The Ferry Building is one of those unique places in San Francisco that locals and tourists happily share. Residents run in for a loaf of bread at Acme or some oysters from Hog Island while tourists scoop up Scharffen Berger bars and snap photos of heaping market stands. Set back towards the side where the ferry actually lets off is the small Mexican eatery, Mijita, run by chef Traci des Jardins (of Hayes Valley’s Jardiniere fame). On a Thursday or a Saturday when the farmer’s market is up-and-going, it’s tough to get a spot at one of the coveted oil-cloth tables. However, on an off-day this week, there were plenty of free seats right by the window: perfect for a little late afternoon grazing and people watching. A nice pairing.
When you walk in, notice the specials of the day are printed in the chalkboard portion below the posted menu. Ask for a printed menu: it goes into much greater detail than the listed title of the dish alone. Behind the counter, if you peep (which I did), there are orange and yellow Le Creuset pots bubbling away on the stove and colorful dishes stacked neatly, waiting for the early dinner crowd. Looking into the kitchen, it seems more like a Mexican grandmother’s domain than it does a commercial production–certainly part of its charm.
We started with the jicama, grapefruit, avocado, and pumpkin seed salad ($4). It was light and substantial, simultaneously. The subtlety of the jicama, combined with the salty crunch of the pumpkin seeds and the tart acidity of the grapefruit resulted in a refreshing, summer salad. It could’ve been improved had the pumpkin seeds met a little vinaigrette somewhere down the line: they were sprinkled on top, as if only an afterthought. But all in all, it was a sweet, intelligently constructed salad. One I’d like to try and mimic at home.
Next we ordered the queso fundido ($5). You may not know this about me yet, but I love cheese. Especially good cheese. I also, after falling off the vegetarian wagon quite recently, love sausage. So it was with enthusiastic gusto that I ordered the queso fundido: melted Mexican cheeses with chorizo, served with flour tortillas. Unfortunately it fell flat. Perhaps I was expecting more of a creamy, queso-style cheese dish, but the fundido was stringy and difficult to negotiate onto a chip. Think lunch-box string cheese, heated up a bit. Don’t get me wrong: the flavor was smoky and complex–nothing like lunch-box string cheese. But I got the feeling that it was rushed along in the kitchen, the cheeses were hastily combined, and it wasn’t baked long enough. Do know when you order it that it takes about ten minutes to bake, so not the best choice if you’re in a big hurry. Or perhaps, even if you’re not. I’m hoping we caught it on a bad day, and am willing to give it another shot.
Now on to one of the house specialities: the tacos. I recently interviewed chef Elizabeth Faulkner (of Orson and Citizen Cake) for a piece I’m working on and she said mentioned Mijita as one of her favorite places to get tacos in San Francisco. We chose the carnitas taco ($4.25) with braised pork in soft corn tortillas with tomatillo salsa, cilantro, and onions. Chef Faulkner recommended the crispy chicken tacos, but they weren’t on the menu the day we visited. The carnitas taco was flavorful and filling, both sweet and smoky at the same time. I often like my carnitas to be a bit spicy, a bit lively. Mijita’s are not, but they’re still quite nice. The corn tortillas are warmed and served as a pair, helping to cradle the generous helping of carnitas. The pork is tender from slow braising–the kind of thing that’s difficult to replicate at home (unless you’re an expert wielding a pork shoulder, which I’m not). Pickled jalapenos and carrots are served on the side: a welcome, spicy crunch.
For dessert, we ordered the house flan ($3). It was extremely light–more of an American custard, actually. It reminded me a great deal of my mom’s custard recipe which I decided I need to make soon–and which I’ll post here when I do. It’s perfect for late night spoonfuls while standing at the counter or with the refrigerator door open, thinking about…nothing at all.
While I’m happy to have tried Mijita, I can’t say I’ll rush back next week. Although I would love to go again to try and nab some of those crispy chicken tacos. Don’t get me wrong. We left feeling satisfied in a subtle way, not a ‘I must call all of my friends and tell them about this place’ way. Instead, we moved on: browsing books, stopping for a shot of espresso, and strolling through Sur Le Table admiring kitchen gadgets that I’d like to own some day.
Healthy Comfort Food
People describe raising young kids as a particular season in life. I hadn't heard this until we had a baby, but it brought me a lot of comfort when I'd start to let my mind wander, late at night between feedings, to fears that we'd never travel internationally again or have a sit-down meal in our dining room. Would I ever eat a cardamom bun in Sweden? Soak in Iceland? I loved the heck out of our tiny Oliver, but man what had we done?! Friends would swoop in and reassure us that this was just a season, a blip in the big picture of it all. They promised we'd likely not even remember walking around the house in circles singing made-up songs while eating freezer burritos at odd hours of the day (or night). And it's true.
Oliver is turning two next month, and those all-encompassing baby days feel like a different time, a different Us. In many ways, dare I say it, Toddlerhood actually feels a bit harder. Lately Oliver has become extremely opinionated about what he will and will not wear -- and he enforces these opinions with fervor. Don't get near the kid with a button-down shirt. This week at least. He's obsessed with his rain boots and if it were up to him, he'd keep them on at all times, especially during meals. He insists on ketchup with everything (I created a damn monster), has learned the word "trash" and insists on throwing found items away on his own that really, truly are not trash. I came to pick him up from daycare the other day and he was randomly wearing a bike helmet -- his teacher mentioned he'd had it on most of the day and really, really didn't want to take it off. The kid has FEELINGS. I love that about him, and wouldn't want it any other way. But, man it's also exhausting.
I just finished washing out Oliver's lunchbox and laying it out to dry for the weekend. My favorite time of day is (finally) here: the quiet of the evening when I can actually talk to Sam about our day or sit and reflect on my own thoughts after the inevitable dance party or band practice that precedes the bedtime routine lately. Before becoming pregnant for the second time, I'd have had a glass of wine with the back door propped open right about now -- these days though, I have sparkling water or occasionally take a sip from one of Sam's hard ciders. Except now the back door's closed and we even turned on the heat for the first time yesterday. The racing to water the lawn and clean the grill have been replaced by cozier dinners at home and longer baths in the evening. You blink and it's the first day of fall.
I'd heard from many friends that buying a house wasn't for the faint of heart. But I always shrugged it off, figuring I probably kept better files or was more organized and, really, how hard could it be? Well, I've started (and stopped) writing this post a good fifteen times which may indicate something. BUT! First thing's first: we bought a house! I think! I'm pretty sure! We're still waiting for some tax transcripts to come through and barring any hiccough with that, we'll be moving out of our beloved craftsman in a few weeks and down the block to a great, brick Tudor house that we wanted the second we laid eyes on it. The only problem: it seemed everyone else in Seattle had also laid eyes on it, and wanted it equally as much. I'm not really sure why the homeowner chose us in the end. Our offer actually wasn't the highest, but apparently there were some issues with a few of them. We wrote a letter introducing ourselves and describing why we'd be the best candidates and why we were so drawn to the house; we have a really wonderful broker who pulled out all the stops, and after sifting through 10 offers and spending a number of hours deliberating, they ended up going with ours. We were at a friend's book event at the time when Sam showed me the text from our broker and I kind of just collapsed into his arms. We were both in ecstatic denial (wait, is this real?! Did we just buy a house?) and celebrated by getting chicken salad and potato salad from the neighborhood grocery store and eating it, dazed, on our living room floor. Potato salad never tasted so good.
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Porridge is not the sexiest of breakfasts, it's true. It doesn't have a stylish name like strata or shakshuka, and it doesn't have perfectly domed tops like your favorite fruity muffin. It doesn't crumble into delightful bits like a good scone nor does it fall into buttery shards like a well-made croissant. But when you wake up and it's 17 degrees outside (as it has been, give or take a few, for the last week), there's nothing that satisfies like a bowl of porridge or oatmeal. It's warm and hearty and can be made sweet or savory with any number of toppings. The problem? Over the years, it's gotten a bad rap as gluey or gummy or just downright boring or dutiful -- and it's because not everyone knows the secrets to making a great pot of warm morning cereal. So let's talk porridge (also: my cookbook comes out this month! So let's take a peek inside, shall we?)