Monday, July 28, 2008


Very good service and a friendly proprietor. The Chaplee Kabob was similar to a schnitzel. Well Seasoned ground meat fried into a flat pancake form. We found both the Chaplee and Chicken Kabob flavorful though a bit dry.

We did not enjoy the Kadoo, the flavor was very flat and the herbs sprinkled on top did not integrate with the dish. It made me crave the Kadoo at Helmand Palace.

Overall, o.k. for a casual lunch if in the neighborhood.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


Lunch at Panda Country Kitchen. Spicy Beef Tendon is thinly sliced and better than Spices! version.

Did not like noodles overcooked doughy and bland. Fish fillets were fine though they had a texture that clearly indicated that they were from frozen fish.

Hot Boiled Beef excellent spicy with deep beef flavor and tender slices of meat. The MaPo is authentic, spicy, and has fresh soft tofu, but the sauce was a bit flatter tasting sauce than other places.

Geary at 11th

Friday, July 18, 2008

DOPO **'

Dopo has a few of tables out front which are perfect for a leisurely lunch in Piedmont's warm afternoon sun. Enjoyed the Neopolitan style pizza crust. Crispy on the bottom with a bit of chew on top. The topping was equally good: tomato sauce was smooth and tangy, high quality cheeses and meat.

The arancino rice ball stuffed with bolognese had a nice crunchy outer shell, but the rice to filling ratio was off. There was too much rice and the consistency of the rice was a little bit to gummy. The filling was a little bit bland which surprised me, given that I liked the pizza sauce. Next time just go with pizza and greens.

Piedmont and Echo, Oakland

Monday, July 14, 2008


Soup o.k., won tons very large and porky, noodles were overcooked. I prefer the soup at Just Won Ton and their won tons are better balanced between shrimp and pork.

Noriega and 32nd

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Mona Lisa, Bonaire

Best Fish on the Island.

Thursday, May 1, 2008


One of the pleasures of waking up late is spending the remainder of the morning reading the newspaper at a diner like Boogaloos. This is all but impossible on weekends in the City because of the lines that form at most brunch spots.

Lucky me, I had a special weekday morning with
Templed Spuds topped with an egg and a side of Andouille. Home fries, melted cheese, green onions, sour cream, salsa, friendly service, lots of coffee refills and no one rushing you out the door -- nice.

22nd and Valencia

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

SPQR ***

There are some people with whom it is difficult to have a bad meal. My friends J & A are one such couple, which is why I happily agreed to meet them at SPQR. The term SPQR is the abbreviation for the 'Senate and the People of Rome' (Senātus Populusque Rōmānus) and serves as the emblem for the City of Rome. The atmosphere is warm, but a little crowded like a busy Roman trattoria. As we waited for a table, folks were eating at the bar and enjoying wine while watching the chefs work their stations in the open kitchen. The menu consists of a long list of antipasti and a shorter list of entrees. Together we sampled eight antipasti and one entree.

From the cold side we started with the Sunchoke, radicchio, almond, parsley and tangerine salad. The sunchoke was decent, but the rest of the salad was deliciously bright with the citrus vinaigrette and the crunch of parsley. Something I would definitely order on a summer evening.

The Fennel Salad with tuna conserva, chiles and anchovy was my favorite, just the sort of salty sea flavored crunchy fennel with a slight bite from the chillis. I would like to figure out how to make this myself.

The Lobster brodo with shrimp had a very rich broth which was a little too salty for me, but still good with good quality shrimp and rapini. A liked this a lot with bread.

The brussel sprouts with garlic capers, lemon and parsley was crispy and the charred flavor went nicely with the fried capers. I like the crispy brussel sprout leaves and I loved the fried capers, good if a bit on the heavy side. Another one that I would order again.

The fried sweetbreads were smallish pieces of lightly breaded and fried sweetbread. The breading had a very delicate crunch and some nice seasoning. The celery garlic, lemon and oregano were hardly detectable, so the dish lacked some balance. Very strong sweetbread flavor, good for those that like offal.

The Mozzarella bocconcini with spicy tomato sauce was o.k. The bocconcini tasted of good quality, though the temperature of the cheese could've been a bit hotter. Perhaps not brought down to room temperature before frying for fear that they would ooze out of the fried shell. The tomato sauce was rather ordinary and not spicy at all.

One of the last antipasti was the house-made pork sausage with braised fennel. The braised fennel was fine. Braised in a tomato base, it was slightly sweet and looked like kimche (not a bad thing). The pork sausage was just o.k.,
it was rather one note and salty. Decent but not as good as the sausage I've been getting from Lucca lately.

The only miss of the evening (or perhaps just a little odd) was the grilled pecorino with endive, radicchio and capers. The grilled pecorino came crisped like a crepe, and tasted just like the cheese that oozes onto the grill out of your grilled cheese sandwich. I like the concept, but it was a bit too rich and oily without any starch to balance the strong flavor of the cheese. At least there was some endive and capers to cut the richness.

Our entree was the grilled sardines over a ceci puree. The sardines were about the size of a large finger, filleted and well cooked. Tender and had a subtle fish flavor, the texture of the fish worked well with the smooth chickpea puree and a bit of acid flavor to bring it all together.

We were enjoying ourselves so we stayed for a few desserts -- rice pudding and a duet of sorbets. The sorbets were caramel and I forget the other flavor. They were good. The rice pudding with dates was our favorite of the two. The rice pudding was a little on the sweet side for me, but I enjoyed the dates.

SPQR is located in the space that once housed Chez Nous. Not a huge space, just the right size for a neighborhood restaurant. Having heard about the crowds, we decided to head over early on a weekday. They arrived at a little after six p.m. and we were seated within fourty five minutes, which is not bad for the number of tables in the house. The service was excellent, the servers were knowledgeable friendly and genuinely seemed interested in making sure we had a good meal.

Thursday, April 24, 2008


Spices! Szechuan Trenz has two restaurants in SF a third in Oakland, and I hear there is a fourth on the way. We enjoyed lunch at Spices!3 in Oakland on a weekday when the restaurant was not too busy. Dishes are rated on spiciness from zero to three stars.

I am a lover of spicy foods, so I was delighted by the sound of items like "mind numbing spicy beef tendon" and "fish with explosive chili pepper." My lunch partner suggested we go easy, so I settled for the twice cooked crispy fish fillet -- a two star punch. We started with the plain stinky tofu because it had been a long while since I'd had the dish and I could not remember if I liked it or not. He ordered the dry braised pork intestines and the house brought us two bowls of hot and sour soup.

A good bowl of hot and sour soup is something that I like, and rarely come across. This was no exception. The complimentary soup had no flavor. No hot, just sour and thick with too much corn starch.

The stinky tofu was crispy on the outside and had good texture. I'm sure this was a good representation of this Taiwanese dish. After eating about four pieces, I confirmed that I do not like stinky tofu.

The meal was not off to a very good start, luckily the conversation and both of the entrees were good. The twice cooked crispy fish was a lightly breaded and fried fish fillets with a spicy sauce coating everything. The sauce was spicy, but still allowed the flavor of the moist fish to come through. I'd definitely order this again.

The Dry Braised Pork Intestines were spicier than the fish, slightly crispy from frying and accompanied by celery and jalapenos. The heat from the jalapenos somewhat overpowered the dish, but the pork was satisfyingly salty and spicy.

The spice level was extremely high by local standards. Even with the two star spiciness, I felt that any additional heat factor would cover up the other elements of the dish. Overall, I enjoyed the food, though it lacked the depth of spiciness that I'd tasted in Szechuan where the spiciness was high, but came in layers and waves of smoke, pepper, salt, and heat. Still, the menu at Spices! is so extensive and humorous ("Gangsta casserole murder style") that I'll have to return to try at least one of the "numbing spicy" dishes.

12th and Webster, Oakland

Monday, April 21, 2008

Delessio's Tres Leches Cake

Having enjoyed the tres leches cake from Delessio's several times at parties, I was surprised to learn that they served pieces of the cake at their bakery. When I arrived I noticed that the mini cupcakes were somewhat pricier than I remembered. A mini cupcake, which is equivalent to one bite of cake, costs almost two dollars.

The individually portioned tres leches were cut from a sheet cake, each rectangular piece topped with a swirl of the sweet whipped meringue-like icing and surrounded by a combination of strawberries and bananas. The taste of the cake was similar to the one's I'd had before, but the texture and proportions were off. This individual portion was thinner and thus the whole piece was completely drenched and soggy with sweet milk to the point of mushiness. My friend compared it to mushy oatmeal.

The full tres leches cake has various layers of soaking, the top layer being moist cake, the middle having more leches and the bottom being soggy sweet, the whole cake is surrounded and topped by the fluffy whipped topping, so each bite has a bit of icing and cake. All in all, I was disappointed by the individual serving of tres leches at Delessio. Next time, I will skip it and order a whole cake from them.

Market at Gough

Tuesday, April 8, 2008


One of my usual stops whenever I'm back in NYC, is Katz's Deli. I like the atmosphere and the pastrami is great. I used to frequent Second Ave Deli because it was closer to me and was more of a sit down place. Times have changed, there are modern lofts right near Katz's and Second Ave Deli is gone.

It was nice to have an early dinner at Miller's East Coast Deli because it gave me a chance to remember those places. The menu is authentic, monte cristos, pastrami on rye, brisket, matzo ball soup, knishes, they even have Dr. Brown's Black Cherry. The pastrami was served with the pastrami stacked high, potato salad and a good crunchy pickle. The rye was right and the pastrami was o.k. I little too thinly cut for my taste. That's the beauty of Katz, you can tell the guys to cut it thick and they always give you a sample while you wait. Miller's pastrami was well seasoned if a bit on the salty side, but generally the right flavor.

My friend had the Monte Cristo and loved it. Egg battered bread with the traditional fillings. We also had a good basket of onion rings which I would order again.

I'd come back, if only to have some onion rings and a pickle (and maybe I'd try the brisket). The food is fine. The main thing that is missing is the neighborhood feel. The staff at my old NY delis were these gruff and sometimes surly guys until you got to know them. Once familiar they became friendly but still had the rough butcher guy attitude. The service at Miller's was efficient, but lacked the gritty character of the old timers in NY. Our server was a youthful clean cut disaffected type that didn't say much and probably rode his bike to work. I guess that's the San Francisco touch.

Polk near Clay

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Berkeley Oakland Tour

G and I headed to Berkeley and Oakland for an afternoon of food. The goal was to visit some old stomping grounds, have fun, not explode, and be back to the City in time for dinner.

Vik’sHyderabadi Fish was the daily special, we enjoyed the fish and the mild buttery sauce. I love the pickled achar and papam that comes standard with the specials. We also had the pane puri which is the mini puris with potato, chickpea and mint. I prefer the giant puri’s and liked the look of the dosas being consumed around us, but felt that would be far too filling to start off our day. We also had the Dahi Pakori a lentil dumpling topped with yogurt, which I did not like because of its sweetness. This is not a negative reflection upon Vik’s preparation. I’ve had this dish at other restaurants and didn’t like it. I just keep forgetting that I don’t like it and for some reason the description always attracts me. Note to self no more Dahi Pakori. The last time I was at Vik’s was about six years ago and the furnishings were far different. Good to see the place doing well with real seating and nice new counters.

Acme – picked up an Epi loaf, Pain Levain and an almond croissant for later. I was disappointed by the almond croissant. The Epi loaf was good, but I still prefer the walnut bread at Tartine (as well as Tartine’s Frangipane Croissant).

Then headed to the Cheeseboard for pizza. The pizza du jour was Asparagus, Prima Donna Gouda, Mozzarella, Olive Oil, Lemon Zest, Garlic and Parsley. Beautiful pizza, thin with the right amount of cheese, the lemon and parsley really stood out. The bottom was wonderfully crisp and supported the softer layer of crust above. Hooray, a place with good crust!

Café Rouge. I wanted to buy some sausages and decided on a few of their house made Merguez and Seville sausages. The seville was made of pork, proscuitto, all spice, and Seville oranges. At home I found it very tasty, salty from the proscuitto, red and slightly citrus from the orange, the flavor profile reminded me of a milder version of Calabrese sausage. We also picked up some proscuitto for a cheese tray we were putting together. The proscuitto was excellent with the port salute cheese brought by E on Sunday; it was not as intense as the one from Lucca.

Headed to Ici. Tasted the Cardamom and Burnt Caramel. The burnt caramel had a bit too much of the bitter burnt flavor to me, I guess I’ve become accustomed to Bi-Rite’s salted caramel. The cardamom was good, but I settled on a Meyer Lemon with Gingersnap ice cream sandwich. Enjoyed the gingersnap layers very much and liked the Meyer Lemon ice cream, but it is slightly icier and more citrus than the one at Bi-Rite which I prefer. My friend had the Catalan Cream flavor and loved it. It was flavored with Anis, Vanilla and something else. She also loved the cone and commented that the flavors at Ici are fairly pure as if they should be served with something as a dessert. They are still good as stand alone ice cream (she preferred Ici to Bi-Rite), but better with the ice cream sandwich layer or their excellent cones. This made sense to me given that it was started by a former Chez Panisse pastry chef.

Off to Oakland's Chinatown where we had Har Gow at Delicious Foods. The Har Gow were particularly good, better than many of those I’ve had from the Clement take out places. Very good recommendation. A thinnish dumpling skin gently wrapping a soft shrimp filling. The wrapper was soft, not thick or gummy, and held together a substantial amount of shrimp. I will get those again.

Walked around the corner to Napoleon Bakery where we grabbed a couple of sponge cupcakes and custard tarts for later. The guy next to us was loading up on the cupcakes and said ‘these are great aren’t they, like biting into pillows.’ As I bit into one in the car, I found them soft and airy, simple and not too sweet. We consumed the tarts that night, nice egg taste, good crust - they held up well.

Then to Tao Yuen, a couple of doors down where we opted for the tofu skin rolls and a sesame ball. The tofu skin rolls were very crispy on the outside even though they had been sitting around and must have been fried a while ago. The flavorful filling had pork, shrimp, mushrooms, water chestnuts -- better than the soggy style served on Clement. The sesame ball was not good at all. Rice rolls were recommended, but both G and I agreed that we were not in the mood. I then sheepishly admitted I was not a huge fan of mantou or long rice noodles. G exclaimed “me too!” and we agreed that it was odd because many people whom we respect love them. We walked out and enjoyed our tofu skin rolls, happy with the knowledge that two people sharing the same stomach had managed to find each other in this crazy world of ours.

It was starting to rain, so we figured we better get to the taco trucks before it became too wet to eat outside. After cruising past several of them we stopped at Tacos Guadalajara. Both of us had al pastor. The al pastor had the spicy seasoning I expected, but the meat was cut a little more thickly than what I’m used to. I’m on the fence as to whether this was an improvement or not. There have been times I felt that the thin cut al pastor was too overpowering, this cut was thick and juicy and held up to the seasoning. The tortillas were slightly toasted, but still soft.

Made a short stop at Cinco de Maya Nieves shop on Int’l Boulevard where we were disappointed to find some regular ice cream bought wholesale. Of course, we were at the wrong place, not the food stall that we had intended to try. We ordered a hibiscus flavored snow cone. It was the typical kind that you get at a school fund raising carnival, but at least something to refresh us before we headed to Taqueria Sinaloa . The snow cone was too sweet and the ice was coarse (not like shaved ice in Hawaii). We would not come back here.

Finally a stop at Sinaloa where we ordered tacos de carnitas, al pastor and tripitas. The meat on the carnitas and al pastor were very tender and juicy. She particularly liked the soft juicy carnitas meat. The al pastor was tender though the sauce was slightly sweet, which I was not expecting. Tripitas were a bit of a disappointment for me, because the tripe was somewhat soft. I’m used to the Tonayense trucks where they fry the tripitas right before serving so that it gets crisped up to the consistency and taste of crisp bacon. The tortillas were crispy and a bit oily from frying. I’ll get the carnitas next time.

Thanks to the folks on Chowhound who armed us with recommendations and maps for our tour, I was happy with the food sites around Berkeley and Oakland. Even after trying eleven places in one afternoon, I was already thinking of new possibilities for further adventures.

Our day was a success, we had fun, survived without any permanent injury to internal organs and were back in time for dinner. Hopefully G will be up for Part Two on the next visit to SF.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Fairfax Scoop

The town of Fairfax is a good stopping point on the way to Point Reyes or beautiful Alpine Lake. Fairfax Scoop is a small ice cream shop that makes its own flavors with ingredients from local farms and dairies. The cones are freshly made good and the ice cream is natural. The draw that it's a local hangout with friendly service, house made cones, lots of kids and dogs hanging around outside. They even have a step stool running the length of the ice cream freezer so the little ones can look into the case and pick out their flavor. Everyone inside the store and out was spending a leisurely sunny afternoon in their neighborhood. We had Meyer Lemon, Green Tea, Strawberry, Chocolate and Honey Lavender Vanilla.

Thursday, March 27, 2008


There's something that always makes food taste better, like my mom cooking her special dish for me when I haven't been home in a long while, a celebratory meal with an old friend, eating anything outside on a nice day, or finding some special food when far from home. This may explain why I like the ramen at Yotteko-Ya so much. I was in Hawaii, so the sun was shining, it was warm and everyone was relaxed and smiling. By no means am I an expert or even well versed in the way of ramen, but Yotteko-Ya's is better than any I've ever tasted.

YY is the Honolulu shop of a Japanese chain serving Kyoto ramen. I've had several of their soups and thus far my favorite is the
Paitan Ramen ordered spicy with Japanese style noodles. The paitan soup is pork based with a deep, yet complex pork flavor with a hint of sea flavor. Almost as if the broth is salted with dried seaweed or mixed with their seafood broth. The menu claims that it has been cooked for ten hours with ten different vegetables and ten spices. Like tonkotsu soup, it's white and creamy in appearance. Though, the flavor does not taste creamy in the traditional dairy sense -- it is thick, smooth and soft. Spicy adds some hot pepper flavor, a nice kick to balance the creaminess and works well with the slightly salty soup. At this branch, the noodles can be served local style or Japanese style. Local (to Hawaii) is a softer noodle, while Japanese style is firmer and chewier. One of my few food dislikes is soft mushy noodles, so Japanese style is the way to go for me. The noodles are firm and taste fresh -- perhaps 'rocketed from Kyoto' as the sign says? I've sung the praises of the cha-siu before, it's still thick, tender, full of caramelized soy flavor and has a nice bit of fat to round it out.

The Kakuni Ramen is a clearer broth that is equally strong and porky and better than most of the ramen I can get around SF. Both J and I would order kakuni style again, but agreed that we preferred the thicker creamy consistency and the slight miso taste of the Paitan.

Whenever getting the set menu, remember to get the cha-han and fried chicken.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

NOPA ***

Nopa on a weeknight. Marinated squid salad, perfectly cooked tender squid with a slight bitterness that matched well with the sweetish vinaigrette and spiced chickpeas.

The little gem lettuces had a beautiful creamy dressing and showed off very fresh produce as were the wood over roasted spears of asparagus. The asparagus had a very woody smokey flavor with a sprinkle of creamy egg and crunchy breadcrumb.

The other standouts for me were the flatbread and the giant white beans. The flatbread was crispy, soft and chewy with roasted pepper, arugula and the right amount of charred cheese, so that we could taste every note.

The giant white beans were hearty and presented with a breadcrumb topping almost like a home style Italian restaurant . The tomato-oregano based sauce was typical and worked well with the creamy cannellini beans and feta.

Because I love the fried smelts at Kokkari, we ordered the fried little fish. They used anchovies which were about one and a half inches and had a crisp dense batter. The fish had a mildly flavor and could've used some salt.

For the main course we shared a braised lamb shank which was decent though nothing outstanding. The lamb was tender and fell apart with the poke of a fork and highlighted the lamb meat rather than the taste of the braising liquid. The lamb was fresh and had no gamey flavor. Here the braising sauce went well as an accompaniment to the bed of fregula under the shank.

Desserts were the pecan tart with salted caramel ice cream and the yogurt sorbet. The pecan tart was fine though the salted caramel ice cream was not very good. Perhaps we've been spoiled by Bi-Rite, but the ice cream didn't have a very sweet caramel flavor and the salt sprinkled on top were too coarse and gave us a huge punch of salt on the first bite then no salt after that. Our favorite was the yogurt sorbet which was sweet creamy and enough to balance the tart citrus tangerine and the pine nut cookie.

Nopa has a great atmosphere -- it's busy though not overly noisy and has a casual feel. The open layout with the kitchen in main dining room adds to the welcoming vibe and is fun to watch. On my next visit, I'll likely try the pork chop and would order any of the starters again.

Thursday, March 20, 2008


I was excited when I happened to be in the neighborhood of Larkin Express Deli with an hour to spare. Upon perusing the menu of Burmese fare, I settled on trying the Mohinga which has been discussed several times on the local food boards. Mohinga is a fish soup with a curry base and rice noodles. This one was topped with some crisped lentils that made a cracker on top of the soup. The soup was thickened with minced fish meat, not chunks as I had been expecting. It had a strong slightly salty curry flavor with a nice acidic kick of lime at the end -- add the crunchiness of the lentil cracker and I was happy. The only drawback was the large portion of rice noodles which were overcooked and soggy. I've always had a strong aversion to overcooked noodles or pasta. The noodles overwhelmed the soup so much that I had to take half of them out of the bowl which left about a half cup of soup. To his credit and my surprise, the friendly server noticed and brought an extra bowl of soup without noodles. I would order this again without the noodles. I appreciated that the establishment seemed to care a lot about whether I enjoyed the food. I will definitely return and would order this again without the noodles. Though there are several other Burmese items I'll sample next time.

Larkin near Turk

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


Last week I was on the road and I ate at In n' Out Burger for the first time in many years. It was fine, but not as good as I remembered it. I've been spoiled by the local burger places. Of the local burger places that are convenient quick stops, Burger Joint is the place for me. The Niman Ranch burgers are always juicy flame broiled with a little bit of smokiness and a natural tasting beef flavor. I order it with grilled onions and a thick piece of quality cheese. It's all served on a toasted sesame seed bun and I'm happy to say that that's our city's version of a fast food chain.

Valencia at 19th

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


I miss the diners of New York with their ten page menus, no nonsense decor and that feeling of being at home in a bustling setting. Lunch at St. Francis Fountain definitely had the right atmosphere with its long counter, swiveling stools and a large menu of traditional diner food. The tuna melt came on nicely grilled sourdough, unfortunately the tuna salad was very dry and under seasoned. The cheddar cheese was melted though somewhat rubbery in texture by the time I bit into the sandwich. I would not order this again.

J thought the patty melt was o.k. and declared that "hey, it's diner food, it's supposed to fill you and just be food" he liked it enough to devour the whole thing. To be fair, there are many other items to try. I spied some pretty good looking pancakes as we left, and was tempted by some of the ice cream drinks -- it is, afterall, a traditional soda fountain. With Casa Sanchez just across the street and several other lunchworthy places a block away, I won't be back for lunch. Though I wouldn't mind returning for dessert or breakfast.

Friday, March 7, 2008


Tuttimelon is yet another Pinkberry knockoff serving sour frozen yogurt with various toppings. I stopped in at the outpost on Irving near 23rd for the 99 cent introductory offer. The yogurt is touted as all natural fat free good for health and digestion well o.k., but the flavor is much more sour than Harmony or Yogurt Bar. It is probably on par with the lemon taste of Pinkberry, but has an odd artificial aftertaste that I don't recall in the Pinkberry version. Without a Pinkberry in San Francisco, it's difficult for me to tell, but I believe the consistency is about the same, with Pinkberry being slightly icier. I've become accustomed to the creaminess of Harmony and Yogurt Bar, so Tuttimelon won't do for my frozen yogurt fix. Though, it might be an acceptable substitute for those that prefer Pinkberry to the other local versions.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Hank's Haute Dogs ***

Sausages are great, but hot dogs have never had a strong hold on me. Yes, I like the charred ones at Gray's and the topped ones at Red Hot Lovers, still, I rarely crave a hot dog. Luckily, Hank's Haute Dogs serves both Chicago dogs and an interesting array of sausages. Over the course of several weeks, we had the pleasure of sampling: the Chicago dog, Chorizo, Lobster, Duck and Foie Gras, Chicken and No Dog.

When a Honolulu establishment goes so far as to bring in Vienna Beef Hot Dogs, you know they are serious. I started with a
Chicago dog with sport hot peppers, celery salt and mustard on the traditional poppy seed bun. Nice snap from the natural casing, and points for the Chicago toppings.

As for the haute dogs, my favorite was the
Duck and Foie Gras rich dense duck meat with a strong foie gras flavor paired perfectly with a sweet and slightly sour chutney of fruits and nuts. One of the best sausages I've ever had. My least favorite was the lobster. Perhaps my expectations were very high because I love lobster, but this was a very buttery lobster sausage with relish and mango topping. There was plenty of lobster meat, but not enough overall flavor to justify such a decadent use of lobster meat. (I would've much preferred it used to make a good lobster role.)

J's favorite was the
Chorizo, a smoked sausage grilled and topped with brown mustard, cooked onion and cilantro. The sausage was smokey with nice char marks, the onion was cooked and had a mild vinegar flavor. I often have huevos con chorizo for breakfast and this chorizo had less grease and salt than those found at my taquerias, perfect for a sausage in a bun.

We were both surprised by the
Chicken sausage. When J ordered it, I suspected it would be dry and bland. In fact, it was juicy, flavorful and well paired with a mango relish. Both of us would order this again especially when with the Lilikoi and Lime drink.

Another high note for Hank's is the
onion rings served coated in a light panko -- crunchy and well seasoned, though the portion is a bit small. The french fries are nothing special and probably worth skipping to save room for an extra dog. For next time, we'll definitely try to make it in for the Kobe Dog and the truffled mac n cheese.

Friday, February 29, 2008


My favorite ramen place is Yotteko-Ya, a Japanese chain, but the inconvenience of flying to Japan or Hawaii for lunch has left me on a quest for a local substitute. Santa Ramen located in San Mateo is the current front runner. On a recent lunch visit, I had the pork ramen spicy and it is the closest I've gotten so far to the spicy paiten ramen at YY. The soup was creamy in appearance, yet had a deep pork flavor -- mixed with the spiciness it was better than any local ramen I've tried. Simple, no seafood undertones or other more complex flavors, but good never the less. My only regret was that there was not enough soup to accompany the large portion of noodles.

I also sampled the
soy sauce ramen soup which was much better than that at Halu and perhaps in competition with the soup at YY. The clear soup glistened from meat drippings with a meat rather than soy sauce flavor. Excellent.

The noodles themselves were on par with those at Halu, not as thick, but cooked more Japanese style (more chew and less softness). Though the portion of noodles was larger than normal, neither of us had trouble finishing everything. The pork or cha shu served on top of both bowls was thinly sliced and somewhat dry with very little fat. Definitely not as good as the pork at other ramen restaurants. With that minor demerit, Santa still rates as my current top pick for ramen in the bay area.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Shrimp Trucks of Oahu

Near the town of Kahuku on the North Shore of Oahu, there are quite a few shrimp farms. Some of them allow you to fish for your own shrimp from their ponds, but most are closed to the public. An attraction for surfers and tourists alike are the shrimp trucks around the North Shore and even in Honolulu that serve several variations of shrimp dishes usually with two scoops of rice some greens or cabbage and that wonderful feeling of goodness you get from eating fresh seafood outside on picnic tables after a day at the beach. Every truck has its own recipes but all serve some version of shrimp with a garlic sauce. Several months ago, I sampled the two best known: Giovanni's and Romy's. This time I made it a point to try different trucks.

There are two primary components of shrimp truck dishes, one is the quality and taste of the shrimp themselves and the other is the sauce or preparation of the shrimp. In terms of the quality of shrimp my order of preference:
Romy's, Macky's, Hono's, Blue Water Shrimp, Giovanni's. For sauce and preparation my preference is: Giovanni's, Blue Water Shrimp, Hono's, Romy's, Macky's.

Romy's Kahuku Prawns & Shrimp
As I mentioned in my previous roundup of Romy's versus Giovanni's the quality of the shrimp here is very high, perhaps it is because they get their shrimp and prawns from their own farm. The shrimp are larger than shrimp at other farms and the prawns are huge perhaps twice the size of the shrimp. Unfortunately, four out of the six times I've ever been here they have not had prawns. The shrimp tastes very fresh has a nice snap when you bite in and is served shell completely on with part of the head on, no butterflying or deveining. Serving the shrimp this way shows off it's freshness and lack of processing. As far as the sauces, the shrimp can be ordered steamed with a side sauce of shoyu, spicy shoyu, butter and some others. Most people seem to go for the
garlic shrimp, which is the shrimp stir fried with copious amounts of chopped garlic. This straightforward preparation is good for showing off the shrimp because it doesn't add an independent sauce flavor as found at other trucks. Photo from last time:

The other popular preparation is the
spicy and sweet sauce which is more sweet than spicy. I did not like this at all, strong and sugary red sauce. Like a Chinese sweet and sour sauce with a bit of chili added -- not my taste at all.

Giovanni's Original Shrimp

My opinion of Giovanni's has changed since the first few times I ate here. After having tried the shrimp at other trucks, I found the quality of the shrimp at Giovanni's lower than the rest. The shrimp tastes fine is nicely deveined, but is small and I didn't find a huge taste difference between this shrimp and the frozen shrimp I bought at the supermarket. The strength of Giovanni's is the
scampi preparation: a butter garlic sauce with garlic cooked until it is tender in a blend of olive oil, butter, lemon, and spices. I would guess that the shrimp is marinated in the sauce and there seems to be some other ingredient that adds some body to the sauce (or it could just be the softened garlic). It's good enough to eat on top of rice without the shrimp. When served with the shrimp it is good but overpowers the shrimp taste. Even so, I liked mixing in some of the hot sauce which you can get on the side and liked the spicy hot scampi. I wouldn't order the hot sauce preparation, it's not as good as the scampi, but the mix of the two is quite tasty. There's no denying that the scampi here is delicious, but it could as easily be served on pasta or rice as on shrimp, so shrimp is not the star. In fact they serve a garlic hot dog, which is a hot dog that has been cooked in the scampi sauce. Photo from last time:

Macky's Original Shrimp
I tried the Haleiwa outpost of Macky's Original Shrimp truck which was near the end of town. They had several picnic tables with a shade above them. I was surprised by the flavor of their
garlic butter shrimp. The shrimp were larger than Giovanni's but smaller than Romy's, served cleaned and deveined. They had a very fresh taste and even a natural sweetness to the meat. This sweetness showed through the light garlic butter sauce. I would've liked a bit of acid to the sauce, but liked the fact that it didn't overpower the dish. Overall, Macky's garlic butter shrimp was a good balance between fresh shrimp and a light sauce to compliment the shrimp.

Hono's ShrimpThis truck is located in the corral of food trucks in Haleiwa. The quality of the shrimp here was good, slightly larger than those at Macky's, though not deveined. The garlic sauce was similar to that of Romy's, a simple saute of chopped garlic with a bit of butter, but lighter on the garlic. Another good compliment to the shrimp. Eating this side by side with Giovanni's shrimp scampi, it was clear that Giovanni's sauce is excellent over rice but overpowering on the shrimp.

spicy shrimp was sweet and spicy without being sugary. Again, not to my taste, but better than that at Romy's. Fans of this flavor might like it.

Blue Water Shrimp

I went to the Honolulu outpost of this truck located on Kuhio in the empty half of a lot under construction. Sharing a covered picnic area with another food truck is the brightly painted Blue Water Shrimp, serving the typical shrimp dishes as well as clams, king crab and seared ahi. This truck has a larger seafood menu than most and coupons can be found in the Japanese Kau Kau shopping flyer.
We sampled the very garlic shrimp (spicy), shrimp scampi, clams, and seared ahi. I was not impressed by most of these items.

The saving grace is the
very garlic shrimp, which I ordered spicy. The shrimp was good quality, eight to ten shrimp on a plate, some of them deveined. It was, however, the sauce that was the most prominent flavor in the dish. It was a thick, buttery sauce balanced with lemon and mixed with some chili pepper. It was so tasty that one of us mixed in the rice and saved his shrimp to eat later. I agree the very garlic sauce is powerful, more buttery than Giovanni's, but less salty. The combination of the spice and butter made me return twice for more.

Last notes, I would not order the
scampi or clams again, they had similar thick sauces of butter and parmesan. The sauce was bland and completely coated the shrimp and clams. It reminded me of soup served at a cafeteria. I actually wanted to rinse off the seafood to eat it without the sauce. The Furikake Ahi is just o.k., a huge portion enough for two. Would order that again if not in the mood for shrimp. Beware of the parking, I suspect that the apparently unattended parking lot actually has an attendant lying in wait.