Thursday, July 30, 2009

Sweet Cheeks

Randomly wandering into a place and discovering a new hang out is one of very few things in life that truly thrill me. This is how it happened for The Corner and I. Open from 9am to 1am on weekends, the newly opened wine bar, coffee shop, restaurant hybrid is a fresh face in the Mission. The graphic wallpaper, painted black accents and upstairs seating make The Corner an inviting and comfy place to people watch over a few glasses of wine, or peruse the internet on their free wi-fi while sipping locally roasted Four Barrel coffee. Both the lunch and dinner menus are extremely reasonable. But, to make the most of your experience come during happy hour and stick around for dinner hour. Ask your server for chef Alexander Jackson's off-menu nightly special for the culinary equivalent of a mushroom trip for the tongue. Tonight it's beef cheeks and oxtail served over garganelli pasta in a sherry-vinagrette sauce and topped with goat gouda. Taking meat parts that are usually reserved the garbage can and transforming them into something great is no easy feat, but this simple and DELICIOUS cheek/oxtail dish is just that. Though a bit vinegar forward, (I suspect from being soaked in vinegar for days and boiled down to soften the tough cuts), the shredded meat is flavorful, fork tender and chewy, but not tough, like a well-made pot roast. Paired with the sherry vinaigrette sauce sprinkled with a few carrots and oregano(?) the perfect bite is a mouthful of flavor combinations that just won't quit, even after you've swallowed. Though the mood of this place is somewhat silly, what coming out of the kitchen can hardly be categorized as tongue-in-cheek. 2199 Mission Street, (415) 875-9258

Monday, July 27, 2009

Blood Work

Pho is a popular soup made of thin rice noodles in steaming hot beef broth with thinly sliced beef served raw (meant to be dipped into the broth until rare), and also one of my favorite things to eat. This classic dish can be found in just about any Vietnamese restaurant in this city from Charles Phan’s elegant and modern, Slanted Door to Broadway Street's My Canh, which is a bit more sketch and a little less fine dining. My Canh runs circles around Slanted Door, as they have countless variations of this noodle soup dish, including a version made with pig blood. The pig blood version is served in piping hot beef broth with thicker egg noodles. Some cultures have codes against eating blood products, I now understand why. Gelatinous and dark brown in color, the blood comes in the form of a sliced cube. Biting into the cube is like eating some meat-flavored Jello. The savory cubes just fall apart into wiggly little crumbles as you chew them. The ending taste has a slight tinge of that organ meat taste that makes the corners of my mouth turn down into a DISGUSTING frown. Not terrible, but there is no desire to prepare this at home. Fun fact; approximately eight percent of your body weight is blood. 626 Broadway, (415) 397-8888

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Protestin' Intestine

Talking me into eating anything deep fried is usually not very difficult. The tops of my thighs would be evidence of my penchant for deep-fried foods if it weren’t for those fabulous Pilates classes at Crunch. Sitting in the yellow interior of Yuet Lee with its green-rimmed windows, I am a bit apprehensive at the mention of deep-fried pig intestine. These kinds of meats, also known as chitlins, scare me a bit., These are the tubes through which chit passes; to put it nicely. I’m not sure the cooks at Yuet Lee can, or should be trusted to thoroughly clean those pipes. Allow me to paint a picture for you. A weary cook slaving away in a hot kitchen at 3am (when they close), the dining room full of obnoxious drunks pouring into the restaurant from various Broadway clubs. Tickets are stacking up on the ticket rail, and one cook cleans the intestine just good enough in order to get food out faster and in turn go home sooner. Boom, just like that, a table of diners just got E. Coli. Though, for this blog’s sake, now is no time to become fearful. What our server brings to the table is a platter full of intestine that has been sliced into snack-sized pieces and deep fried to a crisp, not unlike chicarrones. The intestine is remarkably bright red. I can’t tell you why because our server knows approximately four English phrases outside of what is on the menu, which makes conversing with her somewhat difficult. At first bite the intestines are crunchy, like cracklins, then you get into the middle and there is a layer of chewy fat just beneath their crispy exterior. Delightfully oily, pig guts taste just like the bagged pork skins that are available at your local corner store, except twenty million times better. DELICIOUS, deep-fried pig intestine is served atop a bed of shredded lettuce with a side of jalapeno-infused soy sauce that is divine. In this one instance, it’s okay to have the chits. 1300 Stockton St, (415) 982-6020

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Brain Games

I said I’d be back for the brains and as woman of my word I went, I ate, I conquered. Legend has it that eating brain meat results in increased brainpower. Hoping that legend is true I order a brain taco and it is served just like all the other tacos I’ve written about. White paper, check. Red basket, check. Meat piled high atop two steaming soft corn tortillas, check. Except this time I am grimacing at the sight of this taco. The squiggly pattern of the brain is literally visible in the big chunks of meat that are roughly chopped and laced with salsa, chopped onions and cilantro. It cannot be confirmed whether or not eating brain actually makes you smarter but it can be confirmed that brain meat is DISGUSTING. Not El Farolito’s finest. The texture is mushy. Eating brain is like putting a chunk of playdoh in your mouth. It sticks in your teeth, smells weird and forms to any shape your mouth makes it before eventually crumbling into mushy pieces. Its just like eating giblets- the flavor is chalky, flat and gross. Use your heart and not your mind- pass on the brain. 2779 Mission St, (415) 824-7877

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Smug Slug

Absinthe Brasserie and Bar, in Hayes Valley boasts top chef Jamie Lauren as its executive chef who slaves away over their stove. While she has concocted many delicious dishes to chose from the July menu, the escargot in shells is a fitting dish for our purposes. Escargot, also known as snails in the English language, are thought to be a delicacy in many cultures. The French, Spanish, Portuguese, Sicilian, Greek and Germanic cultures all have different ways of preparing the mollusk, however the French method is perhaps the most widely known. Absinthe prepares them in the traditional French manner; poached, served dripping with parsley butter and crispy garlic toasts. When our original server brings escargot tongs and snail forks to the table I joke with him about having a Pretty Woman moment, Julia Roberts status. In the movie a skilled, agile server discreetly catches a flying shell midair, to save her any further embarrassment. I probably won't be as lucky. A food runner brings out the escargot when another server comes to inform us that she will pick up where our first server left off. We all scoop up a snail from the share plate and dig in. The texture is chewy. Less chewy than a clam, but more chewy than a mussel. The parsley butter goes extremely well with the taste of the snail which is earthy, sort of like a mushroom but not so woody. I can't tell you where the snails come from because Sarah, our second server never came back with an answer. But I can tell you that they were DELICIOUS. Everything the kitchen churned out was excellent. The Absinthe experience could be amazing if their service were not so poor. I say this because there is something wrong with every course brought out to us. While waiting for our table in the cafe, our first server forgets the fries and someone's cocktail. During our first course, in which the snails are included, a friend re-orders his salad because one of the ten servers we have over the course of the night forgets that. During the second course, the fried-green tomatoes that are supposed to come with, as described on the menu, are missing from my plate. We have to literally grab Sarah's attention, stopping just short of pulling out a bullhorn to ask for a wine list when I am ready for a second glass. By the time she comes back to take my drink order the rest of the table has finished their drinks and are also waiting to reorder. For dessert, I order one kind of cheese, the manager, in an attempt (I think) to make up for all of the previous mishaps brings out three. A very nice gesture, but then we are charged for three when I only ordered one. It's not until we speak up that the problem is remedied. Finally, I ask to have my phenomenal ribeye plate wrapped to go and no one ever brings it out. A shame, perhaps they were just having an off night. Delicious food, disgusting service. 398 Hayes Street, (415) 551-1590

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Feeling Froggy

It's no secret that the Chinese are known for doing some strange things. The Chinese government limits the number of children per family and free speech; China is also the birthplace of the toilet-themed restaurant, Modern Toilet- the list goes on and on. But, the Chinese are also known for inventing fireworks, healing people naturally with their extensive knowledge of herbs and teas as well as some excellent cuisine. The menu at Yuet Lee's North Beach restaurant is loaded with strange eats including sauteed fresh frogs. Open until 3am on weekends, the restaurant might be the only one in town serving amphibians on a platter. If you didn't already know it was frog you might mistake the entree for sauteed sea bass. The texture is fatty, tender and a bit slimy like that of seabass, but with lots of cartilage. Stir-fried with peanuts, bamboo shoots, two kinds of mushrooms (white and shitake), ginger, green onion, carrots, and cilantro our little green friend is praticaly swimming in a ginger-garlic sauce with accompanying vegetables. Tastes similar to dark-meat skinless chicken chicken as there isn't a sliver of bumpy green skin in sight. Frog is considered a delicacy in Asian and French kitchens, and by me as well. DELICIOUS is the final answer. 1300 Stockton St, (415) 982-6020

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Bringing Home the Bacon

After a very high-profile debut in New York City speakeasy, PDT (Please Don't Tell) Bacon Bourbon has finally made it's way to SF. As hipsters take over the the mission, it is only a matter of time before trends become the constantly fleeting norm. To the list of currently flourishing Mission trends, (i.e. food carts, pop-up makeshift restaurants) add bacon-flavored cocktails. The last place one might expect to find such a trendy spirit is Pop's Bar on 24th and York. Nevertheless, amidst dusty broke-down chandeliers, blaring random jukebox music and drunk girls singing and dancing around the entire bar to Freddie Mercury's "We are the Champions," I am served a bacon-infused cocktail. As far as I know Pop's in the only bar in the city serving up this liver damage/possible heart attack combo in a glass. That being said, lone star or not Pop's Bacon Bourbon lacks, at best. Anyway you slice it, and I did a few different ways (a bacontini, bacon bourbon neat and a bacon concentrate of some sort,) Bacon bourbon is not good. To start the bacon flavor isn't really there. The only thing I taste is bourbon. Bartender Tuffy says he used to rim the martini glass with butter and bacon bits for extra bacon flavor, but no longer does. Bartenders in this dive make the base spirit by infusing Safeway deli bacon and a bit of fat in the liquor for a week. Then while mixing your bacon drink of choice they muddle bacon in the glass, shake and strain. Tuffy makes mine with Woodford Reserve, a respectable bourbon but the result is a terribly salty cocktail that is about as smooth as sandpaper. This little piggy thinks DISGUSTING. 2800 24th Street, (415) 401-7677

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Head First

After an exhausting hike in Napa and a few celebratory back in the city cocktails Martin, Aileen and I decide that some tacos are in order. Taking a drunk walk, as San Franciscans often do, we saunter from Elixir to El Farolito taqueria and join the rest of the Sunday night drunks in the mission. There's something about a 2 am meal that just cannot be replicated at any other time of the day. We are salivating at the sight of the glass-protected grill, sizzling away with various meats atop; practically drooling over the assembly line of rice, tortillas and chopped veggies. My drunk eyes scan the meat menu and I slowly realize that there are a plethora of meat choices here that are not available at my local spot, Ocean Taqueria. Beyond the usual fare, carne asada, pollo chile verde, etc. El Farolito offers beef brains, head and tongue. Intriguing. Listening to the suggestions of Martin, a real Mexican (that bitch), I order the brain taco. Shortly after the cashier tells me that they are out of brains. He suggests the head taco instead and I agree. Before I know it there is a head taco steaming on the table in a little red basket lined with white paper. I stare that taco straight in its open face, its meaty scent wafting up into my nostrils. Martin laughs at my facial expression, but it I honestly cannot tell you what was going through my head because, I don't rightly remember. I pick up the taco and take a bite. The tortilla is soft, the meat is tender, like carnitas and the taste- salty. Head, as it turns out is less savory than carne asada, and even more fatty than carnitas. I don't know its actual nutritional value but I do know it's DELICIOUS, especially at 2 am. I'll be back for the brains. 2779 Mission St, (415) 824-7877

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Be Still My Beating Heart

Gaston Acurio's first stateside restaurant, La Mar Cebicheria Peruana is newly opened and serves what some call authentic Peruvian cuisine. On the very large menu are "anticuchos de corazón", or grilled beef heart served with potatoes, Peruvian corn and a side of rocoto (a spicy fruit) sauce. I saw this item, was momentarily grossed out but could not resist ordering it. With Aileen, my eating buddy who is even more daring than I, egging me on it isn't exactly easy to back out. Sitting at the bar in the dining room of the gorgeous waterfront restaurant with its cool blue, grey and white color palette we admire the restaurant's stemware and the calm of the chefs working efficiently in the semi-open kitchen. Stuck in my head is the image of some grotesque skewered meat chunk with many chambers. I picture taking one bite and blood squirting all over the older ladies next to me who will not stop blathering about the beef hearts saying " that sounds gross" and "who would order that?" A stream of blood straight to the face would have been wildly entertaining and served them right. What our server brought out was nothing close to my mental pictue. It looks more like a small cut of a steak. At first taste they are just like a steak, seasoned with lime and some mystery blend of spices. After chewing and swallowing they leave the slightest hint of that chalky eww taste that all organ meats have. Surprisingly beef hearts are good. Maybe this makes me sound like a vampire but the jury is in and the verdict is, DELICIOUS. Pier 1 1/2, (415) 397-8880

Lend Me Your Ear

The famed Pizzeria Delfina has added to the daily changing menu of both locations Pigs Ears. For $7 dollars not including tax or tip those tattooed servers in their yelp tee shirts will bring out a platter of, that's right ears. Cut into thin strips, battered and deep fried, they are served with a slice of lime and Calabrian chili oil in a Sanbitter bottle that has been repurposed into an oil shaker. As if the food weren't reason enough you've got to love SF restaurants for all of their "green" efforts.

Delfina falls right in line with their recycled wine bottle water carafes, repurposed chili oil bottles and waste not want not attitude- please believe they are not letting any parts of a pig go to waste. Just ask about the ciccioli on the affettati plate.

White people all over the city are now open to consuming a food usually reserved for dogs thanks to the research and culinary vision of chefs Craig Stoll and Anthony Strong. I'm guessing the close proximity of the restaurant to a dozen mission carnicerias probably was not a hinderance in their creative process, either. Crisp and chewy at the same time, the ears are DELICIOUS spritzed with lime and doused in chili oil. Reminds me a bit of calamari; bacon flavored calamari. But that's just my opinion. 2406 California St, (415) 440-1189