Monthly Archives: October 2009

The Fatted Calf

porchetta at Fatted Calf

Any business that greets its customers with this is sure to get a purchase from us. Or purchases.

This is the porchetta sold by Fatted Calf Charcuterie.

Look at that crackling skin, the flecks of sea salt, the pink curled around the filling.

You know you want some.

We did, when we visited the Fatted Calf store in Napa.

look at the choices at the Fatted Calf

When you walk into the tiny space, in the Oxbow Market, you're immediately bombarded by a board full of choices.

Oh my.

You know, there are other choices besides pork up there, but they pale in comparison to the figatelle, the pepperoni, the porchetta, and the pancetta. It's clear that Fatted Calf is all about the pork.

pork chops at Fatted CAlf

Look at these beautiful pork chops, gleaming in the display case.

If we had not been traveling, we would have taken those two, right there, and then rushed home to put them on the grill.

pates at the Fatted Calf

Those pâtés, dense with meat and fat, were gleaming in the display case as well.

Should we have taken one of everything to go?

spicy Italian sausage at Fatted Calf

Oh, but look at those hot Italian sausages. Garlic and sea salt, among other ingredients.

We could have talked our friend Anita into taking us to her house and having a barbeque that night. So what if we missed our flight?

awesome meat slicer at Fatted Calf

You know you're in a good place to buy pork when the meat slicer looks like sculpture.

bacon at Fatted Calf

And the bacon so deeply cured that it looks like an ancient text, the leather binding curling at the edges.

But this is text you can eat.

Lonza at Fatted Calf

Looking at this firm-fleshed and creamy-fatted piece of cured meat, we realized we have never eaten Lonza before.

We'll have to take care of that.

where you sign your credit card slip at Fatted Calf

Look what you sign your credit card slip on. Now that is fantastic.

The Fatted Calf is one of the best charcuteries in the country. Their meats are always top quality. They support local farms and local businesses. We don't need to tell you that their cured meats are delicious, do we? Take a look at these pictures.

Whenever we see these photographs, we heave a little sigh. If only Fatted Calf Charcuterie were closer…

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pork at Incanto

Incanto dinner menu

As many incredible bites of food as we ate in San Francisco during our trip, we had only three meals that were perfect, from start to finish. One was at Contigo. The other was at Bouchon, which you'll hear about later.

The third was at Incanto.

working the line at Incanto

Incanto is the restaurant that came before Boccalone, run by Frank Pastore and Chris Consentino. It's a small, neighborhood place, with food done right.

To tell you the truth, we couldn't decide between a meal at Incanto or Nopa that night. They both came so highly recommended. We adore Italian food, which is what Incanto does. But our friend Anita told us that Nopa has “…the pork chop of the gods.” That's hard to resist.

In the end, we couldn't get a reservation at Nopa. We drove to Incanto, hoping we didn't get our second choice.

Oh my, no. This place is first choice, all the way.

See the pig on the top left-hand shelf? We knew were in good hands.

Danny loved sitting at this table, because he could see the cooks preparing our food. He loves open kitchens.

Oh look, he has just put up our salumi platter!

antipasti platter at Incanto

If you're going to buy a salumi platter anywhere in San Francisco, I imagine this is the place you'd want to buy that salumi.

(Of course, if you know of somewhere better, be sure to tell us!)

Why? It's Boccalone salumi, of course. There's salami, and mortadella, roasted garlic, porky nibbles, and everything appetizing.

head cheese at Incanto

What you see above is head cheese. And I have to say — this was the only disappointment of the evening. Since Danny makes head cheese at home, we expected this to be out of this world. Instead, it had — strangely — no taste. It was as though the finished meat had been gently washed in spring water, repeatedly. Could I have the one that was not bathed?

But the terrine you see at the top of that photograph? That was one of the smoothest, most perfectly seasoned terrines that either one of us has ever eaten.

A great salumi plate.

cottechino sausage at Incanto

I have to apologize for the photographs at this point. Incanto is dimly lit by candles and reflected lighting. A perfect dining experience? Yes. Good for taking photographs of pork? Not so much.

Still, we have to share this one with you.

Cotechino sausage is a traditional Italian sausage, usually made around the new year. It has pork belly, pork shoulder, and pork skin, among other ingredients. When it is simmered slowly, for hours, the sausage has a lovely mouth feel: crisp skin with a tender inside. Your teeth bounce against it.

This was Danny's plate, but I kept stealing bites.

braised pork shoulder with creamy polenta

That was only fair, because he wanted to eat half of this dish.

Again, the photograph doesn't do it justice. This is a simple dish — braised pork shoulder with warm polenta and roasted vegetables. But the pork shoulder was so tender that I cut it with the back of my spoon. The meat fell apart in my mouth. The polenta felt like comforting pap, the vegetables a bit of bite in the midst of all that softness. Oh my, I kept sighing. Oh my.

I could probably eat this dish every day and be happy.

You want to go to Incanto.

Incanto

1550 Church Street

(on the southwest corner of Church and Duncan Streets in San Francisco's Noe Valley)

415-641-4500

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porchetta sandwich at Il Cane Rosso

porchetta sandwich at Il Cane Rosso

The day after the big food-blogging conference, we kind of wanted to stay in bed. The beautiful onslaught of meeting people, talking about photography, the after-party crush of 80s music and bodies crammed into a room, plus a couple of carnitas tacos at the free taco bar, had left us both exhausted. I needed another week or two to process the experience.

But after an hour of lolling in hotel bathrobes and reading the paper, with a toddler between us, we couldn't sit there anymore. We were in San Francisco, for goodness' sakes! And besides, we were hungry. What we needed was a quiet place, with great food, but not much fanfare. A place where we could sit with friends and enjoy some conversation, a little sunlight, and a good porchetta sandwich.

Il Cane Rosso.

We ambled down to the Ferry Building Marketplace to meet our friend Heidi and her husband Wayne. Kind people that they are, they didn't protest that we were late (walking down Market Street with a toddler who wants to wave at every person she passes is a beautiful social study, but it doesn't help with promptness). Instead, they snagged a table outside and lined up the menus for us.

Everything looked good. Il Cane Rosso is relatively new, having opened in only September of this year, so you might not expect the folks who run it to have worked out all the kinks yet. However, this joint venture of Daniel Patterson (one of the city's most respected chefs, at Coi) and Lauren Kiino (formerly of Delfina, now opening Bracina) has their food delicious, already.

This isn't a traditional restaurant. It's more like great take-away, in a small space, one of the many food establishments in the Ferry Building Marketplace. With this many choices, something has to be good to attract attention. Il Cane Rosso is that good. None of the dishes offered are particularly avant-garde or groundbreaking. Egg sandwiches, lentil minestrone, big salads with bacon and buttermilk vinaigrette.

Il Cane Rosso cooks with the best ingredients. To quote them:

“Although Italian in style, Cane Rosso’s food is purely local in origin. Our menu takes full advantage of the Bay Area’s fantastic local purveyors, including Prather Ranch, Soul Food Farm and Marin Sun Farms for pasture-raised meat, poultry and eggs; Star Route, Dirty Girl, Mariquita and County Line farms for produce; and Bellwether and Straus for dairy and cheese.”

With ingredients like this, there's no need for flourishes. Just good food.

I had a few choices, gluten-free. Heidi had a lovely vegetarian lunch. But Danny knew. He had to have the porchetta sandwich.

The pork from the porchetta came from Marin Sun Farms. The porchetta had been roasted in the rotisserie oven at Il Cane Rosso. It came with fennel sauerkraut and aioli, on a baguette soft enough to chew without having it tear it with the teeth.  On the plate were a few pickled vegetables.

And Danny, what did you think?

Oh man, that was amazing. There was this mostarda on it that gave the sandwich a bit of a kick, something unusual enough to make me think —hey, what was that? But mostly, it was the pork. Slow-roasted and tender. I could tell they cooked that right. I want another one right now.

I couldn't eat that sandwich, because of the bread. But you could, if you went to Il Cane Rosso.

Il Cane Rosso, open daily for lunch and dinner, breakfasts on Saturdays and Sundays
One Ferry Building #41
San Francisco
PH: 415.391.7599.
www.canerossosf.com

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pork at Contigo

prosciutto at Contigo

Look at that, will you?

That beautifully draped pile of pink and white, the layers of fat and meat, the bit at the end of the cutting board where you can almost see through because the slice is so thin.

Heck with my words. Just look at the picture. Doesn't that make you hungry?

That, my friends, is one of the best bites of pork we had during one of the most extraordinary meals of our lives.

At Contigo.

Contigo shirt

Contigo is the passion-child of Brett Emerson, a chef turned food blogger turned restaurateur this year. For years, Brett dreamed of opening his own place, based on his food, a kind of elevated comfort food, with the best ingredients. He wanted his restaurant to feel as though you were a guest in the home of a really talented chef who was making dinner specifically for you. (He would never have said the part about the really talented chef. But we can tell you. He is.) Over time, the concept changed, again, and again. Life led him down different paths than he expected to take.

Contigo became a Catalan restaurant. And it's one you need to visit if you are in San Francisco.

Don't just listen to us. Food and Wine just named Contigo one of the places you have to go in San Francisco. So did Gourmet. And the Boston Globe. Plus more, and more. Really, it's clear. People love Contigo.

We would have loved the place even if Brett wasn't a friend of ours. That's why we want you to know we're not alone in our high praise.  You really must go to Contigo.

And look at that. The symbol for Contigo — emblazoned on the t-shirts — is a pig. In fact, when you receive your bill, you'll get a tiny paper clip in the shape of a pig, just like the one you see above.

That made us love the place even more.

jamon iberico at Contigo

Contigo is an easy place to love. You can stand at the bar in front of the open kitchen and watch earnest young men make flatbreads in the wood oven, while you nibble on various Spanish cheeses or fried Marcona almonds.

Or sit at a table in the back, near the patio with the cords of wood for the oven stacked up neatly against the green wall, and talk as you eat green beans cooked with jamon iberico and its fat (one of the items available on the menu right now). Sure, there are sardine toasts and patatas bravas and so many other little dishes made with good ingredients and cooked attentively that you will be a little dizzy thinking of all the possibilities.

But just do us a favor. When you go, make sure you order some of the jamon to begin, which is what you see above. We got some of the acorn-fed jamon from Salmanaca, aged 36 months. Each bite had a savory depth, yet melted like butter on the tongue. There was a little dry bite of the aging in there, which only gave it clarity.

And on the cutting board above, you'll also see the La Quercia organic heirloom Berkshire prosciutto. Why were we excited? Because this was our first taste of a now-famous prosciutto. Made in Iowa, by artisan salumi makers determined to create Italian taste in the States, this prosciutto wowed Jeffrey Steingarten so much that he called it, “the best American or imported prosciutto [he's] ever tasted.” With praise like that, we couldn't wait.

And we weren't disappointed. There's a sweetness to this one that we had never tasted in prosciutto before, a slight kiss of it, along with the salt, and something a tiny bit nutty in there. We were transported by both kinds of pork. Side by side, they blew our minds.

That's Contigo: quiet and unassuming at first, humble and homey inside, and full of surprises. Every bite we ate was impeccably done. But this platter of pork, on its own, would have brought us back.

Contigo
1320 Castro Street
San Francisco, CA 94114
Main 415.285.0250

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carnitas at Tonayense

Tonayense taqueria

San Francisco has so many great taquerias, taco trucks, and hole-in-the-wall places with blow-your-mind carnitas that we could have stayed for weeks and still not be done choosing. Or eating.

We looked up taquerias and best of street food lists and asked all our friends. Where do we get great carnitas?

In the end, we just did what felt right. When we passed one that looked good, we went in.

On our way back from Humphry Solcombe with our friend Melissa, we walked past Tonayense Tacqueria as we made our way toward the BART.

“That looks good,” I said, sensing something from the outside of the building.

“It is,” Melissa said. “They have taco trucks all over the city. This is their only store.”

We walked right in.

carnitas in SF

And what did we find? Tacos for $1.75.

I didn't look at the rest of the menu. I knew I needed a carnitas taco. (Or is it taco carnitas?)

I wasn't disappointed. The meat was tender to the tooth but crisp on the outside. Just the right amount of heat. And the right amount of meat to the taco. (I could hold it in my hands without it all falling out, but I wasn't biting on air either.)

As someone on Yelp wrote, these folks “…understand the Platonic ideal of tacos ingredients is meat, onions, cilantro, spicy salsa, and freshly squeezed lime juice for that perfect balance of flavors.”

Oh yeah.

tortilla chips fried in lard

We were lucky. When we went in, the housemade tortilla chips had just come out of the fryer. The fryer with lard.

These chips are fried in lard, as they should be, as they are in any authentic place.

Crisp and just thick enough, with a bit of a tug on the teeth. And since they were fried in lard, you know the taste was amazing.

I'm not saying this was the best taco carnitas (or is it carnitas taco?) in San Francisco. I'm just saying that on that afternoon of walking, these were the perfect bites for that moment.

What do you think? Any other suggestions for places to buy great carnitas you want to pass on to the rest of us?

3150 24th St.
(between Shotwell St & Van Ness Ave)
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 559-0404

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Humphry Slocombe

Humphry Slocombe collage

San Francisco (and the entire surrounding Bay Area) has some great places for ice cream. In fact, the good folks at Gourmet.com just ran a piece on the 8 best places for ice cream in the Bay Area. 8 places! Most cities are lucky to have one.

(I don't want to even talk about the terrible decision to cease publication of Gourmet magazine. I'll cry into the keyboard. But just know that the piece I linked to above may not be up for long, because of this asinine choice. Read it while you can.)

However, we didn't have much of a decision as to which place to visit when we heard about Humphry Slocombe. Among their many unusual flavor combinations? Prosciutto.

Humphry Slocombe makes prosciutto ice cream.

The only question we  had? Which stop on the BART do we take to get there?

Humphry Slocombe flavors

Humphry Slocombe is definitely not Baskin Robbins. When you walk in, the only colors that greet you are over-sized photographs of the dirty spoons customers have used when trying flavors, giant fingers ripping up nuts, a smooth surface of ice cream disturbed by a scoop now gone, and the outside of the store. The rest of the place is bare. There's no attempt to make you linger. They'd love it if you ordered a bunch of scoops, then settled next to the stoop outside on spindly chairs. These folks make ice cream they want you to eat, and then they'd like you to leave, really. It's all about the ice cream.

As owner Jake Godby said, in a piece about Humphry Slocombe in Gourmet, “There’s a whole world beyond chocolate, strawberry, vanilla. Why can’t you make peanut butter–curry ice cream?”

You can. And he did. And let me tell you, it was splendid. Sound strange? Think Thai curries. Now imagine that in an ice cream cone.

We also loved the balsamic caramel, the salted licorice, and the Jesus juice (red wine and coke). But those were all just warm-ups for the real taste sensation.

prosciutto ice cream

Prosciutto ice cream.

Yes, it's real.

The folks at Humphry Slocombe teamed up with the ones at Boccalone to make this only-one-of-its-kind ice cream flavor. They roast Boccalone prosciutto parts, then steep them in milk with fennel seeds and black pepper. And then, they make ice cream.

What does it taste like, you might be wondering?

You know that thin strip of creamy white fat along a piece of truly great prosciutto? How it tastes porcine, but with the mellowness of fat, not quite so aggressive as the meat? Well, imagine that, with heavy cream, and sugar, then frozen icy cold and put into your hands. That's what it tasted like.

We definitely recommend it, especially with the melon ice cream alongside.

bacon peanut brittle

Humphry Slocombe ice creams are icy, rather than super-rich creamy, as some of the other places in San Francisco can be. I think they keep the texture a little less than unctuous so you can taste the flavors more than the cream. I didn't mind. We'd happily have more.

If, after you have eaten two scoops of ice cream — and shared with your spouse and wonderful friend visiting with you — you find that you still want more sweetness? By the cash register sit little bags of bacon peanut brittle.

I'm telling you. Humphry Slocombe.

Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream

2790A Harrison St.

San Francisco

humphryslocombe.com

415-550-6971

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Boccalone salumi

tasty salted pig parts

The restaurants and food vendors of San Francisco so love pork that we had a hard time deciding where to visit on our trip to the Bay Area last month. Which bistros and fine-dining establishments would serve us meals? Should we venture over to Berkeley or Oakland? So many choices.

But one thing was clear. We had to visit Boccalone.

I mean, come on. Any business whose motto is Tasty Salty Pig Parts? That has our attention.

Time for a trip to the Ferry Building Marketplace.

Boccalone salumi

The Ferry Building contains so many food vendors and small market spaces bursting with the best of the food produced in the Bay Area that it's almost an embarrassment of riches. In fact, we'll share some of our favorite bites from that place in a later post. But we knew right where we were going when we entered the building.

Boccalone.

This spectacular place creates some of the best salumi in the Bay Area, and perhaps in the country as a whole. Mark Pastore opened a restaurant called Incanto in 2002 (a place we visited later in the week, where we swooned over the braised pork shoulder), then hired Chris Consentino to be the head chef in 2003. The two men shared a passion for creating good food, great pork dishes, and the Italian tradition of making salumi. Within a couple of years of this kismet-turned-business, Boccalone was born.

It's easy to think that only the Italians know how to craft great porchetta or prosciutto. But certain American companies are studying the traditional practices and crafting great pork products, the kind that you dream about in the middle of the night and wish you had just one more taste of that fennel salami. Boccalone is one of those companies.

We'll be dreaming about standing in front of this display case for years to come. Or at least until we return to Boccalone.

Don't you wish you could just reach in and grab some now?

salmui cone at Boccalone

You might have heard of Boccalone for their salumi cone. In fact, the folks at the Food Network decided that the salumi cone is one of the best bites with bacon they ever ate.

(I'm not going to mention that there is no bacon in a salumi cone. Oops. I just did.)

The salumi cone is good. I mean, it's a selection of Boccalone salumi, draped over a paper cone.

But if you ask us, this is the only disappointing part of Boccalone. Look at it. That's a bit of a rip-off for more than $3.

salumi I want to buy

Instead of being a tourist (and we only bought the salumi cone for the photograph you see above), why not buy some real salumi, for nibbling while walking through the city, and to take home?

How could you not want to try orange and wild fennel salami? Or soppressata calabria? Or salame pepato? We sure did.

lard-fried chips

At the Boccalone stall in the Ferry Building Marketplace, you can buy sandwiches, such as the lonzo sandwich with wild arugula that Danny enjoyed while we sat there. And if you find yourself wanting something with a crunch, you could grab some of these potato chips fried in lard. Oh, do they crunch.

Nudja

We could have bought one of everything at Boccalone. But time and the wallet did not permit it. We couldn't leave, however, without buying some Njuda, a spicy salami with a spreadable texture. I could tell you that we used a butter knife to spread it on crackers, politely. But we didn't. We squished some out of the outer casing right out onto our fingers and licked it off. Imagine soft-cured pork with a bite. That stuff kicks the ass of deviled ham, any day.

We could have stayed for hours, gawking at salumi in the refrigerated cases. But sadly, we had to bid goodbye to Boccalone. We had some prosciutto ice cream to find.

But we'll be back.

Thanks, Boccalone.

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Dottie’s True Blue Cafe

inside Dottie's True Blue

It's hard to wait.

Waiting for something huge and life-changing is harder than anything, because you don't know when it's going to happen. The love of your life, the perfect pair of boots that finally fit, getting a contract for your first book — these are dreams that might not come true. You spend your life trying to be patient, hoping they will arrive and not be a disappointment. That's a hard wait.

Waiting in line at the bank to ask about an error not in your favor, or on hold with the airlines and forced to listen to horrible tinkly music that sounds like “doo doo doo” instead of “The Girl from Ipanema,” or stuck in traffic because the football game let out and the freeway is jammed and you don't even understand that game? That just stinks.

But waiting in line for breakfast, when you can smell the sausage wafting over the heads of the 25 people in front of you? Man, that's brutal.

inside Dottie's true blue II

Especially when it's 8 am, in the Tenderloin district in San Francisco — not the most salubrious neighborhood in town — and you haven't eaten anything yet. And you peer inside, around the shoulders of people on their cell phones or guys talking about the upcoming Folsom Street Fair, and you see people already enjoying their breakfasts, hunched over their plates, eating bacon. Clearly, they are having a good meal.

(And wait! That table's empty! Somebody clean it off so we can get in!)

oh yes, I would love some coffee

And the coffee. I smell coffee. Look at that espresso machine, ready for action. Four pots of coffee, dark and inviting.

Oh please, people at Dottie's True Blue Café. Won't you let us in?

Lu wants some of that scramble

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The wait was worth it. (And it took far less time than the annoying bank line, in the end.) We ordered quickly — we had been studying the specials board, because someone told us to order whatever the specials of the day are — so we knew. We knew what we wanted.

So did our daughter, when my scramble arrived. That's her hand, reaching. The kid knows what she wants.

Who would not reach for this? It's a giant scramble with mushrooms and spinach, with…..get this…….

smoked whiskey fennel sausage.

Oh good god.

I found myself picking out the pieces of sausage so I could taste it by itself. Subtle, smokey, slightly sweet. This was sausage I wanted to eat every day.

would you like some sausage on top of your eggs

In fact, my only complaint about my breakfast is that I wish the sausage had come in one big piece, on top of the scramble, like this.

(That's the owner and chef of Dottie's True Blue Cafe, who seems to cook every single meal himself. And you should have seen the egg delivery that rolled in while we sat there. Crate upon crate of fresh eggs. I don't even know how much pork they go through in this place!)

Danny's prosciutto scramble

That's Danny's plate, a scramble with prosciutto, which he let our daughter and me eat too. (I couldn't share those thick slices of corbread toast with him, but he insists they are some of the best toast he has ever eaten.)

Prosciutto and eggs? What could be better?

(Well, perhaps the prosciutto ice cream we ate later that day. But that's for another time….)

After we ate here, we told friends in San Francisco about our breakfast. “Oh, that's one of the best places in the city.” We were so happy we stumbled on it.

But you? You should go here, deliberately, for the smoked whiskey fennel sausage alone.

Believe me, the wait is worth it.

Dottie's True Blue Café

522 Jones St
San Francisco, CA 94102

(415) 885-2767

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pork sliders at Sellers Markets

pork sliders at Sellers' Market

We have so many memorable mouthfuls of pork from our trip to San Francisco to share that I haven't known where to begin. The lovely lunch at Bouchon? The braised pork shoulder at Incanto so tender I could have cut it with a spoon? All the salumi, everywhere we ate?

Finally, I've decided, I have to begin at the beginning.

These pork sliders were the first lunch we ate. Well, this was the first lunch that Danny ate, because I couldn't eat the buns. I looked at the sliders longingly and asked about every nuance of taste.

They have a bit of smokiness, sweetness in the sauce. His eyes closed for a moment, and then he coughed. Okay, this has a good spice kick to it. Maybe a little too much cayenne? (Danny's not a big heat fan.) These would be great with a cold beer.

He finished off each bite, licking his fingers of the wonderful mess.

Damn, this is going to be a good trip.

Meanwhile, it's not like I was suffering with this cobb salad, filled with hard-boiled eggs and Niman Ranch applewood-smoked bacon. Each ingredient tasted fresh and lovely, just like itself.

We were lucky enough to stumble onto a Sellers Market, a block from our hotel in downtown San Francisco, just after landing. Flying with a toddler, even a well-behaved one, is exhausting. So is leaving the house at 4:30 in the morning to catch an early-morning flight, and skipping any form of breakfast.

Oh, we enjoyed this meal.

You'd probably enjoy the pork dishes at Sellers Market too. This small chain (with three locations in San Francisco, all of them on Market Street) clearly caters to a business crowd who need a quick lunch. (And breakfast. Danny had a bacon and egg sandwich a few days later that he thoroughly enjoyed as well.) Even if lunch is quick, it can still taste good. Sellers Market features local artisan food producers in its healthy fast food. (It's an “only in San Francisco” place, at the moment.)

We've never had such good food so fast, for so little money.

And those pork sliders. Oh my.

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