La Boulange

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If you’ve ever been to the Bay Area, chances are you’ve had something baked by the Bay Bread group. Their range of sweet and savory loaves are scattered throughout San Francisco’s best restaurants and shops, and the Bay Bread group has their own mini-chain of bakery-cafes as well: La Boulange.

My cousin, sister and I shared coffee and sweets at La Boulange at Fillmore in San Francisco on a rainy afternoon, and the place was packed. I tried my first macarons here, which were almost too pretty to eat.

Passionfruit-Mango and Pistachio macarons

I enjoyed the pistachio-flavored one better than the passion-fruit mango, not only because it was more traditional, but because it was less overwhelmingly sweet.

La Boulange also has a selection of soups, salads and sandwiches, but I prefer their breads. Their canelés are also delicious, but I love canelés in general so perhaps I’m biased.

Everyone says the best macarons are in France, but I forgot to try them in Paris. And until I have another chance, La Boulange’s will keep me satisfied.

Pappardelle with Mascarpone-Porcini Sauce

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I’ve been cooking with dried porcini mushrooms a lot lately. I used them liberally in two Thanksgiving dishes: baked pasta shells with cheese, porcini, pancetta and radicchio; and porcini-potato gratin.

But we’ll get to those later. One of my favorite uses of this super-flavorful mushroom is in a pasta sauce, made even richer with the addition of creamy mascarpone cheese. Stirring in a classic tomato sauce at the end helps balance things out with a bit of acidity, making for a wholly satsifying dish.

Pappardelle with mascarpone-porcini sauce

Ingredients:

2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 cans whole plum tomoates (preferably San Marzano)
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 handful basil, coarsely chopped
3 ounces dried porcini mushrooms
3 tablespoons mascarpone cheese
1 package pappardelle pasta
Salt and pepper to taste

1. In medium pot, gently saute the garlic with one tablespoon olive oil, and then add the chilli, oregano and tomatoes. Mix gently, taking care to not break up the tomatoes (this makes the sauce slightly bitter).

2. Bring to a boil and simmer gently for an hour. Add the vinegar, then stir and break up the tomatoes in the sauce with the back of a stirring spoon. Add basil, season well to taste, and add one tablespoon olive oil. Cover and set aside.

3. Place the dried porcini mushrooms in a small bowl and add 1 cup boiling water for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the remaining olive oil and garlic in a medium pan and saute over low heat for 5 minutes. 

4. Pick out the soaked porcini, reserving the porcini broth, and add porcini to the pan. Saute for 5 minutes. Pour in half a cup of the reserved porcini broth and discard the remainder. Simmer the mushroom mixture until the liquid is absorbed and then add the tomato sauce. Add the mascarpone and season to taste.

5. Meanwhile, cook the papardelle in salted wated until al dente and drain. Add pasta to sauce and toss. Serve warm.

Endive Salad with Anchovy and Caper Dressing

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It can be hard to get enough greens in my diet during the winter, but that doesn’t mean I don’t stop craving them. Endives are in season at this time of year though, and this anchovy and caper dressing stand up perfectly to offset the endives’ mild bitterness.

This easy recipe is adapted from Jamie Oliver’s The Naked Chef, which I adore, even though I feel like I shouldn’t, because Anthony Bourdain doesn’t. But hey, the man can cook!

Endive salad with anchovy and caper dressing

Ingredients:

4 endives, cut into eighths
8 anchovy fillets packed in olive oil, drained and minced
1 tablespoon capers, minced
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Black pepper

1. In a bowl, whisk minced anchovies, capers, olive oil, lemon juice and pepper to taste.

2. Add endives to bowl and toss with dressing.

A16

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A16 is San Francisco’s darling of an Italian restaurant. It is doted upon by magazines, bloggers and eaters eager to dine at the city’s hippest establishments. The restaurant’s meatballs night on Mondays is its most popular draw, but it was a Friday evening when a friend and I arrived for dinner to celebrate my birthday. (Uh, last January. Since I’m catching up on reviews and all.)

We started with the mozzarella burrata with olive oil, sea salt and crostini.

Mozzarella burrata with olive oil, sea salt and crostini

I don’t know if this was intentional, but the crostini were a bit too crisp, or dare I say, burned. The mozzarella burrata was good, though it wasn’t out of this world. Still, it was a satisfying compliment to our bottle of G&K Grillo Sicilia.

For my entree I chose the casareccia with baccala, tomato, green olives, garlic, chiles, basil and breadcrumbs.

Casareccia with baccala, tomato, green olives, garlic, chiles, basil and breadcrumbs

It was all right, but I couldn’t help but feel dissapointed. I expected something more exciting, something more flavorful. Maybe it’s me, I kept thinking. I mean, isn’t A16 where all the cool kids eat?

I hate to compare restaurants, but I couldn’t help but think of the Italian restaurant that I had eaten at a month earlier. I won’t name names, but I’ll just say that I love offal. And Chris Cosentino.

I’m more than willing to give A16 another chance. Maybe they were having an off night. After all, an entire city can’t be wrong. Right?

Lentil Salad with Browned Sausages

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Lentils have always been a comfort food for me. Adas polo, an Iranian lentil and rice pilaf topped with fried onions, was a dish frequently requested by my sister and I when we were kids. Adasi, or soupy lentils served with olive oil and lemon juice and sprinkled with golpar, is one of my favorite meals when I’m feeling under the weather.

A dish of lentil salad with browned sausages that I made recently is French-inspired rather than Iranian, but the comfort factor is still there. With the days getting shorter, darker and rainier, a bowl of well-seasoned lentils couldn’t be a better antidote to the autumn blues.

Lentil salad with browned sausages

Ingredients:

2-3 cups cooked brown lentils
1 small onion, peeled and chopped
1 small carrot, peeled and chopped
1 lb smoked sausage, sliced
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
5 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup chopped parsley
salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat one tablespoon olive oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the sausages and saute, turning ocassionally until browned, about 10 minutes.

2. In another saucepan, heat one tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and carrots and saute until the onions are translucent, about 4 minutes. Season with salt and remove from heat.

3. While the sausages cook, make the vinaigrette: In a bowl, whisk one tablespoon vinegar with the mustard and a pinch of salt. Whisk in two tablespoons olive oil. Season to taste with salt.

4. If lentils are not warm, reheat them. In a large bowl, toss the lentils with a little salt and remaining vinegar and olive oil. Drain the sausages and add sausages and vinaigrette to the lentils, tossing to coat. Stir in the parsley, onions and carrots and add salt and pepper to taste.