Posted in Food

Hot bubbly tofu

When you think Korean food you usually think of the traditional BBQ meats flavored with a distinctive sweet yet garlicy marinade.  But I enjoy a different type of Korean food.

Tofu soups became popular in their native country during the Korean War.  It is basically a tofu soup/stew with a rich soup base and silken tofu.  The soup usually has pork, beef, seafood, kimchee, veggies, and/or a variety of other ingredients.  They are served in individual “hot pots” and come to the table boiling hot.  Crack a fresh raw egg into the mixture and the bubbling hot soup cooks the egg right in the bowl, thickening the stew/soup and adding protein.  The Tofu House (“So Gong Dong Tofu House”) on El Camino in Palo Alto serves various tofu soups, along with bibimbob (classic Korean rice bowl in an earthenware bowl with rice, egg, veggies, and various marinated meats) and Korean BBQ dishes as well.

The Tofu House serves some of the best tofu soups in the Bay Area and is one of my favorite places to visit for a satisfying, inexpensive, exotic meal on a chilly evening.

I ordered the Kimchee Tofu Soup and my husband had the Combo Tofu Soup (seafood and meat).  We went on a recent Friday night and the place was packed, but the wait was only about 10 minutes.  Good thing because we were starving!

Don’t expect anything other than bland tables and chairs and completely stark white walls inside.  But I’ve heard it said that the color is in the food, and that’s absolutely the case here.

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Yelp.com photo by Kake S.

Once you order, they bring a big orange tray of what they call “banchan,” which are little plates (about five or six of them) of savory appetizers to intice the palate before the main course arrives.  The banchan varies from time to time, but will always include a plate of kimchee (the national dish of Korea which is pickled napa cabbage marinated mostly with a heavy dose of vinegar, chilis) that’s spicy and pungent, just like it should be.  Our array of banchan also included pickled cucumbers, soft boiled potatoes with a sweet sesame sauce, mung bean sprouts, and sweet marinated rice noodles with carrots and black pepper.  It’s a wonderful array of colors and tastes.  And if you want more of any of these little dishes, just ask.  They pretty much give you as much as you want.

Now, if you order the tofu soup they’ll also bring you a raw egg and a small bowl of rice.  At most Korean tofu soup restaurants it’s a bowl of white rice, but here they serve you red rice with red beans in it.  It’s just another touch that makes this place better than most.  The red rice makes the tofu soup you’re about to get much heartier.  You basically eat the rice and tofu soup together.

My husband’s Combo Tofu Soup was excellent as usual.  It’s got a mild yet extremely flavorful base.  He enjoyed every single drop and would lick the bowl clean if he could.  It was brimming with fresh seafood flavor from the shrimp and clams that are right in the broth.  Just the right amount of spice gave it kick without competing with the mild seafood flavor.

My Kimchee Tofu Soup was excellent as well.  It’s funny how two dishes that look so similar can taste so completely different.  They both have that bright orangy red broth, but because mine had the distinct vinegary, spicy flavor of kimchee in it, it tasted totally different than my husband’s.  The egg that you crack into the soup adds thickness and just completes the dish overall.  And the napa cabbage adds texture and a slight crunch to the soup with its smooth silken tofu.

There’s something about a nice hot bubbly bowl of goodness chock full of fresh, interesting ingredients to get you excited about your meal.  And with the wide array of banchan they serve you before your entree, it’s easy to look forward to eveything this kitchen puts out. 

But caution: if you enjoy spicy food, order your dish “medium” heat.  Going with the “hot” might just kill you, unless you enjoy that kind of torture.

If you’re looking for something completely different with a little variety and adventure thrown in, this will surely satify that craving.  There’s something so satisfying about it.  And a $20 tab for two doesn’t hurt either.

Tofu House on Urbanspoon

Posted in Food, Travel

An S.F. foodie’s trip to NYC

 johns-outside.jpg

Flickr photo by alicechan26

Last week I was fortunate enough to visit a city I love, the Big Apple (which of course makes me sound like a total tourist).  I love the Bay Area, but there are still some foods you just can’t find outside of NYC.

First stop the day I arrived was John’s Pizzeria (44th St. btwn. 7th/8th Ave.).   I didn’t make it down to the one on Bleeker St. in Greenwich Village, but I did go to the one near Times Square (it was closer to my hotel).  The one thing I long for more than a good deli sandwich, is a great New York style pizza.  John’s isn’t the best in the world, but in my humble opinion, it is one of the best.  I love the perfectly thin crust that’s been slightly blistered on the bottom from the coal fired oven, yet still spongy in the middle.  The housemade tomato sauce is just zesty enough with a slight sweetness from the tomatoes.  And the creamy mozzerella and fresh basil make the whole pie complete.  It’s so simple yet almost impossible to find anywhere in the Bay Area!  And the Times Square location is housed in an old church that’s about 3000 square feet big.  It is the most beautiful pizzeria you’ll ever visit, especially with it’s beautiful mural, gold staircase, and stained glass dome ceiling.  It is the largest pizzeria in the world.  Pretty setting, great pizza, fabulous experience.

johns-dome.jpg Flickr photo by alicechan26

Japanese food isn’t usually something I seek out while in New York City because the stuff you can get in the Bay Area is very good.   But I was trying to find some decent food around my seminar location in the middle of Times Square.  I was worried because all around you are chain restaurants and I wasn’t in the mood for Olive Garden (YUCK!).  I was lucky to find Teriyaki Boy (Broadway @ 48th St.) and Sapporo (on the opposite side of Broadway @ 48th St.).  I stopped into Teriyaki Boy not expecting very much, but their Katsu Curry Rice dish was superb.  The sauce was in the classic Japanese style; thick and just slightly sweet.  The chicken was moist, tender, and perfectly cooked.  I actually craved it again for dinner that night!  A good reliable lunch choice if you’re ever out in Times Square.

And next up was Sapporo on my second day of my seminar.  There were tons of people there when I visited for lunch, but the wait went very, very quickly.  People were slurping their noodles and quickly enjoying their rice plates before rushing back to work.  I had a bowl of the Miso Ramen, which are Japanese noodles in a meaty broth with pork.  This was probably one of the best bowls of ramen I’ve ever had (the only one better would be at Santa in San Mateo).  The noodles were the perfect texture, not soggy but not too firm, and the broth was full of flavor from the tender pork.  I loved it and would totally go back the next time I’m in town.

sapport.jpg Flickr photo by three60

Junior’s is a total touristy restaurant, I know (45th btwn. 7th/8th Ave), but I think it’s deli sandwiches are highly underrated.  I always get a pastrami or corned beef reuben and have never been disappointed.  And I love their vinegary cole slaw and beets.

I wish I could say the same about Carnegie Deli on Broadway.  With the reputation this place has, the corned beef on rye I ordered was shamefully bad.  The corned beef was dry and flavorless and even the pickles tasted strange, like they were stored incorrectly.  YUCK!  Avoid this place like the plague, especially since Stage Deli is just down the street and better.

Those are just some of the yummy things (and not so yummy things) I got a chance to experience.  Didn’t get the opportunity to have the perfect bagel or falafel this go around.  But there’s never enough time to enjoy all the culinary classics New York has to offer, is there?

Posted in Food

Remember this address for brunch…900 Grayson

grayson.jpg Flickr photo by “foodblogger”

Just visited 900 Grayson @ Seventh in Berkeley with pal J. Lo.  I wanted to find a nice place for us to have a birthday brunch before heading over to the massive sale they’re having at Jeremy’s on College & Ashby.  MASSIVE sale. 

My usual choice when trying to find a nice lunch spot in the East Bay is La Note on Shattuck, but we weren’t in the mood to wait an hour for a table.  (It is one of my favorite brunch spots of all time, though.)

We wanted to try something new and I turned to the Chowhound boards to see what I could find.  As I suspected, they suggested La Note, but there was also strong mention of 900 Grayson.  And after checking out their menu, it was a no brainer.

Man did this place live up to the positive reviews!  There was plenty of parking in the area and there was only a 10 minute wait upon our arrival on a late Saturday morning at 11:45am.  First good sign of things to come.

The restaurant itself is incredibly cozy.  It’s basically a house!  The staff was so nice and welcoming (that ALWAYS makes things better) the minute we walked in.  But once we sat down and got the menu, we got excited.

There were several items on the menu we wanted to try, like the “American Idol” (their version of a reuben sandwich), “Miss Piggy and the General” (pulled pork sandwich), and the “Tom Boy” (corned beef hash), all of which we hope to try on another visit soon.  But in the end, I got the “Demon Lover” and J. Lo got the “Time-Life Cookbook” which was the egg omelette w/gouda cheese and gourmet hash browns.

tasty_brunch.jpg Pic by J.Lo

J. Lo’s dish was masterfully prepared.  The eggs were perfectly light, fluffy, and delicious.  It had just the right amount of melted gouda in the center, and it didn’t overpower the almost delicate texture of the eggs.  The accompanying hash browns were perfect.  They were fried in a single sheet to a crisp golden brown on both sides with a soft tender center of potato.  And the fuji apple salad made a perfect light accompanyment to the plate.

chick-and-waff.jpg Pic by J.Lo

My dish, however, was the complete opposite.  But J. and I both agreed it was the more yummy of the two.  It was also the more unhealthy of the two, unfortunately. 😦  Chicken and waffles is basically what the “Demon Lover” is, but much more sophisticated.  This fried chicken had the perfect light crunch to its skin, and the single buttermilk waffle the two pieces of chicken rested on was delicious.  The slight sweetness of the waffle with the perfectly cooked chicken was a true tasty delight.  The chicken wasn’t oily or greasy (yuck) and the meat was perfectly tender, juicy, and moist (yum).  There’s nothing worse than dry chicken breast when going out to eat.  And the cream gravy was perfect with its flecks of paprika.  A truly decadent dish that’s not for the faint of heart.  But their version was truly impeccable.

And the peach and pineapple aqua frescas we had with our dishes were super yummy, too!

There’s no doubt the food at this place is superb, but it was the cozy setting, affordable prices and unexpectedly friendly service that make a dining experience here one to remember.  And one we hope to relive, soon!

900 Grayson – Berkeley – 510.704.9900

900 Grayson on Urbanspoon

Posted in San Francisco, Shopping

Some boutiques, a nail spa, and a sale.

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Photo of nail salon within Azalea boutique from www.azaleaonline.com.

I love the fashions you can find at boutiques.  The stuff is different from what you’d find at Macy’s or Bloomingdale’s.  But boutique shopping can be expensive.  

However, there are the occasional exceptions.  There’s Find Outlet in Manhattan (gotta check it out if you’re there!), Pearl Wonderful Clothing in Larkspur (great deals in their Sale Annex), Red Dot in Marin and My Roommate’s Closet in SF.  (I’ll write more about those places some other time.)  But there are two that are worth mentioning this week.

Jeremy’s is the best in bargain boutique shopping.  Their South Park location in San Francisco and College Ave. in Oakland are both having a huge sale worth talking about.  On April 14 & 15, they’re marking down their already hugely discounted prices an additional 30-60% for women’s fashions, shoes and accessories.  And that’s definitely worth mentioning because their prices are already more than half off to begin with.  It’s only for one weekend.  Then the following weekend will be the mens’ sale, and then the weekend after that (April 28 & 29) they will mark everything down again for the final time, just for that weekend.  You’ll risk a limited selection by then, of course, and that’s the trade off for waiting till final markdowns. 

The Oakland location has lower priced items from stores like Barney’s, J.Crew and Anthropologie.  Some items can be slightly damaged, so make sure you inspect before you buy.  The store in S.F. has stuff that’s higher end (and therefore a little more expensive) from major expensive department stores.  I’ve even seen Prada bags there for way cheaper than usual just because they’re a few seasons old.  Either way, they’re both a hotbed of major bargains, especially with their sale.  It’s not to be missed.

The second store worth mentioning is Azalea.  It’s a bustling boutique in Hayes Valley in SF and it’s on a great street where you can do some fun shopping on a weekend afternoon.  And Azalea even has an adorable nail salon WITHIN the boutique that takes walk-ins.  It’s a great concept.

But what may be even better is their online store.  If you go to www.azaleaonline.com, just check out their Sale section.  There’s a “Bargain Bin” full of great distinctive fashions, some even as low as just $20!  And they even have free shipping, so you don’t even have to be in SF to enjoy the bargains!  I can’t confirm if they have the same bargain section in the store (if they do I haven’t noticed it yet), but if you get free shipping online anyway, you can’t loose.

Posted in Food, San Francisco

It’s not New York, but it’ll do.

ts-joint.jpg

Flickr photo by tspauld

My friends know how I complain that you can’t find a REAL Jewish-style corned beef, pastrami, or Reuben sandwich in the Bay Area (like the ones you find in NYC).  It’s so damn frustrating, especially if you’ve got a real hankering for one.  But while trying to find some interesting food to eat between films at the Asian American Film Fest. in S.F. recently, my husband and I walked into Tommy’s Joint on Van Ness Ave.

First off, it was like stepping back in time.  It looked like nobody had touched the interior of the place since it opened, which was exactly 60 years ago this year.  I’ve heard many times about the great meats they serve and the fabulous sandwiches.  They’re a real S.F. institution and it shows.

Secondly, it’s cafeteria style food on one side, total dive bar on the other, so you don’t know where to go first.  It’s more of a hofbrau than anything.  My husband and I only had time to try a classic Corned Beef Sandwich and a side of pickled beets.  (He loves beets.)  It was extremely tasty!  It came with a side of au jus and hot and mild mustards at the table.  I really liked it!  Now don’t get me wrong, it’s no NYC sandwich, but it’ll suffice.  The meat was tender, moist, and flavorful, and not at all tough.  And it came on a soft sourdough roll, which made it distinctly San Franciscan.  The sides all looked tasty (I wanted the baked beans, but he loves his beets) and the pickled beets were mighty good.  They had enough vinegar to cut through the sweetness of the beets, but not so much that you were left puckering your lips.  And the red onions and parsley that they were obviously pickled with gave nice dimention to the dish.  Nicely flavored.

All in all, we can’t wait to go back.  There were so many other tasty things on the menu like Beef Burgundy Stew and classic Spaghetti and Meatballs.  The best thing about this place is that the food is authentic, they serve good portions, and the prices are right!  I like Harry’s Hofbrau in the South Bay but have always thought they were slightly overpriced for the quality of food.  Not at Tommy’s Joint.  The food was excellent and a much better value for hofbrau style food.

I still long for the Reubens I get back in NYC.  But until then, I’ll settle for a corned beef or pastrami from Tommy’s Joint.  It’s certainly better than the Mel’s Diner across the street.

Tommy's Joynt on Urbanspoon