Posted in Dinner, Food, Lunch, Review, San Francisco, Street Food, Tips, Travel

Food Adventures in Chinatown

Roasted meats in the window of Kam Po Kitchen in SF Chinatown.

Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, popular Asian supermarkets like 99 Ranch, Marina, or HMart didn’t exist. But Chinese food did, and as a home cook, you needed to go somewhere to find all the “foreign” produce and supplies you needed to make a decent Chinese meal at home. So my family and I traveled to San Francisco’s Chinatown every Saturday afternoon from the suburbs to do just that. That tradition of sorts continued every weekend into my early teens, and I haven’t really been back regularly since. You see, all the popular, modern, and frankly better Chinese restaurants planted themselves either outside of Chinatown or even outside of S.F. altogether, following younger, newer immigrants into the suburbs who wanted bigger houses and better schools. And with items like bok choi and ramen easily accessible at almost any neighborhood grocery store, Chinatown got a bit left behind. That’s why you’ll see either tourists (Grant Ave.) or older Chinese folks (Stockton St.) in the area these days. And to be honest, if you’re looking for exceptional Chinese food, you won’t find it here.

However, I was recently inspired to scope out some notable exceptions. So I dragged my family and friends to Chinatown for a short food crawl. After visiting a few bakeries, dim sum shops, and the like, we had two clear cut winners. (And Golden Gate Bakery was not open, so no classic Egg Tarts this time around. 😦 )

We LOVED Kam Po Kitchen (801 Broadway & Powell in San Francisco). Why? Just look at the pics! Beef Chow Fun, Wonton Noodle Soup, Hong Kong Style (crispy) Tomato Beef Chow Mein, Gai Lan (greens) with Oyster Sauce, and some exceptional Roast Duck made for a terrific traditional Cantonese lunch. I equate places like this, where they have roasted meats hanging in the window, to a Chinese deli. The food is casual, unfussy, affordable, comforting, and delicious. Ironically, places that do this type of food well are not as easy to find around the Bay Area anymore. We also spotted locals lining up out the door to grab some roasted meats to go. If you’re in the area, skip the kitschy tourist traps on Grant Ave. and head up here. It’s worth it.

Various goodies from Dim Sum Bistro

If you’re wanting some grab and go dim sum, Dim Sum Bistro (675 Broadway St, S.F.) was our favorite of the places we tried. They had fresh, tasty items like Steamed Chive and Shrimp Dumplings, Shrimp & Pork Siu Mai, Sesame Balls filled with sweet red bean paste, and my childhood favorite, White Sugar Cake (which is really hard to find these days). Seating is very limited, and frankly, you’d be better off just getting it to go instead. It’s crowded and there’s nothing in the way of ambiance here.

The Chinatown of my childhood really hasn’t changed much. And in the case of these delicious delicacies, that can be a very good thing.

Posted in Dinner, Events, Food, Lunch, Review, San Francisco, Street Food, Travel

The Best San Francisco Restaurants and More: The Podcast

Wayfare Tavern’s Fried Chicken (photo property of VirgoBlue)

I recently had a great discussion with Seth Resler of Mystery Meet, where food lovers in the Bay Area can get together at a restaurant in San Francisco (that isn’t revealed until 24 hours before) and discuss their love of all things culinary.

Here’s my podcast interview with Seth of Mystery Meet discussing all my favorite eats in San Francisco. I basically leave no stone unturned, talking about my favorite purveyors like Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen, Wayfare Tavern, Frog Hollow Farm, Curry Up Now, 4505 Meats, my thoughts on the SF vs. NY food debate, my pick for the best date/anniversary restaurant in town (it’s not what you think), my love of Thomas Keller, why the food truck trend has exploded, and even manage a BlogHer Annual Conference plug. Obviously, I’m in marketing. 😉

It’s all here: http://mysterymeet.org/find-dining-podcast/podcast-episode-8-wayfare-tavern-in-san-francisco/

YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4C7IfmpaD-o&feature=youtu.be&a

Wayfare Tavern on Urbanspoon
Sociale on Urbanspoon
Wise Sons Deli on Urbanspoon

Posted in Dinner, Food, Lunch, San Francisco

A Classic Yet Modern French Bistro: Chez Papa Resto

Sometimes it’s hard to find a classic French meal. In a town where every new restaurant is trying to outdo the other, simplicity can be hard to find.

But the folks at Chez Papa Resto have it down pat. Yes, the portions might be a little bigger than those you’d find in Paris, but I’m not complaining. The decor here is also very San Francisco with deep colored walls, modern and sophisticated decor and rich purple drapes. But the food and service is very French, meaning the staff knows their stuff. But let’s not mistake that for pretentious. This is not that kind of place. The crowd is very hip San Francisco.

This is true right from the get-go. The waiter was friendly, accommodating, and slick, but not sleazy. We ordered the Prix Fixe menu, which included the Butternut Squash Soup, Steak Frites and Profiteroles for dessert. See, I told you it was classic French!

Butternut Squash Soup

Everything was just as you would expect. It was delicious, richly flavored, yet never too bold that the flavors were overpowering or in your face. It was a perfectly smooth and fresh soup, an expertly cooked piece of meat with delicious buttery garlic flavor and perfectly tasty fries, and the profiteroles were rich and delicious, but never too sweet.

The meal may have set me back a pretty penny, but it was an expertly crafted meal and a wonderful experience that took me back to Paris, so I’d say it’s worth it. Plus the fact that the location is so conveniently located close to San Francisco Center and the Mission and 5th Garage, certainly helps.

I had forgotten to take my credit card with me after we left the restaurant, so I returned shortly thereafter to retrieve it. The Manager who was also manning the host’s station was charming and funny. He even gave me a hug! And his heavy French accent was nothing short of adorable. The classic charming French man :). Even when I arrived, his dapper and nicely suited self was so accommodating, he asked if I liked my table or if he could do something to shade me from the sun that was shining in from the window in front of me.

All that attention to detail is what makes this place better than standard and different than just “simple”. It makes you appreciate the finer things that take a little extra effort. When someone cares about what they do, how they treat others and what they serve, it shows.

This is one of those places.

Chez Papa Resto on Urbanspoon

Posted in Dinner, Events, Food, For Kids/Parent, Lunch, San Francisco

A Foodie Feast at Bruce Hill’s Zero Zero

Zero Zero's Margherita pizza

Hopes were high for famous pizza master, Bruce Hill’s new San Francisco outpost, Zero Zero.  He’s most known for his legendary pies at Larkspur’s Pizzeria Picco, and San Francisco Chronicle’s Michael Bauer recently declared Zero Zero the “French Laundry of pizza”.

I’m sorry Mr. Bauer, but I have to kindly disagree.

We’d notified the Zero Zero staff that our table of 15 food bloggers were planning on descending on his new restaurant for Saturday brunch, so there was full disclosure.  We are a critical, fun-loving, pizza loving bunch and Bruce himself decided to come out and say hello. His only request?…That we get loud and have fun while we were there. Check!

Food bloggers @virgoblue @istelleinad @lickmyspoon @brittanypiehl @joanneisafoodie @bonni_bella @inuyaki @mrfredbriones

The space is perfect for large groups and beer loving, bar-hopping foodies. They’ve got two bars and plenty of space for large tables.  The decor is very pub-like, but nothing particularly special or sophisticated. Just casual and comfortable.

So we ordered just about every pizza on the menu, including the Margherita, which is the standard by which all Neapolitan pizzas should be judged. This one had a good charred crust, fantastically flavorful yet mild and creamy mozzarella cheese and a fresh tomato sauce. I would’ve liked a little more zest or overall flavor from the sauce, though.

Zero Zero's Mission pizza w/broccoli rabe

We also ordered the Townsend (garlic, potato and prosciutto), Mission (broccoli rabe, garlic, olives) and Fillmore pies (Hen of the Woods mushrooms, leeks, fontina).  All were somewhat unspectacular and not particularly memorable.

But I really enjoyed the Geary, which had clams, tomato sauce, garlic and bacon. The combo of flavors on this one popped and made for the most memorable pie on the table.

We also ordered some Fried Chicken Thighs with Semolina Waffles. The waffles were slightly grainy because of the semolina but had a great flavor. The chicken, however, had a strange flavor that just didn’t work. One of the plates was even so disturbingly flavored that we informed the kitchen. It could’ve been rancid oil, or a dirty skillet that had leftover bits of flavor from a previous night. The staff was kind enough to offer a second plate of chicken on the house (and comped our other plate as well). I wish I could say it was good but it wasn’t. The breading was too thick and oddly flavored. But the chicken thigh itself was super juicy, tender and delicious.

All in all, I’d highly recommend this place for large parties or as a place to kick back at the bar that’s a definite step up from Bucca di Beppo or your neighborhood dive bar. A good place for groups is a great thing to have in your back pocket.

However, as a food blogger, I can’t say I’d ever go back for the pizza itself.

Zero Zero on Urbanspoon

Posted in Food, San Francisco

A Sea of Blue

The decor and color scheme of La Mar along the San Francisco Embarcadero waterfront is stunning. Bright crystal blue water tones, white, silver, and a stunning view of the bay make this restaurant a hip, sophisticated yet soothing place to dine.

And thankfully, the food was nothing to scoff at either. And the presentation for many of the five dishes we had was beautiful.

Super fresh seafood is the star here, obviously hence the name of the restaurant, which means “the sea”. This is the first American outlet of this Peruvian chain restaurant. But that doesn’t mean quality and service suffer for it.

We started with a basket full of housemade sweet potato, potato, and banana chips accompanied by three creamy and very different dipping sauces. What a way to start a meal! I’m a chip fiend so I loved this alternative to the boring bread basket, and so did my dining companions.

They are known for their cebiches (or ceviches, as know them) and our shared ahi tuna version was delicious. Big chunks of raw fish swam in a wonderful vinegary sauce with red onion and a touch of avocado. Ironically, however, the ahi lacked any exciting fresh taste of the sea that I was hoping for. It was fresh, but lacked character. But the dish was still delicious.

Our second starter was the “tiraditos”, or basically a sushi roll. Ours had fresh crabmeat, ahi tuna, and a passionfruit and honey sauce drizzled over it. It was fine, but again, the ahi lacked any clear strong flavor of the sea, and the dish was overall pretty boring. Nothing different from your standard sushi fare.

Our entrees included the antichucho de carne (skirt steak skewer), the causa limena (Peruvian whipped potato with dungeness crab and quail egg), and the stewed chicken empanadas. Everything was good, but nothing exceptional…except for the causa limena. The presentation, alone was impressive. But for me, the dish was my fave of the afternoon. There was real texture and flavor contrast and all the different elements just worked together. It was exotic, sophisticated, and yet somehow a comfort dish that was decadent.

Dessert was a wonderful revelation as well. We ordered the orange glazed chocolate beignets with banana passionfruit ice cream. I’m usually not into rich desserts but this was perfect! Not cloyingly sweet and the dark chocolate had real depth, almost a nutty flavor that wasn’t too bitter at all.

Service here was wonderfully friendly, yet expert and unobtrusive. I look forward to going back, hopefully on a warm sunny afternoon so I can sit in the large patio area out back and just look out on the water. Ahhh…

La Mar Cebicheria Peruana on Urbanspoon