Friday, March 21, 2014

Azalina Eusope To Bring Malaysian Street Food To Twitter Building

Azalina Eusope and Chef Suvir Saran at La Cocina Night Market

Azalina Eusope, proprietor and chef at Azalina's Malaysian, will be opening her first brick-and-mortar space in the restaurant/market complex being developed on the first floor of the historic Market Square building on Market Street between Ninth and 10th Streets. The building is popularly known as the Twitter Building after its primary tenant.  For a descendant of five generations of Penang, Malaysia street food vendors, she'll be in pretty good company; her restaurant is being developed alongside projects by Dominique Crenn and the AQ team in the midst of what can be envisioned as a mashup of the Ferry Building Marketplace and Eataly.

In addition to providing tasty snacks at street food and food festival events, Azalina has had plenty of chances to show off her cooking chops in more formal settings, including a series of popups at Wise Sons Deli, a Monday night guest chef stint at Jardiniere, extensive catering, and cheffing at Twitter. The latter was undoubtedly a primary factor in her being offered the space.

Azalina's Bebola Curry
By happy coincidence, Azalina will be working across the street from Suvir Saran. The two met through Suvir's participation over the years in food entrepreneur conferences at La Cocina (of whose incubator kitchen Azalina is an alumnus) and have become close friends. Saran, an India-born New York Michelin-starred chef (for Devi) will be relocating to SF and opening a restaurant in  the NEMA building across 10th Street from the Twitter building.

No specific opening date has been set, but September is a target for the Market Square restaurant openings.

I've known Azalina since her first appearance at Off the Grid in 2010.  She is at once one of the most personable and hardest working people I have ever known and I have no doubt she will succeed.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Ten Places To Try Burmese Food in San Francisco

Mohinga (catfish chowder) at Burmese Kitchen
San Francisco is blessed with Burmese food choices, more so than any other city in North America, and perhaps the entire English-speaking world.  Below is a list of 10 places to try Burmese food. All have Burma's most well-known "exotic" dish, fermented tea leaf salad, and all except B-Star Bar and the pop-up at Jonas on Hyde have Mohinga, the catfish chowder considered Burma's national dish. Except where noted, all are open for both lunch and dinner.

I cheated a little with Little Yangon; it's technically in Daly City, but I included it because it's accessible via Muni (#14 lines).

4344 California St., San Francisco
(415) 386-3896

Burma Superstar
309 Clement St., San Francisco
(415) 387-2147

3199 Clement St., San Francisco
(415) 751-2598

Burmese Kitchen
452 Larkin St., San Francisco
(415) 474-5569

3406 18th St., San Francisco
(415) 553-8911

B Star Bar2
127 Clement St., San Francisco
(415) 933-9900

Sapphire Asian Cuisine3
475 Sacramento St., San Francisco
(415) 984-0428

Jonas On Hyde4
1800 Hyde St., San Francisco
(415) 775-2517

Lil Burma5
SoMa StEat Food Park
428 11th St., San Francisco
(415) 636-1818

Little Yangon
6318 Mission St., Daly City
(650) 994-0111

1Burmese and Thai; open for dinner only
2Asian fusion, with some popular dishes from sister restaurant Burma Superstar
3Lunch only; order from "Made To Order" menu, NOT from steam table 
4Burmese Pop-up with limited menu, Tues-Sat dinner only 
5Food cart, permanently stationed at SoMa StrEat Food Park

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Burmese Food Pop-Up Hyde-ing In Plain Sight In My Own 'Hood At Jonas On Hyde.

Samosas/samusas from Ken's pop-up, plated by me.

I've been chasing Burmese cuisine all over town for the past year or so, partly because for my other blog I'm working on an overview of all the mohingas* in town, and because I'm becoming increasingly interested in Burmese food generally. I thought I knew all of the Burmese food sources in town, until an off-hand mention on of a Yelp reference to unspecified Burmese pop-up sent me searching the web. My jaw dropped when I found out the the venue was a sandwich shop called Jonas on Hyde, in my own neighborhood, and the pop-up has been happening for at least four months.

Jonas on Hyde, on the corner of Hyde and Vallejo, serves bagelly breakfasts and ecstatically-reviewed paninis for lunch seven days a week.  On Tuesday through Saturday evenings from 5:00 to 9:00 PM a friend of the owner's, an earnest and friendly young man named Ken, takes over and prepares Burmese food for eat in or take out.  

Ken's menu of the day is brief, though he sometimes adds specials at the advance request of friends. It includes Samosa (samusa) appetizers, Classic Tea Leaf and Ginger Salads, a hot Chicken Noodle Salad, and thre three curries: Beef, Burmese Classic Chicken, and Eggplant.

At Ken's suggestion, I ordered the Samusas, and, being a noodle guy, the "Flat Noodles" (Chicken Noodles).  They are prepared in "to go containers" but apparently may be eaten on-site, according to accounts on Yelp.  I wavered, but decided to take them home, only a ten-minute walk, all the better to photograph, dissect and analyze them away from Ken's watchful gaze (I was the only customer in the store at that point).

The samosas (or samusas, as the Burmese usually call them) were the winner of the two dishes. They were deep fried and nicely crispy (even after their ten-minute walk and five-minute photo session) with a spicy potato filling and a chili-garlic-lime dipping sauce.  The chicken noodles were probably what the Burmese would call Nanbyagyi thoke (to use Wikipedia's romanization). There was a hearty amount of chicken (which appeared to be grilled) and tagliatelle-style wheat noodles. Cilantro and what may have been lime leaves, crushed chili and garlic were among the ingredients in the fish-sauce based dressing. (I regret not having eaten in to ask about the ingredients, as I am not a super-taster). Overall, it was a hearty and tasty noodle dish, but not much out of the ordinary.

I'll certainly return to check out the curries and the ginger salad. The tea leaf salad, if authentic, is not something my insomnia wants me to eat in the evenings.

And Ken has promised me a Mohinga.

Jonas@Night Burmese pop-up
Tue-Sat 5:00-9:00 PM
Jonas on Hyde St.
1800 Hyde Street at Vallejo

*A catfish chowder, regarded as Burma's National dish.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Off the Grid: Fort Mason Center 2014 Edition -- Back to the Future?

Burr-eatery will be vending its dainty Sonoran Burritos  at Fort Mason

Off the Grid: Fort Mason Center is both the granddaddy and the Big Kahuna of Bay Area food truck rallies.  About to enter its fifth year, OTG:FMC serves up 30-odd mobile food vendors and plenty of booze to enliven Friday nights for thousands of people from March to November. Season openers (this year's will be on March 14) have become much-anticipated events.

At the outset of the 2013 season, I was somewhat dismayed by the direction the event seemed to be heading. In part, it was due to the introduction of elitist events, like the segregated $40-$50 pp prix fixe "VIP" dining area with its exclusive "curated" cocktail "experience," but more of my displeasure was triggered by the changes in the roster of vendors, which seemed little short of ethnic cleansing -- a net loss of 10 out of 24 Asian or Latin food vendors from 2012 to 2013, even though the event's charter calls for promoting Asian and Latin street foods.

The 2014 Off the Grid: Fort Mason Center cat is out of the bag and, based on this Inside Scoop report, I'm happy to say that the event seems to have reversed direction, at least partially, back to its more proletarian roots.  Gone are the "VIP" events, and this has provided more room for vendors, which is back to the 2012 level of 35 (though it's not clear how much rotation of vendors is involved). An analysis of lineup changes reveals that, while not back to 2012 levels, there has been a net increase of four Asian and Latino vendors from last year. There's also more of a Euro flavor this year, with France Delice's excellent home-made sausages (and peerless frites), a paella vendor and even a red sauce meatball vendor.

Some of the roster losses from last year are surprising, especially OG Off the Grid vendor HapaSF (let's hope William Pilz is busy with irons in other fires). Also missing is Onigilly (certifiably busy elsewhere), and Chotto Ramen is also a goner. New additions in the Asian food department are An the Go (actually returning from 2012); Happy Dumplings (ditto): The Jeepney Guy (Filipino fusion) and Raj Singh (Indian food). New-to-Fort Mason Latin vendors are Burr-Eatery, El Pipila, and Nora Cocina Espanola (Spanish, rather than Latin American, and a paella specialist).

Other departures from 2013 are Belly Burgers, Fins on the Hoof, the Old World Food Truck, Pete's Kettle Corn, Side Pony, Sticks, and The Whole Beast.  Newly inserted in the OTG:FMC starting lineup are local favorites Bacon Bacon, FiveTen Burger and Casey's Pizza. And there will be donuts.

Along with bread you get circuses, of course, so the will be Skeeball (wonder where they got that ides?), shuffleboard and Whack-a-Mole. Talk about your curated experiences!

See you there.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Soul Food City: Po' Boys, Catfish and Grits From A New Tenderloin Soul-in-the-wall

Remember the storefront restaurant on Eddy at Leavenworth that served maybe Tunisian, maybe Yucatecan, or maybe both kinds of food?  Gone is the split personality; it has undergone a makeover and now serves just one kind of food -- Southern soul food.

I came across Soul Food City when a "Grand Opening" Banner was being hung a couple of weeks ago and when no foodie media reports were forthcoming (so much for my theory that a restaurant doesn't really exist until it gets its first Yelp review) I decide to take one for the team myself.

The postage stamp-sized boîte that is now Soul Food City has a fresh, modern fast food chic look with a red and gray storefront, a jazz mural adorning one wall inside, a counter and a couple of tables and colorful bar stool-type seats. Another table outside provided a modicum of sidewalk seating, but it's clear that Soul Food City is geared for mostly takeaway business. Its menu features po' boys (Cajun shrimp, Catfish, Fried Chicken and "Cali Veggie"), all of which come with fries and range from $7 to $10; and plates ranging from $8.50-$12.50 (Shrimp, Salmon Croquettes, and Georgia Crunchy Catfish, all over grits, and Roasted, Fried or BBQ Chicken with choice of two sides). All plates also come with cornbread. There is also a "TL Special" for $6.50, consisting of two pieces of catfish or fried chicken with red beans, rice and cornbread. Sides, in addition to those mentioned, include collard greens, cabbage, mac'n cheese and fried house pickles. All sides are $5. Taxes are included in all prices.

Fearing the calories that would come with a mountain of grits I would be tempted to eat all of. I chose a shrimp po' boy. (It came with a mountain of fries, but I am less easily tempted by those.)  Described as "Louisiana style fried shrimp with Cajun sauce on a French roll," it included 10 medium-sized shrimp seasoned and coated with what appeared to be corn meal atop a spicy "slaw" of sorts in a warm, crunchy roll akin to a banh mi roll. The shrimp appeared fresh and had a snap to them, but were dry and seemed a little bland for all the coating on them. They would have benefited from a splash of a hot sauce of some sort, though only ketchup was readily available. All in all, it was a solid, filling sandwich.

The fries followed Geezer's Law, which states "Everything that comes with fries comes with more fries than one should be eating at a single seating" and Soul Food City's were no exception.  For me, with my pre-McDonald's French fry schooling they were undersized and under-cooked, but they probably would be perfectly fine for less ancient diners than me.  I ate just enough of the fries to leave Soul Food City sort of comatose.

Next time I visit Soul Food City I'll do penance the day before and after and go for something over grits with cornbread, and a side of fried pickles, please.

Where noshed: Soul Food Ciy, 403 Eddy Street at Leavenworth Street, San Francisco.