Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Tartine Bakery

I found heaven this past weekend at Tartine, a cute little neighborhood bakery and coffee shop in SF owned by a married baker couple (how romantic, I know). The shop is simple and small with a sort of French feel. There was also a really long line trailing out the door (reminded me of Golden Gate Bakery in SF Chinatown), so we had to wait a good half hour before ordering our food. But it was definitely well worth the wait!

According to their website, the French word "tartine" refers to a piece of bread, any size or style, with something spread on it. Thus I was expecting some excellent baked goodies and desserts...and luckily, everything was orgasmically good.

There were so many cakes and pastries and desserts that we had some trouble choosing our orders. And everything looked so pretty in the display case!

After much debate, I decided on a lemon cream tart - a sweet pastry shell filled with rich lemon cream and topped with unsweetened cream ($5.50 for 4"). The lemon filling was nice and tart, but not too sour. And the cream was so smooth! I also liked how they put tiny pink flower petals on top of the cream. Points for presentation!

Tartine is pretty famous for its bread pudding ($2.75/cup, $4.50/bowl). To be honest, this was the first time I had any kind of bread pudding, but it tasted great. A very generous bowl of homemade brioche, caramel, and fresh strawberries.

But my favorite by far was this:

Banana cream tart ($5.50 for 4") - a flaky pastry coated in dark chocolate and caramel and filled with pastry cream and bananas, topped with lightly sweetened cream, shaved chocolate, and powdered sugar. An absolutely perfect combination of textures, and the bananas and pastry offset some of the sweetness from the chocolate and cream. Mmmm.

[Note: These desserts were shared among four people. Just so you all don't get the impression that I'm some sort of glutton stuffing myself with several different desserts at one time. Haha!]

Of course, Tartine also has other great items besides pastries and desserts. All the sandwiches we tried were excellent. I ordered the croque monsieur (I was feeling very French that day) - an open faced sandwich with Tartine's great bread, topped with bechamel (some creamy white sauce), gruyere (a type of cheese), thyme, and pepper. I had mine with extra Cowgirl Creamery fromage blanc, but you can also get it with Niman Ranch ham or shiitake mushrooms on top. The resulting sandwich is very rich and filling, sort of pizza-like but with more bread.

Croque monsieur w/ fromage blanc ($7.75)

And finally, you can't really go to a coffee shop and not try the coffee.

My latte was pretty good, although it could've been creamier. I liked how they served it in a small bowl, though. Very cute.

Anyway, Tartine is definitely worth the drive and the wait if you're in the SF area! Freshly baked goods, gorgeous cakes and pastries, and fast, friendly service. Plus they use a lot of organic products in their baking. I want to try their croissants and pain au chocolat next time!

Tartine Bakery
600 Guerrero Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 487-2600

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Melon Ramen!

My friend Helen (affectionately known as "Melon") invited me over for some of her home-cooked ramen. This girl makes ramen that I would gladly pay to eat, although she's always nice enough to not charge me :)

Melon uses Yamachan ramen noodles, which you can get from Nijiya or other Japanese stores. It's definitely much better than the dry packaged Chinese stuff I have sitting in my room.

After cooking the noodles and adding chopped green onions, she makes the miso soup using the included soup base and adding her own corn kernels:

Pour the soup over the noodles, add bean sprouts with a hard-boiled egg cut in half, and voila! You've got Melon's special ramen.

I almost wish she'd open up a noodle shop instead of becoming a top-notch attorney. But maybe she could have a business on the side.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Osha Thai

For cheap, authentic, and delicious Thai food, Osha Thai sure hits the spot. The closest one to my apartment is the one in the Tenderloin on Geary Street, which is a good place for me to stuff myself after a night out. My favorite is the one on 2nd Street; I think it's really pretty inside and has excellent service.

I usually get some form of noodles (pad thai or pad see you) at Osha, and I always leave completely satisfied. I've also tried their curries, and they're wonderful as well!

Pad thai w/chicken ($6.95)

Pad see you w/ beef ($6.95)

Sunday, April 15, 2007

A Specialty's Moment

My perfect mid-day snack in the office would be a cup of coffee and a fluffy baked goodie of some sort. And Specialty's Bakery & Cafe is great for both!

I tried their mini orange poppy seed bundt cake and was quite pleased. Fluffy poppy seed cake with a sweet, slightly tangy orange-flavored glaze on top. Wonderfully delish with my latte!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Chef Wai

I think my first introduction to Shanghainese food was at 369, a chain restaurant with a couple of locations in the Bay Area (not sure if they're around anymore, though). My parents and other family members thought it was decent, so they'd drag us kids there every other weekend or so. Since I thought it was pretty bad food, I thought that maybe I just wasn't Chinese enough to appreciate food from Shanghai. But as I got older, I realized that the problem wasn't me. I met enough people who agreed that 369 was super greasy, quickly-cooked Shanghainese food, so I happily restored my faith in xiao lung bao (steamed pork dumplings) and scallion pancakes.

Having overcome my youthful aversion to this type of food, I am now quite willing to go grab brunch at a Shanghai-style restaurant. I recently went to Chef Wai in San Mateo, where the head chef used to work at a very famous dim sum restaurant in San Francisco that closed down due to rent increases (and sadly, I don't know its English name). My parents and I ordered several dishes at Chef Wai, and they were pretty much hit or miss.

The hits:

Chinese-style crepes with red bean paste

This was absolutely perfect! The crepes were crispy and light, but firm enough to hold a generous amount of slightly sweet red bean paste on the inside. I've never had these with powdered sugar on top, but since I love sweets, I wasn't complaining. And it was served piping hot, so the red bean paste was literally melting in my mouth. Yum.

Yearcake stir-fried with veggies and shrimp

Another wonderfully-prepared dish. Shanghai-style yearcake is usually sliced into thin, oval pieces and stir-fried with other ingredients. It's chewier and less sweet than the Cantonese variant. Here, all the flavors played off each other really well, and they gave us quite a few shrimp.

And finally, you can't have Shanghainese food without these:

Xiao lung bao (steamed pork dumplings)

The dough skin was perfect (not too thin or thick), and the pork was very fresh. My favorite thing about xiao lung bao is the "soup" inside each dumpling. Before steaming, meat gelatin is placed into each dumpling, and the gelatin melts into soup during steaming so that when you bite into it, a small portion of delicious meaty broth trickles out (hopefully into your mouth, or else I think it'd be a waste). The broth in these dumplings was great - not too salty or greasy, with that hint of meat flavor that I love.

The dishes I considered "misses" were the following:
- Congee (rice porridge): Way too thick and bland. We kept adding soy sauce and pepper but it still didn't seem to help.
- Poached pork dumplings: Pretty bland and nowhere near as good as the xiao lung bao.
- Potstickers: They only gave us four pieces, and they were cold and looked like they hadn't been fried long enough.
- Scallion pancakes: Actually, these weren't that bad, but the dough was just a little too thick for our tastes.

Scallion pancakes

But overall, I'd give Chef Wai a try for their xiao lung bao and those yummy crepes. I'm sure there's other great stuff on the menu, too...I shall have to discover them on my next visit.

Chef Wai
111 E. 4th Avenue
San Mateo, CA 94401
(650) 342-8388

Monday, April 9, 2007

Hog Island Oysters

Happy hour at Hog Island Oyster Company definitely always makes me happy. $1 per raw oyster (whatever they decide to make the happy hour special) and $3.50 per beer pint is a GREAT deal. I usually get the pilsner beer on their menu. Their oysters are always fresh, and there are a variety of oysters to please any palate, whether you like them on the sweeter or saltier side. I'm an oyster shooter novice and am pretty easy to please, but I love the tasty freshness at this place!

If raw oysters aren't for you, Hog Island also has other seafood specialties (although you won't get to take advantage of that happy hour special). I tried their manila clams cooked in a white wine broth, and it was quite delicious. The clams were just the right texture, and the white wine added to the natural flavors of the clams. Their soups looked pretty good as well! This place is definitely worth a try for the real seafood lover!

Hog Island Oyster Company

Ferry Building on Market Street at the Embarcadero, San Francisco
(415) 391-7117

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Crepes at Melt Gelato

While I think that the classy food court on the bottom level of the SF Westfield Shopping Center is way overpriced, there are certain things that I find hard to resist. Like Korean BBQ chicken at Sorabol. Or a cream puff at Beard Papa's. And now finally, the crepes at Melt Gelato. While I love ice cream/gelato, I actually skipped trying the gelato at this place and went straight to the crepes!

Strawberry & cream crepe - fresh strawberries, nuts, nutella, whip cream, & powdered sugar ($4.95)

This crepe was simply wonderful! Light and fluffy with a generous amount of strawberries and nutella on the inside and powdered sugar sprinkled on top. Beautiful presentation as well.

Close-up shot (I love the star-shaped whip cream)

Melt has a variety of sweet and savory crepes, usually ranging from $2.95 to $7.95. You can also get gelato a la mode with a plain crepe ($1.25). Unfortunately, they no longer offer their apple pie crepe, but it's still on their menu, teasing us with illusions of apple compote and caramel.

Now that I've fallen in love with Melt's crepes, I think I need to try their gelato next time!

Monday, April 2, 2007

Minami Restaurant

I think I've found my newest love in the Richmond district of SF - Minami Restaurant! As an avid fan of Japanese food, I've become pretty picky about my sushi. I figure if you're going to have fish - whether raw or cooked - you need to have it fresh. I get pretty disappointed if I have a limp or rubbery piece of sashimi. My friend Helen is a long-time customer of Minami, and I give her food judgments great deference, so I trotted over with her this weekend to see what all the fuss was about.

And it was totally worth the fuss.

The restaurant itself is pretty nondescript - it'd be easy to pass by and not even notice it. The interior is shockingly small - only five tables and the sushi bar area, with the kitchen tucked away in a corner. Despite the size, the restaurant is very clean and has a nice, homey feel. A colorful assortment of Japanese art and paper decorations adorn the walls. Soothing music from Keiko Matsui, a Japanese contemporary jazz pianist, was playing throughout the restaurant (and I got very excited because I don't hear her music in establishments often).

We started our meal with bowls of hot miso soup and this delicious complimentary potato appetizer with some sort of sweet brown sauce. Unfortunately I forgot to ask our server what the potato dish was called, but it sure tasted great.

Miso soup

Sweet potato

I was in the mood for something cripsy, so I ordered the soft shell crab as an appetizer. It was well-prepared with the right amount of light batter. I've had better soft shell crab at Citizen Thai and the Monkey in North Beach, but I wasn't complaining about this one at Minami either.

Soft shell crab ($5.75)

The nigiri rolls really won me over. The unagi nirigi was one of the best I've tried. The length of the unagi slabs was about twice that of the underlying rice, and there was just the right amount of kabayaki sauce so that it didn't overpower the natural flavors of the eel. I also tried the uni (sea urchin) nigiri, and it was amazing! Although the presentation was just average, the uni itself was so sweet and fresh, with a great texture. I guess it's a good thing I ordered this as an afterthought in the middle of the meal, or else I would've spent more of my weekend budget on this delicacy.

Unagi nigiri ($3.50 for 2 pieces)

Uni nigiri ($4.95 for two pieces) - a GREAT price!

Finally, onto our main entrees. Helen ordered her usual chicken teriyaki dinner. It was a very generous serving of chicken and teriyaki sauce over rice, with a salad on one side of the plate. The chicken was soft and tender, saturated with slightly sweet teriyaki and topped off with a sprinkling of seasame seeds.

Chicken teriyaki dinner ($9.75)

Close-up shot of the chicken

Being the fish fan that I am, I ordered the sashimi combination dinner, which featured a variety of raw fish (including tuna, salmon, hamachi, ocotopus, and shrimp) arranged beautifully on a fan-shaped serving board. I was impressed with the presentation - as you can see below, they made good use of lemon slices to add other color to the board. The fish was super fresh and each slab was a good size, although they could've been thicker.

Sashimi combination dinner ($13.50)

One fish, two fish...

Overall, I loved my meal at Minami and would definitely go back for the food and the service (traditional, home-style Japanese hospitality). However, there were a few drawbacks:

1. Space: It'd be great if the restaurant could serve more people. There's this huge tree right in the middle of the restaurant that could create space for more tables if removed, but my friend mentioned that it might be for feng shui purposes. Helen said it doesn't ever get too busy though, so maybe it's not too much of a problem.

2. Speed of service: There are only two people preparing the food, and they are so meticulous about presentation that the dishes come out pretty slowly. You shouldn't go here if you are absolutely starving.

3. Lack of variety: Since the restaurant is pretty traditional, they don't get very creative with their sushi rolls or other items on their menu. But that's not so bad if you want some authentic Japanese food.

4. Beer: They only serve Sapporo. Why is it so hard to find restaurants that serve Kirin?

Anyway, I hope you all give Minami a try sometime. You might even see me there!

Minami Restaurant
1900 Clement Street
San Francisco, CA 94121
(415) 387-5913