Sunday, July 25, 2010

White Rabbit Candy Back as Golden Rabbit

Standing at the checkout counter at 99 Ranch, I noticed a vaguely familiar white bunny. But wait, this bunny was anthropomorphized. The face looked the same, but clothes? Blasphemy! I knew that White Rabbit candy had been hit by the melamine milk scandal back in 2008, but I had assumed it returned back to the market after resourcing its milk.
Well Shanghai's Guan Sheng Yuan Food did indeed bring back the iconic candy with milk now from Australia. It looks like in an effort to distance itself from poisonous candy, it changed from what most people remembered:

Photo Credit Mike Gonzalez/Wiki Commons

Now it's Golden Rabbit Creamy Candy. Gone is the plain white motif. I do wonder though, what makes the candy "golden." After all, the candy's the same color, right down to the translucent piece of rice paper.

Did you know that the candy was first branded with a red Mickey Mouse when a British merchant opened a candy plant in Shanghai? Or that Premier Zhou Enlai presented a bag as a gift to Richard Nixon on his visit to China? This white candy has its hands deep in China's culture. Wonder if billion-plus Chinese can handle a rebranding.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

RN74: Michael Mina's Wine Bar

Clack, clack, clack. I felt like I was in a train station instead of a Michael Mina wine bar and restaurant in the middle of San Francisco. Above my table, an old-fashioned schedule board with rotating letters, flipping to display the next bottle of wine. The board was a nice touch for the all-too-common semi-exposed industrial motif of modern restaurants. I could tell from my first step in the place that they took their wine seriously. Now I was curious about the food.

I have yet to dine at Michael Mina's namesake restaurant, nor XIV, his Los Angeles venture. I didn't set out with the intention to follow him, but discovering that the darkened, rather non-descript restaurant on my commute every morning was associated with him, I thought this might be a good introduction into his culinary kingdom.

RN74's Executive Chef is Jason Berthold, a young chef as inspired by the wine pairings as by the ingredients in the regional French and contemporary American dishes on the menu. Maybe I didn't do him justice by forsaking full wine pairings for my dishes, but I did indulge in RN74's "Summer of Riesling" promotion by ordering a glass. I asked for something semi-dry, and got a glass almost too sweet to drink with any food. The waitress was kind enough to replace my drink after noticing my reaction. That said, their seasonal Pimm's 74 Cocktail,a blend of housemade Pimm's, ginger beer, campari and prosecco, was appropriately sweet for a summer drink.

The bread and butter came out. I absolutely can't get enough of San Francisco sourdough. And when I say San Francisco sourdough, I mean it. The local wild yeast makes the best bread, something that I have yet to see replicated elsewhere.

Since it is a wine bar, the endless winelist easily dwarfed the simple one-page food menu. For the first course: soft shell crab (celery leaf remoulade, citrus, ginger). The remoulade was not as creamy as I had hoped, but the crab was fried well, without any greasy weight of most soft shell crab dishes.

The sauteed pork belly & stuffed squash blossom (heirloom tomatoes, bacon, basil, lemongrass) consisted of fairly standard pork. I have yet to find a pork belly that is notably deficient in flavor. Mostly, I'm looking for the right crispy texture along the edges of my pork belly. The novelty of this dish was the squash blossom. Seemingly solid, it cut apart to reveal some delicious, unidentified filling. The texture was somewhat like fish cake, but with bits of bacon embedded in the white cushion. The tomatoes had enough sweetness to cut through the fatty pork, a requirement when dealing with pork belly.

Main course #1: sauteed Alaskan halibut (gnocchi a la parisienne, cherry tomatoes, celery, ginger, mache My first impression was the quality of the fish's seared crust--crunchy and savory while hiding a delicate white flesh. This was a sign of a well cooked fish. The blanched and peeled tomatoes added the sweet component to the dish. The gnocchi were especially notable. Reflecting the texture of the halibut, each gnocchi had a bit of a crunch, but a soft interior making a pleasant mastication experience.

As a rule, I typically do not order chicken at restaurants. I generally like to see the restaurant's skill at handling more interesting fare, but supposedly the mark of a quality French restaurant is in its roast chicken. Very well then, bring on the roasted naturally-raised chicken (cornbread, mission figs, gold corn, cippolini onions, braised bacon, watercress). First off, not too dry for a chicken breast. And beneath the breast lay pieces of what I suspect came from the darker nether regions of the poultry. The cornbread was an odd complement, but the sweet figs were a welcome addition. Was it good dish? Certainly. Would I order it again? Sorry, chicken, but I'll have to side with your aqua-bound brethren and choose the Liberty duck breast next time.

No dessert for me this time, but I was plenty satisfied without satiating my sweet tooth. The dishes were fairly large, at least larger than I would expect at a wine bar. I'm sure the bar menu items are smaller, better for multiple courses and pairings. My experience with the restaurant menu was stellar. I'll have to come back and sample a variety of small dishes with the appropriate wines and let Chef Berthold and Wine Director Rajat Parr show me where this wine bar should really shine.

301 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA 94105
~$15 appetizers, ~$28 entrees, ~$11 small plates


Friday, July 16, 2010

Curry's Good, Katsu's Better: Muracci's Japanese Curry & Grill San Francisco

Open only for lunches and early dinner, Muracci's Japanese Curry in the Financial District of downtown San Francisco does brisk, delicious business.


While famous for their curry, which is cooked for two days, this little shop's katsu (pork cutlet) needs more exposure. Although the curry was good, it didn't quite leave as splendid a lasting flavor as I had hoped. When I'm eating stew-like foods, I want each spoonful to be lip-smacking after each bite. Muracci's curry has complexity, but it doesn't seem to last long enough. This might have to do with the viscosity of the sauce. Plenty of flavor, but too thin to last on your palate after the last morsel slides down your gullet.

I will point out that the pork cutlet was the best I've had. Thick and juicy, it's tough with pork to keep it from drying out. Too many tonkatsus I've had rely too heavily on the sauce or breading to impart flavor. I almost mistook Muracci's pork for a chicken cutlet it was so tender. Additionally, I had the chicken katsu. While good, it lacked the depth of the pork.

I especially appreciated that Muracci's makes all the dishes to order, rare among counter, lunch-focused shops. The staff is also Japanese and very friendly. There is also a Los Gatos location for those hesitant to trek out to the downtown. Slightly pricey, (~$9) for a katsu curry, but what do you expect in the City?

Muracci's Japanese Curry and Grill
307 Kearny Street
San Francisco (Financial District), CA 94108-3204


Friday, July 9, 2010

Powderface Beignets at Fruitvale BART

Coincidentally, I had to go to the Fruitvale BART station the day after the verdict for the Oscar Grant shooting. It was actually rather empty and quiet on the platform where he was shot on New Year's Eve 2009.


Downstairs, some of the stores still had their windows boarded up in anticipation of riots that never reached the station. Most of the commotion was centered around downtown Oakland.

I had seen Powerderface before, the only beignet shop I've found in the area, not that I've ever did a thorough search of pastry shops throughout the East Bay. $3.50 for a bag of three beignets. Looking at the wall, I saw a review from 2008 listing the beignets at six for $3.50. Quite a price increase for just two years. I guess that keeps up with market rate for pastries like Beard Papa's, which are outrageously expensive for what they are.

At least the beignets are made fresh to order. I watched her roll out the dough, cut it out and drop it into the deep fryer for 3-5 minutes. I have no idea how they handle a rush, but I got the feeling there weren't very many of those. Out of the fryer and onto the cooling rack. A dust of powder sugar. The heat and oil from the beignet melts some of the sugar into a fine glaze.

I bite into the first one. Flaky exterior, soft and yielding interior with just the right amount of gooey dough consistency. The beignets were lightly dusted with sugar so they weren't too sweet at all. I'd like to tell you how they compared to the famed Cafe du Monde in New Orleans, arguably the king of American beignets. However, I haven't been to the Big Easy since Katrina and honestly can't remember. I just remember the sugar high my brother had from those beignets. So at the very least, I can say Powderface probably scales back on the sugar to a much more desirable level.

If you have a few minutes in your morning BART commute, take a moment aside for yourself, a fresh beignet, and a cup of strong coffee.

3411 East 12th Street, Ste. 134
Oakland, CA 94601
(Fruitvale BART station)
(510) 536-face (3223)