Posts Tagged ‘San Francisco’
I completed my quest for local bánh mì on Friday at Indochine Vietnamese Bistro across the street from the U campus. I arrived just about 3pm, which is when they stop serving the sandwich, but had called ahead to let them know that I’d be coming in and to place my order. Although as I began asking around in local Vietnamese restaurants for recommendations and had heard Indochine mentioned several times as an option, when I first checked the menu, there was no mention of bánh mì. The express lunch menu does mention a baguette sandwich, however. Maybe the fact that they didn’t use that name for it was an augur of things to come.
When I placed the order, I was offered options of beef or pork. Since all the sandwiches I’d had so far had been pork, I figured that was the way to go. Here’s the short version of the review: I wasn’t pleased.
The bread used for the sandwich differs greatly from any that I’d seen so far. In fact, I’m fairly sure I recognized them as coming from a local Costco bakery. They are very dense, artisan loaves which have a very uneven texture and are extremely chewy. They are perfect for soaking with garlic oil and broiling to go with a nice Italian meal. I’m actually a real fan of these little loaves for other applications, and have tried using them in a variety of meals over the years. They are a bit of a nightmare for a sandwich, though, and for this sandwich in particular. The bread is so dense that it overwhelms the taste of all of the other sandwich fillings.
The pork used for Indochine’s sandwich is extremely sweet. It had been described to me as “roast pork,” but after looking at it closely, I had other suspicions. It was extremely fatty in an unpleasing way. I suspect it might be poorly cooked pork belly, but I’m not sure. If you told me that it was a lightly smoked, thick-cut bacon marinated in Yoshida’s sauce, that would just about make sense. At any rate, I could have used a lot less fat and gristle and much more lean meat. The flavor of the meat was good, however. There was no sign of any other protein on the sandwich, an automatic ding against it for a pate lover such as I.
The vegetation was spare. On its own it had that distinctive pickled taste, but between the heavy bread and the fat-saddled pork, it got completely lost. Indochine’s sandwich did add in some thinly sliced scallion on top, but there wasn’t so much as a leaf of cilantro to be seen. There were several slices of fresh jalapeno. However, they were so thickly cut that the three bites that contained them were completely dominated with heat, while the rest of the sandwich had none.
And that is it. No mayonnaise, no pate, nothing. It is served with some nicely seasoned matchstick fried potatoes which were, I suspect, supposed to be crispy. Mine appeared to have been sitting long enough that half were soggy, sorry messes and the others were still crisp. However, at over $6, this sandwich is by far the most expensive one I’ve encountered since San Francisco. And, since it is only a couple of dollars cheaper than the gourmet-inspired one at Spice Kit, the Indochine sandwich suffers badly in comparison to it. Had it come close in quality to the ones on the west side, I could see a case to be made for paying a bit extra for those who live close to the U campus. It doesn’t, so if you’re wanting a good bánh mì, you’ll need to drag yourself to Redwood Road.
Which leaves only one question: Cafe Thao Mi or Hong Phat? Since there were several weeks between my sampling both of them, I think I’ll put off that call until I can get the two of them next to each other and conduct a real bun-to-bun comparison.
March 29, 2011
WonderCon and a host of new food experiences have beckoned us back to San Francisco. Among the experiences: we’re new parents, our daughter Ainsley having joined the family in October. So we not only attend a bit of the convention, but had our first family vacation.
Ainsley was her usual sweet self on the plane trip, so much so that I launched into the ambitious version of the first day’s eating: we checked into the hotel, dropped the bags, and hit BART to visit
Mr. Pollo – $15 Chef’s Tasting Menu
We left the hotel around 2pm, and I was worried that we may not arrive in time. Not only did we make it, but we’re rather lucky to have gotten there so late after lunch. Two of the four tables were already taken; a couple on what appears to be a first date had to slide over to another table to accommodate us. This place is tiny. The draw of a four-course tasting menu for $15 seemed worth a try, though. And chef Manny Torres Gimenez didn’t disappoint. Even considering how veggie-heavy the menu ended up being, it was high entertainment watching him through the lexan screen as he prepared labor-intensive food for six people simultaneously. All of the dishes were very much hands on. The couple next to us were also eating the chef’s menu, and they didn’t appear to get the same dishes, so I’m under the impression that Manny might just have been making this all up as he went.
Every dish was absolutely delicious. And, while there is only a touch of animal protein here and there, it’s clear that ingredients are important to the chef. I think in the dish descriptions we hear the phrase “farmers market” paired with “this morning” at least five times. We were served an empanada to start, followed by a soup, fish, and main course.
I officially declare this the closest I’m likely to come to enjoying vegetarian food.
Great start to the trip, and Ainsley had managed to charm both of the couples in the small dining area as well as the chef. We paid, left, and decided that we were still pretty hungry. I pulled up my SF Food map on the Droid X and we started a very long walk to a very tasty street that contains both ice cream and a bakery.
Tartine Bakery & Cafe – various baked goods
We stopped in here to quickly grab some cookies and other treats for dessert later that night. The place was absolutely packed to the rafters, with every table being taken and a long line going from the register along the display case and almost to the door. It was so long that rather than try to angle the stroller in, Loria sent me in on a solo mission and hung back by the door to entertain the baby. Having arrived in the later afternoon, I tried to peek through the line to see what is left. The cases were full of cookies, tarts, and breads, and each looked very inviting. For some reason I was feeling rushed, so I started pointing at random cookies without really getting a good sense of what looked best. I decided to skip the $6.50 miniature banana cream tart and ended up with a variety of cookies. As the line moved along the case, I inevitably saw this chocolate chip doodad or that walnut butter whatever, eventually requiring the patient woman helping me to bag my selections three separate times.
Later that night, we dug in and are fairly disappointed. Nothing tasted bad, per se, but it all felt like pretty standard bakery fare. It all looked much better than it tasted, unfortunately, and a few of the cookies went unfinished. It’s only later that I remembered that the place is renowned for its double pain au chocolat, but given how the rest of the cookies ended up, I didn’t feel terrible that we missed out.
Just up the street from Tartine was our real destination.
Bi-Rite Creamery – Roasted Banana, Orange Cardamom, Salted Caramel, and Brown Butter Pecan Ice Cream
This was high on my list of places we missed last year, so I was rather excited on arriving here. It’s doubly exciting because this was to be Ainsley’s first taste of ice cream.
I started with Roasted Banana. Intense banana flavor, dark brown flavor, and it is just beautiful. It’s one note played perfectly. Next was Brown Butter Pecan. I love butter pecan ice cream in general. I’ve been anticipating what nice dark notes browning the butter might accomplish. I was slightly disappointed on that front: if the butter was browned much before this batch was made, it doesn’t appear to change the taste of the ice cream much from what I expected. Still, it’s a really good incarnation of butter pecan.
Next up, Orange Cardamom. There are floral notes to the orange flavor that pair very nicely with the cardamom, which is fairly understated by comparison. I would absolutely order this again, though, as it’s a lovely counterpoint to the fourth flavor, Salted Caramel. The first bite of this flavor had me hooked. It is intensely burned sugar with some surprising and welcome bitter notes. In fact, this is probably the most intense caramel flavor I’ve had, bar none. Some of that is likely due to the salt, but it’s seems mostly intended. That they get a flavor that strong to show up in a frozen dessert is impressive enough, but it showing up in a dairy dessert, which has a tendency to dampen the intensity of most flavors, is absolutely noteworthy. And, although Ainsley clearly enjoyed the banana and orange cardamom flavors, she really seemed to enjoy the caramel. Mom and I agreed.
After a return to the hotel for some rest, we take a trolley up Market to First Street and then walk the rest of the way to
Spice Kit – Bánh mì Sandwich
With names like Thomas Keller and Ron Siegel on their resumes, Will Pacio and Fred Tang present well-cooked and easily understood Asian fast food at Spice Kit. I’m glad we hit this place our first night, as it would become a go-to choice from the rest of the trip. The concept is simple: choose a sandwich, wrap, or salad as the platform and then choose a protein. We had two bánh mì sandwiches, one with roasted pork and one with beef shortribs. This was my first foray into bánh mì territory. It’s a Vietnamese sandwich traditionally garnished with liver pate, mayonnaise, a slaw of pickled carrot and daikon, cucumber, and cilantro. The shortribs weren’t bad, but the roasted pork was perfect. The acid in the slaw cuts through the fat of the pate and pork and adds a nice, bright note. I have had dreams about that pork bánh mì since then, and have already located a recipe for pate that I want to try making soon. If Out the Door didn’t have proximity going for it, I suspect Spice Kit would have become our default choice for a quick meal.
We also ordered some steamed pork buns. My experience with the dish in the past has been a soft, pillowy dough which completely surrounded a chopped pork filling similar to what you might find in an egg roll, only a bit sweeter. The Spice Kit take on them is a grilled slab of pork belly basted with hoisin and some veggies. They were delicious, but I’ll admit that I was far too enamored with the bánh mì to get terribly excited about them. For those keeping score at home, roasted pork + pate > pork belly alone.
We also got an order of the ginger peanut slaw to share. It was fine, though barely registered compared to pork buns and other porky goodness.
Next up: a walk through Thomas’ garden.
March 30 – Day One
We started our SF visit – nominally motivated by Wondercon, which Loria was working and I was attending – at the Ferry Building. And we chose well. And then, shortly thereafter, not so well.
Boccalone – Meat Cone
Chris Cosentino’s salumeria, the offspring of his local Incanto restaurant, is filled to the brim with preserved pork. A smaller shop than I’d envisioned, it didn’t disappoint with the meat cone, a selection of the shop’s delectable pork treats served in a small paper cone of the type you’ve probably had a shaved ice in. Ours had capocollo, prosciutto, and soppressata in it. At $3.50, it’s a tasty, tasty bargain that reminded me just how magical an animal the pig is.
Not surprisingly, we weren’t full, having not eaten since a hurried breakfast at 5am. I do truly hate early morning flights. So, we walked around, looking at other options in the Ferry Building, which has a wide variety of small food stands. Several of them, like Slanted Door and Hog Island Oyster Company, I’d heard of and was interested in trying. We had many miles of trudging to do in search of good food, though, so we opted for
San Francisco Fish Company – Crab Cake Sandwich and Clam Chowder
You’d think that combining “San Francisco” and “Fish,” this place would be a no-brainer for good food, right? Instead, we ate a mushy crab cake so overpowered with parsley that I couldn’t even begin to taste the crab, and a cup of the thickest, blandest clam chowder I’ve ever had. It was enough to stave off the hunger pangs long enough to arrive at our next feeding trough, but wasted money, calories, as well as the commodity that proved to be the most valuable on our trip: stomach capacity.
To get to that trough, we took the BART from Embarcadero to the 24th Street station and started walking to
Humphry Slocombe – Boccalone Prosciutto, Toasted Coconut Caramel Candy Cap, and Secret Breakfast
This ice cream shop specializes in wild, out there flavors. As far as flavor went, I couldn’t taste much of a piggy note at all in the prosciutto ice cream, which I’m sure some would argue is a good thing. However, if I’m brave enough to order such a thing, I would at least like some hint of meat in my treat. Instead, it tasted a lot like bland ice cream base.
The Candy Cap in question is a mushroom. It adds a nutty quality to the dessert, and this was by far the best flavor of the three. Secret Breakfast, which I tried just a sample spoon of, is intended to be Irish Whiskey and corn flakes. I couldn’t really taste any of the cereal, so basically it was a half-teaspoon of whiskey ice cream. That’s not a bad thing, per se, but isn’t exactly revolutionary.
My biggest problem with all three ice creams was the texture. Try this experiment: go buy yourself a good premium pint of B&J and leave it on your counter for an hour. Refreeze it, then taste the outer surface. Every one of the Humphry Slocombe ice creams that we ate had this same kind of grainy consistency. It’s likely that the flavors that I wasn’t getting were being washed away by the huge ice crystals ensconced in the ice cream. At any rate, it’s not a pleasant texture for ice cream, and seems like the sort of thing that a pro can easily avoid. Looking at their flavor list, I think we kind of lost out on some of the potentially exciting ones. Unless of course, all those flavors end up just as bland as those we tried. Color me disappointed, overall.
Out the door and a few blocks up the street
Dynamo Donut and Coffee – Ostensibly the Maple Glazed Bacon Apple, but so…very…many
A small, easily missed shop unless you are looking for it specifically. Which, fortunately, we were. I love donuts to a nearly unnatural degree. Put a high-quality, crunchy and sweet apple fritter in my hands and all is right with my world. Ditto a good, dense buttermilk bar or old fashioned. I can tell a good donut shop from a bad one easily by the look of the pastries, and sometimes just from smell.
Dynamo is the real deal.
In total, we visited Dynamo three times in a week, each trip requiring a half hour on public transit each way. We dropped an obscene amount of money on what would would consider to be mere snacks. I would have considered it a happy, happy trip had we subsisted entirely on them. The majority of my weight gain over the course of the trip was due to them, I’m sure. Even the weaker entries were better than the majority of donuts I have readily available to me locally. I gave serious thought to asking about franchising opportunities.
Here is the butcher’s bill for the entire trip. Stop judging me, please.
Chocolate Rose – dense chocolate cake donut with a rose-infused sugar glaze. Just enough of the rose to detect and enjoy, and that chocolate cake is the best I’ve ever had. I wasn’t surprised, on the last of the three visits, to see the baker pull out a large bag of Valrhona chocolate powder. Use the best ingredients when cooking and you’re halfway there.
Spice Chocolate – same dense chocolate cake but dredged in cinnamon, sugar, and chipotle powder. I’ll admit openly that I tasted no heat at all here. I would like to have done so – the combination of chocolate and spicy ingredients really do please my palate. Maybe I hit them on a weak day.
Saffron Chocolate – alleged to be a raised donut with saffron and orange zest in the pasty and glazed with a chocolate saffron glaze, I really only tasted the orange in the pastry and chocolate in the glaze. I would be willing to sit down with a large cup of the regular chocolate glaze and the saffron version to do an in-depth taste test, though.
Vanilla Bean – clean vanilla taste in the glaze
Maple Glazed Bacon Apple – this is, I’m pretty convinced, the perfect raised donut. The apple in the pastry part is crisp and tart. The maple glaze has the sweet, earthy flavor that only comes from the real stuff. The crisp little bacon bits on the top push it over the top. It’s a perfect balance of salty and sweet. I will cop to the flavors of donuts I had during our trip, but refuse to disclose the numbers of each that I consumed. If I did so, a shameful number would be these bad boys.
Caramel de Sel – a nutmeg donut with a layer of fleur de sel caramel. I suspect these are much better eaten when warm. Mine was cold and the hardened, sticky caramel coated the inside of my mouth and made tasting any of the pastry impossible.
Lemon Pistachio – if you’ve had much middle eastern cuisine, you’ll be familiar with the combination of pistachios and lemons. This is a great interpretation, though I admit that I could have used more nuts on the outside.
Lemon Sichuan – vanilla donut filled with honest-to-goodness fresh lemon curd rather than that nasty, dayglo stuff you find in most donuts, then dredged in sugar and sichuan peppercorns. I was hoping for more pepper, as I didn’t really taste any, but I still love this donut a lot.
Lemon Thyme – lemon zest and thyme in the pastry and a honey lemon glaze. Of the more exotic herb-and-spice flavored donuts, this one had the most herbaceous taste. It’s a really inventive combination that works really well.
Candied Orange Blossom – candied orange blossom in the pastry and glaze, and a drizzle of bittersweet chocolate. I think I tried this last on the most donut-heavy day, and my ability to enjoy was getting muted. It was fine, if not entirely memorable.
Apricot Cardamom – cardamom, dried apricot and current pastry with a cardamom glaze.
Chocolate Star Anise – chocolate cake donut with chocolate and star anise glaze. I didn’t really taste much anise, which is fine with me as I’m having a hard time imagining it pairing well with chocolate.
Chocolate Rosemary Almond – chocolate cake donut with rosemary chocolate glaze covered in rosemary-fried almonds. The rosemary is pronounced enough to detect and doesn’t match particularly well with either almonds or chocolate. Or maybe it’s the entire package that I objected to…at any rate, not my favorite.
Meyer Lemon Huckleberry – raised lemon zest donut with lemon glaze, then covered in huckleberry glaze. Tart and sweet, I really enjoyed this one.
Sticky Bun – basically scraps of all the other donuts drenched in a caramel glaze. Better sounding than tasting, in my humble opinion.
Milk Chocolate Passionfruit – raised donut with a passionfruit glaze covered in milk chocolate crumbs. Despite not being a huge milk chocolate fan, the big huge passionfruit flavor won me over on this one.
Hot Cross Donut – a special for Easter, I gathered, this was a filled pastry cream donut that I recall loving and cannot, for the life of me, remember a single flavor involved. I would buy and consume one right now if asked, though, if that gives you any indication how I felt about it.
I got skunked trying to get a Cornmeal Cherry on two separate occasions, so it along with Pumpkin Spice and Guinness Chocolate will need to wait for another day.
Oh, Dynamo. I miss you already.
We needed a nap after this. I woke up hungry, against all odds, and searched online for options and found
Sotto Mare – Clam Chowder, Shrimp Cocktail, and Sand Dabs
Neither of us were ravenous, so we decided to walk from our hotel on Market and Fourth to this little gem in Little Italy. The reviews were raves when it came to the seafood. It was a much longer walk than we’d anticipated, so by the time we arrived we were ready for food. We split soup, appetizer and entree. It was uniformly amazing. I thought I’d pretty much seen all that clam chowder had to offer, but this bowl was revelatory: very little cream, all clam flavor. The reviews all mentioned sand dabs as a standout favorite. I love seafood, but hadn’t ever had them. We got a plate with some vegetation and 8 small, pan-fried fish that were rich and satisfying.
I’d go back here in a heartbeat.
Next time: day two, where we learn that getting into prison is harder than one might imagine, and that I really ought to think more literally when trying to decipher a menu.