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misc SF area chowing --- Bizou, Mangiafuoco, R&G Lounge, a tacqueria etc (long)

foodfirst | Aug 26, 200212:11 PM

So we arrived in SF Thur morning from Thailand, ready to indulge all of our CA food memories. Started out with dinner at Merenda Thur nite, which was excellent (review under Merenda II posting). On Friday I discovered, to my dismay, that jet lag was wreaking serious havoc with my appetite, had to skip breakfast. Lunch at Banana Leaf on Kearny, som tum (tam), Thai iced tea and rice. Generous plate of som tum was tasty and admirably spicy even without my requesting it to be so, but no sign of dried shrimps as advertised on the menu, peanuts were not roasted, and I prefer my long beans pounded with the rest of the ingredients or served on the side for munching. Iced tea was perfect but rice was not jasmine. I suffered serious sticker shock at the $9+ bill, but hey this is SF not Bangkok. I would go back to this place to check out the lad na noodles ... and tom yum gong at the next table smelled delicious.
Bizou Fri nite. I have wanted to go to this place for a while but just never got a chance before we moved to Bangkok -- started with appetizers of corn and foie gras. Disappointed with the corn -- menu said "ear of corn cooked in wood oven" w/ nasturtium butter and I mistakenly interpreted that to mean ear of corn cooked then cut off the cob, and probably mixed with some other lovely veggies before serving. But it was just an ear of corn. A delicious ear of corn to be sure, and I'd been craving sweet corn, but not worthy, I think, of inclusion on the menu as is. Can't fault the restaurant though, but as I ate it I wished I'd ordered the stuffed squash blossoms instead. SO's foie gras with caramelized peaches and a bit of arrugala on the side was perfect (at least I think so, this was our first time with foie gras, following up on a love of liver newly discovered at Merenda the previous nite), still pink inside and seared/caramelized outside, peaches sprightly enough to tweak the richness. Yum. Entrees of seared sea scallops with Santa Rosa plums and the beef cheeks. Scallops tasted *so* fresh and just barely cooked through, the plum sauce pleasant but not quite fruity enough, as if the flavor had been cooked away rather than concentrated. Beef cheeks --- wow! I suppose this dish is well-known enough for me to skip the description. Desserts were fresh cherry crisp with vanilla ice cream and peach and fig tart topped with a dab of chantilly cream. Cherries oddly low on the flavor scale and not much sign of crisp but the ice cream was wonderful, the tart oh-so-peachy and the figs just bursting with flavor. Overall, I think my SO ordered well while I didn't, and also my appetite was still off. I liked the place and would like to go back.
Sat lunch/brunch was 1/2 a pizza at Cheeseboard in Berkeley, as delicious as I remembered, followed by a stop at the Phoenix for a couple of "world's best macaroons" (almondy, moist, chewy, but not heavy) and an olive roll (IMO best olive bread in the Bay Area, the olive flavor is so prevalent and (kalamata) olive pieces are moist and flavorful as if just out of the brine).
Sat dinner at Mangiafuoco started out badly ... arrived for an 8:45 reservation but a large lingering group hogged all available tables till 9:15. I understand that this is a difficult situation for the proprietor, but (1) she didn't tell us there was a bar, which we would have happily waited at instead of in the tiny curtained entry and (2) when it became apparent that we weren't going to be seated "in 5 minutes" she offered us a glass of wine then just disappeared (without serving the wine), and completely avoided eye contact after that, whether out of embarassment or what I don't know. If we'd had a backup plan we would have left. Finally SO grabbed a passing waitress who, in spite of being really busy, very nicely apologized profusely and proffered the previously offered glass of house red -- on the house. Started with gattovolpe, an mostly room-temp appetizer for 2 of cured salmon, grilled stuffed squid arranged over a wild rice, fennel, and tomato salad, with a creamy anchovy-heavy (a good thing, IMO) bagna cauda-like dressing drizzled over and capers scattered about. Would have been better with farro instead of wild rice, but all of the flavors melded wonderfully and the squid were grilled so perfectly (slight char but still tender) and the seafood stuffing so yummy that I regretted not ordering the mixed seafood grill (changes daily) as an entree. Also ordered a mista salad which never arrived. Gnocchi of the day was with a lamb ragu which ran out just as we were about to order, so we had it with a tomato/sausage sauce. The sauce was tasty but not a "wow", but the gnocchi were possibly the best I've ever had. Light and fluffy like little cottonballs of potato. Also risotto of the day, with fresh porcini. Intensely mushroomy and cooked just right, with a tiny kernel of resistance in the center of each grain. Dessert was white and dark chocolate gelato, not good. Icy, harsh-tasting and with a slight refrigerator flavor. The recommended Barbera (Finera, 1999 I think) was perfect. Overall, initial experience aside, this place was good and I would go back if I were in the area...but I probably wouldn't make a special trip.
Sunday headed to Duarte's in Pescadero for what a native New Mexican friend told me was a wonderful green chile stew, but it wasn't on the menu ... maybe she meant the cream of green chile soup, which we didn't have. Instead, SO had a crab sandwich, very crabby with just enough mayo to hold it together but not enough to overpower the crab. Served on thin slices of sourdough. I had the steamed mussels, a huge plateful of big plump ones tasting of the sea, nice steaming liquid of white wine, butter, parsley. We each also had a plate of cold artichoke hearts but eschewed the overpowering and not-quite-right aioli (tasted more like salad dressing) for a squeeze of fresh lemon and a sprinkling of salt. These probably would not have excited you natives who get to have artichokes any time you want, but I was thrilled with the big, nicely trimmed hearts. Expensive though at $8 a plate.
On the way to Duarte's stopped for a paper at the Albertson's/Rite Aid shopping plaza in Half Moon Bay and decided to pop into Happy Tacos for just one, to hold us over till lunch. What a discovery! The carnitas was sooooo porky and moist, but the BBQ pork was incredible --- freshly shaved from a pork chunk on a spit, intense chile/cumin (and chipotle?) coating. "Hot sauce" turned out to be just a sprinkling of tomatoes and a generous amount of tiny jalapeno dice, just perfect. Served on doubled soft corn tortillas. We contemplated stopping back here on our way back from the beach to sample more of the menu, but though the heart said "yes" the stomach said "no", unfortunately.
Sun nite R&G lounge for some lighter fare. The waiter rolled his eyes when we asked in Chinese if there was a Chinese menu, but we persisted and ordered the steamed prawns with garlic that we saw on another table (and that are *not* on the graphic-heavy menu). These were delicious, they were also $28. Salt-and-pepper squid was absent of pepper and, except for the few top pieces, too greasy. Sauteed gai lan was perfectly cooked, bright green and still with plenty of chew, oily (rightfully so, IMO) but completely absent of the garlic that we requested. The bill was surprising -- $9 for sauteed greens? I haven't eaten Chs in SF for a very long time so I don't know if this is average. I felt that, except for the prawns, we got the dumbed-down gweilo versions (and I could be wrong, others more experienced with R&G pls advise), which always pisses me off ---- if I ask for plenty of garlic in my sauteed vegetable, please give it to me (esp if I ask for it in Chinese)!!
Oh well, 2 days in SF left and plenty more gorging to be done ... if my stomach can handle it.

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