Tuesday, December 29, 2015

San Francisco: Uyghur Taamliri

Sorry for the long delay between posts.  My family went down to Death Valley for the holidays and while "Death Valley" isn't quite a fitting name for such a gorgeous place, it is definitely an accurate description of the Internet and phone reception situation there.

Death Valley: where cell phones go to die.

Anyway, more about that later when I finally get around to posting about the last week.  In the meantime, I have more catching up to do.

When my sister told me about a Uyghur pop up restaurant in the city close to where she lives, I knew I had to try it.  So one Sunday evening, we dragged our parents to The Chug Pub, where Uyghur Taamliri operates out of:

The "restaurant" portion of the pub is tucked deep in the corner by the pool table:

It seemed to be a rather slow night for them, which was probably a good thing for us.  From our observations, the staff of Uyghur Taamliri consists of one server and one person in the kitchen.  (At least that's all we saw that night.)

Uyghur cuisine comes from Central Asia and is very much a blend of Chinese and Middle Eastern influences.  As Uyghurs are predominantly Muslim, you won't find any pork in their dishes, but plenty of lamb.

Everything on the menu sounded so good that we might have over-ordered for four people.

We started with two samsas ($2.50 each):

Think hot pocket filled with minced lamb, onion, and other veggies:

We also go the gosnan ($13):

Like the samsa, the gosnan was also filled with minced lamb, onion, and other veggies:

We ordered the pitir manta with pumpking filling (6 for $7):

But I think they accidentally brought us the lamb and onion one instead (6 for $8):

No complaints here.  You can never have too much lamb.  Especially in dumpling form.

We could have chosen to get lamb with our laghman (noodles), but we made the conscious decision to try something different and instead went with beef:

The beef came stir fried with lots of veggies and laid on a bed of noodles.  A big plate cost $11.

Our server told us that polo is the quintessential traditional Uyghur dish and is served at all major events.  Offered only on weekends, a big plate cost $10:

The rice was cooked to the point where it was very wet and had soaked up the sweetness of the carrots and the savoriness of the lamb and onions.  It was everything I could have ever wished for.

Everything at Uyghur Taamliri was amazingly delicious.  My personal favorites were the polo and the gosnan.  My only complaint would be that the serving sizes are a bit on the small side given the prices, but then again, I suppose they're pretty on par with other restaurants in San Francisco.  I guess I'm pretty spoiled by living in the South Bay.

The most fun part of the night was seeing my mother sitting in a pub, something I never thought I would ever witness.  Even if the food had been utter crap (which it definitely was not), that would have made the night worth it.

Hope you all enjoyed your holidays and see you in 2016!

Uyghur Taamliri
1849 Lincoln Way
San Francisco, CA 94122
(415) 489-0849

Monday, December 21, 2015

San Francisco: Hot Sauce And Panko

My sister comes home for the weekend from school about once every two to three weeks.  When we take her back on Sundays, my family usually seizes the opportunity to try a new restaurant in San Francisco.

One such Sunday, we went to Hot Sauce And Panko:

The setup of Hot Sauce And Panko is more like a corner grocery store than a restaurant:

There is enough space for maybe up to six people to squeeze into tiny tables by the front window.  Everyone else looking to dine in needs to eat standing at one of the two tables outside.

After placing your order at the counter, you'll be given a wooden toy block with your assigned letter.  The ladies preparing your chicken wings are super efficient, so don't worry, you won't be waiting long.  Before you know it, you'll hear your letter being called and soon after, you'll be munching on chicken wings galore.

There are a lot of interesting flavors to choose from at Hot Sauce And Panko.  We started off with three.  We got the Chris's ($6.69) amd the garlic bacon parmesan ($6.69):

Each order comes with six wings.  Chris's was a huge hit with my family.  Honey and black pepper make for an amazing combo.  The garlic bacon parmesan tasted exactly as it sounds like and while delicious (it's garlic and bacon, how can it not be delicious?), it was a bit on the salty side.

We got the green wings as part of the wings and waffle special ($9.99):

I don't know if they just gave up when trying to name this flavor, but man, who cares when it tastes so good?  Cilantro, jalapeno, ginger, and sesame oil.  On wings.  This was probably my favorite of the ones we had that day.

The waffle was also good:

Nothing too special, but it was fluffy on the inside and crisp on the outside.

We went through the wings so quickly that we had to order more.  At my mother's prompting, we tacked on an order of Thai wings ($6.69):

The sweet chili glaze wasn't spicy or particularly sweet.  It was, however, tangy and yummy.

Hot Sauce And Panko is an example of Asian fusian done right.  It's Korean fried chicken, but with an American twist.  The chicken is fresh fried and super cripsy.  There are a range of flavors to satisfy every palate.  At over a dollar apiece, the wings aren't exactly cheap (especially when they're so tiny that you have to get more than one order to actually feel full), but they're fun to snack on.

I would definitely go back.  In fact, I want to go back right now.

Hot Sauce And Panko
1545 Clement St
San Francisco, CA 94118
(415) 387-1908

Friday, December 18, 2015

Oakland: Hawker Fare

For VN's birthday back in October, we went out to dinner at Hawker Fare:

The three of us got there pretty quickly after work, so the place was pretty empty:

The decor was quirky and fun.  With its metal folding chairs and communal tables, Hawker Fare is designed to resemble a typical hole-in-the wall restaurant in Thailand.

But more hipster.  Way more hipster.

While VN and SY perused the cocktail menu, I went straight for the Thai tea:

Which came in a mason jar.  Why am I not surprised?

As usual, we ordered a bunch of dishes to split.  We started with a hoi tod ($12) or crispy egg and mussel crepe:

Crispy on the outside, it also included bean sprouts and chives.  It turned out to be my favorite thing that night.

Then came the khao mun gai ($13.50) or chicken with chicken fat rice:

And the gaeng pla duok ($15) or jungle curry with catfish:

Just for good measure, we also ordered laab gai ($12):

I love sourness of laab.  Mint, cilantro, green onion, and minced chicken doused in fish sauce...that's my kind of salad.  However the laab at Hawker Fare was almost unbearably salty.  We brought it up with our server, but she seemed to think that was normal.

An order of sticky rice ($3) went a long way to combat the saltiness:

But it wasn't enough.  We eventually had to ask for an order of jasmine rice ($3) as well.

A birthday dinner wouldn't be complete without dessert.  While the durian sticky rice sounded really good, we ultimately went with the hawker affogato ($7), which was condensed milk soft serve with a shot of thai coffee and coconut biscuits:

That soft serve was pretty awesome.  The coconut biscuits brought me back to my childhood when we used to buy those silver packages for less than $1.

The chill atmosphere of Hawker Fare makes it a great place to hang out with friends.  Service is attentive and friendly.  But while the food was good (minus the laab), I wouldn't say it was exceptional enough to make me want to go out of my way to return.  Especially given the somewhat steep prices (and small portion sizes).

AKA hipster prices.

Hawker Fare
2300 Webster St
Oakland, CA 94612
(510) 832-8896

Thursday, December 10, 2015

San Francisco: Espetus Churrascaria

When my sister got into med school, T suggested we celebrate by going to a Brazilian steakhouse.  It took us a while, but we finally got our act together in October, just in time for my sister's birthday to make it a twofer.

T and her friend CV drove up from the South Bay.  They first picked up my sister and then swung by BART for me.  It was just a short drive from there to Espetus:

We had reservations, but I'm not sure how necessary they were for a Wednesday night.  The restaurant was pretty empty when we arrived, though it certainly filled up as the night went on.

Our table was conveniently located close to the salad and hot food bar:

We dropped off our jackets and made a beeline for the buffet.  I got a little bit of everything that interested me:

I may have skipped most of the salad-y things.  Heh.

Once the meat started coming around, I was too busy tracking the cuts I wanted to get off my butt for a second round at the buffet bar.

Instead, I filled my downtime between meats with the complimentary appetizers on the table:

Out of the fried polenta, fried bananas, and the cheese bread, my favorite was the banana.  So crisp!  Molten inside, which is a problem when you're in a hurry to stick the whole thing in your mouth, but it's a lesson you only need to learn once.

Every table has a little sign that signals to the servers whether or not you want more meat:

The meats are all you can eat (what I picture heaven to be like).  When you need a break or when you've reached food coma status, flip the sign to red to stop the onslaught of protein.

We kept ours green for a good two hours.  Yes, we wanted to curl up and sleep for twenty years afterward, but we left with our pride intact.

When the server come to your table, he describes what he is offering and asks if you want some.  If you do, he slowly starts the slice and then waits until you have a grip on it with the tweezers provided to finish the cut:

I could flood the rest of this post with photo after photo of all the different cuts of meat I had that night, but it wouldn't be a very pretty sight.  I'm sure nobody wants to see all that carnage.  So I've taken the liberty of narrowing it down to a few choice shots.

Like this one:

And this one:

And this one:

Espetus offers everything your little carnivorous heart desires.  Beef.  Pork.  Lamb.  Chicken.  Filet mignon.  Sirloin.  Ribs.  Crusted with garlic.  Crusted with parmesan.  Unadulterated.  If you like your meat on the rare side, don't be afraid to tell the server.

There was even shrimp:

And the best thing of all, chicken hearts:

At first, they gave us only three hearts at a time.  But then they realized how much we loved that stuff and started giving us each six at a time.  Oh, yeah baby.  Bow chicka wow wow.

If you want a palate cleanser, you can hit the salar bar or request some grilled pineapple:

Espetus is fantastic, but save it for a special occasion.  Unless you're fine with dropping $56.95 per person for dinner any old day.  (Beverages and desserts not included).  The service is attentive and the atmosphere is swanky.

Here's a tip: prepare your stomach by fasting a day in advance.  We ate so much that night that we walked out bent over at the waist.  The extra plate of fried bananas we asked for certainly didn't help.

So.  Much.  Pain.

I would totally do it again.

Espetus Churrascaria
1686 Market St
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 552-8792

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

South Bay: Vung Tau Restaurant

T talks a lot about food.  Good food.  Good food that she will one day introduce us to.  And by one day, she means when she finally remembers.

Such was the case with Vung Tau.  T would mention it from time to time and she would always tag on a line about taking us one day.  It took the approaching end of CK's stay in California for T to finally make good on her word:

T, CK, CL, my sister, and I piled into a car and away we went.  Parking is usually a concern in downtown San Jose, but no worries at Vung Tau though because it has its own parking lot.  Woot!

The layout inside is kind of strange:

It looks small until you go to use the restroom and you realize there's a whole other side to the restaurant.

The main reason why T would bring up Vung Tau was its banh khot ($9.50):

According to T, it's some of the best banh khot around the Bay.  I'm no expert on these coconut-y pillows with ground shrimp, but I can confidently say that the banh khot at Vung Tau is freakin' delicious.  That crispy outside.  That softness inside.  Wrapped in lettus and dipped in fish sauce?  Perfection.

The banh khot was all I really cared about.  I trusted T to order the rest.

She got us the cha gio or deep fried pork and shrimp rolls ($9.50):

I would never have thought of wrapping a fried egg roll in lettuce, but making lettuce wraps seems to be a very Vietnamese thing.  It certainly made the egg roll taste healthier.  As CK likes to say, I wasn't mad at that.

I also wasn't made at the goi sua tom thit or jellyfish salad ($13.50):

The crunchy jellyfish came with shrimp, pork, pickled daikon, and celery.  Tangy and super refreshing, I could have polished off a plate all by myself.

The thing about letting someone order for the whole table...you end up having to do some investigative work to figure out the names of the dishes you don't recognize.  Thanks to Yelpers who helpfully caption their photos, I know that this is called ba nam sadec ($11):

We could choose from rice, egg, or glass noodle.  T tried to get a blend of two, but there was a miscommunication and our server brought us only glass noodles.  Oh well.  It still tasted great topped with tiger prawn, snow crab claw, and ground pork.  Kind of like a Vietnamese spaghetti.

Also thanks to Yelp, I figured out that this is called bun cha hanoi ($10.50):

The grilled pork came with a side of rice noodles and greens.

From the lunch menu, you can choose a base (some kind of rice or noodle) and then add on whatever protein you want (minimum two).  Each base has a different price tag as does each meat option.

For the base, T chose bah dap or rice noodle sheets ($7.25).  She paired it with thit nuong or BBQ pork loin ($3.95) and tom nuong or tiger prawn ($2.50):

The noodle sheets were the most interesting thing we had that meal.

The most fun part was making all the lettuce wraps and then trying to stuff the whole thing in our mouths:

T describes Vung Tau as being a bit on the pricey side for a Vietnamese restaurant in San Jose, but the food is so good that people go anyway.  After trying it myself, I can agree.  The prices are noticeably higher in comparison to other Vietnamese restaurants in the area, but damn.  That banh khot.

I am ashamed to admit that Vung Tau has made me just like T.  I have told my mother multiple times now that there's this great Vietnamese restaurant downtown that I want to take her to.  And I have yet to deliver.

Sorry, mom.  One day soon, I promise.

Vung Tau Restaurant
535 E Santa Clara St
San Jose, CA 95112
(408) 288-9055

Monday, December 7, 2015

Santa Cruz: Marianne's Ice Cream

While CK was in the Bay, we tried to fit in as many outings to different landscapes as possible.  We did the redwoods and the hills and to round it out, we went to Santa Cruz for some beach action.  After a quick hike through Wilder Ranch State Park, we had brunch at Cafe Brasil (which I've posted about before).

There was enough time for an ice cream stop before the Mystery Spot, so Marianne's Ice Cream shop it was:

The place was pretty quiet when we arrived, so we had a lot of time to try ice cream flavors:

Marianne's signature ice cream is the 10-20, which is caramel ice cream with fudge and oreos.  CK and I both tried it, but it was a bit too sweet for our tastes.

Instead, CK got a single scoop of the coffee almond fudge ($3.25), while I got a double with oatmeal raisin cookie dough and pistachio ($5):

The oatmeal raisin cookie dough tasted exactly as it sounds like.  (The chunks of cookie dough were the best part.)  The pistachio contained real pistachio nuts and none of that ultra fragrant perfume-y crap that is oh-so-common with pistachio ice cream.  The coffee was also delicious.

Basically, I liked all of them.

We had a lot more success at Marianne's Ice Cream than we did at the Mystery Spot.  It was my first time going and I had no idea how popular it is.  We didn't buy tickets in advance, which turned out to be a mistake, because we would have had to wait another hour and some for the next available tour.

Uh, thanks, but no thanks.  Forget the Mystery Spot.  Instead, we went home and made dumplings with my parents and CL.

Marianne's Ice Cream
1020 Ocean St
Santa Cruz, CA 95060

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Oakland: Best Taste Restaurant

For my birthday part two, my Chicago girls took me out to dinner in Oakland.  They asked me to pick the place, which is always a lot of pressure.  Luckily, I had somewhere in mind.  Ever since the lady from the office next to mine told me about clay pot rice at Best Taste Restaurant, I'd been dying to go:

Best Taste is everything you can imagine about a restaurant in Chinatown.  Slightly grungy, meat hanging in the window, not much in terms of decor (or service)...just how I like it.

The three of us split a few things.  We started with shrimp won ton soup ($5)

Then moved on to shrimp with scrambled egg over fun or rice noodle ($6.99)

A little bland, but it was fun to chase the fun (get it?  heh) around the plate with our chopsticks.

We also got the salted fish and chicken with bean curd in a clay pot ($8.50):

And of course, a rice clay pot.  There were a couple different ones to choose from.  After much deliberation, we decided on the Chinese preserved meat with vegetable rice clay pot ($6.50):

Out of all the dishes, the rice clay pot was surprisingly the one that let us down.  It just wasn't what we pictured when we'd ordered it.  We were expecting huge pieces of meat...not this chopped up stuff.  We ended up just using it as rice to go with the salted fish and chicken clay pot (which was delicious with rice).

Now, I don't think it's Best Taste's fault.  I think we just ordered the wrong rice clay pot.  I'm definitely not opposed to going back to trying another one.

Best Taste is affordable and the food is solid.  Don't go in expecting too much in terms of service, but the servers aren't rude by any means.  If you order a rice clay pot, you'll have to wait around 20 minutes, which isn't that big of a deal.  The lady in the office next to mine recommended to call ahead to order if you want to go during lunch and you have a strict lunch hour at work.  Not a bad idea.  I might do that one of these days.

Best Taste Restaurant
814 Franklin St
Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 444-4983
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