San Francisco Bay Area rss

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

Hard-core Thai Boat Noodle Quest

Boat noodle is a Thai specialty that is … well, it’s not for the easily frightened. True boat noodle is deeply beefy, funky, with hard assaults of tang, sourness, spice, sweet, and good. You’ll see two forms of this: beef stew style, which is a nice soup, and boat noodle style. Boat noodle style gets its characteristic cloudy appearance and extrafunky flavor from its primary thickener, beef blood. But once you’ve had it funky, you can’t go back to the clean stuff. You’re dirty forever.

Boat noodle soup, if you can’t guess, is one of Your Editor Thi’s primo obessions. It’s kind of like sucking nectar directly from the mouth of the goddess of the Thai: Everything that’s great about Thai food—the intense, searing flavors; the constant balance between almost mind-shattering levels of spice, sour, sweet, and salt—it’s all there in its unfiltered form.

twocents has been on a serious Thai boat noodle jag. He’s eaten boat noodles everywhere he can find them. His three current favorites are:

Ruen Pair boat noodle soup. Medium spicy here is quite spicy. It’s good tanginess, and comes with sliced beef, stewed beef, beef ball, and sometimes tripe. $8.

Sa-Wooei beef stew soup. This includes beef ball, sliced beef, stewed beef, and tendony bits. The broth is noticeabley sweet. $5.25 at lunch—an excellent value.

Thai Noodle boat noodle soup. This has stewed beef in large slices, beef ball, and sliced beef.

These three places all serve superior soup, and you should try all of them.

Ruen Pair Authentic Thai Cuisine [East Bay]
1045 San Pablo Avenue, Albany
510-528-2375
Map

Sa-Wooei Thai Cuisine [East Bay]
10621 San Pablo Avenue, El Cerrito
510-528-0709
Map

Thai Noodle [East Bay]
1936 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley
510-848-6531
Map

Board Links: Thai Beef/Boat Noodle in East Bay

Almond Croissant Taste Test

Some of our dedicated Chowhounds have hit up every pastry joint they could find, in search of the most perfect almond croissant in the Bay Area. Their favorites:

Bay Bread is dreamsicle’s favorite. Catch ’em while they’re still slightly warm—somewhere between the crisp shell and the almost liquidy filling is the tiniest gateway to heaven. You’ll find it, too, if you look. In comparison, she says, Delanghe’s famed croissant seems just stale and heavy.

cafecreme agrees that Bay Bread makes a beautiful almond croissant; there is, though, one that she thinks is even better. This is the almond croissant from DeLessio’s. The croissant is actually crispier, while still being delectably flaky and buttery. The filling is the real deal-maker—beautifully colored, beautifully textured, with the slightest hint of lemon.

Anya L also rates Bay Bread and DeLessio’s in her top five. The other top choices: Citizen Cake’s very buttery croissant with a chewier filling; Tartine’s enormous, deeply browned croissant; and Blissful Bite’s small, dark, delightfully chewy version.

Boulangerie Bay Bread [Fillmore]
2325 Pine Street, San Francisco
415-440-0356
Map

DeLessio Market and Bakery [Duboce Triangle]
1695 Market Street, San Francisco
415-552-5559
Map

Citizen Cake [Hayes Valley]
399 Grove Street, San Francisco
415-861-2228
Map

Tartine Bakery [Mission]
600 Guerrero Street, San Francisco
415-487-2600
Map

Blissful Bites [Richmond]
397 Arguello Boulevard, San Francisco
415-750-9460
Map

Board Links: Almond croissant taste test

South Italian Pastries, a Hidden Wonder

Sfoglia may look like an anonymous Italian bakery, but it is most definitely not. It’s packed full of southern Italian gems–cannolis, tarts, pizzettas, and more. And, report Chowhounds, everything there is at least very good; some items are spectacular.

rworange’s favorite item is the savory tart ($2.75)—a tasty, buttery tart shell, topped with a little cheese and a lot of veggies, including some tasty portobellos and truly excellent roasted peppers. Pizzettas come with excellent meat and veggie toppings, on top of a pillowy, yeasty crust.

There are also cannoli ($3), freshly fried, wonderfully crisp, and filled to order with lightly sweetened, orange-zested ricotta. They shatter perfectly with each bite, says Melanie Wong.

And there’s beautiful, golden brown sfogliatelle ($2.50). The thin, hand-pulled layers of pastry have that distinctive brittle crispness; the filling is like the cannoli’s, but with an extra, eggy richness. The cheese makes it a little soggy in the middle, which is the only thing that prevents this treat from achieving the balanced perfection of the cannoli.

The folks are friendly; atmosphere is open, airy, sunny, and distinctly Mediterranean.

Sfoglia Italian Bakery & Cafe [Sonoma County]
At the Sebastopol Antique Society
2661 Gravenstein Highway, Suite H, Sebastopol
707-829-5721
Map

Board Links: Sebastopol–Sfoglia Italian Bakery & Café – Easter Pannetone & La Colomba
Sfoglia Italian Bakery & Café

A Glorious Bowl of Lamb Tendon

As each batch of customers arrives at Deezi Café, the manager rushes up, greets them, and rings a big bell. The bell signals the kitchen to fire a fresh batch of flat bread in the tandoor. The bread shows up in a few minutes—a huge, dinner-plate-sized, charred wonder of crunchiness and chew.

The unexpected glory at Deezi Café, though, is the kaleh pacheh, a gorgeously gelatinous bowl of boiled lamb tongue, tendon, and cheeks, in its own broth. “Imagine an earthy lamb version of bollito misto with a heavier, more gelatin-rich stock base or perhaps pot au feu meets consumé de borrego and this would be it,” explains Melanie Wong. “Each morsel was the optimal texture—softened tendon with just enough resistance to the bite, fork-tender whole tongue, and slightly firm cheek meat with a bit of chew to it.” The broth is perfect—just a big bowl of purified lamb essence.

Other good stuff: mirzaghasemi, a very likable mash of softly creamy eggplant with a bit of citrus, a bit of tomato tang, and hard-cooked egg yolk. Excellent koubideh, too—if you order it medium rare, it’ll come perfect—fully charred on the outside, yet beautifully rare on the inside.

Atmosphere is festive and noisy; there is occasionally music. Service is swift and friendly. Dinner will run about $25 a person.

Deezi Café [South Bay]
1740 S. Winchester Boulevard, Campbell
408-379-1126
Map

Board Links: Deezi Café — Persian in Campbell

Extreme Dessert Tasting

Slave to sweet chow Sailorbuoys pushed herself through the cruelest mission possible: sampling desserts from five restaurants, carefully selected with advice from fellow Chowhounds.

Sailorbuoys reports: the best desserts were at Oliveto, Delfina, and Bar Tartine. Second best: Ame (conservative), Lalime’s and Rubicon (wild). And the worst? Campton Place and Salt House.

The dessert spread at Oliveto is “clean, simple, and perfect.” The cocoa nib panna cotta is silky smooth, with all the flavor of chocolate but none of the fatty weight. Bar Tartine scores with an excellent creamy, clean beet ice cream with chocolate cake.

The wrapup: “SF likes to follow trends,” says Sailorbuoys. “Chocolate mousse, doughnuts and attempts at odd pairings appear to be all the rage. Seasonality still has a long way to travel, even in our organic-local-farmers’ market driven city.” Rworange points out, “at least they are over the huckleberry thing.”

Ame [SOMA]
689 Mission Street, San Francisco

415-284-4040
Map

Bar Tartine [Mission]
561 Valencia Street, San Francisco

415-487-1600
Map

Delfina Restaurant [Mission]
3621 18th Street, San Francisco
415-552-4055
Map

Lalime’s [East Bay]
1329 Gilman Street, Berkeley
510-527-9838
Map

Oliveto Café and Restaurant [Rockridge]
5655 College Avenue, Oakland
510-547-5356
Map

Pizzeria Delfina [Mission]
3611 18th Street, San Francisco
415-437-6800
Map

Range [Mission]
842 Valencia Street, San Francisco
415-282-8283
Map

Rubicon [Financial District]
558 Sacramento Street, San Francisco
415-434-4100
Map

Salt House [SOMA]
545 Mission Street, San Francisco

415-543-8900
Map

Board links: Bay Area Dessert Tour: A Very Long Report
Dessert Only: SF Restaurants

Indian Curry Meets Texas BBQ

The thing to get at Old Town Café is beef rendang. It is, says Ozumo, like the beautiful hapa child of an Indian curry and a Texas BBQ. It’s smoky, sweet, with tons of cloves and a decent amount of heat. And it’s cooked for long enough that parts will melt in your mouth, while other parts will have achieved that magical long-cooked crispiness.

yimster’s favorite dish here is Old Town Catfish; Hainanese chicken is done perfectly, with no hint of overcooking—certainly the best version in the Bay Area, says dolcetto.

The laksa is worthy, too, as is their milk tea. Others enjoy their okra lady fingers and satay chicken.

Old Town Café
4288 Dublin Boulevard, Unit 109, Dublin
925-833-8300
Map

Board Links: Dublin–Old Town Cafe Singaporean Cafe–Pulled Tea
Singapore Old Town Cafe in Dublin

Hand-Pulled Noodles at Imperial Tea Court

There are tasty noodles at the Imperial Tea Court. They’ve got a nice chewy bite to them, says Martin Strell. The sauce complements the noodles well, without overwhelming them. These noodles are hand-pulled, right in the open kitchen.

They’re really good here about making stuff by hand, to order. And, says Morton the Mousse, the spicy beef noodles are even better than the regular hand-pulled noodles. Try their pot-stickers, too.

Imperial Tea Court [Berkeley]
1511 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley (in the Epicurean Gardens)
510-548-8888
Map

Board Links: Hand Pull Noodles @Imperial Tea, Epicurious Garden

A Flawless Ristretto in San Jose

teela brown was completely shocked to find an astoundingly skilled set of baristas pulling awesome espressos in downtown San Jose.

They use Blue Bottle Coffee: That should have San Jose coffee drinkers already swooning with delight. Baristas Eddie and Dan pull a “flawless, tiny ristretto heavily capped with silky red-brown crema, and I amused Eddie and Dan by doing a happy dance as I drank it.” teena brown thinks they’re clearly better than Barefoot Coffee Roasters. chipman thinks this little operation is on a par with the big three of Bay Area Coffee—Blue Bottle, Ritual, and Barefoot.

eMocha [South Bay]
231 E. Santa Clara Street, San Jose
408-947-6001
Map

Board Links: Well, I’ll be dipped in ristretto–a terrific espresso joint in downtown SJ!

Coffee Rubbed Pork Shoulder at Range

Coffee-rubbed pork shoulder is the true classic at Range, say many hounds. It’s pretty much the best comfort food you could find, says reading stand—not subtle, not delicate, but just one big platter of tender, heavy, slow-cooked pork, with creamy hominy and braised greens. Range also does excellent roast chicken, a little firmer than the average. It’s good enough that, once you become a regular at Range, you’ll get the chicken instead of the pork shoulder once every three or four visits.

Desserts rock hard, too. Everything the pastry chef does is great, but the true shining jewel is his chocolate souffle. Tarts are beautiful—always with a perfectly light, simple crust, amazing fresh fruit, and a clever ice cream pairing. Right now, for example, there’s rhubarb tart with candied ginger ice cream.

Range [Mission]
842 Valencia Street, San Francisco
415-282-8283
Map

Board Links: What to order at… Range?

New China’s Rice Noodle Soup

New China has one of the best versions of rice noodle soup (dan zai mi fen) that vliang has ever had. It has a deep, rich broth—it tastes like good chicken, instead of watered down junk with MSG. There’s also rice noodles with pork sauce and a soy marinated egg. This dish is not on the printed menu, or in English anywhere—it’s on the wall on the right hand side of the restaurant, when you’re facing the counter. It’s the only strip of signage in pink, so intrepid chowhounds can just point their way to noodle glory. (Note that the version on the wall comes with regular egg noodle, so you have to ask for rice noodle special. The correct term for rice noodle is “mi fen.”)

New China [East Bay]
a.k.a. China Tofu
1743 Decoto Road, Union City
510-675-9485
Locater

Board Links: A Very Taiwanese Lunch @ New China