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Jul 26, 2007 04:57 AM

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 ( 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
(4) Etc.

* * *

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...

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    1. 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.

      2 Replies
      1. 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.)

        1. 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.

        2. The Nam Kao (rice ball salad) at Champa Garden. Can't count the number of times I've eaten there, and I've NEVER been able to avoid ordering it. No cocktails, but they do have Navarro wines. Not half bad for a restaurant that was once a donut shop.

          8 Replies
          1. re: lexdevil

            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.


            1. re: lexdevil

              Tea Leaf Salad at Burma Superstar (and some say it's just as good/a bit different at Mandalay).

              Burma Superstar Restaurant
              309 Clement St, San Francisco, CA 94118

              Mandalay Restaurant
              4344 California St, San Francisco, CA 94118

              1. re: Atomica

                Both are good (and fairly similar) but I prefer the very different the tea leaf salad at Larkin Express Deli.

                Larkin Express Burmese Kitchen
                452 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94102

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  Thanks for reminding me. We are definitely planning to go there after reading your great review.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    the moh hinga a fish chowder is very good.

                  2. re: Atomica

                    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.

                    1. re: daveena

                      Larkin Express uses whole, tiny, pale-green leaves, and the salad is dominated by tea leaves.

                      1. re: daveena

                        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.

                        Dave MP

                  3. A Martini at Bix (56 Gold Street). They sure know how to make one and its the best room in town to have one (IMO). Dinner there is not bad either :D

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: Cat Chow

                      Mild disagreement -- for Bix, the Sidecar is beyond perfect and I frequently show up late at night for the tableside service of hand-mixed steak tartare; the perfect end to an evening.

                        1. re: Cat Chow

                          Me three on the steak tartare. The marrow bones were great as well, but I couldn't stay away from the steak tartare.

                    2. For a perfect drink, Absinthe. They're remarkable behind the bar. My personal favorite is the Sazerac.