Considering that Adam took over 130 pictures of London restaurants we ate at, it was only natural that we start chronicling our thoughts and opinions about the food we eat. We've totally become accidental foodies. It all started out when Sheila started calling Adam "the human trash compactor"; since he eats almost anything. But somewhere along the way we started having discussions about food and seeking out culinary adventures when on travel. We bring a unique perspective to this arena as we're both vegetarians (no meat, poultry, or fish). I suspect we will both have varying opinions on the food, and hope to not only have a record for posterity, but provide some fun, useful if not amateur insight.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

plow, a real gem in potrero hill

Near the top of Potrero Hill sits the recently opened Plow, another of SF’s uber-popular brunch haunts. In typical SF style, this place is locally sourced literally. The owners Bleskacek and Siu, live up the street, chose a local architect to design their space, and source all their food from local purveyors. It’s a beautiful restaurant - modern rustic with floor to ceiling windows, detailed white wainscoting, a marble countertop bar, reclaimed wood tables, metal tolix chairs/barstools, and a small but efficient kitchen. It’s such an amazing little storefront, that Dwell Magazine recently featured it in a pictorial!

With only 13 tables, the wait out Plow can be numbing (similar to Zazie, Flour + Water, or Mama’s). We went there on brisk sunshiny Sunday morning for brunch. We put our name down and with 15 groups in front of us decided to make a quick trip to Trader Joe’s beforehand. Worked great, after getting back we were seated at the 6 amazing carrera marble bar, a perfect spot to take in the action. The service was neighborhood friendly, probably because it had been a week since the sun shined on SF! We both had fresh cups of house coffee; strong and slightly bitter, it definitely woke me up!
The menu is appetizing even for vegetarians – with a variety of savory and sweet dishes! We opted for French toast with caramelized banana, mascarpone, and Vermont maple syrup; a lemon ricotta pancake also with Vermont maple syrup, and crispy potatoes with tomato aioli.
The two pieces of French toast (seemed liked Acme bread) was superbly cooked, crispy on the outside moist on the inside. They are sized right for one person although we ended up sharing. Coupled with the caramelized bananas, maple syrup, and mascarpone; simply brilliant. I’m normally not a fan of French toast because of eggy after-taste. But Plow’s is different; it light and fluffy. Be careful with the syrup, it very sweet and could led to a bit of sugar overload after a few bits. Plow’s French toast is on par with the best in the City.

Good thing we ordered the potatoes – a blend of olive oil crispy potatoes and onion with a hint of chili. It was savory match to the sweet toast. The potatoes was cut in triangle wedges and came out to our bar area piping hot and slightly burnt (in a good way). At Plow, potatoes are a side dish, based on the serving size; this order is enough to serve two. I didn’t quite appreciate the tomato aioli, didn’t have the vinegar bit I was looking for so I went with ketchup.
Last was the lemon ricotta pancake; I ordered a single serving just right size to help Sheila finish her toast. It’s a perplexing mix when you read it on paper, but don’t let that pre-judge your decision. The citrus undertones blended perfectly with the sweet cheese. The 6-inch pancake was moist, light, amazingly fresh. I suggest keeping the syrup to a minimum in order to savor this distinctive taste. Not only would I order it again, but I’d also recommend to anyone who goes to Plow!
Potrero Hill is gentrified neighborhood, and Plow fits right in. A charming local spot that it exudes SF culture – cozy sustainable interior, locally sourced product, freshly prepared food, friendly service, and a cult following! Take your out of town friends and visitors; they will be impressed.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Indian roadside fare at Vik’s Chaat Corner

In any country, the cuisine eaten by locals at roadside shacks, food carts, and sidewalk stalls is as authentic as it gets. There’s a place in Berkeley that has taken the Indian to new heights, not because of the décor, clientele, or location, but simply for the food. It’s called Vik’s Chaat Corner on 4th and Channing.

Vik’s sits in an indistinct brick warehouse, in which the front of house is a small Indian grocer and the back is a cavernous open dining area. Food is ordered from a counter on one side of the space. On the opposite site, a half a dozen “stalls” prepare the food items and call out orders as they are ready.
We took our good friend A&G, who were visiting from London. It was an eye opening experience for them especially since the line was 25 deep to order (wrapped around several tables); the menu was listed on a chalkboard behind a large display cabinet of Indian sweets; there were stainless steel table tops, and you had to buss your on tables. The epitome of Indian chaos that somehow works!
We decided to order family style so A&G could sample several different items. Of course everything on the menu sounded amazing, but here’s what we tasted.
Masala Dosa - a crispy savory South Indian crepe (dosa) filled with potato, peas, onion, and tomato dry curry (masala). It is served with sambar and coconut chutney. Vik’s dosa came out piping hot and stays crispy for quite some time. The masala packed heat but was not overpowered with spice. Even without the masala, the dosa tastes amazing when dipped in the warm sambar. Other restaurants tend to douse their dosa in either butter or oil. Vik’s dosa is not oily, which allow for the true flavors to come through. It’s on par with Udipi Palace in Silicon Valley.
Dahi Batata Puri – Puffed puri filled with yogurt, tamarind chutney, potatoes, sev, cilantro, onion, and red chili powder. This type of food can be found on virtually every street corner in Mumbai. Vik’s dahi batata puri is served cold; each puri is a bit-size amount bursting with a peculiar mix of savory and sweet. Since this dish is overflowing with yogurt, it’s a great compliment to some of the spicier dishes. It should be eaten first because the puris will become soggy quickly. Sheila and I try to replicate this meal at home quite often; it’s the sincerest form of flattery.
Aloo Tikki – Pan fried potato patties drizzled with cooked garbanzo beans (chole), tamarind chutney, mint chutney, onions, cilantro, and chili powder. The patties and chole were piping hot; the chutneys and accompaniments were served cold. It’s a heavy dish though which after three/four bites started fill me up. In addition, the spice factor hit me heard quite hard and if it weren’t for the left over yogurt from the dahi batata puri, I would have drank several water glasses.

Veg Kathi Roll – Vik’s uses minced paneer instead of cubes, which allows for more cohesive flavor throughout. Along with paneer, the roti roll was also filled with cooked green peppers, onions, tomatoes, and chili sauce. Having eaten several types of kathi rolls while in India recently; I have to say that Vik’s roll is good, but not memorable. I actually prefer the ones from Kasa in the Mission. Check back with me after the India trip wears out and I might change my mind!
Mango Lassi – Made fresh everyday, Vik’s lassi is the perfect southing agent to quell Indian spices. Aside from the natural sweetness of the mango, no other sugars are added. Served in only one size, it’s difficult to make it last the entire meal.
A&G thoroughly enjoyed Vik’s Chaat Corner; reminded them of when we all went to Tulsi in Wembley (London). Sheila and I have been going there for over 8 years and three times in the past few months. It’s the food that draws us and the other cult followers. Don’t judge this book by its cover. Head to the bring warehouse near the railroad tracks for the best India street food in the Bay Area!