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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Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Pressed for Cuban Sandwiches

Posted By on Wed, May 3, 2017 at 5:09 PM

The Cubano at the Vista. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • The Cubano at the Vista.

The plot twists and sudden shifts of international politics have never come at us with such breakneck speed. Sure, you can hop a flight to Cuba now but who knows in a month or two? Stockpiling Cohibas in your bunker humidor now might not be a bad idea. And you'll need a local back-up supplier for Cuban sandwiches in case the travel ban kicks in again because going through Canada is just going to make you feel bad (we see your shade, Trudeau) and Florida just looks overwhelming.

No regime — not even Castro's — lasts forever. Indeed, Bar Fly is no more and The Vista Del Mar has risen it its spot (91 Commercial St., Eureka). New management has made over the institutionally seedy back room, added to the menu and kept the place's deep fryer game strong. The Cubano sandwich ($12) at this bar of the people comes on a fittingly proletariat aluminum tray. Sliced roast pork butt, ham, Swiss cheese, mustard and pickle are all panini pressed on a homemade roll. This version skips the contentious salami and the bread is not technically Cuban but, like all good Cuban sandwiches, it is a savory combination of tart and meaty flavors — like the combination of a picnic and a Sunday dinner. Chase it with a Cuba Libre and toast.





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Saturday, April 22, 2017

Back to the Shack

Posted By on Sat, Apr 22, 2017 at 5:54 PM

Swell as hell. - SAM ARMANINO
  • Sam Armanino
  • Swell as hell.
Surfside Burger Shack (445 Fifth St., Eureka) looks more or less the same — like a colorful, well-used surfboard with a few dings in it. Walking in off the street, you might not guess it's under new ownership. After a deep inhale, you might just think the place is back on its game after a year or so in decline.

The new owners have stepped up Surfside's grassfed beef game with fresh rather than frozen meat but stuck to the basics of the shop. The Southwestern Swell ($8.95) comes with the usual avocado, lettuce, tomato, onion and mayo, along with a controlled burn of pepper jack cheese melted over grilled pickled jalapeño slices. Before you freak out because you can't see any avocado, attempt some surfer chill and look under the patty for a mashed schmear — the only reasonable solution to the dilemma of sliding slices. The heat is mellow enough that you can return to work without changing your shirt. For $2, add a split serving of slightly dark hand-cut fries and onion rings, which are as much of a draw as the burger. Fresh fries with skins on, after all, taste not just like fries, but potatoes rendered crisp. The hand-dipped onion rings are puffy, crunchy life preservers, just as you would hope. It's no wonder — look upon the serious fellow at the fryer, dropping in one heavy circle at a time and not looking away for a moment. You have our admiration, sir.

And finally, in a world gone mad, reason has prevailed in this one corner: There are at last milkshakes ($5), tall and thick enough to demand a little work for that first sip. Get thee behind me, secret Starbuck's menu of ridiculous frozen concoctions. I will have a milkshake. In chocolate, vanilla or strawberry.




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Friday, April 7, 2017

#Blessed

Posted By on Fri, Apr 7, 2017 at 11:24 AM

Cheeses, take the wheel. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Cheeses, take the wheel.
Humboldt's mac and cheese tour would also have to stop at Bless My Soul Café (29 W. Fifth St., Eureka), where the dish tauntingly appears on the appetizer menu ($7.95). Bring help. The overflowing cauldron of cheddar jack macaroni and cheese pushes the ratio of pasta to cheese to the very edge of reason. It's flecked with dill and dried basil, and spooning it onto your plate yields a cartoonish web of stretchy cheese.
Fresh fried okra. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Fresh fried okra.
Sips of clove-spiced sweet tea ($3.95) will help you recover enough to order the fried okra ($6.95). It's a tumble of whole, fresh okra rolled in cornmeal, fried and modestly sprinkled with the house version of Old Bay seasoning. A bite — take your time, they're hot — reveals the bright green skin and creamy interior that frozen okra cannot deliver. No need to ration the Creole aioli dip because they will bring more. Take that southern hospitality along with a refill on the sweet tea.
The humble catfish with mashed potatoes. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • The humble catfish with mashed potatoes.
Less Instagram-friendly but perfectly done is the blackened catfish ($19.95). The humble filet has a surprisingly delicate exterior that's spicy, buttery and smoky. And if you're struggling with choosing sides, go for the full Sunday dinner experience and get the mashed potatoes with dilly cream gravy.


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Saturday, April 1, 2017

Date (and Bacon) Night

Posted By on Sat, Apr 1, 2017 at 1:26 PM

The Salty Sweet delivers. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • The Salty Sweet delivers.
We initially missed the bar tucked away in the back of the Diver Bar and Grill (2830 F St., Eureka) and despite the name and the diving helmet logo, it's not a seafood place. But given our current socio-political climate, is this really the biggest shock you've had lately? Shake it off. Finally inside after seasons of passing its brown papered windows, we can crane our necks at the gleaming tin ceiling and the red glow of the wood fire oven in back. If it's chilly out, sit as close as you can and watch the two-person team slide pies in and out with long paddles.

Eat your vegetable fries. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Eat your vegetable fries.
Good news: I called your mom and she said the carrot and parsnip fries ($7) definitely count as a vegetable. They're sweet and nutty, and their light coating makes for a crispy exterior. More news: They will steam and go soggy in a takeout container, so spare no roasted garlic aioli and gobble them up hot.

If you feel the concrete floor and industrial metal chairs could use a little padding, just wait for your warm, pillowy pizza to arrive. A lot is happening with the Salty Sweet pizza ($14), the bubbly crust of which reaches for the edges of your dinner plate. On the savory end is pungent gorgonzola and blue cheese sauce under mozzarella, spinach, shallots and bacon jam. The sweet is delivered by a sprinkling of chopped Medjool dates. It's a balance of not just sweet and salty, but smoky and creamy. The crust is the real star, though, with a buttery sheen of olive oil and the wood fire char that gives it a crisp bite and a soft middle.






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Sunday, March 26, 2017

Mac and Cheese Appreciation

Posted By on Sun, Mar 26, 2017 at 9:50 AM

Mac and cheese at Farmhouse on Main. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Mac and cheese at Farmhouse on Main.
We are living in a golden age — golden brown, really — of mac and cheese. Diners, high-end restaurants, bars and food trucks alike all offer their takes on the quintessential comfort food. It's a dish that contains multitudes: the basic elbow and cheddar, stretchy forkfuls drizzled in truffle oil and duck fat, and deep fried breaded nuggets. Roll your eyes and pretend to be jaded but if the trend ever ends and the molten crocks disappear, you will miss them (R.I. P., flambé everything). Bask in it now, before it joins its first cousin the casserole, languishing at potlucks.

You could do a solid tour of macaroni and cheese around Humboldt County. If you do, send pictures. And don't skip Farmhouse on Main (460 Main St., Ferndale). The sunny dining room with its sturdy wooden tables and vintage stove opened last fall in the former home of Curley's Full Circle. Its mac and cheese is baked dish or orecchiette pasta crusted over in herby bread crumbs that break to reveal a pale, creamy cheddar sauce ($10.50). There are additions to be had, like bacon and shrimp, but consider the sliced cremini mushrooms ($2.50), which stand up well here. If the crispy, flaky fried chicken with homemade tomato jam ($15 small plate) lures you away, at least get the pasta as a side to share. It may well stay on the menu forever but, you know, just in case.
Pan fried chicken with tomato jam. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Pan fried chicken with tomato jam.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Yes, Chefs!

Posted By on Wed, Mar 22, 2017 at 5:09 PM

Lizette Acuna spoons an Argentinan Chimichurri on a grilled oyster. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • Lizette Acuna spoons an Argentinan Chimichurri on a grilled oyster.

Too many cooks in the kitchen? It didn't look like it on Monday night at the Equinox in Old Town fundraiser dinner. The Humboldt County Office of Education event served up seven courses by a team of neighborhood chefs including coordinator Josh Wiley of Restaurant Five Eleven, where the dinner took place, Liz Acuna of Ramone's Cafe on Harrison, Erik Masaki of Masaki's Kyoto Japanese Restaurant, Raphael Pumphrey of Cafe Nooner, Graham Miller of Mazzotti's and Daniel Dagorret of Restaurant 301.

The team laid out a feast for diners who shelled out $100 each to raise a total of $4,200 for HCOE’s Nutrition Programs and Services, which covers school meals, training and bringing local beef and produce into schools. Photographer Mark McKenna was there shooting (and likely sampling) from the appetizers to the dessert. Get a taste from the slideshow below.

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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Intercontinental Breakfast

Posted By on Wed, Mar 1, 2017 at 10:30 AM

Serious steak and eggs. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Serious steak and eggs.
There's a daredevil glee in chowing down in a greasy spoon, casting hygiene-related fears aside, scratching the mystery spot off your glass and regard your plate — its contents fried to kill all but the most exotic contagions — as Evel Knievel must have eyed Snake Canyon before he hit the ramp. But, like all extreme sports, its high is a brief one you might die chasing.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is the deep calm of Amy's Delight (401 W. Harris St., Eureka). The Chinese-American diner has been in business since 1997 but the open kitchen, with its mirror-like stainless steel panels, calls to mind a computer clean room more than a diner. Rumor has it regulars include health department employees.

This is the biscuit and gravy you're looking for. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • This is the biscuit and gravy you're looking for.
Which is not to say hedonists and masochists can't still hurt themselves here. Order up the steak and eggs and find yourself facing a mound of pan-crisped potatoes and a full 12-ounce ribeye ($23). No fancy oven finishing — the steak is fried on the grill and so long as you don't get it well done and cover it in ketchup, you're eating better than our president. A pair of pancakes is among your side options but consider there is nowhere to sleep here. And the homemade biscuits, it should be noted, come with the sausage-heavy white pan gravy we have been searching for ($7.95).

Ham and egg fried rice omelet. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Ham and egg fried rice omelet.
A more modest option is the signature Amy's Delight, an omelet stuffed with ham and egg fried rice and topped with mild cheese, tomatoes and cilantro ($11.95). It's homey and satisfying, especially with the house chili sauce. There are whispers, too, of a secret menu that includes a Taiwanese breakfast (Amy herself hails from Taiwan): two fried eggs over rice — break the yolks, drizzle with soy sauce — with a side of sautéed spinach ($9.95). But you didn't hear it from us.

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Sunday, February 26, 2017

Heart of Gold

Posted By on Sun, Feb 26, 2017 at 8:59 AM

Gnocchi puttanesca is comfort and sass. - JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • Gnocchi puttanesca is comfort and sass.
It's easy to wax philosophical and talk of the ephemeral pleasures of the world, watching waves wash away our footprints and blossoms wither like it's no big deal. And yet, for some of us, the here-today-gone-tomorrow specials at a restaurant can spike panic as we listen to the server rattle them off. What if they never do the short ribs again?

So the chalkboard menu at La Trattoria (30 Sunny Brae Center, Arcata) is a Fear of Missing Out trigger, every single menu item changing daily based on local availability, right down to the potatoes for the gnocchi. On a recent rainy evening, written over the powdery ghosts of the previous day's dishes was a homemade potato pasta with puttanesca sauce ($19). And when are you going to see that again?

Puttanesca, a sauce that famously takes its name from prostitutes, makes as strong a case as any against slut-shaming with the tang of tomatoes, capers and olives, and a little red pepper bite. In La Trattoria's version, firm manzanillas from Henry's Olives steal the show from under a blanket of Parmesan shavings. You'll be asked if you want anchovies and you should say yes and not cheat yourself out the smoky umami that grounds the tartness. The gnocchi are, at last, as they should be: soft little dumplings instead of the usual chewy eraser nubs. And if they are a little at sea in the sauce, their tenderness saves them and turns the puttanesca into comfort food — like a hooker with a heart of gold.

But will it be on the menu? Hard truth: maybe not. The gnocchi likely will, at least until potatoes are done, and the puttanesca will be back, too, made as it is from pantry staples. You'll just have to cruise by and see.
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