Sahn Maru

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I love Korean food. I mean, I really love it. I could probably eat banchan every day and never get sick of it. I crave bulgogi at least once a week and the same goes for bibim naengmyon.

So it was with great excitement that I tried out Sahn Maru in Oakland a few months ago with a group. I usually go to Jong Ga House or Koryo but had heard good things about Sahn Maru too. Unable to decide on what to eat, I went for their “special dinner A” menu item consisting of bulgogi, darkgui, jap chae, na mul and soft tofu jigae, served alongside little plates of banchan.

Bulgogi, barbecue chicken, jap chae and kim chi tofu soup

The jigae and banchan hit the spot but the rest of the dishes were a little too bland and too sweet, even. The jap chae especially seemed heavy on the sugar. My dissapointment was made up by Sahn Maru’s service though, which is incredibly friendly and warm. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that the portions are generous too.

I’ll probably be back at Sahn Maru soon to try their other dishes. After all, it’s Korean food, and you can never have too much of that.

Mirepoix

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Several months ago, my family and I visited Mirepoix in Windsor to celebrate my sister’s birthday. I was looking forward to trying it out, especially since I used to drive past the restaurant every day when I worked in Sonoma County’s wine country.

The interior is small, cozy and warm, evoking the French countryside feel that I imagine they’re going for. The food is rustic and very French in its generous use of butter on just about everything.

We started with the frisee salad with poached egg and duck liver, which was delicious. The pickled onions provided the perfect contrast to the fried and battered liver.

Frisee salad with poached egg and duck liver

We also shared a plate of the braised mussels in white wine and garlic broth. The mussels were tiny but the broth was comforting and full of flavor. 

Braised mussels in white wine and garlic broth

This is where things started to go wrong. I must have had a Tony Bourdain moment or something, because the next thing I knew, I was ordering the braised sweetbreads with frites. I guess I thought that because I love offal in general, I’d love sweetbreads too. It turns out I’m incorrect. Maybe sweetbreads need to be prepared a certain way to be palatable, but you know something is wrong when the table next to you is whispering “she ordered the sweetbreads!” in horror.

Braised sweetbreads with frites

My sister was luckier. She took the safe route and ordered the tempura steak sandwich, which was rich and crispy. My dad ordered the hanger steak and my mom ordered the lamb. All of us had too-greasy frites doused in too much salt.

Tempura steak sandwich with frites

In retrospect, I don’t know whether to blame my dissapointment at Mirepoix on my own overly-adventurous entree choice or on the restaurant itself. The dishes seemed hit or miss, so I’m inclined to give it another try someday.

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.