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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Saturday, June 17, 2017

Meltdown

Posted By on Sat, Jun 17, 2017 at 10:13 AM

Brisket grilled cheese in the garden. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Brisket grilled cheese in the garden.

Artisanal toast hasn't yet made its way past the Redwood Curtain but expect it soon. Just wait. Until then, you can work on grilled cheese.

The Artisan Cheese Factory, née Loleta Cheese Factory (252 Loleta Drive, Loleta), upped the ante on its bevy of samples when it opened the Queso Kings grilled cheese bar in the back of the shop. It's a no-brainer and it has saved the dignity of many. (Don't pretend you've never toothpicked your way through a pound of cheese samples one cubic centimeter at a time. We've all been there.)

Continue reading »

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Saturday, June 3, 2017

Mussel Bound

Posted By on Sat, Jun 3, 2017 at 4:15 PM

Mussels with a splash of Thai curry. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Mussels with a splash of Thai curry.
Put away your clam diggers — domoic acid has put the local clam digging party on hold and mid-calf pants are hard to pull off anyway. But this is not to say shellfish is off the table. In fact, let's take a moment to appreciate the other mollusks that are so often overshadowed by our glamorous local oysters. (Oh, don't pout, oysters — you have a whole festival so sit down a minute.)

Our county runneth over with chowder. Not all of it is good. (Psst, cooks: If you can stand a spoon in it, ease up.) On the other hand, Salt Fish House (761 Eighth St., Arcata) has a solid entry with thick bacon and tender clams that is luxuriously creamy ($9). You would not be in the least bit deprived ordering it for dinner with a salad.

But look outside at the weather. The days of chunky fisherman sweaters before nightfall are behind us for now. (Maybe forever — we're apparently leaning in on climate change these days.) Drop a layer and ask for the curry mussels ($14). The enamel bowl is splashed over with a light red Thai-style curry sauce, chopped cilantro and fresh jalapeño slices. Swipe up extra coconut-rich sauce with the grill-striped bread (ask for it lightly done if you mind a dark char). As for the mussels themselves, they are steamed to a lush plumpness and are full of briny, earthy flavor. That's a luxury, too.


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Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Upside Down

Posted By on Sun, May 28, 2017 at 3:07 PM

Pineapple upside down cake is peak American retro dessert. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Pineapple upside down cake is peak American retro dessert.
In the 1950s and 1960s, sweeping into a dining room or a backyard barbecue with a cinched waist and pineapple upside down cake for company was the height of suburban hostessing. The magazine clippings and index cards bearing recipes for America's own version of tart tartine could have built a land bridge to Hawaii. But after a couple of decades, the maraschino-studded cake fell on hard times, considered as tacky as the tiki torches stashed in the back of the garage. I blame burnout on fake luaus and widespread use of box cake mix, both of which are the worst unless you are under 6 years old.

Like many mid-century marvels — teak tables, movie musicals — it's making a comeback. (Note to food magazines: I see you trying to bring back aspic and that's a hard no.) The bundt version at Polynesian-style barbecue joint Sammy's BBQ (1709 Fifth St., Eureka) makes a solid case for the return of the pineapple upside down cake ($3.50). The homemade yellow cake, whipped up by the family matriarch, is firm, eggy and dotted with chunks of fruit. The top has the requisite rings of pineapple and the sticky, caramelized brown sugar. Those of you scowling at the maraschino cherries, I would like to remind you that throughout childhood you guzzled Shirley Temples for the cherries floating therein and fought with siblings over possession of the sole gleaming cherry atop a shared banana split. Let yourself enjoy it. If you're too full from ribs and kalua pork, order a piece to go. You've got a comeback in you, too.
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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Deep Dish Diplomacy

Posted By on Wed, May 10, 2017 at 2:14 PM

Oy! Meat pies from another hemisphere. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Oy! Meat pies from another hemisphere.

Hey, Australia. Are we good? We had a weird phone call followed by a weird meeting and now it's awkward. But look, we made your favorite: meat pies! For those unfamiliar, meat pies are the wings and nachos of the land down under. They are at once a comfort food and the portable meal that launched a thousand hooligans. 
Less sloppy than a Sloppy Joe. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Less sloppy than a Sloppy Joe.
Unlike when restaurants whip up Asian salads and iffy Cinco de Mayo taco bowls, an actual Australian consulted on the recipe for Slice of Humboldt Pie's (828 I St., Arcata) Australian meat pies ($3.50 empanada, $7 individual pie, $28 family size). Blending in among the hot case of empanadas and pot pies, the antipodean favorites are stuffed with saucy ground Humboldt grassfed beef, minced onion and peppers. The flavor is ketchup-y in a good way, reminiscent of the sweet tomato sauce of a sloppy Joe. And unlike that quintessentially American sandwich — the engineering flaws of which are proclaimed in its very name — the filling is tidily contained in Slice of Humboldt's irreproachably buttery, flaky crust.

One can easily imagine it as a late-night drinking snack, a morning hangover helper or something to tuck into when you're jet lagged after a 22-hour flight. Cheers, mates.

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