Monday, November 12, 2012

Cesary, Bacony Kale Salad

Once in a great while when I was growing up, my mom would make a spinach salad with a bacony dressing. Twenty-something years later, at brunch at Lacroix, we had a kale salad with in a Cesar-type dressing. Somehow these two leafy-green-salad ideas met up in my head and produced this offspring, a tasty kale salad with a rich yet balanced dressing. If you've been looking for a way to eat more kale (and who isn't?) this is a great way to try it.

1-2 strips thick-cut bacon
1 egg yolk
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 garlic clove, crushed
1/4 tsp mustard powder
Pinch of cayenne
Salt and black pepper to taste
2-3 tablespoons of grated Parmesan or Romano
As much kale as you like, roughly chopped

Cook bacon however you like and reserve the drippings. Chop bacon coarsely and set aside.

Combine the egg yolk, lemon juice, garlic, mustard, cayenne, salt and pepper in your salad bowl. Whisk together and slowly add the bacon drippings (as though making a mayonnaise). Add the kale, sprinkle the cheese on and toss. Top with more cheese if desired before serving.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Review: Brunch at Santucci's

Pop quiz, hotshot: It's Saturday. 10:30 AM. You're at 10th & Christian and you're hungry. Where do you go?

Wrong. You go to Santucci's.

That's right, the place that makes the square pizza with the sauce on top also makes a killer weekend brunch, and with any luck you won't have to wait in line for two hours to get it. In fact, it was in a totally empty restaurant that we found ourselves on a recent Saturday, just the two of of us, plus our friends Jenny and Don in from Oakland, and one baby. And it's a damn good thing too, because we were all starving. (Well, our baby wasn't.)

There's nothing too outlandish on the menu, but plenty of alluring options that by and large lived up to their promise. In fact, I'll say that my spinach and goat cheese frittata was the best frittata I've had out anywhere. Lightly browned around the edges, yet still just faintly loose in the middle, it was packed with goat cheese and flavorful fresh sautéed spinach. Served with your choice of hash browns or tater tots (I went with the tots) and toast (which I skipped), it puts any diner omelette to shame. My totally unnecessary additional side of sausage was great too.

Lauren opted for French toast, about which I really can't tell you anything, because she wouldn't even spare one bite for me – though I can tell you that fresh strawberries and a generous scoop of mascarpone were involved. She also tried a side of the "homemade Greek yogurt", which had almost more of a ricotta-like texture, topped with honey and apple slices (more on those later).

Don went all-out lunchy with his brunch and got the roasted pepper, arugula and goat cheese flatbread, which is of considerable size and absolutely delicious. Having had that item before, I almost prefer it to the traditional pizza because of its bright flavors that shine through rather than getting muddled in sauce.

Jen got one of the specials: toad-in-the-hole with taleggio and sautéed wild mushrooms. This was an interesting concept held back by one strange decision: the mushrooms were earthy and delicious; the taleggio was allowed to stand alone in its own glory; the bread surrounding the egg was nicely browned and crisp, but the egg yolk was cooked all the way firm. This dish was the kind of thing that a runny yolk would have sent straight to the top of the all-time brunch charts.

Still, Jen proclaimed it the best brunch she ever had. The only other misstep I would point to is that the apples atop the Greek yogurt must have been sliced on a board that previously was home to some onions or garlic, because there was an unfortunate flavor to them.

Service was very friendly, and after our meal we even got a chance to chat with the chef – a real friendly guy with truly inventive facial hair.

I think brunch at Santucci's is a complete no-brainer: inventive, unpretentious food at reasonable prices, and with any luck, none of the waiting. I almost hesitate to recommend it so highly because I don't want the place jamming up and forcing us to wait next time we come!

Santucci's Original Square Pizza on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Pork Tenderloin Wrapped with Speck and Sage

So here is an answer to the question, "Don't you guys actually cook anything anymore?" Well, yes, but not everything is worth telling the world about. I'm not even certain that this is, but it was pretty tasty and easy-to-make, so why not? Plus, if I'm recalling correctly, I stole the idea from Shola so here's an opportunity to link to his intriguing blog.

What we have here is a pork tenderloin wrapped in speck with a few sage leaves tucked between the pork and the speck. Speck, if you are not familiar, is sort of like a smoked version of prosciutto. I asked the friendly guy at DiBruno's to slice it as thin as possible, which turned out to be almost too thin, so you may want to ask for it to be sliced "almost" as this as possible, or bring your own sliced-meat calipers to check the thickness.

The technique here should have been to lay the speck out so it overlaps in a solid sheet, top with sage leaves, roll the (salt and pepper) seasoned tenderloin in it, then wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour or two so everything sort of sets together. I did not have the requisite hour or two, so things fell apart a little bit, but the end result was still tasty.

Basically, get an oven-safe pan rocket-hot, add a little olive oil and sear the tenderloin until your house fills with smoke. Then pop it in a 425° oven for about 10-15 minutes, depending on thickness, let rest and enjoy. If you've done it right, the pork will still be a little pink in the center, and the speck will have become delightfully crisp, adding an earthier, fattier note to what can be a boring cut of pork.

Not pictured: the fig and balsamic reduction I made as a pan sauce. When your pork is resting elsewhere, add a handful of chopped dried figs and a few tablespoons of balsamic vinegar to the hot pan. Let reduce and serve over the sliced pork.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Review: Il Pittore

If memory serves, Il Pittore is Stephen Starr's first (non-pizza) Italian effort since the late and not particularly lamented Angelina. With an SRO gift card in hand, my mother-in-law watching our new baby, and a desire to try something new, we headed out for a date night to see how this effort stacks up.

Occupying the Sansom Street space formerly housing Noble, Il Pittore is surprisingly intimate for a Starr joint, and the white walls and dark wood give it a refined sense of rusticity that put me in the mind of Mario Batali's Babbo up in New York. Seated on the second floor, the crowd was strangely dominated by the old-men-in-suits crowd; maybe the word has gotten out that this is a great out-of-the-way place for a romantic business meeting?

The structure of the menu is typically Italian, with antipasti, pasta courses, mains and "contorni" (or sides). Looking the menu over, though, provided some explanation for the expense-account nature of the crowd, as prices are a bit high with apps and pastas averaging between $15 and $20, and mains running from $25-$35.

Lauren had a glass of a very nice prosecco from the all-Italian wine list, while I enjoyed a Pennello (more or less an Old Overholt Manhattan with a splash of Cynar in it; a very well-balanced and dangerously smooth and drinkable cocktail). Out came a basket of breads, all made in-house, which featured a nice but somewhat cake-like herbed focaccia, light yet flavorful ciabattini, and thin, anise seed-studded breadsticks.

We split the cod appetizer, which consisted of a lightly smoked and hard-seared piece of cod set atop a golden yellow, saffron-enriched mound of soft (almost polenta-like) baccala, with a poached calamari salad on top. Unfortunately my splitting skills were not the best and I ended up shorting myself on the delightfully crisped edge of the cod, but the subtle smokiness of the fish was flavorful enough.

Though we originally intended to split a pasta course as well, the selections proved too alluring and we each ended up with our own. Lauren's lobster-filled tortellini, served with a burrata and topped with a not inconsiderable amount of shaved black truffle, were flavorful, though to me the pasta's wrapper gave off an oddly Asian wonton vibe.


My pasta, the Gramigna, was absolutely sensational. Loose, short corkscrews of pasta ("chianti-stained" according to the menu, though no red color was evident), topped with a duck ragout, shaved bitter chocolate and grated cheese. The thing that made this dish so wonderful was the perfectly balanced hint of acid that blasted through the rich, savory duck sauce. As much as I like to never order the same thing twice, I would be hard-pressed not to get this again on a return visit. (And thanks to Lauren for insisting I order it in the first place; otherwise I was going to go for the corzetti with braised goat, mint and chili oil, which sounded great, but then I wouldn't have had this!)

Mains were similarly successful. Lauren's monkfish "saltimbocca" was three or four pieces of the fish, wrapped in prosciutto so thin that it disappeared completely upon cooking, leaving behind only the slight hint of porky saltiness. Better, though, was my braised veal cheek, two nicely-sized pieces that glistened from their intense braising liquid. Underneath, polenta taragna, which is both coarser than the usual polenta grind and also blends in buckwheat – even without the veal on top, it would have made a satisfying dish of its own. (And halfway through, we switched entrees. This is how you know I love my wife.)

I must admit we did not get dessert, because Il Pittore is, unfortunately for them, located deep within the Capo Giro sphere of influence.

Service was pretty decent, although our waiter was just slightly strange, and pulled the old "I am so cool I do not need to write down your order; here I go to put it in; wait, here I come back, what was your pasta order again?" routine. The aspirations are definitely on the higher end of the Starr service spectrum though, as is befitting the prices.

So Il Pittore is not cheap, but nor does it fail to impress. I give it a full recommendation for a special-occasion Italian meal, whether you are discussing mergers and acquisitions with your grey-suited ilk or putting the moves on your sweetheart. If you're in the area and not looking to drain your wallet to such a degree, Porcini and Melograno are both excellent options on the same block, but nowhere near on the same level of refinement.

Il Pittore on Urbanspoon