Polk Street again, SF (long)
Caught the sweet and sad "Son of the Bride" at the Lumiere today (Great movie, not about food, but go see it). Followed up with dinner next door at the Cordon Bleu, a place that I can only describe as a Chinese/Vietnamese diner. What else could one make of this place with its dominant counter and big portions of simple easygoing food?
The limited menu offers essentially meat combinations; there's grilled chicken and beef from the grill and imperial rolls of generous proportions re-deep-fried in a deep fryer but actually quite delicious. There's intriguing specials like Hainan chicken rice and spicy pork chops on the walls, but I stuck to the basics and got a combo that involved these imperial rolls and thin broad slices of grilled beef, nicely charred but a bit too tough and fiberous.
Underneath is a nice heap of slaw, with what I thought was just enough horseradish or wasabi to tickle, a perfect chilly counterpoint to the meat right off the grill. I think the ample chicken would have been a better bet -- should have ordered that instead.
Over the rice come down ladles of thin, but substantial meat sauce. A curious combination quite suited to the low-budget image. (Huge plates come for $5-6ish.) On the whole, a decent bet for dirt cheap grub in that nabe.
After that I strolled over to Yabbies Coastal Kitchen for dessert. The first and only time I tasted the late harvest violetta from Grgich Hills was at Yabbies, and I suddenly developed a craving for it, having stopped by the winery about 2 weeks ago. I think Yabbies rotates its wine list, but it was worth the gamble.
As I sat at the beautiful fluid glass bar at I Yabbies, I was glad to see that the '95 Violetta was on the dessert wine list ($11 a glass). Apricots, first subtle, then rich, then intense, ending with an edge of walnut husks.
I asked for a dessert to match the wine, and the waiter suggested some cream and/or fruit-based desserts after consulting the chef. I settled on the panna cotta. Nice lemon fragrance, rich vanilla flavor, and lovely microscopic pops from the ton of vanilla seeds on the top of the firm and slightly chewy (just the way I like it) panna cotta. Together with the Violetta, a flowery complexity of flavors blossom. The wine attains a lighter airier quality and the lemony vanilla flavor of the panna cotta develops into a perfume. Caveat was that I had to be parsimonious with the intense huckleberry sauce that came with the panna cotta for this effect.
Great service as ever, and I should definitely go back for dinner, especially after the good press here recently.
And did I mention a good wholesome donut from Bob's? Got one before the movie. Although I must confess to liking Kingpin's in Berkeley better for their denser donuts.
I used to frequent Cordon Bleu several years ago. Haven't been in a long time.
I used to try and hit the place at peak times, when the grill (the whole place actually) was hot and smokey and food nice and fresh.
I've noticed that the prices have gone up considerably... the No. 5 (imperial rolls, bbq pork, and chicken) at around $7.50 and it no longer seems quite as appealing.
Especially when inexpensive places like Le Jardin and Chai-Yo are only a few blocks down Polk.
I agree that the rice with meat sauce at Cordon Bleu is one of the best bargain meals in the City.
Unfortunately, I have concerns about the way they handle their food. When you sit at the far end of the counter, you can see that food is stored in large containers under the counter - unrefrigerated and wide open. Perhaps they only do that when they are busy and are using the food quickly, but it is not appetizing to see this and it supports other suspicions posted here that everything is pre-made.