The San Francisco Project: 12 down, 40 to go

4 May

Over the past weeks I have come to a harsh realization: I am not a restaurant critic.  Maybe my opinion matters to no one.  How can I claim to be passionate about this project when I wait weeks to write a blog about my dining experience?  I guess I have no excuses, so I will make a feeble attempt to recall some details of my past dining/coffee drinking/people watching adventures…

Thai Spice, Russian Hill: I thoroughly enjoy Thai food, but I must admit that my favorite dish is something like going to the most amazing sushi restaurant and ordering the California Roll (should be a sin actually).  I love Pad Thai.  Although for some reason, on this particular night, I made a conscious choice to be adventurous and allow my dinner guest to order for me!

By the way, did I mention that Thai Spice is ranked as one of San Francisco’s top 5 Thai establishments?  I didn’t know this going in, most likely to their advantage.  If there is one thing I have learned over the past 5 years, it’s the effect that expectations can have on you.  I went in with no preconceived notions about the food, service or overall atmosphere.  I was pleasantly surprised with each course, eating only half of the Shrimp in a Blanket appetizer but secretly wishing I could have it all to myself!   The name was catchy yet completely descriptive of the basic contents: marinated shrimp, wrapped in a spring roll, served with a sweet sauce.  I also give this place kudos for presentation; I am still reminded of how each shrimp was standing at attention, neatly placed in its own miniature glass dish atop an oblong glass plate.

Dinner is served!  A Pumpkin Yellow Curry with Chicken was satisfying; the creaminess of the dish, or should I say richness of the dish could be credited to the Asian pumpkin and the ‘one step away from mashed’ chunky potatoes.  Overall I would recommend this restaurant, mostly due to the food and what seemed to be a diverse yet manageable crowd of locals flooding the place at all times.  My only complaint was the slow waitress, suggesting that you allow 2 hours for the total experience.

Fang is located on Howard Street directly across from the Thirsty Bear, a popular place for beer and burgers by both locals and tourists.  Fang decor is a step above the usual Chinese restaurant decor; one will not find the typical astrological place mats lining each table (not that there is anything wrong with that).  Low lighting, dark wood combined with red accents produced a comfortable and relaxing environment.

Unfortunately I cannot share my menu with you, mainly because the owner personally presented himself and offered up special dishes that could not be found on the menu.  My dinner date spoke Mandarin, which again makes my ability to promote the contents of each dish quite difficult.  I am extremely open minded when it comes to food, so I was elated to have the master chef whip up something special for the lady (I do know a few words in Mandarin).

To summarize, I did enjoy a rice dish with assorted mushrooms (amazing), and the one thing I did order directly from the menu was traditional Hot n’ Sour Soup.  I’ve been on a quest for some time to eat this Szechuan classic in as many places as possible, and this one was simply the best for one major reason: vinegar.  The sourness of this soup is attributed to the vinegar, and in many cases it is hard to detect.  However, at Fang I found the perfect balance of flavors and yes, I finished the entire bowl for 2!

Ruchi is a remodeled South Indian cuisine establishment located on 3rd street in Soma.  For the price it is some of the best Indian food in the city!  We started with the most basic Garden Salad, and even this was tantalizing!  We spoke briefly to the owner of the restaurant, a native of India who was extremely proud of the delicacies he creates.  I would say they are most famous for their Dosa, although one cannot go wrong with the Chicken Biryani.  This dish was unique in comparison to the Naan n’ Chutneys and Naan n’ Curries around the city; the spices were fresh and seemed to stand separately on the palette yet complement the chicken and rice.  On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the highest, this restaurant gets an 11 for freshness and flavor!

Velo Rouge is a small neighborhood feel coffee shop where people commence to write, work and play.  Situated mere blocks from Golden Gate Park, this establishment not only feels like home away from home, but serves up one of my favorite coffees in the city: Blue Bottle Coffee Co.  They even have live music on Friday and Saturday nights, although I haven’t been in the evenings to critique these musical events.

The dark colored interior is offset by the sunshine cascading through the massive windows, and the black, white and red awnings outside cannot be missed.  I recommend this coffee shop for atmosphere and a great cappuccino!

How can I continue to rant about food and coffee without touching on the magical elixir: wine!  If you are looking for a place to have an amazing glass of wine whilst meeting other professionals in the bay area, District is for you!  District offers rustic brick walls, flanked by assorted tables, surrounding a central bar with a large wall of assorted bottles spanning the world.  My personal preference, although I must admit that the Riesling Auslese is amazing, is the Malbec Bordeaux blend known as Tierra Secreta from Argentina, 2008.  This wine is everything and more!  They describe a “dark cocoa powder on the finish” (District Menu), which is an understatement.  The berries hit you first, finishing with the taste of cocoa.  It’s like eating a chocolate covered strawberry, only the flavors hit your palette at different times.  The wait is well worth it.

I must also recommend the lounge menu.  If you don’t have time for dinner, this place has a great happy hour menu and plenty of options to fill you up!  I must admit I have visited this establishment 3 times now, each time trying a new dish.  A simple treat is the assorted pizzas known as “pizzettas“, while the more sophisticated Ahi Tartare and the Lightly Fried Monterey Calamari are great choices as well.

QUICK TIP: Weekday nights can sometimes be a better choice than the weekend.  I found Thursday nights to be the best so far!

Taqueria San Jose, 2830 Mission Street, offered what seemed to be the best Mexican food ever!  As you already know I am a huge fan of Peruvian food; however, when people try to “refine” Mexican food into something resembling an overpriced $30 order of tacos, something has gone terribly wrong.  Super cheap, greasy beef tacos with the fixins’ cannot, in my honest opinion, be beaten.  So, if you are looking for atmosphere and bathrooms that have helpful attendants waiting to hand you a towel, then do not waste your time at Taqueria.  If you are looking for an honest to goodness inexpensive and delicious meal of burritos, enchiladas, Huevos Rancheros and the like, with no bells and whistles, you MUST stop by Tacqueria San Jose!

Sparky’s Diner in the Castro… cheap, open 24 hours, and an excellent place to people watch!  Don’t go to this diner expecting fabulous food, but a good time is to be had by all.

Here’s one for you: Broom Bush Cafe in Berkeley.  I found myself working in Emeryville a few weeks ago, and I was void of my usual dining plans with current or potential customers.  I was famished; my thoughts were filled with cheeseburgers, french fries and my favorite: Dr. Pepper.  The neighborhood seemed to change from the bustling shopping area surrounding E’ville and the modern food chain establishments, and I soon found myself driving down San Pablo Avenue with very few dining options.  Suddenly, the Broom Bush Cafe’s tiny facade came into view.  I quickly parked and hopped into this diverse, somewhat dingy but friendly cafe.  I welcome diversity; I live in a city full of diversity!  However, I couldn’t contain the irony rolling through my mind like a filmstrip.  This was exactly the type of place, back home in North Carolina, that would have attracted the middle-aged to elderly, country music loving, fried chicken eating Southern white folk.  And, ironically, I was the only Caucasian in the place!

My meal was fantastic, yet amazingly simple: Cheeseburger and french fries.  There is something special about a large beef patty, fried on the grill amongst other mouth-watering, artery clogging foods, smothered in American cheese and topped with mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato and onion.  I don’t think I have eaten that fast and felt that happy after a meal in a long time!

And last but not least, if you love peanut brittle you must try Sweet in the Castro.  I do not think I have tried such excellent flavor combinations all wrapped up in a bar of peanut brittle… the tough part was deciding which was my favorite!  I actually carried a container of the Cayenne Pepper Peanut Brittle to Sweden in February, and not surprisingly the container was empty the next morning.  The ginger flavor was fantastic as well!  I did try the mini cupcakes which seem to be the most popular item on the menu, but I wasn’t that impressed.  I guess once you’ve had an authentic Sprinkles cupcake everything else pales in comparison…

Since visiting these establishments I have frequented what seems to be millions of diners, upscale gourmet shops and candy stores.  I made a commitment to you regarding my quest to visit 52 locations in 6 months, and that I will do.  I just need some extra time, and mental support, to blog about them!


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