Thursday, April 4, 2013

Noshed and Noted: Shrimp & Love Ceviche, Aria Korean-American Snack Bar, La Falafel and Sticks BBQ

And the winner is.......ceviche!. There are two food groups that call my name, but LOUDLY, namely ceviche and lamb. I managed to work both into my grazing over the past few days (lamb more than once), but the fishy one always trumps the barnyard-y one, and it was Shrimp & Love that held the winning card. I ran across this vendor at Mission Mercado, which I visited for the first time today (what have I been doing all these Thursdays???).  Mission Mercado is a neighborhood "farmer's" market for the Mission with many familiar produce and value-added vendors, but has more of a community "street market" feel than other neighborhood farmer's markets are able to achieve. Shrimp & Love is the brother-sister team of Orlando and Monica Trigueros, who have developed a whole range of ceviches from traditional to fanciful (think passion fruit). Their ceviches are prepared off-site and sold in chilled, sealed packages (probably a DOH stricture) but come with a spoon, napkin and a packet of restaurant-style tortilla chips, ready for wolfing down at one of the convenient nearby tables. I chose the "Shrimp-aquachile" ceviche, a Mexican style. As the name implies, it comes with a very soupy sauce, packed with fiery green chiles, slivered onions and plenty of shrimp (I think I counted seven).  Needless to say, I immediately hunkered down and devoured the plastic bucketful of jalapeno heaven. I'll definitely be back for more, and to try the other ceviche varieties on offer.

Ddukbokki (as fun to eat as it is to spell out) from Aria Korean-American Snack Bar was a close second in this heat as a spicy treat. Aria is a mom-and-pop hole-in-the-wall that opened about a year ago in the space that held the venerable Old Chelsea Fish and Chips shop for nearly 50 years.  Every time I've walked by it I have vowed to try the ddukbokki, dowel-shaped rice pasta similar to Shanghainese nian gao, served in a spicy sauce, and finally got around to to it last Friday afternoon.  I had only had one previous ddukbokki experience, on the streets of Shanghai, of all places and it was disappointing. The  pasta was under-cooked  and the sauce tasted mostly of catsup and was only slightly spicy). The Koreans had do do it better. I ordered the ddukbokki and an order of fried mandoo, the Korean version of jiaozi/gyoza. I wasn't disappointed.  The ddukbokki had great body, firm and chewy, but not jaw-cramplingly so.  They came in a savory soup-like bath in a shallow dish. The sauce was honestly spicy and so good one could slurp it as soup, which I did, until the chili heat got to be too much. The ddukboikki at Aria definitely belongs in the comfort food department, especially if a moderate spiciness is in your comfort zone.

Another treat worth a repeat came from La Falafel. a food truck I found at the SoMa StrEat Food Park one lunchtime this week. La Falafel features (d'oh) falafel sandwiches, grilled chicken sandwiches and beef-lamb kabab sandwiches (all in pita bread) as well as a side Israeli salad. I chose a half-sandwich with the kababs (you did hear lamb, didn't you?) and an Israeli salad. This choice was easy to make because the salad came with three falafel balls, giving me a chance to sample their signature product while indulging my lamb thrall. \The salad was mostly tomato and cucumber, bathed in a nicely peppery vinaigrette, and the accompanying falafel balls were perfectly spiced and moist, making me promise myself I would go for a whole falafel sandwich next time. The kabab sandwich was also exceptional, with fresh pita, nicely spiced meats, and a topping that included freshly cooked french fries (which I believe qualifies it as "Israeli style").

Last (and least, to be honest) was a stop at Sticks BBQ, whose shtick is skewers of grilled meats and other things. They feature approximately 15 types of skewers, listed on a chalkboard, and little else. I chose lamb shoulder, chicken thigh, and cuttlefish balls to sample. The lamb was nicely spiced and grilled, but a little on the tough side. It would have worked better with a fattier cut, longer grilling or tenderizing (hopefully through marination or some other natural process).  The chicken skewers were the best of the three, being tender and juicy in addition to being nicely spiced and grilled, and the cuttlefish were about as good as cuttlefish balls can be. I have no real complaints, but they weren't anything to make ones pulse race. The small skewers were not overly expensive, not were they great bargains.  In a nutshell, the product seemed middling in every way.  Sticks is located in the midst of a highly competitive after-school snack ghetto (I counted ten places to get bubble tea in that three-block stretch of Irving St.), and unless they have a secret boba formula or something, I don't see Sticks as, well, sticking.

Shrimp & Love, Mission Mercado, 22nd and Bartlett Streets, San Francisco
Aria Korean American Snack Bar, 932 Larkin Street, San Francisco
La Falafel, 428-11th Street, San Francisco
Sticks BBQ, 2138 Irving Street, San Francisco

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