Category: Stories & Photos

CR | Tacolicious

Ladies and gents, we’ve found a new restaurant that we are completely and totally, head-over-heels in love with.

It was touch-and-go for a bit. This restaurant joins several good ones on Chestnut street, which are all plagued with the same problem. On a weekend, they are impossible to get into without a reservation or a long wait. Tacolicious is no different. It’s great for the restaurant but awful for the people who just spent forty-five minutes finding parking only to find that a table is another forty-five minutes away. This was in its second open week. San Franciscans sure know how to welcome restaurants with open arms and wallets.

The next time we got in through the door, but were nearly blasted right back out by the sheer wall of sound and people that greeted us. The music was intensely loud and I found myself screaming at the hostess about tables and the bar. Finally, we grabbed a couple of tacos, guacamole and some fried plantains to-go and blew out of the place. Conversation of any kind was impossible in there. Call me crazy, but I like discussing the food and other world events with my dinner companions as I eat. Not that I would have gotten to rest on even half a bar stool that night. Tacolicious was living the very high life.

It might have been a to-go order, but it was packed with the same care and precision that I was to later realize that they put into all their food. The fresh tortilla chips and salsa that arrive at your table for you to nibble on as you peruse the menu had been thoughtfully included. So were the three different kinds of salsa that arrive with the tacos. You can tell a lot about restaurants serving Mexican food from their salsa and guacamole. Tacolicious scores flashing high numbers in this regard. They have this tangy green tomatillo salsa and smoky brown chipotle salsa, along with a searing yellow habenero one that set the soul of this chilli lover ablaze. The guacamole was easily some of the best I’ve eaten in a restaurant, with a creamy consistency, sour but not too much. We were hooked.
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To review…

Whether by the mysterious weave of the looms of Fate or by sheer, dumb luck; I find that the bulk of my life has been spent in two very foodcentric cities on two different continents. Both Bombay and San Francisco celebrate their love of all that is eatworthy through some awesome food establishments. The citizens all have their own favourites, and rightly so. In the rich tapestry of the food scene of either city, there are brilliant threads that sometimes get lost in the overall fabric, so it is a good thing that there are several voices championing them. In that vein, the question that I think I’ve been asked the most is “What’s a good place to eat?”. Tough, because this is probably the one question that will get the longest-winded answer from me.

In this new series I’m starting, I’ll review some of my favourite restaurants, bakeries, roach-coaches (Yes really. I’ve eaten the best food through some of them), indeed any place that serves something you can eat. The focus of these will be San Francisco and the surrounding Bay area, though if I travel to Bombay, you can bet my childhood loves there will be covered with unabashed glee. (I hope they are all still around, I cry rivers when I hear one of them has shut down.) The reviews will by no means be comprehensive of the menu, centered as they will be on my own personal experience. I know what I like. If you’ve been reading my blog for sometime and have maybe tried a recipe or two, hopefully our taste in food travels in the same direction and my suggestions will work for you. They seem to for friends and family.

When possible, the reviews will be accompanied by photographs. But these will, in no way, compare to the food photos you’re used to seeing on this site. For the most part, the photos will be taken on my Iphone. Most of my eating out happens around dinner time and the romantic (bordering on slasher flick) lighting most restaurants use around here aren’t conducive to photography, so the photos may not be genius. They will also be quick since I don’t think it’s fair to make my friends and family suffer for my art when we’re outside. They have to at home anyhow. I’m also going to use that page as a place where I’ll be listing restaurants that I want to try, which will get reviewed as I do.

I also plan to review all the cookbooks I own/use. Somebody has to and all signs point to me. I do this in the hopes that it will help me downsize my burgeoning collection of books and get rid of the chaff, while retaining some choice prizes. The only two ground rules I’m setting myself for the book reviews are whether the recipes work (if it is a cook book) and if the book is a fun/educational read. I think these are key to the success of a good book about food.

My ratings will be in the form of red & blue stars upto a highest possible of 5 stars. Red stars trump blue ones which means a restaurant or book with ★★★ is rated higher than one with ★★★. Consider it a way for me to award half stars in a sense.

These ‘Cheeky review’ posts (thoughtfully tagged with a CR prelude) will show up when I have a place/book to tell you about. Eventually, I hope all my food related knowledge will find a home on this blog. To clear these things out of my head is one of the big reasons I started this blog. I’ll start it off tomorrow with a really good restaurant I want to tell you about (hint: the address is on that receipt in the photo). If you love Mexican food, stay tuned!

About

About us

Hello there! Welcome to Cheeky Chilli, our little food-centric place on the Interwebs. Thank you for visiting us.

Cheeky Chilli is a place where we document all our culinary and related exploits. The short of it is Sharmila writes and Amey photographs; they both cook. The long story…well, how much time do you have?

This blog started out as Sharmila’s sole endeavour, a place for her to finally put down all those tweaks that she made to recipes and could never remember. She’s never been known to make one dish the same way twice. She’s easily distracted like that. However, like with everything else in her life, her husband, who was her best friend a lot longer than he’s been her husband, managed to distract her with some fantastic noodles he whipped up while he made himself indispensable to this space. Amey does almost all of the photography. Well, like 99% of it. So may be that’s more than almost.

We’re lucky to have lived in culinary meccas. We’re from Bombay, India. (Yes, we know it is called Mumbai. It always was.) It was and continues to be one of the most vibrant food cities on the planet. We now live and work in San Francisco, California which is one of the most food-centric cities ever. You will hear people arguing about the best place to find unagi on the bus just as easily as you would hear people discussing tech start-ups.

About Cheeky Chilli

This site is just like the rest of our life; it is something that we have riotous fun working on together. We’re both architects, love to read, are crazy about music and movies. But ask us what and why exactly and we could talk all day about the same things from entirely different points of view. We’re quite vocal, love discussing stuff loud and long (something our friends have sadly resigned to) and have passionate opinions about the food we eat. Join us through our culinary meanderings as we document our food journey along with a little bit of our life.

“I’m a fan of fiery food. If it has chilli in it somewhere, it’s for me.”
– Nigella Lawson

Don’t you just love NL? I loved her even more when I heard her say this, because it is exactly how I feel about chilli. I’m head-over-heels, riotously mad about chillies, peppers, this entire family of precious South American exports. Amey could take them or leave them. This makes for some rather heated arguments about and during dinner, especially at the times when I’ve made merry with the quantity of chilli in our food. When we started this blog, we agreed that the name needed to celebrate an ingredient. We argued that my adoration of the chilli is stronger than his for lemons. I won. (Good thing too, because Cheeky Lemons would have been an alliterative and Freudian nightmare of a blog name. Can you imagine the spam? I think we dodged a bullet there.)

The food on this site reflects what we eat. While the majority of what we eat is the cuisine we love and grew up with, we both love exploring different cultures through their food. San Francisco is diverse and exciting and the perfect place for this. We’re lucky to live in California with access to fresh local produce all year round. We strive to make the most of this.

There’s nothing we like more than sharing what we eat. We’re so glad you joined us here!

Other places featuring our photos, recipes and posts:
–  Bay Area Bites .
–  Planet Green
–  Apartment Therapy’s The Kitchn
–  Rasa Malaysia
–  Bon Appetit.com
–  Foodgawker
–  Tastespotting
–  Yummly
CookinCanuck’s Favourite Cinco de Mayo recipes Roundup

Wishin’

It has been slow going for the last couple of weeks. I’m still reeling from the double whammy of a cold and a badly sprained neck. Have been dreaming of things I’m going to get to once I’m better. Things like pie….

…and the wonderful farmers’ market full of soul sustaining breads and freshly baked autumn treats

…and the amazing heat that my unseasonal chillies are holding in temporary safe keeping for us, that I haven’t quite gotten around to using up..

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Adventures in jam-making (Part 1)- The berry story

What is it about jam that is so comforting? I guess so much of it is intertwined with childhood and a simpler life. Mention it and people get that far away, dreamy, glazed-over look in their eyes. You can almost see them dial back the years to a sweeter time, when sugar was your best bud, not your worst enemy. There were scrambled moments of toast and jam before school or the leisurely pursuit of happiness as you were whiling away your summer vacation in the company of your friends and large bowls of ice-cream with your favourite jam over it. Jam is a quintessential representative of childhood, of all that is pure and simple, before sugar crossed over to the dark side and became something you eschewed instead of embraced.

I have always wondered about jam-making, but reading all about the sterilising and washing and boiling and botulism made me very nervous about trying it. Homemade jam may be the perfect gifts but no one wants the secret ingredient of food-poisoning to be lurking beneath brassy gold lids. But it was a losing battle. I’m always curious to try new things. The jam fairy must have had enough of my sitting on the fence because last week she gave me a firm push in the direction of making jam, materialising in the form of ollalieberries. Some say these berries are a cross between the blackberry and another berry. Some say it’s a type of blackberry. Either way they are uncommon enough that even spell-check won’t refuses to believe that it’s a real word, firmly urging me to use ‘collieries’ instead. But I digress. Ollalieberries grow best in the Southwest, the article said, the author wistfully talking about picking them in his childhood, moving on to the fact that they were around for a short spell.

I am extremely fond of berries. I have a slightly softer spot for strawberries but am still on very friendly footing with all of the berry family. Here I was, having lived in California all this time…it was sacrilegious that I hadn’t even heard of the ollalieberry. As I began searching for farms that grow them, I understood quickly that their season here was very quickly drawing to a close. Time was of the essence if I was to try this hitherto unknown-from-my-universe berry this year. I called up Swanton Farms’ Coastways Ranch off Highway 1, a well-known organic berry farm here in NorCal; I was electronically informed by a courteous gentleman that this was the last weekend for ollalieberries. They did not have huge quantities left but if I wanted a few, there was still hope. Since I wasn’t planning to turn whole-seller, a few was all I was interested in. Swift plans were made to go to the farm on Saturday. I casually threw this last-minute plan out to my friends, many of whom, to my pleasant surprise, enthusiastically agreed to join Amey and I on our berry-discovery expedition.

Saturday dawned to grey and foggy skies in the Bay area, as is so often the case in summer. While Amey sounded ominous warnings of all of us shivering and catching colds by the berry runners, I refused to waiver from the expedition. The urge to make jam had come late upon me, but by golly, I would not back down this time. The fence is a very uncomfortable seat, once you’re off it, you never willingly go back to perch there, and I was off for good. Fog or no fog, I was set to discover the mysterious ollalieberry. We headed southward with fervent prayers that it would be sunnier there, but the journey along Highway 1 (a beautiful drive in any weather) didn’t seem to hold much promise. Then suddenly, as if a benignant god had decided to look out for us, the fog backed out into the ocean and the sun shone down through the trees. The farm was a wondrously bright expanse. It looked like it was going to be a beautiful clear afternoon.

There was a bit of a comedy of errors with some of my friends getting lost. Coastways Ranch is that kind of farm that doesn’t really scream out its whereabouts, and so a couple of friends ended up on a lovely little detour ending up at their farm-stand. There is no cell signal out on this farm so there was no way to get in touch with each other. Makes you wonder how people met up anywhere before cell phones. As my friend Aashima and I embarked upon grabbing up the few ollalies left, Amey and my old college buddy Kartik kept watch at the farm entrance, then drove up the coast a bit in search of the elusive cell signal to locate our elusive friends, Yash and Mayur. Aashima and I had a peaceful time hunting for the berries, popping the first couple in our mouth. The bushes were close to bare with the bulk of the crop having already been picked, but stooping down and pushing the leaves aside we found some shining garnet gems.

The berry tastes very much like a blackberry, the ones we picked were just a bit more tart than your average blackberry. It is sublime and refreshing, especially as you walk through sunny fields. We managed to pick a couple of pints between us just as Kartik and Amey got back from their fruitless search for our missing friends. They helped us pick another pint and we decided we were done with the scant ollalies and decided to venture into the neighbouring strawberry farm where we had much better luck, both in finding fruit and our missing friends, who had ended up there first. The strawberries are at the height of their season and are sweet and bursting with summer. This is the taste experience one should be able to bottle for those long, cold winter nights. I decided there and then I was definitely going to try my hand at canning, even as something told me that if I was successful with the jam, there was no way it would last that long….

Delighted with our pickings, we proceeded to head back after a good lunch. The fog that had been kept at bay (pardon the pun) had started to creep back. But we had a beautiful few hours of sun. I can’t think of a better way to spend a day. Unless it involves sitting under a shady tree, eating berries.