San Francisco Part II: The Food, and Crispy Fried Tofu
Gorgeous, hip, fun, smart, and famously delicious – San Francisco is my dream town. I regret that I was so busy with the BlogHer Food blogging conference I attended that I didn’t get to do much sightseeing. But I did enjoy several fantastic, not-Minnesota meals, and of course incredible California wine.
Here’s the overview in case you’re heading to Cali any time soon (and if you are, I am deeply jealous)…
Our first night, John and I hit Incanto, in the Noe Valley, on Andrew Zimmern’s recommendation. Chef Chris Cosentino tweets as @offalchris, a nod to the fact that, as their website notes, Incanto “almost always includes one or two dishes featuring ‘odd cuts’ and offal because serving these parts of the animal honors the whole animal and helps preserve an important, yet increasingly overlooked, part of our culinary heritage.”
And also – because the parts are delicious! Especially in Chef Cosentino’s talented, adventurous hands. John and I enjoyed heavenly crispy pork liver, tender and rich. The “best bits” chicken risotto with gizzards & crispy skin is the essence of chicken, pure and intense, melting into creamy rice. It’s serious risotto, not to be missed, so leave room for it. We also fit in slabs of silky-sweet foie gras (so rich, so full, so lucky), washed down with one of the best series of wines I have ever – ever – enjoyed. Big credit to our our fantastic waiter for an unforgettable meal. If you’re interested in cooking the “odd cuts,” and you can handle the visuals, check out Chef Cosentino’s blog Offal Good.
Saturday night we headed to Namu, a Korean-fusion spot recommended to us by Andrew, as well as my friend Danielle from Bon Vivant. Let me back up and say…San Francisco is not a cab town. But John and I got lucky with a ride to Namu with the coolest, smartest guy – Felix – who gave us his card and told us to give him a call after dinner.
John and I walked into Namu and dug the vibe immediately: relaxed, comfortable, with a fascinating menu. From the pickled vegetables to fried tofu (dream about, crave, inspired the recipe below) to the grilled okra to the braised beef short ribs – Eat. Here. And then if you’re lucky, call Felix for a ride, because that is the only way you’re going to get home.
Sunday we were free! Conference over, we rented a car and planned a scenic drive. While John picked up the car, I had brunch with my friend Denise of Chez Us. I first met Denise last spring at the Penny de los Santos food photography workshop I attended in San Francisco. It was a blast to see her again and catch up! She suggested we meet at Cafe de la Presse, a lovely spot for a delicious French brunch. As fun as it was to be in San Francisco with John, he couldn’t really talk shop with me. After two days of the conference, I was ready to gossip and put it all in perspective.
After brunch, we said good-bye to Denise, and John and I set off to drive most of the famous 49-Mile Scenic Drive. That’s our thing, taking great drives together, and as you might imagine, touring San Francisco is seriously stunning. We put an iPad to good use – Google maps are knockout on an iPad, especially with the ease of zooming in and out.
We broke away for a drive over the Golden Gate Bridge (see previous post) and a mid-afternoon bite at Fish in Sausalito. Fish tacos and a catfish po-boy with slaw tasted mighty fine along the water front, in that glorious California sunshine, oh yeah…
And then Sunday night, the biggest treat of all. It turned out that our friend Maud was going to be in San Francisco visiting her brother Arthur, his wife Heidi, and their daughters Sadie and Sophia. When we figured out that we were overlapping each other, Arthur and Heidi graciously offered to host John and me for dinner.
I’ve “known” Arthur online (Facebook, Onsugar) for years but never actually met him. Needless to say, it was a huge treat for John and me to relax with the whole group in Arthur and Heidi’s lovely home, especially after several days of eating in restaurants. Arthur is a total foodie and a great cook – he made a beautiful dinner for us.
Before we arrived, Arthur had already marinated a butterflied leg of lamb with garlic and herbs, ready to grill until crusty and pink.
My pic doesn’t do the Lacinato kale salad justice, which is too bad, it was an intense and vibrant green. To make the salad, Arthur stemmed and chopped the kale into a fine chiffonade. He whisked together lemon juice, olive oil, and red wine vinegar and tossed it into the kale a couple of hours before we ate, allowing the acid in the dressing to “cook” the kale. Right before serving, he tossed in crumbed feta cheese and toasted walnuts, and salt and pepper to taste.
He also made a delicious saute of rainbow chard. He separated the stalks from the leaves, chopping both. He sauteed the stalk with chopped onion for 30 minutes or until deeply caramelized. Just before serving he stirred in the leaves, tossing until the leaves wilted. He finished with a vinaigrette of honey, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, and toasted sesame seed oil, as well as a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds.
Needless to say, both dishes were out of this world, a little salty, a little sweet, the perfect sides for the tender lamb.
He also shared a big pot of beans that he makes on Sundays for the week. I hope we left him some, they were fabulous with rice, exactly what you’d want to take to work for a filling lunch or to warm up for a quick dinner. Pure comfort.
For dessert, we gouged bites of chocolate off of a hunk of bittersweet Scharffenberger, alongside slices of ripe pear. A feast! A colorful, healthy, unforgettable feast! With great wine, top-notch advice for my blog, and the best possible company, it was just a perfect way to end our trip.
So there it is. Man, I am still wiped! And yet still able to make fried tofu for lunch today, in honor of the delicious tofu we had at Namu.
I’ll just declare that fried tofu is one of my favorite dishes, I think even Top 10. There’s something about the hot crispy coating around the silky interior and the way it all soaks up the garlicky, salty sauce it’s often served with. As a bonus, it’s really easy to prepare – pan-fried vs. deep-fried, with a coating that’s just a quick dusting of rice flour. You could be swooning over it in less than 20 minutes, no problem.
Crispy Fried Tofu
1 block firm tofu
oil suitable for high heat frying (refined almond, safflower, peanut, etc.)
2 cloves garlic, minced
pinch of red pepper flakes
3 Tbsp. soy sauce
3 Tbsp. mirin
1 Tbsp. water
1 tsp. sesame oil
1 tsp. rice wine vinegar
2 scallions, sliced thin
Drain liquid from tofu container, then wrap tofu in paper towels. Press down on the tofu to remove as much liquid as you can. Cut tofu into 1-inch cubes. Dredge cubes in rice flour.
Pour oil 1/2-inch deep in a large skillet. Heat over medium-high heat. While oil heats, put garlic, red pepper flakes, soy sauce, mirin, water, sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, and scallions in a small sauce pan. Simmer over low heat for about 5 minutes, then set aside.
When oil is hot, fry cubes until golden brown on one side. Using tongs, turn and brown on the other side. Drain on paper towels. Serve cubes with warm sauce for dipping.