Monday, July 30, 2007

In Pictures: Free Food Bonanza at the Google Picnic 2007

On Thursday of last week, my friend called me up to invite me to the Google Summer Picnic. (He is also the one who invited me to the Google Holiday Party.) Our conversation went as follows:

Friend: Girl, wanna go to the Google Picnic with me? I know you've never eaten at Google before, so now is your chance. The picnic is on a work day, and several other people already told me that they wouldn't come with me. Plus, I know you're busy with planning for you move, so if you can't come, it's not a prob.

Me: Shut up fool! You know I am on that free food like nobody's business! That's me knocking on your door right now! I'll take the week off if I can eat at Google!

Hmm . . . Okay, that write-up of that conversation was lame. But the point is, is that one of my primary goals before I left the Bay Area was to eat at the famed Google complex, where there is free organic food galore. In fact, Google was voted the top employer in Fortune magazine, in part because of their (generous) free food provisions to their employees. I've heard that the food there is prepared by renowned chefs and that the employee cafeterias are so popular, that Google feeds more than 100% of their employees every day (the employees bring guests). There is even an oyster bar and and sashimi bar. Given all of the praise for Google food, I was going to eat there, come hell or high-water.

And eat I did.

While my friend registered and began to play in the "Google-employees-only poker tournament," I sprinted like a psychotic madwoman towards the buffet tables. As I made my way (kicking and shoving) to the food area, I grabbed a container of golden waffle-cut fries and a cup of ice-lemonade from the stands near the entrance of the park-area.

I noticed that the picnic caterers were working furiously in the food stands, monitoring the metallic tubs of bubbling hot oil and shaking steel wire baskets full of fries and dripping with oil over the tubs. Situated next to the fries were several fondue pots filled with topping for the fries, including ketchup, nacho cheese sauce, black beans, and ranch dressing.

My next stop was the hot dog area, where they had mountains of gorgeous hot dogs piled in the metal serving trays. Similar to the fries, the hot dog were also adjacent to a "topping area" with square bowls containing sweet pickle relish, mustard, ketchup, sauerkraut, and minced red onions.

In addition with the hot dogs, they also had an ugly-lookin' barbecued tofu alternative for the vegetarians. C'mon, could you make it a "little" more attractive folks? . . . Just kidding, it looked good enough.

Before I even walked through the entire picnic area, I had greedily consumed three chicken and apple sausages with shredded sauerkraut and onions, a whole paper tray full of waffle-cut fries with nacho cheese sauce, and chugged a chilled cup of frozen lemonade. But little did I know, that the other side of the park had more food! Seriously, Google is crazy in terms of supplying their employees with food. By the time I realized there was more food, I was already full, so unfortunately I didn't have the stomach to try everything. But I did try and snap pictures of the remainder, including:

tender lemongrass pork riblettes,

shredded green papaya salad with Thai lime vinaigrette and toasted peanuts,

lavash rolls, filled with with roasted red pepper, thinly sliced cucumber, mixed organic greens, harissa, and herbed cream cheese,

grilled tandoori chicken skewers,

bite-sized vegetable samosas stuffed with curried potatoes, cauliflower, and peas,

all-American macaroni salad,

marinated kidney, wax, and green bean salad with crinkle-cut carrots,

fresh antipasto-like zucchini and red bell pepper salad,

rich chocolate brownies dusted with powdered sugar,

baked white chocolate chip cookies,

"spoonable" apple cobbler, and

deep-fried sesame pastry balls filled with red bean paste.

And cotton candy!!

After I finished exploring the picnic area and met up with my friend again, I kissed his feet in gratitude. Although I didn't eat every item at the picnic, I was satisfied to the extreme. The hot dogs were better than Costco's--and you know that is saying a lot! I also had a great time walking around the premises, exploring the food options, and admiring the food. Overall, the caterers did a relatively okay job in the innovativeness and flavor of the dishes, keeping the food warm, and preserving the texture of the food items in the outdoor setting. Although some items may have been a little mediocre, flavorless, and tepid, I was still overjoyed with the "free food" experience. Thanks Google for feeding me, a freeloader, on Friday!

Also, thanks for understanding my busy schedule and staying tuned despite my lack of posts and comments recently. I hope you enjoy the pictures and I can't wait to be back to blogging regularly.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Leaving My ♥ in San Francisco #3: A Giants Game at AT&T Ballpark

I expected to watch history happen tonight.

Barry Bonds was just two home runs away from beating Hank Aaron's record, and if he hit two more at tonight's game, there would have been absolute pandemonium in the streets of San Francisco. It also would have been one heck of a way to end my time here in the Bay Area.

However, just my luck, but Barry Bonds didn't even play tonight.

Nevertheless, tonight's game was still immensely satisfying because I made memories of San Francisco that I will never forget. Tonight was special because I walked into the game recognizing that this could be the last time I set would set foot in AT&T Ballpark.

Who knew that watching a baseball game could be both a bittersweet and cathartic experience? I savored every minute of the experience. As I sat watching the baseball game, I couldn't help but to treat every moment as valuable. I kept thinking to myself. . .

"This could be the last time I see the Bay, gently shrouded in thick curtains of fog and from a chilly, wind-blown stadium seat. . ."

"This could be the last time I see kayakers paddling in their kayaks near the stadium, waiting for a homerun to splash into and bob up from the green waters of the Bay. . ."

"This could be the last time I eat a warm, foil-wrapped Giants dog inside a toasted bun, with the classic accoutrements (sweet pickle relish, chopped onions, Heinz ketchup, and Gulden's mustard). . ."

"This could be the last time I hungrily scarf down the ballpark's garlic fries--thick-cut French fries that are deep-fried until golden-brown and crisp on the outside (yet steaming hot and fluffy on the inside), and then buried in overpowering mountains of minced garlic and chopped parsley. . ."

"And this could be the last time I can kick discarded and cracked peanut shells into the seating area of a Kucinich-supporter sitting in front of me."

As I ruminated on the stunning beauty of San Francisco and AT&T Ballpark, I wished dearly that it wouldn't be the last time I watched a Giants game in the breathtaking ballpark. To me, even when Barry isn't playing, every experience in AT&T Ballpark is a homerun.

Thankfully, I still have friends that I can rely on who allow me to visit AT&T Ballpark virtually, friends like Cooking with the Single Guy!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Rosebud! Lunch at Citizen Cake

Now that I am bidding adieu to the wonderful City of San Francisco, I am making it my goal to patronize all of my favorite San Francisco restaurants for "one last time." One of those restaurants on my list is Citizen Cake in Hayes Valley.

Citizen Cake is the apotheosis of a "pastry chef's restaurant." In fact, that is the restaurant's slogan. The executive pastry chef of Citizen Cake, Elizabeth Faulker is one of the most renowned pastry chefs in the world. If you visit her restaurant, take a quick glance at the wall to see her "Iron Chef America" medallion hanging proudly in a frame.

Given the numerous accolades and vehement praise for Citizen Cake, I made sure to visit it on my "farewell to San Francisco" tour. I decided to lunch at Citizen Cake with a few friends. I ordered the crab cakes. The crab cakes came with a dipping sauce of tarragon cream and salad of fennel, arugula, and grapefruit. The creamy mayonnaise in the cakes acted as a thick adhesive, binding together the crab meat fibers and the discernable nubs of chopped relish. Quite good.

My friend ordered the Chinese chicken salad, which was dressed in a peanut emulsion and ginger-citrus vinaigrette and topped with wonton crisps. I did not taste it, but it looked gorgeous.

Despite these distracting lunch items
, the main purpose behind our visit to Citizen Cake was to feast upon the visually-arresting desserts.

For dessert, I ordered the "black island," which was a black sesame crème brûlée enclosed in a bubble of sugar, and served over a frothy bed of mango-lychee tapioca and coconut-almond foam. When the crème brûlée arrived, our table let out a collective gasp of awe. It was beautiful. I used my spoon to gently touch the surface of the sugar bubble, expecting the bubble to be a stretchy latex-like balloon. Instead, my limp spoon was confronted with a glassy orb as impenetrable as the bulletproof windows in front of the teller at my local bank. When I eventually broke into the solid sugar patina, I was able to taste the light and cloud-like meringue encapsulated within. It was a complex flavor-extravaganza. There was also a liquid strip of sesame paste running across the plate, which looked as if someone punctured open a black sesame soup mochi (tong yuan) and vigorously squeezed out its contents. I found this tasty addition to go well with the theme of the dish. My only beef about my dessert was that the sugar shell was like rock candy, which uncomfortably amassed into the crevices of my sensitive molars. Otherwise, the dessert was great.

My friend ordered the "one-two sting," which came with a spiced pineapple shot, broken chocolate cake hazelnut mousseline, tonka bean ice cream. This dessert was not artistically as impressive as the "black island," but it was delicious. The chocolate cake tasted like a partially-cooked brownie with uncooked spots of gooey batter. Additionally, the flavors and textures of the ice cream were familiar and comfortable. However, I would have done a little bit more with the presentation because the cake looked like a smashed dog turd.

My other friend ordered with the "banana split now and then," which included two banana beignets, a tuft of chocolate noodles, a rotund scoop of raspberry hibiscus sorbet, sheets of peanut paper, and a secret emulsion. The banana beignets were delightful. The golden, crisp-fried exterior of the beignets were dusted delicately with powdered sugar and the airy and cakey interior was sublime. The dried strawberry chips and edible flowers were amusing compliments, and I enjoyed the peanut paper, which was a sophisticated version of peanut brittle.

However, this dessert was beleaguered with the collision of its conflicting flavors. First, the thick chocolate pasta did not taste at all like what I expected. The noodles were not sweet, but were bland and slightly bitter, like the outdated bar of unsweetened baking chocolate in the pantry. Second, although I enjoyed the individual elements of the dessert, when paired together, my taste buds were overwhelmed.

But the worst part of the dessert was the secret emulsion. When our server brought out the dessert, she coyly inquired, "Can you guess the flavor of the secret emulsion?"

Each of us lightly dipped our teaspoons into the foam for a diminutive taste. Hm. . . The flavor was familiar, yet odd and mildly repulsive. Based on the color, we threw out some guesses, including "green tea." Eventually, our server laughingly declared that the flavor of the emulsion was "asparagus." I screamed, "What?!?!?! You lying b-hole!" . . . Well, not really, but I was affronted that someone would sneak asparagus into our dessert.

Allow me to employ an analogy to explain my indignation. If you have ever seen the late-80s / early-90s movie, "Love Potion No. 9," you will remember the pudgy and bejeweled prostitute at the end of the movie. She was dressed in a classic 80s outfit: she wore neon eye-shadow, fishnet stockings, and dime-store bangles. (If you have not seen the movie, you can skip this paragraph.) Towards the end of the movie, the prostitute takes one lick of the highly-concentrated form of the syrupy love elixir, and immediately attracts the undivided attention of the male species and the angry wrath of the surrounding females. Old ladies dressed in their "Sunday's best" begin hurling sexist epithets at her and glare at her with eyes that look so evil, you would think they were possessed by demons.

The sentiments of the demon-possessed ladies in the movie communicate my anger. You cannot sneak asparagus into a dessert! It is a matter of principle!

Despite the ass-paragus surprise, I enjoyed my visit Citizen Cake, as I have enjoyed it before. As my friends and I polished off the rest of our desserts, we came to the realization that we did not just consume a meal at Citizen Cake, but we had also been entertained by the elaborate and painstakingly-created desserts. Going to Citizen Cake is better than going to the movies.

I highly encourage you to check out Citizen Cake if you are ever in San Francisco. And do not forget to check out the desserts in the glass case adjacent to the cash register counter. When me and my ogle-eyed friends went, we yearningly stared at the following panoply of items:

Strawberry tarts,

Chiffon cakes with buttercream,

Cakes with mousse and more buttercream frosting,

Shortbread cookies,

Chocolate cakes galore,

Lemon curd tarts,

And banana cream pies!

Now, if that is not enough to get you hungry, I do not know what is!
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