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Posts from the ‘California’ Category

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Los Angeles

disneyland bread bowlIf there’s one thing you need to know about dining in and around L.A.–or my version of it–it’s that there are freaking bread bowls at Disneyland and eating one (stuffed with Chinese chicken salad, no less) was not even my own idea.  (You might also need to know that bread bowls have been my biggest summer 2015 obsession along with taco salad and that I wish I could get on board with pizza bagels but have no nostalgia to summon.) I would say that I could now die happy except that’s never true. There’s always another thrill to seek, another high to reach, and until you hit the next peak it’s all ennui and dissatisfaction with life. All I’ve done during my past two days back is eat pizza and bacon, egg, cheese sandwiches and lay on the couch, dreading the start of my work week.

gjusta duo

I didn’t even peek at the boardwalk because I hate beaches and the NYC-level heat and humidity was dispiriting and the sun still managed to give me scoop neck tan lines just from walking 20 minutes back-and-forth from my parked rental car, but I did hit up Venice on the day Gjusta was declared the second-hottest restaurant in the country by Bon Appetit. So hot that Jake Gyllenhaal was sitting at the next table in the back patio with some young, sporty ladies with ponytails and discussing dieting, which supposedly he doesn’t get, but of course he does.  (I was even asked if I was the actress in Fresno, which I later deduced meant Aubrey Plaza who I’m like twice as old and large as but at least it was a compliment and not an insult.) Sadly, there were no more much touted baklava croissants. I did try a smoked fish sandwich, which you can customize a zillion ways by fish type, schmear, bread, and toppings. This is classic cold-smoked lox with scallion labneh, the works (tomato, pickled onions, sprouts) on a seeded rye bialy. The perfect size really even if the salmon gets a little lost in all of the accouterments. Plus, minted limeade. There are also smoked meats, tons of baked goods, salads, shrubs, and nut oils that all manage to read as healthy, despite not being particularly so, and served in a washed-out, spacious beachy version of woody Brooklyn rusticism that equals L.A. Charming, for sure, but a destination? I don’t know. 

sapp coffee house special beef boat noodles

Sapp Coffee Shop. Sure, we’ve got boat noodles in NYC, and walkable from my apartment even. It’s just what I woke up wanting one morning. (I do regret not having time to make it to Luv2eat Thai Bistro for a wider-ranging Thai meal.) This little restaurant in a strip mall is known for its #3 among other soups, a beefy hodgepodge of meatballs, liver (the dominant flavor) tendon, demure strips and big fat gelatinous chunks that I love, and tripe in a tangy, lightly sweet broth tinged with blood. Oh, and chicharron just because. There’s a lot going on and it totally works. My request for spicy wasn’t taken seriously but I won’t hold that against Sapp. That’s what condiments are for.

animal quad

I didn’t want to O.D. on Shook/Dotolo restaurants but I had a free night and Animal was just five blocks from my Airbnb rental and walking can feel like a novelty in L.A. (and I’m not ashamed to admit that I completely fell back in love with driving after 17 years of car-less-ness). Also, the boat noodles breakfast clearly didn’t scratch my itch for offal. The hamachi tostada with fish sauce vinaigrette, peanut and avocado looked a little overwhelming and one-note but ended up being a total surprise with each bite being a little different and completely balanced, just acidic enough, buttery, with hits of an anisey basil. If I knew this was coming out first, though, I probably would’ve ordered a fuller bodied wine than the rose I started with. The crisp, bacon-like pigs ears with a housemade Sriracha, lime and egg, played with a similar rich and tart, vaguely Asian profile. Veal brains were totally different, light and paired with vadouvan, apricot puree and carrots that had an unexpected  candied, gingersnap flavor that matched really well with the Chenin Blanc I was given a nice pour of. I rarely order dessert alone but wasn’t ready to call it quits, so there were yellow peaches, mochi, brown butter ice cream, and chartreuse that also made perfect sense with the remaining sips of wine.  Music side note: Missing Person’s “Walking in L.A.” was almost too perfect but it was “Age of Consent,” the New Order song that always induces the most feeling of all feelings (I’ve taken to playing it twice in a row on my morning commute as a distraction from the 7 train’s occasional too-muchness) that certainly caused me to bump up my tip as it came on while mulling over the bill.

shabu shabu house duo

Shabu Shabu House. In a sense, this style of Japanese set menu cook-your-own meat is the antithesis of Chinese hot pot. There are no choices to be made beyond medium or large (this is a medium). Everyone gets thinly sliced ribeye and the same plate of cabbage, tofu, noodles, carrots, enoki mushrooms, and seaweed served with ponzu, sesame sauce, and a garlic paste with the world’s tiniest metal serving spoon tucked into the container. It’s simple and it’s great. This small shop in Little Tokyo, where I’m pretty sure there is always a wait, also holds claim as the first shabu shabu restaurant in the US circa 1991, which seems slightly incredible but I’ll believe it. I’m also partial to the cook wearing shades indoors.

b.s. taqueria lengua tacos


B.S. Taqueria I’m sure is great but I initially missed lunch because it closes between 2:30pm and 5:30pm and when I finally made it downtown at the right time, realized the hyped clam and lardo and bologna tacos are only served at dinner. Then the parking garage I used to see the Los Angeles Public Library exhibit “To Live and Dine in LA,” which was meant to be $1 for the first hour, ended up costing me $45, an error that still has not been sorted out, so these lengua tacos are tainted in my mind.

mariscos 4 vientos tostada mixta

The age-old complaint with solo dining is the inability to try as many things as one would like (without throwing food away or throwing it up) so I missed the tacos dorados with shrimp, served at both Mariscos 4 Vientos and Mariscos Jalisco in Boyle Heights. Instead, I just had a mixta seafood tostada, a big pile of lime-kissed shrimp, octopus, crab, and avocado, at the former (sit-down restaurant, not the stand). These are not highly spiced like the red and green aguachile tostadas–you must add your own salsa as needed. 

LP kriss kross

E.P. & L.P. I can never keep which is the restaurant and which is the roof lounge straight. I just had drinks and snacks at the bar (L.P. fwiw). The wings and fried seafood bits were nothing special but pre-batched cocktails like the Kriss Kross (gin, kaffir lime cordial, cardamom bitters, Indian tonic boba pearls) were fun but not unsophisticated–and more importantly, tasty. For being a Saturday night (though early) the crowd was surprisingly mixed and if I were doing a Middle Ages post, there would be plenty of 40+ fodder, weird fodder wearing expensive loafers and velvet blazers and their age-appropriate lady-friends. I didn’t do a lot of L. A. cocktail cruising (partially because I was hanging out a lot with a non-drinker) so I have no idea if this is norm or not.

in-n-out double double

In-N-Out. You just have to. I did even after being admonished for not trying home-grown Tommy’s (I don’t like chili!) and even if I’m being honest and admit that Shake Shack (coming to L.A. in 2016) has a slight edge meat-wise. It’s about the melted cheese and oozy condiments melding together between slightly sweet buns. A total fast food sucker punch. I slightly regret not getting animal-style fries, but couldn’t justify the extra 1,ooo+ calories.

petit trois collage

Ok, and a dinner at Petit Trois, also on Bon Appetit’s hot list (#3), where no reservations worked in my favor. (I wanted Trois Mec but could only turn up tables for 2, 4 and 6 via its competitive online ticketing system, which made me feel discriminated against as a solo diner and wonder if the same no odd numbers thing that worked against me at Alinea was occurring.) The cocktails were great: Soleil Fumé read well on paper (mezcal, lime, grapefruit, Aperol) and translated beautifully both visually and by taste with its tougher-than-it-looked bitter, smoky flavors. It turns out, that the snackier plates are where the tiny restaurant excels (it also didn’t help that I’d eaten a Double Double just a few hours prior). The escargot, with their retractable metal holders, digging implements and floury french bread perfect for soaking up the parsley-flecked garlic butter, were spot-on while the confit fried chicken with an acidic frisee salad and overwhelmingly peppery steak au poivre weren’t all that exciting. And maybe that’s the point? Bistro classics, tiny tweaks, simply done? The chocolate mousse, on the house, was deep, rich and a welcome over-the-top meal-ender that signaled the end of my last supper. Goodbye, L.A.

Oh yeah, there was Sizzler, but Sizzler is too big to be contained in a “barely blogged” post.


Eaten, Barely Blogged: Bay Area and Beyond

This was not a food vacation (I’m seriously due for one of those) but that doesn’t mean I didn’t try squeezing in eating and drinking opportunities whenever possible. It was a family vacation where the biggest food-related revelation was that two of my cousins had fond memories of my mom being a good cook, which only meant their home-cooking bar had been set woefully low (sorry, mom). Lasagna, one of two special occasion dishes in my mother’s repertoire, was cited specifically. The other baked crowd-pleaser was enchiladas. I did like those enchiladas.

A different cousin I hadn’t seen since she stayed with us for a few mysterious weeks during an early ’80s summer remembered my mom making strawberry jam, which is outrageous (nearly as outrageous as her tale of my sister and I calling her sock monkey, Patricia, ugly) even though we did live a few blocks from a strawberry field. I would like to preserve my Banquet fried chicken and Steak-Umm memories, thanks.

Technically, my first meal in San Francisco was a Carl’s Jr. cheeseburger, the result of inexplicable behavior that may as well now be a tradition since I did the same thing last time I popped out of the Bart station en route to a Union Square hotel. Let’s not talk about that.

mikkeller duo

Beers were had a Mikkeller, the Danish offshoot and sort of relative of Torst, pre-and-post-Kin Khao. Most drafts are one size (8 ounces) which forces you to be more selective than at its Copenhagen and Brooklyn-based brethren where smaller pours can be ordered. Not being a Brettanomyces nerd, I didn’t necessarily want a full $14 glass of the crazy funky Abbaye De Saint Bon-Chien Grand Cru 2013 even as I’ve begun warming to sour beers.

Because they don’t know how to be confrontational on the West Coast yet are still dickish, 30 minutes after a server deposited two baskets of fries on our table that we hadn’t ordered, he returned to passive-aggressively scold us for not saying anything, which consisted of him letting us know they weren’t meant for us and then remaining next to the table as if waiting for an apology. Those fries were long gone, dude.

sears fine food pecan waffleI rarely eat breakfast on vacation (the three hour time difference put me on a normal productive human schedule) so the pecan waffles at Sears Fine Food were a treat, touristy or not.

hog island trioIf you cross the Golden Gate Bridge and drive for about an hour northwest, up grassy hills and through dark Hobbit-y patches of woods and don’t hit any cyclists or throw up from all the curves, you may arrive at Hog Island Oyster Farm. Oysters, both freshly shucked and grilled (and unlike the New Orleans specialty, smoked and non-smothered in cheese and breadcrumbs) are a perfect pit stop snack eaten at first come, first serve picnic tables overlooking Tomales Bay where sunbeams can trade places with storm cloud drizzles every ten minutes. It’s worth paying $5 for the big Brickmaiden sourdough roll–you need it for soaking up all the buttery grilled oyster remains (and to settle your stomach if you’re like me and my car sick-prone relatives).

lala's creamery ice cream

While sitting in a parked car downtown Petaluma waiting for my sister’s nausea to pass, we were treated to a show by an older mom or younger grandmother on the sidewalk clutching a not-so-plush Garfield in front of Pick of the Litter, a thrift store benefiting “forgotten felines,” (the number of animal rescue operations in Sonoma County was mind-boggling). She was in the middle of a Bubba Gump shrimp spiel to her ward, a boy born in the mid-2000s, about how once upon a time Garfield merchandise was available as far as the eye could see: Garfield books, Garfield calendars, Garfield phones, Garfield pajamas, Garfield posters, Garfield mugs, Garfield piggy banks…

How do you top that? With two scoops of ice cream at Lala’s Creamery, an old-fashioned parlor that I’m pretty sure isn’t actually old. Luckily, I have old tastes in ice cream–no seasonal berries or lavender honey for me, give me the rum raisin and butter pecan. There is actually a shake on the menu called a Grandpa. Just my speed.

china chef duo

Who says print is dead? An ad in a local paper read while passing time at Lala’s contributed to a dinner decision: China Chef, which turned out to be walking distance to the home that was our end destination. It’s like typical suburban Chinese, complete with zodiac placemats and combo specials, but with gluten-free options, coconut oil substituted on request, and meats both mock and organic that convinced my sister to take a bite of my Hot, Spicy and Crispy Szechuan Beef not “beef.” The shrimp dumplings were a nice bit of evening dim sum, and crab Rangoon will never not be ordered if presented as an option.

el favorito duo

I wouldn’t feel right ordering a burrito anywhere except the Bay Area. (This prompted an LA vs. SF debate on Facebook. To me, Los Angeles is too Mexican to eat a burrito un-self-consciously where Mission burritos are part of San Francisco’s heritage.) Taqueria El Favorito in Sebastopol is just the place for cheap, carnitas-filled flour tortillas wrapped in foil. The griddling is key. And the pickled onions are great with fatty pork.

fremont diner quad

Spending time with non-food people has its ups and downs. I wouldn’t allow Ayurvedic food at my Super Bowl party to another’s irritation, but it’s fun to see someone still excited about things like deviled eggs and brunch. (I’m not sure if brunch really is scarce in Eugene, Oregon–late alcohol-fueled breakfasts seem suited for a college town–or if it’s just not on my sister’s radar.) Ugh, have we become so jaded that delicious strips of bacon and a mound of pimento cheese can’t be enjoyed on a burger because they are so overdone? (I still say nix the jelly jars.) Fremont Diner is one of those casual places with serious food that’s worth stopping by if you’re driving from Sonoma to Napa.

rockridge duo

If you happen to be staying at an airbnb in Rockridge and don’t want to drive for food or cook, Rockridge Cafe is solid and more of a diner than Fremont Diner even with Niman Ranch name-checked on the menu. That’s corned beef hash. Pizza Rustica is also fine enough for pizza, but keep in mind that no one seems to eat after 9pm in Oakland and the upstairs tiki bar is closed on Mondays.

blind cat beer & shots

It’s not all about craft brews and local wines. A day time beer and a shot is perfectly acceptable at the Blind Cat, especially after an encounter at nearby Dynamo Donut with a staffer so comically condescending I thought I was being punked. We did not walk away from that experience with any donuts (though we did get some free coffee cake remainders after I went New York on his ass).

trick dog duo

I prefer cats over dogs, but Trick Dog is having a moment and happened to be down the street. I can get on board with nouveaux boilermakers, a shot of Mandarine Napoléon plunked into a mug of Tecate, as well as cocktails containing three rums, third wave coffee, grapefruit, and fenugreek.

moss beach distillery duo

Despite passing through Pacifica, I didn’t get to stop at the world’s nicest Taco Bell in the town where I was born. However, I did get to experience a supposedly haunted café, Moss Beach Distillery, eat some clam chowder, drink a glass of Chardonnay, and possibly see three baby dolphins playing in the waves.

lark creek grill pacific snapper sandwich

And similar to burritos only in the Bay Area rule, there are only a few American airports where I’d feel ok eating fish. I said goodbye with a Pacific snapper sandwich at Lark Creek Grill. Am I the only one who, price aside, actually likes eating in airports? Not fast food, but sit-down restaurants like you’re worldly or maybe on a business trip? Now that I live so close to LaGuardia, I’d consider hanging out there for fun if all the food wasn’t post-security.




Shovel Time: Tex Wasabi’s

twoshovelIs it wrong that when the idea of visiting cousins in and around Santa Rosa with my sister came up, my first thought was Guy Fieri? Santa Rosa is where he got his start, if you didn’t know, and the site of two classic Fieri restaurants: Johnny Garlic’s (1996) and Tex Wasabi’s (2003). A familial indifference to pasta led to choosing the latter.

In fact, we purposely picked a hotel (The Courtyard by Marriott Courtyard, not the fancier Hyatt Vineyard Creek across the street) walking distance from the town’s main drag so we could incorporate Russian River Brewing’s all-day Sunday happy hour into this itinerary (that kicked off with a Fieri-esque 1,000-plus-calorie cinnamon roll french toast at Shari’s). In NYC, drinking and driving has never been a consideration (or even in the ’90s when I was a West Coaster and owned a car) so sibling influence can be a smart thing.

russian rivery brewing salvation

So, after just one high alcohol ale at the brewery (too mobbed), another two less distinctive pints at Third Street Aleworks at down the street, and an inexplicable pomegranate martini at an Irish pub, I was in the proper Tex Wasabi’s mindset by the time our 8pm reservation rolled around.

The action appeared to be at the bar where a gong intermittently signaled that someone had ordered a “bowla,” a 64-ounce beverage such as a Herry Berry or County Fair, not to be confused with the Kraft Kocktails. I sampled neither. To ensure the optimal mix of poorly chosen alcohol, and really make the most of this no driving in the suburbs thing, we opted for a bottle of inexpensive Malbec. I would be lying if I said I fully remembered the food.

tex wasabi's rockin' lava shrimp

There was Rockin’ Lava Shrimp, which was not wildly unlike Bonefish Grill’s (my favorite chain) signature Bang Bang Shrimp, battered, fried shrimp, coated in a spicy sauce, but with a little more flair. I will concede that the golden wheels of lotus root were a nice touch.

tex wasabi's house salad

The house salad gets Wasabi’d through the addition of edamame, fried wonton strips and a wasabi (duh) vinaigrette. There was no counterbalancing the beers and cinnamon roll french toast, but one can try.

tex wasabi's sushi duo

Of course there was sushi. Sadly, no “gringo sushi,” or anything from the Tex perspective i.e. items containing barbecued meats, were sampled. The Tootsie Roll, left, is more or less a tempura’d roll with bagel fillings (smoked salmon, cream cheese, green onion) glazed with a sweet unagi sauce. I have absolutely no idea what’s on the right but I’m pretty sure it was also fried in some capacity.

tex wasabi's mud pie

A mud pie, Oreos on the bottom, Cocoa Puffs on the top, just made sense as a meal-ender, despite nothing Tex nor Wasabi about it. When was the last time you had rocky road ice cream? Actually, the more fitting question might be whither tin roof sundae?

Nothing eaten was terribly offensive, which seems about right for a city whose claim to fame is a Charles M. Shulz museum.  Santa Rosa is not Times Square; no tourists were tricked, no New Yorkers insulted. I only had myself–and a willing family member–to blame.

Tex Wasabi’s * 515 Fourth St., Santa Rosa, CA

Chez Panisse Cafe

twoshovelI find it hard to decide what to say about Chez Panisse–and I’m just talking about the cafe–because so much has already been said. What seemed radical in the ’70s is now just a matter of course. Do I care about metaphoric figs on a plate, this impeccable sourcing presented simply? I’ll just say a little.

Ultimately, I said yes to my sister’s suggestion for our one nicer dinner in the Bay Area, despite her hesitation that I might find it “too earthy” because Chez Panisse is indisputably an icon, and one that I’ve always avoided on past visits. My half-hearted bid for State Bird Provisions didn’t make sense with a non-meat-eater and the email response I received wasn’t exactly positive: “I think the name State Bird Provisions is unappetizing and I will not cry if we do not get to eat there. I picture eating dodo eggs or something.” Well, then.

chez panisse cafe picpoul de pinet, chateau petit roubie 2013

Is everyone drinking Picpoul de Pinet all of a sudden? It certainly seems like it. I wanted something white and crisp and this was the very reasonably priced suggestion. Yes, the bread, crusty and springy, was awesome.

chez panisse cafe rocket salad with bellwether farm sheep's milk ricotta, roasted beets, mint

The arugula, or rather, rocket, with roasted beets, mint and Bellwether Farm sheep’s milk ricotta was straightforward, good, and probably the biggest concentration of vegetables I ate all week.

chez panisse cafe riverdog farm chicken leg al mattone with fried onoin rings, glazed carrots, spinach, black olive sauce

Ok, nowhere else would I order the roast chicken, province of unadventurous eaters everywhere. You already know the chicken as raw material (Riverdog Farm, for the brand obsessed) is going to be good, then al mattone, i.e. cooked under a brick, and served with onion rings, this dish will be paean to lush crispness. The spinach and carrots added a fresh backbone and the black olive sauce added an unexpected saline dimension that I might even describe as earthy.

chez panisse cafe red wine bosc pear upside-down cake with creme fraiche

Wine-poached Bosc pears in an upside down cake with crème fraîche, a true dessert. Since this was eaten nearly four months ago, I checked the current menu to peek at winter desserts and am not sure that I’m on board with a bowl of dates and tangerines–even if the most amazing citrus and dried fruit ever compiled in one vessel.

I don’t usually talk about service unless something odd happens and in this case that would be bringing the check before asking for it. Despite the included service charge, that ain’t European service. It was late enough, roughly 10:30pm, that no one was waiting for our table, but not so late that we were stragglers in need of goosing. Plenty of diners arrived after we did and remained as we left.

Chez Panisse Cafe * 1517 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, CA

Shovel Time: Kin Khao

twoshovelWhen a mushroom mousse turns out to be the most exciting dish in spread that includes an easy win like pork belly, you know there is something crazy going on. In the US, Thai food rarely gets tinkered with in ways that successfully builds upon tradition. Kin Khao, with an emphasis on seasonality and sustainability, is the happy result of old-school food blogger turned restaurateur Pim Techamuanvivit and chef Michael Gaines (Manresa).

kin khao mushroom hor mok

But back to that mousse. Normally, hor mok is a curried fish paste steamed in banana leaves and topped with coconut cream and lime leaves, here wild mushrooms foraged by an Edible Selby subject are transformed into a custard, called a terrine, and served in a canning jar. And none of it is obnoxious because the result is rich, meaty, and quite possibly tastier than any fish version I’ve tried. Rice crackers are the accompaniment.

kin khao yum yai salad

The also meatless yum yai salad, which mixes a slew of vegetables in contrasting raw and tempuraed forms, was interesting but could’ve used something more than the mild chile jam–or a fishier or hotter version–for emphasis, though. I’m not sure that I would make this at home, but The New York Times did publish a recipe earlier this year.

kin khao caramelized pork belly

Sweet, soy glazed slices of pork belly with caramelized edges did their job, balancing out the relative lightness of the vegetable dishes.

kin khao plah pla muek

The grilled Monterey Bay squid in a lime-heavy, chile sauce, and garnished with crushed peanuts, got a little lost in the shuffle. There’s usually a dish like this, no fault of its own, when sharing plates and drinking (a bottle of biodynamic Pinot Gris rather than one of the fun-sounding cocktails) and paying more attention to the company than the food.

I will admit that half the reason I went to Kin Khao was because it was only one block from the deeply discounted Priceline hotel I stayed at my one night in San Francisco (the other half being that I love out of the ordinary Thai food) but I can’t really think of a better choice in the heart of touristy Union Square. This, plus Danish beer import Mikkeller Bar, also one block away, makes Times Square’s food and drink offerings look even sadder by comparison.

Kin Khao * 55 Cyril Magnin, San Francisco, CA

Bar Tartine

I managed to take part in Bon Appetit’s so-called “Germanic cuisine boom” in San Francisco despite having a contender two blocks from my apartment (two more days in Portland and I totally would’ve ended up at Gruner too). These things happen.

Bar Tartine struck me as more Austro-Hungarian than purely German. Some might say Cal-Hungarian. I wouldn’t, but that’s my aversion to the Cal prefix. James took to calling the hey-that’s-cool Bay Area style “Cal-tude,” which started getting on my nerves (him saying it more than the practice) but the service here was so careless and forgetful—we were given a free blueberry dessert, to be fair—that I kind of had to agree in this case. Cal-tude is not the same as the haphazard style that’s rampant in aggressively homespun/quirky Brooklyn restaurants because the venues—Bar Agricole was another practitioner—are polished in other regards.

I can easily say that I’ve never eaten food like this in NYC (maybe I should check out Hospoda?). The flavors—lots of hot paprika, offal, rye, quark—hewed traditional yet everything I sampled managed to be fresh and light instead of stodgy. And a little daring; I don’t picture goat meatballs or beef heart tartare being common in Budapest.

Bar tartine dinner

Bottarga, grilled bread, butter, radish. At first I thought the butter had been smoked Extebarri-style, the flavor was so prominent, but I think it was simply the heavily grilled bread. A simple open-faced sandwich was made special by the translucent slices of fish roe.

Grilled tripe, fennel, cabbage, coriander. This dish almost never came, but I wasn’t about to say, “oh, never mind” because I have a thing for cow’s stomach in all preparations and like to see how it’s handled in different cuisines. These tender strips were also given a serious grilling, and despite the presence of fennel and cabbage had a vague menudo quality thanks to a spicy broth and cilantro.

Kapusnica – smoked blood sausage, pickled cabbage, cherry, chili, hen of the woods. I’ll also always order blood sausage if I see it (I’ve never seen one quite this obscene) especially when paired with unusual mushrooms, a hit of spice and cherries (which I encountered time and again on this trip—you know you’re eating seasonally when the same ingredient shows up on your plate in numerous restaurants). The richness of the sausage still dominated, but wasn’t overly heavy.

Halaszle – Rock cod, Hungarian wax pepper, smoked broth, purslane, fennel, onion. Hmm…if they can smoke broth, maybe that butter was smoked, after all?

Bar Tartine * 561 Valencia St., San Francisco, CA



Possibly the strangest thing about Benu is that no one had any idea what I was talking about when I mentioned it (which was not that many times). Clearly, I do not fraternize with anyone particularly interested in French Laundry alumni. I could’ve just as easily said I was dining at Benihana for my birthday (the hibachi chain has been on my to-try list for some time).

The food at Benu is the style–seamlessly blending Chinese luxury ingredients with modern technique and a greenmarket sensibility–that I expect I might find in the more wealthy, aggressively image-conscious Asian capitals like Singapore or Hong Kong, but never encounter. Presentation is definitely important here, but never for the sake of showing off. The components are subtle and thoughtful.

I have resolved not to dork-out and take photos during higher-end meals, but the atmosphere while mildly stark, was not stuffy or nerve-jangling in a manner that I always associate with Corton. After settling into a relaxed (I was going to say quiet, but there was nothing hushed about the odd foursome next to us, what appeared to be married men showing off for married women who were less than impressed) corner table  I was glad that I had not left my camera in the hotel, after all.

To be perfectly frank, though, I don’t really enjoy blogging about tasting menus. Who cares what I have to say about 18 courses, wonderful as they may be? (In a similar vein, I’ve really started to tire of those talking head food tv shows where minor personalities ooh and ah over moijto ice pops or food truck fish and chips for people sitting at home on their couches.) After getting the play by play on the elaborate method used to craft the translucent kimchi wonton wrapper, I stopped focusing on techniques (well, the “shark’s fin” demanded a few questions—it’s made from Dungeness crab and hydrocolloids are involved) and took in the food at face value.

Continuing surface appreciations…here are photos without commentary. I can’t just let them flounder on flickr (do visit, if you would like to see full-sized images).

thousand-year-old quail egg, cèpes, ginger
oyster, pork belly, kimchi
wild sockeye
    belly, maple-sake cure, fennel ash
    roe, homemade sesame tofu, Serrano chili

cherry blossom, yogurt, cucumber, pistachio
beef tartare, caviar, horseradish, chive
tomato, hand-pulled mozzarella, dashi

eel, feuille de brick, crème fraîche, lime
jasmine chicken with dates
foie gras xiao long bao

monkfish liver torchon, turnip, plum, brioche
abalone, potato, caper, lettuce
fresh noodles, shrimp roe, tarragon, chicken jus

“shark’s fin” soup, Dungeness crab, Junhua ham, black truffle custard
Duck, glutinous rice stuffing, fermented pepper
Pork rib, sunchoke, pine nut, cherry, black bean

Passion fruit white chocolate, chili
Peach, matcha, elderflower

Benu * 22 Hawthorne St., San Francisco,  CA


Taqueria Sinaloa & Flora

When I was in the Bay Area last September, I managed to squeeze in Laotian takeout in Oakland and that’s as much as I saw of Berkeley’s neighbor. This time, carless in San Francisco, I didn’t want to restrict myself to one land mass like  New York tourists who won’t branch out from Manhattan even if only for one meal (of course, they could also go to museums, shop or sit in parks, if they’d like). Luckily, my ‘90s teenage penpal Layla lives in Oakland and is now a grownup who was willing to pick James and I up at a BART station and squeeze in a bit of afternoon eating and drinking. (Also, her band The Wrong Words is playing in NYC this week—you should give them a listen.)

Oakland tacos

Taqueria Sinaloa was exactly the type of place I was looking for because it’s exactly the type of large-open-space, temperate-weather business—a whole corner with permanent outdoor seating for just two trucks?—you don’t see in NYC.

  Tacos sinaloa selection

I have been under the impression that tripa is tripe (that’s how it’s always translated here and stomach is definitely what I’ve been given) and that chinchulines are intestines (based only on meals eaten in Buenos Aires, which has nothing to do with Mexican food, granted) but at this truck, tripitas meant intestines. At $1.25, this specialty definitely had to be ordered, along with pastor and carnitas (so, I like pork).

The intestines turned out to be chopped into bits and were so tender and innocuous that you could serve a pile inside of tiny doubled-up corn tortillas to an organ meat hater and they could barely get mad at you. You would be hard pressed to pick out the tripitas from this foursome (it’s the lower left corner). I actually had been hoping for crispy-fried tubes like you see in Sichuan dishes. Which isn’t to say that these tacos were disappointing—they were very good.

Ceviche tostada

Ceviche can also be had atop a tostada.

San Francisco and environs has an abundance of tiki, old-school and revival. Unfortunately, tiki isn’t an afternoon affair and we had to get back to San Francisco before Forbidden Island’s 5pm opening time. I opted for the Tonga Room instead (photos without commentary—the experience just ended up being too weird and frustrating to go into, but involved 20+ black Muslims, a Costco cake and a slew of rambunctious children forcing us out of our quiet corner of the bar by essentially surrounding us and taking over our table—more a fault of the server who sat them, not the celebrants) so we had a drink and shared a dessert at Flora, a deco brasserie downtown.

Flora cocktails
A Bulldog Smash (Bulleit bourbon, peach, mint, lemon, curaçao) was the perfect sunny day drink, never mind that you can barely get away with bare legs during Bay Area summers (not a complaint—I just wasn’t used to not sweating). The Salt & Pepper (Miller’s gin, grapefruit, lemon, Angostura bitters) was also refreshing—no actual pepper, just black salt.

Flora salted caramel pudding

The whipped cream-topped caramel pudding with wonderful salt flakes nearly made up for not getting to Bi Rite for their salted caramel ice cream.

Taqueria Sinaloa * 2138 International Blvd., Oakland, CA

Flora * 1900 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, CA

Lers Ros

Oh, thank god Lers Ros was all that it was cracked up to be. I realize NYC isn’t necessarily the United States’ Thai hot bed (that would be LA, wouldn’t it?) but I still have developed standards and am always cautious when I hear raves in other cities lacking a strong Thai presence. I’m still stinging (sorry, I’m a grudge-holder) over my disappointing meal in Chicago and that was a year-and-a-half ago.

Lers ros facade

I didn’t fall for any of the exotica beyond boar, which isn’t that wild really (the wildest thing I encountered that night was someone pants halfway down, propped up on scaffolding, poised to take a dump onto the sidewalk—I didn’t really get what all the Tenderloin hubbub was about until that moment). Alligator just seems gimmicky unless you’re in New Orleans and even then you wonder if you’re just being a tourist for giving in. Frog, venison and rabbit will have to wait for another visit.

Lers ros wild boar

Said boar. I appreciated that they didn’t shy away from offering such a tough, cartilaginous cut of meat. Serious masticating was necessary, though it was likeable in a similar way that pigs’ ears and beef tendons are. Hit with green peppercorns, chiles and sharp strips of krachai, this was a punchy dish.

Lers ros duck larb

I’ve never had duck larb, but it makes sense. The poultry is in small chunks rather than a mince, which is nice because you don’t lose the contrast between the flesh and the skin. The spice level wasn’t disappointing, either.

Lers ros pork belly

I can never resist crispy pork with basil and chiles—it’s one of my Sripraphai standards—and these generously cut chicharrón-esque cubes did the trick.

Lers Ros * 730 Larkin St., San Francisco, CA

Tadich Grill

Tadich Grill, said to be the oldest restaurant in San Francisco, reminded me a bit of the Grand Central Oyster Bar. It’s certainly not as loud and sprawling, but it’s a seafood-centric icon, not as inexpensive as the surroundings might suggest, and favored by both tourists and commuters.

Tadich grill counter
During my late lunch at the bar, solo men close to retirement age and older with a newspaper and a martini for company, filled empty counter seats on my right and left. They were there for dinner, seemingly clocked out at five on the dot. It could’ve been 1960 or 1980; the only thing missing being clouds of cigarette smoke.

This is the San Francisco that I enjoyed the most, not the local, seasonal ethos that’s an obvious culinary draw, but lazing about in eateries that haven’t firmly settled into the twenty-first century yet. Just a few hours earlier at proper lunch time, I’d taken in the bar scene at Fishermen’s Grotto, another reassuring time capsule.

Tadich grill cioppino
Cioppino is a big thing at Tadich Grill, but it’s not what I ordered.

Tadich grill sand dabs
Sand dabs (or sanddabs, depending) are a regional flat fish. I just liked the sound of their name. Served breaded and pan fried, drizzled with a thin white sauce (homemade tartar sauce on the side), steak fries (my enemy) and institutional steamed cauliflower and broccoli, my meal could be construed as bland and geriatric—at least in comparison to how I might normally prefer my seafood.

Tadich grill exterior

But this is exactly what I’d want to be served at a 161-year-old restaurant. Just as a Harvey Wallbanger would be appropriate at Eddie Rickenbacker’s and nearly no place else. It’s just the way it’s supposed to be.

Tadich Grill * 240 California St., San Francisco, CA