BitterSweet

Sweet Musings with a Bitterly Sharp Wit


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Eat Real, Drink Real, Really Fast

That’s all, folks. The manuscript for Real Food, Really Fast is locked in, speeding out to the printer as we speak. It’s been a brief but intense journey to this point, but now one of the most difficult parts of the process lies ahead: The wait. January 16th, the tentative release date, feels like a lifetime away, especially as I’m bursting to spill the beans on all these fresh new recipes. Even the slightest provocation will send me scrambling to my phone to flaunt a sneak peek of the rough PDF to anyone I’m speaking with. Every subject seems to remind me of something going into the book, and like an over-caffeinated child at show-and-tell, I just can’t contain my enthusiasm.

Capitalizing on an abundance of fresh honeydew melon, a sudden heatwave, and a serendipitous opportunity to spread the word, this unconventional gazpacho took that impulse towards oversharing to the next level.

Cucumber-melon was a hand soap, a home fragrance, or a body lotion as I knew it growing up. Naively failing to connect the dots to obvious origins, it took an embarrassing number of years for me to realize that it could correlate to an actual food combination. Even then, the discovery did little to tempt my taste buds, the concept ranking right alongside the suggestion of biting into a scented candle. What works for cosmetics doesn’t necessarily merit culinary consideration, but this is one rare case where the two worlds collide with great success. Gazpacho is designed specifically to deliver the ultimate cooling palate cleanser on a hot summer’s day, which just so happens to define the essence of both cucumbers and honeydew melons as well. Mind you, this is no dessert soup, with the notable twang of garlic, onions, and vinegar swimming peacefully amidst the pale green puree, but a careful balance to bridge discordant components of a menu.

Flavor pairing is an important element well beyond the bowl to complete a harmonious meal. I’m no sommelier, but I do understand the importance of matching a complimentary drink to a delicate dish such as this one. Nothing too loud or brash to cover up its subtleties, and nothing too sweet to skew the overall impression towards the saccharine. Few options other than plain water fit the bill, until I discovered the effervescent delight that is Lavender Melon KeVita Master Brew Kombucha. Yes, a sparkling probiotic powerhouse infused with the essence of watermelon, a touch of ginger, and a gentle floral note! Invigorating black tea will power you through the heat of summer’s last hurrah, and won’t let you down with a terrible crash later on. Could there be anything more perfect or refreshing to enjoy with this soup?

Happily, I’m not the only one who seems to think so. KeVita and I will be joining forces to showcase this cool couple at the Eat Real Fest on September 23rd and 24th. Bay area natives and visitors, this is your chance to get an early taste of Real Food, Really Fast while enjoying Kevita’s carefully curated kombucha options! I’ll be there in person from noon to 4:00pm to share free samples of my Cucumber-Melon Gazpacho, complete with exclusive recipe cards as an early preview for the book. Join us for real food, real fun, really fast!

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Silent Sunday: Feast Mode

Chinese Family Style Dinner at Sound & Savor

Tofu Tibs and Vegetable Combo at Lemat

Dim Sum at Big Lantern

Specialty Sushi Rolls at Shizen

Salads, Sandwich, and Quesadilla at The VegHub


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Best of the Booch

Once referred to in hushed tones, it was the health nut’s moonshine, fermented in dark cellars and secreted away from the general public. Authorities railed against its commercial production as controversies erupted over the surprisingly potent alcohol content conspicuously absent from printed labels. Kombucha, the ancient fermented tea, has finally unshackled itself from overzealous legislation and a litany of misunderstandings, bubbling over into mainstream acceptance. Now touted as a probiotic superpower, this fizzy refreshment has a lot going for it, but as far as I’m concerned, flavor should always come first.

Dozens, if not hundreds, of brands are now agitating to come out on top, and over 50 of those are located in California alone. Even for a place as big as the Golden State, that’s a whole lot of booch! Taking into account all of the restaurants offering up various blends on tap and in bottles, you’d be forgiven for losing count. What’s a thirsty kombucha devotee to do when seeking new watering holes that also serve superlative vegan eats?

It is with great pride that I present the highlights from my adoptive hometown, from the east bay and San Francisco proper, in the Kombucha Hunter‘s Kombucha Guide to California. The very best places to find the most bubbly brews just happen to be some of my favorite restaurants to begin with, so it wasn’t hard to whip up some delicious recommendations to contribute. Uncovering gems up and down the west coast, locals and visitors alike will find a bottomless glass of temptations worth traveling for.

The guide is available for free at Lento Market in Echo Park and can be shipped anywhere in the US for a donation of any amount to Farm Sanctuary. Stay tuned for the digital version, coming soon!


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The Ultimate Sushi Burrito Roll-Out

Wide-eyed, mouth agape, and stomach rumbling, I remember the very first time I heard of the concept. Sushi always had a special place in my heart and on my table, from a weekly after school maki roll habit to special birthday dinner requests, often cited as my last meal selection when asked. Despite my youth, I thought that such relentless passion had already exposed me to all the category had to offer. New vegetable, legume, or fruit combinations could shake things up from time to time, but there was nothing earth-shattering to be found in this time-honored edible art form.

That was until I came across sushi burritos. Hulking bundles rivaling the size of a newborn, these babies were instead swaddled in oversized sheets of slick, glistening nori, overstuffed with a rainbow of fresh and widely varied ingredients. Just one order would satisfy the average eater, if not push them right over the edge into a contented food coma. Back in the early days, there was only one: The Sushirrito, the granddaddy of them all. Scrolling through blogs that featured mouth-watering photos of the beast, I vowed that one day, I would venture out west, if only to taste this legendary creation for myself.

Almost a decade later, it’s safe to say that this is no longer a passing trend, but a hot ticket item that’s here to stay. Sushirrito has expanded its empire all the way out east to New York, with plans to unveil its 8th and 9th outposts soon. More tellingly, however, is the number of rivals now on the scene that offer up their own perspective on the giant sushi wrap. What might surprise you is the fact that all of these fish-centric establishments offer wholly vegan options, and the greatest variety is actually found across the bay, in Berkeley and Oakland. So who makes the one veggie sushi burrito to rule them all? It took me over a year of eating and countless packets of soy sauce, but what follows is my official* ruling on the very best of the bay area.

*Completely unofficial.

Pulling off the greatest upset in sushi burrito history, the young upstart Sushinista gets the gold star in this competition. Less than a year on the scene and still flying well below the radar, their offerings are some of the least traditional, but accordingly most inventive and exciting. Portobello mushrooms slathered in a mild green curry sauce are the shining stars of this menu, complimented by a range of seasonal vegetables and crunchy toppings that have previously included such unsung delights as persimmon and Asian pear.

Giving credit where credit is due, Sushirrito still carries the torch in San Francisco proper. Quite frankly, it’s hard to beat the obscenely rich mushroom fries found in the “Buddha Belly,” ringing with umami and wholly satisfying on their own. I’m tempted to call it a tie with my top pick, but points ultimately had to be deducted for sloppy construction. Kudos for providing a roasted garlic tofu aioli, but that added sauce frequently created soggy nori, leading to catastrophic blowouts while eating. You’ll eventually need to attack it with a fork in the end.

Big bonus point and serious kudos go to Sumo Roll for being the ONLY establishment offering not one, but two veganizable options. Although both the veggie-forward “Kabuki” and curried tofu “Midori” automatically come with egg-based aioli and one with slaw, just let your sushi burrito artist know about your dietary needs and they’re more than happy to customize. Ask for the tangy miso-ginger sauce instead, and you’ll be in business. Hat tip to Sumo Roll for providing what is quite possibly the best value around, serving up truly sumo-sized servings that don’t hold back on the flavorful fillings.

Placing Torpedo Sushi so far down the list feels downright heretical, considering the consistently luscious slabs of avocado and chunks of baked tofu wrapped up in every bundle. They simply got edged out for offering smaller portions, and occasionally bulking up their rolls with more rice than fillings. Burritos can be somewhat hit-or-miss based on these proportions, so I’d be more inclined to order the “Veganator” in rice bowl format instead.

Traveling back to downtown Berkeley, Sushi Secrets certainly doesn’t skimp on the goodies wrapped up in their “Denemon,” throwing unexpected ingredients like purple potatoes and corn into the mix. Unfortunately, their wraps also suffer from issues with structural integrity, and the sweet and sour dressing dominates the entire composition, drowning out any nuances that the unique vegetables might provide. Once unwrapped, the whole thing is liable to explode into your lap, and sadly, it’s not even worth the effort of picking up all the shrapnel.

Ordering sushi from a truck might seem sketchy, even when opting for a fish-free meal, but We Sushi has proven itself as a reliable source for sushi satisfaction. The “Vegan” burrito is solid, a fine fix if you’re craving vinegared rice and veggies, featuring sweet potato tempura most prominently, but nothing to rave about. It’s the beige cardigan of sushi burritos; reliable, comfortable, but nothing you’d want to show off in public. Go ahead and order up if you spot the truck parked in your neighborhood, but don’t go out of your way to hunt it down.

Pulling up the tail end of this edible parade, the “Tofu Teriyaki” burrito at Sushi Taka seems more like an afterthought than a feature. Ordered without spicy mayo, the wrap tastes only of seaweed salad. Soft tofu squares dissolve without any notable texture, and the promise of teriyaki flavor goes unfulfilled. In a word: Pass.

Honorable mention goes to Nombe, for taking the fusion concept to the next level and actually wrapping their sushi burritos in flour tortillas. These are a rotating item on the menu, but I don’t think you’re missing much if you don’t see them during your visit; the combination of carb-on-carb is just a total starch-fest, especially considering the fact that rice takes up more than half the bundle to begin with.

It’s safe to say that sushi burritos are officially having their moment out west, but time will tell if that enthusiasm of oversized maki rolls will continue their spread across the country. There are highlights and low lights to be found, with wide variations all over the board, but overall, there’s a lot to love about the concept.

Have you had sushi burritos? Have you made sushi burritos? Tell me about it, and let’s craft a better burrito, together!