Thursday, March 29, 2007

Santa Ramen

Waiting to get into Santa Ramen in San Mateo is like waiting to get into an exclusive club. The two times that I went, I was out in the cold, with a long line of folks in front of me, all of us eager to get inside and satisfy our craving for their famous noodles. I believe I waited 40 minutes each time, getting hungrier by the minute.

But each time, once I got inside and had my first spoonful of soup from my ramen bowl, the wait was totally worth it. In fact, I completely forgot about my prior agonizing starvation.

Santa is hands-down the BEST ramen I've ever had in California. And I've tried quite a few ramen places in San Diego, LA, Irvine, and San Jose. But Santa beats them all. The soup (I've tried the miso and pork base) is very flavorful but not super salty. The noodles are a perfect texture - not too firm or soggy, even after you get to the bottom of the bowl. I usually get cha siu ramen with a boiled egg cut in half, and it's just delish! Prices range from about $8-10 per bowl.

I've also tried their karage (Japanese fried chicken), and it's pretty good as well. I wish they gave you more pieces, though.

My only complaint is that they should really expand their restaurant (I think my apartment is larger than this place) so they can serve more people at once. But until that happens, I suggest you get there about 20-30 minutes before they open so you can go right in and get some of those yummy noodles. Mmmm oishii!!!

Santa Ramen
805 South B Street
San Mateo, CA 94401
(650) 344-5918

Monday, March 26, 2007

Omelettes are "egg"-cellent!

I do cook quite a bit, but it's all pretty simple stuff. My favorite breakfast food is a nice fluffy omelette. Actually, I could eat an omelette during any time of the day. And I love how versatile it is. All you basically need are two to three eggs, and you can put any ingredients you choose into the omelette or on top of it to garnish. Easy, simple, and delicious.

The omelette pictured here just has cheese bits on the inside and some salsa on top. Other things I like to use are ham and mushrooms. If I really feel like pampering myself, I use smoked salmon and chives on the inside and add a dash of sour cream on top to garnish.

Guess what I'm having for breakfast tomorrow? :)

Saturday, March 24, 2007


The last of the San Diego entries for now...

My friend Alan had been raving about the sweet and sour pork at Dede's for quite some time. "It's so good! It's the best thing ever!" he would say. "You have to try it. If you don't like agree with me, I'll buy you a beer."

Well that definitely makes it worth a try, right?

Dede's is tucked away in one of the many little plazas on Convoy Street, and it mainly serves Szhechuan-style food. I went with Alan and two of my other friends, and we ordered several dishes (to be shared family-style, of course), rice, and Tsingtao beer. I'm going to have to agree with Alan that their sweet and sour pork is the best I've ever tried!

The batter was very light and there was just the right amount of sauce. The result was a good balance between the cripsy coating and the tender meat inside, with perfect sweet and sour flavor! I would definitely order this again!

Another dish that really impressed me was the spicy eggplant.

At Dede's, they dipped the eggplant pieces in batter before stir-frying them with the spices, so the result was a slightly cripsy outside (not as cripsy as the pork, though) with the soft eggplant on the inside. I've never had this dish prepared this way (with the batter), but I really liked it. It was also spicy enough to require a nice swig of water or beer after each piece of eggplant, although my tolerance for spicy food was never that high.

We also ordered two clay pots - one with chicken, mushrooms, and bamboo, and the other with tofu, squash, and thin rice noodles. They weren't as standout as the other two dishes described above, but still made for a good meal.

Thanks Alan for introducing me to this place! I would definitely go to Dede's again. And the waitress gave us a free plate of cold appetizers and two extra bottles of Sapporo. Nice.

4647 Convoy Street
San Diego, CA 92111
(858) 279-5999

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Beringer White Zinfandel

Taking a quick break from the San Diego food entries...

Important fact about me - I love wine. Someone should get me a shirt that says "Oenophile" or "Sideways" on it so I could wear it with pride while trotting around Napa, glass in one hand and a platter of cheese in the other.

So what better way for me to relax and unwind after long hours of studying and working than to open a bottle? I had one of my favorites this past weekend - Beringer White Zinfandel. Three reasons why I love it:

1. It's pink. How much more feminine can you get than reclining in your chair swirling a glass of pink liquid? It would probably be Elle Wood's drink of choice (if they had gotten around to that in the movie, but they were too busy focusing on her legal prowess).

2. It tastes like strawberries. And along with that, hints of cherry, citrus flavors, just the right level of sweetness (unlike this Austrailian muscat I tried the other night, which was so sweet it tasted like cough syrup with sugar), and a clean finish that leaves a hint of strawberries on your palate. It's hard to dislike this wine unless you detest strawberries. And how could you not like strawberries?

3. It's cheap. I got a few bottles at Food Maxx for $3.99 each. Granted, they were on sale, but the original price was only $5.99. You can get a 750 mL bottle for $6 off the Beringer website. But don't let the price fool you - this is not poor quality wine! Unless of course, you're the kind of person who sips on Opus 1 on an ordinary day (in which case you need to become my new friend).

White zin in glass, under light

This calls for a quote from one of my favorite movies, "Sideways":

Miles: First thing, hold the glass up and examine the wine against the light. You're looking for color and clarity ... Now, tip it. What you're doing here is checking for color density as it thins out towards the rim ... Stick your nose in it ... mm, a little citrus, maybe some strawberry, passionfruit ... and there's just a flutter of like a nutty, Edam cheese.
Jack: (smelling wine) Wow. Strawberries, yeah. Strawberries. Not the cheese ... When do we drink it?
Miles: Now.
(Both down their glasses.)
Miles: (dismayed look) Are you chewing gum?!

Thankfully, I was not chewing gum, but rather on asiago pressato cheese that I couldn't resist buying at Bristol Farms. It's a younger cheese (asiago d'allevo is its older counterpart) that's sweet, rich, buttery, and just slightly tangy. Delicious with or without wine!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

George's at the Cove

I believe that no trip to San Diego is ever complete without a meal at George's at the Cove in downtown La Jolla. It's definitely one of those restaurant gems that makes that area so wonderful. The restaurant is actually divided into three levels. At the top is the Ocean Terrace Bistro, which is great during the day because you can enjoy gorgeous views of the Pacific Ocean while eating lunch. In the middle is the Pacific View Bar - I've only sat in there once with a friend to have a drink at the bar while waiting for our table on the terrace level. At finally, at the bottom is George's California Modern, the fine dining level that has the best food out of all three levels, with prices raised accordingly. The fine dining level was recently renovated to have a more "modern" look (hence the new "California Modern" in its name).

I used to have lunch at the Terrace Bistro every so often as a college student, so I've been missing it ever since I came back up north. Their food is just so fresh, well-prepared, and nicely plated. On this San Diego trip, I ordered the chimichurri steak sandwich, which was fabulous (and no, I didn't order that just so I could roll the word "chimichurri" off my tongue, although it is a fun word to say).

Chimichurri marinated steak sandwich, served open faced with avocado, arugula, grilled onions, and fries on the side ($12)

Close up shot of the steak

The last time I had a steak sandwich, it was at some Greek-owned breakfast place in Fremont where they slapped this huge uncut steak onto two pieces of toast. Not very pretty or manageable. But this steak sandwich at George's was quite good. The bread was lightly toasted, and the steak was a perfect medium rare (the way I always order my steaks). The avocado and arugula added some nice flavors and textures to contrast with the meat. And the fries were crispy perfection. The best part was that the steak was cut into about 6 slices and then topped onto the bread, so it made eating much easier.

George's also has impeccable service, but the waiters aren't stuffy like they can be at some other restaurants in the upscale downtown La Jolla. And the view of the ocean from the terrace level is simply amazing:

In short, I love George's. San Diego wouldn't be the same without it.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Karl Strauss

I just got back from a little vacation in San Diego, so expect a few posts about some of my eating adventures in one of the greatest cities in California. A highlight of my trip was that I finally got a chance to go to Karl Strauss, where they have some of the best handcrafted beer I've ever tried. They're a local brewery with several locations in San Diego, but alas, they don't have any locations or distributors in Northern California. It's really quite sad, although I suppose my wallet wouldn't agree, considering how much I would spend stocking up on Karl's brews if I could get ahold of it in San Francisco.

Anyway, Karl Strauss makes some very special beers with lots of body and complex flavors. My favorites out of the ones I've tried so far are Red Trolley, Amber Lager, and Woodie Gold. The food itself at the brewery restaurant is also very tasty, and compliments the beers well (surprise surprise). See their beer and food pairings here.

My perfect Sunday afternoon consisted of pitchers of Red Trolley and Woodie Gold ($9.95 each during happy hour), plates of cripsy calamari and garlic parmesan fries, and fun conversations with friends. All while enjoying the sunny San Diego weather outdoors.

Nearing the end of happy hour (photoshop filter - rough pastels)

I knew I would miss Karl's beer so much when I got back to San Francisco that I had a farewell glass of Red Trolley at the airport while waiting to board my plane. Here's a wonderful description of the beer from the back of their coasters - it captures the qualities better than I ever could: "Generous amounts of carmelized malts give Red Trolley Ale its deep copper color and pronounced toffee-like flavors. We add just the right mix of domestic hops to counter the boldness of the malts so that it remains well balanced with an incredibly smooth finish. Warm fermentation with our proprietary yeast strain creates hints of dried fruit like dates and currants and adds layers of complexity to this big and remarkably drinkable ale."

Incidentally, Mr. Karl Strauss himself passed away last December at the age of 94. But his legacy continues in his beers. If you love a good brew and are ever in San Diego, give it a try!

More entries about San Diego to come...

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Turtle Tower

The first time my friend Helen told me about Turtle Tower, a place for Northern Vietnamese food right in the Tenderloin where I live, I immediately thought of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (for the "Turtle Power!" cheer). I was also a little wary about going to a Vietnamese restaurant with a name containing words I could actually pronounce. But since I'm an equal opportunity food fan, and since the Yelp reviews were so good, I had to give it a try.

The restaurant is located on Larkin Street in between Eddy and Ellis Street, so it's not in the best of neighborhoods, and it definitely isn't pretty to look at on the outside or the inside. But this was the best pho I've ever had in San Francisco - even better than Mangosteen, which is just a block away from Turtle.

Pho with beef flank, tripe, and brisket ($6.30 small, $6.95 large)

As you can see in the photo, Turtle makes their pho in the Northern Vietnamese style, while most places make it in the Southern style. At Turtle, they use flat, wider white rice noodles and a clear broth. They also don't add bean sprouts or onions, and lemon (or lime) and green chili are the only condiments you can add. (Note: Helen once asked for hoisin sauce to add to her pho, and they looked at her as if she had sprouted horns. So to avoid incredulous looks, don't ask for hoisin sauce.)

Aside from these differences, the pho was absolutely delish. I loved the soft texture of the noodles, and the broth was more complex and less salty. I was never a fan of onions or bean sprouts in my pho anyway, so I didn't miss those much. I was wondering why there aren't more restaurants that make pho in this style, and one of my Vietnamese friends told me it had something to do with the Northerners fleeing to the South after the Communist takeover. They developed their own style of pho and stuck to it, since the Northern style reminded them of the enemy.

Anyway, I went back for another lunch at Turtle today and tried their Imperial Rolls as well. They were super crispy and filled with yummy pork, herbs, and veggie bits. It came with a side of cold rice noodles and of course, fish sauce.

Imperial Rolls (don't know price, but it should be around $5)

So I've officially been converted into a Turtle Tower fan. All they need is actual turtle-themed decor and it'd be perfect.

Turtle Tower
631 Larkin Street
San Francisco, CA 94109
(415) 409-3333

Thursday, March 8, 2007

First Post ... and a Plug for Puccini

I think it's incredibly difficult to come up with something witty for the first post of a blog, so I won't even try. I'm not sure why I finally gave in to starting a food blog, but this will be an excellent excuse for me to eat out more (something I already do to a good extent) and expand my cooking experiments (note that I said "experiments"). Or maybe I won't feel as silly taking photos of my food. In any case, I just want to say welcome and that I really hope you enjoy everything that I post. And let me know if you have any suggestions. Bon appetit!

As a simple first post, I'm just going to put in a plug for Puccini and Pinetti, an Italian restaurant near Union Square with colorful decor, great service, and hearty food. They also have great happy hour specials (4-6 PM on weekdays): $3 beers and wines, and $3 to $4 appetizers with such generous portions that you might as well call it a light dinner.

Back left: Pasta nachos with asiago cream sauce, tomatoes, basil, kalamata olives, parmesan, and mozzarella ($3). Front: Cripsy calamari with zucchini, fennel, onion, lemon, and sweet tomato aioli ($3). Right: Flatbread pizza ($4).

Close-up shot of the calamari

My favorite by far would be the pasta nachos, which have just the right amount of cream sauce and mozzarella with a generous amount of toppings. Definitely goes well with any beer (and Puccini happens to have Stella Artois, another favorite of mine).

So if you're ever in the area and need a midday snack, check this place out!

Puccini & Pinetti
129 Ellis Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 392-5500