Posted in Food, San Francisco, Travel

Pre-theatre meal…at the museum

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Photo from www.asianart.org

The Asian Art Museum is one of my favorite spots in all of San Francisco.  It’s full of fascinating art covering a vast variety of Asian cultures.  But its design is also very soothing, light, and airy.  It’s not at all intimiating like some modern museums can be.

So when my hubby and I were in need of a meal before heading to see Avenue Q at the Orpheum Theatre, we needed some options.  And because we parked for free right in front of the Museum, we decided to eat there.

I know, why would I write about what is basically a cafeteria in a museum?  Because it’s not ordinary cafeteria food.

The food at the Cafe Asia inside the Asian Art Museum is excellent.  For something quick yet delish, it’s the perfect spot.  And it’s worth a trip whether you’re visiting the museum for the afternoon, or not.  Just go to the front counter and tell them you’d like to eat at the Cafe.  They’ll give you a sticker and you’ll be allowed to eat at the Cafe and even browse the Museum Store!  Cool tip, huh?

It’s a little pricier than the usual food court restaurant or cafeteria, but it’s also much better.  Entrees run anywhere from $6 to $10 each. 

I had the Japanese Pork Pot Roast with Rice and Bok Choy.  The pork was tender and glazed with a thick miso type glaze and garnished with red pickled ginger.  It was a tasty dish that was both subtle yet hearty.  The flavors were classically Japanese, but the combination was very different from anything you’d find at a typical Japanese restaurant.  An innovative creation with wonderfully fresh, clean, creative flavors.

My husband had the Shrimp Stirfry with Black Bean Sauce and Veggies, served over rice.  The dish was clean and light, yet flavorful and satisfying.  The black bean wasn’t too overpowering and heavy, like it can be at many Chinese restaurants.  I never knew black bean sauce could be so subtle.  And the vegetables were cooked a perfect tendercrisp (the way they should be) and wonderfully fresh.   

On another previous visit, I had a bowl of Miso Soup and a pot of one of their traditional Japanese teas.  It was a wonderful snack because the soup had a clean flavor that wasn’t overly salty like so many miso soups can be.  And their tea selection is excellent.

The food here is elegantly presented on shinly white tableware that’s ergonomically pleasing with smooth, curved lines.  It adds to the zen feeling of the place.  This clean, simple, elegant design esthetic, along with the subtle yet distinctively flavored food is what sets this place apart from other casual eateries.  And if you happen to visit on a sunny day, there’s plenty of outdoor seating as well.

Food and service is quick, and despite my Japanese choices, they serve other Asian fare as well (pho, thai soups, curries, etc).  Some of their menu items also change periodically.

My hubby and I had such a nice meal at the Cafe Asia, we were practically skipping all the way to the Orpheum. 

And by the way, Avenue Q was fabulous!

Cafe Asia (Asian Art Museum) – 200 Larkin Ave. – San Francisco – 415.581.3500

Cafe Asia on Urbanspoon

Posted in Food

A bad trip to the east

Those who know me know that Chinese food is usually not my first choice when deciding what to eat.  But when I get the urge to have some, it’s usually regional Chinese.  What that means is no generic chow mein or kung pao.  That’s about as original as McDonald’s in the realm of Chinese food.

I usually go for braised meats in hearty sauces, dumplings with flavorful fillings, or noodles with distinctive ingredients.  That’s usually cuisine that hails from northern China.  Southern Chinese food is more about rice and family style dishes, whereas northern Chinese food is more about doughy foods.  Hence the noodles, dumplings, etc.

I visited East Shanghai Restaurant in San Mateo when the craving hit a few nights ago.  My hubby and I had never been, and we didn’t feel like driving to our favorite Shanghainese restaurant in Millbrae (the awesome Shanghai Dumpling Shop on Broadway).  The place was pretty clean and everyone eating there was indeed Chinese.  Two good signs!

We started with the Fish Fillet and Yellow Chives.  A wonderfully mild dish with fresh veggies, sweet yellow chives, and a mild super tender fish.  I loved the clean flavors in this dish with a hint of garlic and ginger.  I’d definitely order this again.

Next up was the Shanghainese Sweet and Sour Spareribs.  This is sweet and sour like I remember my Grandmother making it.  No orange sauce, heavy breading, or green and red peppers on the plate.  That stuff is gross to me.  These pork sparerib pieces were covered in a deep, rich, vinegary brown sauce.  Sugar cuts through the sour tang of the vinegar and adds viscosity to the sauce.  The flavor was wonderful, but the meat was on the tougher, drier side.  It looked like there just wasn’t enough fat on the meat to make it perfectly flavorful and tender.  It was a big drawback, but I’d order it again because of the flavor, and in hopes of getting a better cut of meat.

And last on the table were the braised Lion’s Head Meatballs.  This is one of my all time favorite Shanghainese dishes.  Unfortunately, East Shanghai just didn’t deliver.  The texture was way too fatty and the sauce lacked depth.  There wasn’t any detectable hint of star anise or cinnamon, which is what makes this dish so distinctive.  And the meat’s texture was way too greasy and fatty (they could have used some of this fat in the sparerib dish).  A real disappointment.

The total tab (with steamed rice) came to $26, without tip, which was very affordable.  But I’d have a hard time going back when there are so many other Shanghainese restaurants in the area that could probably do these dishes better.  In fact, there are two other places on the same street I’d probably try the next time my craving hits.

East Shanghai Restaurant – 105 W. 25th St. – San Mateo – 650.522.9098

Shanghai East on Urbanspoon

Posted in Food, Travel

Fried Food Heaven

I’ve written before about my love of all things fried.  Fried calamari, garlic french fries, fried chicken, tempura…the list goes on and on.  If it’s fried, chances are I’ll like it.

But I’ve never been a huge fan of artichokes.  I don’t hate ’em, but they usually don’t do much for me. 

I was at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk yesterday and a friend who was with me said I had to try the fried artichokes at one of the food stands.  I was in heaven to begin with with the smell of corn dogs, funnel cakes, and garlic fries wafting through the air (I didn’t get to have any of those things.  That’s a whole different story).  But I’d never had fried artichokes before and I was certainly game to try some.

artichokes.jpg Flickr photo courtesy of “hhd”

My friends and I shared two baskets full of these greasy little morsels.  The artichoke hearts were deep fried to a nice light brown and were absolutely delicious.  They were light, crisp, and the batter had specks of what I’m guessing were herbs or seasonings.  And the artichoke hearts didn’t taste like they came from a jar or a can.  Those can be annoyingly zesty and sour, almost like they’re pickled.  They also came with some generic ranch dressing, which I used for a couple of pieces.  But they were so tasty they almost didn’t need them. 

If I hadn’t left the Boardwalk so soon I would’ve tried a deep fried Twinkie, too.  Then again, maybe I saved myself from a heart attack.

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk – 400 Beach St. – Santa Cruz – 831.423.5590

Posted in Food, San Francisco

The cream of the crop

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Beard Papa is in Japan what Krispy Kremes, in their hayday, were to us.  People go crazy over this stuff in Asia, and they’ve finally come to America.  The company’s logo is an animated character that’s a cross between the Gordan’s Fisherman and Santa Claus.  My husband says he kinda looks like Ernest Hemingway, but I digress…

They’ve got three Bay Area locations: two in San Francisco and one in Redwood City.  So what’s all the fuss?  It’s not like any other cream puff you’ll have.  First off, it’s much larger than the classic cream puff.  It’s somewhere between the size of a donut and a traditional puff.  Secondly, the pastry is composed of two layers: slightly crisp on the outside and pillowy soft on the inside.  Third, the cream inside really isn’t.  It’s more of a light custard.  It’s texture is silky, light, and perfectly airy.

They only come in chocolate and vanilla bean cream, but they also offer a weekly special flavor.  On this visit, it was Tiramisu.  The cream’s flavor was richer than the usual vanilla, yet the texture was still light.  It was really more of a coffee flavor than tiramisu, but it was a nice change from the usual. 

But I saved the best for last.  The vanilla bean flavor is still the best, in my opinion.  The filling is at once eggy and light, flavorful yet not too sweet.  It’s so mild and subtle and never overpowering.  I just love the texture of the cream and pastry.  And together it’s a great combination of crisp and creamy.

Japanese desserts are typically lighter than their western counterparts, and this cream puff is no exception.  It’s so delicate in its construction and flavors.  And they even claim to use all natural ingredients, no preservatives, and organic vanilla beans.  The puffs are made fresh everyday and filled with the cream when you order them, so they don’t get soggy.  You should eat them immediately after purchase. 

Even somebody like me who doesn’t have a big sweet tooth could easily have more than one.  Tasty!

Beard Papa San Francisco Shopping Center / 99 Yerba Buena Ln, S.F. / 835 Middlefield Rd, Redwood City