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Sichuan Chowdown Report at Chef Ma, San Jose (with PICS)

Thanks for documenting, HHC! I'm just a little late here in responding, but this way time has filtered memories down to the standouts for me.

The sliced beef and pork were both tasty but neither was particularly exciting. A nice part of a well-rounded meal.

The shredded potato was excellent--memorably simple yet flavorful, with expert knifework and cooking time to achieve a really wonderful texture to the gently cooked potato shreds and peppers. Will order this every time I return.

Mapo tofu--good or great, this dish is much easier to find around the bay area so it wasn't as exciting as it could have been, but it was a good rendition and like Peter said, the only one I remember as notably mapo spicy.

Sichuan noodle/dan dan mien were great--I have trouble finding good renditions of this and I liked it quite a bit.

I loved the cumin pork ribs--nicely fried and the cumin-anchored flavor palette was complexly tasty. Wish we'd had less food so I could appreciate their richness more.

The fern & shred pork dish was lovely--it had several interesting dried forest products in it and is definitely one of those dishes you only find in the most authentic Chinese restaurants. Nice range of textures, gentle flavors, and a light touch to it that was a nice contrast to the richer or more flavorful dishes on the table.

Jul 10, 2013
SteveG in San Francisco Bay Area

Schmidt's: Bad service. Ok food. [San Francisco]

There's a large communal table at Schmidt's which they reserve for large groups with reservations. Lines got badly crossed on one end or the other, but in my experience with Schmidt's arranging a similar party, they were 100% professional. I called them once or twice to update the group size from 10 to 12 (response, "no problem, once you're at the communal table you can go up to 14 without any trouble"), and then they called me to confirm the reservation and that I understood their policies.

Apr 03, 2013
SteveG in San Francisco Bay Area

Schmidt's: Bad service. Ok food. [San Francisco]

The OP hasn't said if he was the one who made the reservation. I don't think they had a reservation. If they did, they would have been seated at the communal table, which seats 14. The fact that they were juggled about on smaller tables suggests the restaurant had no notice of their size, or they would not have seated other parties at the large table. Perhaps the person who answered the phone said if they didn't mind being seated in smaller groups they could order a la carte. If there was really a reservation for 10 people on the books, multiple staff members had to have screwed up to explain the seating issue, not just the person who answered the phone. If they made a reservation for 6 and then expanded it to 10 and expected to have a good experience, that really isn't fair.

In any case, we chowhounds know that ordering the right items, or asking the right way, can work wonders in a restaurant. Working within the constraints of a restaurant to get what you want is always going to be more successful than demanding something they don't have the facilities to do, that they have policies against doing, and that they don't want to do.

Apr 03, 2013
SteveG in San Francisco Bay Area

Schmidt's: Bad service. Ok food. [San Francisco]

I have to say I think this is quite unfair of you. The restaurant's web site says family style is required for parties of 8 or more. Making the reservation gets you the nice big communal table. The price is only $25 per person including dessert, which with 2 beers per person is about exactly what your total came to if your 18% tip was $80.

I went to Schmidt's for my birthday a few years ago, and they handled our group beautifully with the family style menu. They took good care of the vegetarians, giving them special orders of things like the pea pancakes without the smoked salmon. Large platters of fresh salads, sausages, and other tasty foods abounded.

Their kitchen and staffing is simply too small to handle large groups with custom orders. But for our group, following the rules, we got prompt and friendly service, with good food.

Mar 23, 2013
SteveG in San Francisco Bay Area

Homemade Ice Cream Troubleshooting

My version of How to Cook Everything has a major technique editing error in the vanilla ice cream recipe. I do NOT recommend the original poster use that as a resource. I've generally found How to Cook Everything is much better for savory food than sweet--for another example, good old lemon meringue has 3 x more corn starch than it should. Yuck.

Jul 25, 2012
SteveG in Home Cooking

Saison switches to prepaid ticket system

@Dustin, the particular restaurant in this case, Incanto, seems to have very low front of house staff turnover in the years I have gone there. The truth is, on a higher end meal, waiters will still make great money with a 15% tip. And they may have a much less stressful job as a result of everybody there working together without as much pay disparity friction. I know if I were a chef making half what a waiter made, I'd be less cooperative and friendly with the waiters. And they surely retain more bussers and dishwashers than the average place, who become useful pinch-hitting employees who know how to do everything if somebody is sick.

Apr 12, 2012
SteveG in San Francisco Bay Area

Saison switches to prepaid ticket system

That doesn't address the opportunity cost of not being able to pay the rent that is attributable to that specific table, and the other ongoing restaurant costs. They staff the restaurant to prepare the food--it's not like a chef gets to take 1/20th of the night off if 1 out of 20 tables cancels.

Apr 12, 2012
SteveG in San Francisco Bay Area

Help I have GIANT steaks!

Never thought to apply this to "sticky" items like meat! Some Mexican friends once made a quick little fire out of sticks, which quickly burned down to small coals. Then they put tortillas directly on the coals after smoothing them out, and made quesadillas. Very little, if any, ash gets on them. Ash from clean wood is harmless anyway--and some cheeses now have a layer of "vegetable" ash for flavor in the middle.

Apr 12, 2012
SteveG in Home Cooking

Sophisticated no-refrigeration potluck/barbecue dessert ideas please

I think that would be delicious. Like Blondie Bars (basically a brownie in texture, but no chocolate and with a swirl of butterscotch), cook the rhubarb strawberry into a sweet syrup and swirl it into the blondie batter. Would slice easily so people can eat them out of hand.

Apr 12, 2012
SteveG in Home Cooking

Foie Gras countdown...

Grade A foie is less livery and more fatty (buttery). Grade A doesn't really stand up to searing--it just melts. Grade A is best suited to torchon treatment, where all the sinewy bits are removed (which mangles it enough it is hard to sear), it is soaked, and then prepped into a very smooth luscious torchon if you are lucky. Grade B has a lower fat content and doesn't work as well for torchons.

Apr 03, 2012
SteveG in San Francisco Bay Area

Enough for a year, help me fine tune it to a two-week trip!

Why is Goumard on your list? When I went, admittedly years ago, 6 oysters cost over 30 euro, they were poorly shucked (somewhat dry, lots of shell and sand), and the service was below average.

Mar 29, 2012
SteveG in France

New assembly bill could wipe out food trucks (in California)

Here's a map for San Francisco which shows both the exclusion zones (red) and operating trucks according to the SFPD.

http://h.sfgeo.org/sb1678/_design/bur...

If the intent is to keep kids from eating junk off campus, the bill did not need to include preschools, elementary schools, and middle schools, none of which typically allow their students off campus.

Mar 29, 2012
SteveG in Food Media & News

Looking for vinegar at good prices

Rainbow Grocery carries a Turkish mulberry vinegar that is somewhat thick like a moderately aged balsamic, but not as expensive as the comparable balsamic. It isn't beautifully complex like the real thing, but I like it for the moderate price and clear fruity flavor.

Jan 16, 2012
SteveG in San Francisco Bay Area

Bar Agricole

Last Friday? We dropped in for a quick snack and drink before a show. They offered space at a communal table downstairs, with the caveat that we had to be cleared out by 8:15 for a group's reservation--fine by us since our show was at 8. They were clear, we were clear. We quickly ordered 2 appetizers, and were ready with drink orders shortly after when our waiter returned.

All was tasty, they accommodated our cramped schedule and in exchange they got some quick business and made a good impression on us. Too bad your experience was different.

Jan 16, 2012
SteveG in San Francisco Bay Area

Pearl onion sightings?

Thanks, but TJ does not have pearl onions now. I asked in the produce department, and they only carry them for the holidays. I finally found them at Safeway last night, not sure if they stock them all year but at least they are available right now.

Jan 10, 2012
SteveG in San Francisco Bay Area

Pearl onion sightings?

Thanks for the info, all. Definitely not available at Rainbow Grocery and from local sources, but I guess they are still around.

Jan 09, 2012
SteveG in San Francisco Bay Area

Pearl onion sightings?

I see these all over before the holidays and especially Thanksgiving. Has anyone seen any in the last week ?

Jan 05, 2012
SteveG in San Francisco Bay Area

Foie Gras countdown...

Fresh? Canned terrine? Cold-packed terrine/mousse/pate?

Jan 05, 2012
SteveG in San Francisco Bay Area

Foie Gras countdown...

Truth. It was the only good part of an otherwise horribly off the mark meal at La Folie where we had the full tasting menu. I know others have had much better experiences, but if they made good foie gras on the night we went, they should make great foie gras on any other night too.

Jan 05, 2012
SteveG in San Francisco Bay Area

foie gras retail in San Francisco

Just looked that up--looks like they opened in November and are at 141 Gough St x Oak, with a cold cheese room in the back!

Dec 24, 2011
SteveG in San Francisco Bay Area

foie gras retail in San Francisco

Yes, there should be old threads that mention Golden Gate Meats. They were happy to split a lobe of grade A in half for me a couple years ago and just sell me half. They have enough demand this time of year that they can do that. And for the original poster: if you're making torchon (poached or water bath cooked), then grade A is good, if you are searing, grade A might just melt away and you'd be better off with grade B.

Dec 24, 2011
SteveG in San Francisco Bay Area

Where do I find cake flour in (western) San Francisco?

If you're willing to sit on hold, Andronico's would probably check stock for you over the phone. I noticed recently that Safeway is almost all prepared food in packets, with only a few sparse aisles of ingredients for cooking from scratch.

Dec 24, 2011
SteveG in San Francisco Bay Area

Shad fish - where can I buy?

To be clear, I think the shad roe they carry is from the east coast, but I don't know for sure. They're pretty good about answering questions on that type of thing though.

The butcher counter is a semi or fully independent business inside Calmart. It's Called Antonelli's Meat Fish & Poultry - (415) 752-7413

Dec 01, 2011
SteveG in San Francisco Bay Area

Dim Sum and XLB recommendations

Stopped in the other weekend for a late lunch around 3, and had an order of the crab and pork XLB from the specials paper on the wall, helpfully translated into English.

They were fantastic. Probably my best XLB experience yet, wrappers were thin, delicate, but firm and only 1 or 2 popped. Filling was extremely flavorful, with plenty of soup. Only complaint was that the ginger for the vinegar dipping sauce was not cut in nice long thin threads but in short hunks.

Nov 30, 2011
SteveG in San Francisco Bay Area

Shad fish - where can I buy?

I have bought Shad roe from the butcher counter inside Calmart in Laurel Village in San Francisco. I was just in, and I asked them when the season was--they just knew it ended quite a few months ago, so the May time frame is probably about right.

They are pretty willing to order things for you, so I bet they would order Shad when it is in season. Prices might be more than you expect, but it's cheaper than a trip to India...

Nov 30, 2011
SteveG in San Francisco Bay Area

2011 - Let's talk turkey

For future reference, Mollie Stones markets carry Willie Bird. I think they all do, based on my own experience purchasing from the California/Filmore store, and a friend's experience purchasing from the new Castro location.

There is a lot of price variation on WIllie Bird, and I assume all turkeys. AG Ferrari and Williams Sonoma sell Willie Bird at about twice the price Mollie Stone charges. Two years ago, the Mollie price was under $3 a pound for the natural, so they are probably competitive with Drewe's $3.09 / pound quoted this year.

Nov 30, 2011
SteveG in San Francisco Bay Area

Una Pizza Napoletana, SF report w/ pics

Well said. In Napoli, hot chili oil was a normal condiment on the tables. At Una Pizza Napoletana, they do not offer it, and they are not shy about telling customers who request it that it is not available. Nothing to do with tradition and everything to do with how Mangieri thinks it should be. The crust was interesting, and seemed intentional, but it wasn't strictly Neapolitan.

Nov 15, 2011
SteveG in San Francisco Bay Area

Wo Hing General Store (SF Mission) report

Mission Chinese, hipster favorite, is if anything over-seasoned.

Nov 09, 2011
SteveG in San Francisco Bay Area

Bar Tartine, Nick Balla era [San Francisco]

No, Soba is a noodle, which is made in a particular style. Zaru Soba is primarily made from buckwheat, but regular old Soba is primarily regular wheat. It's a Japanese word for the result of a preparation, not an ingredient.

Nov 09, 2011
SteveG in San Francisco Bay Area

Best sommelier in the Bay Area 2011

NoPa's list is indeed good, with lots of interesting wine, but I have a lot of trouble communicating with the servers and getting good recommendations about it. I think the training aspect there is a little off.

Nov 08, 2011
SteveG in San Francisco Bay Area