Thursday, April 26, 2007

Delfina Delights (San Francisco)

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Ever since my visit to Delfina nearly two weeks ago, I've been obsessed with one of the dishes on their menu. It was a dish of bucatini, twirled with an emulsion of fava beans, garlic, parmesan and olive oil. It was very simple, and not even something I swooned over at the time - but the combination of the sweet, nutty and sharp flavors really stuck in my mind.

When I got back, I bought some fresh fava beans at Peoples, and used some bucatini I had on hand with the ingredients I imagined must be in there, but it just wasn't the same. Something about that restaurant magic - that and a lot of olive oil, most likely.

The rest of our meal at Delfina was similarly deceptive in its simplicity. The cuisine is sort of Tuscan-style Italian with a California bend. The menu changes daily (though there are a few constants) and offers several courses made with seasonal produce, local meats, house made pastas, gelato and sausages. To view the current menu, click here.

Our first course, the gem lettuce salad, with flavors similar to a caesar, was delicious - though it was just a small pile of lettuce with a sharp garlicky dressing. I wasn't quite as impressed with the green garlic sformata, which to me seemed a bit undercooked, though Sam assured me it is generally very soft. The trumpet mushrooms served alongside were delicious though, and the flavor had me promising to grow some green garlic in my garden when I finally get it started.
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Sam and I shared almost everything we ordered except our entrees, which they very thoughtfully divided for us on two separate plates (except the sformata, that would have been a bit messy!) For our main courses, Sam chose the Tuscan ribs - a rack of ribs resting on a serving of their bread salad. The ribs were meltingly tender and flavorful, and redolent of herbs and garlic. The bread salad (which we also ordered a side dish of - not realizing Sam's entree would include it) was a vinegary tangle of crisp bread cubes, arugula and pine nuts. I wonder how it compares to Zuni's version - which I haven't had a chance to try yet.

I ordered a dish of seared ahi, served over farro. The dish was very good and well excecuted but I think I chose somewhat poorly. I was trying to be good, but this just didn't showcase the kind of cooking I went there to eat.

The vibe in the dining room is bustling and somewhat noisy, but not overwhelming. The room itself is very simple, with metal topped tables, a mirrored wall and warm colors - not aggressively trendy, but certainly hip and attractive. It's really the kind of place anyone at any age can go and feel comfortable, which no doubt contributes to its popularity.
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Next door, they have a more casual - and affordable - pizzeria. While it would be great to have a restaurant like Delfina in San Diego - this is the kind of place I really wish we had. Someplace you can go any night of the week for a great, affordable meal made with top-quality artisanal ingredients. I definitely plan to try it on my next trip up there.

Overall, I can't quite put my finger on it - but Delfina has that je ne sais quoi that just makes a restaurant work. The menu changes frequently, so it's the kind of place you can go frequently without getting bored. The service is excellent and both diners and staff seem happy to be there - which infuses the room with a warm, happy buzz. If I lived in the City, I'd go as often as possible.

Thanks to Sam, for coming out and enjoying this with me - I can't wait to do it again. Hopefully I can meet some other SF food bloggers on my next trip!

Delfina
3821 18th St.
S of Market near Guerrero - on the same block as Tartine
415.552.4255
http://www.delfinasf.com/
http://www.pizzeriadelfina.com/
Reservations are absolutely mandatory for the restaurant - not the pizzeria.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Breakfast at Boulettes...

top row: Boulette's spice rack, rose petal jam and butter, eggs with lentils at Boulette's, Pizetta 211
second row: caramel shrimp at Slanted Door, the bar at Slanted Door, goodies from Tartine, Delfina
third row: A Tartine croissant, the counter at Boulette's, dog at Boulette's, antipasto from Whole Foods
bottom row: Pizzeria Delfina, Boulette's kitchen, outside at Boulette's, Pot de Creme at Slanted Door.
On this trip to San Francisco, I think I might have actually spent a bit too much time at the Ferry Building, with three trips in four days. It was mostly a function of convenience, and there are certainly worse places to be - but it was starting to feel a bit like deja vu by my last visit on the way out of town.

My first trip wasn't all that successful because the shops were closing and Boulette's was setting up for a private party (which looked fantastic, by the way.) I wound up at the bar at the Slanted Door for dinner. It wasn't bad - but wasn't anything special either. I enjoyed the food I had on my last visit from the takeout stand, Out the Door, just as much. I noticed that Out the Door now sells kits the ingredient kits for many of the restaurant's dishes for cooking at home. The prices are only a couple of dollars less than in the restaurant though, $11-$13, so I'm not sure about the value. I liked their roast pork bahn mi, and the salads and spring rolls look very good. They also have Blue Bottle coffee.

The next day, I had to head back down that way to pick up the keys from Tommy, who works across the street - so I went back and bought the individual bags of Recchiuti chocolates that I had wanted for gifts, and some cookies from Boulettes -which were devoured immediately at Tommy's office. While at Boulette's, I noticed that they serve breakfast and lunch - The prices are not inexpensive, around $13-15 for entrees, but the selections on the sample menu they showed me looked interesting. I knew that I would be having breakfast with Moira the following morning before heading out, so I made a mental note that it looked like a good option.
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the ferry plaza
Having already made two trips to the Ferry Building in as many days, and given that Canteen was on my list to try - I decided to suggest it for our breakfast on Friday. It turns out that they are now closed for breakfast during the week - which unfortunately Tommy and I didn't find out until we showed up that morning. We did nearly get to witness a domestic violence incident right there on the street, which was a little harrowing. Moira wasn't there yet, so rather than wait around, we went to pick her up down the street. Since I was taking Tommy to work, and then heading down to SOMA to drop Moira off before heading to the airport, the Ferry Building was once again a convenient and logical choice. Boulette's for breakfast it was.
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tables outside
We could not have made a better choice. With tables set out on the Ferry Plaza in the near-blinding sunlight, coffee in french press pots, baskets of bread, rose jam and butter - it was like something straight out of a magazine, or even a movie. There was even an adorable friendly dog weaving in and out of the tables and peeking in the door.
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le menu
The menu items on the day we visited included a hot multi-grain cereal made with "guisto's organic rye, wheat barley and oats, with assorted condiments," their housemade yogurt with jam and honey, poached eggs with salt cod, italian cheese, and "basted eggs with braised lentils, herbs and brown butter" - which is what I ordered. (See the collage above.)
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poached eggs with brandade
I wouldn't have thought to serve lentils for breakfast, but the savory flavors were a good combination. Moira ordered the poached egg dish with salt cod, pictured above, which she enjoyed. I tried it - but I'm just not a fan of fish in the mornings, for whatever reason. She also ordered the "eastern european hot chocolate" - which was accurately described as deep chocolate blended with "a very heavy cream." Somehow it wasn't as overwhelming as it sounded - in fact, it was addictive. I ordered a cup for myself after tasting hers. It's definitely the kind of thing that should be enjoyed on vacation.
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eastern european hot chocolate
One of the best surprises was the basket of Acme bread with rose petal jam and butter. Rose-flavored sweets rarely appeal to me (with the exception of the Date Madeleine Dessert with Rose Gelato at Parallel 33) but this was lovely - lightly sweet and mild - and it certainly doesn't hurt that it is such a beautiful color. Sometimes the things that make us the happiest are things we would never choose for ourselves. I love it when that happens.
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the spice counter - the sign says "not for concept only"
As far as I know, Boulette's is a relatively unique place, I don't know of anything like it in San Diego, or anywhere else for that matter. It's a kitchen with a store attached, a part time cafe, and takeaway stand. They do dinner parties and breakfast and lunch on site, and have pastries, charcuterie, spices and seasonings, entrees and side dishes available for purchase. If you buy cookies or pastries, they put them in a wooden basket and wrap it in tissue paper for you. For more information, check out their website, at www.bouletteslarder.com - especially this page if you really want your mouth to water. It will also give you a good idea of the type of cooking they do.

I'll be back soon with more on Delfina and Temecula!

Boulette's Larder
Ferry Building Marketplace
415.399.1155
hours and information

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Ramblings on San Francisco

In case you are wondering what that last post was about, I've been in San Francisco for the past three days for a trial practice training class. It was an intense, action packed three days - culminating in a three hour trial for each team this morning. It was fun and I learned quite a bit, but I have a ways to go yet. We didn't get a lot of individual attention in this class, because there were so many of us there, but it was definitely valuable. I do think I can eventually learn to do this sort of work without becoming petrified with fear. I might actually even enjoy it!
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The Slanted Door
Eating has taken a back seat, but I haven't exactly been starving. As I mentioned below, we had an ok meal at the Slanted Door on Tuesday night. I am glad I got a chance to try it, but I probably won't go back given all the other options here. I've had better food in San Diego at Red Pearl Kitchen, Dao Son and that Pho house I can never remember the name of in Mission Valley (I wasn't crazy about Pho T Cali). Red Pearl Kitchen's almost identical version of the prawn dish we ordered was better, and the ribs at Slanted Door were rubbery and swimming in oil. They made me wish I'd gone to Oola. I didn't have the spring rolls but it was killing me that they looked identical to the versions you can get all over town in San Diego but cost four times as much. If you are looking for some good ones in San Diego, Dao Son's are to die for.
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Boulette's Larder - the cookies are in those little red cases on the counter
I went back to the Ferry Building after the classes ended today to pick up a few gift bags of individual chocolates, and a few cookies at Boulette's Larder. I need to find out what kind of fleur de sel they use on those chocolate cookies - it really sets off the flavor perfectly.
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the antipasto platter at Whole Foods
Dinner last night was kind of comical. I decided I didn't have the energy for Ame, and I had to actually do some work to get ready for today - so we canceled that plan. Instead I stopped by Whole Foods up here in Pac Heights and picked up a pre-made antipasto platter, a loaf of Acme Italian Bread, a Artisan Flatbread pizza, and a bottle of chilled Viognier. The plan was that we would eat that at home.
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Pizzetta 211
I then went home and decided to look at the website for the Pizzetta 211 restaurant, having met a girl who works there the day before. I was so taken with the reviews I read, that I decided we should go there instead of eating what I bought. I'd read that the place was tiny, but I really had no idea how tiny. It's a shoebox. It was too cold to eat outside, so we put our names on the list and sat down with a glass of wine. We looked at the menu, and chatted - I took a couple of pictures. Really, we could have eaten in the time we sat there. Eventually we got impatient though, and I started to feel guilty about not eating the food I had bought. We were also a little frustrated with our interactions with the staff. They seemed simultanously confused and arrogant, never a good combination for a restaurant employee. The girl I had met the day before was not there, so she certainly wasn't responsible. We waited about 45 minutes, and decided to go home and eat. We had a really nice meal - and I was able to get some work done.
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cookies and a brownie from Tartine
Tonight I am headed down to the Mission to Delfina, in fact I need to get moving so I will be ready to go when Sam gets here! I am tempted to go back to Tartine, just next door, for some more of those brownies, but I have a feeling that's a bad idea for my waistline. They were definitely the best thing I tried though, and I will make them from the cookbook as soon as I can get my hands on it!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Cleaning out the Queue - Banana Cream Pie

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I've decided that I'm tired of feeling backed up and behind, so I'm doing away with the "Coming Up" section on my sidebar. I hope you don't mind too much - you probably won't, since I haven't been following it very closely lately. The fact is that topics get stale - something better comes up, my memory fades, or I just plain old change my mind. Sometimes I wind up with a backlog of topics that don't seem to merit their own posts by the time I get to them, and so I just take them off the list. This time I've resolved not to do that, instead I'm cleaning out the queue by covering the topics over the next few days. Starting with banana cream pie...

The original plan for this post was to compare two different recipes, one loosely adapted from Cooking Light and one from a recent NY Times magazine article about LA diner style banana cream pies. (I would link to the article, but it's already been archived and you would have to pay for it.)

Banana cream pie is one of those desserts that just about everybody loves, even if they don't particularly like bananas all that much. It's old fashioned comfort food, evocative of childhood - and apparently in Los Angeles, it's everywhere. The article recommends trying it at Urth Caffe, Clementine, Jar, Bandera, House of Pies and Pie and Burger - and includes a recipe adapted from Clementine.

The pie is generally made up of four components - the crust, the custard, the bananas and the topping. The bananas and the custard are relatively consistent but common variations include using a pastry or graham cracker crust - and topping the pie with whipped cream or meringue. Wanting to keep it somewhat light while leaving out the chemicals - I topped my pie with a torched meringue instead of the "Cool Whip" type topping called for in the recipe. The custard was thick, creamy and flecked with vanilla bean, and most importantly not too sweet. foodblog 1738
After we had licked the last spoon clean, I started thinking about making the "full fat" version. When I dug out the recipe, I was shocked to see that the custard recipes were almost identical, except that the Clementine version calls for the pastry cream to be folded with a little whipped cream instead of the whipped cream cheese - then topped with more whipped cream and creme fraiche. That's a lot of whipped cream! If I do make this again - especially to serve to guests, I will use the custard recipe I used this time, but I will go ahead and top it with the whipped cream. The meringue is - by necessity - just too darned sweet. It won't beat properly if it's not full of sugar, and there's nothing you can do to change that. You can't take the fat out, but at least you can modify the sweetness of your whipped cream topping. I think this recipe combines the best of both worlds.

I did go ahead and cheat a little here, in that I used a pre-made Keebler shortbread crust. Frown if you will, but the truth is that pie crusts and I don't get along very well. My crumb crusts always crumple, and I could market my pastry crusts to UPS as an eco-conscious alternative packaging material. If you think you can do better, by all means go right ahead - I probably should too. I noticed on the package that these things actually have the dreaded trans fats in them.

I suppose you could also use a graham cracker crust here too - but to me, graham cracker crust says cheesecake - or key lime pie. I think the flavor of the banana is much better served by the mild buttery flavor of shortbread. The other debate is whether to put chocolate or other ingredients into the pie. I used a little caramel on the bottom of mine (homemade) but you could also use some dulce de leche - or homemade hot fudge... with a whipped cream topping, some chocolate shavings would also be pretty - I trust you to use your imagination.
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LA Diner Style Banana Cream Pie
adapted from Cooking Light and Clementine, by way of the NY Times

Optimally you should make this recipe at least 2-3 but no more than 24 hours before you plan to serve it. Any longer than that and the bananas will start to get slimy on you.

1 Shortbread crumb crust (either pre-made or homemade)

2 Tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup 1% low-fat milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 Teaspoon vanilla paste (or half of a vanilla bean scraped, plus 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)
2 Tablespoons of butter
2 ounces "Neufchatel" or block light cream cheese, softened

2 bananas, sliced
1 cup heavy cream
2 Tablespoons creme fraiche
1 heaping Tablespoon powdered sugar

caramel topping or homemade caramel cooked to the soft ball stage.

crisp lightly fried banana chips (Trader Joes has them) or ordinary banana chips

Combine the 2 tablespoons cornstarch, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, eggs, 1 cup milk, vanilla paste and 1 Tablespoon of butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly with a whisk. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, and cook for 30 seconds or until thick. Remove from heat and stir in the second tablespoon of butter. Pass through a fine mesh sieve.

Using the whisk attachment to a hand blender, beat cream cheese until light and smooth, about 30 seconds. Add 1/4 cup of the warm custard to the cream cheese, and beat just until blended. Stir in remaining custard. Cover the surface directly with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Custard can be made up to two days in advance.

To assemble, cover the bottom of the pie shell with a thin layer of caramel, and dot the caramel with a layer of banana slices. Spread with custard to cover, add another layer of banana slices and fill the pie shell with the remaining custard.

With a standing mixer or whisk attachment to a hand blender, beat the cream and creme fraiche until foamy and thick. Sift in the powdered sugar and beat to soft peaks. Top the pie with the cream topping and garnish with banana chips. Refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving.

Serves 8 - 10

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Cupcakes for Breakfast (Cafe R&D and Sprinkles - Orange County)

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The OC and I have a complicated relationship, going all the way back to my college days at UC Irvine. Irvine was not my first choice of school - in fact, it wasn't even on my radar screen, but after a long ordeal - the details of which I will not bore you with - it is where I wound up earning my degree. The full effect of the Orange Curtain wasn't quite as obvious then. The area wasn't quite as upscale as it is now - but it was always wound a little tighter than San Diego.

As much as I hate the cookie cutter atmosphere - a result of the ubiquitous iron fist of the Irvine Company - I have to admit there are some things to like. For some reason, Orange County-ites are blessed with more shopping and dining options than we have here in San Diego, including a number of chains that we don't have - most notably Houston's and it's various incarnations - Bandera, Cafe R&D, Gulfstream, etc. Don't get me wrong - I am not saying we need more chains in San Diego, but it wouldn't be a bad thing if some of the ones we do have were replaced with some better ones. I can virtually guarantee that if you opened a Houston's somewhere out here in the East County it would become the new Brigantine, so crowded you couldn't get near it

Orange County also has the lovely little burg of Laguna Beach - notable for the fabulous Pageant of the Masters, as well as the television show named after it. (Aren't you glad Lauren finally dumped that loser Jason??) And of course, who doesn't like Disneyland?

This trip to the place I love to hate was motivated by three purposes, to visit a couple of stores, have lunch with my parents who were up there visiting, and see my friend Patty, who just had her second baby - a gorgeous little munchkin named Connor.

My first stop was the Crate and Barrel in South Coast Plaza, to check out their outdoor furniture. I love that this store is directly next to the parking lot - very convenient for dashing in and out. It's a two story behemoth, stocked to the gills with every Crate and Barrel product and a full furniture selection. We're actually getting on in San Diego this fall, at the UTC mall.

After that I was planning to meet my parents for lunch - but they were running a bit late, so I headed over toward Fashion Island to the new Sprinkles cupcake store - in the Corona Del Mar Plaza just south of the mall. This little mini-mall is sort of a turbo yuppie center, with a Gulfstream restaurant, Sur la Table, Bristol Farms, and of course, Sprinkles. When I arrived around 12 PM, there were a few people in line, but nothing outrageous. I went ahead and ordered my cupcakes, and decided to come back and pick them up so I wouldn't have to tote them around.

I then went over to the Bristol Farms and roamed the aisles, snarfing up samples. I had ham and turkey, which I coupled with the jalapeno cream cheese and crackers at another station, a chocolate madeleine, fresh ground peanut butter and jelly, and some cheese and crackers. A yummy snack.

Next stop was Sur la Table, where I fawned over this Mario Batali dutch oven, and looked for the pastry mats that we used in my class this week - they're used to make those decorative strips you see around fancy cakes, where there's a chocolate pattern in the cake. They didn't have them, but I snapped up a mini-popover pan and a marble pastry board that seemed a bargain to me at $39.95. (I've been meaning to go to a stoneyard to pick up a sink cut for free, but just haven't had the time. )

I then headed up to the Marriott to meet up with the parents. They actually live in San Diego - but are huge Marriott point collectors - to the point where they sometimes go on trips like this one just for the points. I'm generally not a fan of chain hotels, but this one is actually pretty nice - it's been fully remodeled in the style of a W or Westin, with the nice fluffy white bed and stylish common areas.

From the hotel we walked over to the Cafe R&D at Patty's suggestion. When she told me about it she said that it was hugely popular and we should get on the waiting list ahead of time, which I had. I suspected from the look of it that the restaurant was part of the Hillstone chain - as in Houston's - which it turns out it is. Patty was right - it was mobbed when I arrived and put my name in, and by the time we got back there (and we didn't rush) we still had a few minutes to wait.

The menu consists of sandwiches and salads, with a few sides for the table. The simple concept is interesting, but also a little irritating - it's not exactly cheap, and you don't have much choice. I was really surprised there wasn't an option of a chicken sandwich - one of my favorite dishes from the Rutherford Grill menu (dressed with watercress and lemon.) The available options included a cheeseburger, a french dip, a "suburban" tuna salad sandwich, a reuben sandwich, and sides including french fries, deviled eggs, warm potato salad, and I think a regular potato salad. I should have nicked a menu, but I wasn't really thinking.

The salads are basic for the most part. Spinach and chicken with cheese, nuts and apples, ahi tuna tartare, a seared tuna, a steak option, chinese chicken, chopped salad, and one with beets I think. We were eating late and wanted to keep it light - so we decided to split two things between the three of us, a cheeseburger and a spinach salad - and a side of fries. They were fresh and skinny, and the burger was fantastic. It was fat and juicy and dressed with just the right amount of pickle, mustard, shredded lettuce, tomato and cheese, on a tender spongy brioche bun. The kitchen had assembled it and cut it into thirds for us, but ordinarily it comes to the table open face. The salad was also very good, with tender chicken - lots of nuts and cheese and a nice dressing with good flavor - if a little sweet.

Service was mediocre - I didn't like it that they brought the fries well before the entrees came out. Were they hoping we would eat them all and order more? I almost wanted to ask them for some fresh ones to eat with the burger. Instead of refilling iced tea at the table, they wait until the glass is empty, then take it and replace it with a new one. Not a bad idea if they are on the ball, but we sat for ten minutes with nothing to drink.

Someone on Yelp mentions that the name of the restaurant reflects its purpose - as research and development for the remaining restaurants in the Hillstone group. This seems odd, since the menu is more along the lines of a 1950's coffee shop. What are they experimenting with?

It seems to me that the draw of this place is really the atmosphere. The bar in the center creates a lively vibe, and the decor is simple but elegant - a cut above most standard chain restaurants. They have cool roll up doors that allow for open access to the outdoor area, lots of wood, terrazo floors, bowls of lemons and limes on the bar - clearly design was taken into consideration. They serve three meals, breakfast lunch and dinner - all with similarly simple menus. If you are ever doing business in the Newport Center/Fashion Island area, it's certainly worth a look.

Sprinkles also uses good design to sell a product that is really more or less ordinary. That's not to say it isn't good - in my mind, there's absolutely nothing wrong with an ordinary cupcake.
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When I returned to the store to pick up the cakes I had purchased earlier, the line was unbelievable. At least thirty people. I waltzed past the line (after taking a photo) and went to the pickup window, where I was handed my bag. I forgot to snag a few of their cool little wooden forks and knives - it's touches like those (and the thin disposable wooden plates) that really make this place interesting. I was scolded for trying to take a picture inside, but there is a photo on their own website.
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After picking up the cakes, I headed down to Patty's for a visit. I gave her a box of four, and had intended to buy myself a box of four as well, but it turned out there were five flavors I wanted to try, and well, what's a girl to do? I got red velvet, vanilla, dark chocolate, peanut butter chocolate, and banana.

Patty and I each had a little bite - about a quarter of one, just to taste. When I got home though, it was late and I was on my own... so what did I have for dinner? I think you can guess. I polished off the chocolate one myself, and the vanilla with a little help from the dogs. This morning I woke up a little too late to cook, since James had to head to work. So what did I have for breakfast? Yup, you got it. Remember the Bill Cosby routine? "Dad is great, he gave us the chocolate cake?" There's one left, but three cupcake meals in a row would be a bit much, even for me.

On Chowhound and Yelp there are many complaints that the frosting is too sweet, and the cake too dense. I have no idea what these people are expecting. The fact is that you just can't make frosting out of sugar and butter without a hell of a lot of powdered sugar - it provides the texture. The cake is dense and moist - rather than spongy and light, but that's really just a matter of preference. It's a nice tangy sour cream/buttermilk recipe and stands up better to the frosting than most would. It also lasts a while without getting stale. (Not that I would know anything about that!) Of the five my least favorite was the banana - which was a little tough. The moist dark chocolate cake and frosting were really excellent - and the red velvet and peanut butter chocolate are not far behind. The flavor of the vanilla cake was pretty good too, but the vanilla frosting was really cloying. My dog, however loooved it. He sat down on the floor next to the counter where the box was sitting and cried for more. They do sell doggie cupcakes, but they were tiny, and at $2.50 a pop I just couldn't do it. Grown-up cupcakes are $3.25 a pop. That's bad enough.

After digging around a bit on the internet, I came up with the recipe for the frosting that they use on the dark chocolate cupcakes. Note that this is a different recipe from the one that appears on the can of dark chocolate cake mix they sell. Why I don't know - but I am quite sure this one is better, based on the fact that it contains three times as much chocolate (though it also frosts twice as many cupcakes). I intend to try it soon.

Sprinkles Dark Chocolate Frosting
reprinted from Oprah.com

10 ounces of dark chocolate, chopped
1 pound of butter at room temperature
1.5 pounds of powdered sugar
1/8 teaspoon of salt
1 tsp of pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup sour cream

Melt chocolate over a double boiler or in microwave and allow to cool until just slightly warm. Beat butter until light and fluffy. With mixer on low speed, gradually add powdered sugar. Add salt, vanilla and sour cream, and mix until very smooth. Add chocolate and mix until just incorporated. Don't over-whip; it will add too much air to the frosting. The consistency should be rich and dense, like ice cream.

Cafe R&D
Fashion Island - Newport Beach
recommended dishes - the Cheeseburger

Sprinkles Cupcakes
Corona Del Mar Plaza location - Newport Beach
recommended - Dark Chocolate, Red Velvet and Peanut Butter and Chocolate - the flavors change daily and there is a chart on their website.

Other recommended stops in Orange County:
Zinc Cafe and Market in Laguna Beach
The Shake Shack - on PCH in Crystal Cove between Corona del Mar and Laguna Beach
230 Forest Avenue Restaurant
The new Kate Spade and Anthropologie at Fashion Island - heavenly for the eyes, if not the wallet.