Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Fry-nemies

Posted By on Tue, Apr 29, 2014 at 11:28 AM

click to enlarge Crusty sweet potato fries at Plaza Grill. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Crusty sweet potato fries at Plaza Grill.


The Venn diagram of happy hour offerings with a circle for the satisfying, a circle for the wholesome and one for for the naughtily fun reveals a tiny triangle of overlap at its center. This is where you find Plaza Grill's sweet potato fries ($5 during happy hour). 

The russet pile shows up sprinkled with parsley and coarse salt, accompanied by a creamy chipotle molasses dip. The fries are coated and fried to form a crispy crust outside, while the inside is a jewel-toned orange, more smooth, savory pie than starchy potato. A little spicy, lots of texture — do you need the dip? You do. The ferrety Bobby Flay nearly ruined chipotle for the whole class with his constant stream of squeeze bottles, but this little tub of sauce will bring you back to the earthy smokiness and bite of the stuff. Spoon some on your plate — nobody likes a double dipper.

You're dipping, biting the crust and tasting the soft center of the fries, one after another. Are you even following the conversation at the table? Nobody else is. Your companions are nodding and scoping the next fry, weighing manners and friendship against greed. Keep nodding and order more. Let's stay friends, shall we?
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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Via con Carnitas

Posted on Thu, Apr 17, 2014 at 3:25 PM

click to enlarge Off-the-menu carnitas fries. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Off-the-menu carnitas fries.

Remember when La Chaparrita (1718 4th St., Eureka) closed and then opened again next to McDonald's? Prepare to reboard that emotional roller coaster, because it has lost its lease and is closing again. Saturday, April 19 will be the last day to get your fix of the San Diego style Asada fries ($8.50), which can be ordered topped with carnitas instead of grilled beef, and which send my children into a focused and blissfully silent mode of eating. 

click to enlarge Fall-apart lamb barbacoa, a treat for weekends only. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Fall-apart lamb barbacoa, a treat for weekends only.
City flags should be at half mast for the lamb barbacoa, though ($13). Owner David Cruz would get a whole lamb from Redwood Meat Co. and steam it overnight until it fell apart like pulled pork. It was served with a thick consommé full of chick peas, into which you could dump some of the meat, a little salt, onion, cilantro and lime to eat it like soup. Or you could use the soup as a dip for the lamb tacos you made with the side of warm corn tortillas, sort of like a French dip sandwich. It was only ever available on weekends, and it's unlikely the restaurant will cook a whole lamb this week. 

Why tell you now, when it's too late? Because there is hope. Cruz and his wife Chenda Perez are keeping an eye out for a new location. Crossing my greasy little fingers. 
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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Barbecue Update: Chicken Bomb

Posted By on Tue, Apr 15, 2014 at 11:00 AM

click to enlarge Step aside, turducken. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Step aside, turducken.

Word came in over the wire that Wild Oaks Grill had its notorious Chicken Bombs earlier this week ($10). Those are chicken breasts stuffed with hot sausage, pepperoni or shrimp, along with cream cheese and jalapeno peppers, then wrapped in smoky bacon and barbecued. Take a moment there. They're not always available, which is probably best. 

click to enlarge Fire in the hole! Hot sausage chicken bomb. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Fire in the hole! Hot sausage chicken bomb.

The bacon alone is worth it — thick cuts of the meaty stuff on all sides — and it keeps the chicken underneath juicy. The red circle of sausage in each slice and the soft, pale green pepper are enough to give your face a little color, but the dollop of cream cheese cools things off a bit. The shrimp-stuffed bomb is a little more uptown — the cream cheese melts into the little bay shrimp like a sauce, and it's not as spicy as the sausage variety. Both are going in our Hurt Locker of deliciousness that almost killed us.

Dismantling the bombs is a hot mess after the initial slice, but it's still more dignified than "just eating it like a hotdog," as one person suggested. After all, we may be eating meat stuffed with meat and wrapped with more meat, but we're not animals.

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Saturday, April 12, 2014

Chocolate Revolution

Posted By on Sat, Apr 12, 2014 at 9:30 AM

click to enlarge Sipping chocolate for chocolistas and other upstarts. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Sipping chocolate for chocolistas and other upstarts.

We look at chocolate as a luxury, as a sinful indulgence. But back during the French and Indian War, it was part of a soldier's rations. Nutritious, medicinal and as necessary as a pouch of tobacco. And a good deal of the scheming, plotting and fomenting for the American Revolution happened over cups of drinking chocolate. 

Over at Old Town Coffee and Chocolates, you can nurse a half cup of sipping chocolate like a revolutionary ($2.95 for a small). It's not hot cocoa, and no marshmallows are required. Instead, it's thick, warm, not overly sweet and all that you hoped the chocolate fountain at your cousin's wedding would be. It is deeply satisfying enough to be dessert, but socially acceptable as a coffee break order. You can even get it with a shot of espresso (50 cents extra) — "Look at me, nose to the grindstone, fueling up for more hard work!"

Do not feel ripped off when you see the small portion in your mug — you could go with a large ($3.50), but not everyone's chocolate tolerance is high enough to withstand a full mug without cocoa-drunk-dialing all of his or her exes. Those colonials knew to take it easy with the stuff. The Historic Williamsburg website quotes the 1770 Virginia Almanac's cautionary words "warning 'the fair sex to be in a particular manner careful how they meddle with romances, chocolate, novels, and the like,' especially in the spring, as those were all 'inflamers' and 'very dangerous.'" Hear that, ladies? Crack open a novel and drink up.
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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Big, Green Monster

Posted By on Tue, Apr 8, 2014 at 11:09 AM

click to enlarge We're going to need a bigger boat. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • We're going to need a bigger boat.

A reader wrote in with a tip about the wet burrito at Tasty Tacos (3943 Walnut St, Eureka), saying the green sauce and the marinated chicken are amazing ($9). What the tipster didn't mention is the enormity of the thing, which the menu calls the biggest burrito in town. When it arrives, smothered in a perfectly tangy, green tomatillo sauce, as promised, it makes the plastic fork in your hand look like a baby's. Passing it across the table is like dragging a body.

Inside the blanket of soft tortilla are the usual suspects: rice, beans, cheese, sour cream, lettuce, salsa and beans. But the juicy, shredded chicken is all my informant promised it would be, slow-cooked in a verde sauce — the recipe for which the cook will not even share with her husband and business partner. 

click to enlarge Like a Zepplin. A delicious, saucy Zepplin. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Like a Zepplin. A delicious, saucy Zepplin.

Now, there are days when a mere mortal-sized burrito will not do. Maybe you're planning to split it with a friend. Maybe you've just finished a triathlon. Maybe you're just wearing loose pants. But something has shifted in your mind to allow you to order a burrito that could conceal an army, should you ever need to breach the gates of Troy. But perhaps today is not that day.

click to enlarge The namesake Tasty Taco. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • The namesake Tasty Taco.

Turn instead to the namesake Tasty Taco ($4). The large corn tortilla is freshly made — all soft and thick with ragged edges and grill marks — and flirting with being a Greek pita. Go with the green sauce and the chicken here, too, and enjoy the zing of the burrito while still being able to walk out of the shop unassisted. 


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Friday, April 4, 2014

Pie Hard

Posted By on Fri, Apr 4, 2014 at 10:46 AM

click to enlarge Real coconut cream pie. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Real coconut cream pie.

Pie takes a backseat to cake, largely because of its limited decorative possibilities — fancy latticed crust can't compete with buttercream roses and fondant zoo animals. If pie is going to do battle with cake, it can't show up as an elegant little sliver (don't bring a tart to a pie fight). It's got be be some serious pie.

My money's on the triumvirate of cream pies at Toni's ($3.99). (Scoff if you will at the truck-stop vibe, but the Thai truck took home best cooked oyster at the fest last year.) The crusts and fillings are made from scratch — that means flaky layers you actually want to eat all the way to the edges. The pies are brimming with great heaps of milk chocolate filling (take a break from dark for just a minute, will you), coconut filling with big shreds of the stuff, and vanilla custard with slices of fresh banana. On top of each broad wedge are peaks of whipped cream — which beats gummy fondant any day. 

click to enlarge Chocolate cream pie at Toni's. Yippee-pie-yay. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Chocolate cream pie at Toni's. Yippee-pie-yay.

The cream pies are especially good in pairs (coconut + chocolate/banana + chocolate/coconut + banana) or all  together (because what is there is no afterlife and this is it?). This means you may have to form an unsteady alliance with your fellow diner(s) and order all three. Your level of intimacy will determine whether you dart around from plate to plate with your fork or divide the pieces and slide individual portions gingerly onto your own plate. Either way, keep your friends close and your pie closer. 
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Thursday, April 3, 2014

Raise Your Glass

Posted By on Thu, Apr 3, 2014 at 3:02 PM

click to enlarge HUFFINGTON POST
  • Huffington Post

The National Brewers Association, having finally sobered up from trying all the craft beer in the land, has released its top 50 craft breweries in the country. Lost Coast Brewery made 37. (Pause for moment of local pride and hearty belch.) Check out the full list on the Huffington Post
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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em

Posted By on Tue, Apr 1, 2014 at 12:04 PM

click to enlarge Meat pile at Wild Oaks. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Meat pile at Wild Oaks.
I only ever see the plumes of smoke shooting up from the behemoth of a barbecue stand at the Eureka Veterans Hall when I've already eaten. So when we drove by last week on the way to lunch, I hollered at my colleague to pull over, which she did, Transporter style. Bracing.  

click to enlarge Belly up for pork belly. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Belly up for pork belly.

There are no sandwiches, no sides and no scales. What the Wild Oaks Grill does have is tri-tip, bacon, ribs, pork belly, brisket, yard bird (chicken) and pig ass (pulled pork). Proprietor Rob Dunn reaches through the black clouds puffing out of the Santa Maria-style grill and pulls out a foil-wrapped hunk of pork belly that's been smoked for five hours with salt, pepper, garlic and a little brown sugar. He slices off a trembling plank for us to sample — meltingly juicy meat striped with glistening fat that's caramelized at the edges. He squints at the cut, roughly the size of a hardcover airport novel, and says $20. Sold. My wheel-woman gets a hunk of tri-tip and a half chicken for $35. (Psst: The chicken steals the show.)

click to enlarge Yard bird hot from the grill. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Yard bird hot from the grill.

Dunn hauls his converted 1960s boat trailer to Hoby's Market in Scotia on Tuesdays, the Veterans Hall in Eureka on Wednesdays, the 76 station at 2698 Central Avenue in McKinlyeville on Thursdays and the Country Club Market in Eureka on Fridays. And judging from the pack tucked in the bib of his overalls, when he's not standing over a billowing stack of meat and a burning pile of split black oak, he's smoking a cigar. 

click to enlarge Keeping score on the back of the rig. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Keeping score on the back of the rig.



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