Saturday, December 29, 2007


I am a total girl when it comes to cocktails. The prettier and tastier, the better. Props to my friend Siddhi, who took me to this nice new joint in the Union Square area.

It's called Cantina and you should hit it up when you're next looking for a cool drinks place to impress your friends. Small and subtly located on Sutter near Mason, you can walk right by the pretty wood and wrought iron door if you don't know what you're looking for. You'll get credit for having 'local' knowledge and knowing that such a place exists.

Inside, Cantina is skinny and long, only has a few seats but is dimly lit with spicy decor - funky fabrics, interesting paintings (you might not ever hang them in your house, but at least they have a home here; but luckily its an art gallery so the pieces change), and a bar to make any Latin liquor connoisseur swoon. They've got more types of cachaca, pisco and tequila than I've seen outside of Brazil, Peru or Mexico! And did I forget to mention that lots of the pretty people hang here? Make sure to dress casual-Mission.

But I digress. This is a drinks joint, or a 'bebidas bistro' to borrow their own term, after all, and boy do they do those well. Duggan McDonnell, expert mixologist, has worked some might fine magic on this drinks list. And it, like the art, changes. The drinks are one of a kind, don't even dare trying to order your standard gin and tonic here. All seem to be served in a simple, tall high ball glass with a sliver of cucumber, ginger or pineapple. And it's all made fresh at the bar, none of this from-concentrate crap.

My personal favorite is one that I bummed from Siddhi, the Laughing Buddha - a scrumptious mix of ginger, ginger beer, serrano pepper (yeah that's right) and alcoholic goodness. It's not too sweet, a crime often committed by alco-pop makers. I ordered one of the daily specials, a pisco punch - after spending minutes agonizing whether to get that or a blackberry cabernet caiperinha. I made a good choice, my drink had some ginger, orange and pineapple juice to drown out pisco's often heavy, burning taste.

But I'm definitely trying the blackberry thing next time.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

In Support of a Fellow Foodie

I love comparing my food preferences with those of my friends. Generally, I'm in it for selfish reasons, to prove that my critical tastebuds are better than theirs, or at least as discerning. Just kidding. I'm hardly a Type-A perfectionist. My disastrous Gingerbread house, which would make a pre schooler's art project look good, can attest to that.

Anyway, Vaughn Tan, a fellow SF foodie, H-bomb alumn and wood shop extraordinaire, has created a map of good eats in SF. I want to share it because I agree with a number of his selections. For those of you visiting the city or looking for new restos to try, may this serve as a useful edible guide to San Francisco:

Vaughn's the only person I know who got academic credit for "researching" and writing about fabulous Japanese food. Check out more of his musings at

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Great Gingerbread Disaster

I had a major culinary catastrophe recently. I blog about it because it was my greatest baking failure to date. Right up there with the time my dog ate half of a homemade pineapple cake.

But in seriousness, my sister and I took on the daunting project of building a gingerbread house this Christmas. I decided we should bake the whole thing from scratch – none of this graham cracker nonsense. I searched the net but the recipes I came up with weren’t very helpful. They were targetted more at veteran gingerbread makers looking to add an extra story or fine details like gingerbread crown molding to perfect structures. Few provided basic instructions for beginners like us, who would’ve been happy with a clapboard shack so long as we could pile tons of candy goodness onto it.

Our house was doomed from the beginning. The gingerbread planks to our humble home distorted in shape as they baked. One piece nearly burned. They tasted ok – not very sweet, but that was OK given the amount of extra sugar we loaded on in the form of frosting and candy. The pieces hardly fit together, and our frosting was more like white sludge than a firm glue to hold the pieces together.

Luckily, we somehow managed to have a crumbling structure to put candy onto by morning. Our Christmas miracle! And boy did we load that thing up with all kinds of chocolates and teeth-rotting edibles – almond M&Ms (love them!), twizzlers on the roof, Hershey’s Kissables, candy cane pieces. And these funky little peppermint malt balls – though I think we ate as many as we used on the house.

But our baked abode did not last. Within minutes of putting the last candy touches on it, the roof gradually caved and then the walls imploded. A perfect Florida gingerbread house, perhaps – post-hurricane.

I will not accept pastry defeat. Anyone out there have suggestions for how to do better next time?? Stronger gingerbread? Better icing? Tips for making the template?