Wednesday, September 30, 2009

If I didn't live in Bozeman, I might have to move to Point Reyes Station, CA

Let's see...

Organic, tasty, local cheese from Cowgirl Creamery? Check.
Another incredibly tasty meal in the form of Caprese salad, preserved tuna and bean salad, and Hog Island oyster pizza at Stellina? Check.
Perfectly extracted espresso served in a barn at Toby's? Check.
Empty, pristine beaches?
Rolling countryside of dairy farms?
Fog, coming and going?

Check. Check. Check.

Point Reyes Station, we'll be back.

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Il Quinto Quarto at Incanto

A sign hangs in the window at San Francisco's Incanto with the quote:

"When you do the common things in life in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world."  - George Washington Carver

This statement, in so many ways, sums up how chef Chris Cosentino approaches his beautiful, thoughtful, and rustic dishes that are served up at Incanto. For our dinner, we chose Il Quinto Quarto, or the "fifth quarter" tasting menu. The "fifth quarter" represents the traditional cuts and offal that are left off most modern menus. Tonight's menu, and the manner in which it was served, was memorable, captivating, beautiful, and...delicious. 

Here is an outline of our dinner:

Chile and Bones
Sweetbreads, Cannellini Beans, and Nervetti
Trotter Cakes, Snails, and Cress
Beef Heart and Foie Gras

The "Chile and Bones" started our dinner off with fireworks for both the eyes and the taste buds. Three large tuna spines were stacked amid a pile of fried chiles, orange zest, and herbs. Any fan of barbeque beef ribs would be at home with this dish; the meat of the fish was melt-in-your-mouth tender. Chef Cosentino stopped by the table half way through this course to say hello and offer a tip, "Find the little place between the bones and you can get the marrow." Thank you, Chef, for this tip. If you have never had tuna marrow, Jen perhaps described it best as "ocean jelly." Briny, delicate, and delicious. Chef also illuminated the origins of this dish, explaining that fisherman were once offered such cuts as compensation for their labor. Very old school. 

The spice of our "fish course" was cooled by the homey goodness that was course number two: sweetbreads, beans, and nervetti. Nervetti, or beef tendon, was cooked into creamy oblivion and paired with the beans to make a creamy pillow of comfort on which the perfectly roasted sweetbreads rested. What could be next?

The third course featured trotter cakes, and arrived with another visit from the Chef. Chef Cosentino explained that pigs, to remain healthy, must live near flowing water, and that snails and water cress also live near streams. Pigs eat both the snails and the cress. It was like a beautiful (and tasty) window into a healthy little ecosystem. This was food as nature intended. The trotter cakes were crispy on the outside and unctuous and creamy on the inside; the snails were meaty and the cress was a perfect companion with its slightly bitter greenness.

The evening's entree course was a beautiful culmination of our adventure into the Fifth Quarter. Perfectly seared beef heart was sliced thin and served with a tantilzingly-huge slice of foie gras. Unbelievable. For those put off by the words "beef heart", the meat resembled a very finely grained, flavorful, and in the hands of Cosentino, tender cut of traditional steak. For the foie, well, it was seared perfectly, and its creamy texture paired wonderfully with the beef heart. What dish isn't enhanced by a huge slab of foie, anyway?

Dessert was a play on the traditional panna cotta. Instead of gelatin or corn starch, blood was used to thicken the dish. Paired with spiced plums, this dish tasted homey, and was nowhere near as challenging to eat as its name might suggest. The holiday spices, such as cinnamon and clove, that flavored the panna cotta, along with the pudding-like texture, evoked...Christmas! 

Our journey into the fifth quarter proved even more enchanting than we could have expected.  The attentive staff and the visits from Chef Cosentino explaining his inspiration for each course only added to our enjoyment of the meal.

This was easily the most creative (and calorically challenging) tasting menu we have enjoyed. I am already looking forward to my next trip into the fifth quarter and to Incanto.

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

When You go to San Francisco, Take Your Camera

On my recent visit to San Francisco I was stunned by the beauty and contrast offered up in spades by the City By the Bay. Views of bridges, water, turn-of-the-century architecture, and glimpses of the ever present (and pointy) Trans-America tower are everywhere.

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Oysters Come With a View At Sam's Anchor Cafe... Tiburon, California.

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

What I Ate Yesterday in Marin County, CA

Life in Marin County, California is, as far as I can tell, pretty idyllic. My brother Tim is fortunate enough to call this place home, and we were fortunate yesterday to call Tim our tour guide of all things Marin.

We began the day with a drive over to the Tomales Bay and a stop at the Hog Island Oyster Company farm. We enjoyed three kinds of oysters: Kumamoto, the more regular sounding "extra small", and "small". The "Kumos" were the clear winner with their salty and creamy flavor. Service was simple; we received a tray, some oysters, and a shucking knife.

For lunch, I enjoyed a Caprese salad of local cheese, heirloom tomatoes, with McEvoy Ranch olive oil, and the best grilled cheese I've ever had at Osteria Stellina in Point Reyes Station. Our dessert was a simple almond teacake with a zinfandel-plum sauce and a small scoop of creme fraiche ice cream.

In the afternoon we killed some serious time on both the Bolinas and Stinson beaches.

After we drove back over the ever present Mount Tam, we settled in for dinner at Larkspur's Left Bank. Not much could have made me happier than my salad of frisee, lardon, and poached egg, and then my dinner of steak frites.

Life does not suck in Marin County.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Tony Is Here

I'm not sure if this is a metaphor, of if Tony really is here, but I like it. 

Spotted in San Francisco's North Beach:


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Monday, September 21, 2009

Between BZN and SFO lies NV...And Not Much Else

It takes about 17 hours of driving to get from Bozeman, Montana to San Francisco, California. Once you leave behind the mountains of southwest Montana and head into Idaho, and later, Nevada, there is lot of "empty" out there. Need open space? Check out the 500 miles or so between Twin Falls, ID and Reno, NV.

Day one of the trip ended in the delightful town of Grass Valley, CA. For dinner, Lefty's Grill served up a mean burger with a personal fave - an over easy fried egg on top.

After a few hours of sleep, a hearty breakfast of chili relleno, potatoes, and two more over easy eggs sets me straight - as I set my sights on the Bay Area.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Apple Dumplings = Speechless

Ever since we enjoyed a truly fine apple dumpling in Billings at Off the Leaf Coffee, I have been counting down the seconds until the resident baker, Jen, would transform some of our apple crop into our own spheres of goodness.

Mission accomplished.

I was truly speechless when these both emerged from the oven, and when my fork broke through the flaky pastry to the tender apple waiting inside. At the core was a molten concoction of brown sugar, butter, spice, and raisins.

No more words, just yummy sounds.









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