Monday, October 24, 2016

The Terrible Coffee in San Francisco's Restaurants (Deja Vu All Over Again)

Half a century ago the San Francisco Chronicle, locked in a titanic struggle for morning newspaper circulation with the San Francisco Examiner, published an eye-catching, week-long front page series on the "terrible" coffee available in San Francisco's restaurants, with the heroic subheading "A Great City's People Forced to Drink Swill" throwing down the gauntlet in the first installment.

I was reminded of this series last week when my daughter, visiting from New York to help me celebrate my birthday (yes, I'm so old I can't even do that by myself) and I had a nearly perfect meal at Mourad end (quite literally) on a sour note. At the end of the meal we ordered a couple of coffees (or "small pour-overs" as they are called on the menu).  I don't know where Mourad Lahlou sources his coffee, but we were served the thinnest of thin, sourest of sour, Third Wave-est of Third Wave coffees. As the late Utah Phillips might say, it was "otter water -- comes out of an otter."

I'm not blaming Mourad for this. By now, there's almost a whole generation of moneyed milllennials who don't know what coffee is supposed to taste like (hint: it should taste like coffee).  To me, when you order coffee and get something that tastes like it was produced by my Melitta Fastbrew when I mistakenly shortchange it a scoop of grounds, it's a big FAIL (and if you want fruity overtones, folks, go stand in line at The Boba Guys).

Restaurants in San Francisco nowadays bend over backwards to accommodate vegetarians, vegans, glutenphobes, kale lovers and all manner of food faddists. They also typically offer a jillion choices of wines. What would be so difficult about offering an alternative coffee selection, like a North Beach or imported Italian roast for those of us who haven't forgotten what coffee has tasted like for the last 350 years?

Why should those of us from the Graffeo ghetto be forced to drink swill?

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Villlage House: Northern Chinese For The Western Richmond District

Lamb dumpling and noodle soup
Playing Muni Roulette on Market Street today, I decided to jump on the 31 Balboa to check out Village House (鄉村风味), the Northern Chinese restaurant that recently replaced Jook Time in the far outer Richmond (3398 Balboa at 35th Ave).  I was probably drawn there by the possibility of a roujiamo (a Yelper had mentioned a "Chinese hamburger"), but since it was past 5:00 when I got there I decided to make that the appetizer to  an early dinner. The young woman server was eager to promote the house-made xiaolong bao, dumplings (jiaozi) and noodles, so I ordered a basket of XLB and a lamb dumpling and noodle soup as my mains.

The roujiamo ("Chinese Hamberger" on the menu) was on the small side, but heck, it was a whole $2.95. The panbread bun was about the right thickness, browned but not greasy,  though a bit less dense than some. The meat filling was appropriately porky and salty in flavor, though the texture seemed wrong because  it was coarsely chopped (loin?) instead of stewed, so the sandwich was a bit dry as well.

I don't know if they knew what they were getting into, boasting about their house-made xiaolong bao in earshot of both Shanghai Dumpling King and Shanghai House, but they didn't embarrass themselves.  Their XLB is probably better than the last I had at SDK, but not as good as I remember Shanghai House's to be (though I haven't been to either of these places in a long time). The wrappers wee delicate, and the soup ample, though they need to push the needle away from the salty side of the dial a bit toward the sweet side. But then, those were Beijingese voices floating around the room, not Shanghainese.

Xiao long bao
The soup was hearty, with six lamb dumplings and a long ton of noodles.  The dumplings were meaty but not paticularly lamb-y (but I'd like try them again, outside of soup, to be fair). The noodles were springy and fresh, if not hand pulled. The broth seemed under-seasoned, particularly lacking salt, of all things. Since there was no salt shaker of the condiment tray, I used a bit of soy sauce along with chili paste to sex it up.

The menu at Village House is what I've come to recognize as typically eclectic Northern Chinese restaurant fare, with a slim stock of indigenous dishes augmented with a smattering of Shandong, Shanghainese, Xi'an, Sichuan and Xinjiang offerings.

Monday, September 5, 2016

High-End Cal-Mex At Loló (Don't Duck The Whiteboard)

Duck Chimichangas!

It was my daughter, visiting from New York, who suggested Loló, a place that would never have crossed my mind (perhaps because it is on Valencia St.) Our original plan was to cool our heels at In Situ after a grueling afternoon at the new SFMOMA, but she remembered someone in her yoga class had recommended Loló. It was Thursday night, which meant my friend Nite Yun's Cambodian Noodle popup Nyum Bai would be happening at Mission Mercado, a mere block from Loló, and that sealed the deal for me: a Kuy Teav appetizer (we split a bowl) followed by some toney Mexican small plates.

Loló is wildly popular for its "modern" Cal-Mex ("Jaliscan Californian Inspired Cuisine" says their website), but I don't consider myself sufficiently grounded in Mexican cuisine to judge if it's worth the tariff; nonetheless, Loló immediately endeared itself to me by presenting me with options for my two favorite animal proteins: lamb and duck, perhaps the last thing I expected to find at a Mexican restaurant. You may not be as lucky as me: while lamb, in the form of lamb sliders, is on the regular menu, the whiteboard's come-hither was a daily special, duck chimichangas. DUCK CHIMICHANGAS! In a more conventional vein, we also ordered tuna tacon [sic], empanadas and flautas (the last two being meatless and possibly vegetarian if not vegan).

The lamb sliders were unremarkable, containing ground lamb from whatever part of the animal that doesn't taste lamb-y. (I always wonder about people who don't want their lamb to be lamb-y or their fish to taste fishy, but expect their beef to be beefy and their chicken to be chicken-y). The most exciting part of this dish was the accompanying haystack if crispy potato slivers.

The duck chimis were more interesting; a savory (and ducky) mousse-like filling in shells that appeared to have been baked rather than deep fried. They came with a dipping sauce and a large dab of the house guacamole for garnishing. I'd be lying, though, if I said this was my favorite part of the meal. That honor goes to the tuna tacon, a hearty slab of seared albacore tuna, a spear of avocado and a shellfish-infused aioli on a small flour tortilla, kind of the ultimate fish taco.  It's said to be Loló's signature dish, and rightly so. The two vegetarian dishes, the flautas and the empanadas were well executed if demure (due to the lack of animal flesh?)

Loló looks like a great date place; everything seems to come in two pieces (ideal for sharing) except for the flautas (3) and it's a place where you can show you're not a cheapskate without blowing your inheritance.

974 Valencia St.
San Francisco

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Newa Taste Of Nepal & India – C-Momos And Mo' for the Tenderloin

"C-Momos" (momos with chili sauce)
San Francisco may never develop a "Himalaya Heights" neighborhood, like Jackson Heights in Queens, NY where you can find two dozen places serving momos within a short stroll from a single Metro station, but with the recent opening of Newa Taste of Nepal & India in the Tenderloin we have as least four venues to enjoy the delicious meat-filled dumplings in San Francisco.

Fried Momos at Newa
Newa is a casual spin-off of nearby Red Chilli, a more formal Nepali & India restaurant around the corner.  There are four momo offerings at Newa: steamed chicken, vegetable, fried (chicken) and something called C-Mo: Mo (we'll get to that).  On an initial visit I had the fried momos, having previously enjoyed the steamed chicken momos at sister restaurant Red Chilli. The fried momos turned out to be chicken as well, and deep fried, though they were not overly greasy. The chicken was well seasoned and the supplied orange-ish colored dip (different from Red Chilli's) had a nice heat level to it. On my departure. I asked the young woman at the cash register about "C-Momos," which, she explained, are also chicken momos with a savory topping.

A little Googling proved  that "C-momos" are actually a thing, with the "C-" apparently shorthand for "chili," and that put them at the top of my list for today's return to Newa. This, I've now decided, is the momo option to go for at Newa. The same chicken dumplings, but steamed and searingly hot, are drenched with a spicy sauce replete with tomato chunks, onions, chilis and spices I couldn't identify. The dish was so tasty that I could barely wait for the momos to cool enough to eat, and left me with the regret that that I hadn't ordered a made-to-order naan bread to soak up the remaining sauce.

The establishment's name, Newa, refers to the indigenous people of the Katmandu Valley, and to a cuisine (also called Newari) which is a subset of Tibetan cusine. In fact, only one dish on the menu is called out as Newari, Newari Khaja, which appears to be a Thali-like mixed platter. Overall, it looks to my uneducated (in this culinary area) eye to be a typical Nepali cum Indian affair, with a small Nepali menu and a vast array of Indian goodies.

The place is small and takeout oriented, with only two hand-made shareable wooden tables. I'd suggest visiting off-peak if you want to eat onsite.

Newa Taste of Nepal and India
407 Ellis St. at Jones St.
The Tenderloin, San Francisco