Tuesday, October 29, 2013

152. Bay Area - Orenchi Ramen and the Amazing Soft Boiled Egg / 俺ん家ラーメン (Bay Area: Santa Clara)

Orenchi Ramen in Santa Clara has the best ramen in the Bay Area hands down.  There.  I said it.  Whether it is the house special with the traditional tonkotsu broth, other variations with a simple salt or shoyu base, or even the dipping tsukemen that is only offered to 15 early bird patrons, any noodle at this Japanese ramen house is sure to please... even if it is over 100 degrees outside.

The texture of the noodle is chewy and elastic, just the way that pulled noodles from Japan, Korea, China, and Taiwan should be.  And although I cannot say the noodle has any particular flavor, it is submerged in a broth that is concentrated, almost milky with absolute pork essence.  The soft boiled egg that sits atop the liquid lipid lake is the crown jewel of the bowl.  Typically, ramen from other restaurants comes with just half an egg, but Orenchi grants guests a whole entire egg, the white of which encapsulates the gleaming gold that lies within.

A must try is the french fries okonomiyaki style ().  Orenchi substitutes the traditional bottom of an okonomiyaki pancake with good ol' French fries, but the top is still the same... tart Japanese mayonnaise, drizzles of otafuku sauce, some seaweed seasoning, and a generous heap of bonito flakes.  We all love topping our fries off with some greasy goodness (think carne asada fries), so you know that this is a mouthwatering monstrosity. 

With our own bowls of ramen and fries to share, it is hard to order anything else.  We did manage to scarf down some karaage with everything, but there is still an extensive menu that includes takoyaki, potato croquettes, and roasted pork over rice that requires exploring.  But I guess we can save that for our next visit... hopefully not in 100 degree weather.  Until next time, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

Orenchi Ramen
3540 Homestead Rd.
Santa Clara, CA 95051

ML - 20130907

Friday, October 25, 2013

151. Bay Area - Yummy Yummy Vietnamese Raw Beef Salad / 火車頭牛肉粉 (SF: Inner Sunset)

Yummy Yummy in the Inner Sunset is one of those places you never forget.  Though pho is written in Vietnamese on the yellow awning over the door, this restaurant makes more than just bowls of rice noodles.  The raw beef salad is one of the most popular items, and it is what I remembered from my first visit here three years ago.  It is almost absurd as to how squeamish I was about eating raw beef just three years ago because I would easily select fresh steak tartare off any restaurant menu, particularly from Olympic Provisions in Portland.

Thin, almost translucent, sheets of rosy red beef gets showered with such a healthy dose of lemony citrus that it almost cooks the protein.  The fragrance comes from the fried shallots and chopped basil, and the toasted peanuts provide a complementary crunch to the smoothly soft beef.  I detect some quickly fried garlic in there too, and my tongue likes it.

The fish sauce fried chicken wings is a must order item just as much as the raw beef salad is.  The skin is crisp.  The glaze is spicy.  And the chicken itself is damned hot.  There is a big chance of burning your fingers, so if you can manage eating chicken wings with chopsticks, I would highly recommend it. 

The main attraction at Yummy Yummy is arguably the whole crab.  There are about half a dozen different seasonings on the menu.  We ordered cua rang moi, the house special salt and pepper and crab.  The restaurant provides each person a shell cracker, thankfully, and the three of us tore through that sucker and demolished its tender soft inner meat.  Real good stuff... this is the traditional way of eating seafood before Boiling Crab ever came along.

There is much more on the menu... from the requisite variations of pho to rice cakes and rice dishes... to grilled beef, frog, eel, and even a large vegetarian section.  I have yet to try those because I order the raw beef salad, chicken wings, and whole crab whenever I come here, but I don't doubt that I see some cooked beef and rice cakes in the future.  Until then, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

Yummy Yummy
1015 Irving St.
Inner Sunset
San Francisco, CA 94122

ML - 20130831

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

150. Bay Area - Unique Dim Sum at Tai Wu / 太湖魚翅酒家飲茶 (Bay Area: Daly City)

Many people have said that the best dim sum in America is in San Francisco's Chinatown.  These people don't quite have it right, but they are not far from where the best dim sum actually is.  San Francisco's Chinatown is home to many Chinese from southern China, specifically Canton (Guangdong) Province; there is no doubt about that.  However, the Chinese who reside there are second, third, and even fourth generation Chinese and Chinese-American that may have lost the authentic taste and traditional method of making dim sum.  Better tasting and more authentic flavors of dim sum are made by the Chinese from Hong Kong, and many of the first generation immigrants reside outside of the city.  Daly City in the Peninsula region of the Bay Area is exactly where some of the best dim sum in America is, and that is exactly where my friend Pei took me to eat.

Tai Wu (太湖魚翅酒家), apparently also called Mr. Fong's, offers some unique items that neither San Francisco's Chinatown nor the San Gabriel Valley in LA have.  We didn't order any siumai or hargow, normally staples at any dim sum gathering.  We did, however, order these mini daikon cakes that blew my mind.  The menu reads sauteed turnip cake with XO sauce (XO醬蘿卜糕), but it was so obvious that they were deep fried.  These normally flat and rectangular tiles were made into dice sized cubes, which meant that there was more surface area for crispy, golden goodness.  Holy deliciousness.

We also ordered steamed rice noodles with pork ribs (特式排骨蒸手拉腸).  The rice noodles are generally machine made and then typically rolled around shrimp or chasiu pork, but these were hand pulled rice noodles and then covered with spare ribs in a flavorful black bean sauce.  It was saucy, savory, slightly spicy, and just so delicious.

For dessert, we chomped down on some golden and flaky egg custard tarts (酥皮蛋撻), but Pei pointed me toward these baked "durian" fruit puffs (金枕榴蓮酥).  Why durian is in quotations is beyond me, and I'm not sure if that's a good or bad thing.  Though the King of Fruits is known for its utterly unbearable odor, the pastry isn't nearly as smell as one would think.  The "durian" puree inside is smooth, creamy and has a slight hint of pineapple.  Supposedly, this type of Golden Pillow type of durian is the most common of all exported durians from Thailand.  Think about a smooth, ripe avocado blended with tropical taste and fibrous texture of a pineapple... and then enveloped by a crusty pastry.  That is what we had.  Definitely worth a try.

We also ordered the requisite chicken feet (豉汁蒸鳳爪) among other dim sum favorites like baked taro buns (芋泥雪山飽), but the unique dishes are truly extraordinary here.  Next time you look for dim sum in the Bay, check out the Peninsula area rather than heading into the city.  Until next time, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

Tai Wu (Mr. Fong's) Restaurant / 太湖魚翅酒家
950 King Drive
Suite 100
King Plaza Shopping Center
Daly City, CA 94015

ML - 20130905

Friday, October 18, 2013

149. Bay Area - Ici Ice Cream: The Best Ice Cream in East Bay (Berkeley: Elmwood)

The first time I set foot in the Ici Ice Cream shop was way back during my undergrad years.  My friends who attended Cal Berkeley introduced me to this quaint little shop on College Avenue within walking distance of campus.  Back then I did not know that Earl Grey could be an ice cream flavor, that Baked Alaska was a dessert, or that orange peels could be candied and eaten.  Oh, how Ici Ice Cream changed things for me.

I have that same memory of Ici's ice cream from the first time I visited... only this time I anticipated the creative flavor combinations.  The offerings that day included a maple-candied bacon, a spicy Mexican chocolate-salted almond, a malted banana, and a lemon-mint sherbert.  After trying each flavor out, I ultimately decided on the caramel-cashew... in a hand rolled cone and topped off with crunchy cocoa nibs.  Heavenly.

What I like about the ice cream here is that it is not overly sweetened, which means I could eat the ice cream all day, everyday for a year, without getting a toothache.  What I do not like about the ice cream here is that the scoop is so petite for the price that I could not afford to eat it all day... and definitely not everyday for a year.  I can, however, afford that Baked Alaska bombe.  It looks so good... I want it so bad.  I am coming for it next time.  Kat, you in?

Until then, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

Ici Ice Cream
2948 College Ave.
Berkeley, CA 94705

ML - 20131008

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

148. Bay Area - Your Meal Ticket to Jimmy Carter's Apple Grape Pie (Berkeley: Northwest)

After having some amazing pancetta pizza, Kat suggested we head to Northwest Berkeley for some amazing pie at Meal Ticket, a little neighborhood spot opened by Chef Jimmy Carter and wife Carolyn Del Gaudio in 2001.  It is known for its humble kitchen fare as well as its renowned apple grape pie, which is exactly what we came for.  We even called ahead to make sure there was enough left since it sells out quite frequently.

One bite into the apple grape pie, and we knew it was fresh.  The apples and grapes were cooked al dente if that is possible to say that about fruit.  The apples were firm and not mushy soft, naturally sweet and not doused with sugar, baked to perfection and not drenched in butter.  The crust was flaky but still held together.  The whipped cream that topped it all off was infused with cinnamon, which made the fragrance waft up... it just smelled so damn good.  And of course, I appreciated that everything was cut into bite size pieces... but who cares about that when the pie is just so delicious?

While we were filming our short Tastemade video, one of the regulars said that we had to come back to try the food there.  He actually said that Meal Ticket makes one of the best burgers in the area.  I'd believe it.  He showed me his half eaten burger just so that we could see the fresh and juicy center.

We also met the man himself when he came outside to check on his regulars.  Cool guy.  Makes good pie.  And for those of you that might be confused, this is not the former U.S. president.  But he is the most powerful man in his kitchen.

We'll be back for some of these burgers and more of Jimmy Carter's humble pie.  Until next time, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

Meal Ticket
1235 San Pablo Ave.
Northwest Berkeley
Berkeley, CA 94706

ML - 20130906

Friday, October 11, 2013

147. Bay Area - Gather in Berkeley for Spicy Pancetta Pizza (Berkeley: Downtown)

When Katrina said that we should head to Gather for pizza in Berkeley, I thought she was out of her mind.  The kind of pizza that I know in Berkeley is from either Fat Slice and Blondie's, the floppy, extra cheesy kind of pizza that drips with pepperoni oil.  You know, the ones that Cal students snack on in between late night study sessions.  Well, Gather opened my eyes to a completely new category of pizza in Berkeley.

We started with the Summer Bean Soup, a mixture of white beans and other seasonal root vegetables with fresh basil pesto.  It was vibrant and full of flavor... a proper way to jump start our appetites for the pizza.

Of the four pizzas on the menu, we both thought the Pancetta Pizza sounded the best.  When the pizza arrived, we could tell just by looking that we made a good decision.  The thinly sliced interwoven layers of pancetta were all crisp... and the savory saltiness gave the first bite a depth of flavor that made me want to moan with pleasure.  I might have.  But neither Kat nor I noticed as we were too fixated on the deliciousness that was our pancetta pizza.

Did I mention that the creamy egg yolk was oozing throughout the center of the pizza? Did I also mention that the yolk and cheese were blending together and that the golden, unadulterated combination of the two was still bubbling as the server set it down in front of us? Oh, have mercy... the pizza gods... they can cause such simultaneous pain and pleasure.

The best thing about the pizza was that it was spicy.  I'm not talking about just a little heat or a slight kick.  I mean a really ballsy flame.  The kind that real food lovers can handle... the addicting kind that keeps us coming back for more.  The chili was a smart move, Chef.

I am dreaming about it already... the warmth of the crust, complete with its peaks and valleys from hand pressing the dough, the sprinkle of oregano on the dropped egg... and of course, the pancetta... the crispy, salty, delicious pancetta.  What a magnificent pizza.  I'm definitely gathering in Berkeley for this again.  Crossing the new Bay Bridge to the East Bay is fine with me.  So until then, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

2200 Oxford Street
Downtown Berkeley
Berkeley, CA 94704
BART: Downtown Berkeley

ML - 20130906

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

146. Bay Area - Foreign Cinema Rolls Out the Red Carpet (SF: Mission)

Last month I spent about 10 days in the Bay Area seeing old friends, meeting new ones, and stuffing myself silly.  Once of the first restaurants I visited in San Francisco was Foreign Cinema.  Diana and I chose this popular culinary destination to experience their brunch menu.  Here is what we ordered.

Smoked salmon, ruby red grapefruit with creme fraiche and black tobiko.  Gorgeous.

Sea bass tartare with wasabi tobiko.  The lime juice combined with olive oil made for a light, fresh taste.

Poached eggs with proscuitto ragu.  The runny yolk made for glorious food porn.

Croque Madame with toasted ham, Gruyere and some of the best béchamel sauce I've ever had.

After starting off with some raw dishes, we worked our way to hot dishes that were centered around eggs.  Apparently the co-owners Gayle Pirie and John Clark love eggs and have written a cookbook featuring recipes using eggs called Country Egg, City Egg.  We also order some cocktails, Love in the Afternoon as recommended by Chef Gayle and a Bellini, to go with everything.  It isn't Sunday brunch if there aren't any drinks involved, right?

The excellent service made us feel like the red carpet was really rolled out for us.  The food was done well and presented beautifully.  We would definitely come back again... perhaps to experience the much talked about dinner service.

Check out the Tastemade video above for some mouthwatering shots of our brunch.  Also, see my Flickr set for some images from our meal.  Until next time, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

Foreign Cinema
2534 Mission Street
Mission District
San Francisco, CA 94110
BART: 24th St Mission

ML - 20130901