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Thursday, September 27, 2007

I Left My Stomach in San Francisco


I had a whole list of eats in mind when I arrived in San Francisco, pondering that eternal question of whether to go for the excitement of possibly discovering a new gem or go to an old standard with the comfort of knowing I'll have a good meal.

Here I share the gems, since I've already reviewed the old favorites (Shabu-sen, etc).



I was fortunate enough to have a very nice dinner at Fringale, a tiny restaurant serving "Basque-inspired" cuisine. Having a large group gave us the advantage of trying many things on the menu.

We shared appetizers, including beef carpaccio with a Szechuan pepper mayonnaise and crispy horseradish (pictured), which looked beautiful but lacked punch in its flavor as I couldn't taste the Szechuan pepper or the horseradish; spicy monterey calamari "a la plancha" with jalapeƱos and chorizo, which was the clear favorite of mine and the group, with its perfectly-cooked squid that was soft and chewy enhanced with the kick of both the pepper and chorizo (what's not to like?); and butter lettuce with sweet anchovies served with mustard vinaigrette, which was nothing special.



The roast rack of lamb with pesto and Emmental potato gratin I ordered was the most expensive item on the menu at $25, and at least the meat was worth it. The lamb was cooked medium-rare as requested and melted in my mouth like buttah (red wine helped). The pesto seemed almost superfluous given the freshness of the meat that could hold its own flavor. I'm a huge fan of both Emmental (Swiss cheese) and potato gratin, and thought the combination of the two would be a no-brainer. The melted cheese on top, however, was hard by the time the dish made it to the table and the gratin was a bit too mild.

The steak was decent but not anything spectacular. Desserts were good but we were too full to enjoy them. They were creme brulee, hazelnut and roasted almond mousse cake and warm chocolate gourmand, which were rich, dense and a bit too sweet for my taste.

Overall a good experience with attentive service by a waiter with a French accent so thick that he made me wonder whether he was really from the Midwest.

I also liked Flytrap, where I had very good French bread and a prawn salad that was very refreshing but the service was slow, in part due to our large party.

The next stop was Out The Door, the casual sibling of the much-hyped and beloved Slanted Door in the Westfield mall located within walking distance from the hotel. It was very convenient and I vowed to explore that food court more next time.



Out The Door serves Vietnamese food, or rather, Americanized versions of the venerated cuisine. Don't get me wrong. I liked my chicken thigh curry with tiny grains of rice. It hit the spot after days of consuming bland and heavy soups and sauces. The dark meat was juicy and the spices made me sweat but I was happy.



We also had the vegetarian fresh rolls made with tofu, shiitakes, cabbage, mint and peanut sauce, which were bland. My companions had the grilled lemongrass pork over rice noodles with imperial rolls, cucumber and mint, which was meant to be bun with BBQ pork, but turned out to be a watered down version of the real deal with dry, overly sweet meat. Another had the lemongrass chicken with red onions, jalapeƱos, roasted chili paste and peanuts with rice. The red onion was the star of this dish -- crispy and slightly sweet with a hint of spice. A vegetarian ordered baby spinach sauteed with garlic and caramelized shallots, which reminded me of spinach namul, a Korean side-dish of steamed spinach seasoned with garlic, salt and green onions. It was good but not substantial enough to base an entire meal around.

I've had good food at Slanted Door, but am turned off by the way it charges $24 for its shaking beef, or bo luc lac. Maybe Slanted Door uses extra-good quality free-range beef and adds a modern twist to it, but it tastes similar to (but not as good as) the bo luc lac I've had in Little Saigon -- that splendid Vietnamese dish of stir-fried filet mignon cubes accompanied by watercress and a lemony dipping sauce. Maybe Slanted Door made Vietnamese food more accessible to the masses but I look forward to exploring Little Saigon more than I do going to SD. I have nothing against it, but am convinced I could find so much better for so much less in Westminster where the largest population of Vietnamese Americans live.



Now for the best part: Beard Papa cream puffs in not one but two shops within walking distance from the hotel. After lunching at Out The Door, I picked up a pumpkin cream puff, a flavor I had never had before, and saved it for my late afternoon snack. One could say I'm a fiercely loyal devotee of these puffs and am usually partial to vanilla but this puff's rich pumpkin flavor with a hint of cinnamon was strangely comforting as it reminded me of fall and mentally prepared me for a Thanksgiving feast.

I'd like to thank my new food stylist-cum-photographer, CC (you know who you are, but I'll call her Catherine the Great), for these amazing shots.

All restaurants reviewed here are within walking distance from the Powell St. Bart Station area with lots of hotels.

Fringale
570 Fourth St.
San Francisco, CA 94107
(415) 543-0573

Flytrap
606 Folsom St.
San Francisco, CA 94107
(415) 243-0580

Out The Door
Concourse Level
Westfield Shopping Center
865 Market St.
San Francisco CA 94103
(415) 512-6776

Beard Papa
Multiple Locations
Concourse Level
Westfield Shopping Center
865 Market St.
San Francisco CA 94103
(415) 512-6776

11 comments:

phasmatidae said...

I can't really expect a place like slanted door to be any good -- at least not nowadays. 10 years ago when it was newer and not so well-known it was cheaper and I'm sure better. But how many restaurants can maintain their quality while growing into the mainstream?

That's the advantage of somewhere like tu lan -- even if it has gone downhill with success, at least it's cheap...

persimmongirl said...

fringale was one of my favorite restaurants back in my Bay Area days... i'm glad to see it's still there! that food court at the westfield mall is amazing, isn't it?

ironchef442 said...

are you still in korea? how was your trip persimmongirl?

ironchef442 said...

have you been to that nouveau jungshik place near the blue house i recommended?

omurice said...

i want to go to fringale too! sounds tasty. phasmatidae, would you include crustaceans in your theory that increasing mainstream appeal means decreasing food quality?

phasmatidae said...

If you normalize flavor to dollars, or "flollars", decreasing quality with increasing mainstream appeal is one of the hard and fast rules that emerge. When expressed in flollars, food actually shows several interesting relationships. Flollar value relative to price shows a peak at about $5 and then a sharp decline and asymptotic approach to zero as price increases. Flollars show a similar curve with popularity as well for restaurants.

omurice said...

agree with you flollar/price theory. not sure about the flollar/popularity one. they're are many popular restaurants with poor flollar. by the way, i can't understand what i just wrote.

phasmatidae said...

Similar to price, flollar value peaks at a moderate level of popularity -- something around 1 KSB (the unit measure of popularity -- the "Kim's Super Burrito" -- the restaurant where the highest flollar level was recorded in the U.S. in the early '90s). At 1 KSB, everyone who's anyone eats there, but you never see another soul in the restaurant...

omurice said...

ahhh, the original ksb. i hope mr. and mrs. kim are doing well.

persimmongirl said...

what, you haven't taken omurice to fringale?!

i didn't make it to the place you suggested, i must confess, because IT WAS CHUSEOK AND EVERYTHING WAS CLOSED! (can you tell i was frustrated by this obstacle!?)

omurice said...

persimmongirl, thanks for sticking up for the little person. fringale, etc. is just a dream that i read about occasionally on blog sites.