Friday, February 16, 2007

Cafe Atlantico

I was going to title this post OW MY STOMACH, but that would give everyone the wrong idea about our brunch at Cafe Atlantico. Auntie Em and Uncle Tim are regular dim sum buddies of ours. They spent a good deal of time in the Bay area, so they really know their dim sum. Ok, I don't mean to be racist but having dim sum with white folks can be exhausting. I used to say that there had to be a 1-to-1 Asian-to-non dim sum ratio before I would go out to dim sum. What is second nature to Asians who know dim sum, requires a great deal of explaining and cajoling with the non Asians. Luckily that so isn't the case with the Timily's.

To branch out we all decided to go to Cafe Atlantico for their Latin Dim Sum brunch featuring lovely small plates of their Latin influenced dishes. When we saw that the menu had a deluxe tasting menu for $34.95 that included everything on the menu. we were all sold. And seriously, I have never eaten that much food in my life. It was so crazy good I can't stand it. I told J to hightail it home after our three hour brunch so I could lay down and digest for the rest of the afternoon.

When I see tasting menu, I totally was thinking teeny weeny little portions. But they were definitely dim sum portions and enough for everyone. The dishes were well spaced so that we could be sated but still were able to appreciate each dish. Service was so lovely that we even got a change of plates (that we were eating off of) in the middle of the 25 course tasting menu. Ok and here's the true kicker - After 23 courses and before dessert, the server told us that as part of the tasting menu we could order ANYTHING we liked again. ANYTHING!!!!!! For the first time in my life, I turned down food because we still had two dessert courses to go and I felt as I I would explode.

The true highlight of the meal were the conch fritters - chopped conch in a savory gravy, FROZEN and then rolled into balls, dipped in beer batter and deep fried. It was a fritter with a savory gravy middle. THIS is why I go to restaurants because there ain't no way I'm making that at home. Close on its heels was a duck leg confit that had a lovely French savoriness to it. While it was served on the bone, the meat just fell off. The skin had a candy-like crunch to it. As a perfect brunch food, the fried eggs with black beans and pork were hearty and warming.

I wasn't too crazy about the differnet ravioli made with jicima as the skin. One, filled with avacado just tasted like a pouch of guacamole. The pasty softness of an avacado cries out for crunch with the thinly sliced jicama didn't provide. But one blah dish in a sea of spectacular is a damn good track record.

To paraphrase Julia Robert in Steel Magnolias - I'd rather have 30 minutes of wonderful than a lifetime of nothing special. Well, Julia, how would you feel about 24 dishes of wonderful?

Thursday, February 08, 2007

A Tale of Two Chicken Pot Pies

My mother in law makes this awesome chicken pot pie that she gives to new neighbors and people with family in the hospital. She's slightly ashamed to have me eat it because it consists of chopped cooked chicken breasts, Pillsbury pie crust, and a can of Veg-all (canned mixed vegetables) and a can of cream of chicken soup. She obviously hasn't heard of my torte in a box recipe (make a box of Rice a Roni, a box of Hamburger Helper, and a box of Mac 'n cheese. Layer in a loaf pan and bake until warm and bubbly).

Inspired by my Mother-In-Law's chicken pot pie and far to lazy to go to the store to get ingredients, I decided to make my own version. Everything was homemade and it tasted crazy good, especially considerin the cold snap we've been going through. When I say homemade, I mean homemade, I made my own stock. Here's a couple of tips on stock making. Usually when I make stock it's because I have roasted a chicken and wanted to use up the carcass. This time I felt too lazy to roast a chicken and had earlier bought chicken backs and necks at Safeway. It made equally tasty stock! Also, I had a head of celery going bad and threw a whole bunch of it in. Surprisingly enough, celery makes a HUUUUGE difference.

Here's what I put in stock:

2 pounds of chicken backs and necks
4 stalks of celery (with the inside leaves if possible)
2 carrots
2 onions quartered
8 cloves of garlic, whole
1 tablespoon of salt
enough water to cover the whole mess

Anyway with that awesome based the pie was a snap.

The Pot Pie
1 recipe double crust pie crust (look in the archives)
2 chicken breasts, 2 chicken thighs cooked and coasrely chopped (I perfer roasting them because I am completely incompetent at poaching - Sorry Jon at Ihatebroccoli)
2 carrots, diced
1 onion diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 stalks of celery, diced
1 cup of frozen peas (this is by no means an exact measurement, I just pour the bag of peas in until I get the amount I like)
2 tablespoons of butter
2 tablespoons of flour
1 1/2 cups of chicken stock

In the butter, saute the carrots, onions, celery, and garlic until the carrots and celery are translucent. Add the flour and stir so that the flour coats everything. Add the
stock and stir until the stock is thickened. Added the chicken and peas and simmer until the mixture is warm and bubbling, about 10 minutes. Roll out pie crust for the top and bottom layers. Place bottom layer on the pie pan and add the chicken filling. Place the top layer on top and crimp the sides together. Cut slits on the top crust to release steam. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes until crust is a light golden brown.

Thursday, February 01, 2007


I know there are some major Panera haters out there but J and I love Panera. We were there for dinner the other day before grocery shopping and talked about how we needed to eat more vegetables. One easy way to do that is salad, which we actually love eating when we think about it. I am going to admit something slightly shameful but we love Good Seasons Italian dressing packets. A million leaves of lettuce are rolling over in their graves but I love the flavor and texture of the Good Seasons shake your own salad dressing. Made with a mixture of cider vinegar and olive oil instead of the distilled white and vegetable oil, it's really divine. But to encourage salad eating even more, I decided to make some homemade croutons. Panera was selling its honey oat bread for a reasonable $2.69, on par with the multigrain breads at the supermarket. I bought one and had it sliced for sandwiches (it sits in our freezer) and the other I left whole for croutons. Homemade croutons give me a serious salad craving. You basically slice the bread into 3/4 inch slices, cut the crusts off (breadcrumbs!) and then slice them into cubes. Toss with a touch of olive oil, salt, pepper, and any herbs you find appealling and then throw it in the oven 350 degrees for 15 minutes to crisp up. I must have had a mixing bowl size serving of salad and loved every minute. I am slightly afraid of making panzanella because that just seems a way to minimize the vegetables and just have giant croutons.

On the tv front, I've been emailing the divine Stef about Top Chef. As I've said before this season was pretty unwatchable towards the end. I came into the finale knowing that Ilan was the winner thanks to some unintended spoiling at the Food and Wine website. Even without that knowledge, the outcome felt like a forgone conclusion once Marcel left the fish in the other kitchen. As I as telling stef, kitchen management is a key factor in the decision and Marcel left himself wide open. On the actual food I agreed with the judges that Ilan was the more competent chef FOR NOW but that Marcel had more potential. Here's to next season being one I can recap.