Food

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Hotsy Totsy

Posted By on Wed, Nov 15, 2017 at 2:00 PM

Youth and Tater Tots are wasted on the young. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Youth and Tater Tots are wasted on the young.

School cafeteria lunches don't have their bad reputation for nothing. Those of a certain age remember when ketchup was declared a vegetable and meatless Fridays meant frozen fish sticks or pale, Styrofoam-y squares of pizza. Still, did you secretly revel in those fish sticks and their accompanying tartar sauce packets? Was there shameful pleasure to be had on Sloppy Joe day even as you groaned over your Melamine tray with your classmates? Perhaps. But one staple of the hairnet set inspires unabashed nostalgia and occasional TV-adjacent binging: the Tater Tot.

Essentially cork-sized hash browns, they are a perfect frozen finger food, crisp, savory and soft. To resist a hot pan of tots is to resist the joy within your grasp. If you don't have children whose plates you can prey upon, you might be missing out on the adult enjoyment of Tater Tots.

Enter the Mad River Brewing Co.'s (101 Taylor Way, Blue Lake) Loaded Tots ($8). Unlike the ones you dutifully dump onto a baking sheet, these are deep fried for an audible crunch, liberally doused with cheddar cheese, sour cream, green onions and a mix of minced bell, Serrano and habañero peppers. The little jolts of fresh pepper preserve the illusion of maturity as you regress to junior high-era munching, mining for cheese and scooping up sour cream. The heat also makes these a bit much for small children. That's OK. They'll get plenty at school.


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Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Don't Drive Hangry

Posted By on Tue, Nov 7, 2017 at 10:14 AM

Left to right: The shrimp and buche tacos from Tacos El Gallo. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Left to right: The shrimp and buche tacos from Tacos El Gallo.

You wouldn't think a slick, black truck edged with flames and emblazoned with a majestic rooster in profile would be hard to find. And yet, there I was, circling the Broadway Cinema parking lot, cursing the person who'd recommended the Tacos El Gallo truck (a film reviewer who shall remain nameless and who, it turns out, drove around hangry at the coworkers who'd recommended it to him the first time he tried the tacos).


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Saturday, October 21, 2017

Fancy Toast and Bacon

Posted By on Sat, Oct 21, 2017 at 2:00 PM

Pork fat for the soul. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Pork fat for the soul.

Depending on the day you've had, a cocktail may or may not cover it — even if it comes with "intention," like those on the bar menu full of essential oil-spiked concoctions at the Griffin (937 10th St., Arcata). Might they be where the room's pleasantly herbal fragrance is coming from? In any case, despite the conspicuous absence of previously available Taco Faktory offerings on the menu, comfort can still be had.

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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

La Vie en Duck Fat

Posted By on Wed, Sep 27, 2017 at 4:40 PM

Crispy elk wontons worth the leap. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Crispy elk wontons worth the leap.

When the erstwhile bistro Zoe's newly installed wood fire oven went cold, it seemed that once again you could find anything in Henderson Center (coffee, bike repairs, mole, a haircut, a drink, Japanese kitchen gadgets, Lao rice cakes) except a starched white tablecloth. Then Le Monde (2850 F St., Eureka), a French venture by chef Alex Begovic of Uniquely Yours Catering, popped up in the renovated space, snapping out the linens. The enormous Elizabeth Berrien wire tree has been replaced by black and white photos of family in France, Matt Beard paintings on the opposite wall and a few sound absorbent panels to take the edge off the echo in the large space.

Early on a recent evening, the talk at the next table was about how to share and taste everything. Easy enough to split a plate of elk wontons ($12). It's a leap of faith — if you've been burned by limp dumplings or, god forbid, bland kimchee at a French place dipping its toes into miscellaneous Asian flavors, those scars are real. The risk is rewarded here with crunchy envelopes loosely packed with enough flavorful ground meat to stand up to a house made Chinese five spice and an equally fragrant dipping soy and honey sauce.

Duck confit just like Maman used to make. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Duck confit just like Maman used to make.

The menu touts duck leg confit ($19) from a family recipe, and how do you refuse that with the ancestors themselves looking down at you from the wall? It arrives browned and glistening, the meat firm and rich from a round of salt curing and cooking low and slow in its own fat. Be warned that if you peel away the soft, delicious skin and leave it on your plate I will know and I will judge you with the same stern expression as the French men in the photograph. The duck sits atop a mound of mashed tiny purple potatoes, some of which are still whole in their pleasantly mineral skins. Do we even recognize Brussels sprouts served whole anymore? These are bright green globes, glossy from a tumble in that duck fat — a relief (I can't believe I'm saying this but this is where we are) from the ubiquitous crisp-roasted-with-bacon variety.

Lemon creme brulee. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Lemon creme brulee.

There was murmuring from a nearby table about the blackberry soufflé but the "creme brulee of the moment" ($7) won out: a lemon version perfumed with zest rather than the tang of juice, with a bittersweet crackle of caramel to counter the none-too-sweet custard. The chiming of spoons against ramekins was an echo nobody seemed to mind.

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Monday, September 11, 2017

All That and a Pile of Gaufrettes

Posted By on Mon, Sep 11, 2017 at 10:58 AM

The brie and honey runneth over. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • The brie and honey runneth over.

Maybe you are among the economically wise and self-disciplined folks who bring lunch to work. Even you, my fiscally responsible friend, will slip eventually — oversleeping, running out of bread, spending more than your usual 15 minutes gazing into the existential abyss of your closet — and head out without your brown bag/reusable beeswax cloth pouch. By the time you buy a sandwich and chips, you're already in $8, and by the time you're done peering through the salad bar sneeze guard, maneuvering tongs over the baby corn and couscous, you'll likely spend the same. (Those garbanzo beans are heavy.)

If you have the luxury of leaving work for lunch (moment of silence for those trapped with a cup of yogurt and some kind of energy bar), consider treating yourself instead of rolling around in the hair shirt of lunch expenditure shame. You might try forgiving yourself with the grilled cheese ($10) at Five Eleven (511 Second St., Eureka). Melted brie makes a run for it out the sides of a soft homemade roll that's been grilled inside-out for a buttery, crisp exterior that's close to deep frying without going full Elvis. A drizzle of honey plays against the molten brie, its earthy rind and the char on the bread. The heap of hot, gaufrettes, latticed and satisfyingly crunchy, may ruin you for packaged potato chips for a little while, so enjoy them now.
JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

The polar opposite is the chilled prawn panzanella ($10), a grilled bread salad with cucumber, tomato, fennel and the zing of radish and red onion, all tossed with a spicy vinaigrette. It's the sort of thing one imagines eating at a fancy spa that doesn't demand you exercise. Continue the vibe with the spring asparagus soup ($4 cup, $6 bowl) that lingers on the menu through late summer. Pale and light, its creaminess is offset with bright lemon that makes it utterly fresh.


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Monday, August 21, 2017

Welcome to the Neighborhood

Posted By on Mon, Aug 21, 2017 at 2:54 PM

Good tacos make good neighbors. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Good tacos make good neighbors.

Let us pause to appreciate the neighborhood taco truck. True, the trucks parked beside your favorite watering holes are doing the Lord's work, putting tasty, blessedly absorbent food in our bellies when most we need it. But get caught up in yard work past lunch or come home from work to a crisper full of wilted greens and the truck down the block may as well be an ambulance.

The cheery, red Tacos La Bonita truck has taken up residence on the corner of Spear Avenue and Alliance Road in Arcata (1499 Spear Ave., Arcata) with its fancy new appliances, presumably raising property values. With students back in town, expect a bigger crowd at the window. On a recent visit, Jackie Garcia glanced at her mother, Ms. Silva, who does all the "real" cooking — the meats, beans and sauces her daughter assembles into tacos and burritos — and said they'll be there every day, but for a few festivals and events.

Chicken tinga sopes with green salsa. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Chicken tinga sopes with green salsa.

A carnitas taco ($2.50) comes with onion and cilantro on a pliant homemade tortilla, the meat tender and simply seasoned. If the homemade tortilla is, for you, the real star of a soft taco, follow your heart to the sopes ($4). The thicker hand-formed masa patty, crispy outside and soft inside, is fried to order and topped with a scoop of the spicy, vermillion chicken tinga, creamy refried beans, avocado and crumbled queso fresco. Tart green salsa is a fine choice here. And just like that, it's a beautiful day in the neighborhood.
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Monday, August 14, 2017

Meet Me Out Back

Posted By on Mon, Aug 14, 2017 at 4:52 PM

Chipotle tacos have a lot going on. In a good way. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Chipotle tacos have a lot going on. In a good way.

If you're looking for some industrial realness, the narrow lot behind Redwood Curtain Brewery (550 S G St, Arcata) is primed for your Instagram feed. There you'll find palettes stacked with malt sucks, hulking silver brewing tanks and the fire engine-red Loco Fish Co. truck.

The truck parks there seven days a week from roughly 12:30 to 8 p.m., pushing breaded fish and chips, fish tacos, fried oysters, calamari strips and the occasional poke out of its window, mostly to brewery patrons looking to offset their IPA consumption. The chipotle fish tacos come on grilled flour tortillas stuffed with blackened rockfish, a ruddy sauté of red and green peppers with smoky spice, mild salsa and mild cabbage slaw drizzled with chipotle mayonnaise ($10). It's a lot going on compared to the stripped down Mexican original you may have shown up craving — and if your shirt makes it out unscathed, I applaud you — but it works.
Psst: You can take your piping hot puppies inside the brewery. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Psst: You can take your piping hot puppies inside the brewery.

Treat yourself to the Beer Puppies ($3), hush puppies so named because they go well with a brew. Maybe two orders if you're sharing. The red-headed fellow at the grill, Chris Taylor, uses his Georgia-born grandfather's recipe, which you can watch him whip up to order, measuring some ingredients with spoons, others in fistfuls. Made with coarse ground cornmeal and green onions, the fried dollops are not the usual tight lumps but impossibly airy and moist inside with a crisp exterior you almost don't want to besmirch with sauce, as pickle-tart and creamy as the dill-heavy Russian dressing is.
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Sunday, August 6, 2017

Summer Checklist

Posted By on Sun, Aug 6, 2017 at 1:40 PM

Avast! The Captain's Platter. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Avast! The Captain's Platter.

We need a term for the sudden panic at the start of August when we realize summer is finite and we have not yet had all the fun. It was this wave of recreational anxiety that led us to Lighthouse Plaza (180 Lupin Drive, Arcata) for mini golf in the shadow of a Bunyon-esque lumberjack. Sunshine, beachy breezes, ice cream and, hey, a pop-up tent in the parking lot selling barbecue.

Seasmoke Barbeque's "captain" Chris Armstrong plans to set up the smoker there on weekends, as well as upcoming festivals like Hops in Humboldt. Still, call ahead (267-4957) or check Facebook before you drive out because there is no disappointment like barbecue disappointment.

Seasmoke has no secret ingredients, no gimmicky presentation or hook. Its Captain's Platter ($20) is a pile of three meats — brisket, pulled pork and pork spare ribs— with a scoop of slaw and some baked beans in a paper box. You may have to dig the ribs out from the bottom. Grab extra napkins. Once you unearth them, they are leaner than expected but still tender and seasoned with a straightforward rub of brown sugar, salt, pepper, cumin, paprika and cayenne. The same rub gives a caramelized crust to the un-sauced pulled pork, which comes apart in your fingers and tastes rich and smoky from low-and-slow cooking. The 12-hour brisket is even simpler, seasoned only with salt, pepper and garlic. Cut into chunks rather than slices, some edge pieces are tougher than others but the flavor is deep. You'll need to search your own feelings as to whether to apply the tart, spicy, brick-colored sauce.

And there you are, way ahead on your summer bucket list.



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Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Doughnuts Rising

Posted By on Tue, Jul 4, 2017 at 10:00 AM

I'm your huckleberry. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • I'm your huckleberry.
Sit-down doughnut options are too few and far between. And yet the doughnut should be a legitimate breakfast option alongside bacon and eggs, pancakes and waffles. Drive-thru doughnut shops are necessary because sometimes time is of the essence, people. But can we not give this glorious, unifying food that crosses all social and political boundaries its due with some plates and tablecloths?
Serious doughnuts. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Serious doughnuts.
McIntosh Farm Country Store (1264 Giuntoli Lane, Arcata) may not do tablecloths but it takes the humble doughnut seriously and allows you space to enjoy them with more dignity than your car or the office breakroom. The selection is limited but significant, fresh fruit glazes, lemon and apple fillings and cinnamon sugar among them. The yeasty doughnuts themselves are springy, chewier and denser than the typical cake or old fashioned, with a crisp edge. The swipe of strawberry glaze is like the frosting incarnation of strawberry ice cream and the huckleberry is pleasingly tart with bits of berry ($1.99). If you are torn between trying a doughnut or that plate of bacon and eggs, the maple glazed with none-too-sweet apple filling and pieces of crisp, still warm bacon on top has you covered ($2.50). And possibly covered if you don't eat carefully because that is a lot of filling.

No frosting required. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • No frosting required.
On a recent visit, I nearly missed the pan of cinnamon rolls ($3.99) just out of the oven and cooling atop the pastry case. (PSA: Tall people, use your privilege in these moments to alert the small in stature to the presence of baked goods they might not be able to see. Thank you.) No icing required — they are soft, buttery spirals with an audible crunch of brown sugar.


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Friday, June 30, 2017

Naughty

Posted By on Fri, Jun 30, 2017 at 1:05 PM

Start with the fork if you like, but you're kidding yourself. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Start with the fork if you like, but you're kidding yourself.

Let's not pretend names don't matter. This week Ferndale's favorite foodie son Guy Fieri revealed that his trademark Donkey Sauce — principal export of Flavortown — is just aioli. It's hard to know whether we should feel duped or just relieved on behalf of donkeys. And did aioli really need rebranding? Naming is a tricky business, the pitfalls of which include over-hyping and forced cheekiness. (See every cocktail you ordered when you turned 21.)

Humboldt Sweets Bakery and Cafe (614 Main Street, Ferndale), where Fieri and his Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives crew have filmed, sells out of its playfully named Knotty Buns ($5) if you don't get there early enough on the weekend. What appears to be a jam-topped brioche is actually a knot (we see what you did there) of cinnamon roll dough scraps — flaky at the edges, streaked with cinnamon and glaze — anchored by a cream cheese center and topped with a dollop of jammy raspberry sauce. It's a heavy kitchen sink of justifiably breakfast-y indulgences in a little paper cupcake liner. Does it live up to the naughty hype of its name? Once you give up on your fork and start pulling at the chunks of cinnamon roll, dabbing and scooping at the berry and cream cheese, your fingers sticky as a toddler's — yes. Yes, it does. Have it on the patio with its sweet backdrop of flowers, brazenly close to the church down the street.
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