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Hello New People!

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  • Melanie Wong Jun 21, 2001 03:14 PM
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Lots of interesting posts this past week from some new faces - welcome to you all and thanks for the tips.

Why don't you tell us where you found your best meal this month? And, how'd you discover Chowhound? Lurkers, please feel free to jump in.

Chow!

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  1. Hello Melanie and fellow Chowhounds!

    I came to Chowhounds, if I remember correctly, through a link on Steven Shaw's NY restaurant review page (which I check off and on because I enjoy his attitude, even though I doubt I'll be going to NY any time in the foreseeable future).

    I immediately embraced the mission of chowhounds: to seek out deliciousness where ever you can find it. Due to both financial and social constraints (no money, no rich friends), I don't eat out very often, so I'm excited to find a place to discuss not only fine dining, but also neighborhood and ethnic restaurants, and markets, bakeries, etc. When I do eat out, I don't want to "waste" it, so Chowhounds opinions are a valuable resource.

    I don't mean to brag, but when I tried to come up with the best meal I've had in the last few weeks, the candidates were all found on my own table. I love to cook, and I love to cook in the spring. I tend to spend less time in restaurants, and more time in farmers' markets and specialty groceries. I also just finished some remodeling projects (which accounts for the "no money") and have been inviting people over to show off the results.

    I think my favorite meal was a brunch I did for my parents: Baby Artichokes Provencal, Cambazola and Bacon Souffle, and Lemon Ginger muffins with homemade Strawberry Sorbet.

    Since I don't have a recent restaurant experience to share, how about a tip? I do some volunteer teaching at Contra Costa College, and have been enjoying the redevelopment of the shopping center across the street (formerly "El Portal," now something like "San Pablo International Marketplace"). It has a full-service (including all kinds of live critters at the fish counter) Asian (I'm guessing the ownership is South-east Asian) supermarket. It's smaller than Ranch 99, but also less crowded (you can park right out front!). The little Vietnamese restaurant around the "corner" from the market serves up the best Pho I've ever eaten. In addition, although I haven't tried them, there are a couple of other small restaurants, including an Asian vegetarian place that advertises it makes all its own soy products. A little bakery just opened next to the market, offering up a rather eclectic mixture of Mexican and Asian baked goods -- I've only tried a couple of things, and they were delicious.

    The businesses all appear to be locally owned and geared to serve the immediate community. It makes a nice change from the Pacific East Mall, which mostly contains chain operations and is more of a regional destination.

    As you may have guessed, I live in the East Bay (Alameda). I'm also a Bay Area native (third generation born here).

    16 Replies
    1. re: Ruth Lafler

      Ruth, this is truly your spiritual home. That brunch sounds delicious! Here in the Bay Area we're lucky to have so much diversity of quality ingredients to inspire good cooking. I was truly shocked by what I saw at the Union Square greenmarket - how could that be the best produce for sale in NYC?

      Thanks for following the chowhound golden rule - when you take a tip, leave a tip. It was especially timely today. I'd read your post and made a mental note to check out the marketplace some time. As I headed south on 80 toward home, traffic came to a dead halt at 7:30pm at El Portal Drive exit to San Pablo. Guess I was meant to be there tonight! I was especially curious about the bakery, trying to imagine who would be making Mexican and Asian pastries. It all made sense when I discovered that this is a Filipino bakery, blending Southeast Asia with Spanish cuisine. I walked into the Chinese Fast Food & BBQ right next to the supermarket. The sad state of the roast chickens on display and the surly staff turned me away. I had also driven by Lam Huong, which appears to be a Vietnamese catchall judging from the pictures in the window of french sandwiches, chow fun, filipino sausages and soup noodles.

      Dinner ended up being across the way at Ahimsa Goumet Vege House, the soy veggie restaurant. I had taken a look at the take-out steam tables, and decided instead to take a seat and try the menu. A small pleasant dining room with soffit lighting, mission tile floors, white table cloths and green cloth napkins. The deep-fried soy "duck" was excellent, especially with a touch of chili sauce. The taro, gluten in coconut sauce hot pot was still nice, but not as successful. The flavors never quite came together. The waitress asked me whether I was Vietnamese, and I learned that she was from Qingdao (Shandong, China). I asked whether the food was Confucian style Chinese vegetarian but she said, No, it's Vietnamese. Then I meet the owner - when I ask her whether she's Chinese-Vietnamese, she says, No, Vietnamese. Can't quite figure out the origins of this one - the menu is in Chinese and English, cooks in the kitchen are speaking Mandarin, and the marquee is in English, Chinese and Vietnamese. Prices are a bit high for what you get, but I'd stop in again to try a few more things.

      1. re: Melanie Wong

        It does sound like fate, Melanie! I hadn't expected to get such a quick follow-up report, either. Chowhounds rule!

        I suspected the bakery might be Filipino, but wasn't sure -- I had just run in to grab something quick before an 11:00 class. I hadn't had breakfast, and was more focused on raising my blood sugar than gathering info for a report. Now that I'm an official chowhound, I'll have to do better.

        I agree the take-out place is uninviting and surly. I went in to see if they had any dim sum type offerings, and the counter person acted as if she'd never heard of sui mai. I don't think I could have bungled the pronounciation that badly!

        I'll have to grab my vegetarian sister and bro-in-law and try the Vege place myself. The duck sounds yummy. As for the diverse staff, I think many people don't realize what an ethnic melting pot that part of Richmond/San Pablo is. There are a lot of recent Southeast Asian immigrants, including one of the largest Mien (Lao hill tribe) populations in the US.

        I've been working with small groups of students from that area for several years now, and the classes have always had a mixture of students from a couple of Lao ethnic groups, Latinos and African-Americans. I even have a student who is an ethnic Indian/Hindu from Fiji.

        Unfortunately, from a chowhound point of view, they seem to be trying to assimilate as quickly as possible, especially the kids. My students claim they won't eat anything but fast food, that they don't like "weird" food. But I know that what they eat at home is plenty "weird." In fact, I gave one the my students a ride home and was invited to stay for lunch -- I'm pretty sure the Thai-style soup I was served with bits of tripe would be considered "weird" by most American teens (it was delicious -- mom works in a Thai restaurant in SF).

        1. re: Ruth Lafler
          a
          Alexandra Eisler

          Hi Ruth,

          My daughter's babysitter Nging is Mien and she often feeds Carson from her own lunch: sticky rice, spicy mustard greens, steamed fish. I'm happy to report Nging's own children love their mom's cooking and are very proud that "their" baby likes it too!

          1. re: Alexandra Eisler

            Once we took a group of the students to Truckee for the weekend to see the mountains (with the unexpected "bonus" that we got caught in a major snow storm in mid-May). The parents of one of the Mien girls came along, and they brought their own food, so we shared all around.

            It was almost amusing to witness the frustration and disgust of a woman who has cooked rice two or three times a day for 30 years struggling to cook rice that would meet her exacting standards at altitude (her English was so limited we were unable to explain what the problem was).

            It seemed odd to be eating rice and soup with greens for breakfast, but afterward I realized I had enjoyed how refreshing and healthy it was: unlike a traditional American breakfast there was no sugar and hardly any fat.

            But I think that many immigrants who don't know many "Americans" don't think their ways of eating are acceptable. Certainly it is very different from what they learn about "American" food in the mass media, in advertising, on TV, etc. And I know lots of people who would have refused to eat rice and soup for breakfast!

            1. re: Ruth Lafler
              a
              Alexandra Eisler

              My daughter always prefers Nging's rice to mine-guess I don't have enough experience yet!

              Mmm, that breakfast sounds wonderful...

              1. re: Alexandra Eisler

                Soups are my favorite breakfast. Sure, I enjoy the sweet and carbo heavy Western style breakfast, but the fare in my mom's house was mostly savory. When I was in that teenage hard-to-get-up-in-the-morning phase, Mom used to come into my room and waft the aromas from a hot bowl of soup under my nose to get me out of bed.

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  This idea is really starting to appeal to me: light, nutritious, delicious.

                  Unfortunately, I have no talent for Asian-style soups. I think the problem is, I don't have a handle on how to make the stock properly. Any one got a good recipe or some suggestions?

                  Or maybe there is some place I could buy a couple of quarts and keep it in the freezer?

                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                    The secret is to never throw away any scraps that could be used for making stock. Keep 'em in a carton in the freezer until you're ready for the next batch.

                    I've posted a new thread (link below) about one of my favorite places for soup noodles.

                    Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                      If you don't have a household that produces lots of meat scraps, I recommend you start easy-chicken soup stock. 10 pounds of chicken leg quarters will give you a gallon of flavorful broth, and plenty of meat, too. As a dark meat person, I like to remove the meat first for stirfry or for sausage meat, and use the leg skins to stuff with dressing or rice mixtures, but if you don't have a use for the skin, boil it into the soup for flavor.

                      Strain the broth while still hot, chill, and skim the chicken fat for pan-frying potatoes, etc.

                      You can experiment with adjusting the seasoning of the stock with soy sauce, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, fish sauce, sesame oil, tuong, etc.

                      1. re: ironmom

                        Thanks for the ideas. I periodically make chicken stock, but flavor it with the traditional onions, carrots, peppercorns, bay leaves, etc.

                        I knew Asian soup stocks were flavored differently, but I guess I've just been too chicken to experiment. Lemon grass is a wonderful suggestion!

            2. re: Ruth Lafler

              I'll admit that I had my doubts driving to the shopping center from the freeway. So many abandoned shops from that direction, whereas the opposite entrance has that gaudy arch signage. The Filipino bakery is called D'Valerio Family Bakery. I had a piece of the cake roll (pianono, $2.25 filled with coconut for breakfast today. Decent, although not filled with the macapuno young coconut the clerk told me.

              The Chinese Fast Food & BBQ (that's what the sign says) will be out of business soon I'm sure. Four people behind the counter, one other customer besides me, and they couldn't be bothered to tell me what was on the steam table.

              The take-out on the steam table at Vege House looked okay, especially the noodle dishes. If you try it, please let us know what you think. I had plenty of the casserole left over and took it home along with the rice. I'm going to let it steep in the fridge for a couple days and see if it improves.

              Driving around the abandoned businesses, I was disappointed to see that the Lao-Thai restaurant was closed. Would love to see Laos feel more confident with promoting their own style of food.

              When I worked on the Peninsula, many of our staffers were part of the Daly City/So. SF melting pot of south sea islanders and southeast asian. I could never convince the Tongans to take me to a church-sponsored horse barbecue. With the rising property values in those towns, the demographic shift seems to be towards Richmond/Vallejo area.

              1. re: Melanie Wong

                Sorry to hear about the lack of macapuno in the pastry, but if you like macapuno you should know that Tucker's Ice Cream on Park Street in Alameda makes a very nice macapuno ice cream.

                Alameda may be short on good restaurants, but our local ice cream parlor is first rate. The cookies and cream is the best I've ever had, and they make their waffle cones right behind the counter. When you walk down the street, the smell of them baking entices you right in!

                A while back they moved into a new location that has both a back patio and seating in the front window area. On warm evenings you can sit there and hail any passing friends strolling on the sidewalk.

                It's an example of why people say that Alameda has a small-town feel and isn't like other places in the Bay Area.

                They have a website:

                Link: http://www.tuckersicecream.com/

                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                  Good to know! The reason for treks to Santa Cruz for ice cream was to get the macapuno flavor there.

                  My sister lived in a Victorian in Alameda when I was in high school. I remember her taking me to a waffle shop and to another place for a giant hamburger.

                  I still get over there sometimes to visit the Rosenblums.

                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    Mitchell's Ice Cream on San Jose Ave. at 29th St. in San Francisco makes wonderful macapuno and other tropical flavored ice creams like mango, halo halo, buko, and ube.

                    1. re: Nancy Berry

                      Ah, yes! I haven't had the macapuno at Mitchell's yet, next trip for sure.

                  2. re: Ruth Lafler
                    c
                    Caitlin McGrath

                    Heh heh. As a teenager I worked one summer in an ice cream shop where we made waffle cones behind the counter. Of course, they come from a mix, but we actually made and sold four different flavors of waffle cones.

          2. Hi all. Melanie, thanks for the welcome. I have been a "lurker" for a while, and must say that I really appreciate everything I read on this board.

            I came to San Francisco a year ago from Los Angeles, where I knew all the ins and outs of the city and its surrounding areas. Thrown into the mecca of San Francisco restaurants, I tried a LOT of bad food, before I stumbled upon this board, and also became better at recognizing what's good and bad in San Francisco.

            I have picked up so many great tips from you all ... my favorite being the Sunrise Deli suggestion from Limster a couple of months ago. The falafels are fantastic, and I really enjoy speaking with the people who work there.

            Best meals lately? They have all been on the relatively minor side ... just the everyday meals that add a whole new dimension to your day. Indian Oven in the Lower Haight was a great meal, Yum Yum fish for lunch has amazingly fresh and inexpensive sushi, and as we speak I am having a great veggie salad from Einstein's (9th/Irving) with a huge slab of warm wheat bread which is surprisingly good - light vinaigrette over a salad with a bunch of goodies in it (hard boiled egg, avocado, garbanzo and kidney beans, scrumptious fresh carrots)

            I look forward to learning more from you as time goes on, and to continuing to add my minor opinion when appropriate!

            1 Reply
            1. re: jen maiser

              Eating well for EVERYDAY meals is the essence of chowhounding. Live to eat, not eat to live.

              Yep, Limster's tips are a particular treasure trove. He's in a league of his own, burning the midnight oil in San Francisco's eateries.

              Thanks for sharing with us. Soon you'll be the one welcoming newcomers!

            2. How nice of you to notice! Last year I spent some time browsing the postings, and then didn't get a chance to for a while. It was interesting to see the same names....and seems that you have formed a small community. It's great! It's fun to get new suggestions and I hope to be able to contribute too. Thanks.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Dana

                Hey Dana! We're glad you're back in the community. A good site tool to use, and especially when you've been away for a while is Hot Posts which you can link to from the Chowhound main page. This will identify all the new posts since the date you select so you can catch up on what's happened since your last visit. Always a good idea to check the main page from time to time for announcements, special reports, hot threads of the week, and that's where you'll find the search engine too.

                What are you chowing on these days?

                Btw, to helps us recognize you, please add a last initial or another way to distinguish your handle from other Danas.

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  Hello Melanie,
                  Thanks for the info on the other tools this site has to offer....If I have limited time, now I know where to go. I did try a new restaurant in my neighborhood recently. I was happily surprised. Called Three Seasons and claiming to be "contemporary vietnamese" food, specializes in unusual spring rolls and satays. Had about nine or ten of each on the menu. I had a grilled whitefish satay with a wonderful dipping sauce. Also an ahi tuna and mango spring roll with plenty of mint and other fresh herbs for flavor. Will have to try it again before I give two thumbs up, but I could give it one for now.

                  1. re: Dana B.

                    Hi Dana, that white fish satay sounds wonderful. Here's a link to an earlier post on Three Seasons. It's great to get more data points on the sort of places that have such extensive menus. Keep 'em coming!

                    Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...