One thing I have learned from living in the Bay area, is that no matter how much you may enjoy or dread cooking, you always have the option of OK, great, and amazing takeout and delivery. Why leave your neighborhood or sometimes house for delicious good food? Unnecessary. Here are some of my faves:
The tofu banh mi at Saigon Sandwich is less than a fiver and the bread is perfectly shattering in crispness.
Over by B’s place, we frequently lumber over to the dive bar Broken Record, where you can just as easily find a stellar goat cheese, salmon and asparagus omelet with caramelized potatoes and onions as you can get a pint of beer and a game of pool.
Oh La Boulange, how I love thee. Yeah, you can now find the Bay area’s favorite local bakery chain in Starbucks, but you can’t replicate the charm of each location. I am completely addicted to the morning bun, with its layers of pastry wisps holding a bit of orange sweetness within each swirl.
Why, hello sweet little apricot brioche doughnut from Arlequin – I’ll be grabbing you in a sleepy stupor and stumbling back home.
For those cold an foggy days, nothing beats a savory broth stuffed with noodles, veggies and pickles from Kaka Udon.
And thank goodness for delivery services, because I can munch on my corn arepas stuffed with tofu and avocado with a side of sweet plantains from Pica Pica while doing some heavy duty couch-surfing.
Here’s some pocket sized treats from newcomer 20th Century Cafe.
I really love the tofu banh mi from DragonEats as well, because the tofu is so flavorful and the veggies so crisp that it could be the last sandwich on earth for all I care.
Over at Smitten, have your ice cream made to order with a shot of liquid nitrogen.
Bread pudding at the Boxing Room is crisp caramelized brioche doused with salty sweet butterscotch and tangy buttermilk ice cream.
But some things you can’t take out for the full experience, like the tofu temptation at Izakaya Kou with its pungent sauce against wobbly cold tofu.
And alas, Smuggler’s Cove has yet to allow takeout tiki cocktails. I guess some things, like the cozy Goonies/pirate ship ambiance at SC, are worth putting on pants for.
Recently, I was in Austin, TX, celebrating the birthdays of a few of my favorite Librans (my life is full of Librans that are close to my heart) at the Austin City Limits music festival. I got to spend much needed face time with my pals Niti and Josh in their old/new home state and spend some much needed downtime with birthday boy, and fellow Austin first-timer, B. The good news is that although I didn’t hit up even a tiny percent of the places I wanted to eat at, it was only because I kept getting diverted by other interesting eats (and drinks) along the way. The bad news is that the festival got rained out the last day, so we missed some amazing music. The good news is that we had a free day to spend around the city gorging ourselves with breakfast tacos. The bad news is that despite the rain, its only a few degrees cooler than the temperature on the sun’s surface. I’ll be be back, Austin (when you chill out just a touch more.) You can listen along to these pairings with a (free) Spotify account.
What better way to take your mind off the unobstructed blazing sun, grass sticking to your sweat soaked ankles, and general feeling of listlessness that overpowers every muscle in your body than the breezy, waves-crashing-ashore harmonies of Local Natives?
The first day was all about acclimation to the sun against our bodies, so there wasn’t a lot of food ingested. There was a lot of snow cones, and beers, and juices, and beers, and water, and beers. One of the few things I ate was the avocado banh mi from Second Bar + Kitchen with a cell-quenching strawberry lemonade. Verdict: too much toppings and not enough avocado, but the real offense was that the sandwich was served on a squishy sweet roll, so it should have been advertised as an avocado-ish HOAGIE. The lemonade was divine, though. This sandwich was only OK, but what was truly spectacular was that after 30 years, DM still puts on a new wave synth-pop show to shame younger bands. Niti and I sang along to our favorite songs, arm-in-arm, gasping to keep up with their dazzling showmanship and energy.
Breakfast tacos and Tito’s vodka, part of your well balanced Austin breakfast. I can eat these every day (and not just for breakfast). Soft tortillas filled with gooey cheese, soft scrambled eggs, picante sauce and meat or potatoes as you wish. These provided the ballast we needed to soldier through the heat for the long day ahead. We needed that fortitude to hold our own amongst the sea of fans, by far the biggest crowd for a non-headlining act, for the inimitably smooth flow of the unaffectedly cool Kendrick Lamar. Bottles up.
A full 24 hours after setting foot on Austin soil, my blood finally got acclimated to the heat and my hunger started up again full force. Niti pointed me in the direction of The Mighty Cone for a hot and crunchy avocado. It never, ever occurred to me to deep fry avocado, nature’s most perfect food, but *because* of its perfection it goes without saying that a fried avocado is a mighty tasty avocado. After spiking the next strawberry lemonade with the contents of our flasks, we enjoyed the sharp but soulful stylings of English rockers Arctic Monkeys.
And then it rained (and rained, and rained, and washed the next day’s concert away.) The last thing I ate at the festival before ducking under an umbrella to watch The Cure serenade a football field of drenched fans is the fantastic spinach and mushroom empanada from Mmmpanadas. The pastry parcel was tender and flaky, and the flavorful filling warmed my cold, wet heart. Hand in hand with B, grinning in the rain as the music washed over us, I was pretty sure this is just the moment that the complex, lush melodies of The Cure’s music is made for.
Oh, but the rain didn’t stop us. We headed out to the flooded streets of Austin and started our evening, at midnight, with another round of tacos. From the upper left: fish, shrimp, carnitas, and egg & potato. We pushed forward into the rainy night, raising another glass to future tacos. We compared notes of the festival so far, and I delighted in the fierce edginess of Savages, who played a brilliant set (despite blistering away in the sun) as if they were born to play these songs.
Alas, the next day of music was not meant to be, so we used our bonus day to eat and also to eat. We started at the Blue Star Cafeteria where I was allowed to indulge in my enduring love for grits. The grits were buttery and smooth, with the perfect tang of cheddar. They were soul-comforting and rewarding on an unexpected level, like the heart-and-brain-engaging country-ish jams of Wilco.
Since we didn’t have anywhere to be, we shared a stack of pecan French toast and a round of all the sparkling breakfast drinks. Crisp, sparkling and sweet can describe the Smith Westerns’ music as well. Like their show at Austin, our brunch was meandering and left us overstuffed. I might stick to them on headphones.
All the drinks, then all the cheeses. That’s what we ordered at Hopfields, a small gastropub bursting with charm and Austin hospitality. After a few beer tastings to choose the perfect accompaniment to our meal, we settled on Belgian style brews to compliment the selection of hand made savory tarts. This place is a little modern, a little rustic, a whole lotta thoughtful and and a whole lotta smart – very much like breakout star singer/songwriter Jake Bugg.
Leaving Austin on a sweet note, and obtaining sweet release indeed from the unyielding heat, we waited in line next to the historic Continental Club for Amy’s ice cream. Although I loathe waiting in line for food, the queue gave us time to tailor our ice cream concoction wish list down to a personal signature creation. In addition to their famous Mexican Vanilla flavor, the have some boozy choices like Honeyed Brandy and Guiness Stout. I walked away with a cup of intensely smooth Belgian chocolate ice cream, with a a free topping of peanut butter cups because I knew the answer to the trivia question that day, hooray! And with Amy’s in town I now I see an upside to the constant heat. Good one, Austin. Let’s celebrate with the garage-rock exuberance of the precocious The Orwells, shall we?
It’s been a *ahem* number of months hiatus for the blog, folks, but not for my tastebuds. I’ve cooked a bit, and eaten a lot. These past few months have been packed with family and friends, because of which I am renewed and recharged. These next few blog posts are a bunch of my favorite taste memories, quite often recalling laughter, relaxation, and joy. First up, some fun meals out with lovely people involving silly stories, dorky jokes, and plenty of munchies.
The cheese board at Fat Angel has all of the perfect pairings for your cheeses, just add beer from their mile deep selection.
Why have one popover when you can have three? Apples with salted caramel, berries and mascarpone, and egg and cheese makes a well-rounded brunch (with the bottomless mimosas, of course) at Luna Park.
Ridiculous brioche French toast with caramel and ice cream at Farmicia.
An SF picnic would not be complete without the Kentucky from the Creme Brulee Cart: candied pecans swimming in bourbon caramel.
and for parties, having friends with excellent taste and talent means black bean and shrimp tostones.
Digging into the last of the heirloom tomatoes of the season at Mateo’s Cocina Latina; and even though this is wine country, it is fitting to indulge in a fresh margarita on a sultry summer day.
They don’t take kindly to cake-ists at the Petaluma Pie Company. Here, their nectarine-blueberry hand pie (if you have giant hands).
Golden poached eggs over rice with fried shallots and nori at 903; a perfect breakfast today to inspire me to share more, and more often.
Our eating trip….er, I mean sightseeing trip…ended in the other “Asia Lite” of Hong Kong. It was a short stay here, but we managed to cram in a few great meals. You can’t go to Hong Kong and miss out on dim sum:
B’s favorite dish of the entire trip: the best shu mai he’d ever had. Piping hot and direct from the kitchen’s steamers, these plump little dumplings are filled with minced pork and shrimp then tipped off with crab roe for a punch for saltiness.
And of course, we also had to compare the xiao long bao in Singi to the ones in HK. Yup, those soup dumplings never broke until they reached your mouth and then watch out for that delicious explosion. Maybe we should’ve ordered another steamer to make sure….
You can get a hundred kinds of dessert soups, hot or cold. Here, a cold sweet almond milk soup with mochi-like ice cream dumplings. Accompany your sweet with milk tea, a sweet condensed milk tea that was traditionally strained through silk stockings.
My first thought when boarding the plane leaving Vietnam: how soon can I get back here?
Vietnam is for eaters. Food is not mere sustenance here: food is art, food is culture, food is family, food is heritage, food is nature, food is “hello” and “welcome” and also “thank you.”
Vietnamese food is as different in the North from the South as it is from the city to the countryside, but in every street-food stall, artisan bistro and hotel cafeteria you will be spoiled with incredibly fresh and flavorful ingredients treated with respect. And luckily for me, it hits all my favorite tastes in one blow: sour, salty, spicy and sweet.
Everything is beautiful in Vietnam (and all drinks come with two twisty straws).
Unfortunately, I was ill for my first few days in Vietnam. I found that loading up on these gentle carbs for breakfast gave me back some pep in my step: rice porridge (congee) with shrimp, pho noodle soup without meat but with kaffir lime/chili sauce/fish sauce/basil and cilantro, and the fluffiest egg fried rice.
Every few hours, B and Adam would grab a ca phe sua da (an intense and brilliant Vietnamese iced coffee, with condensed milk) for the chill, the sugar, and the caffeine. At night, they’d take theirs hot.
And throughout the day, we’d load up on “healthy drinks”: fresh fruit blends and yogurt smoothies. I was always partial to the limeades. These also came with two straws, but they were never the twisty ones….
Our first night in Da Nang we didn’t even have Vietnamese food , but it was irrelevant because even the Italian fare was amazing when you have an ocean of fresh seafood nearby. Here, a quite delicious spaghetti frutti di mare.
Cha ca from Ha Noi: fish grilled in turmeric and served with a generous amount of dill.
Local specialties in central Vietnam: mee quang turmeric noodles with shrimp, home made braised tofu, and cao lau udon-like chewy noodles with pork. The tofu seems simple enough, but this was the best bean curd I’ve ever tasted: braised with soy and ginger for savory flavor, and crispy (not greasy) on the outside with a creamy molten-hot center that melts in your mouth. The secret to authentic cao lau is that the noodles have to be cooked in the water from a single ancient well from the town of Hoi An.
Next, our merry band of eaters traveled to Siem Reap, Cambodia, to witness the majesty of Angkor Wat. Boy, is Cambodia hot. Really, really, really hot. I was shocked that I could eat anything but all that sightseeing does stimulate your appetite, especially if there were 2-3 fresh fruit juices and smoothies in between for icy cold sweet refreshment.
Our insane hotel breakfast: fresh fruit including dragon fruit and the sweetest pineapple ever, homemade yogurt that is thick and sweet, flaky sweet pastries like coconut cake, simple veggie soup, and made to order veggie omelet with soy sauced green beens. Yup, ready for a brutal day in the sun!
There was a ton of other things to try that we just didn’t have time for, so we stopped by the local market to bring even more new tastes home. Everything is labeled clearly with instructions and the wonderful Cambodian people are eager to help you.
Are you hungry? You should probably stop right now then. See, one thing I learned from traveling to Southeast Asia with two fun- and food-enablers is that delicious eating is everywhere. Cheap food is pouring out onto the sidewalks because the giant megaplex shopping fortresses can’t contain it all. Even in the unstoppable heat, the enticing aroma of sizzling garlic, or just-baked sweets, or the ripest, sweetest fruit possible stoke the fire of hunger and melt away any willpower.
First off, visiting my brother in Singapore (or as I call it, Asia Lite). This affluent island city-state is a beautiful stir-fry of many cultures and cuisines. If you’re not shopping in Singi, you’re probably eating.
The revelation that is cereal shrimp: the antidote to greasy deep-fried shrimp. These shrimp were plump, sweet and juicy and the breading stayed crispy and crunchy and dry with a just a hint of corn sweetness.
My favorite Singaporean breakfast/ snack/ all day eats is kaya toast: thick fluffy sweet white bread perfectly toasted or grilled and then slathered with pandan-flavored coconut curd. I got busted for taking this picture of making toast, lest I be stealing company secrets?
Sorry this is the best picture I got of our kaya toast because we devoured it in seconds. And then got a few more boxes to take home. Pandan is a grass that gives the coconut an aromatic vanilla-ish flavor. The key is to top this caramelly sweet coconut jam with a sliver of salted butter to melt all over it – think melted butter over maple syrup. Traditionally eaten with hot coffee and a bowl of runny eggs.
Another favorite: roti-curry. (I can eat this all day long). Hot, flaky roti paratha griddled in ghee is the perfect vehicle for delivering to your mouth the richest curry sauce. The secret combination of what tastes like 38 herbs and spices impart a deep complexity to the curry. Forget nachos, I’m bringing this to the next superbowl party.
The most incredible hot and sour soup to grace our palates. The softest of noodles and earthiest of broths rich with black mushrooms. And just look at all that black pepper on top! This will kill your cold for sure.
Lau Pa Sat hawker center in central Singapore is detailed with architectural flourishes. Just remember to bring a packet of napkins because there are no napkins there and also you can reserve your table by placing them on top while you go food foraging.
This gentleman has a a big ol’ flat top in his stand for making the Middle Eastern inspired murtabak. He stretches out roti dough into a giant rectangle and then fills it with eggs, tomato, mushrooms (and whatever else you want) and then the incredible envelope of goodness is cooked on the flat top for the perfect char.
Another favorite of mine, but I am a sucker for smoky rice noodles that are filled with crispy charred bits. Char kway teow is served up with shrimp and egg and bean sprouts and slathered in a sticky black soy sauce.
As my brother escorted us to the airport, we continued to gorge until the plane carried us away. B tried the famous Hainan chicken rice. Quite simply, chicken that is delicately poached in a gingery stock forming a crispy gel “skin”, with rice that’s cooked in the remaining stock. Seek this out if you are not a fan of the otherwise deliriously spicy and chili-filled treats in Singapore.
Throughout our stay in SE Asia I indulged in my favorite one-bowl meal: seafood noodle soup. This version is packed with prawns, chewy buckwheat noodles, and green onions in an umami-powered broth. Always get the condiments (fish sauce, soy sauce, chilis, and a fresh wedge of lime) for doctoring it up to your standards.