Hottest Food Trends from the 2014 Winter Fancy Food Show

The Winter Fancy Food Show is known as the food industry’s most happening trade show, where new food trends are introduced months before they clog supermarket shelves. At this year’s event, for example, there was no shortage of bacon-infused snacks, gluten-free products, and Sriracha-flavored everything—all trends from past years that have now gone mainstream.

Here are eight different food products from this year’s show that are sure to be coming to a supermarket near you—and soon!

Brussels sprouts

Brussels Sprouts

Move over kale chips. Everyone is taking one of the most polarizing dinner table veggies and turning them into flavorful, crispy chips and snacks. I’ll admit, I’ve always hated Brussel sprouts. But after trying some of these snacks, I think I can be converted.

artisan popsicles

Artisan Popsicles

Combinations like hibiscus mint and watermelon agave are nothing like your childhood Otter Pops. Inspired by Latin American paletas, which are basically fresh fruit popsicles, the folks at GoodPops decided it was time to bring that concept to mainstream America, using high-quality ingredients and inventive flavor combinations. After tasting them myself, I think they’re making a good case for it.

mocktails

Mocktails

If you’re like me and can’t drink alcohol for whatever reason (it’s a cruel fate, what can I say), you always feel like you’re s**t outta luck at cocktail parties and other gatherings. Not if the company Sociale has its way. Sociale makes virgin versions of the cosmopolitan, mojito, margarita, and martinis that taste like the real thing. These bottled mocktails are quality, all-natural drinks that taste like a great cocktail should.

almond water

Almond Water

Almond milk + coconut water = almond water! Almond water has the clean, refreshing finish of coconut water, with the subtle flavor of almonds. It’s not cloyingly sweet or overpoweringly filled with vanilla essence. The recipe from the brand Victoria’s Kitchen is from the owner’s French grandmother. It’s floral and light, and the branding looks like something out of an old-timey apothecary. I was ready to take a case home with me.

hummus

Hummus…Minus the Chickpeas

Fava beans, lentils, carrots, edamame, white beans, and black beans all took turns as the main ingredient in a variety of new hummus dips. Surprisingly, they were all quite good with subtle yet distinctive flavor differences compared with the original chickpea version. They also tout a bunch of different health benefits (the fava bean and edamame versions, in particular). The fava bean hummus from FavaLife and wasabi edamame version from Eat Well Enjoy Life were my personal favorites.

Cookie chips

Cookie Chips

Cinnamon sugar cookies, chocolate chip cookies, and decadent brownies are some of America’s favorite sweet treats. But several companies have decided what’s really been missing is a certain amount of crunch. Enter cookie and brownie chips. With a variety of different names, depending on the maker, they all combine the light crispy crunch of a chip with the sweetness of a brownie or a cookie. Snackers with a major sweet tooth can now rejoice.

half-ppped popcorn

Half-Popped Popcorn

Hate the unpopped kernels of popcorn at the bottom of the bag? Well, the folks who make Pop’d Kerns apparently decided to do something about it. It’s not fully popped popcorn, nor is it an inedible unpopped kernel. It’s basically a popcorn kernel that’s half-popped. It’s got more heft and crunch than regular popcorn, but still has that familiar flavor. Think of it as a cross between popcorn and Corn Nuts.

chocolate tea

Tea for Dessert

Now you can have your dessert, and drink it too. Apparently it’s not enough to enjoy a piece of chocolate with your afternoon tea anymore. Popular tea makers have now infused cupcake, Bundt cake, and even chocolate flavors into their teas. Thankfully, none of them are overly sweet or obnoxiously flavored, though tea purists are sure to turn their noses up at this trend.

Nora Ephron Might’ve Eaten Here

I never knew author, screenwriter, director Nora Ephron, but she was everything I wished I could be when I grew up: funny, sharp, smart, fashionable, definitive but not high-maintenance (there’s a difference). Known best for her films “When Harry Met Sally”, “You’ve Got Mail”, “Julie & Julia” and “Heartburn”, she knew the art of storytelling, how to write the wittiest of prose, had a true passion for food, and loved people. She seemed so cool and confident, yet warm and welcoming at the same time.

Nora passed away this past June. So when I visited New York City recently, I wanted to somehow pay tribute to her. Since her love of food was well documented, I went to a few places that reminded me of either her or her stories. And no, I didn’t make a trip to Katz’s Deli (http://katzsdelicatessen.com), which was famously featured in my favorite film, “When Harry Met Sally”. Nora surely wouldn’t want me to be that predictable.

Photo by Monique Maestas-Gower

Potatoes Anna at Minetta Tavern

In reference to Minetta Tavern, Nora once said to New York Times journalist, Frank Bruni, “You ordered the steak, right?…Excellent! Now we can talk about the potatoes.”

If you’ve ever read her novel “Heartburn”, you’ll know her affinity for the spud, claiming that it’s the perfect comfort food for wallowing your sorrows in.

The potato sides have been known to upstage the beef dishes at this famous New York institution. This wasn’t lost on Ms. Ephron. She’s raved about the New York Strip Steak, but I’m almost sure she’s expressed her love for their famous Potatoes Anna at one point. One bite of those delicate, buttery potatoes, baked until golden brown on top and perfectly crisp, and I was blown away. It’s like having a potato casserole with crisp potato chips on top. She was totally right. They’re not to be missed.

Gray’s Papaya: Hotdog w/House Mustard

Nora once said in an interview with Charlie Rose that she would want her last meal to be a hotdog from Nate ‘n Al’s in Beverly Hills with a little Gulden’s mustard: nothing fancy. And though I’m not in Beverly Hills, we can certain give Gray’s, arguably New York’s most famous hotdog, a shot. Plus, the Upper West Side location I visited was the one supposedly featured in her film, “You’ve Got Mail”.

I ordered my dogs with nothing fancy: just the house mustard (which tastes like a good Dijon). It didn’t need anything else since the dog itself was the star, here. Though the bun tasted suspiciously like one you’d find at the supermarket, the link had great flavor. The casing, indeed, had that perfect snap that’s been much hyped. But it was the charred flavor that stood out and made it taste like no other hotdog I’d ever had before, and that’s a good thing. Though the “Recession Special” of two hotdogs and a drink for $5 is a great deal, they were smaller than I’d expected.

Jacques Torres Chocolate: Chocolate Chip Cookie

“I look out the window and I see the lights and the skyline and the people on the street rushing around looking for action, love, and the world’s greatest chocolate chip cookie, and my heart does a little dance.” – Excerpt from the novel Heartburn by Nora Ephron

Everyone will have an opinion about where you can find the best chocolate chip cookie, but I figured I couldn’t go wrong with what many consider the “expert” on chocolate, Jacques Torres. This celebrity chef’s chocolate chip cookie is world-renowned, and for good reason. It’s a huge disk of a cookie that’s bigger than an infant’s head. The chips are flat and wide and somehow melt so perfectly into the dough while baking, that they create ribbons of chocolate inside the cookie, distributing that rich chocolate flavor in every bite. The chocolate itself had a lot of depth with hints of vanilla and cherry, with a great balance of bitter and sweet. The cookie dough itself was no slouch with the rich taste of butter and vanilla coming through, as well. Nora would surely have approved.

“When you are actually going to have your last meal, you’ll either be too sick to have it or you aren’t gonna know it’s your last meal and you could squander it on something like a tuna melt and that would be ironic. So it’s important … I feel it’s important to have that last meal today, tomorrow, soon.” – Nora Ephron

So though I never knew you Nora, and have no way of knowing for sure if this list would’ve met your approval, I’d like to think that the mere search for some of the best eats in the city you loved so much would’ve made you smile. It certainly did me.

Minetta Tavern on Urbanspoon

Gray's Papaya  on Urbanspoon

Jacques Torres Chocolate on Urbanspoon

Aida Mollenkamp’s “Keys to the Kitchen”

Keys to the Kitchen by Aida Mollenkamp

Photo by VirgoBlue

Aida Mollenkamp, former editor of CHOW and star of both the Food Network and the Cooking Channel, wants to provide the home cook with a go-to kitchen resource. That is why she wrote her new book “Keys to the Kitchen.” Marketed as a cookbook, it’s much more than that. In the book, she breaks cooking down to one simple equation:

Quality Ingredients (The Set-Up) + Kitchen Skills (The How-To) + Technique (The Recipes) + Cooking Method (The Riff) = GOOD FOOD

With hundreds of recipes and more cooking techniques than you ever knew you needed, “Keys to the Kitchen” could almost serve as a cooking class textbook. But of course, Aida makes it much more exciting than that. She’s encouraging home cooks to be more adventurous in the kitchen and not to be afraid to try new techniques and tastes. By providing some basic principles to purchasing, preparing and cooking food creatively she promotes the development of an adventurous approach to eating.

With the book coming out this month and a possible new show on the horizon, she’s hard to catch up with, but fortunately she carved out some time to talk about her new book and share some key tips with Bay Area Bites.

What is it about food that still excites you?
AM: I stay excited because everyday presents an opportunity for a new food adventure. Whether it’s something as simple as buying an ingredient you’ve never used before, cooking a dish for the first time, or traveling somewhere and eating a new flavor, there’s always something out there.

What are your 5 best tips for being more adventurous in the kitchen?

    AM:

  1. Follow flavors you like
    Don’t think of your favorite recipe merely as one dish but rather as layers and layers of flavors. With that mentality, taste and dissect the details at your next dinner. Who knows? You may think you dislike a spice or ingredient only to realize it’s in a lot of the foods you love.
  2. Travel through your taste buds
    Many a food lover pines for the chance to eat fresh fried samosas in the streets of India or shop firsthand at renowned food markets, like Mexico City’s La Merced, but few of us can afford that reality. Instead, live vicariously through their food — though you won’t have souvenirs, you’ll rack up plenty of food memories.
  3. Buy something new every time you shop
    Consider each trip to the market as a chance to explore and aim to buy a new (if only to you) ingredient each time you shop. Sure, you may encounter a few duds, but more often than not, you’ll be pleasantly surprised and realize you actually love sauerkraut.
  4. Think of your kitchen as a lab
    Change your perspective and think of cooking not as drudgery but as your daily chance for culinary creativity. And really, it’s a lab with pretty low risk — the worst-case scenario is that the dog ends up being fed really well.Start simple by swapping the herbs and spices in your favorite recipes, then graduate to using ingredients you’ve never tried.
  5. Make mealtime mash-ups
    With cooking experimentation comes rule breaking, so don’t be scared — just go with it. In the last few years, all sorts of ethnic flavors have (like music) been mashed up into cross-cultural dishes — like the now ubiquitous Korean tacos.Take a page from that trend and try a spin on your favorite foods, like chorizo on a gyro, kimchi in a Bloody Mary, Madras curry spices whirred into your vanilla ice cream, or any other twist that will help you forge your own food adventure.

This doesn’t seem like your typical cut and dry recipe cookbook. What was your inspiration?
AM: That’s right. While a lot of cookbooks are a catalogue of recipes, “Keys to the Kitchen” is more of a kitchen reference combined with a cookbook. It’s a modern manual to the kitchen that teaches you how to shop, covers basic kitchen techniques, and then culminates with over 300 original recipes that cover everything from an elegant holiday-worthy roast to ideas for reinventing last night’s leftovers.

I wrote the book for my friends who like food but are intimidated by the kitchen because they were never taught to cook. Over and over again, I’d have people ask me the same general questions — things like how to read labels, which cuts of meat are best for which preparations, and recipes for interesting but accessible recipes. I wrote “Keys to the Kitchen” to provide those answers and to help people become better cooks, whether it’s their first time turning on the stove or the one-thousandth.

What’s coming up for you after the launch of the cookbook? More television? More writing?
AM: Well, the rest of the year will be devoted to my multi-city book tour. From mid-September through the holidays, I’ll be traveling to 14 different cities for book signings, demos, and other in-person cooking events.

After that, I’m going to start developing a new show that I, unfortunately, can’t talk about too much right now. But, I promise to keep you posted as it develops.

*This article is also posted on KQED’s Bay Area Bites.

The Best San Francisco Restaurants and More: The Podcast

Wayfare Tavern’s Fried Chicken (photo property of VirgoBlue)

I recently had a great discussion with Seth Resler of Mystery Meet, where food lovers in the Bay Area can get together at a restaurant in San Francisco (that isn’t revealed until 24 hours before) and discuss their love of all things culinary.

Here’s my podcast interview with Seth of Mystery Meet discussing all my favorite eats in San Francisco. I basically leave no stone unturned, talking about my favorite purveyors like Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen, Wayfare Tavern, Frog Hollow Farm, Curry Up Now, 4505 Meats, my thoughts on the SF vs. NY food debate, my pick for the best date/anniversary restaurant in town (it’s not what you think), my love of Thomas Keller, why the food truck trend has exploded, and even manage a BlogHer Annual Conference plug. Obviously, I’m in marketing. ;)

It’s all here: http://mysterymeet.org/find-dining-podcast/podcast-episode-8-wayfare-tavern-in-san-francisco/

YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4C7IfmpaD-o&feature=youtu.be&a

Wayfare Tavern on Urbanspoon
Sociale on Urbanspoon
Wise Sons Deli on Urbanspoon

Media Training for Bloggers @ BlogHer ’12

BlogHer '12

Just a few weeks ago, Julie Crabill of InnerCircle Labs (a fabulous PR agency in San Francisco) and I presented the Media Training for Bloggers panel at the 2012 BlogHer Annual Conference in New York City.

Here’s the podcast of the session “Media Training for Bloggers“. Enjoy!

New York City: Work hard, shop hard, eat well

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New York City has always been about three things for me: Work hard, shop hard, eat well. I was in town for only 3 nights on a business trip, so I had to pack a lot into just a little amount of free time. Fortunately, NYC is a good place for that.

I visited a few key restaurants and hit up a few key sales, deciding not to waste my time with stores that were even remotely touristy or similar to the ones I could find back in San Francisco. I was shopping with a purpose, no browsing here. And I wanted to hit up a few key eateries that were sure to please.

Here’s a recap (but by no means a “Best of” list):

Uniqlo – I arrived early enough in the evening to hit up their new 5th Avenue flagship store before closing time. The place opened less than a week ago and in the daytime, there were still plenty of people lining up just to get inside the 3 story building full of H&M-esque Japanese fashions. They were promoting a lot of cashmere (in 25 different colors), puffy jackets, and $10 jeans (on sale), but I was more interested in their undergarments and leggings. They’re a great deal and good quality.

Halal Cart http://53rdand6th.com (53rd St. & 6th Ave.) – Their famous Chicken and Rice platter with white sauce is frequently named as one of the best street food eats in town. I’m lucky because I usually end up staying at the Hilton which is right next to the cart. And after arriving in NYC just a few hours before, it was the perfect low-key meal to take up to the room and eat while unpacking. Although, I suspect this meal tastes much better after some club hopping and you’re looking for something hearty to suck up all the alcohol in your system.

Ess-A-Bagel http://www.ess-a-bagel.com (831 3rd Ave.) – Just like NYC pizza, you can’t get a bagel anywhere else like the kinds you find in the Big Apple, and Ess-A-Bagel is the perfect place to get the perfect bagel. It’s been around since 1976 and is a NYC institution. I went with the standard lox and cream cheese with some red onions and lettuce on a toasted everything bagel and it was the perfect breakfast. The bagel itself was perfectly crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside, just like you’d want it to be. Why is this so hard to find anywhere else?

Lupa http://www.luparestaurant.com (170 Thompson St.) – This Mario Batali eatery is the lower key version of his famous Babbo restaurant, though many think it’s actually better. It’s casual and low-key, which I liked.

My friend and I shared the Salumi Platter which included slices of Prosciutto Di Parma and house-made Coppa Cotta, Testa, Speck and Lingua, among others. It was the highlight of the meal. For entrees we ordered the Spaghetti Carbonara, which was solidly good, but nothing to write home about, and the Skate with Lentils and Greens, which had a bright citrusy flavor from the grapefruit in the dish. And it was perfectly cooked. For dessert, we splurged with the Lupa Tartufo which both looked and tasted like a huge Ferrero Rocher chocolate, except with a decadent ice cream filled center. There was hazelnut and chocolate all over this huge thing. It was delicious and definitely enough to serve two. The service was friendly, attentive and unpretentious.

The Jill Sander Sample Sale – This event happens twice a year in NYC from what I can tell, and it’s a popular sale with locals. Eventhough my pregnant self can’t fit into any of the clothes that were 85% off, I found handbags and shoes. You can’t beat getting a pair of patent leather flats and pair of neutral slingbacks for just $140, altogether (including tax). They originally retailed for over $400 a pair.

Prune http://www.prunerestaurant.com (54 East 1st St.) – Before I talk about the food, I have to get my Jake Gyllenhaal sighting out of the way. The dude was waiting for a table just like anyone else, so that was refreshing to see. Unfortunately, I didn’t want to get all TMZ on him so I didn’t snap a picture.

Anyways, this famous restaurant is a favorite among chefs like Eric Rupert and Anthony Bourdain, and obviously, celebrities that like to wander in without an entourage. Chef Gabrielle Hamilton has become a bit of a celebrity herself in recent months with her culinary accolades, bestselling book, and personal life. All that aside, the food was surprisingly simple but beautifully executed.

We ordered the Rock Shrimp Roll with Old Bay Seasoned Fries and the Duck Breast with Beets. The shrimp was some of the freshest we’d ever tasted. They were so tender and sweet and tasted like they were just plucked from the water. The duck breast had just a touch of sweet smokiness and was cooked to a perfect medium rare. It was simplicity at its best.

Laduree (864 Madison Ave.) – I have been in love with this legendary Parisian macaron giant since my first bite at their Champs Elysees flagship store. Everything about it is over the top but their macarons stand up to the hype with their wonderfully delicate cookie (crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside) and their fragrant flavored fillings. I HAD to make the trek to their new outpost in NYC. This is their first and only store in North America. I’m happy to report that the macarons taste just as good as they did in Paris…except just a tad sweeter (to fit the American palate, unfortunately). They come in a myriad of flavors and colors, but my favorites will always be Cassis, Orange Blossom, and Salted Caramel. Yum…

Pizzarte http://www.pizzarteny.com (69 West 55th St.) – It’s hard to find a distinctive place to eat in the heart of Midtown that’s not touristy, overpriced, or unimaginative. Enter Pizzarte. Though it wasn’t the New York-style pie I was craving, it didn’t disappoint. Their Neapolitan-style Margherita pie had that perfectly charred and chewy crust with a fresh and tangy tomato sauce. And the Warm Burratta with butternut squash and broccoli rabe appetizer my friend and I shared was creamy and comforting.

The interior was clean, stylish and contemporary, and the food was of surprisingly great quality and preparation, which was a great surprise given its kitschy location.

Botkier Sample Sale – My last present to myself came in the form of a beautiful plum handbag that retailed for $600 at Nordstrom, but ended up being only $200 at their company’s sample sale. There were clutches for less than $100, and many bags were only $150. Incredible steal for a designer leather bag. I’m glad I went.

Besides Jake Gyllenhaal (which frankly would’ve been enough), I shared space with Gayle King and the Reverend Al Sharpton earlier that same day. Craziness. I was hoping I’d bump into George Clooney by dinnertime, but no such luck. I think my luck was already pretty good, so I didn’t complain. :)

The Nom Nom Truck: SoCal Comes to NorCal

It’s amazing what a reality show can do for your food truck.

Second place finishers on the Food Network’s “The Great Food Truck Race” and Los Angeles food truck staple, Nom Nom, have spread their love to the Bay Area.

Co-owners Jennifer Green and Misa Chien met during their time at UCLA. It was also during that time that they realized they could fill a niche in the growing food truck scene.

Nom Nom Truck owners - Jennifer Green and Misa Chien
Nom Nom Truck owners: Jennifer Green and Misa Chien.

“It started in 2009 when we had a lot of Kogi BBQ trucks around the UCLA campus and their popularity grew out of nowhere,” says Jennifer. “I made a lot of Vietnamese food for my friends on a regular basis and I realized the lack of Vietnamese restaurants in the West LA area. Then it clicked.”

Green and Chien chose the classic Vietnamese baguette sandwich, banh mi, as their truck’s specialty not only because there was a lack of places that served it in their area, but because it’s easy to eat.

“It’s portable, it’s fast and has a fresh taste that you can’t get from a burrito or hamburger,” states Jennifer. “The great thing is that we can also put a little bit of our gourmet twist on it too. One of the most traditional banh mi ingredients is grilled pork and I grill it with honey, which is a little different than the traditional. We also have Lemongrass Chicken and Vietnamese tacos, which are like a banh mi in your hand.”

“We also work with Le Boulanger to have our bread baked especially for us from a recipe I worked really hard on.”

Deli Banh Mi sandwich. Photo courtesy of Nom Nom Truck
Deli Banh Mi sandwich.

Indeed, the perfectly crusty on the outside, pillowy on the inside French bread roll is key to a good banh mi, and it was the highlight of the sandwich when I got a chance to sample their Honey Grilled Pork version. The pickled carrots and daikon that topped the sandwich were flavored well and super fresh, but I wish I’d gotten more of them to create more of a textural and taste contrast to the sweet pork. And I missed the lack of fish sauce flavor that brings it all together.

All in all, it seemed like something similar enough to what I could get in a Vietnamese Mom and Pop shop. So what’s the big deal?

First, the size of this sandwich is double the size of one you’d get at a typical brick and mortar. Coming in at 12 inches long, it’s a torpedo of a dish. But more importantly, Nom Nom is obviously trying to appealing to those who have never had a banh mi before.

“It’s exciting to see how many people who have never had one before try it and see their reaction, says Misa. “It’s like an introduction to Vietnamese food for those who have never had it. We’re appealing to the American palate.”

Their popularity has grown steadily, peaking when they started showing up on the Food Network reality show.

“We went into it wanting an adventure and it was a great way to expose our truck to a larger audience. People totally embraced us and it was great to see that feedback,” says Misa. “To see a small town embrace a food dish they’d never tasted like banh mi was a great experience.”

“We were bummed we came in second, but deep down we had to tell each other it was just a reality show. And the great thing was that we won the chance to travel and it was amazing,” says Jennifer.

Nom Nom recently acquired their third food truck and their next move was up north…at least for Misa.

“We decided on San Francisco because it’s a real foodie town and it’s been a dream of mine, personally to live up here,” she says. “We have two trucks in LA and one in San Francisco, now. I’m not complaining that I had to move up here! And the response has been great. People up here come to the truck, whereas in LA, you have to go to the people. They’re a little lazier down there.”

For now, Green and Chien don’t have any other plans to expand. “We have three babies right now and we’re focused on them,” says Jennifer.

For two women fresh out of college, running several food trucks in two major cities can be a challenge, but their goals are clear.

Misa says, “At the end of the day, we want to make people happy through our food. And as employers we want to hire staff that will work together to create an amazing company and work environment. Plus I get to build a great business with my best friend!”

Nom Nom
Twitter: @nomnomtrucksf
Facebook: Nom Nom Truck SF
Various locations throughout the Bay Area (no regular schedule)

Eating in Atlanta + Quality Time With a Top Chef Master

Pulled Pork BBQ plate from Sweet Auburn BBQ truck
Pulled Pork BBQ plate from Sweet Auburn BBQ truck

I’d never been to Atlanta, but I’ve always heard great things: the Southern hospitality, the quaint neighborhoods, and the fabulous food. After experiencing it for myself, I’m happy to say that all three points hold very true.

After traveling there for the BlogHer Food Conference in May, I got the opportunity during my brief downtime to hunt down a few raved about eateries. I got my barbecue fix from the Sweet Auburn BBQ food truck. After tasting their Asian Pear Coleslaw and Pulled Pork, I realized that, unfortunately, nothing in the Bay Area could possibly compare.

I visited a restaurant called, Wisteria, in the picturesque Inman Park area of town. They served classic yet modernized Southern dishes like Fried Catfish with Succotash, Crab Cakes, and some of the best Macaroni and Cheese I’ve ever had (with braised greens!).

Various doughnuts from Sublime Doughnuts in Atlanta
Various doughnuts from “Sublime Doughnuts” in Atlanta

I also had my morning sugar rush thanks to the folks at Sublime Doughnuts. Their sugary varieties included red velvet, chocolate coconut, white chocolate peach, s’mores and mocha cream. Dunkin’ Donuts had nothin’ on these guys.

But my favorite eatery had to be Empire State South. With its bocce ball court outside, casual settings and service, and playful yet sophisticated take on Southern classics, it was the best meal I’d had in Atlanta.

They start your meal with some good old housemade yeast rolls and grilled sourdough (perhaps a nod to Top Chef Master and Owner, Hugh Acheson‘s time as a sous chef at Gary Danko in the late 90s?). The yeast rolls were so sweet, soft, and classically Southern. They were so good it took everything in me not to ask for more. I knew we had a lot of good eats to come so I was pacing myself.

Soft Poached Egg from Empire State South. Photo courtesy of Beth Lee of OMGYummy.net
Soft Poached Egg from “Empire State South” (Photo courtesy of Beth Lee of OMGYummy.net)

We ordered a variety of appetizers and entrees for the table, including the Soft Poached Egg with wild nettles and grits; Crisp Pork Belly with kimchi grits; Wild Ramps with corned beef tongue and field peas served in a mini cast iron skillet; and the Ramp Orecchiette with carrots, peas and some beautiful fiddlehead ferns.

Everything we had was exceptional. The whole “farm to table” movement is really gaining steam there, and the freshness and imaginative use of all that wonderful produce was proof of that. The eggs and grits were rich and creamy, and the pasta was fresh, light and bright. All the combinations on each plate were inventive, classically southern (plenty of butter and bold flavors), but sophisticated. There was even a touch of Asian fusion in some of the dishes (the pork belly definitely had some soy sauce flavors going on).

But boy were we glad we ordered an extra helping of those amazing Kimchi Rice Grits. It was simply one of the most memorable dishes I’ve ever tasted…anywhere. The texture was like a thicker rice porridge or congee, but with more flavor and less soupy. And the kimchi gave the dish so much punch and flavor but never overpowered. I wish someone would replicate it in the Bay Area!

Cake from Empire State South. Photo courtesy of Beth Lee of OMGYummy.net
Peanuts and Coke Soft Serve w/Funnel Cake from “Empire State South” (Photo courtesy of Beth Lee of OMGYummy.net)

Before we ordered our Peanuts and Coke Soft Serve with Funnel Cake for dessert, Owner and Top Chef Master contestant, Chef Hugh Acheson came over to pay our table a visit and even sat down for a nice long chat with us. After he realized I was from the Bay Area, he talked about his time working for the now shuttered Mecca restaurant, and as opening sous-chef for Gary Danko back in the 90s. “I learned a lot while I was there, but he was a tyrant. He’d be the first to admit it, though,” he said of Danko.

I also got to experience Chef Acheson’s wickedly dry sense of humor, which unfortunately didn’t get enough airtime on Top Chef Master. He’ll be the first to mention what he calls his “monobrow,” which he’s been getting known for since the show started. “Somebody on Twitter told me I should shave my monobrow. They don’t even know me! Maybe they should focus on my food.” But he’ll be the first to laugh at himself, even mentioning what he calls “The Monobrow Preservation Society” frequently on his Twitter account.

My experience meeting Chef Acheson was indicative of my time in Atlanta. People there are ready to sit down and chat, have a good time, and take pride in all their city has to offer. I love San Francisco and it’s always been home, but I miss my taste of Southern hospitality.


Sweet Auburn BBQ truck

Facebook: Sweet Auburn BBQ
Twitter: @SweetAuburnBBQ
Various hours & locations

Sublime Doughnuts
Address: 535 Tenth Street Northwest, Atlanta, GA 30318
Phone: (404) 897-1801
Facebook:Sublime Doughnuts
Twitter: @SublimeDoughnut

Wisteria
Address: 471 North Highland Ave., Atlanta, GA. 30307
Phone: (404) 525-3363
Facebook: Wisteria Restaurant
Twitter: @wisteriaatlanta

Empire State South
Address: 999 Peachtree Street, Atlanta, GA 30309
Phone: (404) 541-1105
Facebook: Empire State South
Twitter: @ESSouth

*Cross posted on Bay Area Bites.

Is Tyler Florence’s Wayfare Tavern Worth the Hype?

Open kitchen at Wayfare Tavern
Open kitchen at Wayfare Tavern

Okay, I’ll admit it: I was never a big Tyler Florence fan. Sure, Forbes recently reported that he’s worth more than 50 million dollars, but I always saw him as more of a television personality than a chef. Before 2010, he never even ran his own restaurant and now he’s got THREE in less than two years! (Wayfare Tavern, Rotisserie and Wine, & El Paseo) He’s clearly cashing in on his television fame.

These days, he’s getting plenty of press attention, both good AND bad. And I haven’t taken the critic’s giddy reviews over his flagship restaurant, Wayfare Tavern, very seriously. He used to be a spokesperson for Applebee’s for goodness sake. It must be his over 290,000 fans on Twitter making a big deal about this new hotspot for local celebrity sightings. They’re the ones raving about how the Fried Chicken and Macaroni and Cheese are to die for.

Wait, did you say Fried Chicken and Macaroni and Cheese? Maybe I should check this place out.

The atmosphere of the restaurant is classic old world San Francisco with its golden eagle emblem, black and dark colored wood accents, brushed metal plates and cushy booths. The service is as welcoming as Tyler Florence’s television persona, itself. Our server was at once knowledgeable, warm and genuinely excited about the food coming out of the kitchen. All this positivity was starting to wear off on me.

The menu is a greatest hits compilation of sophisticated American comfort food with a slight French slant, ranging from Deviled Eggs to Steak Tartare to Pork Hash.

Avocado and Hearts of Palm Salad
Avocado and Hearts of Palm Salad

The meal started with a homemade popover that was light, tangy and just plain impressive. Then we ordered the Organic Butter Lettuce Salad with the Palace Hotel’s Green Goddess dressing, and the Avocado and Hearts of Palm Salad with shaved red onions, cucumbers and lime-cilantro dressing. The Green Goddess dressing and radishes were the perfect foil for the delicate butter lettuce. But it was the combination of the fresh, citrusy dressing and creamy, buttery avocado that really sang to me. It was a delightfully bright yet simple salad.

Buttermilk Fried Chicken
Buttermilk Fried Chicken

Then came the much hyped Buttermilk Brined Fried Chicken that came with a mound of fried herbs, including rosemary and sage, and a wedge of lemon. I’d seen Tyler Florence make fried sage on his show Tyler’s Ultimate, but never expected to enjoy the mellow almost nutty flavor to pair so well with the chicken’s perfectly thin, crisp crust. The flavorful chicken benefited from the buttermilk brine, creating a moist, tangy meat. I’ve tried a lot of fried chicken at various places around San Francisco, but this was clearly the best in my book.

Macaroni and Cheese
Macaroni and Cheese

We paired the chicken with an order of Macaroni and Cheese, made with jack cheese and perfectly toasted garlic breadcrumbs; and fresh local Grilled Asparagus with chive blossoms.

The Mac and Cheese was smooth and creamy, just the way I like it. I’m not a fan of baked, clumpy, greasy versions of the dish. And the mild yet distinct garlic flavor was prevalent in the breadcrumbs, which is a good thing. I wish, though, that the cheese had more kick and depth. The jack cheese didn’t give it enough flavor power like I’d hoped. Regardless, it was still a decadent pleasure.

Carrot Cake
Carrot Cake

Since we were clearly going for gluttony, we finished our meal off with three different desserts: the Key Steamed Lime Pudding Cake with Buttermilk Ice Cream, Gooseberry Goat Cheese Cheesecake, and Carrot Cake.

The goat cheese cheesecake was a bit intense for me, though it was lightened by the gooseberries. And though the buttermilk ice cream was absolutely delicious, the pudding cake was a little grainier than I’d expected. I wanted something smoother, though the flavor and creaminess was there.

The most impressive dessert was the Carrot Cake, not because of the cake itself, though it was rich and moist the way it should be, but because of the pool of carrot syrup that surrounded it. Everyone at the table wanted to drink it straight! It tasted like spiced cider, rich with cinnamon and cloves. It was sweet, spicy and heavenly.

I’d mentioned to our server in passing that one of my dining companions was celebrating a birthday, and she smiled and proceeded to bring over my friend’s dessert with the obligatory lit candle on it. But it was the accompanying notecard signed personally by Tyler Florence, that impressed us. He wasn’t even in town let alone in the restaurant at the time of our meal, but it’s these personal touches in the service, the food, and décor that make this restaurant standout.

notecard signed personally by Tyler Florence
Notecard signed personally by Tyler Florence

I didn’t want to prove myself wrong, but I have to say, I enjoyed every minute of it. And yes, I might just have become a fan of Chef Florence.

Wayfare Tavern on Urbanspoon

Highlights from the BlogHer Food Conference’s “Food Blogging for Change” Panel

L to R: Me, Andrew Wilder, Bettina Luescher, Michelle Ferrier, Mrs. Q (anonymous)

I got the chance to moderate one of the most diverse panels of speakers I have ever encountered while I was at the BlogHer Food Conference in Atlanta, recently. The subject of the talk was “Food Blogging for Change”. It’s a lofty subject that can be slightly overwhelming.

I introduced Bettina Luescher, Chief Spokesperson for the United Nations’ World Food Programme, which distributes food to over 70 countries; Andrew Wilder of the blog Eating Rules in Southern California, which offers tips and information for eating healthier; Michelle Ferrier of Locally Grown News in North Carolina, who sees food as a pathway to community and social change; and anonymous blogger, Mrs. Q of the blog Fed Up With Lunch in Illinois, who gained fame by blogging about her year-long project eating the school lunches that were served to the kids at the school she works at (hence her anonymity).

They all work passionately in their chosen communities, be it globally, nationally or locally. What they have in common is that they’re all working to promote changes in food policy, food education and the way we see food. They’re also aware of the power of using your voice for change. Here are some highlights of what we discussed.

Elaine: I wanted to pose three words to the panel: budget, taste and health. Can all three values coexist? Can it be done and does it become overwhelming for the average person to achieve all three in their daily lives?

Andrew: Taste is the number one reason people choose something to eat. Folks know they need to eat healthy, but time is a factor for many of us. But change starts with knowledge and knowing what is healthy for you. With budget, a recent study showed that many local farmers markets can be cheaper than going to the big box grocery store. Good food is everybody’s right. And it’s important to focus on ‘better’, not ‘best’. There’s no such thing as a ‘superfood’.

Elaine: Is safe, healthy food hard to access for certain populations, and is it realistic to assume that everyone can get access to it? MF: The Food Environmental Atlas online now has information available to help people find safe, healthy food communities that are developing food hubs for gathering, processing and distribution of healthy foods, such as community gardens. And food trucks are now being used in different communities to deliver safe and healthy food to communities where they don’t have good access to it.

Bettina: On an international scale, we are using some of those same ideas and methods. As an aid organization, we have buying power to purchase from small scale farmers (generally women) and support the farmer to pool food from other farmers and produce larger scale distribution. And in Haiti, we are buying milk from local farmers so they have an income and then we give it to children in school meal programs, which keeps it local and makes a huge difference.

Elaine: We’ve heard over the Conference that change can start with a hashtag. Do you believe social media can have that big of an impact on the various food communities you work with?

Michelle: One person’s website or blog can lead to a Facebook page, which can then lead to a Twitter account. Social media can allow one person to communicate to different audiences with different content. Twitter can provide fast facts, Facebook can give more information, your website can give personal opinions.

Andrew: Change happens one person at a time.

Bettina: I appeal to everyone in this room to be a voice. It’s not a guilt trip, it’s a power trip. It starts with knowledge, how to share and tell stories and present solutions. There are simple tricks to use with huge rewards.

Michelle: We all have images of hunger that we get from television and the media. But we have to turn that story on its head and recognize that all of our children are starved for good food.

Elaine: If you could come up with a “wishlist” of three changes you could enact in this country’s food policy, what would they be?

Mrs. Q: There needs to be legislation changes to our school lunch programs. 1) I think French Fries should no longer be considered a vegetable (applause breaks out). 2) Chocolate milk needs to go. 3) We need to ban processed meats in schools.

Michelle: 1) Local governments need to recognize that food security and access to healthy food needs to be viewed as something just as important as every other issue. 2) We need to bring back Home Economics classes at the elementary school level. 3) We need to change school lunch policies to a “last child-first child” policy.

Andrew: 1) The ideas of “organic” and “conventional” labeling requirements need to be swapped (applause breaks out). 2) Take any marketing language off every food package. 3) Stop subsidizing corn and instead subsidize fresh fruits and vegetables.

Bettina: I have one big one: No funding cuts for child hunger programs…EVER.

*For notes from the entire session, please visit this link.