Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Culture Shock

Although I have experienced firsthand the shock that comes upon returning home from an exotic voyage, it was--well, shocking. I arrived in San Francisco yesterday afternoon to a city that was exactly the same as I left it. Wonderful, but San Francisco had seemed so exotic when I moved here last year. Now, it's just not Buenos Aires...

I made amends with the cat yesterday, and today made the restaurant rounds. I headed back to The Restaurant, which seems to have made some exciting changes in my absence. I'll return there next week, sigh.

After spending way too long gossiping with my coworkers at The Restaurant, I headed home but first stopped by The Bistro to see my friend who'd gotten me the ill-fated job in the first place. The elephant-graveyard waiter who'd been so mean to me when I worked there for a few weeks had forgotten all about his anti-Restaurant Girl malaise, and everyone was warm and welcoming. It's always touch-and-go on the status of returning to a restaurant to say hello when you've quit without notice. I was treated to a Negroni, some radishes, French fries, and a bowl of homemade pozole that chef had cooked up with his wife over the weekend. It's nice to know I'm not despised (though I have been encouraged to visit Mondays and Tuesdays, when the fussy GM is not on the floor).

Tomorrow I'm attending the invite-only opening of some new bar on Castro street, with one of my best friends from back home who is also a charismatic bartender at the newly-revamped Transfer Bar on Church Street. It's amazing how so much has changed inside of me the last two months, but now that I am back in San Francisco my life is exactly the same as it always was.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Empanadas de Pino

Although Restaurant Girl Speaks is more of a ranting gossip blog than a bonafide food blog, I'm finally including a recipe to cook something South American at the request of one of my readers. This recipe for Empanadas de Pino was torn directly from the Footprint guide to Chile, which Valentino's dad (who was a chef for years at 42 Degrees before it went away) gave me before I left to stay with his family here. He says it's authentic, and he's a bitchin' cook (anyone who gleefully announces on Superbowl Sunday, "Hey guys, I got a deep fryer! What should we put in it?" while sipping a beer at 11am is alright in MY book) so I believe him. Here it is:

"Although other fillings are used nowadays for empanadas, the traditional filling is pino, a mixture of meat, onions, and spices. Most Chilean families have their own recipes: this one was kindly supplied by Manuel and Ximena Fernandez.

Ingredients (to make 20 empanadas--they're small).
Pastry: 1 kg flour; 125 grams margarine, butter, or lard; 1 level spoonful salt; cold water.
Filling: 600 grams meat, chopped into small pieces (or lean minced meat); 2 large onions; 4-5 tsp. cooking oil; tsp. each of cumin, black pepper, chili powder, and paprika; 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped; salt to taste; 4 hardboiled eggs; 1 tsp. flour; 20 black olives; 40 raisins.

Pastry: in a bowl mix the flour and margarine, add salt (dissolved in 1/2 cup water), gradually add more water to make a soft but consistent pastry and leave it for at least 1 hour, then knead it for 10 minutes before replacing it in the bowl and leaving it covered with a clean cloth.
Filling: heat the cooking oil in a large pan or pot, then add the onion and fry for about 8 minutes. Add spices and salt, then fry for 2 minutes. Add meat and fry for 15 minutes, stirring continuously, until the onions are crystal-like and softly cooked. Add the flour, lower the heat, and simmer for 5 minutes. Leave the mixture overnight. Shell the eggs and cut each lengthwise into 5 pieces.

Making the empanadas: Divide the pastry into 20 pieces, then roll each piece into a thin round shape. One one hemisphere of each piece of pastry place the following: 1 piece of egg; 1 heaped teaspoon of the filling; 2 rasins and 1 olive. Carefully paint the rim of each piece of pastry with water, then fold the empty hemisphere over to enclose the filling, press the rim down. You should now have a semicircular turnover: paint the outer rim with water and fold it down again towards the center of the empanada.

Bake the empanadas in a preheated oven at 200 degrees Celsius. After about 5 minutes, reduce the heat to 150 and bake for a further 14 minutes until the empanadas are nicely browned. To improve their appearance, paint the empanadas with a thin coat of cold water as asoon as you remove them from the oven. Serve hot, with Chilean red wine."

I haven't tried this recipe, so if you do, let me know how it turns out. I just serve the stuff, hey, when I figured out at age 19 that the bussers were making twice what I was getting paid in the kitchen, I made the switch, although I adored cooking. Now I leave it to other people.

Bad Restaurant Girl!

Having neglected her loyal readership for more than 2 weeks, Restaurant Girl (aka Resting Girl) returns to you from a computer in the port town of Valparaiso, Chile. Having spent the last two weeks in Argentina, I was too busy eating and drinking to blog, sorry! Happily, my South American intestinal maladies have pretty much resolved themselves after a month of gut-misery, and I was able to sample the legendary cuisine of Argentina after just one last bout of unpleasantness in Mendoza.

Steak, steak, steak. Good thing I'm not vegetarian (actually, I was vegetarian for my whole life until I got my first restaurant job, working the cold side of the line at age 18 at Lisa Hemenway's in Santa Rosa)--chefs HATE vegetarians and there's just something so unconvincing about a waiter who tries to sell you your dinner by saying haughtily, "Well, I'm vegetarian (sniff), but I hear the steak is really good here."

I met up with two Irish friends of mine, Trevor and Pat, from the Macchu Pichu trek (during which I was only able to digest white rolls and some white rice), and we stayed at the lovely Hostel Alamo in Mendoza, just over the Andes from Santiago. I took the bus there, which only goes during the day in the winter when then passes are open at the whims of the skies.

Steak and Malbec are Argentinian specialties, and I enjoyed both of them in various combinations during stay. I also took private Spanish lessons, and am happy to report that my Spanish is progressing rapidly, which I will keep a secret upon my return to SF so I can see what the kitchen crew is really saying about me.

In Mendoza, we toured a couple of wineries one day; my favorite was the Fammilia di Tommaso. Not only did they have better wine than the legendary and large winery whose name I've already forgotten, di Tommaso has been using some of the same storage equipment for over 100 years, so everything was all cute and covered with adobe. The other place was just like Kendall-Jackson, except the hospitality crew was speaking Spanish, and not just the guys working in the cellars.

The week I spent in Buenos Aires was less culinary- and more wine-influenced, with the highlight restaurant dinner going as a tie between the live tango show at the famous Cafe Tortoni and a smoky, wine-drenched meal with 5 fellow tourists (two Spanish boys, a Chilean boy--Valentino's cousin who had flown out to meet me--and two Spanish-speaking German girls) at the Parridilla Desnivel in the cobbled San Telmo district of the city, where tango was born. At a parridilla, when you order a steak, you get just that: a giant steak on a plate. A grizzled old man brings up a huge board of meat and forks juicy pieces off onto everyone's plate. Such frivolous things like vegetables and use of cutlery are not included in the price of a steak, so you have to be sure and order them from the waiter.

Terribly, I have not been writing down the wines I've drunk since yesterday (when we drank a Concha y Toro Trio, a blend of sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, and pinot gris from Chile's largest producer. It was bitchin', especially since it was a warm day and we were eating out on the terrace), so all I can say is that it's all yummy and it's mostly cheap, which you probably knew already.