And as I thought it might be, this burrito was freakin’ delicious. The plantains added a nice sweet flavor to the otherwise savory, zesty, spicier flavors and a soft, almost creamy consistency.

As a lifelong plantains lover, I would order this kind of burrito every time if places other than The Little Chihuahua had it. Add a plantain burrito to my long list of reasons for loving San Francisco.

The Little Chihuahua on Urbanspoon

Definitely Better Than Oreos

Sometimes you just have to call a spade a spade, so I completely understand why Coffee + Milk, the cute coffeehouse at LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art), named its outrageously delicious chocolate cookie sandwich a BTO, as in Better Than Oreos.

An appropriate name for an insanely good cookie

An appropriate name for an insanely good cookie

Because yes, Oreo, darling, you know I love you, and I prove that with my inability to ever eat just one of you (or even two or three, sometimes it just really gets outta control) but C+M’s BTO is serious stuff. It’s really not messin’ around. It is better. It’s way better.

But it’s almost not even fair to compare the two. The BTO is rich and chocolatey, made with two large, palm-sized sable cookies, all wonderfully crumbly and grainy, speckled with dark chocolate chips, sandwiching a thick, decadent, oh-so-sweet, frosting-like cream filling.

LACMA is a great museum full of wonderful, beautiful works, but C+M’s BTO might’ve just been my favorite.

California love*

Happy camper, right here. So happy, in fact, I'm doing that face where I look like a cartoon.

California sun and a nice drink make for a happy camper. So happy, in fact, that I’m doing that face where I look like a cartoon.

I’m usually in a bit of a funk after I come back from a good trip somewhere. You know, the ol’ post vacation blues. But since coming back from California last week, where I spent a damn near perfect eight days, I’ve managed to not only not be mopey, but rather hold on to my vacation high!

Gorgeous weather in both Los Angeles and San Francisco (read: sunshine, cool breezes and not a single tiny bit of humidity), amazing friends who showed me the best time, and for the purposes of this blog: SO. MUCH. DELICIOUS. FOOD. Seriously, SO much.

Come think of it, if i’m still buzzing off my vacation, it could be that I’m actually still digesting all of the great things I ate. I know, it’s kind of a gross thought, but it’s true. I ate a lot of stuff.  Tasty stuff that I’m gonna tell you about a little at a time so as to not overwhelm anyone (myself included) with all of my California grubbing memories.

ceviche

Problems I like to have: too much delicious ceviche

To start off, let’s talk ceviche, which I looove.  Fresh, colorful, zesty, delicious ceviche, which is just the kind I had with my darling friend, Arlene at La Cevicheria in LA.  It was a no-frills kind of place, but the ceviche we had, both humongous bowls of it, was great. They were both different, but to be honest, in my hunger induced frenzy to wolf it all down as soon as it came out, I forgot to jot down what they were. What I can tell you though, is that octopus, shrimp and crab were involved, as were limes, avocado, onions, Worcestershire sauce and something I don’t remember ever having in ceviche before but loved, mint. Add a little dash of hot sauce and scoop a big heap on to a crispy tostada and you’re looking at a fantastic meal.

fish taco

Not surprising that a place that makes great ceviche would make fantastic fish tacos.

But because I tend to struggle with moderation at times like these, we also got an order of fish tacos. Each soft tortilla was stuffed with a fat, juicy hunk of crispy fried fish, shredded cabbage, avocado, tomato and cilantro.  Simple and perfect, one of the best fish tacos I’ve had.

It was my first time in LA, and even though I was prepared to not like it (because I imagined it would be the Miami of the west coast, and that’s an off-putting thought for me), I ended up loving the City of Angels.  It was the weather, the beautiful people (i.e. my friends) and yes, the delicious seafood I scarfed down that afternoon.

La Cevicheria on Urbanspoon

 

*Note: Yes, the title of this post is a Tupac reference, cause you know what, I’m a big ol’ Tupac fan.  Boom. Chew on that. 

Thanks for the memories, San Francisco!

It seems like literally just yesterday that I was boarding a plane for the West Coast, heading out to California for the first time to start new adventures and make new friends and eat my way through a whole new city. Almost three months later, here I am back in New York. I had my adventures, I made my great new friends, and I had many a good meal. But now it’s back to life (and eating) on the East Coast.

Before I dive back into the New York food world, however, I’d like to take a moment to pay homage to one of the best meals of my San Francisco days.

One of my coworker/friends used to always rant and rave about Foreign Cinema in the Mission. Her whole face lit up and her eyes sparkled when she talked about it. So when she asked if I wanted to go with her and another coworker/friend, I said yes right away.

Everything on the menu sounded fantastic, the type of food you might call California/American nouveau (i.e. a little bit of everything hence the American part, and made with fresh, locally farmed ingredients, hence the California part).

Arugula salad with beets, figs, toast and shaved fennel

I don’t usually order salads before dinner (I either get an appetizer or just get straight down to business) but a salad on the menu sparked my interest. Wild arugula, roquefort toasts, beets, shaved fennel, and black mission figs. (I was sold when I read figs.) The slight bitterness of the arugula (which I always prefer to lettuce) was a nice complement to the sweetness of the beets and figs, and the crispy crunch of the toasts made everything just perfect.

Orecchiette with lobster mushrooms and other deliciousness

But the star of this show was definitely my entree: orecchiette pasta with wild lobster mushrooms, bloomsdale spinach, walla walla onion and garlic chili. I had seen lobster mushrooms earlier during my time in San Fran but never tasted them so when I saw them on the menu, I was intrigued. It was a creamy, almost buttery dish, with an overall smooth, texture but with a slight crunch perhaps from the crispy edges of the lobster mushroom. The garlic chili gave it a nice warmth without being overpowering and the onion gave it the perfect sweetness to play off of that. It really was one of the most delicious pasta dishes I’ve had… and that’s including my  recent trip to Italy! Later when I got home I googled lobster mushrooms and found out they’re not even technically mushrooms, but instead a type of parasite that grows on mushrooms and turns them into the bright red-orange, gnarled things that I saw at the market. Who knew parasites could be so delicious?

And it wasn’t just the food that was great, either. Outside in a walled-in area they were playing a movie (the Bob Dylan inspired I’m Not There)  projected on to a blank wall with speakers set up next to each table like at a drive-in movie theatre.

Great food, cool setting, fantastic company… San Francisco, just how I want to remember it.

 

Bakery paradise

If in New York I had Momofuku Milkbar, in San Francisco I have  Tartine Bakery. I kept reading about Tartine and hearing people talk about it, always with an almost crazed look in their eye. Like “Oh you haven’t been to Tartine?? Oh!  Well, you. Haven’t. LIIIIIIVED.”

Ok, maybe not that dramatic. But that’s how I’m going to react from now on when I speak to people who haven’t been there. I finally got around to checking it out last weekend and well, it was fantastic. It was beyond fantastic. It was the stuff dreams are made of. My dreams anyway.

Cream tarts, big and small

Continue reading

Best bread in North Beach

The onion focaccia at Liguria Bakery

The first time I went to Liguria Bakery in North Beach was during my first week in the city. The sign hanging in the window read “We will be closed for vacation from Aug. 2nd thru (sic) Aug. 22nd.” Well, how very Italian of them, I thought. Taking almost the entire month off. Must be nice.

I came back after August 22nd, and it was closed again. They close at noon. It was 12:25.

So I came back again another day, not sure what time it was but it was probably around 11:30 or so because I distinctly remember giving myself enough time to be there before noon. Closed again. This time because they sold out and went home for the day.

These people are really making me work for this damn focaccia, aren’t they? I thought to myself. I’m gonna come back one more time, and if they’re still not open, I’m never coming back ever again. Screw their focaccia.

So I went back. A fourth time. And finally, it was open. Continue reading