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.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Authentic Chinese at Fang in SOMA

There are few cities that evoke praise when it comes to authentic Chinese cuisine, and SF is one. The venerable House of Nanking in Chinatown has been an institution for over 22 years started by the Fang family. Diners have raved about the fresh, flavorful, and bold dishes created by Chef Fang. Recently, Chef Fang and his daughter opened up a more modern, inventive spot called Fang on Howard St in SOMA. The food remains a stalwart and Chef Fang personal touches keeps patrons coming back again and again. I went to Fang for the first time in Feb 2014 with my friend Chuck. We had met earlier in the evening to prep for his wedding, and decided to head out for a bit to eat afterwards. Fang had been on my culinary list for quite some time and we made it our destination.

The inside feels like 1920s Shanghai with large red paper lanterns, dark wood Asian furniture, and Chinese artifacts and decorations. Service and wait staff were very typical to that at House of Nanking - straightforward, quick, and void of explanations. Along with some other patrons we got a chuckle out of it. The menu has a combination of authentic and modern twist Chinese dishes, including many vegetarian items. Tables are situated very close to each other (think needed to move one to get seated) so you'll get you know your neighbors very well!

After being seated in the back corner just behind the reception desk, we were approached by a grey hair gentleman who we shortly after realized was Chef Fang himself. He looked at us for 5 seconds and  asked if we were vegetarian. I said "yes" and he amusingly took away our menus and proclaimed "Don't worry, I'll take care of you." Chuck and I looked at each other went along for the ride, not know what and how much food would make it's way to the table - the surprise was worth it!

Fried Onion Cake with Peanut Sauce - A chinese version of a quesadilla stuffed with caramelized green onions, peppers and and peanut sauce. The exterior was a spring roll wrapper perfectly crispy, the green onions were bold, fresh, and full of spicy Szechwan flavors like garlic and chili peppers. It didn't take long for us to finish this dish and we would order it again. $6 for dish.

Peking Tofu Buns - Steam buns stuffed with braised tofu, peppers, onions, and mushrooms. The tofu was tender, succulent and bursting with heat. The veggies tasted like there were marinated in black bean sauce and wok-fried quickly. The steam buns were moist and spongy. The balance of flavors were amazing and again this was a dish worth ordering again. $14 for dish.

Fried Veggie Potstickers - Stuffed pockets filled with bamboo shoots, tofu, onions, garlic, This dish had good flavors overall, but was not memorable. It might have been because of how much Chuck and I liked the onion cake and tofu buns. I personally enjoy steamed potstickers rather than those that are pan-fried and felt that the stuffing lacked depth, meaning it tasted like what was in the buns. $6 for dish.

Tofu and Veggies in Black Bean Curry - A flavorful broth of black bean paste (rice wine, soy sauce, fermented black beans), garlic, chili peppers, mushrooms, eggplant, broccoli, and onions. There was a noticeable heat that permeated through with each bite. The curry was not as thick as I would have expected, but remarkably balanced with flavor. Each of the veggies were lightly sauteed and cooked, yet still maintained their freshness. The bowl itself was plenty for us to share. $13 for dish.

All in all Fang hit the spot for authentic Chinese cuisine. The service was hit and miss, meaning we had to flag down a wait staff for water and the bill. But having the chef come out to take our order and then decide for us was a cool experience. I would certainly go back to Fang so that Sheila can experience it. Overall I give Fang a resounding 8 out of 10. 

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Mua in Oakland

Oakland typically gets a lot of negative press, but increasingly it is being hailed as Brooklyn West for the food culture, art scene, and music outlets. Located just across the bay for SF, it’s also becoming a more affordable locale given the sky-high housing costs in SF and the Peninsula.

In March, Sheila and I, along with our friend Chuck and Shawni decided to make the BART ride over to check out Oakland’s “First Friday”, a street, art, and food festival along Telegraph Ave. We had made reservations at Mua, a sprawling 6,500 SF loft space that is part bar, art gallery, dance club, and restaurant. It’s hipster heaven, with exposed ducts, oversized abstract paintings, light installations, and a DJ booth spinning the latest tunes.

The brainchild of a Korean-American artist, Mua has an energy all it’s own. The menu is an eclectic mix of comfort foods with an Asian twist and tons of vegetarian options. The service was efficient but a bit slow which was expected since the restaurant was filled to the brim on this First Friday. After perusing the menu, we decided to order a few small plates and a couple of entrees to share family style.

Kimchi mung bean pancakes – The pan fried cakes were golden brown crispy and had the consistency of shredded squash or zucchini. This was a good dish, but not memorable. Across the board, we couldn’t taste the kimchi and expected a bit more heat. Also it would have been nice to have a sweet/sour dipping sauce.

Brussels Sprouts in Brown Butter – The sautéed sprouts with brown butter were fresh and light. They were cooked well and had good flavor. We’ve had similar dishes before and would put this on par with the rest.

Burrata with portobello mushroom, sweet pepper, squash and balsamic – A good touch was that the veggies were roasted which added a bit of sweetness. The burrata was pull apart soft and the balsamic had an acidity to cut through the richness. This is one dish that we would order again.

Mac-n-cheese with butternut squash and cream – This was delicious and our favorite dish of the night. We would have never known it was vegan as the squash and cream added great flavor.  This was the dish we couldn’t just eat one bite of and wish it came as an entrée rather than a small plate. We would definitely order it again.

Vegetable ragout with couscous, kale pesto, wild rice, green lentil, and root veggies – The couscous was cooked slight al dente and the ragout had a nicely developed Asian flavor. Each component was placed around the plate and ranged from sweet, to salty, to sour, to rich. I was expecting it to be fully integrated so that flavors could seep in across the components.

CBQ burger with aioli, and fries - Made with chickpea, bulgur, and quinoa, this burger was really good. A hearty dish and quite a large patty I don’t think any of us would have been able to finish it on our own. The bun was lightly toasted and the aioli has a nice tart and creamy flavor. My only complaint was that the burger was very delicate and came apart rather easily. The accompanying shoestring fries, were addicting in their own right. We would order this again.

Apple crisp with vanilla ice cream – There was a good sweetness to tartness ratio. There was a nice consistency with the oats, warm apples, and cooked down raisins. The ice cream was rich and creamy. This dish was quite large and could be shared by two people quite easily.

Pineapple upside down cake with coconut gelato – It had a strong caramel flavor, cake was moist, and pineapple was fresh. However the real star was the coconut gelato. Sheila commented that she would order this on its own if given the chance.

We all agreed that if we were in the area, we would certainly return the Mua. However it’s tough to say when we’ll be back given the wonderful food scene that exists in SF. I guess it’s no different than what Manhattanites say about leaving the island to go to Brooklyn. Nevertheless, Mua receives a solid 7.5 out of 10.