Posted in Dinner, Food, For Kids/Parent, Lunch, Peninsula, South Bay

Pizza and Pasta Rule at Osteria Coppa

Perfectly acceptable pasta and mediocre slices of pizza are easy to find.  If you haven’t had a decent interpretation of either in a while, you can easily forget what a great version tastes like.

Let’s just say I’ve now been reminded.

Osteria Coppa in San Mateo is owned by the folks who run Sam’s Chowder House in Half Moon Bay; a Peninsula institution.  Executive Chef Chanan Kamen takes pride in his handmade pastas and hand-stretched pizzas, and it shows.  His resume includes Michelin-starred Quince and Jardinere in San Francisco, and Picholine and Tabla in New York City.

Osteria Coppa is a farm-to-table restaurant, meaning they use organic, locally sourced, artisanal ingredients.  They cure their salumi in-house, fire up hand-made pizzas in their stone ovens, and artfully make their own pastas.

I paid two visits to the restaurant and each time focused solely on the pizzas and pastas, the latter of which has been getting some positive mentions in both the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Jose Mercury News and The San Francisco Examiner, lately.

Braised Radicchio, Panchetta and Aged Balsamico Pizza

I tried both the house-made sausage, speck and crimini mushroom pizza, as well as the pancetta, braised radicchio and aged balsamico.  Both thin-crust, Neapolitan-style pies were fantastic for this simple reason: the fresh, creative topping combinations worked perfectly on an exceptional crust.

The flavors on both pizzas were well conceived, but I was particularly impressed with the pancetta, braised radicchio and aged balsamico pie.  It was one of the best pizzas I have had in a while.  I fell in love with the wonderfully tangy sweetness of the balsamico.  It made me wonder why I hadn’t tasted balsamic vinegar on a pizza before!  It was the perfect match for the meaty, fatty goodness of the of pancetta bits.  And the radicchio was an edgier stand-in for the typical red onions.

My dining companion at one point declared, “Even the crust is great on this pizza!”  The crust was perfectly crisp and charred on the bottom, pillowy soft and sweet on the inside.  If you order just one pie while you’re there, this is the one.

As far as Osteria Coppa’s pastas go, the San Jose Mercury News has called them “exquisite”, and even named the Tagliatelle Bolognese one of the Top Ten Dishes of 2010.

Tagliatelle Bolognese

There are plenty of places that make their own pastas, but they either make the mistake of overcooking it so that it becomes mushy (fresh pasta should take no longer than a few minutes to cook), or the flavor is way too doughy and floury, without enough focus on fresh, quality ingredients.

There’s no risk of either here.  Preparation, ingredients and technique all have equal importance.  The Fettuccine Marinara with cauliflower and broccoli rabe was perfectly al dente, and the noodles were delicious with a wonderful eggy, almost buttery flavor.  The freshness of the vegetables was obvious and actually made the dish seem light.

But I can confirm that the recent attention on the Tagliatelle Bolognese is well warranted.  The dish was nothing short of fabulous with its smooth, rich pork and deliciously creamy sauce.  And once again, the noodles themselves were the star in both texture and taste.  But for all the richness of this dish, it never seemed overly heavy.

Blood Orange Lemonade

Aside from the pizzas and pastas, the house-made blood orange lemonade is more proof of the inventive items on the menu.  It’s a fun twist on the typical lemonade and it shows how the restaurant takes full advantage of their access to great fruits and vegetables.  They use unconventional ingredients and combine them in a way that makes you feel like every item is fully realized.

Service is casual but expert.  There’s no pretentiousness from the staff, and families are welcome.  In the Bay Area, that’s a welcome change for a restaurant of this caliber.  They’ve done a successful job of creating a warm, sophisticated yet easy vibe here.  Chef Kaman was an expert pasta maker while at Quince, and the peninsula is lucky he’s decided to bring his four-star talents to suburbia.

Posted in Dinner, East Bay, Food, Lunch, Peninsula, San Francisco, South Bay, Street Food

Food Trucks: Curry Up Now Is Here To Stay

Curry Up Now truck.
Curry Up Now truck. Photo: Rana & Akash Kapoor

As one of the first food trucks to hit the Bay Area culinary scene, Curry Up Now has seen all the trials and tribulations that come with this niche business. They specialize in authentic Indian street food with some fusion elements thrown in for good measure.

Their menu items and locations change regularly so it’s always a good idea to check their website, Facebook or Twitter posts for daily updates. But they usually have a few regulars on the menu that stay constant, including their made-to-order Chicken or Paneer Kathi Roll and creamy Chicken Tikka Masala Burrito, mixed with fragrant saffron basmati rice and then wrapped in a tortilla. But my personal favorite is the Deconstructed Samosa, which is their homemade potato and pea stuffed pastry pocket, fried and then topped with mini-samosas, spicy chickpea curry (chana), tomatoes, red onions, tamarind sauce, their secret green sauce and your choice of ground beef (keema), chicken or paneer (vegetarian option). Their food is so good, it’s now become a weekly craving for me. And I’m obviously not the only one because their fourth truck is expected to hit the East Bay soon.

Deconstructed Samosa
Deconstructed Samosa. Photo: Elaine Wu

I sat down with husband and wife team, Rana and Akash Kapoor, to ask them what they’ve learned, what’s next, and why it’s all worth it.

Where did the inspiration to start a food truck come from? You were one of the first ones on the scene.
AKASH: The idea started in early 2009. Then we got serious in the summer and launched on September 26th, 2009. It was a trend in Southern California and in Portland and we kind of took inspiration from everyone else’s ideas and threw ours in there and that’s how we started.

With weekly appearances in San Francisco, the Peninsula, the South Bay and now the East Bay, is your Bay Area wide domination complete?
AKASH: We’ve always wanted to serve our food to people all across the Bay Area. So now we’ve got 4 trucks hitting all the major areas, and we’d like one or two more as a “backup” or roving truck.

What are your plans for the future? I’d heard speculation at one point about franchising.
AKASH: Right now we’re very serious about opening a brick and mortar restaurant. In fact, it’ll hopefully happen within the next 90 days or so. That’s where we see the growth potential. We’re hoping eventually to start franchising and perhaps grow to multiple locations all over the country. A bit like a Chipotle or Panda Express, but with quality Indian food. The food quality is still and always will be the number one priority for us. But the restaurant will serve everything we do on the truck with perhaps 10 or 15 more items. Some things we’ve always wanted to serve but are impossible to make on the truck, like desserts and more entrées. As far as the trucks are concerned, we’ll keep them as is and maybe add a couple more. They all have to go through health inspections and the permit process. It takes a while.

What do you think the future is for street food in the Bay Area? Is it just a fad?
AKASH: I think the U.S., in general, adopted street food quite late and Northern California, in particular. There’s street food everywhere, especially on the East Coast. I think it’s here to stay.

RANA: It’s an alternative food movement for those who want to experience the food and culture of a region and the Bay Area street food scene is no different.

AKASH: I think because there seems to be a new truck on the scene almost every week, there’s gonna be consolidation and bigger players will take over because it’s hard to survive and grow and make money. Because if you don’t grow, you’re gonna go away.

We’re hearing a lot lately about brick and mortar merchants complaining that food trucks who park in their neighborhoods are stealing business from them. What are your thoughts around that?
AKASH: I believe some of these mom and pop places need to step up their game! Whether you’re a food truck or a sandwich shop, people have to like your food and you have to offer something different that you can’t get everywhere else.

RANA: We still go through it everyday with restaurants in the neighborhoods we visit. We went through it in Burlingame, but the city and the people have been great. One merchant came and cussed us out early on when we were out there. But you also have to be sensitive to the merchants around you. We try to stay away from restaurants that serve food similar to ours. If we park right in front of a coffee shop, we don’t serve chai because it’s probably on their menu, too. You have to be supportive. I mean, why not work together? There was one instance where the merchant came out and gave our customers samples! When you want to work together, something good can come out of it.

What is your opinion of other street food trucks? Are they competition or is it a community.
AKASH: People should respect when someone’s been in a location for a long time and not show up at the same time with the intent of stealing business. And it’s important for all of us food trucks to obey the parking rules. Everyone will get kicked out if someone steals 5 parking spaces. That doesn’t help anyone in the long run.

RANA: For example, if we want to go to a location that someone’s been at for a while, we call them directly and ask if it’s okay. Just call us! We’d love to build a community.

AKASH: I’ve actually been talking to the folks who run Off the Grid about starting an association for street food vendors and food trucks, especially in San Francisco. When traditional small businesses start bullying a food truck, whose going to advocate for us? We need a collective voice to represent this growing community.

You currently have over 4700 followers on Twitter and over 3600 Likes on Facebook. You’ve been through a lot of ups and downs, but your customers seem to be very loyal.
AKASH: They’re amazing. We listen to them and make changes all the time. When someone says that our food quality’s gone down, we listen. We call people who take the time to tell us how we’re doing. We make changes immediately.

What sort of wisdom can you impart to newer trucks going through it all?
AKASH: People need to do their homework before they go out. We didn’t and we’re still learning.

If it’s so much trouble, why keep doing it?
RANA: The passion. It’s always been there and it’s been a dream for both Akash and I. We’ve always loved to cook and entertain. And I love people. For me, I want people to tell me how they feel about the food and communicate with them. When people care, something good always comes out of that.

Posted in Dinner, Food, For Kids/Parent, Lunch, Peninsula, South Bay

Going to Town

The peninsula has a shortage of higher-end, hip, sophisticated eateries.  It’s just the nature of suburbia, and a trek to San Francisco is less than 30 minutes away.

That’s why Town Restaurant on Laurel Street in San Carlos is the hippest place to be on a Friday or Saturday night.  They do a good job of combining family-friendly eatery (good kids menu and service) with hot nightspot and bar (after 8pm the noise level is overwhelming with all the crowding around the centralized bar).  If you have kids, you’re only safe from 5:30-8pm.

That being said, I’ve never had a bad meal at Town.  If you love a hearty meat and potatoes meal, this is the place for you.  Portions are large, prices are equal to a joint in the city, and the cocktails are tasty.  You should definitely go with one of their suggested martinis (love the pear flavored one w/Gray Goose vodka).

I’ve had the Chicken and Ribs, Meatloaf, and their Pork Chop on previous visits.  But this time around, I had the newly added Bourbon Glazed Flank Steak.  It was cooked a perfect medium rare and had a delicious sweet yet tangy glaze with bourbon and brown sugar.  It was the best steak I’ve had in a long time.  Juicy and tender, there was a great balance of flavors and it didn’t mask the flavor of a quality piece of beef.  (My husband makes a MEAN steak so I don’t compare restaurant steaks to his :).)

If that wasn’t enough for you, the meal came with two hugely portioned sides.  You can choose from a laundry list of enticing sides, which is half the dilemma when ordering, like heirloom tomatoes with bleu cheese, broccoli bernaise, garlic mashed potatoes or a fully loaded baked potato.

I went with the fresh buttered corn and the mac and cheese.  Man, these sides were good!  This is my kind of meal.  The kind you’ll regret when you get home but it’s damn good going down.  This is like “last meal on earth” good.  I love how the corn was fresh off the cob, tender, still slightly crisp, and full of good buttery goodness.  And the mac and cheese is now my favorite on the peninsula: creamy and gooey, but enough baked breadcrumbs on top to give it texture.  LOVE IT!

It’s great to have a spot to go to where the food is always reliably fantastic and the scene is definitely hipper than the usual hole in the wall. 

Sometimes suburbia needs a touch of the city life.

Town: Chops, Steak & Seafood on Urbanspoon

Posted in Food, Peninsula, San Francisco, South Bay

Japanese Curry to Try Before You Die

The name “Muracci’s” sounds awfully Italian to me.  Supposedly, it’s the nickname of the owners’ son.

Instead, this restaurant serves up what is arguably one of the best Japanese curries outside of Japan…so I’ve been told.  7×7 Magazine even included it on their 100 Things to Try Before You Die list for 2010.  But with its San Francisco Financial District location and weekday only hours, I’d never make it down there.

So when they opened their second location in Los Altos (“Muracci’s 2 Japanese Curry and Grill“), I was thrilled.  Finally I’d get to see if it was worth the hype.

Some friends who tried it declared it was the best curry they’d had since visiting Japan.  I’ve never stayed in Japan long enough to try any curry, so I’d have to base my review solely on the dish’s individual merits.

The menu is very basic.  So instead of getting too adventurous, I decided to stick with what they’re known for and get the Katsu Curry w/Veggies (breaded pork chop).

The verdict?…It may well have been one of the best Japanese curries I’ve tried.  And I got it to go, so imagine if it had been fresh from the kitchen!

Muracci’s curry had many layers of flavor and a much more warm spicy flavor profile.  It’s not thick and pasty like the usual stuff served Stateside, but more of a gravy or sauce consistency.  And it’s not as sweet (other Japanese curries will typically add more apple to give it a fruitier sweet flavor and less heat).

The husband-wife team that owns these two restaurants make their curries from scratch.  It apparently takes two days to make and simmers for 20 hours.  The result is a curry that is rich, warm, and has a lot more depth in its flavor profile than most (think five spice or cloves).  I wimped out and ordered the “mild” version (there are three levels of heat to chose from), but I didn’t regret it since it had just a hint of real heat.  And the homemade soup stock base gave it a wonderfully meaty, robust flavor.

You also get some pickled veggies to start, which is a nice touch (they include some of it in your to go order, as well).  I hear it gets super crowded during the lunch rush, so come early or late.  It’s a tiny, yet clean restaurant, so it’s not exactly great for large groups.  I was also impressed at how genuinely friendly the staff was.

Muracci’s curry was different…a very GOOD different.  I will most definitely be back to try their other dishes as well as their curry noodle bowls.

It’s the perfect Japanese comfort food.  Just don’t come here expecting sushi!

Muracci's 2 on Urbanspoon

Posted in East Bay, Events, Food, Peninsula, San Francisco, South Bay, Travel

THE List is Out. Let’s Discuss.

The San Francisco Chronicle’s food editor, Michael Bauer’s much hyped, much anticipated, much revered, much loathed, much debated Top 100 Bay Area Restaurants list is officially out.

We all have our faves and question many of the ones that stay on the list year after year, compared to the ones that are glaringly missing, but instead of going into that endless debate (it really boils down to the fact that everyone has a right to their own opinions), here are the ones that I AGREE with on the list, the ones I DON’T agree with, along with the ones I would LOVE to someday soon.

AD HOC – This place defies explanation. Just go, already.
HOUSE OF PRIME RIB In the words of Carly Simon, nobody does it better.
PERBACCO Exceptional service, sleek design, impeccable food.
TOWN HALL Noisy as all hell, but I’ve never had a bad meal here…ever.

Who Cares?
A16 – Overrated.
CHOW – Very good, but not worthy of this list.
BETELNUT – So what? Asian tapas. Boring.
BAR BAMBINO – This was sooooo uninteresting to me.
FOREIGN CINEMA – Again, uninteresting and getting outdated.
SLANTED DOOR – Ugh, not again! There are so many other Vietnamese joints serving the same food for half the price!
LIMON – The food and service are SO subpar and have no place on this list.
ONE MARKET – Boring.
YANK SING – Seriously, this is the best Chinese the city has to offer? Look a little harder, Bauer.

When Can We Go?
COCO 500

Why, Bauer, Why?
GITANE – What a shame that this restaurant had to get cut from the list at the last minute. This is a beautifully decorated restaurant with a creative and distinctive menu. Others on this list should’ve been sacrificed for this one.

So Foodies, feel free to let me know your thoughts…