A Single, Perfect Dish (and a Drink?)
Elsewhere on this board I recently started a thread about cheap chow to explore when I'm visiting San Francisco for a week next week (from Boston). I got a few great responses to my admittedly general inquiry. But those responses brought to mind a related query, perhaps one that's more germane to what I'm looking for:
What are those single, perfect (well...you know what I mean) dishes that are worth heading to a far-flung neighborhood (or not) to savor----even if nothing else on the menu comes close? That sort of dish where you might take a seat at the bar, alone or with a friend, and order that one Transformative Dish, and maybe a glass of chablis or a cocktail? The sort of dish that you can't help ordering every time you're at the restaurant, despite your usual Chow-ish curiosity to try something new every time? It's just that good....
In Boston, for example, some dishes like that for me would be:
(1) Skirt Steak Soft Tacos at Bonfire (perfectly charred, deeply marinated skirt steak slices with avocado crema)
(2) Asparagus "Tartare" at Metropolis (blanched asparagus pieces tossed with olive oil avocado, and fresh basil, topped with crispy fried shallots, and garnished with balsamic reduction)
(3) Shrimp with Yellow Chives at Taiwan Cafe
* * *
Some of the ones I've gotten from the other thread (and elsewhere) for SF are:
(1) Shrimp Fried Rice and Imperial Rolls at Tu Lan
(2) Roasted Dungeness Crab and Garlic Noodles at Crustacean (or Thanh Long)
(3) Belgian frites and Mussels at Fritz
How are these so far? Can you give me a few more? I'm planning to venture out with a friend to sample; they can be cheap or not-so-cheap.
Thanks in advance...
MY REPORT (LONG)
Thanks so much for the recommendations. (I’m still planning to try Roasted Dungeness Crabs and Garlic Noodles tonight.) This was truly an unparalleled week of chow, and I couldn’t have done it without such well-thought-out suggestions. If you come to Boston, I’ll return the favor.
On the first day, I trudged cautiously through the truly sketchy Tenderloin District for lunch at Tu Lan. Found a seat at the counter and ordered a Tsingtao and a Shrimp Fried Rice. As I sipped my beer, I was amused by the sketch of Julia Child on the front of the laminated menus enjoying a feast of Tu Lan menu items. The fried rice was quite tasty, with onion, a few scattered veggies, egg, and a generous helping of chopped shrimp. And lots of oil. I’m a pretty big guy, but I ate, and ate, and ate, and ate...and when I could eat no more, the plate still looked full. Magic fried rice. I’d order it again, but I’d share it with a friend (and have room to try the Imperial Rolls everyone mentioned). Just the sort of greasy that fried rice is supposed to be.
[Cooked a feast at my friend’s apartment that night.]
Taqueria San Jose
Took a cab over to the Mission at around 9:30 am. I was the only one in the place. I ordered three Tacos al Pastor, with some crema on the side. The soft tortillas, doubled up, tasted fresh and light and the braised pork was saucy and flavorful, topped with chopped cilantro and onion. My one complaint would be that the pork was a little on the dry side---sort of like the burnt ends of a brisket. And that given the fact that I was ordering three, I botched the perfect opportunity to try two other types of taco. Oh, well. Well worth the trip. I’d be back.
For lunch, I walked over to Larkin Express and ordered a Tea Leaves Salad. The guy behind the counter asked if I wanted rice. I told him I had no idea. He said that Burmese always eat it with rice and he’s never understood how Americans can eat it by itself. When I took the plates of rice and salad to the table, I understood immediately: This is some rich, rich stuff! Whole, fermented brown tea leaves, soft and pungent, tossed with crispy-fried garlic slices, fried yellow peas, a few scattered bits of cabbage, and what must have been some sort of mild vinegar. An absolute revelation! I devoured it, but it was hard to eat more than a few bites without chasing it with rice.
Around 5 pm, I ventured over to Bix, where I planned to order the Hand Cut Steak Tartare and a Cocktail. It took me an hour to find the place, hidden on a side street that no one in SF knows the name of. Bustling scene of suited financial types making sloppy conversation with their bosses over martinis and scotches. I finally got a seat at the bar and, despite the recs here, ordered the GBL, a gin-and-tonic variant that swaps out Bitter Lemon soda for the plain tonic. Tasty. The Steak Tartare was as delicious as this board has suggested. On the first bite, I feared that this version was one of the way-too-pickled renditions I’m not a huge fan of. But soon the creaminess of the beef and the richness of the yolk struck a nice balance with the acidic cornichons and aromatic shallots. The toast points were the perfect texture, and I was in love.
But only for a while, after which I would find a new culinary paramour. It was about 7:30, so I took a ($20!) cab ride down to Noe Valley to Incanto to try the delicious-sounding pasta dish. There was a seat at the bar. I ordered a glass of a California Gewürz and the smaller portion of Spaghettini with Sardinian Cured Tuna Heart, Egg Yolk, and Parsley. The cured tuna was salty and intense----like a cooked anchovy only wishes it could be someday. The thin, wispy pasta retained a slight chew, despite its slightness, and the light and wet but rich sauce and raw egg yolk were a glorious foil to the powerful fish taste. May be the best pasta dish I remember having, though a fairly recent meal at Babbo (in NYC) included a few possible spoilers to that reign. The sommelier was friendly and knowledgable, and the other patrons seemed happy and wine-addled. I did see the chef ream one of his line cooks, Gordon Ramsay–style, which was amusing if a bit inappropriate.
A vodka-and-soda nightcap at Lulu (on Folsom and 4th) before heading upstairs to bed with a full belly and a relaxed mind.
Walked a few blocks away to Two, where I planned to try only the Caramelized Broccoli, then dash back through the Tenderloin to sample another Tea Leaf Salad version or two. Nothing doing. I sat at the bar, ordered a Galangal Gimlet, and proceeded to be tempted by the remainder of the menu. (Besides: The bartender was friendly and chatty.) I started with the broccoli, which came out as flat-ish slabs of stalk and floret, dark brown on one side and flavored with lemon juice, garlic, and red pepper flakes. The flavor was nice, but the texture didn’t bowl me over. The florets were lovely; the stalks were just a tad too chewy. (When I’ve cooked a similar dish at home, I’ve separated out stalk and floret, caramelized the stalks first, then added the florets to the skillet a few minutes into it.) I had scouted out Robert Lauriston’s review online and decided to give the Spaghettini with Sea Urchin a try. Delicious! The round, creamy sea urchin blobs countered the chili pepper and garlic flawlessly, and the portion was just right.
After wandering around the Castro for a bit, I headed to Nopa, where I ordered a Elderflower Gimlet (vodka, lime juice, elderflower syrup). Fragrant, lots of floral aromatics, and perfectly mixed. (It occurred to me that this drink goes out of its way to bestow upon vodka the botanicals that much-maligned gin offers naturally. Oh, well. Delicious concoction, but I wonder how many purported gin haters love it, too.) My friend joined me after work, and we decided to sit at the bar for dinner. Shared the Marinated Squid Salad, tossed with fennel, endive, and spiced chickpeas. The squid was tender with just the slightest chew, and the salad beautifully conceived. We also shared a grilled sardine small plate, which I don’t see listed on the current online menu and can’t recall exactly. DC got the Country Pork Chop, With Grilled Nectarines, Olives and Mustard Seed Vinaigrette. Amazing dish: nice, fatty chop, loaded with flavor, contrasted brilliantly with the sweet, briny, and piquant notes of its garnishes. Cooked to a juicy, blushing-pink. I ordered a Seared Duck Breast special, which came with some greens and an eggplant caponata. The duck was excellent: reddish-pink interior, a good exterior sear, and thinly sliced. (Its pronounced seasoning made me wonder if it has been dry-brined with a salt coating for a day, but the interior wasn’t desiccated like a duck prosciutto might be....) Served on its jus. You know, I’m just not a fan of eggplant caponata, I’ve decided. Love eggplant, love tomatoes, love olives...just not in this combination. But I digress. Excellent meal overall, and the ultra-high ceilings made dining there a treat.
[My friend and I made the Cook’s Illustrated recipe for Buffalo Wings at home. It’s an excellent recipe, BTW.]
Walked around Hayes Street for an hour. Bought some sakes at True Sake, then stopped in at Absinthe for a drink and snack. I had a Ginger Rogers (a ginger-ized mojito) and it was just OK. We shared an order of Smoked Salmon with Fennel Pollen, Caper Crème Fraîche, Pickled Onions, and Crostini. It was pretty good; our service was kind of clueless. I probably wouldn’t return. Too many other places.
My friend had tried to get reservations at the smoking-hot A16 but wasn’t successful. So I suggested we head back to Incanto, where I’d fallen in love with the tuna-heart pasta. Our table wasn’t quite ready, so the hostess retrieved glasses of complimentary Prosecco. Very classy. We had a party of three---my friend and his girlfriend---but I was to remain without a date: The new love of my heart, the tuna heart pasta, was not on the menu that night. The waiter removed the fourth chair. I sighed. The good news is that we were free to venture elsewhere around the lovely menu.
• We splurged on a bottle of 2001 Barolo “Massolino” Serralungad Alba ($88). The server decanted the bottle, and as it opened up, it was pure heaven. Served at a gloriously cool 60-ish degrees. Tastes of cherry, leather, and ultra-smooth and -complex.
• Antipasti Platter ($18): a garlicky pistachio mortadella (yum!); country paté with a grainy Dijon-style mustard; thinly sliced warmed head cheese (yum, but I will always be somewhat squeamish as I dig into head cheese...); pig’s-feet rillettes; and some sort of house-cured salami; garnished with buttered chanterelles, a head of roasted garlic, pickled cauliflower, and one or two other things. Great stuff.
• Charred Padrones (small, mild peppers) and Grape Tomatoes With Basil and Aioli ($9): The peppers were brushed with olive oil, then briefly grilled (?); they almost reminded me of baby okra, in a good way. Subtle, beautiful.
• Figs with Mascarpone & Basil ($10): Very subtle dish, maybe too subtle for my tastes.
• Handkerchief Pasta with Rustic Pork Ragù ($15): Rich, meaty, delicious. The handkerchief pasta was perfectly al dente.
• Grilled Lamb Steak
• Seared Duck Breast
• Bay Leaf Panna Cotta with Elderberries.
These last three items were all incredible; I just didn’t take good notes, and the memory has faded. This was such a good place that I would eat there frequently if I lived in the city.
Went to Napa and had a luxurious lunch at Go Fish, which I’ll report on on another thread.
Thanks for a great report! I still haven't been to Incanto, but after reading your report and a few others, I think it will be happening very soon.
There's apparently a Burmese place in Allston now, I'd be curious to hear how the tea leaf salad there compares to Larkin Express Deli.
Wow. One intrepid hound! Impressive. Might be too late, but here are a couple of items I've had dozens and dozens of times, 'cause they're so darn good.
Deluxe schawerma (or veggie) felafel at Truly Mediterrenee (next to the Roxie on 16th) - get it with feta!
Salt baked chicken at Ton Kiang on Geary - OMG!
Chilaquiles at Chavas on Mission near 24th
Chef's Mess at St. Francis fountain on 24th, (near Treat I believe). Their Nebulous Potato Thing is also yummy. Order the grilled cornbread instead of toast.
The Thai Coconut Soup at Cafe Gratitude on Harrison and I think 22nd - worth a visit anyway, the place is amazing!
In Berkeley - the Potato Puffs (and pretty much anything else on the menu) from Gregoire's on Cedar at Shattuck
In San Rafael - The veggie plate at Sol Food (and pretty much anything else on the menu).
Good post- many I agree with already mentioned.
Some things that come to mind-
Raja- Indian pizza with a glass of fume blanc
Anh Hong- love the seven courses of beef-
El Huarache Loco stand - at Alemany farmers market sat. I could pretty much go through the entire menu..
Gorditas-nearly perfect, filled with pork and ancho chili salsa and cheese- then I add their hottest salsa from the salsa bar.
Huaraches- the closest I 've had to the real deal in D.F-either filling nopal cactus or carne asada YUM!
Swan Oyster Depot- crab cocktail so fresh and pure no lettus with that baby, mix your own cocktail sauce and a glass of sauvignon blanc- but I have usually three of each and swim home.
Zuni- Oysters and bubbly and their polenta mascarpone cheese.
Bar Crudo- lobster salad
Lime Tree- I've been stopping in for the Roti Pratha for a snack.
EOS- Shiitake Mushroom Dumpling with wine flight. I just love the sauce on these dumplings and I soak it up with their bread.
Lime Tree - Southeast Asian Kitchen
450 Irving St, San Francisco, CA 94122
Anh Hong Restaurant
808 Geary St, San Francisco, CA 94109
Raja Cuisine of India
500 Haight St, San Francisco, CA 94117
Swan Oyster Depot
1517 Polk St, San Francisco, CA 94109
Eos Restaurant & Wine Bar
901 Cole St., San Francisco, CA 94117
I thought of another one... while I have eaten through the entire menu of Carlo Middione's Vivande, I now just head there for the fettuccine and usually for whatever the daily special utilizing the fettuccine entails. At this point, I just saddle up to the bar and forego a table just for a platter of his absolutely ethereal pasta...
re: roasted Dungeness Crab and Garlic Noodles - I think the one at La Vie is much better than the one at Thanh Long. Thanh Long's is so garlicky you lose the flavor of the crab... I was actually kind of nauseous halfway through.
La Vie Vietnamese Restaurant
5830 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94121
Scallops with truffled potato purée at Jardiniere, the current incarnation of which is (as of July 25th 2007):
Maine Diver Scallops with White Corn Purée, Smoked Bacon and Cherry Tomatoes,
Shaved Summer Truffle
Order a glass of rich chardonnay to go with this. Bring money.
re: Ruth Lafler
re: Melanie Wong
Here's the ABC notice for transfer of ownership to D. Zaheer, the owner of The Helmand, for the location at 2424 Van Ness currently occupied by YaYa Cuisine.
YaYa will close on August 25. Hopefully this means that The Helmand will have a new or additional home for its Afghan cuisine soon.
2424 Van Ness Ave, San Francisco, CA 94109
430 Broadway, San Francisco, CA 94133
Until a few months ago, I would have said (and often did) the eggplant sandwich and
house "campari" followed by an espresso at Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store was one
of the finest meals a human could eat. Couple that with their perfect setting on
a corner in North Beach looking out on Washington Square park and you've got
But something has happened. I don't exactly know what, but my last couple of
visits have been awful. With a capital AWFUL. The drink recipe changed. The
sandwich maker has no idea what he's doing nor does he have any issues with
serving charred food. Even the coffee was lousy.
I could have just hit it on a couple of off days. Got no response from a posting
about it a while back. So with trepidation, I'd say that if you find yourself in a
light-meal mood and you're near the corner of Columbus and Union, it's worth
If I were to tour the city having one drink and one dish at each place, I'd kick it off by sitting at the bar and enjoying house-made salumi platter and a glass of Italian red at Incanto in Noe Valley.
Incanto Restaurant & Wine Bar
1550 Church St, San Francisco, CA 94131
In Oakland Chinatown (a few blocks from the Oakland City Center BART station)
Chui-chow style fried rice cake with scrambled egg and preserved vegetable at BC Deli.
Xiao-long bao and rice cake with pork and preserved vegetable (ji cai) at Shanghai Restaurant.
B C Deli Sandwiches
818 Franklin St, Oakland, CA 94607
930 Webster St, Oakland, CA 94607
wittlejosh - thanks for asking this question, it's helpful that you're this specific.
I agree with the tea leaf salad recs...at least try it somewhere, since as far as I know, there is no where to get this in Boston. I've had it once at Burma Superstar, and also several times at Larkin Express Deli...enjoyed it every time.
Shrimp al ajillo at El Delfin. I would highly recommend visiting this place - most everything I've tried is good, and Mexican food like this is hard to find in Boston.
Pork leg stew rice plate at Thai House Express (I agree with Robert that lots of things are good here, but for me, this really stands out)
Chicken/Imperial Roll plate at Cordon Bleu - I always get the plate w/ one piece of chicken and one imperial roll (a combination that is not technically on the menu) with the rice and amazing meat sauce.
Sago with mango juice and coconut at Creations Dessert House. (Hui Lau Shan)
Tacos al pastor at Taqueria San Jose.
Cappuccino brownie at Delessio
That's all I can think of at the moment, but I am sure I'll think of more, and I'll post them here.
P.S. I also love the shrimp with yellow chives at Taiwan Cafe. I wish I could find something like that here...anyone have any ideas?
Burma Superstar Restaurant
309 Clement St, San Francisco, CA 94118
Delessio Market & Bakery
1695 Market St, San Francisco, CA 94103
Larkin Express Burmese Kitchen
452 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94102
Taqueria San Jose
2830 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110
Thai House Express
901 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94109
Cordon Bleu Vietnamese
1574 California St, San Francisco, CA 94109
Creations Dessert House
5217 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94118
3066 24th St, San Francisco, CA 94110
re: Dave MP
re: Robert Lauriston
Orbit Room has pastries to go with their morning coffee menu. Not sure about other items, but if there are they are pre-made snacks in the pastry case. There is no food menu. They do make great cocktails but service is so hit-or-miss I do not go often, and I live very close by. Too bad because on nice days when they open those huge windows it's a great spot for people-watching.
re: Robert Lauriston
re: Robert Lauriston
Well, that it most definitely is not. At least the dive part...cocktails are not cheap and are well made and it does not attract the Mission hipsters I see at the bars around Valencia & 16th (i.e., Kilowatt and Dalva). It's actually a nice bar (I'd take my parents there), but I'd definitely call it a bar, and not a cafe, at least at night. During the day it's a coffee house.
Yes, and thats exactly why The Orbit Room is worth visiting again! Some people may have liekd her but in my opinion- it was too long of a wait with her and her notions of customer service left a lot to be desired. Her drinks from what I tasted were either big hits or big misses. I visited a few times within the last few months as I moved to the neighborhood and it is quite an impressive operation now.
Oh yeah. The rice ball salad's amazing.
Champa's by no means a one-hit wonder, but that's the only dish that I'd consider worth a drive across the bridge. Their other stuff you can mostly find similar / better in SF. Not sure about mu ping ma nao.
I haven't been to Burma Superstar, but I heard they put lettuce in the tea leaf salad? That sounds wrong to me. I like Mandalay's but I'm not a fan of the chopped, mulch like texture of the tea leaves... Does Larkin Express use chopped or whole leaves?
I read that there's a very good Burmese restaurant in Allston now - from what I read of it, it sounds like it has a lot less Chinese influence than the Burmese restaurants out here - it may not actually be worth it for the OP to eat Burmese in the Bay Area.
That's great that there's a Burmese place in Boston! If that's the case, you're right, the OP can eat there.
In the tea leaf salad at LED, there is some lettuce or cabbage, but not very much at all. Like Robert says, mostly tea leaves. At Burma Superstar, there was indeed lettuce, but it didn't bother me. Overall it was still a very good salad, just different.
Carmelized broccoli at TWO.
Tu Lan is bad. If you want extraordinary fried rice with shrimp paste, go to Thai House Express, and make it clear that you like shrimp paste. Though it's not the kind of place where only one dish is great.
Thanh Long / Crustacean were that kind of place--you'd look around and everybody had either the crab or the similarly prepared tiger prawns--but they went downhill. Have they gotten back on track again?
Nothing that extraordinary about Frjtz's fries. They're Belgian-style, which is unusual. Haven't had their mussels.
re: Robert Lauriston
Tu Lan's shrimp fried rice doesn't have shrimp paste. It's rice, shrimp, egg, curry powder, oil, and salt. Plus more oil. It's one of the three things that are really great there. the others being the imperial rolls and the bbq pork over rice.
I long ago stopped eating anything else there after many disappointments. But will go miles and expensive bridge tolls out of my way for one or more of those three.
(As a tourist, you should be aware that the place is a bit of a dump and located on one of the worst corners you're likely to encounter during your visit. I find that a positive thing, many people might not.)
re: Robert Lauriston
I'll be the sole person probably to chime in and say, I like Crustacean. In LA, its a hot spot and hard to get reservations so when I moved up here, it was nice that no one really liked it... I could go anytime. I get their garlic noodles and crab. The atmosphere isn't as nice as the LA or LV location but the food is still good to me. Although, other than the crab and noodles, I don't feel that there is anything else there worth going for.