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.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

keste's pizza nyc felt much like sf

Yes, I am a pizza snob. Let me re-phrase, I am a pizza monster. Wait, perhaps pizza obsessed. SF is a great city to live in for this craving - as you've picked up on from previous blogs. With recent trips to NYC, the opportunities to eat pizza have now increased! Backing up for a minute, I've noticed that SF prepares high-end (bordering on pretentious) pizzas made with the freshest of ingredients and cooked in wood burning showpiece ovens. NYC (also using fresh ingredients) prepares no frills, simple pizzas in a old-world Napoli and Roma kind of way. So how to compare? For me, it's about appreciating the differences - or so I thought.

This past May, Sheila and I hit up NYC and, of course, ate our way through Manhattan. On a Sunday afternoon, we ventured onto Bleecker St in the West Village for a meal at Keste, on the top 10 NYC pizza list of several publications. We were promptly seated by the hostess halfway down this narrow restaurant. The ambience was relaxed and the decor was modern Italian with old world Italian accents in the photos and accessories. The menu had a great selection of vegetarian salads, pizzas, and desserts. In the end we decided to share a meal since the days prior consisted of lots of heavy meals.

First up was the Toscana salad - spring mix, fresh pear, walnuts, lemon, and evoo. There were a burst of flavors from the pear and citrus infused evoo, but it was balanced by the nutty walnuts. The portion was large enough for us to share, but I suspect that must people would order it as a single portion. My only negative comment was that the pear ratio was rather low. By the time we were at the bottom, the only things left were greens and walnuts.

Next up was the Regina Margherita pizza - tomatoes,
buffalo mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, basil, and a sprinkle of evoo.
The cheese was melt in your mouth soft, the crust was crispy on edges and chewy on the inside, the cherry tomatoes added subtle sweetness. The drizzled evoo came through with each bite and provided a smooth finish. Just like everyone claims, included the cast of Entourage, the secret to the dough (and taste) is in the water. Suffice to say I could a have eaten the entire pizza by myself. My recommendation, go with a groups of friends and order several to share, oh and invite me!

Last up was the tiramisu - it's appearance was much more like espresso and rum whipped cream because we couldn't see the lady fingers. Taste-wise, the tiramisu was light and not overly sweet. In fact it was slightly bitter if you didn't combine it with the cream topping. No deep rum tones (a good thing), which can be the case with tiramisu gone wrong. I'd say order this if you're looking for an out of the ordinary tiramisu.

Final thoughts - Keste, in ambiance and pizza style, reminded me more of SF than of NYC. Alas, it will never to confused with Gramaldi's or Lombardi's. I did enjoy the simplicity of each dish and the perfectly cooked pizza (oh the amazing crust). However, next time we'll try a slice house to eat the way that New Yorkers enjoy - folded in half, eaten from below, hanging off a paper plate, standing on the sidewalk. I'm hungry, can't wait go back to NYC!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

betelnut, an attempt at asian street fare

Located on Union Street in Cow Hollow, Betelut serves up Southeast Asian street fare. We’ve passed by it over the years, but never found the right time go. So this past week for our anniversary, we decided make reservations for dinner. Parking proved to be a challenge (expected in this neighborhood), but we found a spot several blocks west passed main Union Street drag. Upon arriving we were greeted warmly by the hostess, who after finding out we were vegetarian promptly recommended several dishes. She also noted that all of their noodle dishes could be made vegetarian; good to know.

The interior of Betelnut has a very 1930s Shanghai with deep red walls, Chinese tapestries, colonial ceiling fans, pagoda lanterns, and dark woods. There is a large open plan kitchen flanked a long bar area where patrons can also eat. Also out front is a lounge with its own separate bar area. Done tastefully, Betelnut doesn’t feel as kitschy as PF Chang’s. However, Both Sheila and I commented at how casual the place felt, which you can’t really tell from street side. The menu consists of small starters (dumplings, skewers, spring rolls, lettuce wraps, short ribs); mains (fish, steak, chicken dishes); noodles/bowls (mee goreng, curries, beef dishes); and sides (veggies, rice). All are prepared with distinctive Southeast Asian spices/ingredients – ginger, garlic, Szechuan chilies, kefir lime, peanut sauce, Thai basil, coconut, and scallions.

We opted for two starters (Happy Buddha Dumplings and Roti Prata), one main (Indonesian Mee Goreng), one side (Szechuan Green Beans), and one dessert (mochi three ways). Service was extremely quick with each dish being served within minutes of each other; almost felt like we didn’t have enough time to savor the food before the next one came out.

The dumplings were filled with tofu, shallots and pea tendrils on top. They were extremely moist, light, and were served with a soy vinaigrette sauce. The balance of flavors made it the perfect starting point for our meal. We both agreed that this was the best dish of the evening. One serving (total of five) is enough for two to share. I recommend ordering this.

The roti prata, pan-fried flat bread, was served with an Indonesian curry and cucumber raita. Although flaky, the roti was a bit too oily and not as soft as it should be. Having been to Bali several years ago and having eaten the original, we have some lofty standards. In addition, when compared to Straits Café (in Palo Alto), the version at Betelnut falls short. The portion size was fine since we had another starter. However on its own, this would not have been enough.

The mee goreng was made with flat noodles, green beans, shallots, tomatoes, and Szechuan chilies. Unfortunately, it had virtually no sauce and thus no real flavor (except if you accidently at the chilies). Expecting to find a punch of spices, we were wondering if this was mee goreng. Again, we’ve had this dish in both Bali and at Straits Café; this was an Americanized version that didn’t hit the mark.

The green beans (ordered as a side) were a huge portion. The garlic flavors overwhelmed the entire dish. My first thought was that we were at a Giants game and someone swapped the fries with green beans. Because of the use of soy sauce, I felt the dish was also too salty and kept having to drink water throughout the meal. Sheila commented that this is an easy make at home dish – with spice and ingredient control could be a real winner.

The mochi balls, Japanese rice cakes, were served three ways in a beautiful presentation: white chocolate with lemon curd; mike chocolate with coffee mouse; and dark chocolate with deconstructed strawberry shortcake. We started light to dark but felt that the outer cakes were too dense – filling to cake ratio was off – not enough chocolate and too much mochi. The accompanying sauces were decadent though – curd provided a nice tart flavor, the coffee mouse was rich and creamy, and the strawberries were sweet (to balance the dark chocolate).

I have to say that Betelnut was underwhelming. We both had high expectations and were left thinking this was merely an elevated PF Chang’s. Coincidently, I lot of yelp and google reviewers have these same sentiments. My vote is for Straits Café.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

a french (toast) bistro vibe in cole valley...

In a brunch-happy community, Zazie has long stood out as one of the city's best. Located in Cole Valley, this quaint french bistro puts out some amazing cuisine. Sheila and I have now been to Zazie on three different occasions, all for brunch. This last visit was over Memorial Day weekend with our friends M&C from London. The yelp reviews that state a 45-60 min wait are no exaggeration. After putting our names down, we ended up walking up the street to a local coffee house for a caffeine shot. After standing over a group of young ladies finishing their meal, C and I were eventually able to snag a sidewalk table (first come, first serve) instead of waiting for indoor or back patio seating. Side note: the back garden patio has an amazing ambiance amongst lush foliage (especially on a warm day), feels like you're having an intimate meal in your own backyard!

The brunch menu is a combination of salads (veggie and seafood), savory sandwiches, breakfast egg and meat plates, and pancakes/french toasts. They also have a great selection of champagne mixers (w/ orange, pomegranate, cranberry, mango, or peach juice). It was hard to gauge the wait service as we were immersed in conversation with our great friends, whom we hadn't seen in a year! Overall I would say the service was okay.

Sheila ordered the challah french toast with orange cinnamon butter and topped with fresh fruit. The dish came off very light and not too eggy. The fruits were pineapples, strawberries, bananas, honeydew, and cantaloupe. However Sheila felt that melons would have been better suited as a side accompaniment rather than being on top of the toast. Side note; you can order 1, 2, or 3 pieces which makes it portion control easier. Overall Sheila was happy with the dish. This being the third time she's ordered it.

I ordered the tahiti french toast with walnut cream and caramelized bananas. The toast is stuffed with a chunky walnut cream, which provides the main sweetness. It is a well balanced combination; fluffy, not eggy, not overly sweet, crispy outside, and moist inside. I couldn't stop at one bite and the next thing I knew, the plate was wiped clean. I'm not a huge fan of bananas either, but caramelizing makes them oh so good! At brunch spots, I typically go for pancakes, so this was a departure from the norm - and well worth it.

Zazie remains on par with Plow as my favorite brunch spot in SF. The location, back garden patio, popularity with locals, and mouthwatering brunch plates all make it the quintessential neighborhood bistro. To be fair, we'll probably need to visit some other places before coming back. There's just way too many to choose from in this foodie paradise we call home!