Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Burmese Gourmet Truck is a Diamond, er, Jade in the Rough

When Jonathan Kauffman reviewed the Burmese Gourmet truck last week in SF Weekly's SFoodie Blog, checking it out went straight to the top of my to-do list and today that done got did. I'd call it a gem in the rough, not on account of the food (which appears ready to go, though rustically presented) but because it's currently operating from a borrowed truck with makeshift signage, and is restricted to the host truck's permitted parking location in front of 290 Townsend St.  The menu apparently changes daily, and today's featured Prawns Chin Baung, Chicken Biryani Basmati Rice, and Burmese Tea Leaf Salad (presumably a daily offering).  I chose the "Prawns Chin Baung," pictured above. Chin Baung is Burmese Sorrel Leaf (a. k. a. Roselle) and the dish consisted of eight smallish prawns (I'd call them shrimp) sauteed with the sorrel in a mildly spicy sauce on a mountain of very coconutty coconut rice.  It was accompanied by a garnish of peanuts and dried anchovy (ikan bilis) and a spciy slaw.  Overall it was a satisfying meal with an interesting combination of flavors, and a bargain at $5.00.  I'd certainly order it again, though perhaps not before trying out whatever else the truck's chef comes up with.

According to Kauffman's review, Burmese Gourmet's owner was the original owner of Burma Superstar, a couple of ownerships prior to its current wildly successful regime.  Let's hope he sticks with his new venture. Once he gets his own truck vetted and gussied up a bit, it could prove to be a popular attraction at any food truck venue.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

If You're Not Hungry, Don't Tuk With the Phat Thai Truck

My culinary stars were lined up with noodle planets today, and I set out on a mission: swing by McCoppin Hub and check out the debut of the Phat Thai truck and sample something noodly, then head over to UN Plaza where TomKatSF had tweeted he would be doing noodles at an event. A couple of servings of food truck noodles in an afternoon -- should be easy, right?  Well, Phat Thai had other ideas.

I found the Phat Thai truck in full flower at McCoppin Hub, parked on the bike lane side.  Although it's a brand new operation, the warm, soft colors of the truck's wrap gave it a familiar feel, the feel of having been around for a while. So did its marketing presence; it had a teasing slogan, "Wanna Tuk With Us?"  and point-of-sale merchandise (tee shirts and Tuk-tuk logo decals).  But what about the food? Was it ready for prime time? I had, in fact sampled some of Phat Thai's food a few weeks earlier when it was taste-tested by Off the Grid staff and came away with a favorable impression based on a few nibbles. What I was not prepared for was the portion size.

Phat Thai's regular menu (painted on the truck) includes Pad Thai, Phat Wings, Phat Satay Skewers, Som Tum Salad and Tom Kha Gai.  A sandwich board menu also offered sliders, a nod to the Food Truck 2.0 world. Since I was on a noodle tear, I ordered the Pad Thai with chicken ($7.00)  It was also available with a vegetable topping for the same price, or with prawns for $2 more.

After a brief wait, my boxed order came and I was almost taken aback by its heft.  It was one of the biggest servings of food I have ever received from a food truck, certainly the most food I've had put in my hands for as little as $7.00 at an Off the Grid event, and it would easily serve as dinner.  I haven't been around Thai food enough to know what constitutes a good Pad Thai (and my friends who do give me conflicting information anyway) but I found it tasty and satisfying.  The noodles (once I found them under a mountain of diced chicken) were not overly sticky, the one thing I have sometimes disliked in Pad Thai I have been served. There was a generous amount of egg and tofu as well, and the bean sprouts were fresh and crispy.  I ate every bite; noodles from the TomKatSF truck will have to wait.

Check our the Phat Thai truck.  Just be advised that ordering the Pad Thai is not grazing.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Ten Bay Area Food Trucks I Would Invite to My Next Wedding

William Pilz of HapaSF and Julia Yoon of Seoul on Wheels with Off the Grid bouncer Kevlar
For the record, this is a hypothetical exercise.  I’m happily married for the third time, and I agree with Ju Ju (I’m also her third) that to get divorced a third time would mean, well, “no face.”  So the above title is just a hook, unless someone out there has an offer I can’t refuse.

This post was inspired by news that a credit card company has sponsored a competition called the “Eater’s Choice Awards” and has named their 10 finalists, selected through an on-line voting process which provided plenty of opportunity for ballot stuffing.  Miraculously, Seoul on Wheels, Little Green Cyclo, and Senor Sisig, who fully deserve the honor, made the cut, but overall the results were dominated by American comfort food providers, sort of a Drunk Food Hall of Fame, if you ask me. I’m not a fan of “best” lists (it’s all good to me, except when it’s not) but the Eater’s Choice competition list of finalists set me to pondering what ten trucks I would be most likely to invite to a party.  Here are my choices for today (some are so close I might change my mind tomorrow).  They are based on cooking skills, variety, service and general good vibes emanating from the operations.  Other than placing Julia of Seoul on Wheels on the throne, nothing is to be read into the order in which I have listed them.

Seoul on Wheels – This one is a no-brainer.  Seoul on Wheel’s Julia Yoon is no less than the doyenne of the Food Truck 2.0 movement in the Bay Area, and perhaps for all of California.  She didn’t invent the Korean taco, but was sticking bulgogi into sandwiches and other places as far back as mid-2007, well more than a year before the vaunted Kogi Truck hit the road in Los Angeles.  Tacos, “Korritos” or sandwiches, however you like ‘em, Julia’s got ‘em.

Hapa SF – I’ve blogged before about the role of food trucks in bringing under-appreciated Filipino cuisine to a wider audience in San Francisco, and we are lucky to have no less than three Filipino food trucks appearing on a regular basis on out streets.  My nod goes to William Pilz’ Hapa SF for his deft, trained chef’s touch (try his sisig rice plate) and for the lumpia his mother taught him to make, but both Senor Sisig and The Wow Silog trucks would be worthy backups.

Sanguchon – We have the Inca gods (and Chef Carlos Altamirano) to thank for dropping this Peruvian sandwich truck in our midst.  It’s something I haven’t even seen in New York, with its much deeper reservoir of Peruvians and Peruvian cuisine.  Try a barbacoa, chicharron or lomo saltado “sanguche” or whatever else they happen to on offer from the truck.  They’re all as hearty as they are tasty and some come with built-in fries a la the Primanti brothers.  Rumor has it that they soon will be serving ceviche as well.

Brass*Knuckle Gotta get a “New American” option in the mix, and Brass*Knuckle is my choice by a coin flip.  Shellie Kitchen’s creations are as inventive as their names.  Try the M. C. Hammer, a pulled pork sandwich with a scoop of mac ‘n’ cheese (the “M. C.” part) as a topping, or the Notorious P. I. G., Brass*Knuckle’s take on a Cubano sandwich, but with a waffle as a bun.  My backup in the “New American” category would be Todd Middleton’s Fins on the Hoof, which might be dealing anything from an Oyster B. L. T. to a Wild Boar Sausage Sandwich.

Iz It Fresh Grill – It wouldn’t be my wedding without Chinese food, and Kamyn Kong’s handsome truck brings both tradition and innovation to the party. Go for iconic Kwon Shing fried chicken (a Richmond District legend she and her husband revived, or for a Hawaii tinged taco or a jumbo musubi like “The Spammer.”  It might not be on the menu, but if you like spice heat, ask for “The Uncle Spammer.”

Little Green Cyclo -- Chef Quynh Nguyen, Monica Wong and Susie Pham would be there to tempt you with Vietnamese street food using choice ingredients.   How about a vermicelli with lemon grass pork bento, or (when available) some Vietnamese spring rolls, washed down with a Vietnamese iced coffee.  LGC also serves up the best (and most reasonably priced) banh mi you’ll find from a food truck in the Bay Area.  I recommend the sandwich with house-made pate in combination with lemongrass pork.

El Norteno – El Norteno is not a Food Truck 2.0 truck, it’s a “traditional” taco truck and perhaps the best one on the West side of the Bay. They’ve been dealing burritos, tacos, tortas, nachos -- you name it, they’ve got it – South of Market for years to a happy clientele.  Anything with goat or lamb is highly recommended.

KoJa Kitchen – The KoJa Kitchen truck (a. k. a. The New Kids on the block) hit the streets a mere month ago, but is already waking up taste buds around the bay.  Its “KoJas” are burgers of sorts with Korean-inspired fillings and toasted rice patty buns which combine to a pleasing mélange of textures to go with the bold flavors.  Add an order of Kamikaze fries, which might be described as Asian nachos with waffle fries as a base.

Liba Falafel – “Hey, where’s your vegetarian option?”  Nearly all of the trucks have vegetarian options, Sparky, but since you asked, look no further than the Liba Falafel truck.  Gail Lillian, former chef and pastry cook, serves up freshly made falafel in pita bread or in a bowl of greens, with a co-starring condiment bar with more than a dozen freshly-made toppings.  There’s no more fun way to get your veggie on! 

Curry Up Now – Curry Up Now is another food truck that’s become a local institution (nay, a mini-empire with three trucks and a bricks-and-mortar venue all serving up Indian food).  They were one of the first to prove to the doubters that there was more to Food Truck 2.0 food than pricey nibbles, with a Chicken Tikka Masala Burrito that rivals a Mission Burrito for heft, (and if you ask for it spicy it will be spicy).

Mentioned: @seoulonwheels, @HapaSF, @Sanguchon_SF, @Brassknucklesf, @IZITfreshgrill, @lilgreencyclo, @ElNortenoTruck, @KoJaKitchen, @LIBAfalafel, @CurryUpNow

Banh Mi from Little Green Cyclo