after dinner sneeze

a lot of g says, t says

That time we went to Hawaii

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t says:  As now g and I are Californians, it is only right that we vacation where Californians vacation: Hawaii.  From my understanding, it seems like Hawaii is to San Franciscans as Florida is to New Jerseyans.  Never having been to Hawaii, g and I were pumped.  As I write this, it’s been a little while, so the details will be lacking (as usual), but I hope these pictures will remind g and me of just how much fun we had!

Indeed, the first place one is told to visit in Hawaii is Helena’s.  Home of “traditional Hawaiian” cuisine, g and I didn’t quite know what to expect.  I have to say that there was a bit of trepidation when we pulled up to the parking lot – it doesn’t look like much from the outside, occupying one space in row of shops in a relatively residential neighborhood.  But we knew it was legit because it had a line … quite a long line … meanwhile the restaurant literally in the next space over had absolutely no one in it (I kinda felt bad for them).  Had we been there for longer, I would have considered trying out their food, too … but alas, with only one stomach, we had to go for Helena’s.

The menu required some googling, as g and I didn’t quite know what we were getting ourselves into.  Between bloggers and the folks sitting next to us (and older couple from Florida who were very friendly; they visit Hawaii at least once a year), we concocted an order to experience “a taste of Hawaii”.

Ok … so we found out that a taste of Hawaii isn’t exactly appeasing to the eyes – lots of browns and whites.  Meats, rice, meats, rice; and of course the purple shade of poi.  Before I go into how things taste, I do wonder: how do Hawaiians maintain their bowels??  There was not a legitimate vegetable on the entire menu!  Ok – back to not being gross: the food was CRAZY-good.  The kalbi (in the upper left position), was quite tasty.  It reminded me of Korean kalbi, but not quite as heavily seasoned.  More important was kalua pig (left position) and the wrapped lau lau (lower right position).  It was interesting to compare the flavors of these two pork dishes, with one coming across with more of a smoky, bbq flavor, while the other had some vegetal flavors courtesy of the leaves in which it was cooked.  Poi is a pass for us – the flavor was quite a bit odd – not sure how to describe it, but I’m not sure how it really works with the rest of the dishes.  As far as what was missing: kimchi.  I yearned for some kimchi.  Something acidic and spicy to really round out the flavor profile.  I had rice and I had meat – really all I needed was some kimchi and it would have been heaven!

There was also an obligatory “have-to-visit-while-in-Oahu” visit to Liliha Bakery.  Now I want to start off saying that I don’t like cream puffs.  I think that just because you have a boring, tasteless pastry, injecting it with more sugar doesn’t make it better … it just makes it sweet.  Well that’s not the case with these puffs.  These “coco puffs” are insane, with a chocolate pudding inside and a ?macademic nut? topping; it’s like the baby of a cream puff and a reese’s.  So amazing.  The donut all the way to the left is their poi donut, which I actually enjoyed quite a bit.  The texture was kind of chewy and resilient, which I thought was great (kind of like a Korean rice cake).  The malasada (in the middle) I think had guava in it, which was less exciting for me, as I find guava to be too potent for my fragile taste buds (the rest of the donut was good!).

And now here was probably our best meal of Hawaii.  After watching a junior surf competition on the north shore, we stopped by Romy’s prawn and shrimp shack.  The layout is similar to a Philly cheesesteak shop – you order at the window and they prep it right there.  While it seems that most people get a fried version, g and I went for the steamed option, as this would allow us time to get to the beach and watch the sunset without having to worry about fried-ness getting soggy.  And it. was. amazing.  The shrimp were huge, perfectly cooked (surprising!), and funt o dip in the sauces (we mixed together the soyu and garlic).  We could not imagine a more Hawaiian experience than sitting on that beach with our shellfish.

Another Hawaiian chain that often makes bloggers’ lists is the Koa pancake house.  I have to say that this one was a little underwhelming.  It came across as more “fusiony” than truly authentic anything.  In the foreground, we had a super-dry/over-cooked chicken, tossed in a “Korean sauce” (that lacked heat) over a mooshy waffle.  g went for a take on eggs benedict (that I think had some kind of kimchi-inspired sauce on it), but that English muffin was quite anemic in appearance and taste.  I mean, the food was fine if you’re in a pinch, but not worth going out of your way for.

This photo is a place-holder for an entire experience: if you go to Honolulu, you have to go to Shangri-la.  The collection of art is amazing.  To post the pictures would do it disservice, because it’s really all about being surrounded by such an eclectic mix of pieces.  Do it.

We did it.  We went to Cinnamon’s.  The famous eatery that features guava (background) and red velvet (foreground) pancakes.  Are you surprised?  Probably not.  However – you should be surprised that it was g’s wishing that led us there – she loves guava.  As I mentioned above: I could do without it.  Cinnamon’s has been open for 32 years.  I daresay that it has not been renovated once.  We sat in the oddest gazebo-looking thing in the middle of the dining room, looking around at tourists feeding their children pounds and pounds of sugar (that’s right!  even I thought that these pancakes were a little over-the-top) – not exactly the ambience I was hoping for … and then these pancakes hit the table … and even though my eyes and brain clearly said “you probably shouldn’t eat all this pancake”, my mouth responded with a “watch me”.  I confess: they were good (the red velvet ones at least).  It’s worth a trip.  Drop in, eat some pancakes, and pop out …    

This is another terrible picture.  I got it.  There was such terrible lighting, I had to get up real close.  While in Hawaii, we had to do at least one Roy’s restaurant, so we ventured Eating House 1849.  This mess of rib was the best item we had.  Smokey and sweet, the meat just fell off the bone.  The rest of the items we had were pretty tasty as well (some Brussels sprouts, some fish, an obligatory molten chocolate dessert), but it was the ribs that I will remember from this meal.  Just so delicious!

What would an adsz post be without some ramen?  Goma Tei’s tan tan ramen is well-known in Hawaii, with a delightful sesame-based broth.  It was thick and creamy, adding a great texture.  However, it was a bit overpowering, as the other ingredients were difficult to shine through the broth’s flavors.  Meanwhile, the pork was tasty, but a bit on the drier side.  I can see why most would like this ramen (it’s quite unctuous and uniquely tasty), but for me, I felt like it needed to have some stronger complementary additions to stand up to such a strong background.  Super-glad I tried it, but if I went back, I’d try some others.

Whereas the Goma Tei ramen had some highlights, I have to say that the AGU ramen (another famous shop in Hawaii) was absolutely forgettable.  Above, you can see a version amped up with some black garlic, some fried garlic, and the [super-gimicky-but-they’re-known-for-it] Parmigiana cheese.  First off, lets’ just settle it now: the cheese added nothing to this dish.  Its texture was wrong, and its flavor wasn’t useful, rather, it only masked every other ingredient in the bowl.  The rest of the dish was kind of bland (cheese notwithstanding), so much so that I dumped the kimchi into the soup just to jazz things up.  Fortunately, the service was quick and nice, so we were able to fill up and move along with our day.   My advice is to skip out on AGU ramen and instead go to the udon shop around the corner, Marukame, which was incredible.  I wish my pictures would have turned out, but the place is totally legit.  You can see them making the noodles from scratch, cooking them up, and composing the soups to your specifications.  Seriously worth waiting in their line and dealing with the curt, borderline-rude service (i.e. don’t expect to stay long!)

One of g’s dreams was to drink an umbrella-laden drink by the beach.  Boom – mission accomplished.  Mai Thai!  But to follow it up: you have to go to Duke’s Waikiki.  It’s essential.  The food isn’t necessarily authentic, but it is quite tasty, including multiple food groups (veggies!), and served an atmosphere that’s just so classically tourist-Hawaii that to miss it would be a crime.  Sit back, relax, eat some raw tuna served over puffed rice, and bask in the glow of the Hawaiian sun!

Oh the shaved ice.  I totally forget the name of this cart/shack, but their shaved ice was the best sweet thing I had on the trip – it was perfect.  Ice cream covered in ice and spritzed with flavors and spiked with fruit and mochi – it was incredible.  Why have I never had it before?  We need this exact treat on the mainland, stat!

And just for k, we went to banan …  That’s not ice cream, so much as whipped frozen banana … served with toppings … and served in a papaya.  That’s right!  In a papaya!  g was loving it … (although I wished it was another one of those shaved ice concoctions, above …)

In all, our first trip to Hawaii was pretty darn incredible.  We went on a fun hike, we tried/nearly-got-blown-out-to-sea during stand-up paddle-boarding.  We beached-it-up right.

Written by afterdinnersneeze

7 June 2017 at 12:10am

Posted in Happenings

So much time, so much ramen.

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t says:  It has been forever since our last post.  And trust me – it’s not because we haven’t been eating.  It’s been a non-stop work-fest over here on the “Best Coast” so I let my blog-maintenance duties slide.  As a result, my phone has so many food pictures that I’ve actually forgotten where most of them are from.  I’m a disgrace of a blogger.  Can it be?  Have I transitioned to an age where blogging is more of a chore than a fun distraction?  NEVER!  I just wish it was easier to do on the fly … I wish they had telepathic blogging …

So why come back?  Well … g and I, in our quest to try every respectable bowl of ramen in the city, came across what I can only say was an absolute disaster of a noodle.  And I just can’t help myself.  I must tell someone about it.  Anyone.  Everyone.  They must be warned.

Enter Mensho Ramen.  Or, more accurately “Mensho Tokyo SF” – or whatever they want to be known as.  There were so many problems with our trip to Mensho.  The first was their ginormous line.  With a line this long, my expectations were heightened.  With so many people talking about how they loved it there [waiting in line], I figured that this was going to be great.  But – I can’t blame Mensho for their line – that’s not their fault – that’s ours; we have to stop supporting bad ramen in SF.  The second was the table setup that placed dining partners SO far away from eachother that it was difficult to talk.  Of course, this shouldn’t be a problem at a noodle house either because you’re supposed to be busy slurping noodles – not talking.  But if you’re going to run a buzzy, so-hot-right-now, packed noodle house that’s going to involve some kind of wait for noodles, then you might as well give us something to do while we wait for the order to be filled – like talk to each other.  (g does, however, give them props for the cute little baskets under the tables to put your stuff so you’re not putting your jacket on your lap while you eat.)  And finally, the biggest problem of all: the bowl was terrible.  The above Tori Paitan was ordered with double chashu (double pork shoulder) and extra duck chashu (four slices instead of two).  Let’s get the good out of the way first: the noodles, themselves, were on the thicker side with great bounce, and the duck was quite good.  But that’s where the good stopped and the bad began.  The broth – a “rich and creamy chicken soup” was insipid.  I just couldn’t understand it.  How could ramen have a bland broth with almost no flavor?  And it’s supposed to be so thick and creamy from all of delicious chicken that melted off the bone!  It blew my mind.  The burdock was similarly bland, and the greens ranged from overcooked-mushy to undercooked-why-am-I-still-raw.  For redemption: nothing actually tasted “bad” – it just didn’t have taste … which was a sad way for $19.50 to depart my wallet.  (Perhaps my tears of sadness would have added much-needed salt to the broth.) At least I was full when I was done (the best part about ramen: you don’t leave hungry).

g’s bowl, the shio with double meat, had far more flavor in the broth, bringing a nice saltiness and garlic to the party.  That said, they did manage to serve it in the most unhelpful bowl you could ever serve ramen in – with this gently sloping sides that caught effectively none of the slurp-splashes that inevitable occur with ramen eating (if you’re not slurping, you’re not eating ramen correctly).  And don’t get me wrong – while her bowl did at least have some flavor, it’s not like the kale and chives were pushing any boundaries in a positive direction.  Needless to say – g and I won’t be waiting in line at Mensho anytime soon.  (Although the two vegan people next to us seemed to enjoy their ramen …).

So now what?  Well – with acknowledging that Mensho is officially tied for the worst ramen we’ve had in the Bay Area (the other was Oakland’s Itani Ramen), here are some places that will offer you a better bowl.

Here’s the bowl from Ramen Yamadaya in Japantown (not to be confused with the relatively new Ramen Hinodeya).  This 2nd story restaurant has a little bit of an attitude problem.  The wait can be fierce (make sure you butt your way up to the front of the line to put your name on the list and then get in the line), and the host can be mean (he gets a little bit of a temper tantrum when he can’t read your handwriting), and the “instructions on how to eat ramen” that are posted are a bit condescending … but by golly this is the best ramen of the three we’ve been to in Japantown (Waraku, Hinodeya, Yamadaya).  The noodles are spot on, the broth is flavorful – both hit the right checkboxes (Hinodeya’s broth, by comparison, was far less flavorful – I can’t even find pictures of it – it was so forgettable that even my phone forgot the picture).  However, the real “winner” of this Kakuni Kotteri bowl is the pork belly: the biggest, best-done, perfectly-toothsome piece of belly is in this ramen.  Some may say that it distracts from the noodles and broth and other elements, which is fair – but sometimes you just want a ramen that puts the meat in a spotlight rather than just another tree in the background.  We gladly took some of this broth home with us – it didn’t quite have the oomph of Orenchi, but it was still worthy of a second round at home with adding some store-bought noodles.  I also give them props because one of the servers and I had a moment to geek out on our shared love of raw Japanese denim – it was pretty cool and allows me to award them bonus points.

We also ventured “The Ramen Shop” in Oakland for their twists-on-the-traditional ramens.  Above you see g’s selection of green garlic, veggie ,meyer lemon shoyu ramen which was super-refreshing.  Personally, I couldn’t handle that element of citrus for an entire bowl, but g quite liked it.  Between the arugula, Meyer lemon, and butternut squash, it didn’t really scream “ramen”, but still a very tasty soup on its own.

 

 

 

 

I went with the duck shoyu ramen which was indeed a very respectable dish of ramen.  I can’t say that the rutabaga did anything for me, and I personally like the egg yolk to be a smidge runnier, but the broth was nicely balanced and the duck was fabulous (I wish there was one more slice).  The noodles could have had just a bit more of an alkaline punch to jazz up their flavor some, but overall I was happy with our Oakland adventure.  I would not agree that it’s the best ramen in the Bay Area, but if I had any hipster friends, I’d totally send them there (it’s a little bit of a scene …).

 

Here’s a reminder to myself that Nojo still has our favorite chicken-based ramen.  It’s gimicky as hell to put a chicken thigh/leg in there, but it’s just so darn good.

We also hit up Izakaya Sozai as well.  I ventured the tsukemen style ramen which I have to say would have been astounding had it not suffered from one problem: temperature regulation.  The cooler ingredients (the noodle bowl) got so cool that the noodles clumped.  It also cooled down the dipping broth to the point where it, too, was below room temp.  Darn!!  I feel like the broth would have been far more expressive had it been a bit warmer by the time it hit my mouth.  As far as the noodles, they could have used ones that were a bit more irregular or had a bit more curl this way it would have really captured the broth and delivered it to my mouth much more easily.  I did eat all of it – it was still pretty good – but it had such high potential to be be excellent.

Izakaya Sozai does have these cute bacon-wrapped mochi which is pretty much the best thing ever.  It’s like a stickier/chewier bacon-wrapped gnocchi – what’s not to love?

And here we are … back at the beginning … Orenchi Beyond.  Ok, so the crown that Orenchi Beyond stole from the first moment we went there has been retained … but barely.  With bowls that offer better meat (Ramen Yamadaya), more interesting “twists” (chicken leg and addictive burdock at Nojo), or even a more profound porkiness (Coco Ramen), it’s hard to say that Orenchi is a clear winner.  However, give g and me just one place to bring an out-of-town friend to demonstrate ramen goodness of SF and the Bay, and this is where we’re going to go.  It’s garlicky, porky, and has an almost briny quality to it.  The noodles are excellent (although I’d get a double portion the next time), the pork is well-done, the additions are solid.  Just don’t get distracted by the soba or tsukemen and you’ll be fine.  Man – if only they could steal some of Coco’s bean sprouts and just a small slab of Yamadaya’s belly – it’d be the perfect bowl.

Who knows when the next post will be?  But until then – just keep eating … and sneezing.

Written by afterdinnersneeze

24 April 2017 at 4:03am

Rounding out the Holidays in SF

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t says:  Because we pre-Holiday’d on the east coast, g and I were prepared for a relaxed time here in SF for real-Christmas.  Wanting to jazz it up and try something we had never made by ourself, I scoured the Safeway coupons until I landed on a one-day sale of NY Strip Roast.  I was determined.  We were going to roast a big-ass hunk of meat and not overcook it.  Mission: Not-Overcooked commenced …

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I realize now that I don’t have the typical blog-worthy extreme-close-up view of the roast.  And while this herb-and-mayo-crusted Strip looks like medium-well here, it was a perfect medium in real life (I know, I know – blasphemy to have medium and not medium-rare!).  Accompanied by some broccoli and parsnip as well as a parmesan-Brussels-sprouts stuffed baked potato, g put on a wonderful show, having cooked the entire meal by herself (I did pre-cut all the ingredients the night before so she could pretend she was on a cooking show – I worked during the day on Christmas).  That meat with the 2010 Tor Rock Syrah that you see above (review here) was absolutely incredible.  g and I have cooked a fair number of meals in our time, but only a handful of times have we stepped back and gone, “damn, that’s like restaurant-quality  good”.  This was one of those times.

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We also did a dinner out at Nopa for our “splurge” Christmas meal (not on Christmas).  Defrayed by j’s generosity, g and I were super-excited to finally make it there (I had to make a reservation at exactly when the reservation window opened).  While normally we’d be happy to not BYO, we felt like for Christmas, it needed to be special.  Additionally, it was our 9.5 year anniversary!!!  So g and I pulled out our last bottle of Alexana Block 7 from our 2013 visit to OR, and the restaurant fairly charged us corkage.  For the record, the wine was fabulous – drink it if you got it.

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Brussels sprouts.  The “it” food of 2010-2012.  Fry it up, toss something salty on it, and boom: instant praise.  Who knew?  But now those venerable sprouts have lost their sex appeal – people prepare Brussels sprouts at home with little effort or thought, making it as commonplace as broccoli.  Well these aren’t those sprouts.  These are Sprouts 2.0.  Persimmon and a slightly sweeter sauce with nutty (pecan?) accents for texture and savory, it was a celebration of the taste of the Brussels sprout, not a masking with bacon or soy sauce.  Amazing!

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A parade of dishes included a papparedelle (perfectly composed – every aspect), the best duck breast I’ve had in years, and, the surprising star of dinner: broccoli.  Yes that’s right.  They had the audacity to serve us broccoli (we had the audacity to order it).  And out in came – these huge staves of broccoli that sang out kind of like how the Brussels sprouts did: celebrate me – I’m broccoli, damnit!  I don’t know how they did it.  The char was perfect, the breadcrumbs were perfect, and to this day, that lemon-anchovy sauce has mocked every next time I’ve made broccoli at home (they should bottle that sauce!).  Nopa really nailed it – now I understand why the waitlist is full!

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But wha would life be without another ramen post?  Enter Waraku, a ramen joint in Japantown.  With the tonkotsu deluxe in front of me, I dove into a creamy soup base.  While the texture of the silky broth was great, I have to say that after having been to so many ramen joints, this bowl was a bit unremarkable.  The veggies were of “meh” flavor/crunchiness.  The meat was “fine”, with appropriate texture, but didn’t pack the punch I was expecting.  The noodles were a bit bland.  Now this is me being a bit nitpicky.  If this was a nearby place, convenient to home, I’d eat there all the time – it’s not a bad bowl at all!  It’s just not my favorite!  I hear that Ramen Yamadaya, the newcomer around the corner, is also all-the-rage!!  We’ll have to try it!

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We did also venture some Korean shave ice at a next-door Korean cafe.  It was a nice frozen treat, but could have used a bit more red bean to fix the proportion a bit.  We’ll do some more shaved ice investigation.

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g and I were gifted a Feastly meal featuring Shio ramen (thanks again, j!!).  With two home-turned-professional cooks behind the helm (an adorable husband-and-wife team), we were excited to taste the “lighter” “subtle” ramen that is Shio (a first for me!)

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There were a few introductions, including a torched Caesar salad – which added a nice charred flavor to the romaine.  I might have to blow-torch all my salads.

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This ramen was delicious.  The highs include a wonderfully vivid broth, accented with a few pickles and scallions – quite nice.  The ham and chicken slices (sous vide) were oh so buttery smooth.  I think that really, the weakest component was the noodle – it was a bit thick and a bit bland.

Written by afterdinnersneeze

21 January 2017 at 9:09pm

East Coast Holiday Interlude

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t says:  g and I decided that the best time to run east for the holidays was the few weeks before Christmas – the flights were just so much cheaper!  It was a great visit, with good times had with friends and family.  Here are some food-related highlights:

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Oh yes – here it is: Talula’s Table!!  Now, we’ve been to the Table a few times before, each time enjoying the parade of farm-to-table dishes, beautifully composed and riding the balance of “homey” and “contemporary American”.  This experience was no different.  Now, there were a ton of courses, ranging from the three fabulous amouse bouche, a welcome gruyere gougere (still sooooo good), and those mentioned above.  Each of us had our favorites (we went with a and v and a’s parents) … but because I’m in front of the computer, we’re going to focus on mine:

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The sous-vide egg.  By the Table’s standards, this dish is a bit more hoidy-toidy than their usual dishes, but it was totally worth it.  The egg was custardy-creme-brulee smooth, accented with strong salty (bacon, chicken skin) and bitter (greens) flavors.  It was incredibly simple but got the job done, setting us up for a fabulous meal.  Sure, the rest of the meal was solid, but if I had to pick one of those to have again, it would be this one.

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Although g and I have our faves in Philly, we had to tackle a few new[-to-us] restos as well.  This one is only “kinda” new: Kanella Grill.  Back in the day, the original Kanella was one of our favorite Philly BYOs – one of our “go-to’s” for anyone visiting the city who wanted to really experience the “Philly” we love.  Well that Kanella moved, while the old location now houses “Kanella Grill”.  Dedicated to a more casual lunch-ish kebab-centric menu, we were psyched to taste all that is Cypriot lunch …  Above is g’s lamb shwarma hiding in pita, Greek salad, and some pickled vegetables.  I went for the gyro.  Let’s just say that both were delicious: tender meat, a bit of toasting on the pita, and great vegetables.  Overall, I feel that it was on the order of greatness of Souvla in SF.  Kanella Grill lightens it up with the bright crunchy veggies (i.e. afterwards, we could both still walk), whereas Souvla hits you heavy and hard (i.e. afterwards, we experience food coma).  Both are smile-inducing …  

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But really, the star of Kanella Grill was the hummus.  It was just so crazy.  Now keep in mind: this is not Zahav hummus.  This is not Dizengoff hummus.  This is Kanella Grill hummus.  It was unrefined, a bit chunky, and a bit of a mess in appearance, with roughly chopped parsley.  But it was just so damn good – something in that mix of spices that I can’t even explain.  That, mixed with the blistered pita was sublime.

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The last resto worth mentioning on our visit with DuBu Tofu house up near Elkin’s Park / Cheltenham.  Probably the best soondubu I’ve had yet, this kimchi stew was hot and spicy, with perfectly soft tofu and bits of meat.  I was sweating like grandpa by the end of it, but with the spice-induced endorphins running through my brain, my euphoric grin brought out laughs from g: “you’re crazy”.  The galbi was fine, the dolsot bibimbap was fine, but let’s face it: the soondubu was the star.

As you can tell, we had a lot of great food during our visit.  I wish there was one more place I could mention, but I can’t … because they refused to serve us.  Well – they refused to serve some of us.  g, a, v and I wanted to go toHungry Pigeon.  g and I had heard so many great things, and a is a Hungry Pigeon veteran.  We (the four of us) rolled in at 10:51 (exactly), when the lady behind the counter, upon seeing us enter, announced that breakfast would be over at 11 (that’s why I know the time – I got scared and looked at my phone).  Scared we’d miss breakfast, we immediately got in line behind a woman with a very convoluted drink order (it was 10:56 by the time she finished).  I ordered for g and me and paid using my credit card and signed.  I took one step to the side to allow a to the counter so he could order for himself and v.  The woman announced that breakfast was over (it was 10:59 – I checked my phone).  a was dumbstruck.  He thought it was a joke, but the hipster-glass-wearing barista deadpanned.  She offered up only silence and an empty stare.  No “sorry”, no apologies, nothing.  Not even a “you could buy something from our lunch menu” (actually I don’t know if we could or not – I don’t know when lunch officially starts) or “we have some yummy pastries” or anything.  Just a robotic emptiness.  We pleaded, as we had all come in together and were in line promptly, but nothing.  I had no choice but to cancel my order (what was I going to do? eat my breakfast in front of a and v?).  I actually wonder if she would have stopped me in mid-order had I attempted to order food for the four of us.  Afterwards, I did tweet at them to see if such Seinfeldian-soup-nazi rule was a “real” thing, and got a response directly from @hungry_pigeon indicating that “she was right. Lunch starts at 11. Sorry, we make no exceptions”.  Bummer.  I hate it when that Cinderella-at-midnight moment happens and the carriage turns into a pumpkin and the cooks get amnesia and all the ingredients necessary to make a breakfast bowl and an avocado toast instantly spoil (that brown rice porridge must be very temperamental!).  Although we left Hungry Pigeon still hungry, we were rescued by nearby South Street Philly Bagels and invited to enjoy them inside Ox Coffee – how civilized of them!  Now, I’m not sure if I’m over-reacting by vowing to never go to Hungry Pigeon ever again, but being as we don’t live in Philly, I’m pretty sure it’s a vow I can keep.

Written by afterdinnersneeze

8 January 2017 at 8:25pm

Our First Sonoma Experience

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t says:  g and I happened to be meeting a wonderful winemaker in Napa (lunch at Mustard’s Grill!), when we got back into the car and pondered, “where to next?”.  Having just done a trip to Heitz on our previous visit, we wondered whether other free [good] visits could be had.  One name came to mind: Merry Edwards.  This pinot/chardonnay/SB powerhouse has been making great wine in Sonoma for some time, now … and they, like Heitz, are one of the few top caliber wineries to still give free tastings!  … appointment-free!!

So g and I toughed it through the windy roads of the mountains/hills that lay between Napa and Sonoma.  It was surreal to be seeing such fabulous views from our own tiny little C30 that we owned in Philly for all those years …  And then we finally arrived:

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Trust me, I tried my best to take pictures inside, but I couldn’t find a way to do it and not look like the other four tourists taking selfies.  I was embarassed.  (Or maybe I was just embarassing g?)  So I guess my words will have to paint the picture.  Merry Edwards has a cute little courtyard area, complete with a fountain or two.  You walk into a main reception area where you can “sign up” for a tasting.  There are 2-3 rotating tasting rooms for walk-ins that rotate in terms of which one is “going off” when.  It’s kind of like getting in line for go-kart riding at an amusement park: everyone lines up, then the first 10 or so people all get into the first set of cars and go; and then the next 10 get into the second wave, etc.  Each room opens up as soon as it’s done and then the next group goes.  I found it to be a great way to deal with an onslaught of people all at once – instead of having just a single bar, where employees have to remember which wine they’re pouring for whom, they basically invite a group of people into a closed off room with a separate bar and do a single [standing] tasting with a whole group at once (~15-min).  This way everyone gets to hear everything about the vineyard history and a tidbit about each wine, and we’re all on the same page.  Pretty cool setup!  It’s like having two-to-three revolving bars!  And by “group”, I have to admit that it can be quite small – we had only one other couple in our group, but they could have easily have accommodated more if needed.  They also offer a [free!] seated tasting that included some chardonnay, but that required an appointment; ours was four pinots and a SB.  The pinots were a great study in California pinot noir, each one with different kinds of fruit and savory flavors.  I will warn you, however, that the pinots tend to be quite spendy (~$50-$60/bottle), and I wasn’t quite moved enough by any of them to open my wallet (in my book a $50 wine better at least take my breath away).  The SB, however, was quite remarkable, reminding us of a baby Illumination … with a pricepoint to match (~$32).  And unlike most wines found at wineries, it’s actually harder to find this wine on the retail market for cheaper than at the tasting room, so I could buy with a clear conscience.  While not as petrol-driven, smack-you-in-the-face as Heitz’s SB (this one had a dollop of vanilla oak and a smidge more stone fruit like peach instead of the petrol in Heitz’s), it was a very nice showing, working well with the Dungeness crab g and I just cooked up at home …  Ahhhh – California life is just too hard – wine and crabs in November?  C’est la vie!

We did walk around Sebastapol’s The Barlow as well, an area with some tasting rooms (including Kosta Browne and Wind Gap!), restaurants, and other tchotchke-vendors.  It was quite cute.  This was our first trip to Sonoma, and it’s laid the groundwork for future visits.  Just try and keep us away!

Written by afterdinnersneeze

14 December 2016 at 11:40am

Posted in Happenings

Tapas Party!

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t says:   Maybe you’ve noticed that g and I have been eating a lot of Asian foods.  From our ramen adventures to our recent Asian-inflected Hawaiian brunch, we had to break the trend.  k knew just the thing: Spanish tapas.

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The tapas storm was well underway when the above photo was taken at Picaro.  First off, I have to say that the restaurant was quite large for SF!  When walking in, it felt like the restaurant just kept going and going and going!  We eventually sat in the backyard area, which had tables which could easily accommodate 6 (or a cozy 8) – definitely a great place for gatherings.  The sangria was also great for parties – smooth, off-dry, not-gross, and cheap (a pitcher for $10 before 7pm!).  The menu was overhwelming – fortunately, cm took charge and helped us pick out a well-rounded, well-balanced meal (i.e. I think we got one veggie dish …).  As for the food: it was quite good!  Not to be confused with fancy/modern/prissy tapas, this was much closer to the foods we had in Spain than anything else we’ve had in the states.  The jamon was thick-cut, the cheese was unfussy, the croquetas were on point.  Everything tasted “just right”.

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And the paella!  Another solid dish!  Ours had a nice mix of seafood and meats, most of which were nicely tender (clams a bit overdone) – next time we’re definitely going squid ink for a bit more of that briny seafood flavor.  Also, the pan came out nice and hot, which gave us a nice char on the rice.  This was a great crowd-pleaser.  As far as the price of dinner?  $60 per couple.  That’s it!  Including Sangria!  And we had leftovers!  INSANE.  Really the only thing that I wish was that it could be BYO – but hell – for that price, I’d happily pay corkage!  (Or just drink more sangria …)

So yea – Picaro was excellent, unfussy, and a good deal.  AND they took reservations!

Written by afterdinnersneeze

7 December 2016 at 10:40pm

Posted in in California, Restaurant Reviews

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A Taste of Hawaii (in SF)

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t says:  g and I are psyched for our first trip to Hawaii (coming in January 2017!).  I have to go to a conference (time to nerd out!), but g’s going for the sun!  This will mark our first island trip since our honeymoon (St. Lucia 2007!); bathing suits in winter, here we come!

To prep for the trip, we just had to check out one of SF’s latest brunch sensations, Aina.  I have to confess that I was a little hesitant, as one of my Hawaiian colleagues felt that it was “not as good as it is in Hawaii” … however, I imagine that Korean food in SF is not as good as it is in Korea, either, so I still had hope (especially after a recent tasty soondubu outing).  Located in Dogpatch, I was ecstatic that it was only a short walk away.  While there was a wait involved, the hostess was friendly and, more importantly, accurate with her projected wait times, allowing us to do a little bit of pre-gaming at Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneous (yum!).  So on to brunch:

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I chose the kalbi loco moco.  Knowing kalbi as a wonderful Korean marinated shortrib dish, I didn’t know exactly how it would come together with ingredients like mushroom, eggs, and tomato.  The end result was a lot of great flavors on the plate, from the bright tomato-cilantro, the decently braised shortrib, and the egg-rice combo.  But while each bit was good on its own, but I can’t say that there was harmony on the plate.  Eggs and pico?  Great.  Rice and egg and shortrib?  Great.  But put it all together and it was a bit of a mishmash.  Don’t get me wrong – nothing was left on the plate when I was done, but if I went back, I’d certainly keep on trying out the other items on the menu.

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g did the Portugese sausage hash.  Now that was really good.  The sausage, with some kind of paprika or cumin spices in there, was a wonderful addition to soupy eggs and bright greens.  I don’t know how “Hawaiian” this one was, but if it portends what breakfasts will be like when we visit, we’re all in!  As you can guess, g won breakfast (she wins so much; she must be sick of winning).

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Now here is the loser of breakfast.  Hard to believe, right?  These doughnuts, covered with a coconut sugar and filled with guava looked wonderful.  Maybe your mouth is watering right now as the picture taunts you.  You can see why I figured it’d be a no-brainer of a win … but it wasn’t.  The dough was quite chewy – not really offering either a cakey or flakey texture that I’d expect a doughnut to have.  Meanwhile, the guava was overwhelming – I had to squirt out half of it to bring it back into balance with the sugared dough.  We couldn’t even finish the three!  Sorry Aina – the doughnuts were a huge miss.

So brunch at Aina was pretty good, but I can’t say that it’s Plow-good.  What I’m really looking forward to, however, is dinner; I’ve heard it’s amazing.  As I look at the dinner menu, I have to say that I see a ton of potential.  There’s seafood and kimchi everywhere!  That gnocchi dish looks crazy!  So we’ll have to pay them a revisit soon … even if the doughnuts were heart-breakingly sad.

Written by afterdinnersneeze

26 November 2016 at 10:08pm