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.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

did we find destiny in toronto?

Who would have thought that there’s a neighborhood in the suburbs of Toronto with tea houses, lounges, restaurants, pool halls, etc that are open 24 hours a day! That is the thriving Asian community of Markham about 25 km north of downtown. Nestled amongst several eclectic restaurants, was destiny!

We landed at Toronto's Pearson Int’l Airport at 11:30pm. By the time we grabbed the rental and headed onto the highway towards Markham it was pushing 1:00am. As we exited towards the hotel, there was a group of restaurants with plenty of cars still parked in the lot. Quite literary we stumbled upon destiny. The interior is nothing short of a stylish lounge you’d find in LA’s K-town – two story windows, silk drapes, dark woods, white countertops, glass chandeliers, stainless steel, long communal tables at one end and secluded booths on the other end. There were Asian hip-hop tunes blaring in the background and a wall of Asian sports, fashion, and entertainment magazines for reading. At 1:00am the place was about ½ full and this was a Thursday! Patrons were young affluent folks in late teens and early twenties.

The menu was packed full of typical Asian fare, but to our surprise there were a dozen pages of fresh fruit concoctions (smoothes, shakes, juices, pearl and teas). We went straight to the vegetarian selections and ordered the spring rolls, stir-fry thin noodles w/ seitan, kiwi juice, and watermelon juice w/ tapioca. The total bill came to CAD $26, which at circa 0.96 exchange rate is about USD $27, a reasonable price for the amount of food. Within about 10 mins the order was ready and we head to our hotel situated across the street.

The spring rolls were filled with cabbage, carrots, celery, and garlic. The eight finger portions were served with a sweet and sour dipping sauce. I enjoyed the subtle flavor combinations of the veggies and crispy rice paper exterior – totally hit the spot (like eating fries at In-in-out on the way home from a late night). Sheila was not so thrilled; felt that the rolls didn’t really stand out from what you could typical find at any Asian restaurant. Prognosis – a great order after hitting the club with a bunch of friends.

The thin noodles were served with seitan, celery and green pepper strips. I tasted hints of soy sauce, garlic, and ginger; but it was inconsistent within bites. The portion size was plenty for us to share. Overall the dish was dry and lacked the kick we’ve come to expected from noodles and neither of us had remember to ask for side of hot sauce (which may have solved both issues). I also was disappointed by the meager amounts of veggies and seitan – which meant that after picking though it, we were left with ½ of plate of plain noodles. Bottom line, would order a gravy noodle dish with extra veggies!

The juices were the best part of this meal. Combing through the menu was confusing, no idea which of the 20+ fruits to select. After a few mins of deliberating I decided on watermelon with tapioca pearls and Sheila went for the kiwi juice. Both were made with fresh cut fruit thrown into a blender on order without any sugar or additives. Also, there was no filtering done which meant we could taste the pulp. The tapioca pearls were soft, chewy, and had a smooth consistency. They were on par with our favorite Bay Area bubble tea house, Fantasia. After a while both juices ended up settling and we were left with some residual pulp, but that didn’t diminish from our refreshing drinks!

Overall destiny was a great find for our post midnight craving. I wish we had an opportunity to feel the vibe of dining in. Having our meal as take out 30 mins later certainly led to this mediocre review, but don’t let that stop you from trying this place. We’d probably give it another try if visiting in Toronto.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Super Duper…do we need another burger joint in SF?

It's a resounding YES! The name is Super Duper. The tag line is fast food burgers…slow food values (meaning the use of local, fresh ingredients operating in the most earth conscious way possible) The concept comes from the Paganini group – the ones who introduced us to Pasta Pomodoro and more recently the pizza / cocktails concept at trios Beretta, Delarosa, and Starbelly in SF.

With the above introduction in mind, you expect bright signs, quirky artwork, “green” furniture, and compostable serving products. When I walked into their outpost on Market St (a block east from Powell St BART station), it didn't disappoint. Small indoor and outdoor tables flank the walkway; then the restaurant opens up with a loft seating space directly above the cash till and kitchen. There’s a small eat in counter that overlooks the cooking area. They serve Straus ice cream, which can either be soft-served or made into a milkshake. I opted to not have any ice cream – had to cut the calories at some point.

The burgers can be ordered mini or super – I went for the super. You chose the patty and then select the toppings (everything on it also works). I ordered a veggie burger (with hummus, lettuce, tomatoes, grilled onions, cheddar cheese, and super sauce); and fries (with garlic and skin on). My total bill came to around $10.50, not bad for an elevated fast food burger. Within 5 minutes, my burger and fries were up. Orders are yelled out from the counter and on the opposite end, there’s station with ketchup, mustard, fresh (store made) pickles, and fountain drinks. Green lettering on the wrapper meant my order was vegetarian. I sat at the counter watching as the chefs work over the searing hot griddle and the wait staff mixed up delicious looking milkshakes.

The veggie patty was made with carrots, corn, oats, onions, and garlic (at least that’s what I could see). It was cooked crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. For my taste it was a bit too crispy and kinda tasted like a flattened falafel. However the flavor balance was great – much better than veggie patties I’ve eaten at Barney’s and Taylor’s. The sesame seed bun (from La Boulange) was toasted off with hummus on one side and super sauce on the other. I was surprised to also see cucumbers inside. This just added to Mediterranean feel of my burger. The grilled onions were juicy and tender; but by the end of my meal, they had oozed down onto my serving tray. I couldn’t really make out the super sauce – some sort of thousand island-ish spread. There just wasn't enough of it (and the hummus) so I ended adding ketchup to keep each bite from being too dry. This is common with veggie burger; didn’t really taint my overall view.

The fries were just all right – not great but above average. The garlic and salt seasoning were uneven making some fries overwhelming and others plain. I’ve had better garlic fries at Taylor’s and Gordon Biersch. The serving portion is enough for one, but I’ll probably pass next time and opt to save room for a milkshake.

Maybe it’s me, but I like the look and feel of these types of places – open eating area, crisp design lines, sustainable elements, and lots of stainless steel / natural woods / bright colors / mod lighting. All in all, Super Duper is a welcomed addition to the crowded burger scene. Sheila is going to have to try it soon since I flew solo on this visit. For the rest of the veggie burger aficionados, you be the judge given that I have yet to try Burgermeister, Burger Joint, or The Grove. Let me know what you think!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

vegetarians welcome at tataki south

Even in San Francisco, it’s unusual to find a sushi restaurant that has a plethora of vegetarian options. However, there is one notable exception – Tataki South – in Noe Valley. An indistinct storefront at the corner of Church and Day houses this second outpost, where it is surrounded by the likes of Pomelo, Toast, and La Ciccia. It would be a mistake if you passed by without giving Tataki South a glance.

Not only do the owners pride themselves on serving sustainable fish, they have an exceptional selection of vegetarian starters, robatas, and rolls. We visited on a Sunday evening, just as happy hour was ending. Yes, that’s right happy hour is everyday from 5 to 7pm during which time select starters and drinks are served at a reduced price. The wait staff was attentive and seated us within minutes of arrival at a corner table overlooking Church St. 

The décor is a combination of dark woods, zen water features, and bamboo plants. A sushi bar allows patrons to watch the precision work of the chefs. Vegetarian options are noted separately on the menu, which made it easier for us. We opted for three rolls (mixed veggie, spicy tofuna, reggae) and one robata (vegan chicken). The dishes, beautifully plated, came out one by one (cold to hot) by design and like clockwork.

Mixed Veggie Rolls – asparagus, avocado, carrot, spinach, radish, and sprouts. A total of six pieces were delicately placed on an abstract white plate. A burst of fresh flavor was in each bite. It was as if the vegetables were cut from the garden that afternoon. The creaminess of the avocado and crispness of the asparagus certainly came through more than the other veggies. I felt that the sprouts were merely an add-on and didn’t need to be part of the rolls. However, I was surprised by the portion size for only $6. Verdict - I would order this a staple dish each time.

Spicy Tofuna – spicy bean curd and cucumber (served inside out). The rice was perfectly cooked; the bean curd was melt in your mouth tender with a wonder kick of Asian spices; the fresh cucumber strips perfectly balanced the starch and protein. Hands down the best plate of the evening – the unique texture of the tofuna paired with the crispness of the cucumber just worked. However, I have to admit that these bit-sized rolls tasted much better than they looked. That aside at $7.50 for a total of 8 pieces, it’s great value. Verdict – I will order this again (and again).

Raggae – asparagus, cucumber, avocado, tomato, pumpkin. The plating was work of art with the rolls lined up along a slender curved white plate. Fresh pumpkin strips were scattered over each roll. Spicy tomato and rich avocado mousses were placed adjacent to the rolls – allowing Sheila and I to dictate the level of heat and cool per bite. This was an interesting combination as the asparagus was fried (served warm) and the cucumber and tomatoes were fresh. To be honest the only thing I could taste was the asparagus, tomato spread and avocado spread. Nevertheless, we enjoyed the flavor combination. At $12 for 8 pieces, this one of the more expensive veggie dish. Verdict – I may order this again depending on whether I’m feeling adventurous.

Vegan Chicken Robata – mock chicken cubes grilled slow cooked over wood charcoals and then served on skewers. When the dish arrived, Sheila and I were a bit surprised at the size – we were expecting bite-size pieces. Instead the vegan chicken pieces were the size of large orange wedges. This made them extremely dense and a bit heavy to eat. The outside had wonderful grill marks and was infused with both wood charcoal and Asian spice-rub flavors. Towards the middle, the vegan chicken was chewy and stringy. Not my favorite consistency but none less pretty tasty. At $5.50, a relatively inexpensive dish if you’re looking for something hearty. Verdict – I would try one of their other robatas for the sake of curiosity.

Overall, Tataki South is a great option for San Francisco’s Indian summer months when cool, fresh dishes are much more appealing than warm, stuffy dishes. That’s why we chose to try it last week when SF experienced a shorts and t-shirt day. Both Sheila and I will return and try a whole new set of vegetarian dishes, because we can at this place. That is one of the appeals, along with a real laid back atmosphere, light fresh dishes, and interesting flavor combinations that just seems to work.