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Request for restaurant recommendations for August trip

  • s

We are former Berkleyans presently living in Brooklyn, and will be returning to the Bay Area for a week in August. It has been 4 years since we were back and so we are a bit out of touch with the scene. Would like recommendations for following types:
Chinese - particularly Jiangzhe (Shanghai and environs-style)
Southeast Asian - particularly Cambodian, also Laotian and Thai
Mexican - if there is anywhere really really good
Big birthday blowout place, price no object, but must feature fabulously good food
Have always make a point of visiting Chez Panisse cafe and Angkor Wat in the past - still good?
Any places with good reps in the press to be avoided?
Thanks in advance for your thoughts!
Cheers

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  1. For western Chinese (Shanghai, Nanking, Hangzhou) food, I'd suggest DPD Restaurant on Kearny in SF. It's been a couple years since I've been there, and it's minimalist decor (to say the least), but I trust it's authenticity. When I was last there, it seemed to becoming even more, having eliminated the Cantonese dishes from the menu. I especially like the Shaolin dumplings and these coin-shaped rice noodles. Lots of oil and dishes with brown sauce, although not as sweet as other Shanghai-cooking I've tried.

    Do NOT go to House of Nanking which is a few doors down. This restaurant is a commercial success, judging by the lines outside and the frequent reviews claiming its the greatest Chinese restaurant on the planet, but a culinary tragedy. When it first opened more than 10 years ago in an even smaller hovel, the owner/chef was a pioneer in introducing Nanking style food to the largely Cantonese Chinatown area and got some good write-ups. But the crowds that came didn't order any of his regional specialties and the menu became Cantonese-icated. Really a shame, as I did like it in the early months.

    For Mexican, I like Cafe Marimba on Chestnut in Sf's Marina district. I usually get one of the three styles of molé offered, or a rock shrimp or calamari taco if I'm not as hungry. The best part is the selection of salsas with paper thin corn tortilla chips. Do ask to try the different ones (I think they make 4 per day) -- if you have a crowd, they'll put all of them on the table.

    For your blow-out dinner, I'm really high on Oliveto, across the street from the Rockridge BART station. I've been there twice in the last 6 months and am dazzled by Paul Bertolli's purity of cooking. He makes his own prosciutto. Menu changes daily - spit-roasted meats are a specialty. There's a 3-course fixed price menu about $30 of regular menu selections. It's a bargain by SF standards and so much better than the spate of "medium-priced" new City places which suffer from spotty service and overly self-conscious food. Wine list is well-chosen and priced on the high side but has a range of price points.

    21 Replies
    1. re: melanie

      "these coin-shaped rice noodles"

      In NY, we translate that as "rice cakes". Any idea what the official SF English translation is?

      also, we both forgot to recommend R&G Lounge, 631 Kearny (corner of Commercial) for cantonese (see the may/june archive of my dining diary for a recounting of a memorable banquet there). Great band-for-buck, but would be a worthy eat even at twice the price (Melanie turned me onto it)

      ciao

      1. re: Jim Leff

        "rice cakes" - this was my only experience with these. I remember asking our waiter where they bought the noodles and he said they were custom-made for the restaurant by Koreans in Japantown! My friend was more familiar with these and had tried them somewhere else.

        1. re: melanie

          "rice cakes" - this was my only experience with these

          aw, melanie, sometimes you're sooo....Cantonese! Come to New York, I'll show you awesome Shanghai/Taiwanese rice cakes!

          "custom-made for the restaurant by Koreans in Japantown!"

          They think they're paying for custom-made, huh? Ha! Korean restaurants make the exact same stuff every day...they call 'em dduk (don't worry, no "dduk dduk goose" jokes).

          ciao

          1. re: Jim Leff

            Yes, it's very hard to lure me away from the Cantonese restaurants when I want to eat with chopsticks! One of the best parts about the years of business travel to Taipei, Hong Kong, Beijing and Singapore was the chance to experience a wider range of Chinese gastronomy. Cantonese is still my favorite. :-)

            Thinking about Japantown, I used to go to a Shandong restaurant that made pulled noodles up there. Wonder if it's still around? I've heard that some of the best Chinese restaurants in the world are in Tokyo - haven't checked it out myself.

            And, I realize I didn't fully answer Susan's question about a place for a blow-out dinner. The hottest seat in town is (Gary) Danko and friends I trust are giving it superlatives too. Haven't eaten there yet. The only criticism I've heard was from one party that had to wait 30 mins. outside on the street for their table to open up. They accepted the sparkling wine offered while they waited. Then their bill had 4x$14/glass on the tab. They paid it ---I sure would have asked whether it was a mistake! A top ticket place should have offered this as a courtesy for their inconvenience.

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              " Yes, it's very hard to lure me away from the Cantonese restaurants when I want to eat with chopsticks! "

              Yes, I've noticed this with several of my Cantonese chowhound friends! They're very cosmopolitan, interested in all manner of chow diversity, but the thought of eating Taiwanese, Sichuan, or Shanghai food is as unthinkable to them as the thought of eating cheese would have been to their grandparents!

              Again, come to NYC for deprogramming!

              Ok, sorry for the digression. Back to the discussion!

              ciao

              1. re: Jim Leff

                I've started a new thread so that we can continue to digress!

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  Digress or go back to the topic -
                  It's nice to know that Bay Wolf is still going strong, I love that place.
                  I've eaten at Oliveto's and found it a little too too -they served me rare pork, and insisted that was the way it was supposed to be served - I certainly don't insist that pork be well done to the point of dryness, but this was RARE, slimy, and quite dreadful. Oh well, some of our friends swear by this place too, maybe I just had a bad meal.
                  Thanks for the Chinese recommendations, used to work near Chinatown and have had quite a few good meals at DPD. Will try the Cantonese place although I tend to the more flavor-intensive Western Chinese Sichuan/Hunan and Eastern Shanghai styles. (NY Chinese food has come a long way in the past 5 years or so - but now I digress too...Have lived in Taiwan for a couple of years so pine for the real thing...)
                  Thanks to all, Jim for recommending Danko - will check it out.
                  Any other Asian info?
                  Cheers, S.

                  1. re: Susan Marme
                    m
                    Melanie Wong

                    Slimy is bad. And, if you've lived in Asia, you understand moist pork. But I will mention that I use their recipe to brine pork loin before grilling and it is much moister and keeps a pink cast even when it has heated to the proper internal temperature. I hope they took it back and you got something you liked better.

                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                      Actually they did but refused to susbstitute another dish...altogether not a stellar experience (harried waitress, beaucoup Bay Area foodie attitude). I know what you mean about brining - been salt-curing pork since cutting my culinary teeth on Julia Child - but this was bleu not pink!
                      In matters Chinese, what about the Wu Kong in the Rincon Center? Still good? Shanghai food a passion...

                      1. re: Susan Marme

                        Wu Kong closed about a year ago. A branch of the Yank Sing dim sum restaurant opened in that space.

                        1. re: Susan Marme
                          m
                          Melanie Wong

                          Yep, Wu Kong is closed. The nearest one is in Hong Kong on the Kowloon side across the street from the Hyatt Regency, I think, and much better than the SF place which never really took off.

                      2. re: Susan Marme
                        m
                        Melanie Wong

                        Happened to drive by DPD today and saw "Grand Opening" signs in the window.

                        I've posted my favorite Chinatown cheap eats in a separate thread.

                        1. re: Susan Marme

                          I had an inexpensive dinner at Taiwan restaurant with mixed results. Would go back for the rice cakes and to try more from the menu.

                          Had a chance to walk by DPD - freshened up inside with white tablecloths covered by glass tops. Menu looks the same and prices are still low with many dishes under $4, and almost everything less than $6.

                          Then headed up Jackson St. and noticed a very busy Sichuan restaurant, Sam Lok, that I'll want to check out another time.

              2. re: Jim Leff

                The Shanghai place I like sautees these with cabbage and hot pepper and also refers to them as "noodles" (not cakes). Mmmm.

                1. re: Rachel Hope

                  On Saturday I was driving through Chinatown on my way back from a wine tasting downtown when a parking space magically appeared before me. This just doesn't happen on Saturday afternoons! So, I took advantage of it and grabbed a quick bite at Taiwan Restaurant on the corner of Broadway & Columbus. Same ownership as the one in Berkeley I used to frequent as a student and also one on Clement St. in the Richmond district.

                  I had the Shanghai sauteed rice cakes which were the coin-shaped noodles in question with shreds of pork, napa cabbage, a little bit of salted turnip and brown sauce for $4.95. Also ordered the Taiwanese fried oysters for $7.95. The rice cakes were fine and I took the rest home. The oysters were not up to snuff - cut into bitty pieces then weighted down with doughy batter and served with a dish of ketchup. I'd go back again. The waiter was very nice and helpful - he'd greeted me in Cantonese and by the time we got to the bill, he had switched to Mandarin, even though I only spoke English to him. I had wanted to order the Mandarin lobster @ $8.99/lb. He offered to weigh the lobster in advance to give me a precise price. When he came back out of the kitchen, he shook his head and said the lobster didn't look so good. I appreciated this - wonder who they then sold it to?

                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    "wonder who they then sold it to?"

                    Aw, Melanie, you know! Gringos!

                    I've just got to learn Cantonese.

                    Are you building up rice cake hankerings? They're pretty addictive.

                    1. re: Jim Leff

                      Not a hankering yet, although I appreciate the dish. I prefer the chewiness of a good plate of chow fun... still brainwashed.

                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                        Hey, not so brainwashed if you walked in the place and ate. Our mutual friend, Cantonese Dave, would sooner die than eat a pan-fried dumpling. If he sees people dunking crullers in rice milk, he runs the other way, mopping his brow and humming patriotic Cantonese folk songs.

                        can't we all eat along?

                        : )

                        ciao

                        1. re: Jim Leff

                          Dave does have the supreme palate...

                          1. re: Melanie Wong
                            m
                            Mik V. Zetrocs

                            A pleasant day to you my friend. I am just a mere student and i want to inquire if you have knowledge on the size of the paddy rice and what is the best size of whole where they will pass, is it oblong circle or what.

                            1. re: Mik V. Zetrocs

                              Warm greetings backatcha. Hmmm, that's a good question. I suspect that the rice cakes are molded into a long roll about 2"x1" oblong around, then the coin shapes cut in thin slices rather than pressed through a hole. Anyone else know?

            2. Angkor Wat is reputed to be way way downhill (if they're even still in biz). Richard Sterling (local food writer there who knows a LOT about SE Asian) said, last time I asked, that there was no great cambodian/lao in city. that may have changed, however.

              Haven't heard a single negative word about Panisse' quality.

              Other than that, scroll down this board's index for megatons of tips. And go to our articles and special reports section...there are a number of SF reports. Use link below.

              Link: http://www.chowhound.com/writing/writ...

              1. We just had dinner for the first time at Bay Wolf in Oakland's Piedmont district, and it was wonderful. Truly inspired Provencal food with a pleasant atmosphere and good service. I had soupe au pistou and a mixed grill featuring lamb, quail and sausage, and my companion had a roasted red pepper and corn salad with blue cheese crostini, followed by fantastic bouillabaise. We brought our own wine, and either because it was my birthday or because we gave the waiter the last glass (it was an '83 Kenwood Cabernet Sauvignon -- one of the Jack London Wolf series) he waived the $15 corkage fee -- and brought me a complimentary tart as well.

                I do realize you asked about Asian and Mexican; have you tried Thep Phanom for Thai food? I've always liked it, although I haven't been there in a year or so (it's still getting good reviews). I also enjoyed The Slanted Door (Vietnamese), although again it's been a while since I've been there.

                1. I would second the recommendations you've had for Oliveto and the Bay Wolf in Oakland. I've also liked Citron, a little further south on the same block of College Ave. as Oliveto, and recommend looking into Lalime's, on Gilman in Berkeley. I haven't been in a few years, but I believe if you search here, you'll find recent favorable reviews. The prices at all these places are about comparable to those at the cafe at Chez Panisse.

                  1. Hey, you gotta try Vi's in Oakland Chinatown. It's a Vietnamese place on Harrison between 7th and 8th, I believe. The duck soup is divine. I also like Little Shin Shin on Piedmont Ave. Maybe 5 blocks down from Baywolf (as a former BW cook). I know you didn't mention Spanish, but if you're in the mood, try Cesar which is next door to Chez Panisse. It's a bunch of Chez people, and the chef just got back from Spain with a bunch of inspirations. As for Mexican, I've heard good reports about Dona Tomas (on Telegraph and 51st) from people I trust.
                    Also, I've had good meals at Garibaldi's on College. Would be exciting to hear about where you went to eat!!