October 10, 2010

darbar date night

When Emily and I go to a restaurant, we ask a simple question: could I make this dish better?  Usually, this is really important when we review food in our comfort zone (american, french, etc.).  But when it comes to ethnic cuisine, we are not experts and usually the answer to the question above is no.  Of course, this doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate ethnic food and pick out the good places.

This just so happened when we went to Darbar, an Indian-Pakistani restaurant on Polk between California and Pine.  We’ve been there many times and it is consistently a pleasurable experience.  The atmosphere is nice and warm with cheesy murals and photos of Pakistan coating the walls.  There’s never a wait for a table and the service is usually pretty good, although they tend to be significantly slower when the room is more than half full with patrons.  They’ve shown improvement in this regard over the half a dozen times we’ve dined there.  Obviously these flaws are not enough to keep Emily and I away.  Darbar has some serious advantages too, namely the food and the price.

We have sampled most of the menu at Darbar and settled on some favorites.  From the appetizer section, the Vegetable samosas ($2) are very good with a very crisp crust and a satisfying potato filling.  They are very balanced and the tamarind sauce and mint chutney accompany them really nicely.  Before I continue, I would like to say that the mint chutney at Darbar is really excellent, one of the best I’ve had.  It’s spicy, acidic, and yet still tastes of fresh mint; I could put it on just about anything.  On our most recent visit, we ordered a Seekh Kebab ($2.5) from the pakistani side of the menu.  The spicy, ground beef came out sizzling on a hot cast iron skillet in all its clichéd glory, served with onions and lemon.  The meat itself was a bit dry, but the flavors were all there; the sweetness of the charring onion, the spices of the meat, and the acidity of the lemon worked together beautifully.

The main courses continue the trend of value and taste.  Darbar has a nice selection of curries and rice dishes as well as six varieties of naan and a dozen special menu items.  Everything we’ve had has been good, simple Indian food at a good price.  The creamier curries tend to be a bit mild in spice and flavor, but you can ask them to bump up the heat if you so desire.  Emily’s favorite dish is the Mater Paneer ($6), which is fresh cheese and peas cooked in a cream based curry.  The peas add a nice sweetness to the dish, which counters the spice of the sauce and the slight saltiness of the cheese.  We really love paneer chesse in this context; it is a relatively dry cheese with a slightly chewy texture.  This lack of creaminess is what makes it work so well with this curry.  My personal favorite dish is the Sindhi Biryani ($8); tender pieces of lamb cooked in curry, served with spicy saffron rice and riata.  Unlike the cream based curries, this dish comes pretty spicy.  The lamb is tender but sometimes a tiny bit dry, and the riata is very tasty, but not the best I’ve had.  It’s the rice that makes this dish; the blend of spices (cardamom, clove, etc.) excite the palate with every bite.  Even with the small flaws, the excellent rice brings the whole dish together in a way that really works.

To sum it up, Darbar is great Indian food and an excellent value (a dinner for two tends to cost $25-30 after tax and tip, and we leave with enough leftovers for lunch the next day).  Some downsides are the occasional service issues and the lack of a liquor license (although they do make a great mango lassie for $2).  The charm and quality of food definitely make up for any mistakes we’ve encountered.

Dessert after Darbar:

One confession regarding the above post: we’ve never had dessert at Darbar.  On or most recent trip this didn’t change, but we did try a crepe place right down the street.  Crepes Ooh La La is located at 1220 Polk St.  They have a large selection of both sweet and savory crepes and their prices are decent too.  Fortunately, this is not one of those trendy, sit down places; it’s more of a hole in the wall with two crepe burners in the front window and a counter in the back with tables in between.  I love a simple butter, sugar, and lemon juice crepe, so Emily and I shared one.  For $3, it was pretty tasty.   We got it to go so all the delicious juices ran to the bottom leaving the upper half a bit dry.  Overall, it was a nice experience and a pretty good crepe.  I would like to go back and try some of their other varieties and maybe have one in house to see if there is a better distribution of juices.  One word of warning though: certain additions (like strawberries for example) are pretty pricey, so some crepes end up being quite expensive.  But, since I haven’t tried any of their other crepes I can’t comment on them, so who knows, they might be worth it.

-Jordan

sunday breakfast: french toast

My love of breakfast foods has already been professed, but here I go again … I love breakfast! I love it deeply, and especially so after sleeping in on a lazy Sunday morning.

Emily and Jordan’s French Toast
Day old baguette (sourdough is our favorite), sliced into 1 inch thick slices
3 eggs
1/4 cup milk
1 t vanilla extract
1 T brown sugar
1/2 t salt
1 t ground cinnamon (I love cinnamon and so I put a lot on my french toast)

Mix all of the above ingredients in a shallow baking dish. Melt 1 T of butter in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Generously coat the slices of bread with the egg mixture and place them in the hot pan. Cook several minutes per side, dust with powdered sugar and enjoy!

-Emily

buttermilk reincarnated: vichyssoise

Remember that leftover buttermilk from my butter-making experiment? Well, I just couldn’t let it go to waste and so I spent a little time browsing for buttermilk recipes online. After sifting through dozens of buttermilk fried chicken and buttermilk pancake entries, I found … vichyssoise with cauliflower and buttermilk. First thought: “Yum!”. Second thought: “Thank you Martha!”.

Vichyssoise with Cauliflower and Buttermilk, adapted from Martha Stewart Living
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
5 leeks, white and pale-green parts only, thinly sliced and rinsed well (about 3 cups)
1 white potato, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
Freshly ground white pepper (I used black because I didn’t have white, but the white would make it a prettier soup)
Large pinch nutmeg
1 small head cauliflower, cut into florets (about 4 cups)
Coarse salt
3 1/2 cups homemade or low-sodium store-bought chicken stock
1 cup buttermilk (ta-da!!)

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add leeks, and cook, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes. Add potato, a generous grinding of pepper, and the nutmeg, and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Stir in cauliflower, a large pinch of salt, and 3 cups stock. Simmer, partially covered, until cauliflower has softened, 12 to 15 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove 2 florets, and transfer to a cutting board; thinly slice lengthwise. Set aside for garnish.

Working in batches, puree vegetable mixture in a blender (I used an immersion blender-much easier), filling no more than halfway each time. Return to pan. Stir in buttermilk and remaining 1/2 cup stock.  Season again with salt and pepper. Serve hot or cold, garnished with cauliflower slices.

Hot this is soup referred to as potato and leek soup, cold as vichyssoise … if anyone can explain this to me, I’m all ears.

Conclusions: While not the most photogenic of dishes, this soup is delicious! Quick, easy and really comforting. We ate it for three days and weren’t too upset about that fact.

-Emily

baking therapy: miykaelah’s madeleines

Oh, how I’ve missed Miykaelah’s madeleines since moving to San Francisco! They are the perfect cookie whether eaten by themselves or accompanied with tea, and thanks to Miykealah, one of my favorites. I know the madeleine pan is a bit of an investment, but these cookies are so worth the $14 pan. And, because of that scalloped pan they come out so darn cute!

Miykaelah’s Madeleines
1 1/4 cup cake flour
1/4 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
2 large eggs + two large egg yolks, room temperature
1 t vanilla extract
3/4 cup sugar
grated zest of 1/2 lemon
1/2  cup unsalted butter, melted then cooled

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Generously brush madeleine pan with melted butter and dust with sugar

In a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the whole eggs, egg yolks and sugar until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and lemon zest and beat until well combined.

In a separate bowl, combine cake flour, baking powder and salt.

Using a rubber spatula, fold the flour mixture into the egg mixture until blended. Add the melted butter and fold until combined.

Drop batter by the spoonful into the madeleine molds. Fill each 3/4 full. Bake until golden brown and springy to the touch, 12-15 minutes.

Immediately invert pan onto a wire rack. Let cool completely. Wipe out pan, let cool, brush with melted butter, dust with sugar and repeat with remaining batter.

Conclusions: Wonderful, perfectly wonderful. I wouldn’t change a thing!

-Emily