Tuesday, June 26, 2007

El Loco Woodland Seafood Taco Truck Misadventure

I would like to apologize to the vast number of readers who peruse this blog on a daily basis. I have been going through a massive career alteration in the past few weeks which has been very discombobulating. Luckily, these events have given me the opportunity to use one of my favorite words….. discombobulate. Anyhow, I am now on a temporary leave of absence from grad school and working at my favorite Biotech in Woodland. No offence to any Woodlandese folks out there, if y’all have computers, but the only good thing about Woodland is my Biotech and the taco trucks. Naturally, I have been venturing out to different taquerias and taco trucks on an almost daily basis. I haven’t blogged them so far because we all know how incredible taco truck food is, so there is no need to rehash how fantabulous they are. However, yesterday I made a wrong turn into a particular empty lot inhabited by a taco truck. This was no ordinary taco truck; this was a seafood-only taco truck, in Woodland. Woodland. In a truck. Seafood. Woodland. Yes, I am referring to the so-called “city of trees” ten miles down the road from the opulent bubble I call Davis. I exited my vehicle to look at the menu and noticed it consisted of shrimp, octopus, and oysters. I must have sounded like a loco gringo when I asked a local yokel if all they served was seafood while I was staring at the menu in front of a truck that smelled like the wharf in Monterey Bay. In Woodland…. Indeed, all that was available from this roach coach was seafood. I tried to pretend that I was contemplating the menu for a few seconds while I slowly backed toward my car so I could burn rubber out of there. I thought I was a seasoned taco truck connoisseur so I wanted to save face and just disappear before they noticed. As I was the only vehicle parked in the whole acre of dirt that surrounded this roach coach, my retreat didn’t go un-noticed. “What, you don’t like seafood” the taco truck man asked? With a nervous grin I replied, “well, sometimes, (in San Francisco….) what do you recommend?” Trying to conceal a suspicious grin the taco truck man recommended the octopus and oyster tostada. I will happily venture octopus and oyster at a sushi joint, but not from a taco truck in Woodville. Anyway, it was too late, he roped me in, I couldn’t wuss out, so I ordered two shrimp tostadas. I got them to go since there wasn’t even a curb to eat them on and I wanted to douse it with the stash of El Yucateco habanero sauce that I keep at work. Not to mention the harbor-like smell that is very foreign to me in the central valley. It seems that I ordered some variation of Ceviche on a hard flat taco shell. It was cold, as I suppose tostadas and Ceviche should be, but I prefer that my taco truck food be heated to at least 168 degrees. This fishy tostada really wasn’t my scene but I can imagine that others might find it tasty, so I will keep myself from trashing it furher. Look at the number of shrimp on those tostadas! That is a lot of shrimp for $2.50! I want to know where they get their shrimp for so cheap. Wait a tick…..No I don’t!
I’m about to hit my standard taco truck today, I need something reliable. Maybe I can start blogging about more high brow food since I am now being paid the wages that I deserve.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A Crepe of some sort....

My most recent cooking experiment has been an attempt to recreate from memory a dish I ate 3 or 4 years ago in France. It was at a small bistro somewhere in Nice, I don’t remember the name or exactly where it was, but it was quite memorable. This meal was unforgettable in more than one way. My friend and I were seated outside, as I prefer to dine during all seasons except nuclear winter, and we were entertained by the most amazing street musician I have ever encountered in Europe. He was a young man playing piano in the square next to us, a full size upright piano, which I later witnessed him pushing down the cobblestones up-ended on a dolly toward the site of his next performance. I have no memory of what I ordered, but my friend ordered a crepe, I don’t know what it was called but it was incredible. It was a grilled patty of ground beef in a crepe (I don’t know what cut of beef it was, but it was much higher quality than typical ground beef), covered with sautéed mushrooms and onions and a fried egg on top. It doesn’t sound like anything terribly noteworthy, but it was one of the best dishes I encountered on this trip. I don’t know how the French accomplish this culinary feat, but I finally had to endeavor to duplicate it myself….

1 large egg
1 cup milk
1 tbsp. melted unsalted butter
1tsp. finely chopped parsley leaves
½ cup all purpose flour
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. fresh ground pepper

Whisk together egg, milk, parsley, and butter until well combined. Add flour, salt, and pepper and whisk until smooth. Heat a large pan or griddle (Unless you are cool enough to have a crepe pan) over medium high heat and brush with vegetable oil or butter. Pour a few tablespoons of the batter into the pan, tilting and rotating it quickly to cover the pan with a thin layer of batter. When the bottom is nicely browned, flip it and brown the other side.
I had no idea how ground beef could have been so good so I attempted to hand chop my favorite piece of meat, ribeye, and form it into a patty with some garlic, shallots, and a dash of Worcestershire sauce. I cooked my ribeye patty to medium and placed it into the crepe.
Next I sautéed mushrooms and shallots in some butter, lemon juice, and Sauvignon Blanc and piled it onto the ribeye patty. I don’t think asparagus was pat of the original dish, but I felt that something green was needed so I placed some steamed asparagus on top of the mushrooms and shallots. Finally, I fried a single egg to finish the dish.
The finished dish was very good but I can’t say that it lived up to my expectations based on what I ate in Nice. I think the main downfall of my attempt was the beef patty, which was key to the dish. I thought a ground ribeye would be great considering the unmatched flavor and high fat content that I believed would result in a tender patty. I was wrong; the ribeye patty was lacking the phenomenal flavor of a grilled ribeye and its toughness was unprecedented. If I can just improve the beef patty, I believe that these ingredients combine synergistically, resulting in a wonderful dish. My tough beef patty must be an artifact of my proud Irish heritage. It isn’t a common problem for me, but the Irish have an uncanny ability to transform even the most tender cuts of meat into leathery hunks of gray protein. I think I will try ground sirloin and get into the mindset of a French bistro chef for my next attempt. I will forgo bathing for several days and cook with a cigarette dangling out of my mouth while cursing that “Stupide Presidente Americain.” Don’t let my Irish meat preparation shortcomings deter you from this dish, if you learn from my mistake I think you will be in for quite a treat.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Mexican food and flying chairs? (El Toreador, SF)

Last week I experienced some of the best Mexican food I've ever eaten at El Toreador. When discussing where to dine, a friend said "Hey, let's go to this great Mexican place in SF." After living in the city for a couple years, I discovered that just about everyone I knew thought their favorite Mexican restaurant was the best ever, yet I had never been blown away. 'Sure,' I thought, 'let's go to this restaurant and have the same plate of enchiladas/fajitas/fill-in-the-blank with rice and beans that I've had at every other Mexican restaurant.' I was not expecting a unique experience, but that's not a bad thing; good food doesn't need to be special, just good.

Wow, I was blown away right when I walked in the door! The place is small and decorated with brightly colored... well, everything! And it was all suspended from the ceiling! There are lights made from colanders, water pitchers and bowls, bright mini-chairs are everywhere, and who knows what else! It looked like a piñata exploded, and actually made me smile; this place is so colorful it's almost dizzying. In addition, there is a massive bottled beer selection displayed in the entry. The server was friendly, but because the place was bustling with both eat-in diners and people dropping in for take-out, he was moving fast! Our thin, super-hot salsa came in a carafe, and was very tasty. The soup that came out before our entrées seemed visually unremarkable: it was a small cup of red broth with a piece of bread floating on top. The flavor was anything but boring, laden with intense flavors of tomato, cilantro, garlic, onion, and that bread was great...I think it was fried, so it was a little crispy and had soaked up more soup, one very mouth-watering bite! The next time I have a cold I'm ordering a gallon of that soup, it'll cure what ails ya!

The menu had the standard staples, but a few other items that were intriguing. A helpful menu note: the items are numbered, so if you don't know how to pronounce something you won't feel like an idiot. My friend ordered spinach enchiladas that came with steamed white rice and black beans, and I had the Molé de Cacahuate, 2 chicken enchiladas smothered in peanut molé sauce. Our entrées must have come out 7ish minutes after we ordered them, despite how busy they were! My friend's spinach enchiladas were filled generously with freshly sautéed spinach (I was already impressed at this point) and covered in delicious tomatillo salsa. My enchiladas were served with refried beans and mexican rice, and the molé sauce was a bit salty for me, but paired perfectly when wrapped up in a bite of the whole enchilada (I couldn't resist the pun;)). Both enchiladas were wrapped in house-made corn tortillas, which had a more pleasant, tender texture than the standard store-bought fare. At the end of this meal we were both stuffed, very satified, and I had put El Toreador permanently on my list of favorite restaurants. Though Brooks may not like this place because it's not located in a catering truck with flies buzzing around, it's definitely delish! So far it's the best Mexican food I've had in the City.

I wasn't able to find a website, but copies of their menu are posted at restaurants.com
El Toreador
50 West Portal Ave
San Francisco, CA 94127
(415) 566-2673
*thanks to yelp.com for photos!