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

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

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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

Sundae on a sunny Sunday

Sam's sundae from Bi-Rite Creamery

This weekend it was actually warm in San Francisco. Like leave-the-scarf-at-home, get-down-to-just-one-layer and wear-your-sandals-without-fear-of-your-toes-going-numb type warm.

This of course, means nothing to most of you. The whole handful of you who read this blog have probably been dealing with hot weather all summer (or if you’re in Florida… practically year round) and are now welcoming fall with open arms, but in San Francisco, at least since I got here during the first week of August (August!!), it’s been downright chilly. Not in the 70’s like I had thought it would be, but in the low 60’s and then 50’s at night. Now, I’m not complaining. If you know me well, you know I hate the heat. I could just as easily do away with summer and never miss it, but it’s been strange being cold during summer.

This weekend though, for maybe only the second time in the last almost two months, it was hot. Which made me think one thing: ice cream. Continue reading

Chicken soup for the soul, but pho for a cold

Move over chicken noodle, this is MY cure for a cold!

I started to feel it Thursday, the watery eyes, the slight tickle in my throat, those familiar symptoms that could only mean one thing. Then Friday it was officially there: a cold. Saturday, though, I managed to take it one step farther. I woke up with a cold and a hangover. And I had to work. Needless to say, it was a very long day, full of coughing fits, dozens of balled up tissues, and maybe about 25,000 sneezes.

As I sat there at work, my nostrils like two little cherries from being rubbed raw every time I blew my runny nose and my mouth gaping open to breathe in the place of my congested nose, I knew exactly what I wanted. While most people would seek comfort in a bowl of chicken noodle soup, the quintessential drink-when-you’re-sick soup, I wanted something just slightly different. Continue reading

No animals were hurt in the eating of this meal

Of the million-and-one places to eat in San Francisco the one I’ve frequented the most in the month and a half that I’ve been here is—wait for it… waaait for it—a vegan restaurant. Yup, that’s right. Me. Vegan. No cheese. No bacon. Absolutely no trace of pork belly. None of it.

I should probably clarify, though, that the main reason I’ve been there more than any other restaurant is because it’s just around the corner and a 15-second walk from where I live, and they take credit cards (which always wins major brownie points from me.)

Loving Hut is a national chain of vegan restaurants, and while they all have a decidedly asian slant, each one has a different menu to reflect the culture and ingredients of the city it’s in. The one I go to is in Chinatown so most of the  menu, with the exception of the somewhat awkwardly named “western” page (featuring the likes of spaghetti and vegan hot dogs), is Chinese, with other asian countries represented as well (shout out to Vietnamese pho).

This particular Loving Hut has a lunch special I always see advertised, but since I’m never around during lunch time, I never get it. (I’m usually there on weeknights when I don’t have anything to eat at home and am feeling lazy.) On Thursday, though, I had the day off so I decided to take advantage.

Eggplant and tofu, mushrooms and green beans, and white rice

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In the words of Homer, “Mmmmm, donuts…”

Gibraltar at Dynamo Donut

Oh that all days could start like this, what happy days they would be. At least for me. Seriously, coffee and donuts. That’s all. Long distance boyfriends, lunatic parents, never-ending bills, the impending doom of apartment hunting in New York (again. Alone.)— it would all sort itself out with some strong coffee and a fat, sugary donut (or two).

Ok, so maybe not, but it couldn’t hurt, right? This weekend I was on a failing mission to buy a dress for a big wedding shin-dig I’m going to in a few weeks when I decided to abort that mission and head for a better one: the mission, as in my new favorite San Francisco neighborhood. I had read about a donut place there and thought some baked goods and caffeine would be just the thing I needed.

And I was right. I showed up in the late afternoon, just a couple of hours before Dynamo Donuts closed, but I was still able to snag a delicious spiced chocolate donut and a gibraltar to give me the second wind I needed to keep trying on dresses the rest of the afternoon.

Spiced chocolate donut

The donut was perfect: a soft, dark chocolate ring of moist, donut perfection covered in a sparkly layer of cinnamon, sugar and chipotle powder. I’ve been a fan of the chocolate-chili combo ever since I first tried it in Italy (although I think the idea originally came from the Aztecs, not the Italians) so I knew I would like this. Upon the first bite or so, the donut had a deep chocolatey flavor, with the granulated texture of the cinnamon and sugar playing against the softness of the cake. But then, almost not until after I swallowed the first couple of bites, I noticed a subtle, spicy warmth in my mouth, the slight kick of the chili. It was nice and not so spicy that it made my tongue tingle uncomfortably.

The coffee, which I admittedly was drawn to because of the foreign name, Gibraltar, was in the end just two shots of espresso topped with steamed milk and foam. Think of it as the shorter, stronger cousin of the cappuccino. I’ll be honest and say it wasn’t the best coffee I’d ever had but it definitely wasn’t bad. Maybe I was so smitten with my donut, that I couldn’t really focus on anything else.

When I finished both, I had enough sugar and caffeine in me to give me the second wind I needed to continue dress shopping, and although I was ultimately unsuccessful that day, I wasn’t even in a bad mood about it. A little donut and coffee goes a long way.

Letter to a new friend

Dear pupusa,

Where have you been all my life? Why had we never met before a week ago? No really, why? I grew up in Miami and come from a Central American country… just like you!  I’ve lived the majority of my life surrounded by all things Hispanic, how did we not cross paths earlier?

Pork and cheese pupusa

I’d heard of you before, sure. I mean who could forget a name like that, pupusa. (I’m sorry. Sometimes I’m immature and still laugh at poo poo jokes. You understand.) Yet I don’t remember seeing you anywhere until I ran into you in the Mission, listed there on that giant menu at Taqueria Los Coyotes. I wasn’t sure what to get and I wasn’t even sure that Los Coyotes would be any good. I just walked in randomly because I was hungry and in the neighborhood. But then I saw you and I thought why not try something new?

I wasn’t sure what you would look like to be totally honest, pupusa. Your name made me think you would be round or tube shaped (again, sorry, it must be the thought of poo poo) but then when you arrived you were something else. You were round and flat, like a tortilla. But when the nice lady who took my order asked me what I wanted you filled with, I chose pork and cheese, so I knew there was more to you than just tortilla. I cut a piece off and tossed you in my mouth. Pupusa, you were awesome! Soft on the outside, with a salty, cornmealy taste that went perfectly with the cheese and pork filling inside. You were simple and not overpowering and I really liked that about you. I should have asked for several of you instead of just one.

Carnitas taco

After you, I had a carnitas taco. I’ve had tacos before but never like that one. They just make you all different out here, don’t they? Your fellow menu companion, the taco, was really good, though totally different from you. A soft, white corn tortilla topped with a colorful heap of delicious, juicy pork meat, chopped cilantro, diced onion and a smokey chili sauce with no goopy cheese, globs of sour cream or watery tomatoes. You guys are great!

And then, as if you hadn’t both already done enough, you brought free chips with a whole assortment of salsas, peppers and hot sauces. Free! Now there’s a name you don’t hear often where I’m from. In New York, where I normally live, I meet a lot of Expensives and Overpriceds but not many Frees.  It was a nice change.

Well, pupusa my friend, I plan on seeing a lot of you in the future, especially while I’m still here in California. I hope your east coast counterparts are as delicious as you are, because I’ll really miss you when I leave. Let’s make the most of the time we have left together in San Francisco!

Love,

Angie