Monday, July 9, 2012

A Word On Freshness: Tortillas and Quesadillas

A conversation over dinner some nights ago hit upon the age old question of how food can taste so good in certain parts of the world. Countless meals eaten in the most random places can be so revelatory. The topic was Italy, a country for which I have no experience, but my addition to the conversation was a simply about the issue of freshness. Is it that simple?

All too often living in a cosmopolitan city we get cocky and begin thinking that simply because we have the immigrants, the available import markets and produce, and in the Bay Area the climate, we can produce anything our hearts desire. This might be so in some circumstances, but by and large it is always incredibly difficult o reproduce here what is so commonplace elsewhere. Which brings me to tortillas.

Last summer while making Mole Negro with my Zapotec consultant, a part of the process involved going to the molinero to grind up our ingredients into the curry paste we had spent a smoke filled morning making. While our mole went through the large grinding machine, a small old woman came in with her treated hominy, the raw ingredient for masa which produces tortillas. She carried only a small bucket which she must have only have been processing for home use. After paying the owner for use of the machines, she fed her ingredients through. She was soon on her way and I wish I could have followed her.
IMG_3011.jpg
Likely the masa seen above went straight into fresh tortillas. The best tortillas you will ever (not) have.

At the place where I ate my meals during the week, they sometimes did things the old fashioned way, using a stone metate. 
IMG_2543.jpg
This time consuming process was once more commonplace, but after spending considerable time in Mexico over the years, this is not a method I have often had the pleasure to observe.

This masa was used to make "simple" quesadillas filled with epazote and quesillo, the stringy cheese briefly mentioned here.
IMG_2541.jpg
Simple ingredients lead to simple pleasures.
IMG_2542.jpg
Just about the perfect cena. Quesadillas with a spoonful or two of beans on the side, as well as some fresh salsa and guacamole.
IMG_2539.jpg
This fresh made and "simple" meal is so simple I've yet to find anything that touches it north of the border.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Empress of China

Without being too negative and droning on about cheap plastic junk shops and appalling food, let me simply recommend that you avoid San Francisco's Chinatown. I might enjoy the occasional walk through, but it is no means worth your time if in town for a limited period of time. That said, I was pleasantly surprised by a recent experience at the old-school institution, The Empress of China.

The Emperess of China has been around just about forever and I imagine that while tastes have changed, their menu has not. The place is a real throw back and seems to have changed little for decades and cruises on reputation alone. However, a couple of friends of mine swore that they had a happy hour worth stopping by for, and seeing that I seem to have a surpluss of time as of late, I tagged along. I was not disappointed.

From the hours of three to five there is a rather pleasant happy hour. This is early enough in fact to avoid the tourists who follow the unfortunate advice of their guidebooks or hotel staffs that recommend that they visit the Emperess of China for their rather pricey and mediocre fare. A lot the reviews suggest to go only for the view and with this I cannot argue.
IMG_8512.jpg
From the Lounge, which is where the ahppy hour is held, you are treated to a lovely view of the very touristy (and junk shop lined) Grant avenue. It makes for one of the more pleasant views of Chinatwon I have enjoyed. And with your view you can enjoy a ridiculous drink. I chose the popular Empress Mai Tai.
IMG_8507.jpg
Normally I draw the line at umbrellas in my drink, but for a half off drink I was willing to forget my self respect for an hour or two.

Emperess of China (Happy Hour 3-5 pm)
838 Grant Ave
San Francisco, CA 94108
(415) 434-1345
http://www.empressofchinasf.com/