Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Cinderella Story

After watching Nick and Norah for the millionth time and watching plate after plate of Ukranian food get eaten at Veselka, I decided that it was about time I hunkered down and explored my very own neighborhood.

Yes, the Richmond is largely Chinese, but there are seriously just as many Russians up in there. When I first moved there, one of my roommates and I randomly picked up some pastries from a bakery near our apartment. Not knowing what to get, we just randomly pointed and somehow managed to get something similar to an apple turnover. Maybe it was an apple turnover and we just thought it was supposed to be Russian. I don't remember. Regardless, that experience pretty much left no desire to venture down that route much longer. I dabbled here and there over the years with my close attempt (but not really) at a pierogi tour of nyc and a visit to Crixa, but that was really it.

With this newfound curiosity, I turned to the interwebs to do a little research (and no, I don't mean yelp). Among the many options on and around Geary, Katia's and it's kitty-corner competition, Cinderella Bakery, were to be my first tries. Both locations are sit-down restaurants, but since Cinderella also had a side bakery, Stacy and I picked a few things up then walked a few feet to get ridiculously fed at Katia's. There were so many things we wanted to try, so we did the most logical thing: ordered all of them. We thought we were going to have lots of leftovers, but the portions were small enough that there wasn't anything to bring home. So much for being healthy! Here's what we had:

- borscht: OMG out of this world. I would return solely for this. Such deep flavor... it really is the solution to a cold night
- cabbage piroshki: small, nice flaky crust...not too out of the ordinary
- pel'meni: little, really little, dumplings in broth, these really tasted just like won ton, except 10x more expensive
- blini platter: I've never had any blini before, but I had always imagined them in the canape form, much like the kind we always see on Top Chef. Well, heh. Not quite. Pretty much a cross between crepes and pancakes, filled with sour cream and fishy goodness.
- shashlik: really tender marinated lamb. This dish was pretty tasty (a bit on the sour side) at first, until I realized that it tasted exactly like black bean stir fry, except 3x more expensive. No joke!

The service was really great, which I'm sure would've still been the case even if the restaurant was more full. I read that Katia always greets her diners, and she did, and was very warm and chatted with us for awhile. The food wasn't as hearty as I had imagined, but was also way more expensive than I thought it would be. Also, who knew that Russian cuisine could be so similar to their commie neighbor??

Cinderella, on the other hand, had much more reasonable prices (just the bakery/deli). Piroshkis at both places were $2.50-3, but Cinderella's were at least double the size. The fried ones were even bigger, but super greasy. The baked cabbage and meat ones had a generous amount of filling, and a bit more flavor than Katia's. They could really be a meal on their own. The famed honey cake was $4 a slice, and you could see the work that went into the many even layers of light coffee cake and sticky honey cream. This cake was just too much for both me and Stacy... I took a few bites and already felt sick. I can see why people like it though - it's uber rich, creamy, and sweet. What's not to like, right? The vatrushka, a cheesecake-like cottage cheese pastry, was crumbly and dry, which would've gone down better if I had coffee.

I think I like Cinderella's piroshkis better than Katia's, which is largely due to the value. So far, so good!


Sunday, February 22, 2009

DA BEEF: it's what's for dinner

After having disappointing and flavorless meat at Phat Philly, my friend suggested this tiny Chicago-style hot dog stand for its Italian Beef sandwiches. Topped with giardiniera and gravy which they like to call "da jus," this messy wet sandwich is satisfying and surprisingly not too coma-inducing.

What's really great about this place is the fact that it's not really a "place." It's just a tiny cart on the corner of 7th and Folsom, perfect for all the nearby construction workers and auto-shop hands around. I mean, we could see the blood and meat liquid (wouldn't call it juice) at the bottom of the ziploc bags they were kept in. No worries, we don't discriminate against vendors. If anything, what SF majorly lacks is the presence of non-taco food trucks... but let's not get into that. The woman running it is so sweet - a Chicago native who came to SF and just fell in love with this city. If I worked closer to that corner (it was less than a 10 minute bus ride, but still), I wouldn't eat there every day, but I might stop by and say hi -- that's how nice she is!

As far as authenticity goes, I wouldn't know, but the friend who suggested it said it's pretty comparable. The meat wasn't the best, but it's really the peppers and "da jus" that give the sandwich a lot of flavor. According to the 6 yelp reviews it has (that's it?), the hot dogs are true to their city with the bright green relish and everything. Maybe next time.


Friday, February 20, 2009

Dopo was dope... o

As mentioned, last weekend I went to Dopo for the first time for a late meal. We were so stuffed with butter-laden goodies that we didn't mind the 45min wait in the bitter cold. The host was really friendly and graciously spread blankets in our laps to help keep somewhat warm. When we were finally seated, we followed him around the side to an uncovered alley where they managed to squeeze about 5 more tables. At least we weren't right next to the tarp "door," because the draft kept blowing in and that couple was visibly miserable.

All that aside, our experience was really great. The food was yummy and you could see the pride and integrity in the cooks' work. The salumi plate was especially an example of their craft - very thought out pieces of cured meats that were explained to us by a cook (perhaps the chef de cuisine? not sure) in detail. The goat pate in the middle of the pic was a bit too crumbly/dry for my taste, so I asked for some olive oil, which really made it amazing for me. I don't have the best palate when it comes to olive oil, but theirs was so smooth with so much flavor, definitely high quality you would expect from a good Italian restaurant.

So Dopo is primarily known for their pizza and handmade pastas, and both were really great. The pizza in particular (speck, green garlic, and sweet hot peppers) had super super thin crust, similar to Gaspare's but much more crisp. It was definitely the highlight of the meal in both flavor (green garlic is just so tasty) and texture. The pasta we shared was a pretty simple pork ragu that was very generous with the meat. You can't really go wrong with handmade pasta, but we both felt that we could probably find similar quality elsewhere.

Despite the elements working against us, we had a really great time at Dopo. Our waiter also recommended a wine that was exactly what I asked for - a light red with minimal tannins (my tongue hurt from boozing all day!) but still rich and creamy - which just enhanced our meal even further. I would definitely return on a warmer evening... I know space is hard to come by, but people really shouldn't be dining outside in bad weather. I felt so bad for the couple next to the draft.. that is, until they complained to a cook (or chef? it was the guy who explained the salumi plate to us) and threatened to write "10 bad reviews" on what I'm guessing is yelp. Who does that?? The cook handled it graciously and gave them a gift certificate to encourage their return. Either way, they had a point.


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

In and Out of Napa

Oh, Valentine's Day. A little bit of creamy Le Reve, some dark chocolate truffles with a nice cab...

... and some IN N OUT. In continuing with our tradition, we definitely kept it classy on Saturday. Then we gorged on pastries and pizza mmm (and almost the bacon explosion).


Saturday, February 07, 2009

Partaaay in the MONT

Here's a pic of the earl grey tea ice cream that I made for dinner at Gigi's (with some shortbread). Yes, it's melting a bit in the photo. Still some creamy goodness!

The housewarming was originally supposed to be a saffron night (and I would've made saffron-vanilla ice cream) since Alice brought back like a pound of "saffron" from Thailand that she got for $3 USD this past fall. $3??? I know, right. What a bargain! Well, let's just say that we had a change of plans. <3

Instead, we just made some simple food... salad, shrimp scampi, salmon, basil gnocchi w/ mushrooms, truffle oil and brown butter... it was a great meal that definitely kept well the next day for lunch.

Oh, and Gigi's fiance discovered a new amazing Trader Joe's find: pub cheese! It tastes kind of like cheez wiz, and with crackers, it's like eating those Ritz cheese cracker sandwiches. So addicting.

So here are some pictures of the gnocchi - Gigi likes to make thinks perfect so it's obvious which ones she made. I also decided to leave out the photo of Alice eating raw shrimp to keep this blog family friendly.


Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Dosa-doe your pardner home

I'm the first to admit that I'm not a connoisseur of Indian food, nor do I understand the subtleties of Northern Indian versus Southern Indian food. That being said, I think Dosa is a fun place to eat at and a nice change of pace from your typical naan and curry.

The original Dosa is in the Mission, on Valencia. This one is super crowded, has annoyingly small tables and doesn't take reservations. Also the hostess is always dressed like a renaissance women, it's very odd.

Dosa on Fillmore recently opened up where the old Goodwill used to be. This one has bigger tables (plus point) and takes reservations (plus point). Crowded? I can't tell. When I try to eat there on a Wednesday night at 7pm they say they are booked yet all I see are empty tables staring back at me, also very odd.

Since I currently hate my job, Kathy has all the time in the world and Stacy just wanted to try the place, we decided to take a long lunch and head over to the Fillmore. My personal fav there is the paper masala dosa. Unlike the traditional dosas on the menu, this one is extremely thin and crisp. It tastes delicious with the sambar (lentil dipping soup) and potato concoction. I usually also get the Dahi Vada (lentil dumplings topped with yogurt and garnished with tamarind and mint). The dumplings are crisp and taste refreshing with the yogurt sauce. I was really enjoying it until Kathy said it was basically like a big falafel, and then I was sad. We also shared a sample of Uttapams. I wasn't a big fan of these, they just tasted like bland pancakes.

The dessert menu had some interesting choices. While we chuckled at the name of one option, toasted coconut and saffron barfi, the waiter said it was actually the tastiest dessert. It did not look or taste like projectile vomit, unless your vomit is dry and flaky like the massive amount of coconut in this dish.

Best part of the meal? The company of course! Best conversation topic? General consensus that Paul Giamatti is one of the top 10 creepiest people in movies. Fact: he went to Yale. Fact: don't care where he went to school, he will always give me the heebie jeebies.


Gioia to the World

* UPDATE 22Feb09 *
Lesson learned, we ordered by phone and got their sausage and mushroom pies. They ran out of dough again, but we just made it. Their housemade sausage was the real winner. Hopefully next time we'll get to try a seasonal pizza! They were out of the butternut squash.


Mikey and I came here the night before Super Bowl, which ended up being a bad idea especially since we didn't call ahead. Gioia is closed on Sundays, so people were buying stacks of pies to reheat for the next day's game, making our wait over an hour long. They didn't even have pies by the slice when we got there. We were lucky to get our order in though... right before they ran out of dough.

This North Berkeley pizzeria marriages the owner's native east coast with its west coast location - New York style pizza with seasonal and fresh ingredients. Very simple, made with love and care. The general manager is really great (not Will Gioia) and friendly, and puts the finishing touches on each pie with some freshly chopped oregano.

Since they were getting so slammed that night, we just bought one whole pie - basically cheese with anchovies. After about 30 minutes or so, they started busting out pies that weren't on the menu (sausage, butternut squash, etc etc), but we had already ordered and didn't want to overly stuff our faces. Once they finally called our name, Mike didn't want to eat there, so we sped home in hopes that it would stay hot. Well, it was a cold, cold night, and hot it was not. It's hard to judge based on one luke-warm-congealing-cheese pizza (microwaving it did help a bit, but really.. what a shame), but based on that experience alone, I prefer Pizzetta 211. Gioia's crust was nice and chewy, had some good yeasty flavor... but I just wasn't feeling the toppings. But that's not a fair assessment, I know. I will definitely have to go again if I'm ever in Berk and craving pizza. And I will call ahead! We were seriously there FOREVER.


Monday, February 02, 2009

Tea Time

I got a pretty sweet bottle of Madagascar Bourbon vanilla sugar (I know, faaancy) for Christmas, and I thought I'd make some shortbread as a thank you. Half are coated in said sugar, the other in lavender sugar. Paired with some creamy, rich earl grey ice cream I made for a housewarming = deliciousness. When I asked my mom how she felt about earl grey tea, she complained about how "it's so GREEEEY!" If by "grey" she means "awesome," then yes... it's totally grey.