Friday, July 11, 2014

Frittered Away

Posted By on Fri, Jul 11, 2014 at 11:17 AM

click to enlarge Fried, dark and handsome. - DREW HYLAND
  • Drew Hyland
  • Fried, dark and handsome.

In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love the apple fritter at Happy Donuts ($2.75). Jane Austen would forgive me. After all, is this not the Mr. Darcy of doughnuts — Crusty and intimidating, a little puffed up and with no pleasing sprinkles. But the edges and imperfections of this great lump of a thing are encrusted with glaze and dotted with tiny, juicy bits of apple. It's not greasy and leaden, either, but browned and crispy. 

This enormous, landed cousin of the humble doughnut is a breakfast food, a dessert, an afternoon coffee treat and, if necessary, a kind of edible shield behind which you could hide your face if, like a moody hero, you were not feeling social. Sharing is probably wise, given the sheer mass of the fritter, but hangry people are not always wise. I'll just have a nibble, you think. Then you reach back into the bag and find it half empty. As Austen wrote of falling in love, "I was in the middle before I knew I had begun." 
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Saturday, July 5, 2014

Fo Schnitzel

Posted By on Sat, Jul 5, 2014 at 9:30 AM

click to enlarge Loosen your lederhosen — that's a lot of spaetzle. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Loosen your lederhosen — that's a lot of spaetzle.
Now that the US has been punted from the World Cup finals by Belgium, we could use a little comfort food. How about German? Too soon? Off to Stuf't Potato (if you haven't been, don't worry — it's not nearly as food-court as the name suggests) for German and Austrian soul food (3200 South Broadway, Eureka).

click to enlarge Schnitzel with a squeeze of lemon. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Schnitzel with a squeeze of lemon.
The Journal has received reliable intel regarding the weiner schnitzel, which sounds like sausage but is actually a pounded, breaded and fried pork cutlet ($11.25 a la carte). It's pinky-thin and tender, with a simple, crisp coating that's balanced by a squeeze of lemon and a dollop of cranberry preserve. On the side (yes, even a la cart) is more contrast in the form of a warm pile of pickley-sweet red cabbage. The fried potatoes are so perfectly browned and seasoned you will forget Americans put ketchup on them. A black pot full of fried spaetzle with a wooden stand showed up in front of the young man from Berlin at the next table ($7.95). I'll have what he's having. Buttery nubs of pasta pan fried with onion, parsley and gruyere cheese and topped with frizzled onion comes off  like a none-too-salty Teutonic mac and cheese. It's rustic and satisfying with the earthy and aromatic gruyere. As you dig into your own little cauldron, you might wonder why the Italians spend so much time turning pasta into fancy shapes.

click to enlarge This is why streudel is one of Julie Andrews' favorite things. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • This is why streudel is one of Julie Andrews' favorite things.
The Berliner recommends the Viennese apple streudel, which arrives hot and dusted with powdered sugar — don't blow on it or you'll cover everyone at your table ($3.95). The crust is soft and flaky on top, caramelized on the bottom and stuffed in the middle with firm, cinnamon spiced apples. Hell, ja


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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Little Devils

Posted By on Tue, Jun 17, 2014 at 10:34 AM

click to enlarge Dainty bites at Humboldt Smokehouse. - DREW HYLAND
  • Drew Hyland
  • Dainty bites at Humboldt Smokehouse.


You know that deviled egg recipe your aunt is so stingy with? Nobody wants it anymore. Instead we'll be trying to recreate the ones at Humboldt Smokehouse (310 Fifth St., Eureka), topped with house-smoked bacon or pork belly, barbecue sauce and green onions ($1, $1.50). They have the tiniest bits of tart pickle to balance the richness, and, as my companion pointed out, they would be perfect with a cocktail. Which is weirder, bringing your martini into a barbecue joint, or bringing your own hors d'oeuvres to a bar?

click to enlarge Sexiest $4 sandwich ever. - DREW HYLAND
  • Drew Hyland
  • Sexiest $4 sandwich ever.

My only complaint about the joint up until now has been the staff's inability to save me from myself. Because as delicious as it is, the Cincinnati burnt ends sandwich — piled with smoky chunks of meltingly fatty beef brisket — is too much for me to finish comfortably and too good for me to choose comfort ($10 with a side). The children's sandwich, however, with half the meat — still a solid fistful — and a slice of smoked cheddar on a sesame bun, is just as delicious, but doesn't leave me incapacitated ($4). Is this really a child's portion? Michelle Obama may disagree, but if she tucks a napkin into her cardigan and takes a bite, she's not gonna stay mad. 
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Saturday, June 14, 2014

Shell Shock

Posted By on Sat, Jun 14, 2014 at 7:37 PM

click to enlarge The gauntlet of judges. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • The gauntlet of judges.

It was a rough room. At both ends of the long table in the window at Mazzotti's on the Arcata Plaza, judges were bemoaning an entry with over-seasoned and undercooked bread and wondering aloud who would plate up closed clams for a competition. The annual competition for best raw and cooked oyster, as well as non-oyster dish, was four contestants in. Judge and local caterer Brett Shuler, in his white chef's jacket, a pair of sunglasses on his head, surveyed the plates and shells on the table. "We haven't had our minds blown yet," he said.

click to enlarge You say potato, I say oyster— dressed with bacon and bleu cheese. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • You say potato, I say oyster— dressed with bacon and bleu cheese.

A volunteer swooped in with a tray of Thai oyster shooters with chopped lemongrass, setting off a buzz in the room. Some liked the dainty shot glasses, but the tartness and texture were overpowering for others. Shuler compared eating the bits of lemongrass to "chewing on toenails."

Last year's table chatter was far more forgiving, possibly because the panel was stacked with more pros this time around. Cherilyn Neider of Greenway Partners, the consulting agency that's set to hand the operations of Arcata Main Street back over to its own board any time now, said the selection process for judges changed this year. Greenway, she says, encouraged sponsors to send judges who are "interested in oysters, have no allergies and are willing to try a lot of things." Coast Seafoods, for example, sent chef Stacy Chatfield of Verbena Catering and Specialty Cakes. Neider said organizers had hoped to have a people's choice award, but it wasn't possible this time around.

A withdrawn entry left a gap in the schedule, scattering the judges, some for a beer or a glass of wine next door at Libation. Neider said judges were supposed to wait until after the competition to drink, but everyone returned from the short break in pretty good shape. Enormous Pacifics came dressed as baked potatoes, topped with bacon, bleu cheese butter and potato chips, and an elaborate model of the ruins of Atlantis circled a clutch of raw oysters hidden under a quail egg, sea urchin, at least three kinds of fish eggs and flecks of gold leaf. It drew gasps and camera phones.

click to enlarge The most Vegas presentation of the day. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • The most Vegas presentation of the day.

Josh Wiley of Abruzzi called foul on the Atlantis entry (dubbed "Lost Riches Under the Sea"), saying he doubted whether the same dish was being shelled out on the plaza to the commoners. This led to a spirited discussion of the cost per plate. Worse than talk of disqualification was the suspicion of Costco seaweed salad in a non-oyster entry with raw tuna and avocado. Todd Lawson of the Shanty, formerly of Larrupin and Abruzzi, said that while it wasn't bad, it was "like something you'd get at the airport."

The pulled pork slider took a beating, too, with former Arcata mayor Connie Stewart recognizing her favorite barbecue sauce, which she recommends on nearly everything, and calling out, "I'm gonna say the meanest thing I've said all day: I do a better job with his sauce. He should come to my house."

click to enlarge The darling of the critics, with hamachi and masago. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • The darling of the critics, with hamachi and masago.

A raw Goose Point oyster topped with hamachi salad, masago and sesame ginger vinagrette won some of the hardest hearts on the panel, eliciting silence, then the scratching of pencils. Hot on its heels was a barbecued oyster blanketed with a warm and creamy cashew-mint butter, lemon and shiso by the same entrant. The risky combination emerged as a close second favorite for the day. Once she had all the ballots, Neider sat down to tally with another organizer — Sushi Spot won both the raw and cooked categories with its hamachi and cashew entries, while Kyoto won best non-oyster with its Korean-style Kobe beef skewers. Their duties finished, the judges headed onto the plaza, where the party was picking up with stilt walkers, giant puppets and people lined up for some fresh oysters — maybe with a little garlic and butter.

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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Grown-ass Cookie

Posted By on Wed, May 7, 2014 at 11:22 AM

click to enlarge Quiet. Grown-ups are eating. - DREW HYLAND
  • Drew Hyland
  • Quiet. Grown-ups are eating.
Down on the bottom shelf of the cookie case at Ramone's are the kiddie treats — animal cut-outs sprinkled with sparkly sugar and such. Up top is where they keep the chocolate drop cookie sprinkled with sea salt ($1). It's
dark, brownie-soft, lumpy with chocolate chips and falls apart a bit. Don't try to dunk it; that will only end in tears. The salt — few coarse crystals on top — brings the butteriness and sweetness into relief the way it does in fancy caramel. Don't pretend you're over salted caramel. Nobody is buying it. 

This is not a cookie for the kids. Sure, you could broaden their palates, expose them to sophisticated flavors, blah, blah. Or you could keep this for yourself. After all, you vote for things other than American Idol. You deserve a cookie. So when they give you the puppy eyes and ask what you've got there in your little paper bag, look the kids in the eye and tell them that just like swearing, black coffee and The Walking Dead, it's for grown-ups. 
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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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