Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Sea Change

Posted By on Wed, Dec 13, 2017 at 1:15 PM

Hot and cold at La Patria Mariscos and Grill. - PHOTO BY JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Photo by Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Hot and cold at La Patria Mariscos and Grill.

The stretch of Eureka's Fourth Street between T and R streets is broad-daylight sketchy. And yet two restaurants have built cult followings there: Tandoori Bites, with its lunch buffet of curries, and La Patria Mariscos and Grill (1718 Fourth St.), just a samosa's throw across the street.

A couple of years ago, Adrian and Cici Ayala took over the latter (formerly La Patria Solis), changing up the menu to include more seafood than we've seen on a local Mexican menu, which is to say it's brimming with ceviche, octopus and lots of shrimp. This raises the question: How are we not eating more Mexican seafood? Look at Mexico, already. It's surrounded by water. Some would say big water. Ocean water.

The shrimp Botanero ($15.99) is a good way to dive in. The platter of more than a dozen garlicky head-on shrimp with charred Serrano peppers over a bed of grilled onions is edged with lime wedges, avocado, tomatoes and cucumber (for which you'll be grateful if you go all-in on the peppers). To peel or not to peel? The shrimp are cooked tender enough to go full Daryl Hannah in Splash if you want to enjoy the crunch and every bit of savory seasoning. And I'll take your heads if you aren't going to take advantage of the creamy concentration of flavor therein. The tomatillo and avocado sauce is a cool, tart accompaniment and, if you are ready for it, the side of dark, oily dried chili sauce brings more heat. Proceed with caution.

All-day goat birria. - PHOTO BY JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Photo by Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • All-day goat birria.

Another draw is the availability of consome birria ($6.99 small, $9.99 large) all week long instead of just weekends. Not since Black Philip has goat been so tempting. The glorious, velvety brick-red broth and long-stewed pulled goat seasoned with adobo and dried chilis are deeply flavorful and enlivened with a squeeze of lime and a pinch of cilantro and onion. It's messy work but the warm homemade corn tortillas are grilled to stand up to holding a scoop of meat. Don't punk out if you encounter a knob of bone — just be grateful to enjoy the real thing.


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Saturday, December 9, 2017

Pie/Cake Truce

Posted By on Sat, Dec 9, 2017 at 10:00 AM

Lemon meringue cake: a unifying force. - PHOTO BY JILLIAN BUTOLPH
  • Photo by Jillian Butolph
  • Lemon meringue cake: a unifying force.

Let us not fall into the tribal factions and false dichotomy of pie vs. cake. Really, given the fact that Boston cream pie is really cake and cheesecake — with its graham cracker crust — is more of a pie, are we not already living in a post pie-vs.-cake society? (Drag me in the comments if you want. I said what I said.)

Open your mind and embrace the dessert-fluid lemon meringue cake at Cafe Brio (791 G St., Arcata).
Somewhere in the cumulus cloud of toasted Swiss meringue — a creamier and less foamy version of the mile-high stuff of diner pies, reminiscent of a well-browned marshmallow — are layers of surprisingly dense lemon chiffon cake with lemon syrup, caramel and lemon cream. The 4-inch cake ($14) goes further than you might think, serving at least four reasonable people or one person with an enviably open schedule for the rest of the day, while the tall 6-inch cake serves eight ($30).

And once you are made instantly happy by eating this cake, reaching, in your joy, across the pie/cake divide, we can all unite to reclaim pudding and gelatin, restoring them to their rightful glory. That's right. I said what I said.

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Thursday, November 30, 2017

Mole Feelings

Posted By on Thu, Nov 30, 2017 at 5:06 PM

Enchiladas mole at Tuyas. - PHOTO BY JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Photo by Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Enchiladas mole at Tuyas.
There are those who roll their eyes at the mention of another Mexican restaurant opening in Humboldt. And fine, I just did a quick count of around 60. Whatever. The cuisine of Mexico  contains multitudes and we have merely scraped its surface here.

The vibe at Tuyas (553 Main St., Ferndale) is modern and a little swanky, with rough-hewn meta-beams suspended from the ceiling, Andrei Hedstrom's rainbow-jubilant paintings and a feast-ready redwood table and benches. Chef Gillermo Dominguez's take on mole enchiladas is good enough to steal your attention from all that ($14). On a recent rainy afternoon, we went with the adobada pork filling, which was juicy, charred here and there, and lightened with warm chunks of pineapple. The freshly made corn tortillas, fried to a crepe-like chewiness, were cloaked in smooth, nutty chocolate sauce and a scattering of queso fresco. The dark sauce is just warmed with chilis and more creamy than smoky or bitter. It's the kind of labor-intensive dish that make one a little sentimental: It reminds you that someone stood at a stove and cooked for you for as long as it took.

Sidebar: If you feel $14 is too much for a plate of mole enchiladas without a belly-distending side of beans and rice, reconsider. That is, think about what it costs to get good pork, spices — sweet Jesus, the price of chocolate — and the hours of labor that go into making mole and then think about what you'd pay for a French meal that takes six hours to make. We are generally paying too little for Mexican food and giving too little respect to its cooks. Keep it in mind and tip generously the next time you get a burrito.


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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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Friday, October 13, 2017

Boardroom Decisions

Posted By on Fri, Oct 13, 2017 at 4:23 PM

All aboard the meat flight. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • All aboard the meat flight.


Somewhere in Los Angeles, a restaurant owner is poring over reclaimed barn wood samples and polishing the hell out of a concrete floor to achieve a rustic farm vibe to go with his or her artisanal meats. Godspeed.

No such staging required at The Boardroom (3750 Harris St., Eureka), though the redwood slab counters don't hurt. The tasting room for Ryan Creek Root Cellar's charcuterie (made there in the back) is but a quick trot from the Cow Palace and the arena where prize pigs are judged every year at Redwood Acres Fairgrounds. That's farm cred.

There's room to roam and graze among the cutting boards of sliced sausages, pickles and cured meats. There's also a respectable selection of beer on tap, in bottles and canned (even Hamm's for the nostalgic) and a handful of fancy sodas, wine and cider. Hours are limited — it's open from 5 to 10:30 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, and 3 to 10:30 p.m. on Saturdays.

Board No. 5, the "meat flight," is stacked with nearly everything ($15) into which we swapped spears of aged cheddar and Edam for the pickles. The salamis, one warmly spiced with red pepper and the other sagey as Thanksgiving stuffing, are dotted with globes of fat. The dry-aged pork shoulder coppa, with its fat in melting streaks and loops, is a deeper, richer choice for prosciutto lovers. The summer sausage, or gothaer, comes as a nice earthy, peppery surprise for those of us who recall the rubbery mass market variety from gift baskets of yore. Simpler and saltier were the pale pink petals of lean Canadian bacon and the chicken mortadella, which, being wetter and mealier, was the only thing left behind on the board.
Pickled eggs and jardinerè. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Pickled eggs and jardinerè.
Small plate No. 3 ($9) is a vinegary dive into the house jardinerè — a little jar of tart and crunchy cauliflower, sweet peppers and is that zucchini? — surrounded by a Ziegfeld Follies ring of firm pickled eggs in beet fuchsia and turmeric yellow. The tart zing is not a bad note to end on, nor was the last translucent slice of coppa everyone else was too shy to swipe.


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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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