Tag Archives: san francisco

Fried Sweetbreads and Artichokes @ Locanda.

8 Apr

It was grey that evening, the pavements smelt vaguely of rain despite its dryness. From there we entered Locanda, a restaurant reminiscent of other renown Mission eateries: high ceiling, low lamps, paintings neatly stacked in giant frames against the tiled walls, open kitchen radiating a warm aroma that blankets you in. And per usual, my companion did not enjoy being photographed.

There we were greeted with drinks accented with fresh fruits (Piedmonte Punch was very fun) and a fresh board of foccacia; olive oil gathered in little navals of the sliced bread, enticing our taste buds.

As recommended, I had the fried sweetbreads and artichokes as my appetizer. And my, I had to thank my friend twice for his advice. Tender halves of artichoke hearts were the taste of spring mornings, gently enveloped in a delicious, almost airy, crisp. Tossed in the mix were the sweetbreads; they too resided in these perfectly seasoned golden pockets.. The sweetbreads were soft yet bouncy, with a salty creaminess that reminded me of steamed fish milt. Scattered were fried sage and capers, all consumed and without a trace.

For entree, I had the grilled lamb leg with chickpeas and lettuce. Lamb had never associated with the word ‘light’; yet somehow, this dish was exactly that. Pink, juicy slices rested on top of mashed chickpeas, adorned by pale emerald greens. It was flavorful yet delightfully refreshing at the same time. My only tiny hope would be for the lamb to be better seasoned; something to round off the slightly overwhelming gaminess.

Not photographed here was the prosciutto wrapped rabbit with gnocchi and grilled lettuce. Smoking rabbit, was it delicious. No matter which cuisine it is, nothing could quite go wrong with bacon-wrapped-meat.

It was a lovely meal. Not the rustic affair I had anticipated, but a simple, refreshing Californian twist on some old world components. There were small details here or there that could be a bit more balanced, but it had been a delightful experience. I may be back for the home-made pasta.

Locanda | 557 Valencia Street | San Francisco, CA 94110 | 415.863.6800


Sons and Daughters.

20 Nov

The reservation was made before Sons and Daughters received their shiny Michelin, back when it was still possible to make reservations. Naturally, I was beyond excited for this night. Yet, I was equipped only with my trusted iPhone 4 (without the S) and this nifty app called instagram, so I apologize for the photo quality here.

Tucked away in the less-touristy side of Union Square, across Nob Hill Theater, was this gem. Through a glass door was the white walls and rustic interior of wood and leather. It was an open-kitchen, facing the quietly buzzing crowd.

Sons and Daughters served in the style of 5-course tasting menu, along with amuse-bouche and bread courses in between. For each course, we have two choices to pick from. We found not names of the dishes on there, but list of ingredients it was comprised of.

Pickled Beet   Smoked Creme Fraiche   White Strawberry: a sweet beet gazpacho with cutely diced pickled beets and creme fraiche. Sat quietly aside all was a white strawberry that was pearly and pleasantly clean.

Quail egg   Malt   Yeast   Ground Cherry: the quail egg was poached with the yoke runny. Pierced with my fork it ran onto the small salad of shaved celery root and radish flowers. At the base were the ground cherries, consistency alarmingly similar to that of bacon bits. Hidden in between were green berries with miniature bursts of tangy delight.

Sea Urchin   Sea bean   Cauliflower   Dashi: my absolutely favorite dish of the night, though likely biased due to my fervent love for sea urchin – the soft, creamy taste of the ocean. In its fresh entirety, this piece of sea urchin sat amidst a vibrant purple from the cauliflower, that formed a breathtaking beauty. Squashed sea bean laid at the bottom, providing a necessary crunch; while the dash mixed to become gelatinous, taken the plate to a different level of umami.

Sea bass   Green Farro   Leek   Caviar: a nicely balanced segua between the last and the next, though a shade less memorable. The sea bass was nicely grilled with skin crisp to my taste, next to the caviar beurre blanc. Leeks, also grilled, oozed sweet autumn memories that the farro complimented.

30 dag aged New York steak   Chanterelles   Brussel sprouts   Charred onion: hearty without losing its basic elegance would be the summary of this dish. The steak was tender, juicy with just a hint of blood. The vegetables tossed in (likely) a generous dose of butter, bringing the warm flavors of foliage.

Yuzu   Pop corn   Seasame   Passion fruit: a playful finish of light yuzu custards with small sesame chips and reduced passion fruit drops so tangy my brows farrowed. And, days later, I still couldn’t get over how much the ice cream tasted like kettle corn!

It was a lovely dinner. The flavors were wonderfully balanced with such fascinating textures, this dining experience felt almost cerebral (but in a good way). Even though some dishes did stand out more than the others, and the menu left me wanting more (as all tasting menus do, I suppose), I am excited to see where this restaurant would go after its first star.

Sons and Daughters | 708 Bush Street | San Francisco, CA 94108 | 415.391.8311

Spicy Beef Tendon & Dumplings.

23 Jul

It’s not a figurative speech when they called Kingdom of Dumplings a hole-in-the-wall joint. Hidden far away in Park Side, without the sign and the line of people waiting in the from, it could easily been mistaken for some sort of elevated basement. Despite being tightly packed into the square room, the patrons waited patiently to be served, as the late afternoon shined through the front windows.

Here we are, the Kingdom of Dumplings! The space was tight and slightly too warm, the walls appeared to be a tad greased, but the servers were all smiles and kindness. We are here for the dumplings, and some Northern Chinese eats that cannot be found on the East side of San Francisco – where the Cantonese and Hunan cuisine dominated.

I was most excited to have found spicy beef tendon on the menu, even more when it appeared before my eyes. Beef tendons cooked in soy sauce, rock sugar and anise seed, chilled then thinly sliced. It is then mixed with chili oil, garlic, pepper, chopped cilantro and sesame oil.

The tendons see-through when picked up. It was cold and refreshing at first, the texture gelatinous but on the chewy side. Chopped up cilantro brought a nice aroma that erased any unwanted fattiness. Then – as we sat and ate, before we knew it, the stealthy numbing spice hit us. Like wild fire it spread through our mouth, making us sweat yet unable to stop going for more.

It was really a ‘thank goodness’ moment when the dumplings arrived. For we could then divert our attention from the tasty, killer beef tendons, and move on to something else. Sitting in the mess of our tiny plastic-covered table, 12 cute little boiled dumplings sat and stared. “Eat us instead!” they said. The heat was making me slightly delirious.

You could really taste the hand-knead dough. Thicker than the store-bought, machine-made ones, the dumpling skin was thicker and a chewier, the perfect kind that holds the stuffing together. Inside, ground pork and cabbage made a great pair – juicy, sweet, with a nice crunch from the green veggie. A light dip in black vinegar and some ginger slices gave a rounded taste.

Yumm’s the word! Next up, our taste buds travelled to Shenghai for some soup dumplings. Also known as tiao long bao, the dough is traditionally slightly softer, thinner and more translucent compared to ones use on the dumplings. Though it seems that Kingdom of Dumplings just used the same hand-knead dough.

These dumplings were steamed instead of boiled. Enveloped within is a pork filling, prepared with solid pork aspics that melted into the tasty broth when heated. Because of the hot soup that could burst at the bite, it was recommended that we open up the dumplings a bit to let it cool before eating.

Umami was its profile. The broth was on the greasier side, but tasty nonetheless. It provided a whole different experience next to the spicy tendon and the boiled dumplings – which were felt like a hugely satisfying, working man’s meal. The soup dumpling, despite its thicker skin, felt delicate and gentle. To my tummy that was happy, that went for a long sigh and said: What. A. Day.

1713 Taraval Street | San Francisco, CA 94116 | 415.566.6143

Breakfast Taco & Waffle+Fried Chicken Slider.

21 Jun

Marengo on Union is this small hideaway right above the infamous Bar None. It is a cozy haven for the whiskey-thirsty, serving intoxicating nectars in a springtime of colors, and delicious sliders to please their hazy patrons.

On a beautiful Saturday morning such as this one, Marengo was in all its glory. Early summer skylight shined through their half-opened sky roof.

This was not the place for your $11 breakfast platter. Here everything was served in small, bite-sized portion for some mix n’ match. Without reading much into it, I went  for the more unusual sounding: the breakfast taco plus the waffle and fried chicken slider. And my, were they looking glorious underneath the sun. Inside the taco was the soft-scrambled eggs topped with melted cheese and speckles of chorizo. Green cilantro shreds laid on top of the gold, salsa waiting to be poured.

To the side was the waffle slider: neatly stacked with a piece of crisply fried chicken in the middle, powered sugar dusted generously on top. Oh my my, oh hell yes.

So first try, the taco. As breakfast burritos are quite common (and a lovely choice as hangover cures go), I was not expecting much beyond an open-faced version. Wrong, obviously. Right underneath the bed of scrambled eggs light and fluffy yet rich with sharp cheddar, it came a crunch. A surprise, it was a small bed of golden hash brown underneath! The crispy texture was a fantastic juxtaposition to the cheesy eggs; topped with the salsa, the taco was a summer fiesta on my tongue. While the tortilla was a tad dry, I fully enjoyed this combination. Breakfast burrito, you have been topped.

A sip of my bloody mary and a breath caught from my excitement at discovering something so simple yet delightful, I moved onto the waffle slider: the slider bar’s version of chicken and waffles. The waffle was not soft and buttery but almost crunchy to the bite – which I learnt later was to soak up all that delicious syrup. The small piece of fried chicken was divine; a honey rub before being lightly breaded then fried, juicy still in the center. That hint of honey in the chicken made the idea of mixing savory and sweet (which I never appreciated much) harmonious.

While no ingredient here was out of the ordinary, the modern twist on breakfast food and their little touches of genius (hash brown & honey rub) made the dishes interesting and different to me. And seriously, what could go wrong with a place that comes with a “brunch cocktail” menu?

Marengo on Union |  1980 Union Street | San Francisco, CA 94123 | 415.441.2575

Grilled Chicken Liver.

1 Jun

After a Memorial weekend of sausage and steak grilling, I thought I had exhausted whatever char-loving portion of my palette. Well, I was wrong. A breezy Monday evening, as if dragged by the insatiable ghost that is my appetite, I ended up here at Chotto, the local izakaya.

Izakayas have been making the rounds in San Francisco, spreading from Inner Richmond through the rest of city like wild, ridiculously delicious fire. Chotto was among them. Set in the Marina, its menu was rather conservative at first. They offered Japanese bar bites in forms of raw dishes and skewered meats, but was careful not to intimidate customers with the more traditional variations such as gizzards and skins. But with its spring menu came bolder in their experimentation, testing the Marina waters with more unfamiliar ingredients. Such was the dish I came from: yaki tori motsu, grilled skewers of daily chicken parts. Lucky me, it was chicken liver day!

The two skewered grilled livers came to me oh-so-beautifully. Their skins were lightly charred, with a nice crisp around the succulent lobes of liver. The skewers appeared to be only lightly seasoned; served on the side a wedge of lemon and a pinch of Shichimi, the Japanese “seven flavor chili pepper”.

When I bit into it, I tasted the thinly crisped exterior, then into a cooked, slightly meaty layer. But that layer only lasted about 2 millimeters into my bite. Then the lobe of liver bursted – literally – into a world of wonders. It had the texture between melted brie and the silkiest tofu – rich, creamy, smooth. Unlike the delicate flavor of monk fish liver, the grilled chicken liver was powerful, assertive, and full of life. While a piece of foie gets pan-seared carefully, these chicken livers were touched by wild flames and were re-birthed gloriously – straight into my belly.

A slight squeeze of lemon and a tiny sprinkle of chili pepper brought the sweetness of the liver even further, rounding the flavors perfectly. It was such a delightful experience from two not-too-tiny skewers of chicken livers. And yes, I ate them all. By myself. I’m not ashamed.

Bonus dish: the grilled pork belly skewers. It was firm and meaty, with tiny ribbons of fat in between. Delicious, and oddly refreshing; not something one would expect when the phrase “pork belly” was in the order. Yummy plus plus!

Next up on my Chotto experience: grilled cow tongue! They unfortunately ran out for the day – by 7PM! It seems that weird eats is in vogue here by the bay.

Chotto | 3317 Steiner Street | San Francisco, CA 94123 | 415.441.2223

Chicken Feet.

22 May

May 21st, 2011. Woke up to a sunny, breezy San Francisco day. The end of the world was no where near, and @KatManalac (of Hidden Menu) was back in town. What other way to celebrate than dim sum brunch at my favorite East-of-Filmore locale: City View Restaurant!

Shu-mei, shrimp dumplings, chive dumplings, soup dumplings, pekin duck pieces in sweet sauce wrapped in delicious white buns. Delicious of delicious indeed. But in true weird food spirit, it is inevitable that we tackle the most infamous dim sum of them all – Chicken Feet.

Being born and raised Taiwanese, again, had led some bizarre ingredients to become household products growing up. Chicken feet is one of them. My mother would buy about 30 – 40 chicken feet, stew them overnight in a soy sauce and melter rock sugar mixture, and eat them slowly while watching TV.

Chicken feet of the dim sum variety was slightly fancier. They were first fried to create a slight crunch, then braised in a sweet sauce (often used on sweet n’ sour chicken) with a generous amount of what looked like jalapeno and banana peppers to give it a nice kick.

@KatManalac asked a fair question: just what is being consumed when one eats chicken feet? There really isn’t as much meat as, say, pig trotters. “It is all in the skin,” was what I told her (and a bit of the tendon, of course). To eat a chicken foot, one would bite of the tiny pieces of bones by the joints, then eat the piece of skin around it. It was time consuming, but sort of created a fun around is – quite similar to eating sunflower seeds.

The skin was thickened from the frying, then soaked orange in the sweet and spicy sauce. It fell off the bone easily, had a crispy yet softened texture. The tendons was slightly chewy like beef tendons, but not as meaty. While it was a bit time consuming for what we got out of it, the experience itself was mildly entertaining in a snacking sort of way. And that is the point of dim sum, which in Mandarin also stands for “snacks”. You see what I just did there? No? No wonder I wasn’t saved from the Rapture.

City View Restaurant | 662 Commercial Street | San Francisco, CA 94111 | 415.398.2838

Monkfish Liver.

15 May

Though born Taiwanese, my favorite Asian cuisine is actually Japanese. It is one the celebrates the beauty of balance and subtlety, minimalist to the eye yet unravels layers of flavor upon tasting. Rich yet delicate, is how I find Japanese food. The very philosophy can be easily found in one of the common Japanese delicacies: ankimo, monkfish liver. My dish of the day at YamaSho, Japanese restaurant cross karaoke salon extraordinaire.

To prepare this dish, the liver was first rubbed in salt, then rinsed with sake. It was then rolled in a cylinder to create the rounded shape, and steamed to be served. It came to me in gorgeous plating: slices of pink fish liver on top of a bright green shiso leaf, with a generous sprinkle of red, supple fly fish roes just winking at me all flirtatiously.

Just one bite was all it took to explain why ankimo is often referred to as the foie gras of the sea. It was rich, creamy yet light and delicate at the same time; without the heaviness found in duck or chicken livers, but just a hint of the ocean. It presents the perfect balance that sang the ideology of Japanese cuisine. The texture was silky smooth, a great contrast to the squeaky pearls of roes.

Though not served with the dish, I asked for a small dish of ponzu sauce. With the addition of this citrus-base sauce that resembles a very light mixture of soy sauce and yuzu vinaigrette, the monkfish liver suddenly came alive as if woken from a slumber. Whatever little stale heaviness that inevitably came with livers disappeared with the refreshing wash of citrus. It brought out this lovely sweetness that wasn’t quite there before. I am a huge fan of the right amount of acidity.

Another interesting way to enjoy ankimo is by wrapping it with the shiso leaf and dip it in the ponzu. The coarse texture and aroma of this minty herb paired well with the monkfish liver. Now if only I had some grated daikon, everything would be soooo perfect.

Monkfish liver can actually be found in most Japanese restaurants (at least in the Bay area). If you find the idea of offal still hard to stomach but feeling a bit adventurous, monkfish liver is quite the great “liver 101” into this mysterious world. Give it a try!

YamaSho | 1161 Post Street | San Francisco CA 94109 | 415.346.2222