What was that warm tingling sensation glowing from the back of my throat? Was it my imagination, or did my pulse just quicken a touch? I retraced my steps to Richie Nakano (Hapa Ramen) and shot him a quizzical look. "You felt it, huh?" he said, reading my mind. Yes, Richie. I felt it. What did I just eat?
Oh you know, your standard crostini, spiked with nicotine. Nakano's dish started out innocent enough: toasted slices of crusty bread topped with fresh Straus Family Creamery ricotta made that morning, and butternut squash seasoned with thyme and oregano. Here's where it gets interesting. He roasted the squash over tobacco leaves. Sourced from Happy Quail Farms, the leaves are typically used to wrap cigars. Used for cooking…the result is an interesting, sweet, smoky flavor, with some interesting physical reactions. Nakano made sure not to put too much of the butternut squash on each crostini (and don't worry, this was a 21+ event). He did warn that if trying this innovative method at home and you're tasting a lot as you cook, be careful that your heart doesn't explode.
Amanda Hesser, author of The Essential New York Times Cookbook (Photo Credit: Marc Matsumoto)
Hapa Ramen was just one of the 11 restaurants who participated in Sunday's SF Food Wars: Ultimate Potluck Cocktail Brunch edition with Amanda Hesser. The sold-out event was the official West coast launch party for The Essential New York Times Cookbook. Hesser spent six years cooking her way through the New York Times's recipe archive, testing more than 1,400 recipes from across a 150-year period. For the potluck brunch, each local chef prepared a dish inspired by recipes from the cookbook. Here are a few highlights: