Baking Babka

Let me tell you a story about how great my sister is. Last winter, in the depths of a despair-filled Reading Period, my sister sent me a present. She overnighted me a loaf of Green’s Chocolate Babka from Zabar’s in New York. I was over-the-moon ecstatic. I think I even shed a tear of joy. I had been waiting to have a slice of chocolate babka for almost half a year.

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To understand my relationship with babka I have to backtrack a year. Last summer I became obsessed with finding and trying babka. I had about one week left in San Francisco, and I went everywhere looking for it. Babka, apparently, is rare in San Francisco. Or worse, doesn’t even exist. My last hope was Wise Sons Delicatessen, but when I made my excursion out to the Mission the establishment was unfortunately closed. Alas, I left San Francisco unsuccessful and unfulfilled with my quest.

My experiences with babka since then have always been fantastic, delicious, chocolate-y goodness. This summer, I decided to try my own hand at making babka. I used the food network’s recipe online because it seemed to go along best with my favorite parts about babka – rich, chocolate-y, with streusel on top. You can find the recipe here.

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A beautiful, overflowing mess. Mmm.

 

 

 

 

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Acquerello

Back in the day when my parents were young and hip and lived in Nob Hill, they came to Acquerello quite often. Since those days, Acquerello has steadily improved in food quality and reputation – and has become one of the best fine dining restaurants in San Francisco. (Comparable to Gary Danko, but by no means equatable.)

The restaurant is quite formal. Jacket is requried, and they refer to themselves as a “special occasion restaurant.” I was worried about taking photos inside, but was assured that it would only be a problem if I was distracting other diners. Given that the table next to us was a large, loud table yelling in Cantonese, I had no problem pulling out my camera for a few quick snaps.

Three complimentary starters:IMG_3622IMG_3626IMG_3627

 

 

IMG_3634Ahi tuna crudo, grapes, pickled Santa Rosa plums, rosemary, black olive, and tonnato sauceIMG_3633Frog Hollow peaches with burrata, rhubarb, black sesame, and basil

IMG_3630Snake River Farms beef tartare, onion soubise, white celery, and Balsamic pearl onionsIMG_3641Cuttlefish ‘tagliatelle’ with capers, chili flakes, lobster,and agrettiIMG_3639Smoked potato gnocchi with prosciutto, confited summer truffle, chive,and ParmesanIMG_3638Acquerello risotto with Brentwood corn, Tiger prawns, pancetta,and Calabrian chiliIMG_3648Grimaud Farms air chilled duck breast, beets, black pepper crumb, hibiscus and blackberriesIMG_3643Maine lobster tail with smoked butter, Brentwood corn custard, confit tomato,and tarragonIMG_3654Bourbon-caramel semifreddo, Amaretti crust, chocolate, and caramel sauceIMG_3656Complimentary desserts to finish off our meal.IMG_3657And a box of biscotti to take home. The biscotti were beyond delicious – quite different and wetter in texture than those I am used to (like my dad’s famous biscotti).

Overall, Acquerello was a fine dining experience. Every dish we had incorporated new flavors and was prepared to perfection. Surprisingly, I found the complimentary dishes to be more exciting and well-prepared than some of the dishes ordered from the menu. Contrary to some previous reports on Acquerello, we also found our dessert to be delightful. We were hesitant to order any dessert, given how full we were, but we were pleasantly surprised by the quality of pastry.

Acquerello was an experience I would do over again no question, as long as I am not the one paying.

Outside Lands 2014: Munching & Music

Outside Lands is a three-day festival in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park causing a mass invasion of festival-goers, policemen, music-lovers, and food trucks and stalls.

As my friend GP pointed out, Outside Lands is not just a festival of music but a festival of music and art – and the art of food most definitely plays a significant part. Apparently there were more than 2000 “food items” at the festival, though we couldn’t quite decide what counts as a separate food item.

The three-day weekend was a great way to get in all of my SF/American food fixes after China and before I leave for school again.

And so it goes…IMG_6810What better way to start out the weekend than with free Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food? 

IMG_6815Straw’s Donut Cheeseburger. I did not eat this entire thing – just one bite – which was enough to 1) make me realize that it actually was quite tasty and 2) clog 50% of one of my arteries.

IMG_6819Namu’s Korean Quesadilla. Nice idea, poor execution (granted, they were working with minimal space). The cheese was not fully melted, which is always a game-changer in a quesadilla.

IMG_6825Suite Foods Waffle Shop. We searched everywhere for these waffles which were featured on The Bold Italic’s Must Eats at Outside Lands. We finally found their small cart. Waffles were great.

IMG_6832Suite Foods Waffle Shop’s Maple Liège Waffle with Poached Egg and Smoked Sea Salt.

The one major problem with this waffle was that a good poached egg to waffle distribution was quite difficult, maybe impossible, given the differences in their sizes and shapes.

IMG_6921The Chairman Truck’s Steamed Bun with Pork Belly, Tumeric Pickled Daikon, and Shiso. 

I have had hundreds (okay, maybe not hundreds but up there) of Chairman Bao’s buns and loved them every single time. It is my favorite food truck in San Francisco. I had to get one for my visiting friend Alicia so that she would also love San Francisco.

IMG_6841Del Popolo’s Neopolitan Pizza with Pork Salami. (Nice try, Alicia.)

IMG_6945Nombe’s Ramenburger. The line was incredibly long for these ramenburgers every single day of the festival. Our ramenburger was sub-par. The actual burger was dry, and, well, I have very strong feelings about overcooked meat.

IMG_6977Rich Table’s Dried Porcini Doughnuts with Raclette. No visible Porcini in these doughnuts, but the rich flavor of the mushrooms was there. The raclette was incredible fluffy and delicious. Awesome.

IMG_6976Il Cane Rosso’s Griddled French Toast.

Best French Toast I’ve Ever Had. That’s saying a lot. It was really more like a huge chunk of rich bread pudding with maple syrup and whip cream. To. die. for. But actually, I might consider an earlier death by morbid obesity because of this dish.

IMG_6988Pork Arepa from Pica Pica. Always solid.

IMG_7056Charles Chocolates Gourmet S’more.

IMG_6999Hot Thai Tea from Charles Chocolates.

IMG_7040American Grilled Cheese Kitchen’s Crispy-Sweet Maple Brussel Sprouts. Bomb.

IMG_7045American Grilled Cheese Kitchen with Eggs and Green Chiles.

IMG_7055Kara’s Meyer Lemon Cupcake.

IMG_7065Sharona’s Chocolate Shop S’more. I was watching Ben Howard, it was National S’mores Day, it was free, it was in front of me. Can’t go wrong.

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Sataysfied’s mik tek tek fried noodles and dumplings. The noodles tasted like Cup Noodles. Not worth it.

IMG_7052A HUGE shout-out to my main eating partner, Alicia. She tried to get in most of the food photos. Alicia is the Waldo of Where’s Waldo: The Lowe Down Version.

By the way – we did listen to music, too. 

Until next year, Outside Lands.

Follow us on Instagram @thelowe_down for delectable photos!!

Din Tai Fung

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Din Tai Fung is a Michelin-star awarded international restaurant chain, specializing in soup dumplings or xiaolongbao (as pictured above). My parents have been to one of the two branches in the Los Angeles area, but left unimpressed. In contrast, I was always impressed with the dumplings at the Din Tai Fung in Beijing. The dumpling skins are extremely thin, and the soup is plentiful and steaming –  not burning – hot. I documented my last visit to Din Tai Fung in Beijing where I shared a meal with my sister and my friend Hannah.

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Shrimp Fried Rice

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Sesame Noodles – these were bomb.

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Greens.

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Mushroom Dumplings. It took them about 45 minutes to come out with these dumplings. We were waiting a long time, I’m not sure exactly what happened. I made a fuss about it and so they gave us complimentary dessert.

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Han + dumpling!

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Red Bean Dumplings. One of my sister’s best friends highly recommends these, but I was always skeptical. I’m not a huge fan of red bean. I was pleasantly surprised. The red bean was obviously very high quality and the dumpling skin was thin and delectable.

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