Playing tour guide for friends, round 2: Results
A few weeks ago I posted on the board for comments / suggestions from fellow chowhounders on the tentative itinerary I had put together: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...
Here's Part 1 of our "Eating across the Bay" tour... more info and pics will be linked in a post later (my friend D shot the pics and will post commentary on her blog). I will post part 2 as a reply post to this thread later.
We started off on Friday in Oakland @ Legendary Palace for dim sum; because it was just the 2 of us we couldn't order a whole lot. I thought about ordering chrysanthemum tea, but decided to save that choice for boba later on and settled on jasmine instead. We had the usual har gow, siu mai, black bean spareribs, and tripe. Because she wanted to have some sort of rice with the meal, I picked the stirfried rice noodle roll (studded w/ dried shrimp & green onion) -- which is really basic and imho not worth the cost but the guest did not want the wide rice noodle wrap w/ fresh shrimp. We finished off the meal w/ jin duey (sesame balls). I had forgotten that they only serve some items (like suckling pig) on weekends.
After a bit of browsing we headed to Sweetheart Cafe for boba. I ordered chrysanthemum tea w/ pearl -- it came with a few whole chrysanthemum buds and plenty of the petals. Not overly sweet but with the strong infusion of chrysanthemum, this refreshing drink really shines and has that added punch of fresh sweetened pearl. D ordered taro w/ pearl, and because I was too enamored w/ my own fave drink I didn't taste hers. But D did mention it wasn't sweetened enough to her liking.
Next stop was the bakery a few doors down from Gourmet Delight for their luscious fruit tarts. They had an empty tray labeled fruit tarts (as is always the case because they make it fresh when you order). When I asked, they told me I'd have to order more than 2 or 3 for them to make a batch (1 doz.). So after ordering 4, we were told it would take about a half hour. D & I continued browsing & finding souveneirs for her, then headed back to pick up the tarts. I noticed a fresh batch of low poh beng (wife cookie) so we got some of those too. Of course the cookie was fine, just not the best I've tasted. But the star is definitely still the fruit tart. A pastry shell (maybe no-bake?) that holds up well -- even when a day old (I've ordered these for office brunch parties and picked them up a day before, so I know). Stiff but not brittle nor hard -- just crumbly enough without falling apart at the first bite. The tart's addictive nature stems from the play between this crust, and the 2 types of "cream": bottom layer is a thick custard while the top layer is more of a whipped cream; garnished with fruit (usually strawberry, cantalope, and tangerine so the best tarts are when these are in season). After inhaling 2 tarts, we decided to save the other 2 for later and continued our wanderings.
Later on I thought about getting fresh-out-of-the-oven cha siu so (bbq pork flakey pastry)from the bakery next to the community center but I'd heard a rumor that they were planning to move to a new location and would be closing sometime in the next week. As we peered in from across the street, it seemed they were already vacating the premises so we decided not to go. They will be taking over the bakery where we got the fruit tarts. Yay that my fave cha siu so will still be around, boo for the impending disappearance of the fruit tarts.
Since we were still full from all the snacks and we were definitely scheduled for dinner, I decided to only order us 1 banh mi from Cam Huong. D had never had banh mi before (despite living close to Westminister) and requested a non-exotic choice. So it was a #1 -- pork (ham?). We grabbed drinks and took off to the estuary, where we had a lovely view and munched amidst fresh air.
Part 2: Fri dinner
For dinner on Friday, we had reservations @ Tanjia in Oakland's Temescal... www.tanjias.com
Upon entering the restaurant, I felt transported to another land. But then I wondered, if they had put so much thought into the decor, would the food be up to snuff? I need not have worried.
We ordered the lamb & brochette, as well as the seafood in sharmoula sauce (both from the specialties menu). Tanjia has 2 menus -- one dinner menu @ $21.95 that offers the set items plus your choice of entree, and a specialties menu @ $23.95 that offers the same set of items plus your choice of entree. At Tanjia, diners are encouraged to eat their meal in the traditional fashion with hands -- so before the soup was served, the waitstaff brought out water in a kettle and a matching silver basin for the ritual handwashing.
First up was the harira soup, described on the menu as a spicy lentil soup. What they mean by "spicy" is probably that there are a lot of spices in it, because it was not the spicy type of burning heat. The soup was a lovely beginning to the meal, a whisper promising solidly good food with well balanced flavors. Since the decor and ritualistic hand-washing had transported us to another world, we decided to sit back and relax while sipping this bowl full of contrasting textures; a true beginning to the slow food feast that awaits.
Next came home baked bread with various salads: eggplant, cucumber, cauliflower, and carrot. Each salad had its own distinct flavor, and when eaten together with the bread brought out even more rich wholeness. The crunchy carrots were slightly cooked, w/o losing its crunchy texture and natural sweetness. The sliced carrots were tossed with a hint of lemon & spices, which highlighted the natural sweetness even more. Roasted eggplant was pureed w/ garlic and other spices (coriander?), which was scooped up with the house bread for a muted earthiness. Crunchy thin slices of cucumber brought a refreshing bite to the quartet of salads, but the cauliflower bits were a tad drab.
The third item to be brought was the bastilla, phyllo dough filled with shredded chicken, egg and almonds, topped with cinnamon and powdered sugar. In the past, I've often been turned off by sweet & savory dishes -- maybe my tongue gets confused and my mind decides my tummy should not eat anything outside of dessert that has a sickeningly cloying sweetness. But the balance in this dish was excellent; the cinnamon and sugar lent just a hint to add depth and bring out the savory spices. Chicken was tender, and the crispness of the phyllo contrasted well with the moistness on the inside. One word of caution: the bastilla is meant to be eaten by hand, and since it comes fresh out of the kitchen there is a tendency towards burning fingertips -- folks might want to let this sit for a bit before tearing in. For this, I could easily turn down Kanzaman, and possibly even Aziza (when I don't feel like getting across the bay).
Fourth entrees were the mains. My lamb was amazingly tender in a fall-off-the-bone way; I just wished there was more. Again, although the sauce had a hint of sweetness it was not overpowering; it actually acted as a foil in contrasting well with the savoriness. The brochette was slightly overchewy and dry, but well seasoned nonetheless. D liked her seafood, but I thought there was not enough umph in the dish. The sharmoula sauce had been described to us as transparent, and made with chicken broth/stock with herbs/spices. I thought it was more of a chicken-flavored "gravy" albeit thin and bland. Both entrees came with veggies (they weren't very interesting so I don't remember what they were) and couscous -- which had definite integrity and flavor; which worked well as a foil to the mains.
Our final item was supposed to be mint tea & dessert; but because they ran out of dessert we were served a fruit platter instead. Their mint tea was barely enough to whet my lips. Fruit was good, but since I've rarely experienced a Moroccan feast I was looking forward to dessert.
I'll have to come back again to try the dessert; and next time I'll order mint tea off the beverage menu.
Part 3 will be on the Sat visit @ Ferry Bldg...
Ok, my long belated Part 3... I'm still digesting the stuff we chomped thru on this lovely visit to the FB.
First stop was to split a hot breakfast sandwich @ Golden Gate Meat Co... to get our stomachs ready for our marathon eating thru the area. The bacon, cheddar, and fried egg were done to perfection! I know there's a fast food place or two that have attempts at creating something similar (burger king? jack in the box? carl's?) but GG's completely blows those out of the water with their bacon alone -- crisp, smokey, and when combined with the melted gooey cheese: heaven.
Next stop on the list was Tsar Nicoulai for the truffled scrambled egg w/ crème fraîche and caviar... again to split as we still had plenty of things to try. Either this item was not a good choice or we should steer clear of the cafe's offerings, because it didn't really register much for me.
Third stop was a toss up between SF Fish Co and Ferry Plaza Seafood, and again it was a miss -- we ordered a soup & sandwich from Ferry Plaza. The fish chowder was alright, but the bits of fish were almost nonexistent and a tad overdone. The crab sandwich was pretty good though, and we ended up polishing that off. Maybe their clam chowder is supposed to be better... have to check that out next time. This was the last miss of the day, as everything else shone.
Our final stop @ the FB was for Hog Island's sweet beauties. I can't believe what I've been missing! Their oysters are out of this world. We originally checked in with our tummies and decided on the 1-doz sampler from the bar; but that was nowhere near enough. After consuming 1 doz oysters each, my stomach was still clamoring for more -- its a good thing my wallet is only so big or I'd hafta check into oyster rehab.
We finally managed to tear ourselves away from Hog Island to check out Recchiuti -- although we chose not to shell out for these cute sweets on this day I've had them on a previous occasion; and for those who save the best for last I wouldn't be able to decide between Recchiuti and Hog Island.
Of course we checked out the offerings at the farmer's market, but since time was running out and there was still plenty to do we only did a quick browse through.
After an afternoon wandering Pier 39 and Fisherman's Wharf with full bellies, we stopped @ Nick's for dinner before heading out to the Castro. Yes, we ordered seafood, although I wish my friend had postponed the visit by a month so we could catch the crab season. Ultimately, we decided on 2 seafood platters - 1 fried and one sauteed. Since this spot is full of tourists (the table next to us were folks from Japan savoring their first taste of chowder in sourdough), there isn't much worth mentioning about the meal except the place was really packed and service was definitely haphazard and hectic.
Our time in the Castro was a bit hazy to say the least, and after bar hopping for a while we ended back in the east bay to crash... our "breakfast" the following morning @ Shan Dong in Chinatown was the perfect ending to my friend's visit.
We ordered the hand-cut noodles pan fried w/ random bits, leek/chive "pancake" (actually more like large round flattened dumplings filled with leek/chive mixture, glass noodles, and other yummy ingredients), and of course my fave -- their siu beng w/ meat (roast beef sandwiches w/ hoisin sauce).
After that whirlwind "Eating Across the Bay" weekend tour, my friend joked I was prepping a turkey for the slaughter. I'm already planning my next event -- be it solo or w/ friends...