Thursday, June 21, 2012

Why Starry Kitchen (or someone like them) is your new favorite restaurant

"Hi! Welcome to Starry Kitchen! Have you been here before?"

These are the first words you'll hear, and they're important. This is Marisa or whoever is at the front register making sure you won't screw up your own order, and you're going to walk out of there happy. After all, they are an unconventional place. Each week they pull another delicious option out of their sleeves, and whether it's served with complementary fried rice, or as a crispy banh mi, they deliver. They deliver Asian fusion at its best, double fried ginger chicken wings, Bulgogi burger, Kimchi cakes, and crispy craveable tofu balls. Their food is untouchable, and the chef, Thi Tran, although definitely quieter than the front man and her husband, Nguyen, has mad skills in the kitchen and her versatility and talent shines through in every dish.

Whether it's their use of odd ingredients, penchant for dropping F-Bombs, and habit of rotating out your favorite dish, Starry Kitchen is not your usual lunch spot. Ball jokes, banana suits, and a hyperactive social network is what have drawn customers and media to this downtown Bunker Hill lunch spot. However, the typical customer comes from the banks and corporations that populate the Financial District in downtown. These aren't the type of customers that you'd imagine eating at a former illegal underground Asian fusion place, but they are Starry Kitchen's adopted masses of adoring fans.

Why? Their twitter features other restaurants' food almost more than their own, and their website makes a mobile browser cringe. Still, they have a crazy active facebook page and on yelp they are constantly on 5 star fire. They are the home to LQ@SK, a pop-up restaurant featuring celebrity chef Laurent Quenioux and present at most of pulitzer prize winning food writer Jonathan Gold's events around town.

Let's talk food now. 

Let's review:

- Use of pork belly and bacon
- Asian fusion

- Rotating menu
- Social media
- Pop-up restaurant
- Ball Jokes

Sounds pretty on-trend to me. Are they going to fade in popularity though? No, because none of those reasons are why Starry Kitchen is your favorite new restaurant. 

When you go to Starry Kitchen, whether its your first or umpteenth time, you feel like you're their favorite customer. You feel like you know them, and they know you. Starry Kitchen is a throwback to the small town restaurants, where you knew who ran what and you went not just for the food but for the people.

Starry Kitchen is your favorite because they are all about customer service. They work hard for your business, and they work hard to make you come back, and you walk away not thinking "Wow they have great customer service." You walk away thinking "Wow they're really nice." and that's the difference.

It might not be Starry Kitchen, it might be Chego, or Huckleberry, or any of a dozen other restaurants, but your new favorite restaurant is one like this. One where you go for the people as well as the delicious food, because that's always on-trend.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

How to Yelp. Or How I learned to stop worrying and love my restaurants

banana cream pie

1)The Yelp mobile app is nigh on useless for me. I need to skim mass amounts of reviews in order to get a good sense of what I'm looking for.

2) Where are you? Are you somewhere that has a strong Yelp presence? Does every restaurant have reviews? Otherwise chowhound or whatever local review system is being used is a way better idea. Yelp in Indiana? Useless. I tried. I failed.

3) Who is reviewing this place? If it's people that have just a few reviews, then this is a restaurant that makes people go out of their way to review it. It's a place that makes people have strong opinions. Even if the opinions are mediocre. They're strong neutral opinions. If the people who are reviewing this claim that they "know" the food they're eating, be distrustful. It's the internet. People tend to talk big.

4) What is the complaint? Plenty of places that have great food have bad reviews because of poor locations or service. Parking can be a reason for stars to get taken away.

5) What do you care? Are you taking out the boss for dinner and need a place that can stand up with excellent service and an approachable wine list? Are you looking for delicious food and don't mind an hour long wait and/or poor service as long as the food can make you cry? Yelp is great with overall ratings, but you need to take a look at what matters to YOU.

6) Are the first reviews reflective of the overall rating? Sometimes the first few reviews can be negative. Don't let this fool you. Look at the overall rating, and then look at the specific comments. I've been told in the past that if companies don't pay yelp, their negative reviews are listed first. I don't have confirmation if this is true, but it would make sense.

7) When did they review it? It's easy for chefs or ownership to change, and the quality of a restaurant to either soar or bomb out. Take a look at recent activity. If something's changed, yelpers tend to notice and post.

8) What did people eat? Did they eat the specialty of the restaurant? Did they complain about the vegetarian options at a meat-centric restaurant? Did they complain that the General Tso's isn't very good at an authentic Shanghai style Chinese restaurant? If you're getting the wrong thing, of course your meal isn't going to be very good. This tends to happen more at ethnic restaurants. At the same time, this can tell you what you should order.

9) Take everything with a grain of salt. Yelp is not the final say. It can be accurate, and it can be inaccurate, and use your own opinion, judgment, and the judgment of others that you trust to help you decide.

Happy eating and you may be a special unicorn and you might disagree with Yelp. That is okay. Good Luck!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

On Seasonal Baking

(double open faced Strawberry pie)

As I sit in Maryland with the rain pouring down, I begin to mourn the season of cheap berries and delicious stone fruit, and look forward to apple season.

When it comes to pies, and baking with fruit, season can be extremely important. There's a reason you don't see many fresh cherry and blueberry pies in the winter. The cost of berries makes it not worth it. I'm saving my cream and nut pie recipes for the winter and churning through my fruit recipes. Here's what I hope to make before Summer is over (shut up I understand that it's October)

Whole Wheat Rasberry Ricotta Scones
- Fresh Cherry Cheesecake
Peach Crostada from Huckleberry
- Chocolate rasberry cake from Paris Sweets book
- More strawberry pies

To me Summer is the time for stone fruit pastry, Fall is time for nuts and apples Winter is time for cream and citrus, and Spring is time for berries!

One piece of advice I have is to look in the super market before you choose what you're going to make so you don't break the bank, but you don't miss your favorite seasons. Right now Hatch Chiles are everywhere which is the once a year time to get these great quality chiles, and I know I would have cried if I missed Rhubarb season earlier this summer.

I'm also fairly sure that I'm the only person on Earth who can't stand pumpkin pie, so this year I'm going to make a pumpkin roll (cream cheese frosting is the best thing in the world) and perfect an apple pie!

Look out Fall! You're totally going to get your ass kicked!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Macaron Followup

photo by Eron Rauch

Well it took 4 batches before I made macarons with some semblance of a pied or foot (the little cracks underneath the cookies that make a macaron a macaron), and the fifth batch finally looked pretty. It also took 4 months (or more... ok I made them last at Easter. Shut up I've been busy.) before I actually posted about these!

The key to Macarons, tends to be the process known as Macaronnage, or the stirring of the complete batter. I'm still not exactly sure when it's completely done, but I know if I stop too early or too late I'm screwed. The other thing that's super important to making the pied, is the macaron's drying time. Make sure they are dry but not too dry. If you lightly touch them, a little bit may come off on your finger, but only a very small amount.

It was however, after I figured out how to make the macaroons, that I completely failed on the filling. The buttercream that was at first so sickeningly easy, totally failed. I don't know what happened, but I know it sucked. I gave up, put lemon curd in between the cookies and will try again next time.

A really easy way to fake your macarons looking good is food coloring. Pink things are prettier. This is science.Also, be patient. Macarons are hard to make and will take several tries to get right much less perfect. The great news? the mistakes taste amazing!

I used this adorable book to learn how to make Macarons 

The book is super gorgeous and tells you a lot of different ways to make different macaron flavors and fillings and helps you figure out where you went wrong. It's called I Love Macarons by Hisato Ogita.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Trailblazing with Callie!

I have returned!

Woo Waterfalls!

I got back this afternoon from two nights and two days of camping in Sequoia National Park. Eron and I packed up the car and headed out on a roadtrip on Saturday! We stopped in Bakersfield (from Jonathan Gold's recommendation) and ate some Mexican food, and bought THE MOST AMAZING NUT CHEWS. Imagine a nut flavored tootsie roll surrounding salt and crushed nuts in the middle! They're addictive, delicious, and pretty much the highlight of our trip if it weren't for the MOST AMAZING PEPPERMINT ICE MILK that I purchased from that same place. What's ice milk you say? It has less cream and more sugar than normal ice cream, so it's similar to the ice cream you get from hand cranking, and it's less creamy and more slushy. Super delicious. The best part of Christmas is peppermint flavored ice cream, so getting it out of season is always exciting.

Here are some bullet points:

- Four feet of snow in May means oh so cold outside!
- Oops poison oak everywhere...
- All the things going wrong on our drive up


- Not stepping on the baby rattlesnake that was on our trail
- Seeing the lizard's outline inside the baby rattlesnake
- Amazing waterfall and rock formations
- Seeing the world's biggest tree up close and personal, and then tramping through the snow to all the other trees
- The best camping menu including breakfast burritos, grilled vegetable feta wraps and Kalbi with asparagus
- No reception means being completely disconnected

- Seeing the milky way clearly in the night sky

Eron makes breakfast

Going in May means that the campsite at the top of the mountain was actually covered in 4 feet of snow. As our LA wardrobes were just not prepared for that we camped and explored the foothills for the most part which meant that we got to explore areas that are usually unfriendly when it's 105 degrees out in the summer. When we went up top to visit the big trees, it was amazing to see that much snow and trees that huge. We spent a lot of time just enjoying the view out on Morro rock. 

I definitely want to do more camping and hiking just like this, it was super fun and relaxing. Now the unfortunate part, the cleaning up and unpacking!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

South of Broad, or Choosing Happiness

I finally put South of Broad by Pat Conroy down after a few marathon sessions. In this book about Charleston, South Carolina from 1969-1990 a teenager recovering from childhood trauma is introduced to a cross-section of his beloved city that will become his friends, and change his life. Race, religion, class, sexuality, vanity, marriage, family, psychological disorders, pedophilia, molestation, AIDs; nothing is taboo.

The book was given to me by my mother and I was frankly surprised at the tone of the book. She leans towards the not-quite-trashy romance novels, and "Chick Lit" about women rediscovering themselves after or during various life changes or shopping. On the other hand, South of Broad brings up almost every horror that humans can do to each other and then a few more. The characters are well-defined if somewhat stereotypical and are the best part of the book. A few too many "if we had only known that we were walking into danger" chapter endings and beginnings left me frustrated with the plot and only the fact that the level of melodramatic tragedy matched the foreshadowing left me satisfied with not burning the book after I read it.

When I look at the number of catastrophes that terrorize the residents of this book, I wonder how they all didn't end up in the mental hospital together. Then again, I have to wonder how all people don't end up in the mental hospital. As television news and centuries of tragic literature reminds us, people are awful. A person can be nice, but people overall are horrible to each other. The animal world is no different even if it is written with simpler prose. Cruelty is found in almost all animal species. If evolution has made us cruel, where does this desire for happiness come from? Is it something that is taught to us, or are humans born with it? It came from somewhere, but even in the most collectivist of cultures, art and literature feature the desire for individual happiness.

Various studies on language show that until we know the words for concepts we cannot think about them. Who do we have to blame then for the first person who thought of the word wealth, happiness, success, or even love? Do we get to blame them or thank them for these concepts that drive most of our lives? Some of these concepts do not exist in languages that do not have words for them. The words aren't inevitable, otherwise all cultures would have them. The hierarchy of needs claims that until the basic needs of food and shelter are met, the need of family is not pressing. I disagree. I think that as long as the word is known the concept is desired. It puts to a word the way that humans at times help complete strangers whether it benefits them or not. 

After the tragedy in Japan I heard many people hoping that others would appreciate their lives more and stop complaining about first world problems. I can be gracious about all my blessings and still be overwhelmed by life. Tragedies that are too huge for our insufficient human brains to fully comprehend make us feel bad about feeling bad about our own world. This just leaves us feeling bad. One has to take those feelings and turn them into positive actions or positive thoughts. This requires action of some sort.

Happiness is something I desire. I want great success in my career and the perpetual love of my friends, my family and my partner. In the end I have to choose to be happy and choose to find success in my career and to grow the love that already exists in my life. Sometimes it's difficult to choose to be happy, to look on the bright side and turn off the melancholy and actively decide to have a good day. Ok not sometimes, it's mostly difficult, but stewing in your own complaint juices only deepens the flavor. I'm trying to choose the positive in my life, and to share that positivity and encourage others for being positive. Is this frequently against all of my impulses? Yes. Do I think it will help me? Yes. So I'm choosing to be happy and have a good life. I don't know if it will work but I'm willing to try.

Author's Note: Yes, I understand that animals help each other in the wild. No, I don't understand it. No, Science doesn't either.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Follow up and Macaroons

Three months later how am I doing on my resolutions and intentions? Well as you can see the blog hasn't been posted in. I don't wear sunscreen. I haven't used my KCRW card, but I am flossing. So I'd mark it up to a win.

My latest and current endeavor is to make macaroons. After recieving I <3 Macaroons for Christmas a couple of years ago I've been wanting to attempt them.

They are hard. The hardest thing that I have ever attempted to make. Many factors go into it including humidity and temperature in the room and I cannot for the life of me figure it out.

The basic steps to making macaroons include mixing powdered sugar and ground almonds, making meringue, and mixing it all together, putting the batter in a pastry bag and pouring it onto parchment paper in circles. A foot or "pied" will form as it bakes which is what makes them macaroons.

 I've made three attempts.

Batch 1- Macaroons did not dry and although they tasted good the foot did not form.

Batch 2- I accidentally used cornstarch instead of powdered sugar. Not successful.

Batch 3- Batter was too runny and did not form circles. In a fit of anger I threw them out before baking them. Regret.

Stay tuned to find out if I actually can make these!