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First visit to San Francisco and dont know where to begin??????

Bring warm clothing -- it can be quite chilly in SF in August.
Will you have a car? If not, some restaurant recommendations from this board might involve long rides on public transport.
Be sure to take the cable car at least once -- especially the one that goes down Hyde Street all the way to Fisherman's Wharf -- and sit or stand on the outside of the car.

Jun 27, 2014
Joel in San Francisco Bay Area

Blenheim's at Monterey Market [Berkeley]

The Bowl is selling a new variety called Madeline which is very good -- get the ones that have spots on them, and let them ripen up a bit. Almost as good as Blenheims.

Jun 22, 2014
Joel in San Francisco Bay Area

Dragon Gate - New Taiwanese Food Venue in Oakland

Four of us had a very nice dinner here on Solstice Saturday. We arrived at 6 PM and were the only patrons, and they acceded to our request to turn the TV volume down (college baseball World Series!?!). By the time we left there were other tables occupied.
Service was very good. There were several waitresses. We brought in wine ($10 corkage) and our waitress suggested we order the assorted cold plate because it would go well with the wine. The cold plate had slices of five-spice tofu, pork tongue, anise beef, and jellied pig ear, all very good. There were mugs on the table but no tea was provided.
We had the stir-fried basil eggplant and the "three-cup" calamari. Both were fragrant and tasty, with lots of basil, though not much sauce.
The "idiot noodles" had a number of items, including basil, ground pork and cubes of crispy pork belly, but again no sauce, so not anything like dan dan mein.
We ordered two items from the very extensive skewer list: lamb kidney and pork cheeks. Both were perfectly cooked, but rather expensive: $4 and $5 for two skewers, each with four small pieces of meat.
We ordered the grilled "salt and pepper smelt" which was disappointing. Five fish (sauries) each impaled on a wooden skewer, rather dry. Fortunately there was a lemon wedge which helped.
Our general impression was that the cook was doing a very good job. The food was very flavorful -- I love basil and garlic -- but not overly spicy/hot except for one skewer that I ordered "spicy." Also no bowl of chili sauce on the tables.
The bill was about $75, including two bowls of rice and one corkage fee, no leftovers. That's rather expensive for a place in Chinatown but this was a cut above. Also it's not quite in Chinatown.

Jun 22, 2014
Joel in San Francisco Bay Area

Shandong House rebrands itself as Xi'an Gourmet [San Francisco]

I finally tried this place for a very early Thursday dinner -- only one other diner came in, but I had left by 5:30.
I had two dishes from the House Specials:

#7: "Black Coat Stomach, Intestines Soup" ($9.95). The "coat" is evidently meant to be "Goat" though I was told it was lamb -- and indeed it was lamb, not goat. I was also warned that there were no noodles but in fact there was a generous amount of mung bean noodles. There were many slices of very tender (and very fatty) lamb, and some chewy strips of lamb tripe (stomach) but, sadly, no intestine. Instead there was a lot of thin slices of liver, overcooked, and some delicious slices of kidney. The broth was very rich, slightly spicy, and got more intense as I ate it. I would not order this again because of the overcooked liver.

#6: Steamed Cold Noodle with Sesame Sauce ($5.25). I thought this was not as flavorful as the same dish I had at TerraCotta Warrior. There was something lacking, though the texture was fine. I took the leftovers home, and then I realized it just needed salt! Odd that I didn't think to put salt on it at the restaurant.

They had a selection of cold dishes in a display case at the back, some of which are on the menu, but it is always fun to ogle the options. I was told "three items, two vegetable, one meat, for $6.99."

Link to my experience at TC Warrior:

Jun 13, 2014
Joel in San Francisco Bay Area

Dragon Gate - New Taiwanese Food Venue in Oakland

I took a very long walk to get here today -- but the kitchen was closed for remodeling. They hope to open tomorrow (June 11).

Jun 10, 2014
Joel in San Francisco Bay Area

Cotton Candy Grapes

I tried them last year when they first appeared at the Bowl.
First grape was interesting.
Subsequent grapes became cloying and disgusting.

By the way I tried a few different varieties of California grapes today, and they were not sweet enough. It's too early in the season.

Jun 09, 2014
Joel in General Topics

Los Cilantros in Berkeley

I stopped in today and talked to the owner (a very nice woman named Dilsa). She confirmed that the $9 price on the website is for THREE tacos.

A new offering is barbacoa, for which she is charging $14. When I said that sounded expensive, she said it comes with five tortillas and was enough for five tacos. She was kind enough to make me one barbacoa taco, which was delicious -- I could not eat much more today.
The barbacoa is made with beef, but she will soon make a goat version as well. She'll have the barbacoa all the time, not just on weekends.

Open until 2:30PM on weekends.

Jun 01, 2014
Joel in San Francisco Bay Area

East Bay BBQ

Smokey J has reinstated "burnt ends" but only on Mondays.

May 30, 2014
Joel in San Francisco Bay Area

Dumpling Express - Berkeley

I poked my nose in a few days ago. No seating -- standup bar only, and it was a hot day and very hot inside. It was fairly busy.

May 30, 2014
Joel in San Francisco Bay Area

Los Cilantros in Berkeley

I saw that price on the website as well, but I can assure you that I paid just $3 for a taco with a generous supply of perfectly cooked beef. Also $3 for a rather small tamale.

May 23, 2014
Joel in San Francisco Bay Area

Los Cilantros in Berkeley

Only open from 8AM to 2 PM -- they may open for dinner at some time in the future.
I had a delicious carne asada taco, piled high with meat, with a tasty green salsa, a great deal for the price.
The chicken tamale was somewhat disappointing -- the chicken was dry.
Each dish was $3.

May 23, 2014
Joel in San Francisco Bay Area

New Xi'an/Shaanxi restaurant Terra Cotta Warrior on Judah St. [San Francisco]

Thanks for the recommendation, Mr. Soup.
I went for lunch on the hottest day of the year, arriving at 11AM on Wednesday -- fortunately I got good parking on a side street. When I left the place at noon there were a few other customers.
I ordered three dishes and took some home:
Garlic pig ears ($3.95): at first I was dismayed by the low ratio of ear to vegetation, but the crunchy cucumber and radish was a good foil for the gelatinous ears. An excellent refreshing dish for a hot day. Highly recommended.
Shaanxi Mian-pi with sesame sauce ($4.25). Very unusual texture and flavor to the noodles themselves -- I loved it, but a few hours later they became gummy. So not suitable for take-home. Thanks to the information provided in this thread, I dug deep for the sauce which was excellent and spicy enough for me -- there was a pot of hot sauce on the table which I did not need. Nice to have another cold dish on a hot day -- though the restaurant was cool inside.
Cumin Lamb Burger ($4.50): Nice crunchy bread, tasty juicy lamb, some green peppers that were not very spicy. This dish did hold up for leftovers several hours later.
A fun experience. I spoke with the owner about a liquor license; they have applied but after three months still do not have it. He said that "five years ago it only took one month to get a liquor license in SF" so maybe he had experience in another restautrant; he blamed the city for the delay but I think the state controls licenses. There have been other places that have had delays in licenses recently. Highly suspicious!

May 15, 2014
Joel in San Francisco Bay Area

2014 regional Chinese roundup

Mandarin Garden in Berkeley has many Sichuan dishes.
Their new menu emphasizes these dishes, although they still offer "double skin" and Peking Duck in the style of Great China -- I suspect they have had a turnover of chefs. The new owners are from Beijing but they are not doing the cooking. .

May 10, 2014
Joel in San Francisco Bay Area

Grilled Lamb Skewers / Kabobs (Chinese Islamic / Muslim) in East Bay?

Toothpick lamb at Chengdu in Berkeley -- mini-skewers.

May 01, 2014
Joel in San Francisco Bay Area

Great China (Berkeley) still great

I went today for the first time since they re-opened. I got there at 11:22 and they open for lunch at 11:30. There were still lots of seats available at 12:15 when I finished.
In short: disappointing.
I ordered the lunch special (I know, hard to get a good judgement of a place this way). But I ordered one that was marked "house special" Shredded Pork with Hot Garlic Sauce $8.49.
Soup came first, Hot and Sour Soup, excellent (no meat). Perfect balance of flavor. The main dish was too sweet, too gloppy, not spicy, not much garlic. There was a nice bowl of micro-green salad. The egg roll was doughy and I could not eat it. Serving size was fine, service was very good -- lots of servers and busboys.

Apr 07, 2014
Joel in San Francisco Bay Area

Ong/Ung Choy or Gai Lan on the Menu?

Had superb ong choy in garlic sauce at Mandarin Garden (Berkeley) last Saturday. Very tender and tiny pieces. Best I've ever had. It is usually a summer green, but maybe global warming has changed that.

Also very good asparagus in black bean sauce at Ancient Szechuan (El Cerrito) last week; the sauce was very delicate, asparagus tender and crunchy.

Mar 31, 2014
Joel in San Francisco Bay Area

Lime shortage, who knew?

Many years ago I planted a Bearss lime tree in my backyard (SF Bay Area). It produces hundreds of limes every year. Now (March) the big season is ending; I got six limes yesterday. When ripe they are yellow. They are juicy, seedless, and thin-skinned. This year, despite the drought, we got a huge crop. There are still at least a hundred limes on the tree and if previous years are any guide we will get at least one lime a day year-round. As an additional bonus the limes drop to the ground when they are ripe.
Others in this area have had similar success with this variety.

Mar 29, 2014
Joel in General Topics

best cheap eats in the Berkeley / Oakland area

Big Dish
339 9th St
Oakland, CA 94607
b/t Harrison St & Webster St in Oakland Chinatown
Phone number (510) 839-3188
I've never tried this -- thanks for the tip.

Also, 8th Street Cafe
337 8th St
Oakland, CA 94607
b/t Webster St & Harrison St in Oakland Chinatown

I've been here several times for the extremely cheap 3PM to 6PM specials.
Now you are getting the cheapest food, with questionable service and scary sanitary issues.
I like it, my wife is appalled.

Mar 22, 2014
Joel in San Francisco Bay Area

BBQ Hut at 6400 Shattuck. [Oakland]

The item I received ("rib sandwich") consisted of three pieces, each about 5 inches long and 1.5 inches wide. They were very meaty.

Mar 19, 2014
Joel in San Francisco Bay Area

BBQ Hut at 6400 Shattuck. [Oakland]

DISCLAIMER: I am not a connoisseur of BBQ; I eat it only a few times a year. But this was very pleasing.
I got the rib "sandwich" minus the bread, with a side of greens, for $10.75.

The ribs were tender and meaty. I tried both the "mild" and "hot" sauces; I preferred the "hot". The greens were flavorful but the juice was very salty.

It's a short distance from my house, and a huge improvement over the seedy liquor store that preceded it in this location (corner of Shattuck and Alcatraz). The young staff were cheerful and efficient -- quite a change from the people at Flint's (a few blocks away, closed now).

They had a sign up "no Brisket today" but it looked like the sign might have been there a while. I guess you could call to check: (510) 285-6628
Closed Mondays.

Mar 18, 2014
Joel in San Francisco Bay Area

Citrus bulletin

I'm a big fan of Mineola tangelos at this time of year; earlier in the season they are rather tart. B Bowl has them for $0.99 per pound -- several different kinds at this price, including organic. They have good acidity and lots of flavor.
As I recall the Sumo's do not come down in price as the season progresses. I find them too low in acid, but that's a selling point for some people.
Also Star Ruby grapefruit from Texas are at their peak.

Mar 18, 2014
Joel in San Francisco Bay Area

Cheapo SF Rice Plates

Is there any such place nowadays, where you can sit at the counter and observe the wok-meister cooking behind the counter? When he was done cooking he just turned around and gave you the plate.
I recall this happening at Little Joe's on Columbus and also when they moved to Broadway.

Mar 13, 2014
Joel in San Francisco Bay Area

Cheapo SF Rice Plates

Oh yes...
Economy Cafe on the corner of Franklin and 8th Street.
Shrimp with "Lobster Sauce" was my late afternoon lunch, prepared on the spot. About forty years ago. Brings back great memories.
It is now "China Star Express" but I've never been in.
There are many "steam table" places, Chinese or Vietnam style.

Mar 08, 2014
Joel in San Francisco Bay Area

Best price for Parmigiano-Reggiano?

Whole Foods has a sale this week -- $14.99 per pound.
March 5 - 11th (the year is now 2014).

Mar 07, 2014
Joel in San Francisco Bay Area

Grocery Outlet -- March 2014

Cascadian "O" dry cereal 99 cents a box.
Newmans Peanut Butter cups (six-pack) 49 cents.

Mar 03, 2014
Joel in San Francisco Bay Area

Any chance of a range hood in this kitchen?

We installed a hood by Best (Italian company) about 19 years ago. It is a pull-out "hood" (pulls out above the stove) and vents out the side of the house -- a few feet above the level of the hood. Works pretty well. I did not want a permanent hood because I am tall and tend to bang my head on a regular hood.
But we do not do much frying or stove-top grilling. It does a good job of exhausting steam.

Feb 23, 2014
Joel in Cookware

Trattoria Siciliana [Berkeley]

We had a very nice meal here. I first ate here about ten years ago and was very pleased, but since then, every time I passed by at dinnertime, there was a large crowd of people waiting outside. So I never returned. Last Friday at dinnertime there were tables open! So the three of us went in. They were doing a very good business -- almost full. During our dinner I saw a few people waiting outside.

Short story: good food, good service, very noisy upstairs, cash only, huge menu.

We ordered mostly off the "February Specials" menu (not on line) which had about 25 items. We ordered starters from the "specials" menu: fried smelt ($9); perfectly fried, piping hot (the servers scamper up and down the stairs), accompanied by a tangy aioli. We also had butternut squash agrodolce (sweet and sour), a cold dish, very tasty, and a cheese-stuffed Portobello mushroom that was very rich.

For mains we had seafood risotto, bucatini with sardines (from the main menu) and the ragu special. All very good; my two companions could only finish half their mains and we skipped dessert.

The bread is accompanied by an amazing dipping sauce of oil, chopped raw garlic, parsley, hot pepper and coarse salt. I put the remains of it on my ragu which was a bit subdued.

Corkage is $15. They have a huge wine list but I did not look at it.

I am a cheapskate, so for me it was a splurge. But others might find the prices reasonable. Portions are generous. Mains on the regular menu are about $15, on the special menu $16-$18.


2993 College Ave, Berkeley, CA 94705
(510) 704-1474

Feb 23, 2014
Joel in San Francisco Bay Area

Dried mushrooms? What's the point?

When I reconstitute dried porcini, I save the water -- but then carefully decant it before adding it to a sauce. The 'shrooms have sand or some other grit in them, which sinks to the bottom of the water. For that reason I also rinse them after removing them from the water. As I understand it, other mushrooms are not grown in soil, rather in compost (or on logs) so grit might not be an issue.
My local store sells dry porcini for about $70 per pound and porcini powder for about $60. I've never tried the powder.

Often times dried items will taste quite different from fresh -- think grapes versus raisins.

Feb 12, 2014
Joel in General Topics

Hachiya persimmons?

Last month the Bowl was selling hoshigake (dried Hachiya persimmons), a traditional Japanese New Year item -- they might still have them. They were also selling Fuyu persimmons from someplace in the Southern hemisphere -- I don't recall where.

Feb 10, 2014
Joel in San Francisco Bay Area

Brown Rice

Be sure you store your raw rice properly. Brown rice will get rancid quickly.
We keep ours in the freezer. It will even go rancid in the refrigerator. Of course keep it away from light and air.

Feb 10, 2014
Joel in General Topics