A war where everyone wins: SF Food Wars' Essential New York Times Cookbook Ultimate Potluck

I've been wanting to check out SF Food Wars for quite some time and this weekend the stars finally aligned. This event differed from the norm which usually features a mix of amateur and pro chefs from around the area competing for one of the coveted SF Food Wars titles. Instead, this time a dozen of the top chefs and mixologists in San Francisco made their picks from the best of 150 years of New York Times recipes as part of the launch of Amanda Hesser's The Essential New York Times Cookbook. Sunday afternoons don't get much better than this.

There was no competition this time, and frankly it would have been hard to choose the best in this group. Everything was delicious in its own way. Though, I have to admit, I was focusing more on the food than the drinks. I must be a real lightweight because one sip was about all I could take of the cocktails. They weren't holding back at all - those drinks were strong!

I also have to take a moment to give props to all the folks behind this event. It was fun, delicious, and well organized. Sometimes food events can get a little crazy, but there was none of that at SF Food Wars - it was bustling enough to feel exciting, but no stress of having to fight for your food. All the chefs and staff representing their restaurants were also incredibly approachable and friendly. How often do you get to ask a chef about her inspirations for a dish as you eat it? It's no surprise that this event is so popular that it always sells out almost immediately.

The Food

Here's a roundup of the great dishes from Sunday, and seeing as no prizes were handed out, I figured I'd share a few random thoughts on some of the ones that stood out to me:

Most likely to leave you confused about what just hit you

Richie Nakano's (Hapa Ramen) interpretation of "Ricotta Crostini with Fresh Thyme and Dried Oregano" seemed like the perfect thing for a rainy fall day - crisp bread topped with warm creamy ricotta that was just made that morning along with cubes of smoky butternut squash. But on the second bite I felt an unfamiliar peppery and tingling sensation as it went down followed by a slight buzz. Turns out "smoky" was actually a pretty literal description. He explained that his creative twist on the dish involved roasting the squash over tobacco leaves. Who knew you could spike a crostini?

Best dressed

The picture above doesn't do this dish justice, but even on a paper plate, that's one classy looking "Banana Cream Pie". This dish from Melissa Chou (Aziza) was probably one of the favorites as I saw a number of folks going for seconds. The pie crust was turned into a flaky cookie-like disc topped with vanilla cream and bananas that had been brûléed with a small blow torch to have a thin sugary shell. This was then paired with a paper-thin chocolate round standing in a sweet coffee cream.

Most fitting for a painter's palette

Adam Timney's (Starbelly) "Beet Tzatziki" was a vibrant splash of color on this otherwise gray day in the city. He served it in lettuce wraps with smoked trout for a cool refreshing break from the otherwise autumn-themed eats.

Dish I'm most likely to make

Jennifer Musty's (Batter Bakery) interpretation of "An Incredible Date-Nut Bread" might not have been the fanciest dessert of the bunch but when I tasted it, it gave me that warm cozy feeling you get when you eat a home-baked dessert around Christmas time. I'll be tempted to revisit this one this holiday season.

Best spirits

Call me unsophisticated, but to me, ice cream has got to be one of the best ways to serve liquor. Sure, there were mixed drinks, but how can you beat the folks from Humphry Slocombe who've already perfected the art in their "Secret Breakfast" flavor? Jake Godby put a twist on the cookbook's "Indian Pudding" by pairing the spiced cream with a bourbon ice cream.

More tasty treats

From Mourad Lahlou and Louis Maldonado of Aziza:
"Joyce Goldstein's Pickled Salmon"
"Poached Eggs with Date-Chorizo Paste"

From Jennifer Puccio of Marlowe: "Pork Belly Tea Sandwiches"

From Bridget Batson of Gitane: "Smoked Mackerel on Toasts"

From Elisabeth Prueitt of Tartine:
"Poached Pears with Brandy and Red Wine" and packages of "Peppermints, Marshmallows, Lemon Gumdrops, Dorie Greenspan's Sables, Almond Lemon Macaroons"
And from Chris Kronner of Bar Tartine: "Foie Gras and Jam Sandwiches"

For more details, here's the entire menu.

Thanks again to SF Food Wars for this great event, Amanda Hesser for her inspiring book, the great chefs and staff for the wonderful food, and to my foodie buddies for the great company.

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