Sunday, September 30, 2007

Hog Island Oysters

Oysters grow in sea water, but require relatively still water rather than crashing ocean waves to mature. Luckily we live only an hour's drive from Tomales Bay, an inlet protected by the Point Reyes Peninsula, perfect for raising fine oysters. Heading straight to the source on a gorgeous day, we sampled three types, Hog Island Kumamotos, Hog Island Small Sweetwaters, and Tomales Bay Oyster Co's Medium Pacifics. The Kumamotos are a specialty of the Hog Island Oyster Company, small, about four can fit in the palm of an average hand, with a creamy flavor, slight sweetness and a neutral brine in each little shell. I've never tried to bbq these as they are just too small and delicate tasting for the grill. They are great with a little bit of mignonette sauce or just plain. We also enjoyed the Small Sweetwater Oysters from Hog Island, these are about twice the size of the Kumi's, filled with a saltier brine, but the oyster meat itself is sweeter. Again, the smalls are also too small for bbq'ing.

Left are small and extra small sweetwaters, Right is a bag of fifty kumamotos.

Barbequing at Tomales Bay provides some hot food to balance the chilled raw oysters. Tomales Bay Co's Pacific Oysters are great for grilling. The medium is just the right size, enough for one big bite. They are large and meaty enough to stand up to a fire, but not so gigantic that they are fleshy and flavorless. A few minutes on the grill and they pop open, a minute more and the meat is juicy and tender cooked in its own brine.

Nothing beats eating oysters at the source and shucking them yourself while enjoying a view of Tomales Bay with other oyster fans.

Left is a Hog Island Small Sweetwater and Right are five Hog Island Kumamotos.

I brought home some kumamotos and had them the next day. They can be stored in a cooler on ice so long as they are not sitting in melt water.

Saturday, September 29, 2007


Shalizaar has been open at this new location in Belmont for less than two weeks. The building seems entirely brand new, the floor, the bar and furniture is upscale and that's also reflected in the menu prices. At lunch hour, the dress was business casual to semi-formal and the service was excellent. Every table was taken and the bar was only place to eat without a reservation. Once seated, I received a basket of good quality walnuts, with a slice of feta and a mix of mint and basil. Soon thereafter warm pita bread from the wood fired oven arrived. According to the host the most popular starter is the Kashk-e-Bademjan, pureed eggplant and garlic, topped with mint and kashk. A huge serving of this came out and struck me as good, but nothing particularly special. On the other hand the Shishlik, marinated lamb chops were excellent, the marinade gave the meat a slight sourness which matched well against the salty caramelized edges of the chops. Dispensing with formality, I ate them like lamb lollipops. The meat was juicy and soft, though it still required a knife to cut rather than falling off the bone. The rice was particularly good. Later, I noticed that the menu offered several variations of rice, so rice is something they pay attention to, rather than just a plate filler. I'd come back again for a nice dinner, though I can't say that it's the best quality to price values out there.

300 El Camino in Belmont

Friday, September 28, 2007

Harmony Frozen Yogurt

Harmony in San Carlos is yet another yogurt place to jump on the Pinkberry craze. They use Straus Organic Yogurt and you can really taste the difference in the quality. It is thick and creamy. It tastes very natural and somewhat like sweetened sour cream, but not as tangy. The toppings are similar to those at the other Pinkberry knockoffs, but I noticed that several of the fruits are fruit in a syrup rather than just chopped up fresh fruit. For example, Yogurt Bar has fresh raspberries, while Harmony has a raspberries in syrup that looks like a chunky sauce. Don't know how it tastes, because I went with the classic plain yogurt and strawberry.

Comparing Pinkberry and its local descendents, Harmony is the thickest and creamiest, but also has the most neutral yogurt flavor of the three. Next comes Yogurt Bar which is also in the neutral yogurt flavor category, but is slightly more tangy and less thick than Harmony. Finally, Pinkberry is the iciest and most tangy with a lemony yogurt flavoring. It is probably the most artificial. At the moment, Yogurt Bar is my fave because it is natural and creamy, yet has some tang.

Thursday, September 27, 2007


I've had four different pies at Mission Pie: the Strawberry Galette, Giant Berry Galette, Walnut, and Banana Cream. All were good, with the walnut being my favorite. The strawberry is a great combo of sweet and tart with a good crust that is not too buttery and compliments the whole thing very nicely. The walnut is like a pecan pie flavor with the sweet gelatinous layer holding the walnuts to the pie crust. The crust on the walnut tartlette is a little thicker than the galette and works really well against the sweet layer. Banana cream is nice as well. Even though banana is not a fruit I particularly like, I happily finished off a slice. It is very banana tasting and has a nice thin layer of cream on top of the banana custard layer. I'm sure it would be a winner for banana fans. Personally, I think it could use a little crunch to it, perhaps adding some nuts on top -- so that it would have a similar flavor to banana nut ice cream. I wouldn't say that this is great pie, but it's good. Let's face it, SF isn't exactly brimming with pie shops. This shop is unique both for its focus on pie and for its social mission.

25th near Mission

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


El Tonayense Taco Truck on Harrison and 22nd. When you haven't eaten all day and have barely a jingle worth of change in your pocket, taco trucks are the way to go. This is one of at least four in the Mission, all of them scattered on or around Harrison Street south of Division. Though it makes no sense, the food at the trucks is better than their bricks and mortar taqueria on 24th Street.

For $7, I ordered two
Tacos al Pastor and two Tacos Tripitas, with the spicy sauce and extra jalapenos on top. Even though I ordered them with single rather than double tortillas, I could not finish more than three of these bundles of meat, onions, cilantro and sauce. The al Pastor is very juicy pork cut into tiny pieces and heavily seasoned so that the meat is red all the way through. In fact, the meat with the spicy sauce was slightly overwhelming. My favorite was the Tripitas. The tripe is cut into small pieces and crisped up on the grill so that it is crunchy on the edges, yet has a nice chewiness to it. I suspect they are crisped up with lard or some other pork fat because I could detect a little baconiness to them, but that might've just been the salty fatty flavor. The al Pastor is better than the one at Taqueria San Jose, but I would probably have it with no sauce or inside a quesadilla or burrito - something with cheese to balance the seasoning. The nice thing about the 22nd Street location is that there are a couple of tables with chairs that look like they belong to the corner cafe. Fortunately, they don't seem to mind that patrons of the truck are always using them.

Harrison at 22nd St.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


Tofu Village on Irving at 20th has taken over the space that once housed the only good Taiwanese restaurant in the city. Oh well. The space is the same, though they've added a flat screen tv to the wall and were playing some Chinese movie with Ziyi Zhang from Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. Despite the movie, the neighborhood and the previous version of the restaurant, there were quite a few people speaking Korean around our table. My caucasian friend pointed at the menu which shows a scale of spiciness from top to bottom: Extra Spicy, Spicy, Medium, Mild, and White. That's right, "White" is the mildest seasoning. We laughed.

This time I tried a straight up
Combination Tofu rather than getting a combo with some bbq. The Combo Tofu was in a nice sized bowl, bigger than the one at My Tofu House, and filled with large chunks of tofu. Though the flavor was there, I was a little bit disappointed with the skimpy fillings. Only a couple of pieces of clam and two very small shrimp with the head on top. At least the service was good, they kept asking if we wanted more panchan. The panchan was not terribly exciting, though they did give each of us our own little fish and as much japchae as we could eat. Unlike other tofu places, they didn't pour hot water into the stone rice bowl -- not that I ever eat that water mush, but I like the idea of it. The dinner for two came out to $24 including tip, so I can't complain. Though next time I'd order the Dae Ji Bulgogi or the Kalbi.

Previous Tofu Village Post

Irving at 20th

Saturday, September 22, 2007


Hong Kong Wok is a casual Chinese diner owned by the same outfit that runs The Kitchen in Millbrae and Los Angeles, Asia Pearl, and another restaurant called New Canton in Sacramento. Unlike the other four restaurants, Hong Kong Wok has a completely different menu. The casual diner-style offerings include Hainanese Chicken, Roast Duck, Bubble Tea, Duck Tongue, Spicy Salty Squid, BBQ cold plate with bbq pork, jelly fish and the like. The family set dinners are a very good value. A five dish dinner for four is only $28. Everything is just a little better quality than what you'd get at a typical Chinese diner. The clams with black bean sauce had some special flavor to it (perhaps hot oil or sesame?) The sweet green bean dessert soup had the essence of orange. The cod and tofu clay pot was filled with large pieces of fresh cod in a sauce that was light and balanced -- not heavy and overpowering like many clay pots.

rib eye steak and mushrooms from The Kitchen is made here with a different cut of beef, but still very good. The seafood part of the menu actually has some of the dishes offered at the Kitchen and New Canton (with the same prices) -- the last time I had the Scallops with Tender Greens and it was cooked exactly like the one I had at New Canton with the exception that the scallops were not as large and fresh. I'm guessing that this is a training ground for the chefs so the cooking is the same, but the ingredients are the second pick from their larger more upscale big brothers.

Friday, September 21, 2007


Sacramento Eats - Mikuni's, New Station, New Hong Kong Wok, New Canton.

New Station
- Giant Clam; New Canton - Steamed Striped Bass, Scallops with "Macadamia" Nuts, Mango Tapioca Dessert; Mikuni's - Peter 2 Roll with deep fried shrimp, crab salad, spicy tuna, avocado, masago, spicy sauces, Sashimi Plate.


Bar Tartine has no real sign, but everyone knows exactly where it is. Right on Valencia between 16th and 17th in a candle lit room with wood floors and a view of the kitchen -- perfect for a beautiful Friday night dinner. After looking at the menu we were thinking that it might be easier if we decided what we did not want to order because it would be a much shorter list than naming everything we wanted to order!

We started with the
Gorgonzola stuffed Medjool dates with aged balsamic. Being that I'm not a huge fan of very sweet things at the beginning of the meal, this was a little to sweet for me. The gorgonzola was clearly meant to balance and cut the candy sweet dates though it failed to do so, I was also unable to detect any tang from the balsamic. Next came a pair of starters. In front of me was the Marin Sun Farms marrow and grilled bread with persillade and arugula salad, which consisted of three bones sitting upright with small spoons dipped into the eye of the bone. Sprinkled on top was some sea salt and greens which looked like green onions, accompanying the marrow was some beautiful salad and perfectly grilled walnut bread. Scooping out the marrow revealed a gelatinous beefy semi clear mixture that I spread over the walnut bread. The crunch of the charred bread against the soft rich and beefy goodness was crunchy and melted in my mouth at the same time. This might've been my favorite dish of the evening. Definitely the riches savory dish we had. The Louisiana gulf prawns and sweetbreads with corn pudding, fingerling potatoes and padron peppers was much less of a revelation. Three smallish prawns nestled inside a salad of corn foam with bits of corn and bite sized pieces of sweetbread. I thought the prawn was o.k.,m not bad, but nothing in comparison to the marrow. In retrospect I should've eaten the prawn before the marrow.

Our mains were excellent across the board.
Alaskan Black Cod with Manila clams, chanterelles, hazelnuts, parsley pistou and poached farm egg was my favorite. Granted it was a light yet flavorful and well balanced dish of two succulent pieces of cod with crisped skin and a sauce of clams with mushrooms on a bed of crunch green beans. I broke the poached egg atop the cod, but it didn't seem to add much flavor and probably would've tasted better if we could've add more salt when the yolk mixed into the sauce. Next I sampled the Braised Berkshire pork belly with fresh shelling beans, bread crumbs and bacon vinaigrette which was a piece of pork belly about the size of my fist, crispy and crunchy on the outside tender and fatty on the inside with a slightly salty (in a good way) caramelized braisi ng juice surrounding it. The bacon vinaigrette with bits of bacon providing the seasoning for the beans. The bacon put this one over the top -- how can one argue with bacon vinaigrette atop a pork belly?

After the porkgasm, it was nice to have the light and fluffy
Potato gnocchi with hen of the wood mushrooms, roasted corn, sage, parmesan and truffle oil which could easily have been overpowered by the robus t flavor of the pork belly. Yet, no my friends, the gnocchi did not surrender. True, it had a soft airy texture, but it was like eating a flavorful cloud puff with sage, truffle and hints of toasted nuttiness. Desserts were the Chocolate Souffle and the Raspberry Fig Tart. I was not a fan of the Raspberry Fig Tart because the filling was far too treacle almost like a smuckers jelly, it could've done with a squeeze of citrus to cut the sweetness. The chocolate souffle wasn't much of a souffle in the traditional sense. It almost the consistency of chocolate fudge, a dense rich puck of chocolate topped with a dollop of a very nice pistachio cream. We a ll commented that it tasted more like flourless chocolate cake rather than a souffle. We drank the Navarro Gewerstraminer which was very good, not too sweet and complimented most of our meal. Fresh warmed bread from Tartine was put on the table with some creamy salted butter. This is the best table bread I've ever received at a restaurant. The service was excellent, the server knew his food and the atmosphere was casual and convivial, albeit in a rather dimly lit room. My only regret is that we did not have room to sample the cheese menu. I will definitely return for that and more.

Valencia at 17th

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

LA CICCIA***' revisited

My second time to La Ciccia, this time with E on a Tuesday night. Much less crowded than a Friday night. So far so good. We started with the appetizer special - braised tripe with saffron and truffle. In Florence, stewed tripe can be found at street stands where they serve it on bread like little hot sandwiches, so I was interested to see how a Sardinian restaurant would treat the dish. I loved it and would order it every time if it was on the menu, the tripe was cut into smallish slivers, soft and tender in a red colored heady sauce. I thought this dish was superior to the Tripa alla Fiorentina that I usually order at Delfina.

Our mains were the
Gnocchetti with Sausage and the Spaghetti with Tuna Heart. The gnocchetti came in a large dish filled with the chewy gnocchetti and Italian sausage. It was hearty and comforting, home style cooking. E commented that it was just like her grandmother makes. The spaghetti was perfectly al dente and well covered with flecks of Tuna Heart -- salty anchovy flavored purple colored flakes, and some very good olive oil with garlic. Both dishes hit the spot for me, though they were really a contrast in flavors. The salty sea flavored spaghetti and the earthy homey gnocchetti. The chef came out to ask whether we were enjoying our meal. I asked him about the tuna heart and he went to the kitchen to retrieve a package. It looked like a purple heart shaped piece of liver. He uses olive oil and garlic on the pasta then shaves some of the tuna onto it. He said there were only two families in Sardinia that produced the tuna heart and one of them recently stopped producing them because the patriarch had passed away. He said that he was one of the first to import the tuna heart and had to wait many months for the FDA to approve its importation into the U.S.

Thank goodness that SF has folks like him that care enough to bring the foods of their homeland to our fair city. Next time try: stew octopus, pasta with cauliflower and bottarga.

Previous post on La Ciccia

Church and 30th

Sunday, September 16, 2007


Instead of Dean's Cafe, this place should be called The Omelette. The large Denny's sized tri-fold menu is filled with at least fifty different omelettes. (Click on the menu pic to see for yourself!) The decor is faux wood paneling and a room full of 1960's style vinyl covered cushioned booths. This was a real blast from the past. Super casual and very old school, I half expected the waitresses to be named Flo and to be smoking as they took our order.

The omelettes are huge belly busters, I asked for mine: green chili, chorizo and jack cheese, egg white only -- I suspect they put about eight egg whites in there to compensate for the usual four full eggs they put in each one. Not to mention that these omelettes came filled to the brim like a one pound Mission burrito! Just the thing for a post exercise meal. Only in Pleasanton.

Monday, September 10, 2007


Update: This place is now Poc Chuc.

Lunch hour in the Mission is full of options. Why have carnitas or tripitas at one of the excellent taqueries everyday when you can throw in some regional variations from time to time? That is why I returned to Popol Vuh, a Yucatecan place on 16th and South Van Ness near the Jeep dealership. On my first visit with A, we sampled the panuchos. I asked for one with turkey, a traditional panucho filling, though it was not on the menu. The very friendly server (who seems like he's the owner) was happy to oblige. I found the panuchos to be as good as any I have eaten in SF. The menu states that the tortilla is handmade, I could definitely taste the difference. I'm sure that they hand make theirs on the premises. The pickled onions atop the panucho were bright and fresh and it seemed that the cook takes pride in her cooking. The second time I went, I peeked in the kitchen and was delighted to see a 60-ish year old Latino woman at the stove. She bore some resemblance to the server, so I'm guessing it's a family operation. Mom in the kitchen and son at the counter. No wonder they take such care with each dish.

This time I ordered the
Escabeche de Pavo which was a simple home style preparation of turkey in a meaty broth topped with some pickled onion and accompanied by pickled jalapenos. This was comfort food at its best, simple and warming. I felt really guilty about wasting the stack of beautiful handmade tortillas they set in front of me. So I immediately indicated that I wouldn't need them. Next time I need to try the Mondongo.

16th at South Van Ness

Saturday, September 8, 2007