Restaurants & Bars

San Francisco Bay Area Trip Report

BOS-SFO Trip Report, May 2011


Restaurants & Bars San Francisco Bay Area Trip Report

BOS-SFO Trip Report, May 2011

Luther | | May 31, 2011 12:00 PM

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 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

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