Sunday, June 28, 2015

Chile vs. Chile: Eureka

Posted By on Sun, Jun 28, 2015 at 5:21 PM

Our epic quest to find Humboldt County's best chile relleno got underway this week, with gustatory explorations on Tuesday and Thursday. Our criteria for a good relleno? Stem in, naturally. Poblano pepper or nada. Good ratio of batter to cheese to pepper, with no one aspect reigning supreme. And whatever the Spanish version of je ne sais quoi is, that x factor that takes the dish from sufficient to sabroso.


TUESDAY
Esmeralda's Mexican Food, 328 Grotto St., Eureka.

The friendly, tattooed waitress assured us that "her mom makes the best chile relleno." Nepotism aside, our first bite revealed she just might be right. Cheese was soft and oozy, complementing the puffy, brown batter and the perfectly cooked pepper. There was a nice bite to the pepper, with a sweet burn of an aftertaste. Not bitter, not too hot. The kind of pepper you want to try when you're looking to level up on your spicy game.

A forkful of Esmeralda's chile relleno. - DREW HYLAND
  • Drew Hyland
  • A forkful of Esmeralda's chile relleno.

THURSDAY
Pachanga, 1802 Fifth St, Eureka.

So much cheese. We love cheese. Nice, eggy batter. Fantastic, zippy, tomatillo sauce. Ultimately, though, the cheese (stringier and a little more mozzarella-y than Esmeralda's) overwhelmed both batter and pepper. Points for atmosphere: friendly attentive waitresses, a kid's corner and lots of ladies who look like they know what they're doing sweating in the open kitchen. We get why this spot is a local favorite.

Pachanga's does not skimp on cheese. - DREW HYLAND
  • Drew Hyland
  • Pachanga's does not skimp on cheese.

And the winner is ... Esmeralda's! It's hard to override our love of cheese, but when it comes to the yo no se que (figured out the translation) of a good relleno, Esmeralda's nails it.

Next week:Eureka Part II. Where should we try? What spots deserve to go head to head against Esmeralda's in the bracket? Let us know here, on Facebook or Twitter. #humboldtsbestchilerelleno
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Friday, June 5, 2015

Boathouse Barbecue

Posted By on Fri, Jun 5, 2015 at 3:21 PM

Sunshine, ribs and pulled pork. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Sunshine, ribs and pulled pork.
Barbecue has gotten a little esoteric. At once secretive and boastful, the macho hype surrounding the grill can make you long for the simple sweetness of pork cooked low and slow without all the fuss. This is a good time to swing into King Salmon for hole-in-the-wall Polynesian barbecue at Sammy's BBQ & Catering (1125 King Salmon Ave.). Two meats and two sides will run you $12. 


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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Á la Truck

Posted By on Wed, May 27, 2015 at 11:10 AM

Crepes rolling out of the Hum Grown Grindz truck. - DREW HYLAND
  • Drew Hyland
  • Crepes rolling out of the Hum Grown Grindz truck.
The appeal of a crepe is its delicate nature. Sure, you love the lumberjack-powering stack of flapjacks meant to send you off to either haul timber or drop back into bed like a felled tree. But crepes are the pancake’s refined French cousin, impractical, requiring special pans. Crepes are art for art’s sake.

Yes, those are little sliders and crepe fixings all on one tiny range. - DREW HYLAND
  • Drew Hyland
  • Yes, those are little sliders and crepe fixings all on one tiny range.
Hum Grown Grindz, the red food truck that can be found lately parked at Bigfoot Supply in Willow Creek (41212 State Route 299) seems an unlikely source, but it’s cranking out both sweet and savory varieties. The chicken chipotle pesto crepe is so stuffed it’s thinking about being a burrito ($9). Did you get the wrong order? No, it’s supposed to be that creamy, and with the basil, garlic and a little smoky heat, the sauce and tender chicken hit all the buttons. And so pretty! It’s easily the fanciest thing you’ve gotten out of a truck in some time. The crepe itself is substantial enough to hold all that filling, pleasantly egg-y and moist. In fact, it still holds together after a car ride back to Eureka, where office mates descended like a starving French mob on the leftovers, which were still delicious.

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Friday, May 22, 2015

Reubenesque

Posted By on Fri, May 22, 2015 at 11:47 AM

A sandwich worth defending. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • A sandwich worth defending.

It's hard to look classy whilst cramming a big, grilled, cheesy, pastrami-packed Reuben into your mouth. And there are days when you want the taste of the sandwich, but maybe not the heart flutters afterward. Your solution is at Nourish Bistro & Catering (518 Henderson St., Eureka). Order up a Reuben at the counter and try not to be distressed when you are asked about your choice of bread, cheese and dressing ($8.50). Apparently there are those who want to tweak the classic, and that's their lifestyle choice. But maybe we need to address some actual issues and draft a Defense of Reubens Act that defines this American institution as a hot sandwich on rye bread with pastrami, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and thousand island dressing. Do what you will in your own home, but you can't call it a Reuben without hurting all Reubens.

Ahem. Nourish's version, cut into sharp wedges, is downright minimalist. This is not the daunting monolith you faced on your visit to New York — the tower of meat teetering to one side, a flimsy slice of bread stranded at the top like Faye Wray. Instead, it's toasty, swirly rye bread with a reasonable handful of satisfyingly salty Premier pastrami, sauerkraut and a swipe of thousand island. Piping hot so you can taste the fat of the meat, which is cut just enough with the tart kraut, it is a taste of the real thing that you can eat with dignity in your distressed, white shabby chic chair.

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Friday, May 15, 2015

Flat Out

Posted By on Fri, May 15, 2015 at 2:02 PM

Tacos and flautas at La Partia Solis. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Tacos and flautas at La Partia Solis.

You think you're happy with the damp circle of particle board that is a packaged tortilla. And maybe you are. But a fresh, handmade corn or flour tortilla with its uneven edges and its delicate chewiness is to the hard-edged pre-packaged kind as a crackling, oven-warm baguette is to a slice of Wonder. Sure, there's a time and place for the mass-produced stuff (late at night, with a jar of Nutella, under the cold scrutiny of your cat). But up against homemade? It's not even a fair fight.

Two crews of happy, well-fed construction workers ambled out of La Patria Solis (1718 Fourth St., Eureka) yesterday. According to the waitress, everybody got the pastor and asada tacos ($2.49 each). The homemade corn tortillas are soft, warm and thick, cradling handfuls of chopped grilled steak with onion and cilantro. The asada has a little char to it, and the red marinade of the pastor is tangy and spicy, playing nicely off the sweet corn tortilla.

Wait, the flour tortillas are homemade, too? We're getting flautas — beef, because I think one of those construction guys got the last of the lengua ($2.79 each). They come with sides, but you can order them a la carte and they'll show up with some grilled onions on the side and a hefty dollop of sour cream and queso fresco on top. The cigar-like rolls are still tender, not over-fried, and the flavor of the tortilla reminds you why you will never really break up with white flour. Let the cat judge you for that.


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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Southern Comfort

Posted By on Tue, Apr 28, 2015 at 1:00 PM

Kentucky Derby pie comes with a kick of Bourbon. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Kentucky Derby pie comes with a kick of Bourbon.

This far northwest, Southern cooking is exotic. Slice of Humboldt Pie (Redwood Acres, 3750 Harris St., Eureka), in its rotating menu of sweets and savories, features a pair of dueling southerners. First there is the Kentucky Derby pie ($20), which is essentially a walnut pie that got drunk on Bourbon at the track. The crust (part butter, part shortening) is flaky and buttery, holding up at the edges but shattering at the press of a fork — perfect. The filling is similar to pecan pie, but with the touch of walnut bitterness and a scattering of dark chocolate chips at the bottom to offset the sticky sweetness. And it's as boozy as a hug from your Uncle Charlie at the tail end of a wedding.
Peanut butter chess pie is a dessert fit for the King. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Peanut butter chess pie is a dessert fit for the King.
The more Elvis offering is the peanut butter chess pie ($18). Chess pie is that Southern dessert that embraces sweetness to the point of a diabetic dare. The filling is the gooey goodness between the nuts of a pecan pie without the nuts. Peanut butter mixed into the filling and a layer of chocolate ganache give the pie more substance and flavor. But the scratch-made crust and filling elevate it beyond the standard Woman's Day candy bar pie that makes your teeth ache at a church bazaar. Right now you have to place an order 24 hours in advance for a pie, but by this summer you will be slave to your impulses when Bittersweet, the walk-in establishment the bakers will share with the Local Cider Bar, opens in Arcata. You are warned.
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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Spamtastic

Posted By on Wed, Apr 22, 2015 at 4:52 PM

Think pink. - GRANT SCOTT-GOFORTH
  • Grant Scott-Goforth
  • Think pink.
If you are comfortable enough with your identity and tastes and can say loud and proud that you enjoy some fried Spam, congratulations on stepping into the light. (And you may want to hit up the Spamley Cup competition this weekend.) If not, stop lying to yourself. Take the first steps toward self-acceptance at the Alibi (744 Ninth St., Arcata). On "Trailer Park Mondays," as noted on the laminated specials menu, a Spam burger can be yours for $6. Two thick, round-edged slabs of the pink stuff arrive with cartoon grill marks on a grilled whole wheat bun. Whole wheat. (Tosses head back, spins in chair, cackling.) Do you want the lettuce, pickles and raw onion on the side? Maybe. The mayo in the little, white cup? Likely. The meat is soft and salty, the fat enlivened by grilling, all of which is nicely matched by the sweetness of the bun. Sure, the iconic canned lunch meat is full of iffy chemicals and so processed that we need a new word for processed. But in that rare moment when home-pickled organic beets just won't satisfy that 1950s bomb-shelter cuisine itch, the Spam burger is the way to scratch.
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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Eat America First

Posted By on Tue, Apr 14, 2015 at 11:59 AM

Pulled pork tastes like freedom. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Pulled pork tastes like freedom.

The standard sub at Z & J Asian Subs (2336 Third St., Eureka) isn't so much a Vietnamese bánh mì as an American barbecue sandwich that spent a semester abroad and came back with pickled carrots, cucumbers, cilantro and sriracha sauce. Call it inauthentic, make fun of its souvenir beaded necklace, but you can't fight it — the thing is delicious. And when you've fallen down a Target hole, wandering the aisles of storage tubs and owl-shaped cookie jars well past lunchtime, it will save you from hunger and consumer despair.

But if you need to hear the majestic screams of bald eagles over your lunch, order the Southern pulled pork sandwich ($6.99). The trucker-handful of pork is smoked for 12 hours before it's shredded, tossed with barbecue sauce and scooped along with some red wine vinegar coleslaw onto a toasted brioche bun swiped with lime and chipotle mayonnaise. The brioche (OK, that's a little French, but so is a lot of the South) holds the mess together, but tuck a napkin in your shirt just in case. 
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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Bavarians at the Gate

Posted By on Tue, Mar 17, 2015 at 11:01 AM

Tomato-basil, spinach-feta and apple strudel pretzels. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Tomato-basil, spinach-feta and apple strudel pretzels.
Ever sit at your desk with a rumbling stomach wishing your office had sandwich delivery like in old movies? Or that some kind of lunch fairy could bring you food? Turns out that is a thing that can happen, but with a twist. Well, a lot of twists. As in pretzels. No, not the gangly ropes of dry bread you gnaw at a ballgame. These are plump knots of soft, warm dough that stretch apart in a way that reminds you why you haven't given up gluten. Get  an order of 10 or so together and Royal Bavarian Brezen (476-3920) will show up in the form of Alexandra Hierhager, the lederhosen-clad, basket wielding woman who wakes at 4 a.m. to bake her mother's recipe from (surprise) Bavaria — a magical land of mellifluous German and bountiful pastries. 
Frau Hierhager mit ihrem Brezeln. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Frau Hierhager mit ihrem Brezeln.
The basic salt pretzel ($3.50) satisfies like a bagel, but the other varieties are legion. The basket overflows (that woman is stronger than she looks) with savory and sweet options from jalapeño to chocolate and peanut butter ($4.50 or three for $10). Both the tomato, mozzarella and basil pretzel and the spinach, feta and Monterey jack one are generously topped and as satisfying as sandwiches. The apple strudel pretzel is full of cinnamon and fruit, but with a bagel's chewiness and vanilla frosting. Eating a pretzel lunch is the team building exercise your office has been waiting for.
A basket of Bavarian bounty. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • A basket of Bavarian bounty.


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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Duck, Duck, Bacon

Posted By on Tue, Mar 10, 2015 at 11:31 AM

Lunch is duck season. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Lunch is duck season.
Not every business lunch calls for the classic steak and Martinis, and not all of us can return to work after that sort of thing. Choosing where to break bread and make deals can be high pressure. Don't sweat it — you'll ruin your suit. (Kidding, Humboldt. Work hoodie, whatever.)

The duck B.L.T.A. at Plaza Grill (780 Seventh St., Arcata) says, "I'm refined but down-to-earth," and, "I'm not broke/desperate, but I won't spend your money like a Kardashian with a champagne buzz, either" ($13). It's not duck bacon exactly, but smoked duck in thick, hammy slices on soft, toasty sourdough with avocado, lettuce, tomato, caramelized onions and garlic aioli. It's smoky and gamey and not a bit dry — everything you love about an old-fashioned BLT plus the luxurious gaminess of duck, which is kind of having a moment right now. 

Not the sad tuna sandwich you had at your desk yesterday. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Not the sad tuna sandwich you had at your desk yesterday.
For a while among the power elite, seared tuna was the new steak. (It was the fat-free '90s; eating red meat in front of people was akin to shooting up in a restaurant.) The seared Ahi tuna sandwich is bringing it back, but it won't wave any red flags on your expenses ($13). A ciabatta roll swiped with sriracha mayonnaise is piled with chunks of grilled tuna — sushi-pink in the center and crusted with sesame outside — and topped with a light Asian slaw. Pro tip: You might want to order your slaw on the side if you want to eat at a leisurely pace without a soggy bun. And if your lunch partner wisely swaps in the sweet potato fries, keep it professional and don't pick off his or her plate. Some people hate that. 
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