Chowing Down
December 3, 2004

Wow. Not so much on the updating, am I?

Okay, this is what's happened in the past month: San Francisco got fallish, Dr. Mathra and I turned thirty-one, I loaded Rob Base and "It Takes Two" on my new iPod, I wrote an angry, politically-charged entry and then ran out of steam and never posted it, Quantum turned into a Vulcan, and Chow magazine hit the newsstands at long last. Look for my name in it. It's going to be huge.

The mag, not my name.

Last night was the Chow launch party. Instead of recounting the various people who seemed out of place at a food mag launch party because they look like they never eat, we'll just get right to the food, shall we?

First off, when we walked into the Fog City Diner, we were offered "Chowtinis." Oy. Pomegranate juice, lime juice, and Ciroc (Lofton! Okay, not really, but you knew I had to get that in) vodka. Quite tasty. Apparently, pomegranates are the "new" "thing." Well, at least the Washington Post food pages seem to think so. However, I, along with the rest of the Mediterranean and the Middle East, have been eating them for years. In fact, this gives us a chance to take another fascinating look at the Keckler Family's food history.

Back in the day, my mother grew up in LA. She went to college in Michigan (Ann Arbor, natch) and was unable to get her hands on the succulent ruby fruits of her childhood. Enter the U.S.P.S. My grandmother would ship pomegranates to my mother from California whenever they came into season. Some decades later, I became a precocious (yet still pretty picky) eater and at a tender age, a few of us knowledgeable Minnesotans decided to set the fourth grade on its ear and bring pomegranate quarters in our lunches. They were more popular with the Garfield lunchbox set than string cheese or Capri Sun. Then when I was at Michigan, my mother sent along pomegranates from Minnesota, thus continuing the tradition. Last year, I moved to California -- the mecca of this "hot" "new" fruit -- so I sent beautiful, huge pomegranates to my mother last Christmas. Yeah, so, take that trendwatchers -- pomegranates were hot before "tini" became a tweely overused suffix.

Moving on. The scene was all very lavish and exclusive with our names on a guest list and the Diner closed to the great unwashed. And I reveled in every minute of the lavish exclusivity. Since we were early, we were able to grab one of the mahogany panelled booths and start scouting for food before the San Francisco Social Calendar showed up. First to come our way were spicy "spiked" nuts. I don't know what they were spiked with (LSD, my good friend suggested) but they were sweet and black peppery. They also got quickly shunned for everything else. Next, we had spears of romaine that, according to a thoughtfully placed menu, were "Tijuana Caesar Bites with Grated Asiago and Tortilla Strips." Quite tasty. No sooner had we licked the garlicky dressing off our fingers than a tray of espresso cups approached. The small cups were filled with White Bean Turkey Chili with Grated White Cheddar and Diced Onions. It was a chili shot and it was goooood. I loved the presentation, but it was immediately trumped by the next offering: Fog City Diner World Famous Red Curry Mussel Stew. First of all, I haven't tasted mussels so plump and so succulent since last Christmas. Second of all, they were served on Chinese soup spoons. You know, the wide, flat-bottomed ones you get when you eat pho? The chef was careful to make sure that every spoon had exactly one fat mussel nestled into the coconut milk, lemongrass, and curry broth. Just as we stopped swooning over that offering, we were presented with rolls of Prairie-Fresh Farm Pork with Coleslaw. The rolls looked like rumaki. Thick curls of juicy, cold pork encased crunchy, piccante coleslaw, and the whole thing was skewered by substantial toothpicks. Those toothpicks fascinated me. Perfect party toothpicks, these were thick enough to grip and hold a goodly amount of finger food, but I wouldn't pick my teeth with them unless I had a craving to smile like a hockey player.

As my good friend and I were over scoring some glasses of Coppola cabernet, we saw a salver of mini hamburgers pass by. The crowd swooped and only two in our group walked away with them. No matter, Dr. Mathra was on it. He took off to get another Chowtini and came back with that and a Mini Niman Ranch Burger with Pickled Onions and White Cheddar Cheese. My first reaction? "How ADORABLE!" And they were.

There's this old Sesame Street sketch where Grover is a waiter in a restaurant and he's always pissing off his bald, mustached, blue muppet businessman customer because Grover is an incompetent waiter. Among others, there's a fly in the soup sketch, a number nine special sketch, and a hamburger sketch. In the hamburger sketch, Grover says they only have two sizes of burgers and he suggests the man order the little burger. He goes through the swinging doors comes back with a weeny bite-sized morsel. The man throws a fit and in the end Grover yells to Charlie in the kitchen to bring out the "big one. There's a lot of rumbling and crashing as Grover staggers out under a giant burger. Anyway, that's going a long way to say that this mini-Niman Ranch burger brought back those childhood memories. It came in a wee paper envelope and was the best burger I have ever had. Pink and perfect on the inside with sharp, oozy -- yet not messy -- cheese and sweet-sour pickled onions.

Dessert was a Scharffen Berger hat trick: Earl Grey Truffles with Scharffen Berger Cocoa Nibs, S'mores Bites with Scharffen Berger Chocolate and Homemade Graham Crackers and Cinnamon Marshmallows, and Scharffen Berger Chocolate Milkshakes. The milkshakes were served in mini Collins glasses and only needed a side of salty fries to make them perfect+1.

It was a wedding with Chow as the bride and Jane Goldman as the groom. Now make sure they have a honeymoon -- go out and buy the magazine. If only to see the chart that shows you how to celebrate the New Year in every time zone with corresponding drinks. For instance, when it hits midnight in Greenland, it's clearly time for a Screaming Blue Viking.

Next time I'll have to tell you how I've gone Cauliflower Crazy. And if you do want to see me waxing political and sometimes profane, I'm now a contributor on This Is Not Over. Also, Television Without Pity is up for an award for Best Online Community and Jessica and Heathen's Go Fug Yourself is up for Best Humor Blog. Get out there and vote!

Ooh, ooh -- one last thing and then I'll let you go. Chef Directrix is going to be on the Food Network with Giada DeLaurentiis (Code name: "Little Big Head") and Mario Batali for "An Italian Christmas with Giada and Mario" this Sunday, December 5th at 10:00 EST. It was shot at my culinary school and should be pretty cool.

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