Friday, June 1, 2018

Crab Sandwich with a View

Posted By on Fri, Jun 1, 2018 at 5:27 PM

PHOTO BY JONATHAN WEBSTER
  • Photo by Jonathan Webster

When the day opens up with blue skies, warm breezes and sunshine on the calm waters of Humboldt Bay, nothing could be better than heading out to King Salmon, where kayakers are paddling in the waves, and making a hard turn into the parking lot of Gill's By the Bay (77 Halibut Ave.).

There you can find a seat on the patio and survey the nautical-themed garden with its landlocked rowboat, fluttering sweet peas and ship ropes, while the more intrepid glide by in their wetsuits and boats. If sitting with your back to a harpoon launcher makes you skittish, head for the corner. Novelty may lure you, siren-like, toward the grilled crab sandwich with cheese but stay the course to the plain, cold crab sandwich ($17.50). By my eye, it's at least a full cup of crabmeat tossed with mayonnaise and chopped green onion on soft, mild sourdough and accompanied by equally straightforward potato salad, slaw or fries. It's a simple arrangement that lets the sweet, briny flavor of the meat shine.

There are those who will whistle at that price for a sandwich — those who have never watched a full episode of The Deadliest Catch or picked a crab clean from claw to claw for someone else without nibbling as they went. You'll be happier if you accept that Dungeness crab, caught by professional fishermen making their living, and served to you by smiling restaurant staff doing the same, costs. Consider what you'd pay for its Kennedy cousin the lobster, shipped frozen and not nearly as delicate in flavor or texture. Then take a deep lungful of sea air, squint at the boats in the distance and thoroughly enjoy your sandwich.
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Saturday, May 19, 2018

Yaass, Kouign-amann

Posted By on Sat, May 19, 2018 at 12:47 PM

Beck's busts out a Breton bun. - PHOTO BY JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Photo by Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Beck's busts out a Breton bun.
A few years ago, the kouign-amann (pronounced "queen ahmahn") stumped the contestants on The Great British Baking Show, causing a dramatic series of light frowns and polite head scratching. The origami-folded bun with the buttery flakiness of a croissant and anchored by a caramelized sugar bottom that calls to mind the crunch of crème brûlée was a deep cut from Brittany circa the mid-1800s. Its hardcore French pastry fanbase has since expanded with a global revival. And now the little Breton bun has arrived in Humboldt.

The Beck's Bakery crew has been experimenting, says owner Rhonda Wiedenbeck, and finally hit on a recipe that works with local grains. The end product is a crown of layered dough that's tender and moist at its center with a crisp, buttery exterior ($4). So much butter. And the bottom is dark and glassy brown — just a little sticky. So far it's only available at the Arcata Farmers Market stall since they don't keep on a shelf the way the bakery's crusty loaves do. Bon chance, mes amis.
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Saturday, May 12, 2018

Jerk Chicken on the Plaza

Posted By on Sat, May 12, 2018 at 9:17 AM

Jerk chicken on the Arcata Plaza. - PHOTO BY JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Photo by Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Jerk chicken on the Arcata Plaza.

There are those who hit the Arcata Farmers Market as the first pop-up tents are snapping into place, stuffing their canvas bags with the week's produce and heading home to, I don't know, cook ahead for the week or whatever it is efficient people do. The rest of us arrive late and linger, circling the vendors at McKinley's feet for an early lunch. If your nose picks up jerk chicken, stop.

The Jerk Kitchen table, draped in a Jamaican flag, might be obscured by a line of people waiting and watching owners Joanne Kerr and Dell Bryan bring a cleaver down on smoky leg quarters and dish up stewed oxtail. Bryan, who hails from Jamaica, makes his own wet jerk sauce and marinated the chicken all day before barbecuing it low and slow over a wood fire. The end product is juicy and seasoned throughout, with a fragrant, earthy char full of allspice, garlic and pepper. An order of chicken comes with soft, sweet fried plantains and festival — hand rolled cornbread fritters that are doughy and firm inside with a crusty fried exterior ($10).

The market is Jerk Kitchen's only steady location aside from the occasional appearance at The Jam for special events, so jump on it. Listen, you just bought a bushel of some green vegetable the leaves of which are tarp-thick and will need a soak and a picking over and a long boil before you can think about eating them — my God, it's like you just took on an entire new job. Take a lunch break.
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Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Party in a Crepe

Posted By on Wed, Apr 25, 2018 at 10:18 AM

A soiree-worthy spread in a crepe for one. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • A soiree-worthy spread in a crepe for one.

As you circle the hors d'oeuvre tables and snatch deviled eggs and skewered shrimp from passing servers at parties and openings, spare a thought for our introverted friends missing the spread. Even for the most outgoing among us, there are some people whose company is a high price to pay for a well-laid cheese platter. But will those for whom social interaction is truly uncomfortable ever know the joy of the first swipe of crostini through a chafing dish of hot artichoke dip?

A solution presents itself at Renata's Creperie (1030 G St.), that longtime Arcata brunch staple. It's not so crowded just off a weekday lunch hour and the interior, with its warm color palette and distressed furniture, welcomes like the home of an old friend/art teacher. Find a homey corner table among the punched tin hearts and sunset-colored walls, and order the Got Yer Goat crepe ($11). The batter is a nutty buckwheat — that glamorous whole grain of caviar blini fame — that stands up to strong flavors and fillings, like the tart Kalamata olives, sun dried tomatoes and marinated artichoke hearts within. Add the mild fresh basil, an even-handed measure of Loleta jack cheese and the creamy tang of goat cheese, and you've got the makings of a casual get together without the mingling. You can even order it to carry out and enjoy the party in blissful solitude.



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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Glamping at Campground

Posted By on Wed, Apr 18, 2018 at 5:01 PM

The New York strip steak, grilled vegetables and a counter view of the fire. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • The New York strip steak, grilled vegetables and a counter view of the fire.

Going for woodland chic in Humboldt risks redundancy but the vibe at Campground (865 Ninth St., Arcata), the landlocked cousin of Salt, is a bit more Swedish cabin hotel, with its deconstructed forest of birch stalks separating the bar from the tables and the homey blue and white tile flooring. Blackout curtains obscure the Bret Harte Alley view from booths with caged lightbulbs suspended from ropes in rustic imitation of something your grandpa hooked up in the basement. The redwood tattoo on the forearm of the young man prepping vegetables just over the back counter is probably just a coincidence but it's on brand.

A glass fridge stocked with aged beef in the corner is promising, as is the fire in the back of the open kitchen, crackling and spitting embers up through the grill, a stack of firewood on deck below. Billed as an "Argentine-inspired steakhouse," the fire is the star of the show. What to order from the all à la carte menu?
Beef tallow potatoes. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Beef tallow potatoes.
Slim wedges of beef tallow potatoes ($7) arrive sprinkled with parsley and chive in a little cast iron pan. A true rival to French fries, they are perfectly salted, soft inside and rich with the promised beef fat, which also yields a just-crisp exterior. There’s a reason McDonalds worked so hard to replicate the flavor of beef fat for its fries — oil is no substitute.
The 10-ounce New York strip steak. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • The 10-ounce New York strip steak.
The 10-ounce New York strip steak ($27) gleams with garlic and truffle compound butter, though the taste is squarely about the tender meat and the wood fire char that makes a wonder of its marbling and rind of fat. On a recent night, the grilled seasonal vegetables with roasted garlic vinaigrette included bright, glossy asparagus and zucchini with a perfect bite and a hit of woodsmoke ($6).
A wedge of s'more pie. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • A wedge of s'more pie.
Are you going to eat someplace named Campground and not order the s'more pie? You are not. The hefty graham cracker crust and velvety ganache filling are topped with a dollop of marshmallow cream that's been torched to sleep-away camp toastiness. And you didn't even have to pack a sleeping bag.



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Sunday, April 8, 2018

Rescue by Torta

Posted By on Sun, Apr 8, 2018 at 1:42 PM

A big, beautiful explosion of a torta. - PHOTO BY JENNIFER RUMIKO CAHILL
  • Photo by Jennifer Rumiko Cahill
  • A big, beautiful explosion of a torta.

On a rainy day, the little striped pop-out awning on the Los Giles Taqueria tucked in the lot behind US Bank in Arcata looks like an oasis (953 G St.). (Yes, it's the same black truck you see up the street across from the Arcata Theatre Lounge in the evening.) Pressed for a recommendation, owner Osmando Hernandez hunches down in the window and suggests a torta ($7). Which one? He shrugs. "Carnitas is bomb."

This is no lie. And "bomb" is doubly descriptive when you try picking up this overstuffed sandwich, exploding as it is with guacamole, lettuce, tomato, onions, cheese and mounds of carnitas. The flavorful pork is that ideal balance of juicy hunks and crispy where it's been pressed on the grill, with the occasional pearl of sweet fat. The grilled crust of the soft, buttery roll is the only thing holding all this together, for the moment anyway. Take advantage.

And if the rain is still coming down hard, Hernandez may just loan you his umbrella to protect you and your leftovers as you ford the flash sidewalk rivers. Bringing it back is a chance to order another torta. You might take advantage of that, too.






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Monday, March 19, 2018

Bread and Sugar: Pan Dulce from El Pueblo

Posted By on Mon, Mar 19, 2018 at 7:00 AM

Clockwise from top: cheesecake, oreja, concha, cinnamon concha and elotito. - PHOTO BY AMY WALDRIP
  • Photo by Amy Waldrip
  • Clockwise from top: cheesecake, oreja, concha, cinnamon concha and elotito.

When fire shut down El Pueblo Market on Broadway in Eureka, it left a sweet roll-sized hole in our hearts and stomachs. While we wait for the market and its wall of baked goods to reopen — soon, we hear, though there's no firm date — we're feeding our pan dulce cravings at its Redwood Acres kitchen, tucked in the right side of the main building (3750 Harris St., Eureka).

Knocking and entering the side door with the pastel El Pueblo sign taped to it feels like visiting a sort of carb speakeasy. You might have to call out for someone to come out from the back, be it owner Engelberto Tejeda or another baker, but that gives you time to browse the rolling racks that nearly fill the tiny storage space.


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Friday, March 2, 2018

A Mess of Ribs

Posted By on Fri, Mar 2, 2018 at 1:48 PM

Digging into a rack of ribs. - PHOTO BY SAM ARMANINO
  • Photo by Sam Armanino
  • Digging into a rack of ribs.

If fighting over politics isn't intense enough for you, may I suggest ribs? Even within the guidelines of competition judging, our personal and regional aesthetics make the whole business like drawing from a deck of wild cards. Still, the pros will generally tell you that for competition ribs, the meat should cling lightly to the bone, tender but not slipping off by itself.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Sub Conscious

Posted By on Wed, Feb 14, 2018 at 4:59 PM

Open your mind to pastrami on your Italian sub. - PHOTO BY AMY WALDRIP
  • Photo by Amy Waldrip
  • Open your mind to pastrami on your Italian sub.

Graduations, birthdays, christenings, communions and shotgun weddings — any event worth filling the yard with folding chairs in my hometown back east meant a 6-foot-sub. Laid out on a long table would be a seemingly endless loaf of Italian bread stuffed with layers of salami, ham, pepperoni, provolone and peppers doused in oil and red wine vinegar, with shredded iceberg lettuce cascading from the sides.

You'd carefully take a geode-layered slice, supporting your paper plate with one hand underneath, and make your way to a folding chair, trying to keep your heels from sinking in the lawn. The trick was to sit at the very edge of the lawn so you could get two bites in before somebody talked to you.

Is this a thing you can get here? Almost. From the tiny bar-adjacent storefront that is Deo's Sandwich Shop (428 Grotto St.) — a location that's been turning out sandwiches for some 45 years under a handful of owners — comes a monster of a classic Italian sub, roughly the size of your head ($10). But open your mind to relatively new owner Joe Sandoval's variation: salami, pastrami, provolone, sliced tomato, pepperoncini, fistfuls of shredded lettuce, seedy mustard, mayo and balsamic vinegar (because we're fancier on this coast). The warm, spicy, smoky pastrami works with the traditional Italian flavors and the bread is more substantial and crusty than those backyard wedges. To say seating is limited is an understatement; get your sandwich to go so you can be alone with it, get those bites in before anybody talks to you.



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Saturday, February 3, 2018

Morning, Porkchop

Posted By on Sat, Feb 3, 2018 at 3:44 PM

Free your mind with chicken fried pork. - PHOTO BY JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Photo by Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Free your mind with chicken fried pork.

So if we're willing to blur the line between breakfast and lunch, we may as well luge down the slippery slope to dinner. We're really only an order of steak and eggs away. Abandon labels and be free.

Well, at least until Cafe Waterfront (102 F St., Eureka) stops serving breakfast around 11 a.m. We got a tip chicken fried pork chop was on the specials board ($13.95) and followed it up, though to be honest it could have been chicken fried hammers and we'd still have tried it once.

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