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.