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Archive for April, 2008

Three blocks from my office, a taco truck from the South San Francisco restaurant, Los Compadres, parks at the corner of Spear. And on sunny days, when work is quiet, I wander down with a magazine and enjoy the view—between buildings—of the bay while eating lunch. I’d only ever ordered the cheese quesadilla with extra tomatillo sauce and extra hot salsa—a mouth-numbingly smoky, spicy combination of flavor.

But, in my quest to discover street food typical to this northern-Californian city, on Tuesday I perused the menu and thought I’d branch out…5 types of meats on the menu so let’s give them a try…five taquitos for $1.50 each: al pastor, pollo asada, carne asada, carnitas, lengua.

Lengua—tongue—am I brave enough for this? Apparently tongue has the tenderness of organ meat without the over-powering flavor but, taste buds, on my lunch? I’m brave when it comes to trying food but I need moral support, so I’ll skip the tongue taco for now.

Each little taco was served on double corn tortillas, with tomatillo sauce, salsa, chopped onion, cilantro and a lime. The pollo asada was tender and richly flavored but not charred. The carne asada had an okay flavor, but the meat was minced and I didn’t like the texture. I turned the plate to the next taquito, carnitas. My first bite was dry and lacking in flavor, and I feared for my lunch, but my second bite redeemed it. The carnitas was crisply moist and tender, perfectly roasted with pockets of caramelized meat—it was a perfect complement to the spicy salsa. And then, I turned the plate to try al pastor, or bbq pork, a meat preparation I’d never tried before. The flavor was sweet, rich, and complexly spicy—I fell in love.

Al pastor is a Mexican method of bbq-ing on an up-right spit, introduced to the country by Lebanese immigrants. The pork is marinated in red chili adobo and topped with a pineapple so the sweet fruit juices drip onto the meat and caramelize as it roasts. I didn’t see a spit in the Los Compadres taco truck and, on other web sites, I’ve read that it’s uncommon to find al pastor spits in the US, but the flavor of my taco was still addictive. It’s a recipe that I think could be adapted to an easy braise. Hmmm, I guess that’s my plan for the weekend…

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Every Wednesday, a box of organic veggies is delivered to my porch from Farm Fresh to You. It’s with excitement that I open the lid and dig through the veggies and decide what to cook for dinner. Last night I settled on roasted sugar snap peas and garlic with pasta in a creamy sauce accompanied by a salad of grated carrots.

But then, as I was washing the carrots, I found two cuddling carrots nestled in the bunch–clearly I anthropomorphise my food and clearly I couldn’t eat them. So rather than add these sweetheart carrots to my salad, they became last night’s table decoration.

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Since eating fresh Dungeness crab from Fisherman’s Wharf this weekend, I’ve been thinking of little of else—dreaming of wandering along the Embarcadero back to the crab and chowder stalls. But I haven’t had the time, so instead I dug out a favorite crab recipe of mine: Fresh Fettuccine with Creamy Crab Sauce.

While the author waxes lyrical about one of my least favorite wines—a local chardonnay—I’ve made the recipe a few times and always use something other than chardonnay with spectacular results (usually, whatever’s open in the fridge). The creamy, anise-y flavor of the sauce is an addictive compliment to the sweet, briny crab.

FRESH FETTUCCINE WITH CREAMY CRAB SAUCE

This recipe was created by Chronicle staff writer Tara Duggan.

Ingredients

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 leek (white and light green parts only), washed well and thinly sliced

1 shallot, minced

1/2 cup Chardonnay

12 ounces fresh fettuccine

1/2 pound fresh lump crabmeat, picked through for cartilage

3/4 cup heavy cream

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tablespoon minced fresh tarragon

INSTRUCTIONS: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for the pasta.

Melt the butter in a large skillet, then add the oil and heat gently. Add the leek and shallot, then saute gently until very tender, about 15 minutes. Add the wine and simmer for about 2 minutes.

Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain, reserving about 1/2 cup of the cooking water.

As the pasta cooks, add the crabmeat and cream to the sauce, and simmer gently until just warmed through, about 2 to 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, and remove from heat.

Combine the pasta, sauce and tarragon with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. If needed, add some of the reserved cooking water to thin the sauce.

Serves 4 to 6

PER SERVING: 415 calories, 14 g protein, 35 g carbohydrate, 23 g fat (11 g saturated), 120 mg cholesterol, 142 mg sodium, 2 g fiber.

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Fisherman’s Wharf on a sunny San Francisco day teems with tourists and seagulls. After living in the city for more than a few months, you tend to avoid the neighborhood as tryingly kitsch but there’s a reason all the tourists flock here: spectacular views across the bay and boat-fresh seafood.

The summer fog still hasn’t arrived and I still hadn’t eaten Dungeness crab this season, so David and I took a meandering walk through Chinatown toward the wharf. At $10 a pound (most crabs are between 1-2 pounds), fresh crab wouldn’t necessarily fall into “cheap street food” category, but it’s still about half the price of eating it at a local restaurant.

When it comes to a fresh crab, I’m not sure there’s much difference in quality between the food stalls lining the corner of Jefferson and Taylor (I think the food-quality test is in the chowders), so we chose Nick’s Lighthouse. It had a steady flow of patrons but wasn’t overwhelmingly crowded.

Crabs and some Buds

Sidling up to the counter, we ordered a crab and drinks. I guess Dungeness crab is typically pared with a white wine but today Buds in brown paper bags for $2.80 were pretty hard to beat. The somewhat bland flavor of the “King of Beers” didn’t interfere with the sweet and briny taste of San Francisco’s favorite crustation. The crab was expertly cracked open and we fished out the succulent meat, squeezed lemon over it and dipped it in melted butter.

Stepping back from the counter I moved into the sun, my hands and face were smeared with crab and the Bud had given me a nice little Saturday morning buzz.

I hear the clam chowder at some of the food stalls is stellar—I guess I’ll need to plan a trip back…

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