San Francisco Bay Area rss

Restaurant recommendations, new openings, and highlights from the SF Chowhound community.

Pastrami and Cookies at ’wichcraft

Morton the Mousse thinks that ’wichcraft has the best pastrami in the whole Bay Area. They use David’s Old World Pastrami, produced locally; it has the right amount of smoke, with a well-defined flavor beyond the smoke, and a nice amount of fat, too. They pile the pastrami much thicker than most Bay Area spots. The meat is warm, the cheese is melted, the bread is toasted, and everything tastes fresh. With this level of execution, portion size, and ingredient quality, it’s hardly unreasonable to pay $6 to $9.50 per sandwich.

The meatloaf sandwich is also great, and Debbie M recommends the fried egg breakfast sandwich and all the soups she’s tried.

When you’re there, definitely try the sandwich cookies—especially the peanut butter sandwich cookie, with crisp, crunchy cookies surrounding smooth peanut butter filling.

“I’ve lived my whole life in California, and as much as I enjoy talking smack about East Coasters, this is one New York import that deserves our respect,” says Morton the Mousse.

’wichcraft [Mission]
868 Mission Street, San Francisco

Board Links: Believe it or not, there is great chow at the Westfield–Wichcraft Report

Sushi Quest ’07

“One day in mid-February, I awoke hungry. Very hungry,” explains Sushi Monster. And so he begins an odyssey, “a personal quest for a sushi lunch experience of transcendental, near-orgasmic quality.”

So he went to every sushi restaurant he could find from Burlingame to Mountain View—the entire San Francisco Peninsula. Why? “I can’t explain the hunger or why it seized me so powerfully. It is probably the same driving force that impelled me to eat barbecue for 22 consecutive days some years ago. The same force that led me to amass the largest collection of bottled hot sauces on the West Coast.”

Eventually he went to 25 sushi restaurants in a few short months. And he has ranked them all. Of the 25, 6 of them he puts in the top tier: Sakae, SushiYa, Higuma, Yuzu, Sushi Sam’s Edomata, and Naomi. Within the top tier, the rankings are almost arbitrary, says he—any single one of them is worthy of a special trip.

Interestingly, he found almost no correlation between price and quality. The last-placer on his list (the dreadful Liquid Sushi) cost him $39, higher than second-placer SushiYa ($35). The one insane outlier is Sakae—both the best sushi experience and the highest priced, at $113 (with 20 percent tip).

His top choice, in the end, is Sakae. It is almost without peer; only Sam’s is comparable. But for the orthodox, fully traditional sushi experience, there is nothing else. “Sakae’s top chef Jun Nozawa is the mack daddy.” There is a staggering selection of special fish on the whiteboard, too, most of which are FedEx’d from the two main fish markets in Tokyo.

Of the other top-tier places, SushiYa and Yuzu are both small, seven-seater, mom-and-pop-type places that offer top-quality nigiri at a very reasonable price. Higuma is not as small but has exceptional quality for the lowest per-piece price of the top-tier restaurants—it’s probably the best value on the list, says Sushi Monster. Naomi is also a midsize shop, with an indefinably homey vibe. It puts people at ease, which may explains the legions of fans.

And then there’s Sushi Sam’s Edomata, a wild ride through undeniably exceptional sushi, put forward in bold, innovative flavor combinations. But it loses on the value scale, at an average of $7 per nigiri order, as opposed to Higuma’s $4 per order.

Be sure to check out his staggeringly long post, with detailed tasting notes on all 25 restaurants.

Sakae [Peninsula]
240 Park Road, Burlingame

SushiYa [Peninsula]
380 University Avenue, Palo Alto

Higuma [Peninsula]
540 El Camino Real, Redwood City

Yuzu [Peninsula]
54 37th Avenue, San Mateo

Sushi Sam’s Edomata [Peninsula]
218 E. Third Avenue, San Mateo

Naomi [Peninsula]
1328 El Camino Real, Menlo Park

Board Links: Sushi Monster devours Peninsula: The Big List

Stormy’s Primal Energy

The thing to get at Stormy’s Spirits & Supper is prime rib. This is a gorgeous slab of beef, about an inch thick, with rippled edges of glistening fat, says Ruby Louise. It’s tender, it’s juicy, without any gristle or tough bits, and it smells, gloriously, of purest beef.

The best side here: onion rings, for their flaky, almost sheer coating of batter.

It’s suprisingly cheap, as steakhouses go. You can get out of there for under $40 a person, before alcohol. Corkage is $14 a bottle.

Stormy’s Spirits & Supper [Sonoma County]
6650 Bloomfield Road, Petaluma

Board Links: Stormy’s Spirits and Supper

Snuggly Yucca Balls

There’s fantastic food, friendly service, and a wonderfully snuggly atmosphere at Mochica, says bamabuilt. From a simple chicken casserole to a dense shrimp and cheese bisque, every dish is great. jeffypop’s favorite is the delicious pork-stuffed fried yucca balls.

There’s also great ceviche, anticuchos, and tequenos. In fact, anything with chicken or fish is terrific.

Mochica [SOMA]
937 Harrison Street, San Francisco

Board Links: Mochica’s

Beyond the Hot Pot

We have reported on the excellent hot pot at Zone 88 recently; further Chowhound inquiry has revealed the cooking to be excellent all around. With $5.50 midday specials like spicy frog, deep-fried pig intestines, and dry-fried eels, this is not your usual neighborhood American-Chinese joint, says Gary Soup. The food here is 10 times better than the other Asian food on this stretch of San Bruno, says Civil Bear.

Dave MP reports many excellent dishes, including suprisingly great kung pao chicken, garlicky bok choy, and terrific eggplant with garlic. Very enjoyable is the szechuan cold tofu—cold, seasoned tofu over cucumbers and daikons, with a mild chile oil sauce. Presentation on all items is unexpectedly beautiful. Civil Bear highly recommends the hot and crispy fried squid appetizer.

The pork spare ribs in kabocha squash were not so good on Dave MP’s visit, but RWCFoodie reports that they’ve been fabulous in the past. This may be a one-time glitch.

The dry-fried eel is superflavorful, and contains a staggering amount of river eel.

Limited English. Dave MP successfully fed five people for $46, before tip.

Zone 88 [Portola]
2428 San Bruno Avenue, San Francisco

Board Links: Dinner at Zone 88–Portola, SF–Report
Zone 88: My first shot at the menu

Mossy-Textured Tofu and Greens Salad

There is a new affordable Shanghainese restaurant in the city: Flying Pan Bistro. Gary Soup is our first man in the door; he had some Shanghai standard cold dishes and says they’re great.

Smoked, caramelized fish is slightly sweet, and aggressively spiced with five-spice. Their salty duck is a very good version: lean and firm, with an easily removable fringe of fat and skin.

The true star is aster salad, “probably the best version of this disgustingly healthy dish I’ve grudgingly been brought to love,” says Gary Soup. It’s a fine hash of dry tofu and lightly pickled greens, which are sort of like daisy leaves. This version has one of the highest ratios of green to white he’s seen, and it’s chopped to the texture of fine moss. The flavor of the greens really shines through.

Flying Pan Bistro [Chinatown]
680 Clay Street, San Francisco

Board Links: Flying Pan Bistro: first nibbles

A Superb Ginseng Game Hen Soup

There is a truly superb soup at the San Mateo branch of Myung Dong Tofu Cabin, says K K. The waitress recommended it to him—she even made a Popeye gesture and told him it would make men very strong. This convinced him, and boy is he glad he caved. The soup is beautiful, a pot with a whole game hen inside, and full of pure, intense poultry and ginseng flavors. There are also chunks of crispy rice cakes, of the sort that you sometimes find in Chinese soups. The game hen meat actually falls off of the bone.

As is the custom in many Korean soup joints, the soup comes undersalted. Salt is provided at the table; use it.

Panchan here is excellent, too.

Myung Dong Tofu Cabin [South Bay]
1484 Halford Avenue, Santa Clara

Myung Dong Tofu Cabin [Peninsula]
In the Marina Supermarket
2968 S. Norfolk Street, San Mateo

Board Links: Superb Korean game hen soup with ginseng–MDTC San Mateo/Foster City

New Hue-Style Vietnamese in Oakland

Hue is sort of the culinary center of central Vietnam—known for such delicacies as gently steamed glutinous rice cakes. There’s a brand-new Hue restaurant in town, Kim Huong, and it’s damn tasty.

After only a few weeks, there’s already a big line at lunch. That’s ’cause the food is good, says zippo, like a delicate, tasty bun bo hue—the traditional Hue noodle soup of thick noodles, pork blood hunks, pork trotter hunks, and meatballs.

Mi bo kho—vermicelli noodles with beef stew—is excellent, with a bit more body and more complexity to the seasoning than most competitors, says twocents. Perhaps Pho Ao Sen’s version has a broth with a little more body, but they don’t have the fine touch with the seasoning that Kim Huong has.

This is a small, family-run operation, by first-time proprietors.

Kim Huong [East Bay]
304 10th Street, Oakland

Pho Ao Sen [East Bay]
200 International Boulevard, Oakland

Board Links: Kim Huong, Hue-style Vietnamese, opens 3/22 in Oakland Chinatown

You Have to Try These Pupusas

The pupusas at Pupuseria El Capulin are an absolutely deadly must-try, says hhc. For those of you who don’t know, pupusas are sort of thickish masa-based flat breads, stuffed with fillings, and then griddled up to crispiness. At their worst, they’re soggy balls of corn flour and grease. At their best, they’re little essays in texture—hot, crispy, scorched masa on the outside; softer masa on the inside; leading to sweetly oozing cheese or pork—sort of like chocolate falling down cake written in Latin American savory staples.

El Capulin’s are the good kind: made fresh to order, chewy and crispy in the shell, with beautifully blended fillings. They’re $2 apiece, and they’re awesome.

Carne asada tacos are also recommended.

Pupuseria El Capulin [East Bay]
7036 Thornton Avenue, Newark

Board Links: Pupuseria El Capulin, Newark report w/ pics–great pupusas & $1 tacos

Better than the Fatted Calf?!?!

This is the first time we’ve heard such a claim. For years now, the Fatted Calf has been the single most beloved, most lauded, most recommended charcuterie in the Bay Area. Hell, it’s probably the single most recommended place of any genre for the whole of Chowhound, San Francisco. But, says rworange, there’s better.

Better is Columbus Salame’s crespone—a coarse-ground, country-style salami. It’s amazing. She’s had Fra’ Mani’s salami, she’s had Fatted Calf’s, and they don’t touch this crespone. It’s made from fresh pork flavored with pepper, garlic, and wine.

While Columbus salami is available at various locales, including Costco, all of the big praise we’ve heard only comes from the stuff purchased from Vella Cheese. Vella, says rworange, is her dream of a wine country cheese shop—not fancy, just good. While you’re there, try the absurdly cheap bags of grated aged jack, and the good, nutty, sweet four-year-old Asagio. And superb butter—good enough that she actually drove out to Sonoma just for some more butter.

Vella Cheese [Sonoma County]
315 Second Street E., Sonoma

Board Links: Sonoma–Vella Cheese & Columbus Crespone artisan salami