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Insights, tips, and restaurant reports from CHOW editors and Chowhound.

The House

Need some tall food? Like, tall as a house? House Restaurant stacks food tall with high-quality technique, fanciful mosaic-like presentations, and vibrant flavors, says Melanie Wong.

The kitchen’s best talents are demonstrated in a wonderful grilled fresh fig salad: a mix of mizuna and other salad greens with six halves of sweet, squishy, delicately charred and caramelized black Mission figs. An even better appetizer is seared dayboat scallops. Described as a spicy ponzu sauce, the emulsified citrusy sauce is more akin to a beurre blanc made with olive oil.

Entrees are generous and equally good. Creamy-textured and crisp-crusted fried chicken livers with garlicky soy marinade are like Chinese fried chicken and are very fresh tasting. Accompanying greens are somewhat underseasoned, yet a good foil for the meal’s other assertive flavors. Braised Niman ranch pork shoulder is topped, unnecessarily but luxuriously, with gorgeously crusty foie gras. The fatty and fork-tender pork gives off warmly spicy, garlicky, and slightly sweet juices that mix well with the side of nori rice and Napa cabbage. Other hits are flatiron steak with wasabi noodles and spicy slaw, and perfect seared crisp-skinned sable (black cod) with Dungeness crab and avocado maki.

As if you’d have room, chocolate cake is great, with deep fudgy texture and crunchy praline bits.

The sole misses are vegetable accompaniments (with rib eye), which are undercooked to the point of hardness; overcooked, tough fried calamari; and bland blueberry bread pudding.

House Restaurant [North Beach]
1230 Grant Ave., San Francisco

Board Links: The House in San Francisco

Fisherman’s Wharf Survival Guide

Sooner or later, whether you’re a local or visitor, highbrow or lowbrow, native or transplant, you’ll need to eat at Fisherman’s Wharf. Fear not: it can be done.

Alioto’s is an old standby, with 50’s decor, great views, and waiters in tuxedos. The Godfather would eat here if he’d lived to move to SF, says rworange. At lunchtime there are good deals, even though a la carte pricing puts a cup of soup over $7 and fresh fish of the day as high as $30. One good catch is the Sicilian chicken soup, a half-sandwich of bay shrimp, and dessert, all for $12. The soup is a deeply golden chicken broth with a few peas and noodles, some cooked egg yolk, and meatballs. The broth doesn’t have much chicken flavor, but it’s house-made and pleasant enough. The bay shrimp are delicate and fresh. For dessert, creme brulee is among the best rworange has had: thick, rich, and very deeply yellow from the eggs, with a perfect hard caramelized top.

For a totally different kind of Fisherman’s Wharf meal, run to Saigon Grill for banh mi. Not kidding. The meat in the grilled lemongrass pork banh mi (thit nuong) is so good you’ll pull pieces out and eat them by themselves. Thin tender slices of pork with a whisper of fat, all nicely marinated with a touch of grill flavor, and slightly sweet like teriyaki. They use nice crusty rolls with mayo, pickled daikon radish, and carrots, fresh cilantro, and large slices of super-fresh jalapenos. It’s a wonderful mix of texture and flavor–hot, sweet, smoky, crunchy, velvety–that’s worth the $3.50 (yep, nearly twice what you’d pay in the Tenderloin).

If you’re spending lots of time around the Wharf and Pier 39, pull down the whole list of suggestions by rworange, whose other favorites are Gary Danko, Nick’s Lighthouse, Scoma’s, Eagle Cafe, and Ana Mandara.

Alioto’s [Fisherman’s Wharf]
8 Fishermans Wharf, San Francisco

Saigon Grill [Fisherman’s Wharf]
2731 Taylor St., between Beach & Jefferson St., San Francisco

Gary Danko [Fisherman’s Wharf]
800 N. Point St., San Francisco

Nick’s Lighthouse [Fisherman’s Wharf]
2801 Taylor St., San Francisco

Scoma’s [Fisherman’s Wharf]
47 Pier, San Francisco

Eagle Cafe [Fishmerman’s Wharf]
39 Pier 39 #201, San Francisco

Ana Mandara [Ghirardelli Square]
891 Beach St., San Francisco

Board Links: Fisherman’s Wharf Crabby Crawl – Lunch at Alioto’s
SF- A Tale of Two Banh Mi – Saigon Grill & Little Vietnam Café
Hey, San Francisco visitors, tell the locals about Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39

Oyster Crackers

Good chowder deserves good oyster crackers!

The Premium cracker brand is fine for just floating in soup, but Trader Joe’s oyster crackers are puffy, pillowy crackers with more oomph. If you like a more substantial cracker, the well-known Skyline Chili folks in Cincinnati include a box of theirs for free with every order of chili!

Trenton Oyster crackers are an old brand of cracker perfect suitable for good chowder. They’re now called OTC (for Original Trenton Cracker). Pat Hammond had thought them extinct.

Board Links: Oyster Crackers

Lobster “Culls”

A cull is a lobster missing a claw. It still has plenty of good meat, of course. Culls were once highly discounted, but consumers caught on and the price has increased to the point where they may not work out as bargains anymore, pound for pound. And if claw meat is your favorite, you’re likely better off buying a whole lobster.

Board Links: Lobster Retail Value–Cull vs. Whole?

Chow 101: Miso

The healthful properties of miso are legendary. It’s a living food, with enzymes and other microorganisms said to aid digestion. It tastes good, too! It’s made from fermented soy beans and other grains and is a mainstay of Japanese cooking. The lighter colored miso is delicately flavored and used in light soups, sauces and salad dressings. Use darker miso in heavier dishes, like stews, or as a table condiment.

South River Miso is artisanal and fire-roasted. Their products are for sale at their website, which includes lots of miso information and recipes ranging literally from soup to nuts (and miso desserts, too).

Board Links: artisan tofu makers

Roast Beets Make Great Salads

Roasting beets concentrates their earthy sweetness, transforming them into intense mouthfuls of deliciousness that play well with lots of other tastes and textures. And all kinds of great salads are possible.

To roast beets, cut off any greens (good eating in their own right) and scrub bulbs clean. Wrap them tightly in foil (or put them in a covered roasting pan or casserole) and roast until tender when pierced with a knife (around an hour at 350F, depending on size). When cool, skins will peel off very easily (wear powder-free latex or vinyl gloves, or hold them with a paper towel, to avoid staining your hands).

A range of fruits and vegetables complement roast beets in various ways. Some match their soft texture and/or sweetness (avocado, oranges, mangoes) and others lend textural contrast (endive, raw fennel). Other popular additions to beets salads are nuts and soft, salty cheeses (goat, blue, feta). Most suggest using light dressings on beet salads; walnut and olive oils are good bases.

For something a bit different, mix beets with yogurt, a little garlic, and fresh dill (oaklandfoodie).

Board Links: Really good beets at home [topic digression moved from SF board]

Getting Creative With Kimchee

Chowhounds love to use kimchee to perk up all kinds of simple recipes.

Kimchee is delicious chopped into tuna for sandwiches.

theannerska serves it with seared tofu, just a little soy sauce, and scallions.

Kimchee’s great atop burgers, but bigjeff likes it even better mixed into the ground beef before he forms the patties.

It adds oomph to soup: try kimchee with broth and dumplings; or GretchenS’s combo of kimchee, shredded cabbage, scallions, and tofu in chicken broth, with some of the juice from the kimchee jar added in at the end.

Dommy makes kimchee pizza by mixing a little kimchee juice into her sauce and spreading on a prepared crust, adding fresh mozzarella, and baking. When it comes out of the oven, she puts kimchee on top. bigjeff adds kimchee to leftover pizza, and reheats in the oven.

Board Links: what can I do with my kimchee besides stand in front of the fridge and eat it

Punto Fijo: Peruvian Sleeper In Jackson Heights

Jackson Heights’ Punto Fijo deserves more attention than it gets for its homey, traditional Peruvian food, says kenito799. “It will fulfill all your Peruvian cravings,” he promises, especially if you’re hankering for carapulcra, a meaty stew made with dried potato. Also recommended: ceviche tiradito; anticuchos (grilled thin-sliced cow heart, excellent with green aji sauce); jalea (fried mixed seafood) or fried chunks of corvina; papas a la huancaina.

“I’ve been a few times and have not been disappointed,” reports sandrina, who singles out the fried calamari, served with cassava fries, a creamy green hot sauce and a pinkish sweet one.

Punto Fijo Restaurant [Jackson Heights]
89-12 Northern Blvd., between 89th and 90th Sts, Jackson Heights, Queens

Board Links: Punto Fijo Peruvian (moved from Manhattan Board)

Saigon Grill Goes Downtown, and other NY News

Saigon Grill–the popular Vietnamese restaurant that is either really good or just good for uptown, depending on whom you ask–has opened a long-awaited branch in the Village. “If you enjoy the uptown Saigon Grills, you’ll love the downtown version,” suggests newcarcaviar. “The food is identical and prices comparable to their other locations, but the decor is much hipper and vibier.” One early report, though, suggests that the new place has stumbled out of the blocks with missteps in both the kitchen and the front of the house.

In other news, changes are afoot at hound haunt Sullivan Street Bakery, whose co-owners have gone their separate ways. The Hell’s Kitchen shop remains Sullivan Street Bakery. The Sullivan Street original has been rechristened Grandaisy Bakery. So far the menus haven’t diverged much. CornflakeGirl was relieved to find the famous potato pizza as good as ever at Grandaisy. “In fact,” she observes, “almost everything looked the same.” On 47th Street, meanwhile, they’re tearing down walls to make seating space where customers can munch on the newly introduced sandwiches and other chow. First take from Peter Cuce, who has sampled a sandwich of pancetta, mango and basil–“amazing.”

In the East Village, Mo Pitkin’s has pared back its self-styled “Judeo-Latino” menu. “The much-derided ‘Mo’s Pickins’ (a six-way appetizer sampler for $13) is gone,” reports eeee, “but, sadly, so are some of the more interesting dishes”–shrimp al ajillo, tuna ceviche or salad, pasta paella. However, several hound favorites made the cut–including latkes, deep-fried macaroni and cheese, the Mo Burger (topped with fried egg, onions, and chicken liver), and the Cuban Reuben (corned beef, ham, roast pork, cheese, pickles, Russian dressing).

Saigon Grill [Greenwich Village]
91 University Pl., between E. 11th and 12th Sts, Manhattan

Saigon Grill [Upper West Side]
620 Amsterdam Ave., at 90th St., Manhattan

Saigon Grill [Upper East Side]
1700 2nd Ave., at 88th St., Manhattan

Grandaisy Bakery [Soho]
formerly Sullivan Street Bakery
73 Sullivan St, near Broome, Manhattan

Sullivan Street Bakery [Clinton]
533 W. 47th St., between 10th and 11th Aves, Manhattan

Mo Pitkin’s House of Satisfaction [East Village]
34 Avenue A, between 2nd and 3rd Sts, Manhattan

Board Links: Visited the new downtown Saigon Grill last night
Saigon Grill University
Mo Pitkins
what’s going on w/ SULLIVAN ST BAKERY in soho?

Mexican Finds

Chulada is a little gem, reports Sandra W. after a lunch there. Carnitas are perfectly cooked, and chicken mole stars moist breast meat. It’s all cooked fresh, so there’s a wait after you order. Corn tortillas, also fresh, are fab.

hermit has gotten hooked on El Sauz, where the carne asada burrito is now a favorite.

Original Chulada Grill [Midtown]
5607 San Vicente Blvd, Hauser, Los Angeles

El Sauz Taco [East San Fernando Valley]
4432 San Fernando Rd., Glendale

Board Links: El Sauz
Chulada Grill–Miracle Mile area