Thursday, April 23, 2009

Bandwagon (bandcart?)

Good grief this food cart thing is getting ridiculous. Street food, food carts, street vendors... whatever you want to call it... this type of food has been lacking in SF, a thought that I've mentioned before and have felt for a long time (long before MSF came around). The concept is obviously nothing new, and if you ever go to other big cities (outside of LA), you'll see non-taco-truck food vendors everywhere.

Well, it's finally happened. I'm sure the recession has a lot to do with this sudden surge (less money = people want cheaper food, people can't afford renting restaurant space, people need extra cash, etc), and maybe the whole immediacy of the twitter craze, but I think the bigger influence is MSF. I just hope this fad is about serving good food, and not just about being hip and catering to the Dolores Park scene. If only! I'm sure there will be plenty more popping up around the city, but here's the running list:

Magic Curry Kart

Creme Brulee Cart
Amuse Bouche Guy (this guy doesn't have any permits = Amuse Douche? har har that was cleverrr)
*Correction* Apparently none of these guys have permits, and there's also a spring roll guy now.

Non-cart "street food"
John's Snack and Deli: I actually ate here a few days ago*, and eater finally got word today
Kasa (it's been around for awhile and actually is a restaurant, but they've been having special street food nights featuring different regions of India)

* John's Snack and Deli has been around Financial for awhile, serving up "home-cooked" Korean food for cheap, like dok boki, bibimbap, etc. After LA's Kogi cart exploded, John and wife followed suit and started making kimchi burritos and tacos. I had both (pictured above), and let's just say that it wasn't for me. I haven't tried LA's Kogi, but I'm going to assume it's better than this. Don't get me wrong, John's Snack and Deli is great, but I don't think kimchi and cheese mix very well.


Sunday, April 19, 2009

TOP 5: Tokyo Food Themes

My visit to Tokyo was at the tail-end of my trip, and the purpose was really just to eat, shop, and hang out (unlike last time). I did reference this list, but really just for the sweets.

1. Sakura
Cherry blossom season varies all over Japan, and is a bit short-lived and fleeting. Although I caught trees at their peak all over China, I arrived in Tokyo a few days late. It was still beautiful, but the green leaves were already invading the branches, and the petals were already beginning to fall. Oh well! There were plenty of sweets still available - just in time before the season came to an end.

Sakura mochi from Higashiya in Nakameguro. The filling was red bean, and the flavor of the cherry blossom leaves was infused into the rice (I've always thought that mochi used mochiko, but apparently that's only one version).

Sakura ice cream (subtle floral/bing cherry flavor), bread w/ crush cherry blossom + red bean filling, bread sprinkled with cherry blossom leaf powder

2. Hidden treasures
Some places that my friend Taro took us to included this easily missable Okinawan-style Izakaya in Shibuya. Their pork tongue was tender and delicious, their "sea grapes" fresh and crunchy, and it was just a great meal all around. We also hung out at this tiny jazz cafe near Haraujuku/Shibuya... super super cute! We also ran into the makeshift cafe in Nakameguro... while in Tokyo, I managed to go to almost all the places listed in this NYT article without even knowing about it until I got back.

On the street, in front of Madeleine (photo courtesy of Taro)

- hollowed out baguette filled with ice cream (L), fried mountain yam w/ tartar sauce (R)

3. Edible Art
The Japanese really know design, especially when it comes to food. French pastry (and pretty much all things French) is especially adored, and two of the most popular patisseries I had on my list were in Ginza - Sadaharu Aoki, known for its eclairs, and Hidemi Sugino, known for its mousse cakes. I was told to arrive early for the latter, but I didn't realize that getting in line an hour before the store opened wasn't early enough! The store only makes 5-10 individual pieces of each cake, and there is a 6-piece limit per patron. Um, what? Yes, that means they can sell out of one type of cake after one customer. Um, what? !!! That is the dumbest business plan ever! So yes, I arrived almost an hour before opening, and barely nabbed 3 of the remaining cakes. Was it worth it? Well, if I had first selection, maybe I would feel differently, but at the moment I would say no. It's a heart-wrenching process watching platter after platter disappear before you get to the counter. I would consider trying my luck again if I knew I would be one of the first 5 people in line. =P
Outside Hidemi Sugino as they clean up, their famous mousse cakes (mousse had very good texture, but all other components lacked), wagashi from Higashiya

Aoki's famous eclairs (cassis, salted caramel -- very deep and almost burnt, matcha/chocolate layered cake)

4. Upgrades
At any sushi place, my go-to dish is always chirashi. I've seen a few different versions, but at this restaurant in Tsukiji was my first time having it prepared 3 ways. #1: Mix up the raw fish, uni, roe, and rice with soy sauce and wasabi to your liking; eat half. #2: Mix in pickled vegetables; eat half of that. #3: Pour hot tea/water onto the remaining fourth and eat as a soup. I'm a purist, so I preferred method #1, but it was still interesting since the fish was partially cooked at the end.

Taro insisted that I get Kit Kats there, since you can't really find them anywhere else. The Jasmine tea ones were actually really tasty! We also had ramen at Taro's favorite place in Shibuya, Kindenmaru, which has thicker noodles and a deep pork/fish broth.

Kit Kats: Strawberry, jasmine, fried sweet potato w/ honey, and red bean -- all flavored chocolate. There were others like flan and white chocolate, but these seemed to be a little more interesting.

5. Misc. sweets
Super rich ice cream @ a milk bar in Roppongi Hills, Okinawan candy (lime Hi-Chews, dragon fruit caramels and black sugar caramels), a cafe au lait mochi Taro gave me


Farm to Table

Mmm dinner

While in mainland China, I definitely thought a lot about where my food comes from - not just out of paranoia, but farms and farmers were just so pervasive and a normal part of every day life in most of the country (outside of the big cities). Living in California (and the bay area no less), we're pretty bombarded with "slow food," "farm to table," and "local," "organic" concepts/movements/revolutions/whatever you want to call it. But one thing that most ironists will recognize is that SF in particular is full of bandwagon "foodies" that really have no idea what these things really mean, or how this all really works. I don't claim to be a pro in any of these areas (nor do I proactively promote these ideas), but while I was in China, it was so easy to see where your food came from, how it was stored and cleaned, etc.

I took the above photo while I was on a bus in the Sichuan province. Tons of trucks full of animals and produce were passing us by, and this one in particular struck me. These animals were no doubt "free range" and were probably fed "local" and "organic" meal, and were bred "naturally" (we passed by tons of farms), but WTF! In transit, they were just covered in each other's vomit and feces. It was truly disgusting. Yes, that did make me want to become vegetarian for the day (I had dan dan mien w/ ground pork for dinner), but moreover, it made me wonder if all that sustainable jargon really mattered when it came down to whether or not I'd eat it.

Anyway, I won't say much more about the topic, so with all that aside, one of the best parts of the trip in terms of fresh food was the tea! Super fresh and picked right off of the mountains!

Some less thoughtful Top 5 lists after the jump:

TOP 2 Beijing Roast Ducks
1. Quanjude (the one near google and microsoft, not the forbidden city location!)
2. Dadong
Quanjude (right) and Dadong (left) were comparable in quality - the skin was crisp, had a light golden color, and the fat was translucent and blended into the skin. Despite Dadong's reputation for being the best, what put Quanjude over the edge was its cornmeal wrappers that gave extra flavor. They also gave you more for less money, but that was really secondary to the flavor. People usually consider Quanjude overrated and way past its prime, but their new location in the "silicon valley" of Beijing is smaller and less people go there... so the high quality that has made this restaurant successful in the past is maintained at this branch (so far). Note: we also went to Bianyifang, which isn't worth talking about. I attempted going to Liqun mostly because Tony Bourdain went there and loved it, but all the locals were disgusted and insisted we go somewhere else since it was supposed to be the worst!

TOP 5 Lays Potato Chips Flavors
1. Lychee all the way!
2. Seaweed (couldn't find them in Beijing, but went I went to Shanghai a few years ago I brought back bags and bags)
3. Mango
4. Blueberry
5. Finger Licking Braised Pork (I actually didn't try it, but hey, it must be finger-licking good!)

TOP 4 ways to get food poisoning in Beijing (or, TOP 4 foods to regurgitate onto the lawn of the Bird's Nest):
1. Hot pot: note to self - do not listen to locals when they say to only cook tripe for a few seconds
2. Hot pot: a free plate of lamb. Chinese people never give freebies!
3. Jian bing
4. Bao zi with pickled vegetables

TOP 3 Sichuan-style foods
1. Boiled fish in oil, water, and spices - I couldn't get enough; truly amazing!
2. Dan dan mien
3. Fried sticky rice balls - OK, not exactly Sichuan, but we got these multiple times in Chengdu (even better version in Guilin: coated in sugar and pork sung).


Saturday, April 18, 2009


Whenever I go abroad I always crave fresh Californian produce. My first meal back from Asia was a salad at Intermezzo. Mike and I also whipped up some spaghetti with tons of fresh basil (using the supposed Delfina recipe), and some sauteed chard and roasted asparagus. Very winter meets spring. Yay for bay area farmer's markets!

Of course there are tons of markets in Asia (where they're "farmer's markets" by default), but you just can't get the same produce that I'm used to here.

Oh yes, I also checked out the new Blue Bottle, gorged myself at our company brunch-fest, and spent a lot of time indoors in front of my computer instead of enjoying the fabulous weather. Home, indeed!