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What's with all the lining up for hours for miserable, crappy food?

The Garrett popcorn lines are baffling to me. The line at Tokyo Station is consistently longer than any of the Ramen Street lines. For a place that reminds me of O'Hare airport (where they've had a stand for many years and I've never once seen a line).

Sep 22, 2014
jmarek in Japan

Okonomiyaki: SFBA Dish of the Month August 2014

When I had it in Hiroshima, it was very different. No yamaimo (mountain potato), but it had noodles and an egg (almost like a thin omelet) on one side. Really good. Perhaps the Hiroshima-style is spreading, as it was also on the menu (along with the traditional Osaka style) at the two places we had okonomiyaki in Osaka.

I'd love to know if there is any of the Hiroshima style in the Bay Area.

Aug 02, 2014
jmarek in San Francisco Bay Area

Looking for lunch delivery in the Financial District [San Francisco]

We've been getting some really good food from Caviar. They'll even deliver from Shanghai Dumpling King to the Financial District. https://www.trycaviar.com/san-francisco

Value restaurants in Tokyo

Sushi Otaku: FWIW, I make regular business trips from SF to Tokyo, and I am also looking for new places like the OP describes. I'd love to see your list if you don't mind posting it! So maybe one of those who Robb S is describing :)

Jun 26, 2014
jmarek in Japan

Ischia help requested

Bumping an old thread... but in case others have the same basic request. We were in Italy 3.5 weeks in May and one of the best things we ate was the Coniglio all'Ischitana at La Bussola in Forio, Ischia. We had it in 2 courses -- the rabbit sauce with pasta first, bursting with herbs and rabbit flavor. Then the whole rabbit in pieces as the second course. I still dream of that dish -- will have to try to recreate at home.

Jun 20, 2014
jmarek in Italy

Recs for Culinary Tour of Puglia

We were in Puglia last month and had a wonderful time. We didn't take a tour... but here are some ideas for you anyway.

I highly recommend the tour at Masseria Brancati outside of Ostuni. It's an olive oil producer with the oldest trees dating back 3000 years and a fascinating underground production facility that pre-dates the Romans. Great olive oil to taste as well. If you like food and history, it's perfect.

If you go to the Castellana Grotte caves (which are worth seeing), we found an awesome bakery nearby, Panificio Mancini. It looks pretty industrial on the outside but the bread stuffed with anchovy, caramelized onions, and olives was one of the best things I ate in Puglia. The kids loved the stuffed-to-order nutella cornetti.

Eat as much stracciatella and burrata as you can. Finally, make sure you go to Matera -- amazing small city with great food and warm people. The pictures you find don't do justice to how beautiful it is.

Jun 20, 2014
jmarek in Italy

Sfogliatelle/Focaccia at 54 Mint Il Forno, Walnut Creek

Yes, bakery case with counter service and some very casual seating.

Jun 18, 2014
jmarek in San Francisco Bay Area

Ike's at Stanford -- Closed

Yes, I still think about that place 19 years later! In the psych building, next door to Math Corner. Jordan Hall Café. The curries and the chicken soup were cheap and awesome, and as a math major it was so convenient.

Jun 14, 2014
jmarek in San Francisco Bay Area

Sfogliatelle/Focaccia at 54 Mint Il Forno, Walnut Creek

54 Mint Il Forno soft opened in early May. Grand opening is next week, June 19 in the evening. I'm assuming this is related to 54 Mint in SF and totally unrelated to Il Fornaio... but regardless the name is confusing.

This place is a winner.

Got the sfogliatella this morning. We just returned from Naples so seeing these anywhere near home is a joy! It was a very good rendition, with great crunchy thin layers of the pastry and great flavor on the filling. The filling was a touch less tender than the best. I think it had small bits of orange peel but no chunks of candied orange. This would hold its own in Naples, though wouldn't compete with the very best.

The focaccia was very good -- I'd say it was similar to what we had in Puglia.

Tried a sample of ricotta almond cake that was fantastic as well.

They also have a $2 deal on some items after 2pm.

Jun 11, 2014
jmarek in San Francisco Bay Area

Tokyo Sushi Recommendations for a Family?

Others will need to weigh in on the 20k+ yen per person places (so this may not totally answer your question) but:

For a total experience, I think the two classic early morning places (Dai and Daiwa) in Tsukiji are unique. Great for jet lag if you are coming from the states since early morning = afternoon in the US. Yeah, it's touristy and there's a wait. While the quality may not be the very top tier, I think it is quite good. And if you don't live in Japan, the location and vibe of the market and the sushi bars are just so cool. It was unforgettable for our 10 year old son.

It may not be "high-end" enough for you, but I thought Sushi No Midori in Akasaka Sacas was great for our family (me, wife and kids ages 5, 7, and 10). Definitely a lower tier price point but very good and seems well respected by locals. Lots of locals but you'll do fine in English.

Mar 19, 2014
jmarek in Japan

Best Dishes at Low Key Tokyo Station Area Places

Here's my situation: I visit Japan from the US West Coast every 1-2 months for 4-5 days. I usually stay near Tokyo Station and my office is in Shirokane Takanawa. When possible, I try to keep close to U.S. Pacific time to minimize jet lag. So I'll go to sleep at ~7pm local time and wake at 2am. I'll work in the hotel until the city wakes, then go to meetings during the day Japan time.

I'll often have a little free time between 5 and 7pm and want to use that time to eat great Japanese food. I don't usually know in advance (so no reservations) and I just want something low key near my hotel (Tokyo Sta/Otemachi/Marunouchi). I am too tired to wait in lines or have multi-course meals.

Where I've been:
- Ramen Street (I pick any one without a line). Always very good to great ("lunch" at 8am local time at Rokurinsha is great!)
- Kitchen Street: udon and tonkatsu places both pretty good - suspect there are many great dishes lurking here!
- Oazo: liked the soba place and really liked the tempura place. Sushi place was just OK, nothing special
- Yo!!: I really like the tsukemen at Sharin. Went to Birdland which was good but didn't seem good enough to justify the price to me.
- Standing Sushi Bar in Tokyo Station: I like it. Fast, tasty, cheap, super easy

I would love to expand my repertoire of great walk-in type places (any sort of Japanese food), low to moderate price points. Also of specific outstanding dishes at those restaurants. Any ideas?

Feb 28, 2014
jmarek in Japan

January Tokyo trip report

I found the Tokyo, Kanto, Yokohama, and Shizuoka region flavors (which include wasabi and rum raisin) at a store on the lower level of Narita Terminal 1 in mid-December. The level where the ticket booths and fare gates are for the Narita Express and Keisei trains. The store was near the express elevators to the 4th floor.

Jan 30, 2014
jmarek in Japan

January Tokyo trip report

I bought wasabi and rum raisin Kit Kats to bring back to the US, figuring that the first was a joke and the second would be good. Turns out the rum raisin wasn't very good - just tasted greasy to me, like poor quality white chocolate. The wasabi was pretty good, though. It wasn't too sharp, just enough to cut that same mediocre white chocolate mouth feel and add interest. I'd actually recommend it.

Jan 27, 2014
jmarek in Japan

Ottavio in Walnut Creek?

Last went last fall and it was still very good. The chef-owner gave us tastes of the "fish charcuterie" (or something like that) which were fantastic - highly recommended. The smoked duck sugo and octopus salad were still great.

I wouldn't recommend the panna cotta nearly as much anymore. It used to be made in individual molds and now is made in larger quantities, which require more gelatin to set. Still good flavor but the best-I've-ever-had texture was gone.

Mar 21, 2013
jmarek in San Francisco Bay Area

Thai in the East Bay: Soi 4 in Rockridge

We have great roti canai in the south of Thailand, near the Malaysian border. Lots of Malay/Muslim influence down there and it was served in all the Muslim restaurants, despite the fact that I believe it is originally Tamil dish...

Aug 09, 2012
jmarek in San Francisco Bay Area

Outdoor dining in Walnut Creek/Concord?

Another option is to BART to Lafayette. Weather is about the same as Walnut Creek. You can easily walk to Chow and eat outdoors. Food is good (not great but good), casual atmosphere, sit down. Sounds like the type of place you want.

It's a longer walk to Artisan Bistro - less casual but the food is fantastic. Or rather, the food is less casual, though you can easily show up in shorts and the outdoor seating feels casual. Metro is another option in that vein, but I think it is a bit overated.

May 12, 2012
jmarek in San Francisco Bay Area

Three Three Five, Green Bay, WI - fantastic!

I'm a San Francisco Bay Area hound who visited Green Bay, WI last Wednesday. My born-in-Naples-Italy food-obsessed colleague and I asked at the hotel "where should we go?" and were directed downtown to Hinterland or Chefusion. We figured we would check them both out and pick our favorite menu/atmosphere, but when we got downtown we stumbled onto something much better: Three Three Five.

Apparently, the restaurant is only open Wednesday night. Other nights, the space is used for events or the chef does private catering. The space revolves around the kitchen -- not just an open kitchen but a kitchen that centers the space. A long poured concrete counter gives a chef's table feel. Good start.

The food was excellent: modern, elegant, delicious, and not at all pretentuous. The chef (who came and talked with us -- he's a super nice guy!) has a knack for flavors. Some of our dishes, from memory:

- Beef tartare: great flavor, well seasoned, perfect texture because of the knivework - exactly what tartare should be
- Truffled grilled cheese with tomato jam - classic combo down well, good balance of sweet and earthy
- Chicken liver pate - again, classic flavors done perfectly
- Tiger shrimp with peas, tortellini, and mint - great Spring combo, best dish of the night, one of the three best pasta dishes I've had in the past couple years
- Pork belly with black rice and pineapple - another good flavor combo, but a tiny bit overseasoned for my taste. Still great
- Sticky date "coffee cake" - awesome dessert, not too sweet but great date flavors
- Rosemary panna cotta with candied pine nuts - would have been fantastic but the texture of the panna cotta was off (too much gelatin). The flavor idea was brilliant, though, and shows the chef's skill. The rosemary was subtle - you get the fragrance but don't quite taste it, which is exactly what you want. The candied pine nuts were a revelation (I'm stealing the idea for home!). Exactly the right level of sweetness. With some work on the texture, this would be a perfect dessert.

Service was a bit slow but fine -- what you'd expect from a place that isn't a restaurant every night.

Apr 22, 2012
jmarek in Great Lakes

DJ's Bistro in Concord

The deli area is great, Melanie. I think it's better than Delikateski, which makes me sad because I'm Polish but I'm selling out to the Russians ;) ... oh well, at least the Polish folks at Chopin are still doing good work.

Apr 22, 2012
jmarek in San Francisco Bay Area

Chez Panisse 2012

I think we had the same type of shrimp, flash fried, at Central Market in Petaluma. They were unbelievable!

Apr 22, 2012
jmarek in San Francisco Bay Area

Best Bone Marrow Dishes?

RN74 has a fantastic stack of long marrow bones cut lengthwise. Completely hedonistic and delicious.

Apr 09, 2012
jmarek in San Francisco Bay Area

Fresh pierogi?

Interesting. About a month ago, they had told me at Delikateski that the bagged one were just bulk versions of the mass-produced packaged ones they have (forgot the manufacturer but it is one I don't like). Did I misunderstand?

Agree that the ones at Chopin in Walnut Creek are very good. They said there is a Polish grandma who makes them for the restaurant, as it should be. The best take-home equivalent I've had are at Babushka, the russian place in Walnut Creek, where their made-in-house potato vereniki are a very good approximation of pirogi ruskie. The cherry ones are phenomenal as well. But no sauerkraut/mushroom, which to me are the very best.

Mar 24, 2012
jmarek in San Francisco Bay Area

SF Trip with Three Children - Looking for Thoughts on my Itinerary

Have three boys ourselves who love going into the City. Two sightseeing tips: take the cable car from the base of California St (near the Ferry Bldg) up the hill, which lets you avoid long lines on the Powell & Hyde turnarounds and stop at the Cable Car Museum. Also make sure you find the fortune cookie factory in Chinatown.

For food, on Tuesday, you might try Shanghai Dumpling King just north of GGP. It's a little way from the museums, but prob closer than Haight (?) and you can see the bison nearby. It's a hole in the wall - which is a SF-y experience in its own way. May not want to do this if you go to Yank Sing the day before.

826 Valencia is very cool place - your boys will love it. I agree that you might want a closer restaurant. There are many walkable places and I wouldn't worry about the kids' safety. I'd go to Mission Dolores too, and eat somewhere within a block of that rectangle.

Mar 04, 2012
jmarek in San Francisco Bay Area

Restaurant ideas in Hayes Valley

We were unimpressed. I really wanted to like it, since it would be a great pre-Opera spot, but many dishes were undersalted or just bland. I haven't been to many of the often discussed Bay Area izakayas, but I can tell you that Ippuku in Berkeley is orders of magnitude better.

Mar 04, 2012
jmarek in San Francisco Bay Area

Commis [Oakland]: Make the Trip Over the Bridge!

Yes, I thought this was the best dish of the night a couple weeks ago. I think it had avocado beneath the prawns as well. The floral notes from the chrysanthemums and the quality of the shrimp... amazing.

We also loved the apple sponge dessert, which was unlike anything I've ever had. Apparently, they bake a cake and make apple cider in house, then blend the two with a bit of gelatin, aerate it with a whipped cream maker (or whatever the right word is), and then flash freeze it. It then melts in your mouth -- not quite a cake and not quite a semi-freddo, with intense apple flavor. Complimented by charred puffed rice, winter spices, and ice cream.

Feb 29, 2012
jmarek in San Francisco Bay Area

marrow bones - price and defrosting?

Love the ones at RN74

Feb 29, 2012
jmarek in San Francisco Bay Area

Foie Gras countdown...

Perhaps he means F not C!

Jan 06, 2012
jmarek in San Francisco Bay Area

Has anyone tried these "Best Italian Restaurants" in SF & the East Bay?

Ottavio is great. Much, much better than Prima, in my opinion. See post on the smoked duck sugo, one of my favorite pasta dishes ever:

Dec 15, 2011
jmarek in San Francisco Bay Area

Smoked Duck Sugo at Ottavio, Walnut Creek

Another great meal at Ottavio this weekend. The highlight was a ricotta gnocchi with smoked duck sugo that may be the best thing I've eaten this year. The star was the meaty sauce, a massive amount of smoked duck leg melting into a rich tomato cream sauce. The pasta looked like potato gnocchi but had a softness and light tang from the cheese. It was a great foil for the ducky perfection. We love the homemade bigoli with pork cheek sugo as well (how can you go wrong with pork cheeks?), but the duck sugo was on another level.

1606 N Main St, Walnut Creek, CA 94596

Nov 20, 2011
jmarek in San Francisco Bay Area

Any Hidden Gems in LaMorinda?

Hanazen is great. Stick with the true homey Japanese dishes, not American-style sushi rolls and teriyaki. The stuff on the white board is consistently good, both the more interesting seasonal sushi and the prepared dishes. This is another one of those great places where the chef makes everything from scratch (e.g., his own miso), to his own specifications.

Also, Coco who runs front of the house is a sake sommelier (descended from a line of sake sommeliers back in Japan). She imports seasonal sake to go with the food. Her monthly sake dinners are to die for.

87 Orinda Way, Orinda, CA 94563

Nov 14, 2011
jmarek in San Francisco Bay Area

Any Hidden Gems in LaMorinda?

I'm eating pelmeni from Babushka right now. They are good but the vereniki are even better. We had the potato vereniki over the weekend and they were the best local substitute I've found for peirogi (I'm Polish, so that's my standard). Even better that that are the sour cherry vereniki. Believe all are made in house. We also got a Polish wedding sausage there which was quite tasty.

On Lily's House, our latest find there is the tea-smoked duck, which they make in house. I loved it. Warning, you do have to like salt (I do). The Shanghai rice cakes, smoked fish appetizer, and sweet rice wine soup (dessert) are also great. Agree that the XLB and lion head meatball are better elsewhere -- though of course they are the best and probably only in Lafayette :)

Chopin is great, though I haven't been in awhile.

Fresh corn tortillas at the tortilleria (el molino?) on Monument Blvd are also worthwhile.

Lily's House
3555 Mt Diablo Blvd, Lafayette, CA 94549

Nov 09, 2011
jmarek in San Francisco Bay Area