Spaghetti with bottarga, the must-order at La Ciccia.
Craftsman and Wolves had a little preview on Wednesday morning. Pastry chef William Werner's bakery and patisserie has been a long-time coming. He initially tried to open what was going to be called Tell Tale Preserves in Union Square on Maiden Lane. What he's finally opened along Valencia Street is muy fancy. It's the patisserie equivalent of a boutique where all of the clothes are beautiful and the hangers are spaced exactly an inch apart. The breakfast pastries and muffins are nice; the oozing egg inside of a muffin is impressive to behold; but what I personally fell for is are the "cube cakes"—exquisite little layered cakes that are testament to Werner's fine-dining background (Quince and the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay). The loaves of bread were gorgeous too as you can see, though I didn't get to try them.
Craftsman and Wolves represents the new, increasingly upscale Mission, while Gajalee, though new too, represents the Mission I used to know—a bit funkier and more downhome. A place where reservations aren't necessary and the decor isn't a topic of discussion.
Gajalee, which specializes in coastal Indian cooking, is where I found myself last Friday night—for better or for worse. No matter how many orange alerts my stomach sends to my brain, good Indian food has that spicy, salty, savory, stewiness that makes it impossible for me to put the fork down. My point is that I haven’t experienced such a food hangover as the one I had post Gajalee. There for the second time, my friends and I kept sopping up the coconut-based fish curry with the sour, spongey inerja-like flat bread called kal appem, diving back into the dahl, washing it down with a cold King Fisher. Taking a bite of rice. Taking a bite of palak paneer. And doing it all over again, until we rolled out of there moaning like gluttonous fools.
A more balanced meal was had at home a couple nights later when I made salmon for dinner. After years of local salmon being limited or completely off limits to fishermen, this year is set to be salmon’s big comeback. Commercial fishing opened up May 1 and they think the salmon season will go through November. The salmon I had was so deeply orange and fatty that its raw flesh was almost pudding before I roasted it. Hello, summer. I'm very happy to have you.
SLOW-ROASTED SALMON WITH CUCUMBER-CUMIN RAITA
For those that have a fear of cooking fish, this is a fool-proof salmon recipe that I included in one of my cookbooks from the days of yore. (Picnics, Chronicle Books, 2004). Serve it hot or cold. Makes 4 to 6 servings
1 filleted side of salmon, skin on, 2 to 3 pounds (about 1 1/2 inches thick in center), pinbones removed
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 English cucumbers, peeled and diced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups plain whole-milk yogurt
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
Sprinkle of cayenne pepper
Preheat oven to 275 degrees.
Rub both sides of salmon with olive oil. Place salmon skin-side down in roasting pan. Generously sprinkle salt and pepper over flesh side. Roast uncovered 25 to 35 minutes. Salmon will look undercooked on top, but if it flakes when gently pulled apart with fork, it's done. Remove and set aside.
While the salmon is cooking, make the raita: Place cumin seeds in large dry skillet over medium heat. Stir for 2 minutes until fragrant. Remove to plate and cool. Place in spice grinder or clean coffee grinder and grind well.
In medium bowl, combine cucumbers and the 1 teaspoon salt; mix well and let sit 15 to 30 minutes, then drain off any accumulated liquid. Add ground cumin seeds, yogurt, lemon juice and garlic and mix to combine. Sprinkle top with cayenne. Let sit 10 minutes. Chill until ready to serve.