I made another trip to San Francisco between Christmas and New Year's. This time I planned my meals mostly with the Chronicle Web site and a guidebook, so I ended up at some places that I haven't seen much here.
For lunch I got take-out steamed pork and chicken buns from You's Dim Sum on Broadway. The bread was not as good as, or at least a different philosophy from, the buns at Dol Ho, denser and drier. The barbequed pork filling, though, was much better -- more of it, more spicy, and with a good amount of congealed barbeque sauce. The chicken buns probably weren't as good as Dol Ho. The chicken was chicken. You's has another branch on Stockton.
Dinner at 500 Jackson. This is a seafood place that emphasizes oysters and alcohol. Their menu is relatively short and consists mainly of variations on standard things. I had the salmon-and-spinach variant, here known as plank-roasted salmon with sauteed spinach. The rather small piece of fish comes out on a cedar plank that the waiter plausibly tells me can be smelled across the room. The smell is neither good nor bad and doesn't end up interfering with the fish. The fish wasn't quite cooked through, which I understand is common now. The spinach was garlicky but oily. The warm rolls were okay; I asked for olive oil to eat them with, but the oil wasn't compatible with the bread. Everything seemed ordinary. The room was drafty, too, and I had to wear a coat while eating. It's near Wm. Stout Architectural Books, though, which is good.
Lunch at Kabuto's new location across the street. Traumatic. When I read the menu, it included ingredients like mozzarella and raspberries. Oh no, I thought, this must be that new wave sushi I've heard about. Ploughing ahead, though, I ordered an asparagus hand-roll (good), uni (pallid but okay), and unagi sunomono (the unagi was interestingly toasted, whether deliberately or not I'm not sure). I also ordered the sushi omakase set, which seemed unusually cost-effective at $12.50. When I ordered this, I was expecting, you know, sushi. Instead I got this stuff that I can't even describe: something wrapped in a leaf with a white sauce on it, something that may or may not have been deep-fried, something with a raspberry and a blueberry next to it, and a couple of pieces of conventional sushi on rice. Was the fish any good? The conventional sushi was okay, but the rest of it was like hors d'oeuvres from a random party somewhere. Kabuto used to be a cultural treasure. Now it's weird and gross.
Dinner at Anjou on Union Square. Everyday French food. I got the sea bass and mustard with green beans and pureed potatoes. The fish was slimy, the green beans were overcooked, the potatoes were watery, and I was remembering the mustard all evening and not in a good way. I could have made it all much better myself. Off night or something. The space is cramped and the people are polite but distant.
Lunch at Oriental Pearl in Chinatown. This is a slightly drab place that serves dim sum from a menu. I got the chiu chow marinated duck (unhealthy but good), the Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce (hard to mess up), and the "chicken meatball", a rather large lump of chicken with other stuff mixed in, tasty in a meaty way, wrapped up in a slightly off-putting egg white. Not your standard dim sum. Bad piano music.
Dinner at La Tasca on Market. Tapas. This was the best meal of the trip. I got the salmon and tomato on toast, the chicken with garlic, and the mushrooms with garlic. It was Garlic City. The chicken was dry, but otherwise everything was great, with lots of clear interesting flavors.
Lunch at L'Osteria del Forno on Columbus. Old-school Italian with about ten tables. I got the roasted beets from the specials board followed by the roasted lamb with roasted carrots and potatoes. Roasted stuff. Although it had some chives here and some rosemary there and a wedge of orange to squeeze on the beets, this was elemental food. Fortunately beets, lamb, and carrots are good flavors all by themselves. I liked it. The waiter is an unhappy person but not obnoxious.
Dinner at Hayes Street Grill. The specialty of the house, I gather, is fish soaked in butter. I had the sole with mushrooms and potatoes, and it must have had a half-stick of butter in it. It was awful.
Lunch at Vivande Porta Via on Fillmore. I had the fettucine with portobellos and Italian bacon. It was good. The pasta was infused with the spicy bacony flavor. They could have used more portobellos though. Nice people, interesting deli.
Dinner at Cote Sud in the Castro. Real French people, real French menu -- you want to like it. I got the lamb shank and lentils with mixed vegetables. I got an extra side of vegetables just to be sure. The vegetables were a good variety, including asparagus and chard. The lamb and lentils, however, was disappointing. It was a good portion and well cooked, but it wasn't hot and it was bland. It hardly tasted like anything. Bad techno music.
I also walked the length of Stockton in Chinatown eating every steamed pork bun I could find. The best was at a place called (I think) New Fortune. It's toward the south end, on the west side of the street. It is similar to the buns at You's but slightly better in both the bread and the filling.
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