San Francisco Bay Area rss

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

New Med Tasties at Ziryab

Ziryab is a new Middle Eastern place, a little more upscale looking than most of the other shwarma factories in San Francisco. The food is a mixed bag–some failures, but some truly excellent items.

Mezze platter, with hummus, babaganoush, dolmas, olives, tabblouleh, cucumber yogurt, and little hunks of feta, is truly delicious, each flavor fresh and distinct. Their various dips are, says pane, entirely unlike the usual muddleed-tasting mashes at other local Middle Eastern restaurants. Mezze platter for two ($13) boasts even more stuff, including first-rate falafel.

Truly delicious is their chicken shawerma wrap ($8); it’s even better than the version at Truly Mediterranean, says Robert Lauriston. Lentil soup is simple and good. Arales ($6), spiced ground lamb on focaccia, is very tasty, as is spinach sauteed with garlic confit ($7).

Lesser dishes include chicken kebab that’s pretty good–but not quite as excellent as Ziryab’s top-flight dishes. Vegetable tajine, a special, is a bit bland. But, notes Absonot, this is a new restaurant, still straightening out kinks, and each visit has yielded better experiences than the last.

Service is friendly, but a bit forgetful.

Ziryab Mediterranean Grill [Western Addition]
528 Divisadero St., San Francisco
415-522-0800
Map

Board Links: Ziryab

Palo Alto Sol: Guajillo of Godliness

Cecelia has been going to Palo Alto Sol for ten years. She likes the mole fine, but the thing that really floats her boat is their pure pollo al guajillo. The chicken itself is variable in quality, but the sauce is always fabulous–mellow, complex, and deeply chile, without being spicy. That guajillo always satisfies, in all the dishes that use it.

The salsas are showstoppers, too–a fresh, chunky tomatillo, and a smoky salsa of roasted peppers.

Palo Alto Sol Restaurant [Peninsula]
408 S California Ave., Palo Alto
650-328-8840
Map

Board Links: Palo Del Sol (Palo Alto, CA) —wonderful mole and guajillo sauces

New Quality Sushi Presence

Hime is it, says chaddict. If he didn’t live so far away, he’d be there constantly.

Hamachi sashimi with jalapeno and soy-garlic sauce ($11.20) is one of the best dishes. It’s got just the right amount of jalapeno and very light saucing. You have to get this one.

Kobe beef lettuce cups ($9.50) are not super Japanese, but taste seriously good nonetheless, filled with a warm, savory beef mixture. A dish called “Japanese Garden” ($12) is a terrific example of kaiseki cuisine: eight cold vegetable preparations, all distinct. The textures of the vegetables are sublime; even the yam tastes different, with an utterly unique texture. This is a huge dish–split it, or it’ll be most of your dinner (by no means a bad prospect).

Sashimi moriawase ($19.50) is quite a lot of stuff–fish, scallop, amaebi, and tempura prawn heads–served in a lit bowl filled with ice. Baked black cod with saikyomiso ($18.50) is cooked to absolute perfection–silky delicate, yet boldly flavored. It’s even better than the black cod at Ame.

Forty bucks a person before tip will get you enough food for a lunch’s worth of leftovers.

The place has a great vibe, and exceedingly friendly staff.

Hours: from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.
5:30 p.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays.
Closed Mondays.

Hime [Marina]
Formerly Market Place Cafe
2353 Lombard St., San Francisco
415-931-7900
Map

Board Links: Hime’s menu

Cafe Fanny Changes – Perfect Ice Cream and Sorbet

Cafe Fanny has acquired a new pastry chef–and their desserts have drastically improved.

rworange had a few less-than-delicious scoops under their old dessert regime. The new pastry chef has changed everything–the ice creams are truly stunning. Caramel ice cream is smooth and creamy, with an intense caramel taste. It inhabits the soul of the caramel. It is highly, highly recommended.

The mango sorbet is magnificent, especially its silky smooth texture. It’s like an elegant ganache, only full of tart mango.

$5 a scoop, though…

Cafe Fanny [East Bay]
1603 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley
510-524-5447
Map

Board Links: Oh MY !!!–Cafe Fanny–Organic Caramel Ice Cream & Mango Sorbet–They got it right … really, really right

Classic Bran Muffins and Blueberry Pie

FatApple’s serves up stunning pies, and classic bran muffins, says rworange. They currently have fresh blueberry pies. These are serious blueberry pies, just like glazed fresh strawberry pies (with a little custard under the fruit), only with blueberries–good blueberries, tasty ones. The glaze is excellent, and more light than gloppy. It just enhances the blueberry wonder of the pie. There’s some respectable whipped cream on the pie. All their pies are wonderful, says ChowFun-derek.

The bran muffin is nicely balanced, with big chunks of walnuts, plenty of raisins, and a nice, semi-moist texture. The bran itself is nutty.

Karen Schaffer says they make the best rhubarb crisp she’s ever had–a perfect combination of tart rhubarb and crisp, sweet, crunchy topping. If you get it with ice cream, ask for it on the side–otherwise it melts too fast. Sometimes, for no apparent reason, they have rhubarb crisp and forget to put it on their menu or chalkboard. Just ask for it.

FatApple’s Restaurant [East Bay]
1346 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Berkeley
510-526-2260
Map

FatApple’s Restaurant [East Bay]
7525 Fairmount Ave., El Cerrito
510-528-3433
Map

Board Links: FatApples–FRESH blueberry pie, fresh raspberry pie, apricot-ollieberry & the bran muffin

J’s Pots of Soul, with Pumpkin Pancakes

J’s Pots of Soul is, unsurprisingly, a soul food restaurant…and a fine one at that. It’s small, tidy, and covered with posters of Muhammed Ali and Josephine Baker. They serve breakfast and lunch, Tuesday through Sunday. The breakfast menu includes about nine items, and lunch is three: fried chicken wings, meatloaf, and salmon croquettes. There are also specials, like pumpkin pancakes.

An order of chicken wings is four very large wings in good batter–tasty and satisfying, says jaweino. Sweet, cinnamony yams are a delicious side order. There’s also great cornbread, with bits of red bell peppers baked in.

Pumpkin pancakes are awesome…when they have them. An order involves two very large pancakes with two eggs and two slices of perfectly crispy bacon. The pancakes are distinctly pumpkiny, and served with a pitcher of warm syrup and a pitcher of warm clarified butter. Why don’t more places serve it this way? Because they don’t love you. That’s why.

J’s Pots Of Soul [Western Addition]
203 Octavia St., San Francisco
415-861-3230
Map

Board Links: J’s Pots of Soul

Delicate Shark-Fin Dumplings and the Secret $1.79 Menu

S&T Hong Kong Seafood is the new restaurant in the old Tai Wu space. It’s truly new (new owners and everything), not just another name shift. For lunch, there’s dim sum, ordered off a check-off list.

The star of the meal here is boon tong gao ($5), shark-fin dumpling soup. The wrapper of this large dumpling is perfectly thin and fragile, almost gossamer, says Melanie Wong. Inside, there’s chunks of fresh scallop blended with shrimp, grass mushrooms, shreds of dried scallop, black mushroom, and more. And it’s in broth–double-boiled broth, crystal clear, greaseless and light yet intensely flavorful, with briny, savory, and meaty components singing perfect harmony. There’s plenty of this soup, too–enough for a little bowl each for four people. This boon tong gao compares very well to the gold standard version served at the dearly departed Seafood Harbor in Millbrae. This version is a bit deeper and not as ethereal; the dumpling skin is better, and there’s real shark’s fin–a two-inch piece hidden beneath the dumpling.

Beef chow fun comes dry, with no bean sprouts. It’s an excellent dish, with a nice sear on the thin and tender slices of pounded beef. Rice noodles soak up the beefy flavors. Instead of bean sprouts, there are yellow leeks, green onions, and thick slices of charred yellow onion.

The menu includes a $1.79 section, printed impossibly small and in Chinese. It lists very nice salt and pepper calamari–a considerably larger portion than you might expect for the price. The texture of the squid is spot on: tender, with the slightest bit of resistance. It’s tasty, too, with fresh chilies, deep-fried garlic bits, scallions, and a good dose of salt and pepper, which brings out the sweetness of the squid. The batter’s thick, but airy and ungreasy. Sticky rices are good, though the dish of sticky rice inside Chinese bread is a bit bland.

theSauce provides us with a translation of the $1.79 menu:

- Steamed white buns or flower rolls
- Home style green onion pancake
- Red bean cake
- Tofu hua or super sweet silken tofu
- Beef balls with bamboo shoots
- Mala gao or mala steam cake
- Sticky rice roll
- Salt and pepper salmon cheeks
- Salt and pepper calamari
- Chinese chives with chunks of pig blood
- Blanched pigs knuckle or pork (not 100% sure of this one)
- Salt and pepper tofu
- Chow jew style stewed tofu
- Albalone flavored chicken feet

Also, translations of the other untranslated items from the dim sum menu. In the second column, below taro dumplings, in the $2.80 section:

- Pan fried taro cake
- Pan fried seafood eggplant
- Pan fried seafood mushroom
- Pan fried seafood bell pepper
- Shrimp rice rolls
- Shrimp with spinach dumpling
- Shrimp with cilantro dumpling
- Pine nuts with veggies dumpling
- BBQ pork and lapcheung turnip cake
- Shanghai soup dumplings
- Pork and veggies steam dumplings
- Pork tofu skin roll (not sure)
- Spareribs with rice noodle or rice powder steam spareribs
- Shrimp with corn sauce
- Egg yolk thousand layer cake
- Egg yolk mala roll
- Sesame or peanut rice balls

The $4.20 section is hard to translate because “it’s one of those poem translations.” Here’s the best effort:

- Side street flavor rice rolls or chitterlings
- Tofu skin roll with seafood.
- Soy sauce yellow chives chow mein

S & T Hong Kong Seafood [Sunset]
Formerly Tai Wu
2578 Noriega St., at 33rd Ave., San Francisco
415-665-8338
Map

Board Links: $1.79 Calamari and Excellent Boon Tong Gao

Frascati – Neighborhood Action

In an area with lots of little neighborhood joints, Frascati is the choicest. First courses include perfect gazpacho, outstanding charcuterie, wonderful tuna tartar, and duck rillettes and salad with rabbit rillettes. Entrees include duck breast with hazelnut-sweet corn wild rice and morels; pork tenderloin with Italian sausage, and halibut with clams in broth. Every single dish is spot-on, reports rtmonty.

They’re famous for their black and white pudding; it’s one of the best bread puddings in town. Blueberry tarts are equally wonderful.

Frascati [Russian Hill]
1901 Hyde St., at Green, San Francisco
415-928-1406
Map

Board Links: Frastati Report

Bun Comin’ At Cha!

Vietnamese makes for good summer food. One favorite is bun cha. In the US, it’s cool, springy rice vermicelli, with grilled meat and herbs on top and veggies on the side. The traditional version you’ll find in Vietnam serves the charred meat on the side, in a bowl with warm, tangy broth.

You can get the standard US meat-on-top version at Loi’s. “I love Loi’s with a burning passion,” says pane. Their bun cha is excellent–the char on the meat is unbelievable, and the meat itself is quite fresh. If you get there early enough, you may see the owner walking through the restaurant with live chickens.

Hung Ky’s bun cha rocks, says chaddict. It’s the traditional Vietnamese style, with the meat in a separate bowl in lovely broth.

Bodega Bistro makes lovely bun cha with grilled pork and pork sausage pieces in the tangy broth, says david kaplan. Noodles, picked carrots & daikon, and a pile of herbs come on the side, along with lettuce leaves for wrapping. It’s delectable, agrees fino wino. The slightly fatty pork is so tender and the broth is so good, he’d sup it like soup.

Binh Minh Quan also serves the traditional bun cha. And Saigon has a decent version.

Loi’s Vietnamese Restaurant [Sunset]
2228 Irving St., San Francisco
415-661-5936
Map

Hung Ky Restaurant [Tenderloin]
337 Jones St., San Francisco
415-674-8278
Map

Bodega Bistro [Tenderloin]
607 Larkin St., San Francisco
415-921-1218
Map

Binh Minh Quan Restaurant [Chinatown]
338 12th St., Oakland
510-893-8136
Map

Saigon City Restaurant [Peninsula]
418 E 3rd Ave., San Mateo
650-340-8878
Map

Board Links: Authentic Bun Cha in bay area?

Going To The Source: Santi’s Perfect Chorizo

Is there a salumi revolution afoot in the Bay Area? Well, for starters, we’ve got the Fatted Calf, and we have Tavern Santi.

Some of the fancier local high-end places proudly serve Santi’s sausage, but you can skip the middle man and go to the source. Santi has tents at the Windsor farmer’s market on Sundays, and at the Saturday farmer’s market in Healdsburg. You eat some grilled sausages on the spot, or buy takeout for $8 a pound. Melanie Wong’s favorite: fresh linguica, filled with smoky Spanish paprika, wine, tangy sherry vinegar, a bit of sweetness, and the gentle smoke of alderwood. Layered into the heritage pig meat, the flavor is indescribably complex and delicious.

The sausage is made with Duroc pigs–Santi’s Franco Dunn buys whole pigs and splits them with Bruce Aidell, who takes the bellies for bacon.

Tavern Santi [Sonoma County]
21047 Geyserville Ave., Geyserville
707-857-1790
Map

Sunday Windsor Farmer’s Market [Sonoma County]
Windsor Town Green, Windsor
707-433-4595
Map

Healdsburg Saturday Farmers’ Market [Sonoma County]
North and Vine Sts., Healdsburg
707-431-1956
Map

Board Links: Saturday Farmers Market in Healdsburg
Portuguese Linguica by Santi