Friday, October 17, 2014

France, Italy, Texas

Posted By on Fri, Oct 17, 2014 at 1:59 PM

click to enlarge No syrup required. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • No syrup required.

Nothing ever got worse because somebody spooned mascarpone cheese on it. It's like the missing link between whipped cream and cream cheese. Thanks, Italy. Case in point: the French toast at Benbow Inn ($14; 445 Lake Benbow Drive, Garberville). If the weather's nice, order it on the veranda overlooking the bridge. Just nibble at the biscuits and scones that come out with your coffee and have a moment of silence for your Paleo friends, because their sacrifice is real. Thick slabs of Texas toast (oh, Texas, I can't stay mad at you), already crisp and buttery outside, hot and custardy inside, are topped with a hefty scoop of mascarpone blended into whipped cream, balancing the tartness of fresh raspberries. The fluffy dollop glides meltingly down the ramp of bread, threatening to mingle with the applewood-smoked bacon and making you forget all about that little cup of syrup to the side of your plate. 
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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

One Piece Won't Kill You

Posted By on Tue, Oct 14, 2014 at 11:10 AM

click to enlarge Looks bloody good. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Looks bloody good.


Ramone's is icing these Dexter-esque desserts for the season. It's the house chocolate layer cake with seasonal gore. 
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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Slow Mocha

Posted By on Tue, Sep 23, 2014 at 10:03 AM

click to enlarge You've got a little whipped cream on your nose. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • You've got a little whipped cream on your nose.

Is that rain? Quick, run into Café Mokka (495 J St., Arcata), slide into a window seat and watch the back garden get all misty. We can't afford to waste wet days anymore, so make your mocha a double ($3.10). There is no pit crew of headset-wearing baristas, and you are not going to slug this down one-handed while you drive. This one comes in a two-hands cup, brimming with homemade whipped cream and dusted with cocoa and sugar. Do you think freshly whipped cream doesn't matter? Well, everyone is entitled to his or her opinion and taste is subjective, but you are wrong. So very wrong. Taste the real thing and think on your sins. There are also no mysterious containers of whatever-the-hell-accino mix and no cloying syrups. Just two shots of espresso, steamed milk and a generous scoop of Guittard chocolate (note the little melted lump at the bottom of the cup) that make for an old-fashioned, bittersweet mocha to sip while you watch the trees drip on the path outside. 
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Friday, September 12, 2014

Cremini!

Posted By on Fri, Sep 12, 2014 at 10:02 AM

click to enlarge The real thing at Because Coffee. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • The real thing at Because Coffee.

Real cream of mushroom soup has been so thoroughly overshadowed by the Warhol-esque army of cans at the market that we no longer remember the original. Instead, we recall the sound of the congealed stuff, its vacuum suck and plop into the pot. Not that we don't love Aunt Martha's green bean casserole when it comes around, or the legion of other back-of-the-can recipes that call for it, but enough. Retrain yourself to expect more.

Frankly, I scooted down to Because Coffee (corner of F and Third streets, Eureka) to get the evangelical fans of the cream of mushroom soup off my back. For $3.75 you get a cup that is really a bowl — earthy and herby with shallots and heavy on the thyme. There's a white wine or sherry flavor and enough minced cremini mushrooms to make a little heap in every spoonful. Best of all, there is cream. Real cream that's not in the least bit goopy.

Sit on the rust velvet sofa with your winkingly mismatched china and pretend you are reading one of the brainy books left on the coffee table. Nobody has to know about the trashy novel on your nightstand or those cans of soup in your cupboard.
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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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