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>still, sparkling, tap... cucumber infused?

At times, you have probably requested it with lemon.

You are rarely served, especially outside of California, a cool, smooth glass of cucumber-flavored water.

A night out with mom at Aziza in San Francisco was an enchanting escape into Majorelle blue and sumptuous gold.

Unlike El Mansour, another Moroccan restaurant nearby where my sister was delighted to find us instantly transported to a crazy loud belly-dancing Arabian night, Aziza is a subdued, spare, dark space where you barely notice couples cuddling in their own semi-private booths.

Water magic? We were transported to a faraway land where cucumber helps you feel toasty warm, and blue leaves you flushed pink.


>Czech Improved White vs. Vietnamese Potbelly

It reads like a veritable list of representatives to the United Nations.*

Tasty pork goes beyond Hampshire and Yorkshire. It goes beyond Middle White, Large White and Large Black.

Restaurant menus love flaunting the particular breeds of swine they sous-vide, pull, smoke, etc., etc. Their current crush breed is Berkshire (a black pig) or kurobuta ("black pig"). I know black is beautiful, but how about some fair representation.

Last Wednesday, I had late dinner at Kokkari where happy mayor Gavin Newsom (obviously still uninformed of the oil spill) was celebrating his win.

Time to pig out.

>pikti, terrine of Berkshire Pig trotters & head with radishes, cucumber & black olives - Kokkari Estiatorio, San Francisco

>pork chop with fontina, spinach and caramelized shallot stuffed kurobuta pork chop with sauteed sweet potatoes and granny smith apples with haricot verts and brandy cream sauce - the Fig Tree, Charlotte, NC

>satsuma marinated grilled Yorkshire pork loin with purple yam hash; shishito pepper and white truffles - L'Espalier, Boston, MA

*A sample of our proudly international hog reps - may the best pork win!

American Landrace, Bantu, Basque Black Pied, Beijing Black, Belarus Black Pied, Belgian Landrace, Black Slavonian, British Lop, Bulgarian White, Canadian Landrace, Cantonese, Czech Improved White, Danish Duroc, Dutch Landrace, Estonian Bacon, Finnish Landrace, French Landrace, German Landrace, Iberian, Italian Landrace, Japanese Kurobuta, Latvian White, Lithuanian Native, Mexican Wattled, Norwegian Landrace, Philippine Native, Poland China, Russian Large White, Swedish Landrace, Swiss (Schweizerisches) Edelschwein
, Tibetan, Ukrainian Spotted Steppe, Vietnamese Potbelly


>acacia honey and sweet 100 tomatoes

There is finally a there there in Oakland. (Rockridge, honorary Berkeley, doesn't count.)

Soft-opening of restaurant Flora (located opposite the beautiful Fox theater) yesterday soft-marked a new era of exciting downtown nightlife.

The building couldn't be any prettier. People will flock to this former floral depot no matter what, I promise. (Alas, no liquor license yet...).

Just look at the menu.

Since I couldn't find their online menu yet, I am printing it here myself.

Flora Restaurant Dinner Menu


-soup of the day
-little gem lettuce, red thumb potatoes, hard cooked egg, caramelized shallot, shaved pecorino, black truffle vinaigrette
-mixed chicories, gravenstein apples, shaved fennel, point reyes blue, pomegranate vinaigrette
-red wine braised short ribs, pan gravy, crispy potatoes, cheddar cheese bechamel
-scallop crudo, serrano chile, cucumber, cilantro, fried garlic, yuzu, soy, hawaiian red salt
-house crafted wild mushroom and sheep's milk ricotta ravioli, mushroom broth, fried sage, pomegranate, shaved pepato cheese


-prosciutto wrapped swordfish, green risotto, citrus soup, olive oil
-grilled new york strip, housemade worcestershire, horseradish cream, potato gratin, sauteed spinach
-spiced and grilled giant shrimp, beurre monte, cauliflower pudding, grilled tardivo

-pasta norma - bucatini, eggplant, olives, marinara, ricotta salata, olive oil
- " with crisp pork and beef meatballs
-grilled chicken breast, lemon-caper sauce, mashed potatoes, roasted brussels sprouts
-house ground carmelized onion and chuck burger, french fries, 3 bean salad
- " with mccadam cheddar cheese
-butternut squash pancake, creme fraiche, roasted beets and fennel, green salad
-pan roasted duck breast, fig and port reduction, wilted cabbage, sweet potato puree


-mashed potatoes
-sauteed spinach
-cheddar fries
-green salad
-cauliflower pudding


-warm apple galette, butterscotch ice cream, acacia honey

-meyer lemon, huckleberry, pomegranate-orange sorbets, crisp ginger cookie
-peanut brittle ice cream sundae, hot fudge, whipped cream, roasted salted peanuts
-buttermilk panna cotta, muddled huckleberries, shortbread cookie
-affogato-cardamom ice cream, hot blue bottle espresso, almond batons
-chocolate souffle, cacao nib creme anglaise

Yes, I wll definitely be there, there, again.

All right, all right, here's their lunch menu, too.


-soup of the day
-arugula, roasted red peppers, roasted red onions, pecans, sheep's milk feta, red wine vinaigrette
-avocado green goddess, little gems lettuce, applewood smoked bacon, cucumber, sweet 100 tomatoes, radishes, garlic croutons
-dungeness crab and shrimp louie, tomato, avocado, hard cooked egg, little gems lettuce, classic louie dressing
-red leaf lettuce, baby bok choy, shredded chicken, mango, celery, daikon, spicy red peppers, cashews, bean sprouts, mint, thai basil, cilantro, vietnamese-stye sweet lime-chili vinaigrette


-cubano - ham, roasted pork, swiss cheese, house cured pickles, mustard, rustic roll, cabbage slaw
-saltimbocca - sliced chicken breast, prosciutto, mozzarella, lemon sage aioli, greens, poppy roll, potato salad
-grilled persimmon, robiola cheese, acacia honey, arugula, levain bread, 3 bean salad
-tuna melt - house preserved local albacore, red bell pepper, red onion, cilantro, ginger, soy, cheddar cheese, greens, rustic roll, chili-orange noodles
-house ground caramelized onion and chuck burger, fries
- " with mccadam cheddar cheese


-butternut squash risotto, leeks, ricotta salata, dressed greens
-grilled chicken breast, lemon-caper sauce, mashed potatoes, roasted brussels sprouts
-grilled escolar, jicama, grapefruit, sweet potato puree

No wine list yet - why don't you try some Boylan's birch beer or Ancient Forest black tea?


>roasted lamb belly and whole pork butt bo ssam

A late night visit to this East Village ssam bar can be a bewildering experience.
Where's the sign? (There is no sign).
The "bar food" is 3 notches above the usual fare. I am perfectly willing to frequent bars if they had food like this. The only complaint was their chintzy portions.

I am printing their menu in its entirety, since it hardly resembles anything elsewhere. I've put asterisks on the items with accompanying
pictures (courtesy of my sister). The price for the last item on the menu is worth a mention. Bo Ssam, (wrap, "whole butt" here) which you have to reserve in advance, is $180.00.

Momofuku Ssam Bar Menu, one night in October

Raw Bar

*Glidden Point Oysters (ME) - with kimchi consomme
Cracked Epress Jonah Crab Claws (ME) - 1/2 dozen with yuzu mayo
Cured Hamachi - edamame, horseradish, pea leaves
Diver Sea Scallops (ME) - lemon puree, pickled cherries, seaweed
*Santa Barbara Uni - tapioca, whipped tofu, scallions

Small Dishes

Seasonal Pickles
Steamed Buns - pork belly, hoisin, cucumber, scallions
Bread & Butter - sea salt butter (VT), St. Helen's Farm goat's butter (England)
Four Story Hill Farm Chicken Ballotine (PA) - porcini mushrooms, walnuts
Spicy Squid Salad - celery, sichuan pepper, red chili
*Wagyu Beef Tartare - pinenuts, pear, ginger, scallion

Country Hams

Finchville Farm's Country Ham (Finchville, Kentucky)

Burger's Smokehouse Ozark Country Cured Ham (California, Missouri)
Edward's Wigwam Smoked Ham (Surry, Virginia)
Benton's Smoky Mountain Country Ham (Madisonville, Tennessee)


Red Jacket Cortland & Mutsu Apple Salad - Benton's bacon, lychee, peanuts

Satur Farm Fried Cauliflower - chilies, mint, fish sauce
*Tello's Chawan Mushi - maple syrup, smoked trout roe


Banh Mi - three terrine sandwich

Warm Veal Head Terrine
*Grilled Veal Sweetreads - pickled roasted chilies, lime
Crispy Pig's Head Torchon (Newman's Farm, MO) - red adzuki beans, spicy mustard

Fish & Shellfish

Old Bay Pan-Fried Skate - roasted fingerlings, preserved lemons, spicy aioli

Steamed Manila Clams - duck sausage, kimchi, poached egg


*Roasted Lamb Belly (Four Story Hill Farm, PA) - Mountain Sweet Berry Farm's swiss chard
Pork Spare Ribs (Newman's Farm, MO) - tomatillos, yukon golds, mustard seeds
Pan-Roasted Dry Aged Ribeye - shallot confit


Momofuku Ssam -with flour pancake, pork, onions, shiitake, edamame, red kimchi puree
Grilled Lemongrass Pork Sausage - fish sauce, bibb lettuce
Marinated Hanger Steak Ssam - ginger scallion, kimchi, bibb lettuce

Bo Ssam - whole butt, dozen oysters, kimchi, rice bibb lettuce

I *peach* New York.


>black mole hot fudge

Topolobampo restaurant's Mole Menu tasting, course #5

El Nido (The nest)

<-- Before black mole hot fudge, and after -->

Golden donut holes filled with Three Sister's Garden pumpkin crema in cotton candy nest; black mole hot fudge

Paired with 2003 Capcanes Pansal Del Calas, Montsant, Spain

Couldn't have asked for a better bittersweet treat.


Topolobampo restaurant's Mole Menu tasting, course #4

Puerco en Clemole Castellano

Maple Creek pork loin in clemole (pasillas, anchos, avocado leaf, hazelnuts, pinenuts, pecans, spices) with red chile bread pudding (infused with "tacha" -candied- pumpkin).

Paired with 2003 Reserva Marques De Vargas, Rioja, Spain


>mole de cacahuate

Topolobampo restaurant's Mole Menu tasting, course # 3

Pescado en Mole Verde de Cacahuate

Pan-seared day-boat catch with classic green peanut mole, polenta-like "tamal frito", braised chard and crispy epazote

Paired with 2003 Ici/La-Bas "Les Reveles" Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County, California


Topolobampo restaurant's Mole Menu tasting, course #2


Silky southern Mexican soup of sweet dumpling squash, ancho chile, sweet spices and roasted garlic; with apple wood smoked shrimp, grilled green onion and watermelon jelly

Paired with 2006 Knappstein Riesling, Clare Valley, Australia

>mole poblano

Topolobampo restaurant's "Mole Menu" tasting, course #1

Tartara "Tallgrass" Sabor a Mole

Hand-cut tartare of Tallgrass grass-fed beef with the essence of mole poblano (mulato, ancho, pasilla, seeds, nuts, herbs, spices) and Bayless Garden microgreens

Paired with 2006 L'Herminette, Tavel Rose, Rhone Valley, France

Mulato: "Wrinkled, flattened, brownish-black, dried chile with a heat level that ranges from mild to medium. When it is fresh, the Mulato Chile Pepper is referred to as a Poblano Chile. The Mulato Chile provides a slight licorice flavor with a hint of cherry and tobacco.
" (

Pasilla: The pasilla chile (pronounced pah-SEE-yah; literally "little raisin") or chile negro is the dried form of a variety of chile, named for its dark, wrinkled skin. In its fresh form, it is called the chilaca. It is a mild to medium-hot, rich-flavored chile. ... It turns from dark green to dark brown when fully mature. (

>tartaleta with tamarindo

Topolobampo restaurant Seafood Menu tasting, course #5

Tartaleta de Pina y Tamarindo

Upside-down browned butter pineapple tart with homemade puff pastry crust, tamarind caramel sauce and sweet-and-salty toasted pumpkinseed ice cream.

Paired with 1998 Isole e Olena Vin Santo Del Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy

I like snacking on dried tamarind. It tastes a lot like dried persimmon. In fact, if cracking the pods open and peeling the strings away weren't rather annoying and time-consuming, it would make my favorite snack.


>chochoyote and epazote

Topolobampo restaurant's Seafood Menu tasting, course # 4

Vitaminas al Vapor ("Steamed vitamins"?)

Rustic red chile seafood soup of grilled baby octopus, Hawaiian blue prawns, epazote-flecked chochoyotes and poached egg

"Chochoyote" doesn't appear often on Mexican food glossaries. It is corn (masa) dumpling or pressed dough, and it seems to hail from Oaxaca.

Epazote: "A jagged leafed herb, popular in Mexican cooking, that is considered to be a weed in many regions. It provides a pungent pine-like odor and a similarly strong, unique flavor, similar to licorice or mint. It is sold fresh, dried or ground and because of its unique flavor no other herb can be used as a substitution. Popular in bean and tortilla dishes, epazote is also known as Mexican tea, wormwood, goosefoot, and Jerusalem oak." (

Comfort food with all the trimmings.
(Paired with 2005 Luca Syrah, Altos De Mendoza, Argentina)


>guero and serrano

Now we are talking (moderate) fire. I am also realizing all three tasting menus at Topolobampo restaurant could be called "Chili Tasting Menu", a la Ritz-Carlton Dining Room's "Salt and Pepper Tasting Menu".

So far mentioned are poblano, ancho, guajillo, guero (güero) and serrano. For fun, let's compare their Scoville units. (The number varies depending on whom you ask - here's one table.)

ancho (1000 - 2000), poblano (2500 - 3000), guero (2000 - 5000), guajillo (5000 - 10000), serrano (7000 - 25000)

Let's not get distracted, though... Topolobampo's Seafood Menu course #3

Mone de Pescado

Garlic-marinated Alaskan black cod roasted in banana leaves with guero chile rajas, Spence Farm blue potatoes, local tomatoes and sweet plantains; roasted serrano-lime salsa

According to GourmetSleuth, "the word "rajas" just means "strips" but in Mexican cooking it refers to strips of chiles. The chiles are roasted, peeled, and cut into strips. After that the recipe can vary but normally they are sautéed with onions, herbs and seasonings. The cooked mixture is used as a condiment with meats or as a vegetable side dish."

Paired with 2003 Ici / La-Bas "Les Reveles" Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County, California.

Sizzle and substance.

>manzana rellena

Apple stuffed with melted cheese. Sounds like dessert, but it is the second course on the Seafood tasting menu at Topolobampo.

Manzana Rellena

Crab apple combo; roasted Michigan "honey crisp apple" filled with "queso fundido" of goat cheese, poblano chile and dungeness crab, grilled frisee salad

Paired with 2005 Eric Bordelet Sidre Doux, Normandy, France

All the flavor combinations are here. Savory crab and cheese, tart and sweet apples. Chili heat. It makes a fantastic "salad" course.

>tiradito and pipian

Did I rush through the first tasting menu?

I will break the next one down to show more details. The second tasting menu option at Topolobampo was "Seafood Menu".

Here's Seafood tasting menu course #1.

Tiraditos de Kampachi

Thin slices of buttery sashimi-grade Kona Kampachi tossed with cilantro green chile "chimichurri", Three Sister's Garden greens with pinenut pipian dressing

Pipian is a "sauce containing ground nuts or seeds and spices; Indian stew or fricassee thickened by its ingredients rather than by flour" (

According to
a Peruvian food dictionary, tiradito is "similar to ceviche, but differs in cut and presentation. The fish is sliced into fine, long pieces, without onions. The evolution of the dish has likely been influenced by the Japanese immigration into Peru during the late 1800’s." explains chimichurri. "A spicy herb sauce or marinade that is served with grilled and roasted meats. With orgins credited to Argentina and their use of the sauce, Chimichurri Sauce generally consists of water, salt, garlic, parsley, oregano, pepper, red chile peppers, lemon zest, red or white-wine vinegar, and extra-virgin olive oil. However, there are numerous versions of this sauce that range from tangy and spicy to tart or somewhat sweet flavored. It is a food item that can be used as a basting sauce on fish, shellfish, poultry, beef, and pork or as a dipping sauce after the food has been cooked. Chimichurri may also be used as a term to reference a hamburger that is popular in the Dominican Republic."

A refreshing first course, voted winner among the three at my table, paired with 2006 Knappstein Riesling, Clare Valley, Australia.


>Napa Valley Journal - "Kitchen Conventional"

Sorry, folks.

Yes, I've been suffering from food fatigue. I am not a foodie, per se, rather a non-foodie looking for something exciting, and there hasn't been earth-shaking excitement, food-wise, lately.

To quote Milan Kundera, "happiness is the longing for repetition" (The Unbearable Lightness of Being). Meant for a dog, really, but don't we want to be one sometimes? I have been quite all right with the same old roll in my mouth.

Wine Country is always great the first day. (The French Laundry! Cyrus! So many vineyards to choose from!)
The second day, winery fatigue starts to set in. Not as quickly as mall fatigue, but there it is. For those of you who can do more than 3 days - well, my straw hat's off to you.

Had a really nice meal at Redd in Yountville. This sounds oxymoronic, but they do it well here -informal fine dining. Big portions, little fuss, perfect techniques. Two-person 7-course tasting menu turned up 14 dishes total, in the following order.

1a. Yellowfin tuna and hamachi tartare cubes, avocado, chili oil, fried rice

1b. Sashimi of hamachi, sticky rice, edamame, lime ginger sauce, seaweed

2a. Chilled calamari salad, marinated daikon and carrot, lettuce, toasted peanuts, Vietnamese sauce

2b. Heirloom tomato and bread salad, red onions, arugula, baby basil, grated parmegiano

3a. Petrale sole, creamy jasmine rice, mussels, crispy chorizo, saffron curry nage (foam)

3b. Caramelized diver scallops, roasted cauliflower puree, golden raisins, almonds, capers, balsamic reduction

4a. Foie gras 2 ways, stone fruit, pistachios, brioche

4b. Glazed pork belly, fig puree, burdock, soy caramel

5a. Wolfe Ranch quail, soft polenta, chanterelles, smoked ham

5b. Braised beef shortrib, horseradish crust, potato puree, summer vegetables

6a. 2 slices of Pecorino Toscano, lettuce, honeycomb

6b. 1 slice of "Sophia" from Illinois (resembling Humboldt Fog), lettuce, honeycomb

7a. Deep fried corn fritters with sour cherries, sauteed corn pops, apricot sauce, Tahitian vanilla bean ice cream, micro basil

7b. Peanut butter milk chocolate giandujia, peanut honey parfait, chocolate sorbet with candied peanut butter

I enjoyed my entire meal with a glass of my favorite Crozes-Hermitage, but
I passed on their interesting cocktail menu. "Strawberry Blonde" with strawberry infused vodka, "The Green Monster" with lemongrass syrup, "C-Scape" with Tanqueray rangpur gin, tangerine syrup, angostura bitters, "Niwa" with vodka, sake, lemon juice, cucumber...