BOS-SFO Trip Report, May 2011
Taqueria El Castillito (370 Golden Gate location): Super burrito de lengua (2 separate trips) is fantastic in so many ways. The meat "a vapor" style is served in the largest chunks I've ever seen and pickled jalapenos are essential for a texture contrast. Perfect balance of moisture in the burrito without getting too wet and saucy.
Old Mandarin Islamic: If you are hooked on the flavor of hot peppers you must eat the "extremely hot pepper" dish. Equal parts jalapeno, Thai chiles, dry red chiles, chicken and egg. I ate too much of it, which was later perhaps somewhat regrettable. I didn't like the cold tofu and cucumber dish, which was oversalted and made use of mashed-up firm tofu, ruining the essential smoothness that tofu should have. Boiled lamb dumplings were OK but the filling contained a large amount of crunchy green vegetable that distracted from the lamb flavor and texture.
Alemany Farmers' Market: This place rocks. Organic cherries from Ferrari Farms were seriously cracking off and I ate too much at $2.50/lb. I couldn't resist buying a pizza from the Copper Top Oven guy with the promising looking oven (wood-gas hybrid), especially since it was 7am and nobody else had finished setting up their mobile kitchens, but the product was really disappointing. They overproof and undersalt the dough, then stretch it flat until they've killed all the bubble structure (he's got a couple kids doing all the pizza assembly work) and any moisture is sapped out by the heavy dose of flour applied to the thing. The product is basically a lunch-truck or crispy bar pizza, but not a particularly good one at $10. I don't get why the essential aspects of American pizza don't translate well from the Northeast to CA (or why a good burrito is so hard to get in Boston) but here we are.
Scream Sorbet at Ferry Plaza: Mint-cucumber tastes a little too real, like a bowl of sliced cucumbers with a little salt and chopped mint, not something I want for dessert. Settled on a little cup of almond-honey which was really pleasant.
Rolli Roti at Ferry Plaza: The porchetta sandwich is inferior in comparison to the one from Porchetta in NYC but that's my only reference point. I found the salting to be way off, with too much in some parts and none around the arugula which made the whole thing way too bitter for me, though my DC enjoyed it a lot.
Turtle Tower: Their pho ga is the best chicken soup I've ever had. Clear yellow broth with some shreds of chewy breast meat and a simple garnish of lime and jalapenos was satisfying and chickeny without any obvious MSG overdosing. I would ask for the noodles to be cooked a bit harder next time. I also enjoyed trying the alternative preparation of bun thit nuong, with the grilled pork served in big pieces already marinated in the bowl of nuoc cham. You have to tear all the herbs and assemble the bowl yourself which is entertaining, and keeps the noodles from getting soaked and mushy at the end. The Viet bakery/dessert megamart across the street (forgot the name) is also a fun place to check out.
Papalote: Now that I've been to both the Mission and Northern Park locations I'd say I prefer the ambience of the former and food at the latter. I enjoy the food there for two very specific reasons: 1. the guilty pleasure of the complementary tomato salsa product and 2. I find the burrito product here to be like a higher-quality doppelganger of the local Boston area chain Anna's.
Two ice creams I wouldn't recommend: Polly Ann's and Mitchell's. They both offer a large variety of unusual flavors but the ice cream is heavy on the air and ice, and at Polly Ann's everything that this sort of store-brand artificial flavor to it.
Humphrey Slocombe: I thought the secret breakfast flavor was rather well-balanced where many alcohol flavor ice creams can be overwhelming. Pepper/mint-chip was also extremely well balanced and successfully walked the fine line between novelty and straight-up dessert. It was fairy icy, though. No match for the similarly unique flavors that come with perfect texture at Toscanini's or Christina's in the Boston area.
Bi-Rite Soft Serve Window: I enjoyed the salted caramel cone and I welcome the growing "fancy" soft serve trend.
Mission Chinese Food: Unfortunately I must agree with most of the complaints leveled by hong_kong_foodie in this thread http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/756691 it's clear that the food is being produced by enthusiastic folks with their heart in the right place but they just don't really know what they're doing. Pork belly appetizer has absolutely nothing to do with cha siu so I found it downright misleading to put that term anywhere in the description. It's huge chunks of chicharron (unseasoned) served next to soft-cooked egg and unseasoned cucumber slices, with a few pieces of scallion cheung fun (cold). The elements are all perfectly nice-tasting but texturally it makes no sense and most bites were either bland or too porky. It seems like the chef gave up halfway through designing the thing. I was scared off from trying the "ma po" tofu after complaints it was one-dimensionally too spicy but then ended up in the same situation with the "kung pao" pastrami. Kung pao should have a light texture with distinct pieces of chicken and dried red chile, kind of bouncing on the tongue. This dish was an onslaught of hot pepper paste that coated everything (including the completely superfluous potato slices) in strong bitter heat. The pastrami seemed to be great quality, it's a shame you could barely taste anything in the whole mess. We were served a huge pot of rice without having ordered it, but it was overcooked and overwatered and unpleasant. Advice to the chef: if you want to be a great Sichuan cook, learn how to do that and stop fucking around. If you want to do something new and fresh, focus on that and make it good. This is a menu of first drafts that seems to think it can coast by with cute attempts at referencing popular traditional dishes.
Boudin Bakery (original Geary/10 Av location): I went in at 8am and received what was obviously a day-old sourdough roll. Croissant was Costco-style, but that's probably my own fault for ordering it. Was embarrassed.
Hong Kong Lounge: This is the best dim sum I've had in the US, distinguishing itself in flavor and overall restaurant experience from what most people consider the best in Boston, Manhattan, Flushing and LA. Wait time was long but not excessive, service was prompt upon ordering and helpful with questions. Technical skill was solid as evidenced in things like ha gau texture and overall rich flavors without a heavy/fatty/MSGy taste, even in typically heavy dishes like steamed ribs or chicken. I particularly recommend the steamed chicken with chinese medicine flavor (English is something like "steamed bone with ranch chicken") for its clear, strong, but not overbearing richness. The tripe presentation was visually appealing and something I hadn't seen before: a large plate of plain white steamed tripe offset by green and red chile slices and scallions, served with a soy-based dipping sauce. Jaa leung was fresh and the fried section was still crispy, and ha cheung fun had abundant clean-tasting shrimp inside appropriately-textured noodle. The ham soi gok were interestingly flavored with a strong dried shrimp element, as opposed to the sweet-meaty style I'm used to. The only failing point was the desserts, with a greasy and structurally unsound egg tart and a black sesame "roll" (rolled up rice starch jelly) with absolutely zero flavor, kind of like eating sugar with a spoon.
Alemany Farmers' Market
100 Alemany Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94110
Old Mandarin Islamic Restaurant
3132 Vicente St, San Francisco, CA 94116
Hong Kong Lounge
5322 Geary Boulevard, San Francisco, CA 94121
Thanks for the great report. You were spot on when you said Scream Sorbet tastes bowl of sliced cucumbers with a little salt and chopped mint -- that's basically what it is, since they put the whole ingredients in a pacojet and freeze them. I don't think they necessarily intend all their flavors to be for "dessert" -- after all, sorbet is commonly used as a palate cleanser in multi-course meals. I tend to think of some of their flavors as being almost like condiments, served in a small amount with something else.
I hope you don't judge all Bay Area pizza from one guy at the Farmers Market -- there's a lot of really good pizza going on right now in the Bay Area, although it's not the same style as New England pizza.
5030 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA
re: Ruth Lafler
re: Ruth Lafler
Oh, I totally disagree. Emilia's tops every classic NY pizza (Patsy's-style) I've had except DiFara's, and Gioia's is right up there. Rotten City does a very good version of the street slice, and Lanesplitter can as well, if you get the right guy making pizzas that day. Maybe SF hasn't figured out the NY pizza yet, but I think the East Bay definitely has.
Emilia's is near the original Berkeley Bowl, so if you're interested in making a little East Bay trip in the future (or driving through the East Bay on your way to Napa), it's definitely worth making a detour. He opens at 5 and starts taking phone orders at 4. He has a good system - you call in for a specific time slot, whether or not you take out or eat in. There are 2 very small tables - I think we crammed 8 people in there once but we had to put all the tables end to end on a diagonal. I strongly suggest eating there - while the pizza's still good after sitting in a box for 5 minutes, it's magic straight out of the oven.
Pictures and a rave from Adam Kubin of Slice:
2020 Oregon St, Berkeley, CA 94703
Thanks for the great report!
New York-ish style pizza is doing quite well in Silicon Valley too, between Howie's Artisan Pizza and A Slice of New York. Tony's in San Francisco also has a New York style that looked pretty promising, but I was too amazed that they had Detroit style to try that one. That's an exception; the strength is definitely in Italian and Cal/Italian styles, which is what I would recommend to visitors unless they're really homesick.
Rick's Ice Cream in Palo Alto is the only Bay Area place I've been to yet that comes close to Toscanini's level of both texture and flavor quality, but there are lots of places I haven't tried.
Rick's Ice Cream
3946 Middlefield Rd, Palo Alto, CA 94303
Howie's Artisan Pizza
855 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, CA 94301
Tony's Coal-Fired Pizza and Slice House
1556 Stockton St, San Francisco, CA 94133
A Slice of New York
1253 W El Camino Real, Sunnyvale, CA 94087
Lanesplitter's probably my favorite more-or-less-NY-style pizza, but to me the key is getting a whole "small" (16+") pie. The slices are variable and never as good unless you luck out and get a slice from a pie hot out of the oven.
Nizza la Bella also does very good NY style. I'd go there more often if they were open late.
I like Emilia's but we had a head-to-head at a party and Lanesplitter won. Maybe Emilia's is better if you eat it there but the place is tiny and has no beer.
Gioia, nice toppings, tasteless crust.
I have to get back to Tony's to try the pizza from the new coal oven and see how it compares with John's of Bleeker St. Tony's "Classic American" pie is a great version of Ray's-style pizza, possibly too good to satisfy a New Yorker's junk-food craving.
2033 San Pablo Ave, Berkeley, CA 94702
1586 Hopkins St, Berkeley, CA 94707
Nizza La Bella
827 San Pablo Ave, Albany, CA 94706
4799 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94609
2995 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA 94705
Tony's Coal-Fired Pizza and Slice House
1556 Stockton St, San Francisco, CA 94133
I actually like the roli roti porchetta better then the one from porchetta in nyc. In particular - the lavender salt and onion compote - while maybe not traditional is spectacular when in balance (which it is 3 our of 4 times I go). Both are get the greasy-crispy pork thing right.
Nice review, thanks! There's only one reason to go to polly ann's, and that's Durian. I'm glad you got to try quite a few of our new up and comers, and I agree, few measure up to Tosca's. There's a whole thing out here about laws regarding pasteurization of eggs that, I hear, restricts some innovation in ice cream base.