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What worked and didn't work about Chowhound

Make mobile a focus and not an afterthought. Unlike the original design for Chowhound, more (most?) users are finding info they want on the go, often on a hand-held device. I think Chowhound lost significant ground (and potential users) to sites like Yelp that just made it easy to search for a great [fill-in-the-blank] restaurant near me right now.

The quality of the content is reliably higher than elsewhere. This has something to do with an engaged group of users, which is hard to replicate unless you'd personally invite them all to a new site. The current photo gallery options are good, I think--I like them.

Find a better way to engage new users and help them understand the best way to seek and contribute information. I think the clunky design and lack of app meant that smart, engaged new users (especially young people who might have been the target market for next-gen Chowhound users) looked elsewhere to make their contribution. I don't want to read a bunch of posts that mimics Yelp's "I got a free dessert and the prep cook was cute" but there are also some great contributors there along with a feeling of energy and community. Many of my favorite writers seem to contribute less to Chowhound in the last few years, and I think with any online community there's always going to be pressure to bring in new, enthusiastic participants to make up for the up-and-down cycle of core contributors that will always fluctuate due to moves, changes in budgets and appetite for contributing online.

Also in so/so: find a way to surface and promote the best discussions. This was a strength of early CHOW digests, less so near the end, and I'm not committed to the idea that a digest is the best way to go about this in 2014 and onward, but I do think there should be a way for the most interesting, insightful and excellent conversations to be promoted (also as a way to encourage a sense of pride in creating those discussions).

Overall, I'd also say that the people making the major decisions should be people who are core users, which is not, I don't think, a hallmark of the leadership here.

El Chevere, new Cuban restaurant in San Rafael

I really liked this place. For a main I had the ropa vieja and it was fantastic. Also got something that I think was labeled "avocado salad" and was just a whole chopped avocado, but since it was perfectly ripe, the simplicity didn't disappoint.

Tal-Y-Tara Tea and Polo Shoppe [San Francisco]

I've walked past this place a few times and finally conned a friend into going with me. You can order a la carte or from a selection of set menus; we split the most abbreviated set menu, which was still a ton of food: shortbread, scones, and the array of motorloaf sandwiches.

The motorloaf (white/wheat flour blend sweetened with molasses) was tender and lightly sweet but not overly; as you can see in the attached pic, the tea sandwiches were served inside the hollowed-out loaf.

He got a chocolate scone; I had currant. The scones leaned more toward the dry side than what you'll get at, say, B Patisserie, but these seem more classically scone-y to me, improved with a dressing of clotted cream or jam. Each of us got a little pot of Devon cream and strawberry jam.

Lots of choices for tea, but I prefer a straightforward malty Breakfast tea with milk, so that's what I got, from Taylors of Harrogate. Plenty of selections of herbal, fruit and green loose leaf teas if that's what you prefer.

Service was lovely; warm and attentive, but never rushed.

Feb 15, 2014
pane in San Francisco Bay Area

New Years Trip to SF Review - Underwhelmed by Tartine

I'm curious about this idea of apricot glaze on a croissant. I've never had one (and don't think I'd like it, I prefer the classic straight butter flavor of traditional croissants, where the quality of butter and care in layering distinguishes excellent laminated viennoiserie).

The only "apricot glaze" croissant I can find online is one prepared by Starbucks; do you remember where else you've had this other than the non-local Jean Philipe? Just curious to know if it's a widespread addition or just a spin.

Best place for Dim Sum in Chinatown, not touristy [San Francisco]

Though it's been a while since I've been, I liked Lai Hong Lounge, which is a bit off the beaten path in SF Chinatown. It can be crowded and there can be a wait, but I don't get the sense that it's a touristy crowd. It was definitely clean.

Many reports here:

Jan 22, 2014
pane in San Francisco Bay Area

Han Il Kwan, Korean in SF - Two recent meals

Dave's birthday meal was great and very festive. Nice choice for a big group, although parking is tough as noted.

I very much like Han Il Kwan for lunch, though you have to go early to avoid the hordes of Korean tourists who arrive via charter bus. Lunch specials were $6.95 - $8.95, with options like bul go gi and bi bim bap, and the special includes soft tofu stew and a changing array of about 10 panchan. I especially liked the fresh-fried veggie pancake.

Jan 13, 2014
pane in San Francisco Bay Area

b. Patisserie opening mid-December on California St (SF)

We had B's stollen this year, and it was fantastic. Not a large loaf, so I got two. Dark in color, moist interior, generous dried fruit interior. Crust was rolled in granulated sugar. I also brought a bag of granola (sort of an inside joke, I'd brought a vegetarian friend to Harris Ranch and gave her B granola as a consolation prize) and they wolfed that down immediately as well.

Dec 25, 2013
pane in San Francisco Bay Area

New Year's Day Brunch in San Francisco

We went to Foreign Cinema for New Year's Day Brunch last year. The food was good (and they take reservations, which you should secure); I'm not sure if the atmosphere is what you're after, but you can judge from the website photos:

They offer seating both inside and out; outside is a patio space with heat lamps.

Dec 11, 2013
pane in San Francisco Bay Area

Reporting back on our 13th trip to the Bay Area

I was curious about your "very odd service" remark about Trick Dog, but we went for the first time this week and I saw it myself! We were in the empty upstairs dining area, and the waitress seemed peevish and hassled. Were you sitting upstairs or down?

Dec 05, 2013
pane in San Francisco Bay Area

Two spectacular desserts: Cookie at The Cafe at Spruce (SF) and Vivace's Cannoli (Belmont)

Hyperbole! Why, I never! <fans face>

Glad you got the action shot of the cookie profile, and the pecan pie tart does look divine. I wonder how much they charge for a whole one?

Nov 25, 2013
pane in San Francisco Bay Area

Guddu de Karahi Opening Oct 15 [SF]

We went last night and had a great meal. Service was friendly but slow (although that's what I expected, having been a frequent visitor in the Tenderloin Lahore Karahi days).

Favorites were lamb vindaloo (spicy!), matar paneer and garlic naan. In the past I've loved the tandoori fish, but pieces of the fish last night were a little muddy tasting. The prices make this feel like a luxurious feast for nothing--we had two drinks (chai and lassi) and a ton of food for less than $30.

Nov 21, 2013
pane in San Francisco Bay Area

Two spectacular desserts: Cookie at The Cafe at Spruce (SF) and Vivace's Cannoli (Belmont)

I didn't notice or ask about the coffee; Melanie's probably right. Yes, weird that they've been hiding a cafe in there for so long? It's not clear to me from their website or Yelp page that there's this take-away option off the main entrance.

Nov 20, 2013
pane in San Francisco Bay Area

Dinner Before the Fillmore [San Francisco]

I really like Fat Angel, primarily an upscale beer bar but with a way better than average short menu. I particularly like the trout salad, and both the charcuterie and cheese places are abundant, with lovely Firebrand bread.

Nov 20, 2013
pane in San Francisco Bay Area

Two spectacular desserts: Cookie at The Cafe at Spruce (SF) and Vivace's Cannoli (Belmont)

Yesterday I was in Belmont for dinner, and tried the cannoli at Vivace on Ralston. Dinner was good with some mis-steps (I liked the wild boar ragu on chestnut pasta, not wild about any of the apps), but the cannoli was superb. Freshly fried shell that tasted both toasted and lightly caramelized (it was neither) filled with dense sheep's milk ricotta dashed through with a few hefty chocolate chips and sparky orange zest. The crackle of the shell married perfectly with the filling.

I told the chef that it was among the best, if not the best, cannoli (cannolo?) I've ever had. "Quite possibly that is true," he said with typical Sicilian modesty and understatement. Great experience, warm service.

A doctor in my building mentioned that one of her patients gave her a fantastic cookie from the cafe at Spruce, which I didn't know existed, and because of the heavy rains it was the only interesting option within walking distance today. The cafe opened within the last year in the old charcuterie section in front of the restaurant Spruce, and serves coffee, some desserts, and take-away savory options (a few sandwiches, one multi-part entree, and side salads) starting in the late morning on weekdays only.

For desserts, they had a gluten-free lemon pudding cake, three giant face-sized cookies and a pecan pie. Savory options were a pastrami sandwich at $14, chicken curry or crispy chicken sandwiches at $10, and a salmon entree with attachments (side and salad?) for $19. The cookie was fantastic, my neighbor was right. I got the curry; it was bland, like what you'd expect served in lettuce cups at a Daughters of the American Revolution fundraiser. Cookie-wise, I got the chocolate chip, which seemed not so much like a drop cookie as two rolled out dough disks with a layer of dark chocolate between. Hit the spot between chewy and cakey. A+.

Nov 20, 2013
pane in San Francisco Bay Area

Tosca bought by Spotted Pig (NY) team [San Francisco]

When we were there, the server said most people came for drinks, not eats, so the bar area was always crowded but the wait for tables in the dining room hadn't actually been too long.

It doesn't seem to me like there are a ton of people in North Beach looking for dinner at 11 p.m., but that's just a guess.

Nov 16, 2013
pane in San Francisco Bay Area

Tosca bought by Spotted Pig (NY) team [San Francisco]

Loved the food menu; almost everything I tried was good-to-great. Biggest hit, for me, was the smoky flavor and delicate texture of the mussel soup (not really a soup, not a ton of liquid). Fabulous terrine. I'm curious about the "bar sandwich" ($10, no more description offered on the menu, but our server said it doesn't change day to day).

I was surprised by how much I didn't love the cocktails. I couldn't find a lot of balance here--we had three cocktails between two people, and every sip I tried was over-sweet, even when I specified that I didn't like sweet drinks. The Diamond Spritz Fizz (aperol, lemon, Dolin, Gran Classico, egg white, prosecco) I couldn't finish; the Trouble in Paradise (bourbon, campari, basil, grapefruit, black pepper tincture) I liked a lot more but was still a touch too sweet.

Nov 08, 2013
pane in San Francisco Bay Area

New Ramen Joint in J-Town (Waraku) [San Francisco]

Fall 2013 update: I've had the ramen a couple more times, and my complaint about the meat (refrigerator cold and a little tough) is the same, but I very much like the spicy tan-tan noodles special they're running as an autumn supplement to the menu. House-made chicken bone broth, sesame base, a halved egg, spicy ground pork, and thick noodles. Very filling, nicely spicy, and a good lunch-time choice in the area. $8.95 for a big bowl.

Nov 08, 2013
pane in San Francisco Bay Area

Uncle's Restaurant (Waverly Place) changes hands again, going the Sichuan route. [San Francisco]

Not much to add to DMP. To me, the over-salted and omni textured quality of both the dan dan noodles and ma po tofu made them seem like Chinese Chef Boyardee products--if you told me both dishes slid out of a can and were reheated for a couple of minutes after we ordered, I'd believe you.

At least in the case of the ma po tofu, missing the meat left off what I think Thomas Nash spoke of in the ma po thread as the balancing quality of textures. The components in both dishes seemed more like afterthoughts than the careful balance of elements that is, I think, the key component of excellent Chinese cuisine.

Also, it was surprising that neither of the servers (we asked two) had heard of ma po tofu with meat. They did actually have a second version, with fish, but we didn't order it.

Nov 06, 2013
pane in San Francisco Bay Area

Aquitaine - SF

I thought so too, and fortunately/unfortunately had the best steak frites of my life just a few days earlier, so that didn't help in comparison.

At Aquitaine, it was the shoddy prep of sauces in both cases that tripped up the meal. N.B., sauce on the side!

Nov 06, 2013
pane in San Francisco Bay Area

Mapo Doufu - SF Dish of the Month November 2013

A fish option was available, tho. Just no red meat.

Nov 06, 2013
pane in San Francisco Bay Area

Aquitaine - SF

I was downtown late one night and stopped in for the onglet with frites. The portion sizes were huge, but I wasn't impressed with the quality.

Onglet arrived completely doused in a roquefort sauce, which didn't allow any meat flavor to peek through. When I asked the server about it, he said the steak wasn't very good quality (!, also, I like hanger flavor) and the sauce was needed to give it flavor. (I think he meant the cut, not the brand/ranch, though I didn't ask where they sourced their meat.)

The frites came in a shoe! Huge portion, with a gloopy sauce that had long strands of unchopped herbs and hunks of hard boiled egg in it. Wasn't easy to eat this concoction with fries. Again asked the server: there's hard boiled egg in here? He said no, but then I dredged up an eighth of a boiled white and he admitted that it did appear to be egg.

On a positive note, I liked the atmosphere of the place--it was way more low-key than most Financial District spots after work, and though my server didn't seem too polished on the food offerings yet, he was very friendly and offered a few tastes of wine to settle on my choice of drink.

From Robert's report, sounds like the apps might be the way to go. I probably would return for a drink and app if I were in the area, but don't think I'd get dinner there again unless I heard strong positive reports of a particular dish.

Nov 06, 2013
pane in San Francisco Bay Area

SF's Best Restaurants for Chicken?

Il Pollaio (italian name, but owned by a family from South America, I think Argentina?). Simple but nice--grilled chicken, bean or green salad on the side, hefty steak fries, and cheap.

Nov 05, 2013
pane in San Francisco Bay Area

Pesce at 2223 Market Street [San Francisco]

We went for a disappointing brunch on Sunday. Not sure if the place is still finding its sea legs in the morning, but the dishes we ordered were undersized and underdelicious, while the back-up in the kitchen meant that we waited almost an hour for our food to arrive.

I got the broccolini and cranberry ragu with fried eggs. Pale yellow yolks, not particularly flavorful, would not rank in Melanie's Farm Fresh Egg count. Across the board, portion sizes triggered a laugh--probably I got about 1/3 cup of beans and a few pieces of chopped broccolini stalk for $13. There wasn't enough broccolini in the mix to lend a vegetal note, so the most pronounced flavor was salt from the beans.

DCs both got crispy polenta cakes, which were even tinier, and $15. They're both big eaters, and when they saw the situation they ordered two supplementary sides of the shallot-potato hash ($3 each) that arrived after we had paid the bill.

Had a slice of cherry-pistachio cake that was baked to death; left about a third on the plate.

Overall, I got the impression that they weren't ready to serve during the always crowded Castro brunch scene. May be worth trying in a few months when they've worked the kinks out, but I probably won't be first in line.

Anyone know anything about Southpaw BBQ? [San Francisco]

I went last night for the second time, this time accompanied by a big group of friends (17 people maybe?) so we got to eat a significant percentage of the restaurant's offerings. Because it was split so many ways the price was reasonable for the huge quantity of food ($32 pp for food only).

What we got for that money (#s are number of orders of that dish):

(2) natchez: warm potato chips, pulled pork, black-eyed peas, pimento bechamel, hot sauce
(3) smoked pulled goat with salsa verde, house pickles & fry bread
(3) fried green tomatoes & burrata mozzarella w/pickled pepper salad & remoulade
(4) deviled eggs, chow chow coulis, piment d’esplette, chive (+crispy chicken skin)

(3) dry rubbed & smoked Hampshire pork ribs
with black pepper brie mac & cheese & golden beets w/brown sugar gastrique

(3) smoked & pulled pork shoulder
with brussel sprouts w/bacon cream & cilantro creme fraiche coleslaw

(3) smoked beef brisket - mix
match stick okra w/ remoulade & braised southern greens

(3) smoked & smothered turkey leg
fried pickles / ham hock & cheddar grit cake

The only big disappointment for me was the hush puppies, which were dry and flavorless. The brisket was the tastiest of the mains, with a pleasing texture. I found the pulled pork a little dry. The appetizers were most successful. I particularly liked the warm potato chip dish and the smoked pulled goat. Eggs were a nice opener, and I don't think I tried any fried tomatoes.

Service was efficient considering the size of our group (and that we had four or five little kids). They sat us at two tables, one giant table in the front window with high stools and a shorter table nearby that worked best for people with very young children.

New Chinese.. "House of Pancake" 937 Taraval bet 19th and 20th [San Francisco]

I had lunch here Friday with a friend who doesn't eat pork, beef or lamb; I was worried that it wouldn't work out because most of my favorite dishes include one of the three.

We ended up ordering chicken pot stickers, eggplant (not the tofu/eggplant version, just eggplant), egg/onion pancake, and cucumber in oil. There was one steamed dumpling that fit my DC's dietary restrictions, but they were a vegetable (non-chicken) dumpling, and because I really disliked the grassy, tasteless veggie dumplings at Shanghai Dumpling King, the chicken potstickers sounded like a better option.

Everything came out really quickly (we were in and out in 30 minutes; perfect timing for a work-day lunch) and was good-to-great. The chicken potstickers were good but not excellent; I thought the meat was a little dry. I wasn't excited about the one acceptable noodle dish ("vegetable noodles") so missed out on noodles, but between the pancake and potstickers we had enough dough-y goodness. At lunchtime, the place didn't have a line but was humming--a few free tables when we walked in at 11:30, completely full when we left at noon.

My DC demolished everything, and when the server came by to clear the plates, he asked him "Why is everything here so good?"

"It's the Beijing style" the server said, which was a funny and lovely response.

Nov 02, 2013
pane in San Francisco Bay Area

A day in Chinatown (I'm a local)[San Francisco]

Comstock Saloon makes a nice cocktail, but one you could get in many of the better cocktail bars in SF. If I were arranging a day in Chinatown, I'd get a cocktail at the Empress of China bar, which is on the top floor of the building on Grant. The late-afternoon views of Coit Tower are more remarkable than the cocktails, but the slightly dusty opulence of the pavilion decor makes it a worthwhile stop.

Happy hour is 3 - 6 p.m., 50% off drinks and apps. I'd get a drink but no food there.

Linea Caffe in San Francisco

I stopped by yesterday to pick up a to-go salad and give this place a big thumbs-up. I told the clerk that I wouldn't be eating the salad for a few hours after my volunteer gig and asked which would hold up best--she suggested two options.

I went with the brown rice salad with roasted broccoli, avocado, thin-sliced shiitake, pumpkin seeds and sesame oil. Three hours later, it was fantastic--the earthy tones of the mushroom played against the sweet, nutty rice, and the still crunchy pumpkin seeds and luscious soft avocado added textural interest. Considering how much I generally pay for lousy salads made of tired greens coated in cheap dressing, this felt like a bargain at $8.

Oct 27, 2013
pane in San Francisco Bay Area

Short Paris Report: Le Dogon, Cafe des Musees, Plan B et al

Oh sorry! Yes, that's the case. The one I'm referring to us on Bretagne (and other than Dogon, the rest are all in the Marais area, I think).

Oct 24, 2013
pane in France

Heartbaker [San Francisco]

You and me both, sister! (Or brother, as the case may be.)

Thanks for the initial excellent report.

Oct 23, 2013
pane in San Francisco Bay Area

Short Paris Report: Le Dogon, Cafe des Musees, Plan B et al

I was deleting old phone photos and realized I had some pix of meals about which I hadn't posted. All Paris 2013.

Le Dogon
I've had many, many north African dinners in Paris but nothing south of Morocco/Tunisia. To break the trend, we went to Le Dogon for Senegalese and I loved it. We had an avocado stuffed with shrimp; Dakar-style white fish with rice in a slightly tart, sticky red sauce; and Maffee with chicken in a peanut sauce. One of my culinary delights on the trip was the chili sauce on the table here.

Cafe des Musees
One night I voiced a preference for a specific type of french fry: very thick, big fries, strong potato flavor. This took some thinking, but he settled on Cafe des Musees and its old-fashioned yet entirely satisfying entrecote a la plancha with house-cooked (not frozen/packaged) fries, mustard, and Bordelaise, was fantastic. It's exactly the type of food I wanted for a special dinner when I was 12 years old and, apparently, now.

Plan B
Another day, another whim: lemon meringue pie. He found one at Plan B, and it was fantastic--great crumble to the crust, nice bright tartness to the lemon interior. We fought over the last bite.

Other items of note: really wonderful warm service at Le Barav, I had a surprisingly excellent and very expensive (even by expensive/excellent San Francisco cocktail snob standards) cocktail at Candelaria, people-watching at Le Progres is a worthwhile afternoon break, and I was happy to check in again with old favorites Loustic for excellent coffee and Happy Nouilles for lamb with hand-pulled noodles.

Oct 23, 2013
pane in France