Category Archives: restaurants

Tokyo – Our Last Few Days

I didn’t have a chance to blog for a few days – then I had to recover from one of the worst hangovers I’ve experienced in recent memory.  It took me a good 36 hours to even approach feeling better…  And once I’d gotten that far behind, the task of catching up was just too overwhelming.  But I wrote this while sitting in the business class lounge at Kansai, waiting for our flight to Seoul, where we had a two-hour layover before heading home…

Fantastic steaks at Beacon

So where did I leave off?  Ah yes – Chris and I were headed to have a Western dinner.  We’d both been doing pretty well eating Japanese food, but the temptation to go someplace where everything was recognizable and familiar was hard to resist.  And the restaurant turned out to be excellent – a place called Beacon in Shibuya. A bit on the fancy side in a sleek and modern setting – though to our surprise, the evening we were there was the weekly barbecue night.  Chris had an excellent bowl of black bean chili, while I got the last five raw oysters in the joint – really good.  For dinner we both got steaks, which were wonderful – grilled just right and perfectly seasoned with salt, pepper and just a hint of cayenne for a bit of extra zip.  Accompanied by shoestring fries that were crispy, piping hot and fantastic (oh, and so were the onion rings). Also splurged on a great bottle of Ramey chardonnay – one of our favorites. It was a great night – really revived us both.

On Monday, we took the train out to Chiba City to see the Tokyo Motor Show. Saw some pretty cool cars and other crazy vehicles.  Honda had some sort of thing shaped like an “8” that one sat on and it drove around – looked fun and potentially deadly.  I think the only thing that was a little disappointing was that this was a strictly Japanese auto show, so we didn’t get to see any of the concept cars from Europe, Korea or North America.  But of course this was made up for by the wacky “sketch” Honda used to introduce their latest concept car, which is just a little box of a thing that gets some power from solar and can apparently chat with your friends (we weren’t completely clear as to how this worked or why one might want it – but judging from the smiling boys and girls onstage and the cute cartoon video, everyone just loved it!)

After taking the train back, we returned to Harajuku to do a bit more shopping and attempt to find the G-Star store which we’d had no luck tracking down on our last visit. We fought our way down the same insanely crowded little main drag, with a few stops to look at clothes that were too youthful for a couple of old queens (not to mention generally not available in sizes of sufficient girth), back up the fancier main shopping street and had a rather nice walk home on this chilly evening.

Just another Tuesday night on Takeshita Dori in Harajuku

For dinner, we had something of a “when world’s collide” meal at Fonda de la Madragana, a local Mexican joint with reputation as Tokyo’s best (or so said the guidebook). The place is done up in the usual terra cotta tile, stucco and cast-iron decor one expects in such a place.  Of course, we were seated by a very proper Japanese hostess – though our order for tacos and margaritas was taken by a gentleman who appeared to be Mexican. I never got a chance to ask, since the rest of our meal was served by a Sri Lankan.  I didn’t know which language to order in – my broken Spanish or my far-more broken Japanese.  This being Tokyo, I just did what I always did – ordered in English.  I just made sure to speak very loudly and slowly, as if I were speaking to someone slow-witted – you know, the way an American should speak English when abroad… (I kid, of course).

The food was quite good, and as provincial as it may sound, it was nice having another meal with no mystery ingredients.  And the serving of guacamole was huge and tasty (OK, it needed salt, but I’m not one to quibble) and reasonably priced.  I was concerned that avocado might be sufficiently exotic to the locale that it’d be a miserly portion (as is so often the case in the U.S.). Tacos also good, meat tender and savory and margaritas decent.

¡Ay Caramba!

And speaking in hindsight, I think I’m going to blame my consumption of three margaritas for what happened later that evening… I was fine when we left the restaurant, headed to our favorite boite Dragon for our usual nightcap. We had a drink or two there, checked out one other place that was dead as a doornail and then headed to Arty Farty, another fun little place in Ni-Chome with a dance floor (we’d spent part of Halloween night there). In front of Arty Farty, I literally bumped into a guy and muttered my standard “sumimasen” to which he responded, “Oh sorry about that.” Obviously, it’s not unusual for a Japanese to speak English – but turned out this guy lives in Los Angeles. He asked us about Arty Farty, whether it was fun, etc., so we all went in together and bought each other a few rounds of drinks. Turns out our new friend, Joji-san, is originally from Tokyo but has been in the U.S. for seven years – he was here visiting his family.

Decisions, decisions...

Anyway, Arty Farty was kind of dull, so back we went to Dragon which had livened up a bit.  Chit-chatted with some of the bartenders and regulars we’d befriended, more rounds were bought and a fine time was had by all.  Chris and I decided to head off and check out one other bar then head home.  The other place we went to was completely dead, so we decided to call it a night…  And then fate intervened. We bumped into Joji-san again.  He suggested some other places we could visit – other places that we’d be unlikely to find on our own what with the language barrier and all.

And that’s all she wrote…  I have vague recollections of the evening, most notably our visit to a gay Japanese bath house – and yes it had components of both Japanese and gay bathhouses. So we had a nice soak – but we also got quite an eyeful of the activities going on in one of the “quiet” rooms on another floor. Then there was a room filled with recliners and a thick cloud of cigarette smoke – everybody in their paper robes (provided to all patrons upon entering the establishment), dozing in their chairs while the news played on the big screen TV on the wall (yes, the news, not a porn movie). Joji-san and I continued our debate on the pros and cons of American-style capitalism (no, I’m not kidding) while Chris encouraged me (unsuccessfully) to refrain from purchasing another beer from the vending machine.

So, I’ve just described three of this place’s nine or ten floors.  And decorum (as well as an unwillingness to further embarrass myself) requires me to refrain from providing any further details… Though I will reveal that I spent a good ten minutes at one point freaking out about losing the key to my locker, running around the place with Chris and Joji, panicked that I’d be walking home in my paper robe – only to have the attendant point out that the bracelet holding the key was hanging from my upper arm (hidden by my robe).  How humiliating…

Needless to say, waking the following day (i.e. afternoon) was unpleasant. Chris, for some reason, was in far better shape than I. But I did manage to get myself showered and dressed, though accompanied by the usual hollow promises of never drinking again…  We headed for Ueno Park to see the Tokyo National Museum – had an uninspiring though serviceable tonkatsu (and a beer) nearby than made a quick tour of the museum.  The exhibit we saw was just right – a one-floor circulation that provided some history and examples of a wide-range for Japanese art, antiquities and other objects: pottery, masks, screens, costumes. Very accessible and interesting, especially given my delicate condition.

Alive and kicking - and yummy - at Mon Cher Ton Ton

Back at the hotel afterward for a much-needed lie down. Then off to Mon Cher Ton Ton, a teppanyaki place I’d read about and wanted to try. It was a fancy-ish, expense-account type of place, so a bit of a splurge – though not as much so as someplace like the Park-Hyatt. I was still not fully recovered from the previous night, though a Jack-and-Coke seemed to help considerably.

As for the restaurant, it was good – though perhaps a bit stuffy for us.  Had a couple of very nice appetizers, including probably the freshest scallop I’ve ever had and what were indubitably the freshest prawns I’d ever had. I say “indubitably” because they were very much alive when they hit the grill in front of us. Neither of us quite realized it a first and thought perhaps they were just “sizzling” – but no, the chef had to hold those suckers in place with his spatulas, to ensure they didn’t jump up and run into our labs. And they kept jumping around for a lot longer than I’d’ve thought. So, it was little strange for us, but gotta remember that we’re eating animals right? Oh, and they were delicious, including head and legs, which were served separately, all crispy-crunchy…

Did we really bring this much luggage?

Steaks were very good too, with more marbling than I’d ever seen – though frankly I think I prefer a meatier steak, with a bit more texture to it. And the chef’s skill with knife was impressive (and no, none of the food became airborne and there was not an onion ring volcano). The bill was also impressive…  But Chris and I enjoyed ourselves. Sadly, though, having such a rich meal on our last night in Tokyo was unwise – I didn’t feel that great, so we just went back to our hotel to prepare for our noon departure to Kyoto – not an easy feat considering the ridiculous amount of crap we brought. Have I mentioned that Chris brought seven (yes, seven) pairs of shoes? He did…  He did throw one old pair away – but then bought some new ones the next day…  Sayonara!

Why, annoying hipsters?

no-more-hipster-scumSeriously, if all 10 or 12 or however many of you there were want to have lunch together, far be it from me to stop you.  But you know what? Don’t do it at Farm:Table, which measures about 6′ x 6′ and holds maybe 8 people comfortably. Besides managing to take up all the seats, tables and air, three of you were milling around blocking access to the cashier where I was trying to place my order.  I know it’s a difficult concept to wrap your heads around, but there are in fact other people in this world who are trying to go about their lives, performing their quotidian chores and mundane tasks – even despite their lack of elaborately groomed facial hair, plaid shirts, ironic glasses and fixed-gear bikes. And you’re in our way…

Of course, as it turned out, the point was moot.  Despite charging $8.50 for a sandwich, it’s cash only – and I had only $7 on me.  Honestly, who the hell carries cash anymore?  It’s not like I’m some senior citizen headed out for an afternoon playing the slots at the local Indian casino.  “Cash only” – I really should have gone back over there and paid with a sock full of nickels… Of course, then I had to fight my way past the two dudes standing in the doorway having a conversation – perfect location for a chat! Wasn’t there an escalator around for you to stand at the top of..?

Good thing Pearl’s is right down the street. Not only did they take my debit card, they prepared me a delicious cheeseburger and fries.

Flour + Water: Simple and Satisfying

Don’t know how, but I somehow managed to get a 7:15 dinner reservation at Flour + Water on Saturday night.  Apparently, the stars were simply aligned in my favor, as my attempt to reserve again via Open Table revealed that there is nothing available for the next couple of weeks – nothing! Not even at 5:00 or 10:30…

Photo_053009_001

Fava Beans with Grapefruit and Avocado

Started off with a fava bean, grapefruit and avocado salad.  Beans were a lovely texture and the most beautiful shade of green.  I did think the salad was just a tad undersalted – and we had to ask for salt (kind of an annoyance – I mean I get the whole “the chef knows how to season, thus we don’t put salt and pepper on the table”…  but I think it’s a bit arrogant).  Adding just a bit of salt took the dish from good to excellent.

Next up was some pasta: mezzelune with zucchini and Meyer lemon.  Delicate half-moon pasta stuffed with ricotta in a fresh and vibrant citrus with some sliced zucchini.  Chris and I both commented (as we did for the salad) that it was completely simple, completely fresh and completely delicious.

Photo_053009_003

Pizza Margherita with Bufala Mozzarella

Finished up dinner with a pizza margherita with bufala mozzarella.  The crust tasted marvelous – though it was soggy in the center.  But again, the flavors of the pizza were straightforward and delightful – the sauce tasted as if the tomatoes had just recently been on the vine.

Desserts did not disappoint.  I had chocolate budino – dark, dense, bittersweet (and with skin – the best part of pudding, as far as I’m concerned) topped with a dollop of coffee-flavored whipped cream and a sprinkling of sea salt.  And it was exactly as delicious as it sounds…  Chris had a crumbly-yet-moist olive oil cake with ice cream and quite enjoyed it.

Very good wine list, accompanied by some fine recommendations of both reds and whites by the glass.

Chocolate Budino with Coffee Cream and Sea Salt

Chocolate Budino with Coffee Cream and Sea Salt

The meal really did remind of Italy.  The food was far from fancy, yet every ingredient sang – a clear tribute to their quality and the freshness.  It never ceases to amaze me how four or five ingredients of impeccable quality can join together to create such a delicious meal. And the service was pleasantly leisurely – we shared each dish and they were brought out one by one, giving us a chance to really savor them and enjoy our wine and each other’s company.

And an especially pleasant item missing from the bill: the SF health surcharge.  This is a pet peeve of mine, as it is so often included on the bills of very successful restaurants – and, while not enough to make me boycott entirely, it can be the death knell when it’s a toss-up between someplace that charges it and someplace that appropriately prices items on their menu to cover all of the costs of doing business…  And I made a point of telling the Flour + Water’s owner that I both noticed and appreciated his choice.

The only bad part of the meal?  That it appears unlikely we’ll be able to return soon, thanks to its popularity – though I’m sure this is not a bad problem to have if one is a restaurant owner…

Mezzelune with Zucchini and Meyer Lemon

Mezzelune with Zucchini and Meyer Lemon

Olive Oil Cake with Honey-Thyme Ice Cream

Olive Oil Cake with Honey-Thyme Ice Cream

Chillaxin’ in Palm Springs

I had every intent of blogging over the week we spent in Palm Springs – but I forgot my media card reader.  And, really, what’s the point of blogging about a vacation if I don’t have photographic evidence to reinforce how vastly superior vacation life is to everyday life?  Of course, I was also quite busy taking naps, lying by the pool, perfecting my piña colada and margarita making techniques, preparing delicious dinners and dancing my ass off at Toucan’s Tiki Lounge.  In other words, I simply didn’t have time to blog…

Yes, in fact, this is the life...

Yes, in fact, this is the life...

Initially, I thought I’d just provide a chronological recap of our wonderful week.  But this would be something of a waste of time, as our days had a certain delightful quality of repetitiveness.  To wit:

  • 7:30 – Wake-up.
  • 7:31 – Realize I’m on vacation; go back to sleep.
  • 10:30 – Wake up again; actually get out of bed.
  • 11-ish – Breakfast…  Either make bagels and lox or head to Cheeky’s.
  • Noon – Lay out by pool
  • 12:01- Observe that it is now afternoon and therefore acceptable to start drinking beer and/or wine.
  • 2:00 – Have a lie-down and/or rest my eyes.
  • 3:00 – Observe that it is now mid-afternoon and therefore acceptable to start drinking cocktails. Continue drinking and/or napping until time for dinner.
  • 7:30 – Head out to King’s Highway or El Mirasol for dinner.  Alternatively, stay home and barbecue something; discover I have rather a talent for grilling.
  • 10:00 – Arrive at Toucan’s; dance until sweaty; drink beer; repeat.
  • Midnight – Arrive home.  Optional: get into a fight with Chris over whether or not to listen the Pet Shop Boys (not recommended).

Should you find yourself in Palm Springs, I heartily endorse the schedule outlined above.

"Has anyone seen my Virginia Slims?"

"Has anyone seen my Virginia Slims?"

As to some of the specifics of our stay, here’s some of the 4-1-1…

The House on George Drive

The view from the pool.

The view from the pool.

In a word, delightful.  A charming Alexander house, recently re-done – a wonderfully open main space with living and dining areas and a well-designed kitchen; three comfy bedrooms; two very nice bathrooms; and a lovely outdoor space with pool, lounges, firepit and dining area.  Seriously, it was fabulous – quiet, peaceful, relaxing.  This even despite the fact that we were pretty sure the ramshackle place next door – the one with the overgrown yard, a pool empty of water but containing a rusting mountain bike and some castoff gym equipment, a carport brimming with old sofas and a revolving assortment of brand new Lexuses parked in the driveway – was a meth lab (or at the very least a grow house).

Oh, and our place was a mere ten-minute stumble walk to Toucan’s and Dink’s.  Huge bonus points, obv…

Cheeky’s

We love everything about the place.  Well, except for the name.  And the sometimes meandering service.  But the food is fantastic.  I had chilaquiles one morning – very authentic, in that they did not contain eggs, just tortilla strips, chorizo and queso fresco in a homemade salsa.  It was both delicious and had amazing curative powers – my low-grade hangover was banished before I’d even finished my meal.  Another day I had a cheese-and-corn tamale topped with scrambled egg and napped with a house tomatillo salsa – simple and sublime.  This was the same day Chris declared his asparagus, corn and cheese scramble to be the best scramble he’d ever had – and I have to agree.  Too often scrambles are overwhelmed by their ingredients (especially gloppy cheese) – this one was perfectly balanced, with the eggs maintaining their proper place center-stage, the rest of the ingredients acting as the harmonious supporting cast.

We also shared the lemon-buttermilk waffles served with lemon curd and blackberries – and yes they were as delicious as they sound. Regrettably, I took no pictures – too focused on the amazing food, I guess…

King’s Highway

Chilaquiles at King's Highway

Chilaquiles at King's Highway

The Ace Hotel just opened in a former Howard Johnson’s down on East Palm Canyon.  Along with a hip re-do of the hotel, the old Denny’s coffee shop adjacent got the same treatment, offering simple locally sourced food at reasonable prices – and served by a team of super-dreamy waiters.

Had breakfast and a couple of dinners here.  Their version of chilaquiles, while very different than Cheeky’s, was also superb: eggs, tortillas, chorizo, crema, a zippy salsa.  At dinner, both the vegetarian black bean chili and the fish tacos were excellent.  Another night I had a steak sandwich, which I remember as being quite good – though I’d spent a bit of time in the Amigo Room, sampling margaritas, so my memory is not crystal clear…

Toucan’s Tiki Lounge

I suppose it almost sounds like it’s the only reason we go to Palm Springs.  And it might be close to that.  Chris and I have the most amazing time out on the dance floor – as does everyone around us!  For example, on our last night there, we had a total robot-off – with Chris winning per usual, since his skills doing the robot are unmatched and his lazy eye somehow adds to his authentic robotic-ness.

But seriously, this place has everything – drag shows (including a performance by Tammie Brown, our favorite contestant from RuPaul’s Drag Race…  and whom Chris stalked and chased into her dressing room introduced himself to and got some fab pix with…), piano bar nights (where my request for “Do, A Deer” was honored – both literally and figuratively), a tiny dance floor playing all our favorites (well, except for Pet Shop Boys – about which Chris got into something of argument with DJ Galaxy – again, not recommended to get into it with Chris when it comes to PSB…) and super-friendly staff and clientele.  Just fun, fun, fun…

Dink’s

DSC06365-1

The trademark red robe at Dink's - Kwell not included!

If Toucan’s is “fun, fun, fun”, then Dink’s is “weird, weird, weird – but still pretty fun”.  It’s kind of impossible to describe…  It’s a restaurant/bar/lounge with an outdoor lounge, an indoor lounge, a half-in/half-out lounge, VIP booths with bottle service (that no one does, meaning plebs like use can just sit in them drinking our Budweisers), live cabaret-style performances and a friendly staff.  And it caters primarily to old queens, retirees, cougars, middle-aged queens, groups of drunken twenty-something girls, young queens and yentas.  Oh, and the Dink’s signature? Providing patrons with hideous red fleece robes to wear on the patio – you know, to ward off the chill…  And the scabies are complimentary (I kid! I kid!).

Indian Canyons

DSC06329-1

Coolin' off our tootsies at an oasis...

A mere ten minute drive from downtown Palm Springs is the open desert, stark, mountainous, yet also dotted with some of the largest palm oases in North America.  We quite wisely chose to arrive at around noon on a day when the temperature topped out at about 103°.  Luckily for us, quite a few of the trails are easily walked and the palms of the oasis provided shelter and shade, as did the cooling water we found in a blessedly chilled rock cave and in a babbling stream further along.  It was a very nice visit – though getting an early start is probably a good idea.

Other Stuff

Always worthwhile to cruise the streets of the older sections of Palm Springs.  There are tons of beautifully restored and maintained Alexanders; the not-to-be-missed Kaufman House; the wonderful (though largely hidden) Dinah Shore Residence designed by Don Wexler; the charmingly quirky Del Marcos Hotel.

Also not to be missed is radio station KWXY at 98.5.  They have been broadcasting with the “beautiful music” format since the station was founded in 1964.  And it’s the perfect soundtrack for Palm Springs: 101 Strings, Percy Faith, Frank Sinatra, Doris Day, Mantovani…  My choice is to listen to it 24/7 – though Chris likes to play his Pet Shop Boys every now and again (best just to let him; see above)

At any rate, go to Palm Springs.  It’s hot – but it’s a dry heat…  Still not sure what that means, but I said it at least half a dozen times every day.  And as I sit here wearing a sweatshirt over a sweater over a shirt in my chilly apartment, I long to hear the dulcet tones of the KWXY announcer telling me that  “the current temperarture is 103° with a relative humidity of 9%”…

Lots more pix after the jump

La Cicciolina di Boccalone

photo_033109_002

Mmmm.... Delicious pig face...

Tried “La Cicciolina” sandwich at Boccalone today…  I was a little leery, since it includes coppa di testa (essentially head cheese, plus tongue and trotters), along with lonza (cured pork loin), pickled carrots, radish, mint and chile.  It was pretty darned delicious – though I did occasionally find myself screaming internally, “Pig face! Pig face! You’re eating pig face!”

Oh, and the always-delightful house-made potato chips from Lulu Petite were especially lovely today.

A16 Gets a “B”

Finally got around to trying A16 – they take reservations now, so that was a big incentive…  We lucked out with parking and arrived 15 minutes early and they seated us right away.

I’d read that A16 has a great wine program – and the wine list certainly was extensive.  Many bottles seemed to be on the pricey side, too…  But not long after we were seated, the sommelier that evening, Anaïs, arrived and asked if we had questions.  I told her we’d like to share some half-bottles, what little I know about the wine we like and that we preferred something inexpensive.  She started us with a very nice white, followed later by two different reds (the last one from Sicily and my favorite).  And all this just a bit more than $50.  I was really impressed by her knowledge of wines and how much she engaged us in the selection of the wines, despite a small budget.  We were very fortunate to leave our wine selection in her very capable hands.

photo_022409_001

Roasted Beet and Farro Salad

As for the meal, we started with a roasted beet and farro salad.  It was a lovely and well-balanced dish, the sweet beets set off by the salty ricotta salata and a nicely acidic dressing.  And the farro gave a salad some substance and toothfulness.  Very good.

photo_022409_002

Pizza Bianca

Next was a pizza bianca, with cheese, chiles and basil.  The crust was flavorful and delcious and the flavors played nicely.  The rather unfortunate drawback was that there was way too much cheese – it overpowered the rest of the dish and made the crust rather soggy in the center.  Not sure whether we just had some bad luck or if they don’t execute pizza bianca especially well, because the other pizzas I saw coming out of the kitchen looked marvelous, especially the margherita and salsiccia….

Braised Pork and Porchetto

Braised Pork and Porchetto

For our entree, we shared the braised pork with porchetto – and I realize as I’m writing this, I don’t know which was which.  At any rate, there was some sliced pork (the shoulder, I believe) served along side what looked like an inch-thick slap of bacon.  The meat was very nice, though it didn’t bowl me over initially.  But then I tried it with a bit of what I took to be the porchetto.  I’m not sure how it was prepared, but the exterior was wonderfully crispy and salty, while the fatty interior was the texture of soft butter.  It was wonderfully creamy and delicious (well, duh – it’s salty fat…  Or fatty salt?  Either way, a combination that is hard to beat…)  Our side was roasted carrots and turnips – fully-cooked yet still with some crispness and just a bit sweet.  All very good…

For dessert, we shared the house-made gelato, which seemed like a can’t lose proposition.  And for the ricotta gelato with pistachio and candied fruit, it was – the first bite took me right back to the gelateria around the corner from the apartment we stayed in Rome.  It was really delicious.  The other gelato was chocolate – and it was lousy.  It had that faux-chocolate flavor one associates with Carnation Instant Breakfast or Ensure – sort of powdery and artificial and not at all chocolatey.  I was really surprised by how disappointing this seemingly simple and easy-to-create dish was.  I’d actually read that desserts are a weak spot at A16 and that certainly proved true for the chocolate gelato…  But the ricotta gelato was sensational.  Go figure…

At any rate, despite the gelato, it was a lovely evening.  Chris and I really enjoyed ourselves, most of our meal and the fine service.  Then we headed home to get in a few rounds of Singstar before bed.  Who could ask for anything more?

The Big Four: I Want More

We’ve been wanting to try the food at the the bar at the Big Four ever since we popped in for a drink last year and spied chicken pot pie “baked in a sherry-laced cream with puff pastry” on the menu.  Sherry-laced?  Puff pastry?  Yes, please.

So Sunday evening, a cold and rainy night here in the City,  Chris suggested a trek to the top of Nob Hill for some comfort food.  A very good choice indeed.  The park across from the restaurant was all done up in Christmas lights, Grace Cathedral’s stained-glass windows were aglow and a cable car cruised past, bells ringing and lights twinkling.  It was lovely.

The Big Four is very old school – dimly lit, lots of dark wood paneling and green leather club chairs and booths.  There’s a restaurant section, too, which is pretty fancy – I think one even has to wear a jacket.  In fact, the people-watching at the bar is pretty great – lots of monied folk tottering in and out, along with a few schlubs like us.  Chris and I felt especially grubby, as we dressed for warmth rather than decorum…  Next visit, I think I’ll at least put on a shirt with a collar – not that we were treated shabbily.  We just looked shabby…

And we especially enjoyed the comings-and-goings at the coat check.  There was a bit of a to-do when it turned out the someone’s umbrella had been given to away to the wrong person.  And one lady helpfully pointed out that hers was the fur coat – and yes she emphasized fur.  I wished I’d had my bottle of fake blood to splash on her – not because I particularly object to fur.  I just like to stir things up…  You know, like a maverick…

Lamb Stew

Lamb Stew

At any rate, we had a round of drinks as we looked over the short menu.  I was sure I’d just go for chicken pot pie…  But then I saw lamb stew…  And lobster bisque…  And a $15 prawn cocktail with three prawns – which I assume were enormous and delicious at $5 a prawn.

So, I actually chose the lamb stew (once I’d ascertained that Chris was getting the chicken pot pie so I could try a bite or five…).  And it was very good.  Lots of very tender chunks of lamb, along with potatoes, carrots and peas.  The sauce was a bit on the thin side, though it was tasty.

As for the chicken pot pie: WIN!  Served in a ramekin, with a crust of pastry sealing in the chickeny goodness below, our server gently pried off crust and set in on a dinner plate; then, she dished up the chunks of chicken, carrots and peas in a wonderfully creamy sauce.  And, per my recommendation, Chris upgraded his pie with side shot of sherry to pour on.  This dish was simple and simply sensational.  The chicken was all white meat – big chunks that were moist and luscious; the pastry was buttery and flaky; and the sherry-tinged sauce upped the ante with a nice kick of booziness.  This was most assuredly in the pantheon of chicken pot pies.

Chicken Pot Pie

Chicken Pot Pie

Wines very good too.  I had a lovely meritage from Duckhorn Vineyards.  And Chris enjoyed his chardonnay (perhaps a bit too much, as I kinda had to pour him out of the place…  but I digress…)

Regrettably, our desserts were really underwhelming.  Chris had a pair of cremes brûlées – one vanilla, one with orange and ginger. They were OK, but had clearly been prepared earlier in the day and kept in the fridge – seems like the hallmark of a very lazy kitchen… I had a “cinnamon bread pudding” which I likened to a Pillsbury cinnamon roll or a Cinnabon that had been doused with crème anglaise. Not a nice way to end a meal.

But we will assuredly be back… I can hear that chicken pot pie calling me already. “Cluck, cluck”, I hear it say…

Amber India Fails to Impress

I’d been looking forward to dinner at Amber India ever since I saw they were opening here in SF.  Several of my colleagues have sung the praises of the original Mountain View location.

Forgot to take pictures of the food - but here's our lovely view of the waiters' station. The trashcan is a classy touch...

Arrived for our 7:30 Friday reservation and was shown to what is certainly the worst table in the house.  It’s at the bottom of the stairs down from the entrance, so there was a near-constant cold draft as people came and went through the front door.  I was actually surprised that my mom and sister accepted the table, since they are usually big freaks like me about being too near the door.  In addition to the Arctic breeze, the table was between the waiter’s station and the entrance to the kitchen, so there was a constant stream of servers and bussers jostling the backs of our chairs.

Despite the hubbub surrounding our table, my other sister and I had trouble getting drinks when we arrived just after the first round of drinks was served.  After 10-15 minutes waiting, I finally flagged someone down who sent a manager over to take our drink orders.  He rather unhelpfully pointed out that our waiter was busy taking orders from a large party seated two tables over — sorry, dude, not my problem.  I just want a Pimm’s Cup please.

At any rate, drinks finally in hand (the Pimm’s Cup was decidedly mediocre), we decided on what to eat.  We started off with a couple of appetizers: Aloo Peas Samosas and Galouti Kebab.  The samosas were straightforward and tasty, though only lukewarm.  The kebabs, patties of spicy ground lamb, were savory with a spicy kick.  I found the texture a bit odd — the lamb so finely ground, it was almost like a paté.  I prefer something with a bit more of a meaty texture…  These were rather mushy.

Another oddity: each of the appetizers had four pieces, though five of us were dining (Chris having shown up just after I finally got my drink).  I was a bit surprised that our waiter didn’t offer to bump up the size of our orders.  Not the end of the world, obviously, but a clumsy missed opportunity to make things easier  for us (and to add a few extra bucks to the bill).

For dinner, we shared Butter Chicken, Lamb Biriyiani and Subz Elaichi Korma (a mixed vegetable curry), along with a couple of types of naan.  The butter chicken was lovely — chunks of wonderfully tender chicken in a thick, russet-colored sauce that packed a good wallop of heat.  Pretty addictive actually — I mopped the bowl with the delicious, piping-hot naan.  The special chili-thyme naan was an interesting twist on the classic.  I quite liked it, though one of my sisters thought it was too pizza-like — but then, what does she know?

The lamb biriyani was brought to the table in a brass bowl, the top sealed with dough that the waiter cut into and removed just before serving.  The dish itself was serviceable — chunks of lean and flavorful lamb distributed generously throughout the  seasoned rice.  I thought the use of saffron in the dish was a bit heavy-handed — it overwhelmed the other seasonings.

The vegetables, served in a green cardamom sauce with nuts, were very good.  The vegetables, including cauliflower and peas, were cooked tender-crisp and the creamy sauce was zippy, with underlying heat and a bit of sweetness.

For dessert, I had Gulab Jamun.  They were just a notch below “meh” — a bit rubbery and missing the creaminess and echoes of crispiness that are found in my favorite renditions of this dish.

The service, besides being slow, was peculiar and unpolished.  After writing down our order, our waiter asked if we wanted rice with dinner – I pointed out that we’d already ordered biriyani, so I thought we were all set on rice…  It bordered on “do you want fries with that?”, i.e. perfunctory and asked just for the sake of asking rather than suggesting something that would enhance our meal.

As the waiters and bussers scurried back-and-forth to the kitchen, there was some noticeable fooling around and joshing with one another.  Far be it from me to tell people they can’t have fun at work, but it just seemed a  bit unprofessional given both the high-prices and reinforced the to me the slapdash nature of the service.

I ordered an armagnac with dessert, after seeing it offered it on the dessert menu.  The waiter returned shortly after I ordered, advising that they didn’t have any armagnac — would I care to have the Daron armagnac instead?  Huh?  Weird, and again seems to point to a lack of professionalism on the part of the wait staff.

The menu outside the entrance, pinned up with thumbtacks. Again with the classiness...

When he brought the bill, our waiter delivered it with a flourish and referred to it as “the best part of the meal.”  Oh, OK, dude — if you say so.  The bill included an 18% gratuity — which is fine I guess.  Though our waiter didn’t bother to point out that tip was included  (tacky) — and no one recalled seeing it on the menu.  And a mandatory gratuity for a party of five?  Really?

Overall, I enjoyed the food.  Certainly there were some stumbles, though if the appetizers had been hot rather than tepid, the missteps would have been less noticeable.  That being said, I thought the meal was overpriced — the service and the ambience were simply not up to my standards for a resturant charging over $20 per dish.

Why, annoying lady with stroller?

photo_112308_001

Excellent location for a stroller... And seriously, look at the size of that kid... Is she in junior high?

OK, you were already annoying pretty much everyone at Papalote, as you interrogated the staff about the menu and your special requests…  And you took a really long time to place a really simple order…  And you were using that particular tone of voice, that is both condescending and tinged with panic, as if a failure to include the prescribed amount of guacamole on your burrito will have severe and lasting repercussions on your ability to lead a happy and productive life…

But would it really have been so difficult to put your stroller on one side of you, rather than behind you, thereby blocking the entire aisle?  Not to mention that the kid in the stroller appeared to be a ten-year-old…

Demanding that someone open the door for you and your stroller on the way out didn’t help much either…  How come you weren’t in that much of hurry when you were placing your order?

At any rate, Chris and I both had chilaquiles – and they were good…  not in the pantheon of chilaquiles, perhaps, but quite tasty and satisfying…  And the salsa they serve here is pretty darn good…

Too much bloodletting…

Despite trying to adhere to my “one post per weekday”, I failed yesterday.  But why would I miss a day?  There was certainly enough going on in the world, what with the impending financial meltdown, the Emmy Awards and the fact that none of you ingrates who read my blog could be bothered to click through to donate to the No on 8 campaign, as requested (unlike Stephen Spielberg and Kate Capshaw, who just coughed up $100K).

So what then was the problem?  Simple really: sangria + margaritas + bourbon + Sunday evening = unable to blog on Monday.

Actually, there was quite a bit more than blogging that I was unable to do on Monday – though I did manage to drag myself into work.  Sorry, co-workers!  I’m sure I smelled like a distillery…

Anyhoo, Chris and I tried a new place for dinner on Sunday…  Regalito over on 18th & Valencia.  It’s a Mexican place serving dishes that are a bit more traditionally Mexican than tacos and burritos.  The place is small-ish, but cute.  Our waitress was quite nice, though we weren’t overly fond of her habit of twirling and playing with her hair while she was pouring drinks and placing orders…  Kinda yucky.

I had sangria – it was just OK.  Rather sweet for my taste – I prefer to be able to taste the wine a bit more.  Of course, this didn’t stop me from drinking three of them…

Lamb Sopes with Red Chile Sauce

Lamb Sopes with Red Chile Sauce

Started off with the special sopes – lamb shoulder braised in a red chile sauce.  We enjoyed them – though Chris thought there was too much sauce.  And I didn’t really understand why they’d used lamb.  The flavor of the sauce, while good, meant that the meat could’ve been anything – beef, pork or lamb.  I guess I would’ve liked something that showcased the lamb.

Tamales

Tamales

For dinner, I had tamales (another special that night) – one with pork, the other with chiles and cheese.  Well-executed and tasty, though the pork filling was just about identical to the lamb in the sopes.  Made me wish I had ordered the pozole, the other special that night.

Beef Machaca

Beef Machaca

Chris had the beef machaca, shredded beef in a tangy sauce with chiles, tomatoes and onions, served with beans and tortillas.  I just got a taste, but found it to be delicious.  Spicy and savory, along with some smokiness; fresh lime brightened the dish.

We skipped dessert (we contemplated swinging by Bi-Rite Creamery until we remembered that we’re fatties) and decided to have a nightcap at the Midnight Sun.  After having a couple of drinks here, it seemed silly not to continue on the up the street to Badlands…  where I forced got Chris to dance with me!  Then, off we went home – where Chris demanded asked me to make him a Manhattan.  And, not wanting to be rude and make him drink alone, I poured myself a bourbon…

So, that’s why I couldn’t blog on Monday.

Keeping My Eye on The Sentinel

Barbecue Brisket Sandwich

Barbecue Brisket Sandwich

Grabbed lunch at The Sentinel again both yesterday and today (yes, I am a glutton – but that shouldn’t be news to anyone)…  Wow, it’s good.  Yesterday there was a barbecue brisket sandwich.  The thinly sliced brisket was beefy and yummy, with just enough barbecue sauce to add some heat and tang without overwhelming the meat (or making a mess).  And served on house-made flat bread – crunchy crust with a soft interior.  Really good…

Coconut Panna Cotta with Strawberries

Coconut Panna Cotta with Strawberries

Also ordered coconut panna cotta with strawberries – which was tasty enough (strawberries were excellent – and I’m not the biggest fan of strawberries…), but didn’t seem to me to be panna cotta (except perhaps in the literal sense that it was cream and had likely been cooked).  But I was anticipating a traditional very-soft-pudding-like dish; what I got was strawberries in cream – the panna was essentially the texture of heavy cream…  So I was a bit disappointed, mainly because the dish wasn’t what I’d expected it to be based on the name…

Today, I thought I’d try the chicken salad (made with pine nuts, raisins, hot mustard and cilantro – my eyes are rolling back in my head just a bit, thinking about how delicious this sandwich must be…).

Corned Beef Sandwich

But as I was waiting in line, I spied one of the corned beef sandwiches being prepared…  Strips of very lean red meat peeking out from the sides of the still-warm bread… I’m not made of stone – how could I resist this sandwich?  So that’s what I got…

It was a wise decision – the meat was tender yet still a bit chewy, the coleslaw on top tangy enough to almost pass for sauerkraut, the Gruyere gooey and nutty-tasting – and again on that amazing flat bread.  This bore little resemblance to the corned beef I’d had on my previous visit (though I believe that was corned beef brisket…  Is there a difference?  Don’t know…).  Today’s selection was my favorite sandwich to date…

Chef Leary hard at work...

Chef Leary hard at work...

And per usual, Chef Leary behind the counter, methodically assembling his amazing sandwiches and calling out names for pick-up.  All I have to say is “keep it up” (please!) as your sandwiches are quickly becoming a delicious staple of my diet.

Dosa Do

Finally made it to Dosa last Sunday. Wait was only about ten minutes, which we spent at the bar having an aperitif.  A quite charming space, modern with high ceilings and spinning fans (which were not as effective as one might hope in cooling down the quite warm room).

Started off with a special of heirloom tomatoes, a stack of six slices of different varieties of tomatoes atop coconut flavored noodles, dressed with a bit of mint chutney.  The tomatoes were perfectly ripe, which pretty much guaranteed that this dish would satisfy.  The coconut and mint added a surprising bit of dimension to what could’ve been a tasty but ordinary dish – and there was a bit of heat to the chutney, giving the tomatoes a distinct Indian signature.  Really loved this…

Next were spinach and cauliflower vadas (a type of fritter), napped with a bit of spicy tomato chutney – almost like an aioli.  The vadas were crispy without a trace of grease; and while quite yummy, most of the flavor came from the chutney – I didn’t taste much spinach or cauliflower.

Our third course was a pea-and-paneer dosa, the Indian flatbread for which the restaurant is named, served with three different chutneys.  It was serviceable.  Not being a dosa connoisseur, I don’t really have a good yardstick with which to measure the dosa (though a colleague at work who is of South Indian descent advised that Udupi Palace makes a better dosa) – but it was a bit dull.  And I didn’t find any of the three chutneys to be especially interesting.  Don’t get me wrong – the dosa was fine; just found it to be on the bland side.

Lamb and Lentil Curry with Coconut Rice

Lamb and Lentil Curry with Coconut Rice

For our main course, we shared the special for the evening, a lovely lamb and lentil curry served with coconut rice.  Substantial chunks of tender lamb in a thick and savory brown curry made with four kinds of lentils; very nice heat and a wonderful texture.  The lamb was excellent, full of flavor, with just the slightest hint of gaminess playing off the heat and spices.  The accompanying rice was a perfect foil, adding a touch of sweetness to the zippy curry.

Finished off with gulab jamun (fried milk dough balls in syrup) which were well-executed; balls were light and fluffy and suitably soaked with syrup.  However, there was little complexity – no cardomom pods or other spices added to livent things up.  And the syrup was quite hot temperature-wise – more so than I thought necessary.  Chris had a very tasty dish of pistachio ice cream.

Our waitress was very good, making a couple of recommendations to us as first-time visitors; and serving our courses as ordered and at an unhurried pace.

We quite enjoyed our meal at Dosa and plan to be back – though, surprisingly, are unlikely to order the dosas which are there specialty.  But with their extensive menu of curries, vadas and idlis, I don’t anticipate having any difficulty ordering a great meal.

Watch Out For The Sentinel

Corned Beef Brisket Sandwich

Corned Beef Brisket Sandwich

Ran up to The Sentinel yesterday for lunch. Had a really tasty corned beef brisket sandwich, topped with Gruyere, coleslaw and mustard (rather than the standard Russian dressing – because you know me… I’m a maverick) and served on flatbread. This was definitely not your grandpappy’s Reuben – more of a deconstruction. The meat was in smallish chunks rather than slices – very tender and flavorful (though just a tad on the dry side); the coleslaw was more of a cabbage salad – and I’m pretty sure it either had apples in it or – more likely – was made with apple cider vinegar… There was definitely some appley-ness going on somewhere. The bread was great – crusty but not brittle and just the right thickness. A fine sandwich indeed.

Specials change daily...

Specials change daily...

Perhaps the more remarkable thing: Dennis Leary (chef and owner of both The Sentinel and Canteen) is right there behind the counter, taking orders, whipping up sandwiches and calling out names when orders are ready. There’s something just so great about this personal level of focus on dishing up fine food (and dare I say, only in San Francisco?). Chef Leary must love what he does – and his patrons are reaping the rewards of both his talent and dedication.

Keep in mind: no seating and there’ll likely be a line (though it seems to move quickly and is run quite efficiently – huge bonus points for that, because improper line management is rampant, as you’ll recall from the Pancho Villa debacle…  But I digress.).  Rumor has it that early (11AM) or late (1PM) may be easier.  I phoned my order in – but wanted to change it (remember?  I’m a maverick?).  And the good chef kindly saw to it…

SPQR Redux

Saw Tell No One on Sunday afternoon (a finely executed French thriller – two thumbs up from Chris and me) and popped into SPQR for dinner.  Waited about ten minutes for a table (the hostess was very nice, keeping us updated on progress).

Carrots with watercress, almonds, chile and ricotta salata

Carrots with watercress, almonds, chile and ricotta salata

We had fresh ricotta and vegetable caponata crostini – very nice, though it was “assembly required”, which is fine, but we could’ve used a few more toasts.  Next was carrots, prepared with watercress, almonds, chiles and ricotta salata.  It was amazing – the finest preparation of carrots I’ve ever encountered.  Carrots with some lovely browned crusts, almonds adding crunch, chile adding zing and ricotta adding some salt to balance the sweet carrots.  Sensational.

Then, some fried meatballs with cherry tomatoes.  Very tasty balls – though the tomatoes were quite sweet and might’ve been better off with a bit of acid to cut through.  After that, another beautifully rendered plate of rigatoni all’amatriciana – just as delicious as our previous visit.

For dessert, riso budino (again – I’m not made of stone), this time with topped with apricots – even better than the strawberries used last time.  Chris had a chocolate and cherry dessert – I thought it was just OK, the flavors a bit muddled.  The presentation in a coffee mug was also a bit awkward (can’t win ‘em all…).  Nonetheless, we left happy and satisfied – and once again excitedly looking forward to our trip to Rome.

Though we did continue the evening in a French vein, watching Paris, Je T’aime when we arrived home.  And do you know what?  I do t’aime Paris…  Le sigh…  And we both found this movie to be charming.

Pancho Villa: Great Burrito Amidst Inanity

Baby Burrito with Carnitas

Pancho Villa Tacqueria on the Embarcadero has been on something of a roll with me lately.  Their burritos are consistently good, but the last few have approached the zenith of the art of burrito making.  Per usual, I ordered a baby burrito (not to be confused with a burrito baby), which, despite the diminutive name, is sufficiently gut-busting to sate my appetite.  The ingredients are fresh and delicious as always – tender and savory carnitas; well-seasoned and spicy pico de gallo; rice and beans; avocado slices (generously applied and pretty much always superior to guacamole in both taste and texture); some cheese (which was nice and melty);  jalapeños; and some extra tomatillo salsa alongside.

Clearly, with such an array of well-executed burrito fillings, there is not a whole lot to screw up.  But today (and on my prior visit), I found the ingredients to be perfectly distributed throughout the burrito, the hallmark of fine craftsmanship – because, really, is there anything worse than a mouthful of just a single ingredient from one’s burrito, be it plain rice, a huge chunk of meat or a gusher of salsa?  I think not.  The whole point of a burrito is to enjoy a bit of each ingredient in every bite – and Pancho Villa’s burrito ladies have been doing a bang-up job of making this happen.

Not to mention, the burrito assembly technique is superb – symmetrical and wrapped tightly enough to ensure that it maintained its shape and integrity until the very last bite.  I went nearly foil-free from the very first bite.

But wait! There’s more…

Seekh Kabab and You Shall Find

Note the lovely presentation - much nicer than eating straight from the carton while leaning over the sink...

Thursday nights are generally “on-your-own” for dinner night chez nous.  So, I ordered take-out from my favorite place in the neighborhood, Shalimar. It’s perfect for just me, since Chris won’t eat there.  Something about it being “filthy”.  Granted, it’s a little less than pristine (ahem) when compared to a nice sit-down place like Sultan.  And it can be a bit chaotic (woe to the first time visitor who doesn’t understand the “system” for obtaining food…  Even ordering take-out is almost stressful enough to require a Valium…  Though I go often enough that the gentlemen working at the counter recognize me – and always kindly fill up my Tupperware container with mint chutney – ’cause you can never have too much mint chutney). But it is so freakin’ delicious.

I had my usual order of seekh kababs – ground lamb, heavily spiced with cumin, cardomom, garlic and probably a bunch of other spices, cooked up on a skewer in the tandoori oven, with a crispy outside and a meaty interior.  My mouth is actually watering just describing them…  An order of daal, yellow lentils cooked up in a curry with chiles – spicy and comforting.  And some onion kulcha (naan stuffed with onions), always hot out of the oven, the exterior a bit crunchy with some almost-charred bits, but tender and pillowy-soft on the inside.  Plenty of mint chutney to go alongside…

I skipped the kheer for dessert (a soupy rice pudding with almonds and cardamom pods), since I’m on a slimming regimen in preparation for next weekend’s Dore Alley fair, but I can tell you from experience that it is wonderful.  Creamy and rich, but refreshing and soothing after a spicy meal.  Guess I’ll look forward to having some whenever Chris stops telling me how fat I am…  Sigh…

Carpe SPQR!

Seeing as they don’t take reservations, we figured showing up at SPQR on a Sunday at 5:45 would be easy enough – after all, who eats at such an hour?  Well, turns out that SPQR opens at 5:30 and people actually line up beforehand.  So every table was full and all had just been seated.  But, as luck would have it, there were two open seats at the bar – not only did we have a lovely dinner, our server Natasha was the greatest, pointing us to some really great wines.

Natasha recommended several whites under $45 from the all-Italian list and we chose a Northern white (whose name escapes me) that we both really liked.  It was dry and crisp, but with a just hint of oily mouthfeel.

We had two antipasti: the cauliflower fried up with capers, parsley and lemon – little nuggets of crispy golden-brown cauliflower with a creamy interior, the capers and lemon lending a fine accent to all; and Romano beans (kind of like wide flat green beans) sauteed with chili and mint – very spicy, with the mint providing a cool undertone.  We made fast work of both…

A lovely red - Vicari Rosso Piceno

A lovely red - Vicari Rosso Piceno

By now we’d finished off our first bottle of wine and I wanted a glass of red to go with our pasta.  This time Natasha had me try Vicari Rosso Piceno, a combination of Montepulciano, Sangiovese and Lacrima di Morro.  It was fantastic – medium-bodied but still with some pronounced tannins, and an underlying note of frankincense.  Chris liked it too and decided we should get a bottle – and far be it from me to object this course of action.
Keep Reading…

A Bull’s-eye for Beretta

La Paloma de Beretta (special note to Bethany: OK! The photos are captioned! Are you happy now? And will you stop your unending stream of vitriol aimed at my blog?)

Had an excellent evening at Beretta on Wednesday night.  Things started off well even before I arrived: despite the crowd and my still-imminent arrival, Chris was seated and served a drink.  No “is your whole party here?” – granted, I think most of the crowd was there for a drink at the bar, but I was still impressed.

Once I did arrive, I ordered the Beretta version of a Paloma – made with tequila, elderflower, cointreau, grapefruit and bitters.  It was delicious – refreshing, with more of a bite than a traditional Paloma (grapefruit soda, tequila, salt).  The bartenders (or “mixologists” as they apparently prefer to be called – whatevs…) really know how to make a drink – even if they are a bit showboat-y with the shakers…

The tables are packed quite close together – which turned out to be a good thing, as we chatted up our neighbors on either side (on the left about the food and cocktails; on the right about our server’s accent – was it South African or Kiwi? Fail! She’s from South Boston – which was quite apparent to me…  But I digress).  The service was leisurely – though I didn’t find it to be slow by any means.  Chris and I enjoyed our cocktails as we mulled over the menu.  Our server checked in a couple of times to answer questions (and kindly did not mock me when I asked what “pangrattato” was – it’s breadcrumbs, i.e. “grated bread” – d’oh!  I need to sign up for that Italian class stat or we’re going to look like a couple of rubes in Rome this October).

Keep reading…

Shocker! Great Meal in the Castro

Scallops with Green Curry Noodles

Chris, David and I ate at Zadin last night – it was excellent.  The fact that it is located in heart of the restaurant wasteland that is the Castro makes this even more amazing.

We started off with salt-and-pepper calamari, lightly breaded and perfectly fried and crunchy, without a trace of grease.  The calamari were meltingly tender and super-yummy with the zippy cilantro sauce served alongside.  We also had barbecue pork rolls – which appeared to be a typical rice paper roll with vermicelli, mint and greens, but also had strips of crispy, chewy lemongrass pork.  We were all kvelling over these rolls – David pointed out that it was like a really tasty summer roll but with bacon added.  And is there any dish that isn’t improved with the addition of bacon?

Then we shared the grilled beef with shallots – almost like little kebabs of rolled beef – and the green curry scallops with noodles.  The scallops were small and tender – very fresh and cooked just right.  The noodles were spicy and creamy – a nice counterpoint to the grilled meats.  Coconut rice was rich and tasty.

For dessert, we shared banana rolls.  What more really needs to be said than that they were bananas wrapped in rice paper, deep fried and served with a coconut reduction for dipping?  Yes, they were delicious.

David and I had a couple of beers and Chris had wine – and we still got out of there for just about $100 with tip.  In other words, this place is very well-priced – even more so considering its improbable location in the Castro.  And the service was friendly and competent.  All in all, a great evening.

Kasa no es mi casa…

I had been wanting to try Kasa since I first read the concept – kind of Indian-meets-tacqueria.  The menu has only two items – kati rolls or thalis, with a choice of various meat and vegetarian dishes to fill or go alongside.

It was rather busy when we arrived at 1:30 on July 4 – and despite about eight people working behind the counter, they seemed to have some trouble coping with the line of eight or ten customers.  The place is still new-ish, so I’m willing to cut them a bit of slack, but not an ideal way to start off.

At any rate, I ordered two thalis – chicken tikka masala for Chris and lamb curry for me.  The thali includes rice, roti, raita, cucumber salad, lentils and a couple of chutneys.  They also added some cabbage with mustard seed to my plate when I asked what it was – a thoughtful touch.

They were out of lamb curry and told me it’d be ready in a minute.  Sigh…  I should’ve known better than to wait.  Not that I even really minded the five-minute wait – but they’d already assembled my thali plate and let it sit while waiting for the lamb curry.  So the already not-very-hot rice and lentils were cold by the time I got my curry.

As for the food itself, it was a mixed bag.  I thought the lamb curry was pretty dull – a thin sauce, not much spice or flavor to it; and the lamb was a bit gamey.  The raita was cool and tasty.  The cabbage was actually my favorite – the most complex spicing and a really good texture, both tender and crunchy.  The cucumber salad was yummy – sweet, spicy and refreshing, though it was a bit too chunky to really come together completely.  Lentils were kind of a bore – could’ve used both salt and spicing up.  I also found the roti to be more greasy than buttery.

Chris had a glass of wine and I had an ice cold Kingfisher (on tap, no less), all of which brought the bill to $37.  This seems pretty steep for counter service with food that rated an overall “meh”.  I’d certainly go back to try out some of the other dishes – but I wouldn’t make a special trip. I really wanted to like this place – but it can’t really hold its own against some of my other favorite Indian places like Sultan or Shalimar.