Tamara Palmer lives, loves and writes about food (especially chocolate)

TP Food TV!

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With the technology help of my friends at Kyte and the gift of editorial freedom on SF Weekly’s SFoodie blog, I’m entering the world of video interviewing and reporting. After watching this show, hover the cursor over the right or left side of the viewer in order to proceed to the next or previous broadcast.

[kyte.tv appKey=MarbachViewerEmbedded&uri=channels/113432/212762&embedId=49192504]

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Written by tamarapalmer

August 31, 2008 at 8:55 am

Posted in Feature

SF Weekly treats you to the 7-Day Dish

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“This is my house, and I want people to feel like family when they’re here,” says executive chef and owner Hoss Zaré of his new restaurant Zaré at Fly Trap (606 Folsom at Second St.). It’s no line; indeed, a sampling of his abundant, luxurious creations bears the feel of food cooked by a loved one. His location is imbued with both personal and San Francisco history. The original Fly Trap was established in 1906, and is also where Zaré first got a job cooking after moving here from Iran 22 years ago.

After a stint running a restaurant in Napa, the self-taught Zaré has returned to S.F. to share his culinary innovation of Mediterranean cooking with influences from his familial roots. “I am not afraid to put some of my heritage in it, from a great cuisine with 250 years of culture,” he says.

This pops up delightfully in dishes like the starter of spice-roasted bone marrow with bergamot preserve and Persian baby pickles, and entrée of abgusht lamb shank braise. Executive pastry chef Marisa Churchill has crafted imaginative desserts to mirror Zaré’s playful, style-bending menu. Highlights include the fried milk torrijas served with a rosewater-hot chocolate dipping sauce, and a delicate interpretation of Greek yogurt and honey: panna cotta, white truffle honey, and kalamata biscotti. Master sommelier Chris Blanchard has selected “wine on the fly” that’s not only from Napa and the Loire Valley, but also from places as far-flung as Galilee, Israel, and Lebanon, the last two part of a category they have happily dubbed “Peace in the Middle East.” “After two years, I wasn’t sure how they were going to take me, but it’s been a big welcome, so it’s kind of overwhelming and a blessing,” Zaré says. “I feel like I’m back to my home.” Zaré at Flytrap is open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner. 243-0580.

What’s the opposite of fast food? Slow Food Nation takes over San Francisco on Labor Day weekend, hosting events citywide from Friday, August 29, through Monday, September 1. There’s so much to see, do, hear, and – most importantly – eat. We’re most looking forward to “Food for Thought,” a speaker series at the Herbst Theatre and Milton Marks Auditorium; Fort Mason’s “Taste,” a massive gathering of gastronomic pavilions; and Slow Food Rocks, a two-day music festival featuring performances from Gnarls Barkley; Ozomatli; Medeski, Martin and Wood; Phil Lesh and Friends; and more. There’s something for every flavor and every pace, not to mention every budget – Slow Food Nation also has a wonderful free happening and installation that is appropriate for all ages: “Marketplace,” which takes place from Friday, August 29, through Sunday, August 31, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Civic Center Plaza. With more than 60 vendors, it will be a turbo-charged and especially artisan version of the delightful farmers’ market held there weekly. Civic Center Plaza concurrently plays host to the Slow Food Nation Victory Garden, our own edible slice of patriotism inspired by the victory gardens of World War II. Check the Slow Food Nation Web site for updated schedule information and ticket availability for all related events.

Many restaurants around town are hosting dinners in honor of Slow Food Nation. Ardent foodies that we are, several have sold out, but there’s one particularly special event still available that defines the ultimate date night: Dinner and a movie at Foreign Cinema (2534 Mission at 21st St.) on Friday, August 29. In partnership with Marin Organic, Foreign Cinema will present “A Taste of Marin,” a four-course menu composed entirely of produce from that region. The evening’s visual selection is Hidden Bounty of Marin: Farm Families in Transition, and many of the documentary’s farmers will attend, as will their produce, from steak and oysters to cheese and cream. Admission is $100 per person and includes wine pairings from Marin’s Stubbs Vineyards; call 648-7600 for reservations.

The venerable Jack Falstaff (598 Second St. at Brannan) now offers the Happy Jack Happy Hour every Wednesday from 5 to 7 p.m. Specialty cocktails, like the New Jack Margarita (Cazadores and lime juice with late-harvest Viognier), are just $5, while executive chef Jonnatan Leiva offers luxuriant little nibbles such as Dungeness jalapeño crab cakes and spiced lamb meatballs. Call 836-9239 or visit http://www.jackfalstaff.com/jackfalstaff.

It’s time to make the rounds of new joints in town, starting with Limón Rotisserie (1001 South Van Ness at 21st St.). Recently opened by Nuevo Latino fusionist Martin Castillo, the executive chef and owner of Limón (524 Valencia at 16th St.), it’s the first of two high-profile Peruvian restaurants debuting in San Francisco this year (with Gaston Acurio’s La Mar expected to launch in September). Four Barrel Coffee (375 Valencia at 15th St.) is another fresh San Francisco success story. It began life as a popular cart in a Mission alley, and is now a hot new java spot where you can actually sit and sip.

(Originally published as SF Weekly’s 7-Day Dish dining newsletter, August 25, 2008.)

Written by tamarapalmer

August 27, 2008 at 1:36 am

Posted in Food News

SF Weekly treats you to the 7-Day Dish

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The proprietors of SOMA’s impeccable Thai restaurant Basil (1175 Folsom at Eighth St.) recently opened up a new place just a few blocks away. Basil Canteen (1489 Folsom at 11th St.) sits in the landmark brick building that once housed the Jackson Brewery when it was built in 1912 and most recently was home to restaurant The Public.

“It was a conscious choice when this spot came up to do Basil Canteen,” owner Todd Sirimongkolvit says. “What we have here is a very concise menu of mainly noodle dishes. It’s something we wanted for many years to do at Basil, but you just cannot do everything in one kitchen, obviously. Basil is fun, but a bit formal, and here is essentially a noodle bar with snacks to go with cocktails. We are trying to achieve something very simple and focused on the neighborhood.”

Basil Canteen’s rotating menu is an inventive fusion of Bangkok street food and San Francisco ingenuity, with unique creations like sakhoo sai moo (pork dumplings encased in tapioca) and kao soi neur (tender grilled skirt steak with noodles in piquant lime-coconut curry). And with several offerings priced at $10 or less, the restaurant is a thoughtful addition to 11th Street, which remains an epicenter of the city’s nightlife, with clubs like Slim’s, DNA Lounge, and Fat City within one block. Basil Canteen serves dinner seven days a week, and is open for lunch on weekdays. 552-3963


Cherokee purple, green zebra, brandywine, hillbilly, big rainbow – while these might sound like the names of some new-fangled psychedelics, they are actually just a few of the seemingly infinite varieties of the blessed heirloom tomato. And Heirloom Tomato Week – which is actually a proper 10 days long – is still in full swing and continues through Sunday, August 24. More than 50 local restaurants of all persuasions, from Acme Chophouse (24 Willie Mays Plaza at Third St.) to XYZ (181 Third St. at Howard), are offering unique stamps of creativity on those vibrant oddities we wait all year to devour. Hosts San Francisco Chefs. Food. Wine. have more tantalizing events planned, including Dungeness Crab Week in January and Strawberry Week next April. Make reservations at participating restaurants via http://www.opentable.com.

Two of life’s finest edible pleasures converge in “Bubbles and Cheese,” a special tasting event on Sunday, August 24, at Bar Bambino (2931 16th St. at Bryant). Classic sparkling wines and cheese, all hailing from Italy, will be paired for maximum indulgence and romance. Specific details have so far been kept under wraps, but rarely do you encounter an unfriendly Italian wine or cheese. Admission is $45 per person and reservations are required. Call 701-8466 or e-mail reservations@barbambino.com to secure your place.

A recent addition to the JW Marriott San Francisco, Level III (500 Post at Mason) is now offering a happy hour. The special half-price menu of red and white wines, signature cocktails (including the Emperor Norton’s Mistress, made with Maker’s Mark, strawberries, Navan, and Cointreau), and bar nibbles such as Kobe sliders and a sinfully rich version of mac and cheese with Gruyère, mascarpone, and Parmegiano-Regianno offer a bite of luxury for less. Happy hour runs Monday through Friday from 4 to 7 p.m.; call 929-2087 or visit http://www.levelthreesf.com.

It’s time once again to make the rounds of new joints in town, starting with Urban Tavern (333 O’Farrell at Mason), a gastropub in the Hilton San Francisco operating under the direction of Laurent Manrique. He famously helmed local seafood restaurant Aqua when it earned a coveted two stars from the Michelin Guide in 2006 and 2007, so hopes are high for this new venture. Denizens of Polk Gulch now have a bit of Richmond District charm in their midst with the opening of Aroma Tea Shop 2 (1806 Polk at Jackson), the recently opened sister to the original Clement Street location. Sip the finest in leaves with their free tea presentation (no purchase required, really) at the granite tasting bar or enjoy a more deluxe afternoon or early evening tea service.

(Originally published as SF Weekly’s 7-Day Dish dining newsletter, August 19, 2008.)

Written by tamarapalmer

August 21, 2008 at 12:16 am

Posted in Food News

Tasty Bites

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Tasty Bites
by Tamara Palmer

The San Francisco International Chocolate Salon is a celebration of confections meant to sound reserved and polite, like the French fêtes that inspired it. However, there was far too much buzzing excitement among those that attended last year’s packed two-day event for that — composure was largely thrown out the window once people realized how much creative, high-quality chocolate was available to sample in a relatively small space. Many of the salon exhibitors are from the Bay Area, which has been experiencing a boom of independent chocolatiers over the past few years. Expect everything from the rustic and traditional, such as the hand-rolled bites from XOX Truffles of North Beach, to visually provocative chocolates with envelope-pushing ingredients like absinthe or popping candy from Christopher Elbow, an innovator from Kansas City, MO, who recently opened a high-end shop in the Western Addition. Passions (and crowds) could be even more intense this year, as the schedule is focused to just one day.

(Originally published by SF Weekly on April 9, 2008.)

Written by tamarapalmer

August 13, 2008 at 7:43 am

Posted in Chocolate

Dark Days

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Dark Days
by Tamara Palmer

Even though Hershey’s snapped up Bay Area chocolate companies Joseph Schmidt and Scharffen Berger a couple of years ago, which might intuitively signify death for indies, the climate for independent chocolatiers has enjoyed new life and success in that time. Local cable/online channel TasteTv presents the San Francisco International Chocolate Salon, two days of chocolate celebration, featuring the eminently edible jewels of nearby artisans such as Saratoga Chocolates, Coco Delice (Oakland), Charles Chocolates (Emeryville) and the Xocolate Bar (San Rafael). Out-of-towners of note include Theo, an organic, fair-trade company from Seattle that specializes in high-cacao content dark chocolate bars (and, like Scharffen Berger, creates its products from bean to bar) and Lillie Belle arms of Jacksonville, Oregon (which grows its own organic berries for its chocolates and invents bold, addictive flavors like cayenne caramels and blue cheese truffles). Also worth tracking down is L’Artisan du Chocolat, a confectioner of great visual beauty and flavor surprises (from matcha to kalamata) created by a former mayor of a town near Paris and a daughter of a one-time Korean prime minister. But really, there’s no Hershey-type crap happening here. Only tantalizing bites await.

(Originally published by SF Weekly on July 14, 2007.)

Written by tamarapalmer

August 13, 2008 at 7:39 am

Posted in Chocolate

Charles Chocolates’ New 6700 Square Foot Candy Kingdom

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“Talk about your childhood wishes/You can even eat the dishes…”

–“Candy Man” from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

It’s been a year and change since we first met local artisan chocolatier Chuck Siegel of Charles Chocolates. In that time, Siegel’s two-and-a-half-year-old business has bloomed both locally and nationally, and he has also realized a dream that’s been brewing for almost two decades. After opening his first permanent retail store in Emeryville on Valentine’s Day, Siegel celebrated its official grand opening this weekend with the completion of new café seating that overlooks a brand-new 6700 square foot candy kitchen.

While he has been inspired in part by chocolatiers in Paris, Siegel explains that there really isn’t a total precedent for what he has done here. Usually, at best, chocolate lovers are offered a cursory glance at a chocolatier’s production area, leaving out vital steps of procedures and hiding away key pieces of equipment. In the pursuit of what Siegel dubs “demystifying chocolate,” customers will be able to watch the creation of his confections nearly from start to finish; only the measuring and clean-up area is kept away from the public eye. In the future, Siegel hopes to bring these views online as well.

The store is the only place that offers everything in the line per piece as well as his newly introduced hot chocolate (in original bittersweet and caramelized cinnamon). He’ll soon begin pastry service, with unique bites made fresh by his lead candymakers, trained pastry chefs that formerly worked at luxe S.F. restaurants like Fifth Floor and the defunct Hawthorne Lane.

This whole concept wouldn’t mean much if Siegel’s chocolates weren’t as visually gorgeous as they are transcendently tasty. Whether something relatively simple, such as a glistening drop of candied ginger atop a truffle, or more elaborate, such as his edible chocolate boxes with multi-colored cocoa butter designs, the collection places a premium on both aesthetic and flavor. –Tamara Palmer

(Originally published on sfweekly.com on June 25, 2007.)

Written by tamarapalmer

August 13, 2008 at 7:28 am

Posted in Chocolate, Food News

Chuck and the Chocolate Factory

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Chuck and the Chocolate Factory

by Tamara Palmer

Last year was a dark one for chocolate lovers. In July 2005 the Hershey Co. acquired Berkeley’s Scharffen Berger; in August, it gobbled up San Francisco’s Joseph Schmidt. Sweet-toothed locals were certain this development would be the death knell for the Bay Area’s reputation among international chocolatiers. Surely Hershey would turn these venerable specialty brands into candle wax disguised as confections, at the same time making it impossible for independent candy-makers here to thrive.

Sucka Free City cares about the survival of indies in the wake of corporate takeovers. For this reason only — and not because we enjoy ravishing triple-chocolate-coated almonds and lavender honey truffles — we asked Chuck Siegel, proprietor of S.F.’s Charles Chocolates, what the climate for cacao is now.

Turns out, it’s sweet. Siegel says that the Bay Area is experiencing something of a choco boom, with a handful of new companies (including Coco-luxe Confections and Cocoa Carcione) having sprouted up in the last six months. “It’s actually an area of the industry where most of the people doing well are small and independent,” he explains.

He would know: Siegel’s inventive morsels — made the old-fashioned way, by hand and in small batches — fetch more than $50 a pound. He recently opened his first “test retail store” in the former space of Home Chef in the Laurel Village shopping center, where he’ll stay until May 31, at which point he’ll decide whether to open a full-fledged shop in the city. Signs indicate that he will, since he’s had his hands full keeping enough product in stock.

As for the Hershey’s buyout, Siegel says that it’s a positive thing for high-end local chocolate masters like him and Michael Recchiuti (who operates a retail post in the Ferry Building).

“As a businessman, it validates what I do. It’s saying, if Hershey wants to buy Scharffen Berger, it means that the 600-pound gorilla recognizes that super-premium chocolate is really where it’s happening. All the double-digit growth in the chocolate industry is in the super-premium category, and commodity chocolate [like Hershey’s] is stagnant or shrinking. So, for Hershey, they’re looking at where the market is going, and they’re not there. They did what any large corporation does: They bought their way into the market.”

Siegel doesn’t have much in common with the Hershey Co. Whereas the giant conglomerate sells a wide range of products, from energy bars to bottled milkshakes, the indie producer doesn’t plan to expand drastically beyond his basic (but not simple) offerings — bars, nuts, pate de fruit (sugar-coated fruit bombs), and, of course, boxed bonbons.

“If I can’t be the best at it, I don’t want to do it,” he says.

But he does have some things in common with one great candy-maker — Willy Wonka, from Roald Dahl’s classic children’s book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. For example, their fathers both dealt with rotten teeth: Siegel’s dad is a retired oral surgeon, while the young Wonka’s was a dentist (in the recent Johnny Depp film adaptation).

They also both like to play with food. In the book, Willy Wonka made “eatable” marshmallow pillows and raised cows that produce chocolate milk. In Siegel’s sugar-soaked playground of a store, you can eat the boxes that house his marzipan and fleur de sel caramels — dark chocolate containers with ornate white chocolate lids.

So let’s review life in the sweet lane: Corporate invasion is good for business, and your biggest problem involves not being able to meet the fiendish demand for your treats. C’mon, Chuck — surely there’s some hidden downside to making chocolates in the Bay Area?

“I know a lot of people in this business here,” he counters. “By and large, we’re all happy people.”

(Originally published in SF Weekly on May 24, 2006.)

Written by tamarapalmer

August 13, 2008 at 7:16 am

Posted in Chocolate, Feature