Opening a restaurante the hard way–Interview with Chef Christian Dreyfus of El Pozo in Nicaragua

•May 24, 2011 • Leave a Comment

The Taco Guys

•May 21, 2011 • Leave a Comment

How a güero makes shrimp tamales

•March 21, 2011 • Leave a Comment

While at Zeitgeist, a sort of tattoo heavy urban beer garden where hipsters are plenty and fixed gear bikes rule, I was having a beer in the back yard at a picnic table and a  small Mexican woman approached me pulling a cooler, all she said was–Tamales.  Initially, I was unsure about buying food from a lady pulling a cooler around one of the dirtier bars I know,  but what the hell.  So I bought two, since I’m a glutton.  Best tamales I’ve ever had.  It wasn’t until later that night I found out that she was the infamous San Francisco Tamales lady.  Round these parts she is pretty famous for having the best tamales you have ever had.  It’s true.

So as I often do, I wanted to make my own version.  For me, that is what cooking is all about.  You take something that someone else made, and you make it your own.  It always bothers me when I hear of someone that doesn’t want to share a recipe, like they were the first ones to do it.  Newsflash people–unless your Ferran Adria or Grant Achatz creating some crazy mind bending stuff, it’s been done.  Get over yourself!

Anyway, I decided to create something I’ve never seen or eaten — shrimp tamales.  This may not be traditional, but who cares — I am güero.

I start with 2.25 # masa.  I buy my masa from the Mexican markets in the Mission district of San Francisco, basically Mexico.  I like to use Crisco for the lard element.  If I were making pork or beef tamales, then I would say use lard, but for shrimp. Crisco is neutral.  Mix the masa with 1 teaspoon baking powder first.  Once fully incorporated mix in lard by hand.

I recommend using gloves if you have some.  Crisco is some sticky stuff.

After you have worked it together and you have some pea-sized pieces, slowly incorporate stock.  I made a shrimp stock out of shrimp shells.  I work the stock into the mixture until it has a nice smooth consistency.  If you like your tamales harder and dry, then put less.  I like them more moist, so I did about 2-3 cups of stock.  Once mixed smooth it is time for the fun part.

Lay down your corn husks on the workspace.  If small, use two overlapping.  Spread the masa mixture on the husk, leaving about an inch gap from the edges(this is room for growth when cooked).  I like to make the masa nice and thin so you can really taste the filling as well.  I use a rolling pin and some wax paper to make it nice and even(cause I’m anal like that).

Next, fill them with whatever you like.  I chose fire roasted chiles, tomatillo salsa and rock shrimp.  The roasted chiles added nice texture and heat.

Now roll it up.  I focus on making sure the two outsides of masa touch when I roll it.  Once they touch, peel one side of husk away from the masa a little and slide the other side in.  Finish by wrapping the peeled side back over.  Fold the bottom(pointed end of husk), and you’re ready to steam.  Steam for about 20-30 minutes and let cool for 5 mins before eating.  I finished mine with more tomatillo salsa on top and fresh cilantro.  Wish I had some queso fresco to top it all off, but this time it will have to be buenos no cheese.  Next time I’m doing cheese on top too.


It’s Easy To Make Home-Made Spicy Mustard

•March 15, 2011 • Leave a Comment

On sausage, on hotdogs, definitely on pastrami, on french fries sometimes, in beef tartare, on warm pretzels, once on fried chicken, and always on my burger, mustard is definitely one of my top rated condiments, so why am I not making it myself?  I’m not quite sure why,well I am, but I wasn’t, but now I am.   At first, the thought of making my own mustard seemed the smallest bit daunting.  I felt like it was going to be some intricate timely process, but it wasn’t.  It’s really easy, and it only takes about five days.  The hardest part of making mustard was finding the mustard seeds, the brown ones in particular.  I found them on Amazon for about eight bucks a pound.  I feel like I could maybe find them cheaper than that with further research.  Also, try asking your local grocery if they can order some for you.

I started with a 1 qt mason jar.  I like the mason jar because it has a nice tight seal.  Fill the mason jar with 1/4 cup brown mustard seeds, 1/4 cup yellow mustards seeds, 1 T mustard powder, 1T minced onion, 1 T chopped thyme.  Add 1 cup of a beer of your choosing, I used Damnation from the Russian River Brewing Co.  I recommend trying a couple pints first just to make sure it’s good.  Seal the jar and soak overnight in the cooler.

Blend with 1/2 cup of vinegar(cider or white wine), 1 T salt and 1T sugar.  The more you blend it the more it goes from whole grain mustard towards Dijon looking mustard.  I like it somewhere in between.  Place back into mason jar, seal, and store on shelf room temperature for four days.  After four days, taste.  If it’s not spicy enough for you, then let it sit for another day or two.  Otherwise, your mustard is complete.  Pretty damn easy, and delicious.

Eddie Rickenbacker’s Proprietor, Norman Hobday, Dies at 77

•March 7, 2011 • 2 Comments

As you step through the weathered doors of Eddie Rickenbacker’s on 2nd St. and Minna St. in the South of Market neighborhood of San Francisco, you’re likely to be taken aback by what you see; over half a million dollars in Tiffany lamps, 40 antique motorcycles hanging from the ceiling, a very fat cat, model train tracks surrounding the room, and of course, the obese owner hooked up to an oxygen machine, sprawled out on a couch in the corner, and most likely in a shirt that doesn’t even begin to cover his exposed gut.  This has got to be one of the strangest bars in the city.

Norman Hobday, better known as Henry Africa, was the owner of the bar.  Hobday is famous for his previous bar, Henry Africa’s, which is credited for the creation of the drink, the lemon drop.  He lived in the bar on the couch in the corner, until he passed away two fridays ago.  Hobday is somewhat of a legend in the San Francisco bar scene.

Brandon Ricigliano, whom I interviewed a few weeks ago, worked at a nearby restaurant and went to the bar after work and sometimes on his days off.

“I liked it because of the fact that it’s a weird place,” said Ricigliano.  “It’s the most lit up bar I’ve ever been in, plus there’s a guy dying in the corner, that’s weird.”

Though Ricigliano obviously doesn’t seem to mind the owner’s presence enough to stop coming every night, others find it completely off-putting.

Jake Mogelson, who was at the bar for the first time because his friends were there, has a much different feeling about the bar.  “I’m not so cool with the guy dying in the corner,” said Mogelson.

After watching the front door, it is obvious that others feel this way too.  They enter the bar, survey the scene, and promptly leave.  The sight of Hobday on the couch must be too much for some.

Hobday, never seemed to move from his couch in the corner, watching the History Channel with headphones on.  Every few hours he may have  yelled down the bar for a “waitress” to come give him a “lift.”  The bartender, looking quite annoyed since she had a full bar of thirsty patrons, stopped what she was doing to lift him to the seated position.  She sarcastically stated that this is just one of the “perks” of the job.

Though they did have to wait an extra couple of minutes for their drinks, none of the patrons seemed to mind.

Benjamin Christopher, who attends the bar a couple times a week, feels that it is confusing that the bartender has to make drinks and be a nurse at the same time.

“It’s possibly the most abnormal bar I’ve ever seen,” said Christopher.  “I would never take a date here.”

Ricigliano actually has taken one date there.  It didn’t work out.

At Eddie Rickenbacker’s, the drinks will cost you, but the eye candy is free.  Though some of the sites may be a bit disturbing, it is entertaining.  Like any bar, it still has its loyal patrons; unlike any other, it, for a while, had an obese owner sleeping in the corner with his obese cat.  Sadly, this is no longer the case.

The bar doesn’t seem the same anymore since Hobday passed away.

San Francisco Street Food Trend

•March 7, 2011 • Leave a Comment

The street food trend in San Francisco offers cash-strapped consumers and aspiring restaurateurs an affordable alternative to the common brick and mortar restaurant.  Economic hardship is forcing aspiring restaurant owners to start with something humble, like a food cart, so they can grow into a brick and mortar restaurant.  Many in the food industry are saying that the poor state of the economy has forced food into the streets; others are arguing that it was a desired niche.  Regardless, street food has become a cheap alternative for thrifty consumers.

Currently, there are roughly 100 to 150 active street food services in San Francisco, according to San Francisco Office of Small Business, more than double what it was before the recession.

“I think the economy has definitely affected the street food business,” said Martha Yanez, a long time case manager in the Office of Small Business.  “People think this is a cheaper way to break into the business.”

Chef William Pilz, owner of the Hapa SF food truck, was unable to get the loans he needed for a brick and mortar restaurant, so he started a food truck for a fraction of the cost.

“Yeah, the economy forced us out into the streets, but it was kind of like a blessing in disguise,” said Pilz. “I realized I wasn’t going to get the money for a brick and mortar restaurant, and here we found a much more financially viable business.”

Pilz and his wife have been running the food truck since April of last year, and thanks to steady business, hope to have it paid for within six months.

“Most brick and mortar restaurants take anywhere from three to five years to pay the loans and start generating profits,” said Alex Flom, business banking specialist at Wells Fargo Bank in San Francisco.  Pilz is way ahead of the game.

“We’re going to try and get more trucks, do prepared foods, and ultimately end up in a brick and mortar restaurant,” said Pilz.  For many, this is the logical progression into the business.

For many Americans, money has been tight since the start of the “Great Recession” in December of 2007.  As a result of the hard times, many people have become more frugal consumers than they were previously.

“There is no overhead like there is at a restaurant,” said Matt Cohen, founder of Off The Grid.  His organization has helped to bring San Francisco street food vendors together in a sort of roaming market.  Consumers can visit Cohen’s website,, and find daily location and menu of their favorite trucks and carts.  Many have credited Cohen for bringing the street food trend to San Francisco by bringing all the vendors together and promoting street food business.

“I think that the economy has definitely had an impact,” said Cohen.  “The success is people seeking value, but not wanting to compromise quality.”

Whether it is location, or value, it is evident that food trucks are becoming more popular in San Francisco.  According to Yanez, there are more and more people trying to start their own trucks each week.

“We are seeing more and more established chefs wanting to do this,” said Yanez.  “The demographic is changing.”

For many, this is their cost conscious way into to business.  For others, it is just a fun way to fill a niche.

How to make salmon pastrami

•February 22, 2011 • 2 Comments

Last summer I took my first trip to Katz’s Delicatessen for the famous pastrami sandwich.  While waiting in line for my sandwich, the gentlemen preparing my sandwich cut a chunk off of a small piece of pastrami and put it in the window for me to snack on while I was waiting.  First of all, brilliant, everyone making sandwiches should do this.  It’s like a sandwich amuse bouche.  Second, that instant is when I became obsessed with pastrami.  Since then I have eaten a lot of pastrami and nothing has even come close.

I wanted to start making my own pastrami, but then had the idea to use fish since I work at a fish house.  For this recipe I have been using Loch Duart salmon.  This is a Scottish salmon that is not only delicious, but it is also as close to sustainable as salmon gets.  It has a beautiful deep orange color to the meat.  The average fish I get is 12-15 lbs.

I start by filleting the fish.  Remove all the skin and bones.  I use fish tweezers for the pin bones, but if you don’t have fish tweezers, anything like needle-nose pliers will work.

After all the skin, belly and bones are removed, it is time to make your salt cure.

For the salt cure I blend 2 quarts of Kosher salt with one full bunch of parsley(stems and all), and one shallot.  Once you have blended, you should have lime green colored salt.

On a parchment lined sheet tray. sprinkle on one layer of the green salt.  Lay your salmon filet atop the salt and cover with the rest of the green salt.

Wrap and put in the refrigerator for 24 hours.

After 24 hours, wash the salmon filet with cold water.  Pat dry with a paper towel.

Heat 1 cup molasses with 3 bay leaves.  After it comes to a simmer, remove from heat and let stand for a minute.  Once cooled slightly, brush on to salmon.  Cover both top and bottom of filet.  This not only lends a sweet depth to the flavor, but also helps hold your crust to the salmon.

For the crust, pulse one cup of coriander seed with one tablespoon of black peppercorns, one teaspoon of paprika, and a pinch of cayenne pepper.  Pulse until every peppercorn has been broken, but the mixture still looks coarse.

Once ground, sprinkle evenly over salmon to cover completely.

After you crust the salmon it is now time to give it a little smoke.  I burn wood chips on the stove until black.  You will need an old pan that you don’t care about destroying.  I have one that I continually reuse only for this.  Place crusted salmon filet into a perforated pan and cover with foil.  Place smoking chips on one side of another deeper pan.  Place perforated pan inside other pan, with fish on the opposite side of the smoking chips.  Leave covered until chips burn out completely(about 20 minutes or so).  Once finished wrap and refrigerate.  Slice thin to serve.