Sheng Jian Bao (Pan-fried pork dumplings)
Yang’s Fry Dumpling, Shanghai, China
These are the best dumplings we’ve ever had. We’re not Chinese, so maybe that statement doesn’t hold that much weight, but we still talk about these dumplings nearly six months after our trip to China. Sheng jian bao are pan fried mini pork buns that are filled with gelatinized broth, like the more famous xiao long bao. I love these because the outside is a little crispy then the broth literally explodes in your mouth. They are much larger than XLB and much more durable/portable. This box of four set us back a whopping 6 RMB, which comes to just under $1.
The Tractor Room, San Diego, CA
The Tractor Room is known for their use of unconventional meat. Can you name another brunch spot where people regularly order the boar and buffalo? This quesadilla is stuffed with braised buffalo meat, scrambled eggs, bacon, cheddar and tomato. It’s placed over a bed of crispy potatoes then drizzled with a sauce made from reduced veal stock and cream.
Brunch served on weekends only. Reservations by phone.
Fried Chicken Benedict
The Tractor Room, San Diego, CA
The Tractor Room is my favorite place for weekend brunch in San Diego. It’s owned by the same people from the famous Hash House A Go Go, but I prefer this place over Hash House any day. This “Andy’s House Sage Fried Chicken Benedict” served on a split biscuit with spinach, smoked bacon, tomato, mozzarella, chipotle cream and scrambled eggs placed over a bed of skillet potatoes. It’s definitely not a traditional benedict for those purists, but how could I ever say no to a biscuit, fried chicken, eggs and cheese? The fried chicken had a very crispy exterior with juicy meat and the biscuit was fluffy and flaky.
The portions here are out of control. One dish can easily serve three people.
Brunch is served on weekends only. Reservations by phone.
Tender Greens, San Diego, CA
Tender Greens is a chain of casual organic eateries with 12 locations in California. While known for their salads and sandwiches, I also think they make great desserts. This is a seasonal strawberry shortcake made with a scone, freshly whipped cream and strawberries sprinkled with some sort of citrus.
Locations are mostly in Southern California but there is one location in the Bay Area in Walnut Creek.
Flashback to Jenn’s European adventure in 2011!
There is a small street in the Ortakoy neighborhood in Istanbul where you can buy a waffle with customizable toppings. Here, I chose nutella, strawberry icing, strawberries, chestnuts, pistachios, and sprinkles. This area is also known for kumpir, also known as “jacket potatoes” that follow the same concept.
Twice-cooked Pork Belly Bun
This recipe is loosely based on the momofuku pork bun by David Chang. It’s pretty easy, but you need a lot of time to prepare because the pork brines for at least 12 hours then roasts for another three.
For the pork:
2.5 pounds skinless pork belly, plus 4 cups water, 1/2 cup salt and 1/2 cup sugar for brine
1/2 cup chicken broth
One package plain clamshell buns (I purchased a package of 12 at my local Asian grocer for $2.99. Well worth not having the hassle of making these from scratch!)
Quick pickled cucumber
1. Stick the pork belly in a gallon size zip lock bag. Mix the water, sugar and salt together in a separate container then pour into the bag o’ pork. Stick that bag in the fridge and leave it be for at least 12 hours, up to 24 hours.
2. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Place pork fat side up in a baking dish that fits the meat snugly, like a 8x8 or maybe even a loaf pan. Pour in half a cup of water and that half cup of chicken broth. Cover the pan tightly with foil and roast the pork until tender, which should be around 2.5 hours.
3. Remove the foil, crank up the heat to 450 degrees and let the fat bubble and turn into a golden color. Then take the meat out and let it cool for a while on the stove. Once cooled, slice it against the grain into pieces small enough to stuff into your buns.
4. At this point, you could use the meat as-is, or you can do this extra step that I think makes the pork belly even better. Take two forks and pull the meat apart, shredding it all into even smaller pieces. Take the shredded pork and pan fry it for a few minutes in a hot skillet. No oil needed, as the pork is already fatty and greasy enough. The bits of pork should crisp up a little. We’re basically making pork belly carnitas here.
5. Make the quick pickled cucumbers by mixing cucumber slices with a 2:1 ratio of sugar to salt. This can be adjusted to taste. The cucumbers need to sit for at least 20 minutes, so plan accordingly.
6. Steam your buns in the microwave for 2 minutes or on the stove for 15-20 minutes. This step can be done before you shred and cook the meat a second time. Up to you. Keep in mind that after about an hour or two the buns lose a lot of their fluffiness.
7. Stuff those fluffy clam shells with the twice-cooked pork belly, cucumbers, green onion, hoisin sauce and sriracha.
Birthday cake macaron
Bouchon Bakery, Yountville, CA
I’m a little particular when it comes to Parisian macarons, especially with all the recent hype they’ve received and the subsequent poor quality versions that are popping up everywhere. We make an effort to drop by Bouchon Bakery any time we’re in Wine Country for some fancy desserts to nosh on once we’re home, and their macarons are very good. My favorite flavor is vanilla, but I couldn’t resist this birthday cake version.
Keiko A Nob Hill, San Francisco, CA
Let’s take a moment to mourn the loss of our delicious friend, foie gras. This picture is from our May 2012 visit to Keiko A Nob Hill, which has since earned a Michelin star after its first year of operation. Chef Keiko Takahashi spent twenty years perfecting this dish of seared foie gras with artichoke puree, espresso sauce and Japanese sweet potato, served with a warm brioche bread to sop up the meat drippings. It’s really quite a shame that nobody can enjoy it now.
Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen, St. Helena, CA
Oh man. This pie. This campfire pie is a magical melody of marshmallow meringue, oreo cookie, chocolate chips, and some sort of almond brittle. It’s the kind of pie you have dreams about. The kind of pie you remember for days, weeks, months, years. The kind of pie that causes you to exclaim something when the server brings it out. The kind of pie that makes you worry about your blood sugar level and calorie intake, but then you blink and the plate is licked clean.
Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen, St. Helena, CA.
Cindy Pawlcyn of “Mustards” fame opened this casual country restaurant that offers American fare with slight worldly influences, like this “Chinatown Duck Burger.” This burger consists of barbecued duck meat and shiitake mushroom ketchup with arugula and spicy mustard. We enjoyed our lunch on the outdoor patio underneath a fig tree, and they even brought out a house-made dog biscuit for our canine friend. Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen is a stellar choice for a lovely, unpretentious lunch in Wine Country.
Patio Filipino, San Bruno, CA
We don’t eat Filipino food often, partly because the best restaurants are a 30 minute drive away, like this one, and also because Filipino food is so, so unhealthy. Take this dish, lechon kawali, which is one of our favorites. It is deep fried pork belly. Lechon is a roasted pork and kawali is the name of the wok-type pan used to deep fry the pork until the skin is perfectly crispy and a little puffy. Each bite has perfect layers of crispy pork skin, decadent fat, and juicy pork meat. Scoop it up with some garlic rice and worry about those extra minutes you’ll have to spend at the gym later.
Patio Filipino 1770 El Camino Real, San Bruno, CA