Clay with Your Food – Jered’s Pottery Challenge 2016

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Chef’s Mis en Place

On Sunday, June 5, I was fortunate to be the guest of a good friend and fellow food enthusiast, Donovan Unks, better known on Twitter as The Dapper Diner. He’d been invited to judge the annual cook off contest held at Jered’s Pottery, which includes a trio of challenges designed to produce a victor in the kitchen. The challenges themselves are unorthodox, and the results were entertaining. Dapper’s fellow judges included Sara Paloma, a local ceramic artist, and Owen Rogers, a designer and partner from IDEO.org, a non-profit design and innovation organization focused on designing products, services, and experiences to improve the lives of people in poor and vulnerable communities.

The Chef-testants featured Kelsey Kerr from Standard Fare in Berkeley, Mark Liberman from AQ in San Francisco, and Galen Vasquez from Sons & Daughters in San Francisco. All were great sports, rising fearlessly to the various challenges, as guests watched while enjoying the wine and cheese provided by our host during the event.

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Whole Rabbit wrapped in guanciale, ready for the kiln

In the first of three events, the chefs were tasked with preparing a dish in the kiln, which was heated to an intimidating 800 degrees. Chef Kerr prepared a simple dish of anchovies, and I was selected to be the taste tester from the audience. I found the sardines cooked to perfection, despite the unorthodox preparation method, giving the dish a thumbs up. Chef Vasquez’ attempt to defeat the blast furnace temperatures was a whole boned rabbit, seasoned with fresh picked herbs, and wrapped in guanciale to keep it moist, but it was the offering from Chef Liberman, a black cod steeped in miso, resulting in a buttery soft flesh imbued with stellar aromatics, that took the first round of judging. Fortunately, I was allowed a taste of all three, and while I found the rabbit delectable, I can’t find fault with their selection. The cod was spectacular, made all the more impressive in that it was cooked at 800 degrees, in a kiln no less.

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Pottery Challenge – Pictured: (L-R) Jered Nelson; Mark Liberman; Kelsey Kerr; Galen Vasquez 

 

The next challenge was for each cheftestant to create their own serving dish out of clay. After a brief lesson from master “Clayboy” Jered Nelson, each bravely took to the pottery wheel. Results produced varied degrees of success, but they gave it their all and did pretty well considering the amount of time they had to acquaint themselves with the process and their lack of experience. The event was a rousing success with the crowd as the cheering and hollering from all present would attest. It was delightfully orchestrated chaos.

As a final challenge, each chef was given one of Jered’s creations on which to plate the perfectly presented dish. The products of this effort were mind-bendingly beautiful. The sleek and surreal shapes of Jered’s imaginative creations, upon which were placed delicate morsels of food in artistic shapes and designs, were sublime.

The winner was declared at the conclusion of the plating portion, with Chef Mark Liberman taking the prize.  Guests and judges finished off the afternoon with a buffet of okonomiyaki (a Korean pancake), kimchi fried rice and refreshing soba salad, all furnished by Namu (the folks behind both the food truck and Namu Gaji), it was the perfect end to an enchanting day. If you haven’t yet eaten at the restaurants represented, you should. If you’ve never checked out Jered’s incredible creations, that’s a must as well. I know I’ll do both.

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The winning plaing entry, by Chef Galen Vasquez

Jered’s Pottery
867 S 19th Street
Richmond, CA 94804
http://www.jeredspottery.com

Namu Gaji
499 Dolores Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
Phone:(415) 431-6268

1760 POLK – Expect the Unexpected

Delectable Hamachi Crudo with summer stone fruit (Plums)

Delectable Hamachi Crudo with summer stone fruit (Plums)

Expectations are a funny game. Often, one seeks out the repetition of a familiar pleasure, be it the way a favorite outfit makes us feel, or the enjoyment found in a favorite film as we relive the emotions its story inspires. There are things we know will always be the same, that will always reward our anticipation in just the same way. They never disappoint. We can find them to be always exactly as we remember them to be.

Then there are times we seek new experiences. We want them to be just as satisfying, so we begin that search in places we feel have the highest potential for reward. We read a new book by a trusted author, or watch a film from a director whose work has touched us in the past. When successful, we add another pleasant experience to our reservoir of things well done.  This is how we learn. We know a little of something, and if we like it, we go looking for more of that something. Needless to say, when we find it, we know it.

1760 Polk, a new restaurant from the folks behind the enchanting Acquerello, was just such an experience. I have loved Acquerello from the

Watermelonn Gaspacho with Fresh Dungeness Crab

Watermelonn Gaspacho with Fresh Dungeness Crab

moment we met. My youngest had suggested we try it to celebrate her impending trip to Italy and it seemed appropriate. But it was more than a great dining experience, it felt like I’d come home, so when I heard there was a new venture by the same people, I had to get in on the action. The anticipation, you see, can be overwhelming.

Located in San Francisco, at 1760 Polk Street (no kidding!), the new space is fresh and modern, beautifully renovated within what was formerly a rather dowdy Mexican restaurant. It’s beauty is no surprise, as the new owners took several years to perfect the look, uncovering and highlighting the beautiful 1930s window structure that lines the restaurants upper walls, replacing just about everything else with sleek, modern architecture, the result a very appealing and open space conducive to the commingling of community. Nice work.

Hangar Steak with caramelized onion and grapes

Hangar Steak with caramelized onion and grapes

1760’s soft-open featured some delightful fare, among the offerings: a remarkably memorable beef tartare, a lovely plum hamachi crudo and of course, the duck slider that’s become such a hit with patrons. My daughter and I were so impressed with the samplings we immediately made ressies to return, knowing it would soon be a “hot ticket” and thus harder to get in. Just two weeks later we were at a four-top and ready to be wowed. And wowed we were.

On our second visit, we basically ate our way through the entire menu. I don’t think we missed a dish, as the Chef brought out the few items we hadn’t ordered as gifts. Perhaps he sensed our unbridled enthusiasm, perhaps he’s just a swell guy. Perhaps both.

The first bites were provided the table in the form of a lovely amuse bouche from Chef Tortosa. Delectable bites of apple in slithers of honey. Simple perfection. Next we had the hamachi, a refreshing and buoyantly light combination of pluots, rice and beautiful fresh fish, presenting as clouds of seafood with the last of the summer stone fruit harvest. Next up

Crispy Octopus with basil and veggies

Crispy Octopus with basil and veggies

was the Dungeness Crab, served as a “side” and bathed in a soup of watermelon gazpacho. This was a stellar invention and one I barely captured a bite of, as my table-mates devoured it quite rapidly. Shared dining is my preference these days, but occasionally it can be like wild-game hunting. The prey can get away.

The Lobster ceviche was a beautiful concoction of the flavors of the South Pacific, the rich caramelized coconut, with pineapple and a hint of coriander blended together to balance the natural briny sweetness of lobster. It was a perfectly balanced plate of seafood. Speaking of seafood Chef Adam’s Crispy Octopus is mind-blowing. I’m often tentative about tentacles. These, I just dove right in to without looking back.

The hits just kept on coming. We had the beef tartare, which is tangy and savory and vastly different from any other species of the same name. This is my all-time favorite rendition of beef tartare and like a favorite song, I intend to enjoy it over and over again. The corn ravioli was another orgasmically delicious mouthful. Delicate and fluffy pasta mingled with the flavor of lingering summer corn. There, in that moment, was a nice shout out to the cloudy soft pastas of Acquerello without being derivative. Chef

Corn Ravioli... um yes!

Corn Ravioli… um yes!

Tortosa is his own man, but Chef Suzette wouldn’t have it any other way. She didn’t hand this kid the reins for nothing.

Pork belly, Bucatini, Cavatelli, (etc) and the Fried Duck Sandwich later, the four of us were ready to cry “Uncle,” but instead we ordered all three desserts. Though all were delicious, I believe our collective favorite was the s’mores disguised as Ganache concoction of hickory ice cream, caramel and gently toasted marshmallow. Just sweet enough, and the happy camping memories that flood back at the taste of a toasted marshmallow get me every time. Smart move.

All in all, 1760 Polk was a damn near perfect experience. I came because it had the Acquerello connection, and I found what I was looking for. But don’t fall into the “I’m expecting it to be Acquerello” trap. It’s just not the same, because it was never supposed to be. Just as Suzette Gresham reigns supreme at the former, Adam Tortosa is bringing his own spin and point of view to the Polk Street Resto. And that’s okay. If all we ever did was repeat exactly the same experience, we’d be pretty bored, after all. It would be like having a favorite child. Each is different and meant to be appreciated independently.

So for those of you who go in “expecting” Acquerello, I would repeat the caution. Don’t. Expect to be entertained, surprised, and provided with dishes representing the best of Chef Tortosa’s bountiful imagination. Expect the unexpected. You won’t be disappointed.

1760 Polk
1760 Polk St
San Francisco, CA 94109
(415) 359-1212
http://www.1760sf.com

Magical Campfire Ganache

Magical Campfire Ganache

RICH TABLE (SF) – Follow the Yellow Brick Bridge

Chicken Lasagna & Popcorn?
Hell Yes.

I have lived across the Bay from San Francisco my entire life.  As a child, a visit to “the City” was a magical trip to the faraway land of Oz at the end of a winding road of yellow brick.   It was a place outside of reality that lay well beyond the boundaries of my childish imagination.  I remember my Great Aunt Susan taking me there for extra-special excursions.  The day to end all days, we would put on a fancy dress, don our best hats and gloves, and board the bus that would take us across the bridge.  Once there, in this place where magic was possible, we would ride the trolley car to the City of Paris with its sparkling crystal dome, to spend the day shopping; or perhaps during the holidays there would be a visit to Santa for photos.  For years, San Francisco was as far as I ever traveled away from home and it felt a journey to the Moon itself.  Looking forward to a trip to the city was the most exciting thing in the world.

Fried Squash Balls with pumpkin seeds

To my Italian grandparents, North Beach was a second home.  My grandfather was the reigning bocce ball champion for several years running.  They knew everyone in the City.  I remember the dinner shows at Bimbos 365, a place where they mingled with luminaries like Rocky Marciano and Earl Warren, while I tried to figure out how they got that tiny naked lady into the magical fishbowl.

Much of that youthful fascination still lingers when I find myself in this City by the Bay, and she remains a place outside the boundaries of the familiar, having never lost her alluring sense of adventure.  As I traverse her often foggy confines, wandering beneath the landscape of towering buildings that scrape the sky, I feel as though I have been transported to Wonderland.  There is even a hint of danger — perhaps I will soon be snatched away by the Red Queen and forced to play games for my life.  The otherworldliness that bewitched me as a child is a lingering thread of connection that compels me back as often as I can manage.  Though vastly changed in architecture and culture, she is now, as she was in my childhood, a large part of the East Bay experience.

THE RESTAURANT

Wagyu Tartare

When the reviews began to come in on RICH TABLE, the delightfully inviting new effort from Evan & Sarah Rich, located at the corner of Gough and Oak, I made our reservations immediately.  RICH TABLE is one of those places that is difficult to describe, its decor all at once comforting, inventive, and classy, but without a hint of pretension.  It’s community seating is European in atmosphere and yet somehow completely embodying the feel of the current San Francisco, with lovely planters provided to “divide” the seated parties into a slightly more private community feel.  Brilliant.

RICH TABLE is laid out in such a way as to be incredibly inviting for such a small space.  Diners arrive to feel immediately embraced within its walls. Elbowing through crowds is not something I relish when I want to enjoy a meal, so kudos to management for understanding this and setting it up so smoothly.  Quite an accomplishment.

THE MEAL

We lucked out in our seating assignment, being placed directly adjacent to the kitchen.  I’m always a fan of watching them do their magic and this group was particularly lively and obviously enjoying what they do.  After a few moments chatting with the expediter, I was informed he was Evan Rich, chef, (co)owner and proprietor of this lovely new addition to the SF dining scene.  He is a delightful young man who absolutely gets it.  His food was spot on and his attitude for feeding people is undoubtedly the reason.  Well, that, along with his significant talent for inventive cuisine.

Sardine (stuffed) Chips

The menu here is seasonal, so you may find that the dishes I have listed here will be off the menu by the time you read this.  The good news is that whatever Evan & Sarah have invented in the meantime is likely to be just as tasty, if not more so.  When a restaurant starts out this well, the possibilities are endless.

We began with cocktails, all of which were delicious.  Mine was a concoction of mezcal, my favorite new alcoholic beverage.  The modern cocktail, with it’s tinctures of fresh produce, essences of fruit and the occasional spice, is a journey all its own—  and their cocktails rival the the standards of the best in the business.  Scott Beattie could order a drink here and come away pleased.  They were just that good.

The appetizers and “bites” were intriguing, so we ordered several.  The Fried Squash Balls had a nice topping of crunchy (I believe) daikon and a smattering of pumpkin seeds, and the Wagyu Tartare was magnificent.  Beautiful fatty meat seasoned to perfection.  The “Sardine Chips” are house made potato chips literally stuffed with a sardine.  They were the crispiest house chips I have ever had.  Still warm and not at all soft.  I love house chips, but often miss the crunch that a mass prepped chip generally has and have found house made chips a little soft for my tastes.  Not true here, as these chips had the freshness without sacrificing the appropriate toothsome bite, add the salty goodness in the middle and one has a really inviting “bite.”   Kudos.

Flatbread with perfect poached eggs….

Another favorite at the table was the chicken lasagna.  How Chefs Rich thought to add popcorn to the dish remains a mystery, but the crunchy puffed corn topping gave it a texture and interest that was both unique and magnificently satisfying.  The waiter recommended we try the spicy pasta dish, (I believe it was a tagliatelle) and it was perfectly al dente and completely engaging.   I devoured mine.   My daughter loved her ribeye steak as well, and the bottle of Barbera from the solid wine list was a perfect compliment to everything.

THE TAKE AWAY

RICH TABLE is one of those hot places you have to visit.  But it is more than that.  It was instantly one of those places I must return to, and often.  Dining is about more than just good food, and while Chefs Evan & Sarah Rich serve blissful fare, they also know how to invite you to their table in such a way that you want to return.  Like dinner at a favorite relative’s house, a meal there is something to be anticipate, enjoyed, and then, once digested, experienced again and again.

Brava.

Chocolate Magic (dessert is a must here)

Check it out for yourself, and make a memory.  I can guarantee it will be a pleasant one.

RICH TABLE
Chef Evan Rich
Chef Sara Rich
199 Gough St (at Oak St)
San Francisco, CA 94102
Phone: (415) 355-9085
http://www.richtablesf.com