Sunday, September 23, 2007

Sweet Tooth

Now, usually I don't have much of a sweet tooth. I save that job for my fiance. I do enjoy the occasional slice of cheesecake or bowl of ice cream, and we decided to use the Eat Local Challenge this month to try out two of the Mission's best kept secrets. These places are local in all of the best ways: They are small shops who believe in the benefits of using locally grown organic food for all of their delicious treats, and they are home-grown stops who have managed to make names for themselves in a city filled to the brim with gourmet bakeries, pastry shops and eateries.

Bi-Rite Creamery & Bakeshop, an annex of the Bi-Rite Grocery on 18th Street, (pronounced bee-rite, if you are my fiance) serves seasonally-flavored ice creams, sorbets, and specialty items made from locally produced organic ingredients. You can call to find out what flavors are in season, or just drop by and try out whatever sounds good. We got a scoop each of the Balsamic Strawberry and Raspberry with White Chocolate, both of which were some of the best ice cream I have ever tasted. It was so good, I had no problem eating ice cream at 7 'o'clock on a cold and foggy San Francisco evening. Check out their website here:

Next stop on our search for tasty local treats in the Mission was Mission Pie, a tiny shop on the corner of 25th and Mission. These folks make some amazing pies, made with care by hand with locally grown ingredients. This little pie shop has created quite a following of its own; in fact a lady in line in front of us was buying two pies but for no other reason that she couldn't get enough of their rhubarb. The pie shop is an extension of the Pie Ranch, an organization deditcated to locally produced food and urban renewal. They have recently purchased a ranch on the San Mateo coast to be the headquarters of their production and education programs. The storefront on 25th street sells the final product of all of their hard work. The Pie Ranch organization is the embodiment of local food; a group dedicated to education, sustainable agriculture, and ensuring the fewest steps between the earth and your stomach. Oh, yeah, and they make one hell of a pie. I reccomend both the walnut and the rhubarb. Maybe grab a slice of each. They're just calories, right? Check out the websites here: and

Monday, September 10, 2007

Home Grown

This month, the good people at Locavores and the Eat Local Challenge website are hosting their third annual month-long eat local challenge. The challenge, as the name implies, is to eat foods grown and produced locally, generally within a 100 mile radius of your home. This includes finding locally grown produce, meats and dairy products to enjoy at home as well as finding restaurants that support local farmers and use their products in their dishes. Well, yours truly has decided to join in the fun, and will do whatever I can to eat as much bay-area grown food as I can in the coming weeks. I should mention, however, having grown up in the "green-belt" of California, the great Central Valley, I will make allowances for products grown in and around my home town of Lemoore, California. I will, of course, make it a point to find things grown by small, independant, and hopefully organic farmers. But really, home much closer to "Home Grown" can you get when it comes out of your Mother's garden?

Recently we stumbled upon a pair of Jam producers out of the Santa Clara Valley making apricot jam from the rare and endangered Blenheim apricot. The reviews of this small-batch jam were unanimous: It was the best thing anyone had ever tasted. Ever. So, we thought, why should we not try the best tasting jam in the known world, jam that tastes so good it causes seemingly normal people to eat an entire jar in one sitting? Why not, indeed. From a lone Blenheim apricot tree growing in their backyard in the Santa Clara Valley, once a beautiful and prosperous apricot orchard, these two guys began to produce their amazing jam for their family and friends. They then discovered just how fragile and difficult to handle these fruits were, and just how endangered the species had become. As their jam grew in popularity, spreading from their small group of family and friends to others wanting to taste this delicious elixr, they started trying to find more farmers of the apricots to make more of this fantastic jam.

Eric and Phineas, the two knuckleheads just crazy enough to try something like this, are the epitome of locally grown small farm producers. After discovering the nectar of the gods in a small batch of jam from an ancient apricot tree, they began finding other farmers who grow these delicate little drops of heaven to help support the local small farms of the Bay Area and help preserve the Blenheim variety. So far they have succeeded: After years of producing around 100 jars of jam per year, they are up to around 7000 pounds of jam this year. Needless to say, the jam is amazing, and so are the two men behind it. They have dedicated themselves to preserving these wonderful fruits and the people who grow them, a noble cause no matter how you shake it. This is the reason we eat locally for this challenge and all year round. These guys are the reason we make the effort, the reason we spend an extra few minutes thinking about what we put in our mouths. You can read more about these two, their amazing jam, and the fun they have making it here. Then, check out their website, and please, order one of their fine, hand made and carefully prepared products, at The batch of apricot jam is almost gone, so if you want some, you better act fast.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Table For Two

Several nights ago, my fiance and I took a trip to Oakland to celebrate the day of her birth. A couple of weeks prior, we had read in the Chronicle's Food section about a restaurant that would be having its annual Tomato Dinners on that very same day, so we quickly made reservations and began getting excited about eating a dinner inspired completely by tomatoes. Being the height of tomato season, this promised to be quite an amazing and delightful meal. Each year, Oliveto Cafe & Restaurant in Oakland holds their Tomato Dinners, three days of feasting on a menu of brilliantly inspired dishes each with tomatoes as a main ingredient. And yes, that includes the deserts.

Oliveto, a wonderful Italian cafe & restaurant on College Avenue in Oakland, has two dining areas complete with their own menus. The cafe, located downstairs, serves lighter fare consisting of salads, pizzas and pastas for a casual lunch or dinner, and the menu changes daily to go with what is in season. The upstairs restaurant, where the tomato dinners are held, is the more formal fine dining room that serves both lunch and dinner. The upstairs restaurant is a warm and modern space serving a full seasonal menu that also changes daily.

On any normal day, Oliveto's restaurant serves a delicious array of finely conceived dishes inspired by traditional Italian cuisine. To see Oliveto's full menus, click here. On this day, however, we were treated to a fantastic menu of tomato-laden dishes. For starters, I had the dry-farmed "early girl" and "flamme" tomatoes with burrata di bufala, and my lovely fiance had a green olive crostone with pancetta, green "brandywine" tomatoes, and wild fennel. My appetizer, basically tomatoes with fresh mozzerella cheese and olive oil, was anything but basic. The flavor of the ripe tomatoes paired with the amazingly fresh cheese was so flavorful that I could have eaten a few plates of it for my entire meal and been satisfied. The cheese just melted in my mouth and the flavors of the tomatoes were just so brilliantly fresh. I truly didn't want the dish to end. The crostone was equally as delicious, with the sweet green tomato mixing with the salty pancetta on the crunchy bread making an incredibly flavorful dish.

We shared a pasta dish, Tomato penne all colatura di alici, garlic, hot pepper, and tomato leaf sauce, a wonderfully flavorful pasta with the tomatoes actually infused into the pasta itself. The entrees' again did not fail to delight us. My fiance got the Grilled beefsteak tomatoes wrapped in pancetta, Paola's potatoes, Anchovy and Herb Sauce while I ventured out of my comfort zone a bit and tried the Charcoal-grilled Sika venison with roasted plum tomatoes and fresh shelling beans. The venison was cooked perfectly, just pink enough in the middle and bursting with flavor. It sat in a tangy sauce with the roasted tomatoes and beans that really brought the dish together but the venison was so moist and so tender that it could have been sitting in dishwater and I would have loved it.

And finally, dessert. Yes, I realize that the idea of a tomato-infused dessert might sound a little off at first, but bear with me. It takes a certain sense of adventure, but trust me, these guys know what they are doing. We ordered the Limoncello Baba with "sungold" tomato compote, basically a limoncello-soaked cake topped with a thick tomato sauce. The flavors together were wonderful. The cake was very tart, but the tartness was off-set by the warm sweetness of the tomato compote. We were tempted to order a couple of desserts, but couldn't seem to find the room in our stuffed bellies for any more.

We both loved our meals at the Tomato Dinners at Oliveto. We will make it a point to go back and try their regular menu as soon as humanly possible. Everything at the restaurant was so wonderfully executed; from the helpful and friendly staff to the brilliantly executed dishes. I would recommend Oliveto to anyone looking for a fancy yet completely un-pretentious meal for any occasion, any time.