Category Archives: Asian

Domo: tiny space, brief menu, big flavors

domo

One thing I miss most about New York is the overload of coveted sushi offerings. Restaurants with Japanese-born and trained sushi chefs. Restaurants with fish fresher than Tokyo. Sushi restaurants that are actually fun, not stale as a library, with cocktails and energetic music. These are few and far between in my little Pac Heights enclave (though I do love Umami on Webster), so I was thrilled to pin down Domo in Hayes Valley last night. Wow. This place is awesome.

Though I love sushi, I dread sifting through four-page-lists of roll combinations, which are often accompanied by an additional cut out menu of specials. Tuna, unagi, fried shrimp, avocado, and cucumber in different forms – the rolls start to blend together quarter-way down the list. Domo removes the perusing legwork with a clearly laid out, one-page menu. Simple and succinct. People don’t need 10 variations of spicy tuna, and they don’t want to put off catching up with friends to study a menu. And on Domo’s menu is a wide variety of hot and cold small plates, salads, and other concoctions I could never imagine on my own. As tiny and intimate as this bar-seat-filled spot may be, it’s got a menu that lures a big group of repeat customers every night (which means you should get there early if you want to avoid a wait).

Emily in Domo

Emily in Domo

Fortunately, my friend Emily arrived hungry, so we were able to sample a wide variety of dishes. And because each one was mouth-watering, I can vouch fairly that this is one of the best sushi spots I’ve tried in SF. We started with the daikon salad, thinly sliced, crisp layers of cool daikon topped with bonito flakes and garlic ponzu. The salad was light, crunchy, and pungent – a creative alternative to the typical wakame salad. We then tried the hamachi carpaccio, which was seared and beautifully plated with a light, tangy garlic ponzu, tobiko, and thinly sliced jalapeno – a fresh fish celebration. Then, the cold and simple Spicy Hulk roll, amazingly fresh spicy tuna with avocado surrounded by a crisp cucumber wrapper. I loved this because the spicy tuna was only subtly dressed – not laden with a garlicky mayonnaise like I find in most sushi restaurants. The two special rolls we ordered were incredible – the Wiki Wiki was a creative mix of fried shitake mushrooms, cucumber, and avocado topped with silky seared butter fish. Totally addictive. And crispy rice cakes, move over – I popped the fire cracker balls in my mouth pretty much like popcorn. These dense, miniature, panko crusted tuna balls with spicy mayo, unagi sauce, scallions and tobiko blow any other fried sushi out of the water.

daikon salad

daikon salad

hamachi with garlic ponzu

hamachi with garlic ponzu

fire cracker balls, like little nuggets of heaven

fire cracker balls, like little nuggets of heaven

two special sushi rolls

two special sushi rolls

spicy hulk roll

spicy hulk roll

Along with our cold, dry sake, the entire meal was incredible. Each roll was a piece of art, a stunning culmination of so much attention to detail that revealed itself as perfection to my tastebuds. This is undoubtedly my favorite sushi restaurant in San Francisco – it’s worth any wait, as well as the distance if you’re not in the neighborhood. If you need more incentive, plan a post-dinner stroll down Hayes to Smitten Ice Cream, where they freeze to order with liquid nitrogen to make some of the creamiest concoctions of your life.

Go here.

Go here.

My experience at Domo only further confirms my theory that Hayes Valley is THE place to be in SF!

Grade: A+
Location: 511 Laguna Street @ Linden Street
Website

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Filed under Asian, Erin's Favorites, Japanese, San Francisco

Burma Superstar: casual Burmese in the Richmond

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My friend Amy and I are going through the same angst of trying to make the most of our last days in San Francisco before we depart for the other side of the world. And while at times treating every meal and moment like their last can get stressful and monopolize the time I should theoretically be spending packing, studying, and preparing for my trip, I couldn’t imagine a more fun activity to devote my time to.

We’re checking off our must-tries rather quickly, and after a Sunday at the Tourist Club with Mayflower sandwiches and beers, we decided to move down the list to Burma Superstar, a popular Burmese restaurant in the Richmond. After living in SF for over two decades, I was surprised to have never heard about this place, which just shows what a bubble the Pac Heights / Marina area can be. But Burma Superstar is just one of the many diamonds in the rough on Clement Street.

After reading the many rave-reviews about this place (it was even on Food Network!), I was pumped to try it. And because I’m funemployed and heard that the wait can be horrendous, I arrived more than an hour before my two friends Amy and Sarah, which proved unnecessary on a Monday night. There was an average of 10-15 minute wait times for parties of 2-4, but I’m sure as the week progresses the wait gets longer.

Though we were seated at an awkward table practically inches from the kitchen, we could still appreciate the laid back charm at this place. No frills. But despite not having a hard-liquor license, they have an interesting selection of shochu, beer, and wine cocktails. Not knowing too much about Burmese food, we ordered what came recommended in our research and by our waitress. First, we started with one of my favorite things: the platha, a multi-layered, buttery fried bread that comes with a chicken curry dipping sauce that I could eat on top of rice for days. It’s addictive, and the bread is as crisp as a potato pancake. We then shared the two most popular salads, the tea leaf salad and the rainbow salad, which the waiter mixes a la table. The tea leaf salad comes with tea leaves that almost look like the wilted spinach in sag paneer, crunchy peanuts, and fried garlic that give so much texture and flavor to the crisp romaine lettuce. That said, I preferred the rainbow salad, a noodle salad with four types of noodles, a green papaya slaw, fried tofu, and a tamarind dressing. A platter that arrived to the table looking so bland turned into one of the most exciting Asian salads I’ve had.

platha goodness

platha goodness

waiter explaining salads pre-mixing

waiter explaining salads pre-mixing

Rainbow salad

Rainbow salad (photo from SF chronicle)

tea leaf salad

tea leaf salad

For our main, we shared the vegetable curry delux, a bowl of tomatoes, okra, squash, eggplant, and tofu jam-packed and simmering in an earthy lentil curry. As opposed to some curries I’ve tasted that have a measly portion of vegetables swimming in a ton of sauce, this one was very vegetable focused with the sauce as more of an afterthought, which I loved. The vegetables were different and the tomato really freshened up what otherwise was a pretty hearty dish. Delicious on the coconut rice topped with fried onions!

vegetable curry

vegetable curry

The best part about the meal was that despite eating what seemed like a ton of food, we didn’t feel sick or uncomfortable, which I attribute to the focus on vegetables and fresh ingredients. There is a ton to try on the menu, so next time I may go back with a few meat eaters to sample some of the chicken dishes that looked to die for. Definitely worth a visit if you like interesting, flavorful food in a relaxed setting with super friendly and efficient service.

Grade: A
Location: 309 Clement St between 4th Ave & 5th Ave
Website

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Filed under Asian, Featured U.S. City Posts, San Francisco

Izakaya Ten: a quaint Japanese gem in no-man’s land

izakaya ten

When most people think of 10th avenue, I’m guessing that the thought of great restaurants doesn’t come to mind. But if you creep up north of 20th street, there are quite a few dark horses that I wish I had discovered sooner, one of which is a called Izakaya Ten. Izakayas are Japanese drinking establishments that also serve food. Here, despite the late hours (they close at 3am!) I would never have considered food as an afterthought. The menu is chalk full of goodies. And the energy that a boozey-focus brings solves the problem of the dreary, awkwardly quiet atmosphere of typical sushi bars. Izakaya Ten teleports you from a wide, uncharacteristic avenue to a restaurant you’d expect to find on a side street in Tokyo (or Korea? there’s kim chi). It’s got energy. It’s got hard alcohol. It has massive hand written, animé style menus. There’s music playing. And because it’s so tiny, you really feel like you’re enjoying the experience together along with the patrons around you.

I came here expecting a long list of sushi, but no, the goods go beyond sliced seafood. Yes, there’s a few selections of raw fish (we ordered most of them (the spicy tuna donburi, the sashimi plate, and the toro tuna belly seared over rice), but it’s the small plates of cooked food that really got me going. And as the sake kept pouring, we lost all shame in incessantly ordering more food: shishito peppers, a crispy cod roe rice ball wrapped in seaweed, another crispy rice ball with salmon, the chilled Japanese eggplant in broth, the savory, decadent jumbo shumai, the kara age (ginger deep-fried chicken), and of course, the special fried soft shell crab. In addition to the uniqueness of the menu, the icing on the cake was the attentive Australian server who feigned to be happy to answer our constant requests for more sake and more food.

 

kara age

softshell crab

softshell crab

rice ball!

rice ball!

 

 

We were lucky to walk in on a Friday night at 8pm and get a table right away, but it would have been worth the wait. Izakaya Ten is the perfect place for a fun dinner for a group of up to 4 people, or even for a more eventful, share-plate style date. It can get expensive if you don’t reign in the ordering, but it’s a place you want to arrive hungry and uninhibited. I can’t wait to take advantage of the fact that I’m walking distance to this spot!

Grade: A+
Location: 207 10th Ave btwn 22nd and 23rd Streets 
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Filed under Asian, Barbecue, Chelsea, Drinks & Apps, Erin's Favorites, Fun Group Dinner, Japanese

Ippudo: everything they say it is

ippudo-storefront

I used to be ashamed to say that I have never been to Ippudo as a 5-year downtown New York resident. Shame, be gone, because guess what – I went last night! And because most New Yorkers were out of town celebrating America’s independence, my friend Sara and I only had to wait 1 hour at 7pm, which is pretty much a miracle given the average wait time each time I’ve asked has been no less than 3 hours. 

While I came for the ramen (yes, it’s ridiculously, unbearably hot in New York but I’m recovering from the flu), I leapt for joy (alone) when I examined Ippudo’s awesome cocktail list. After a little shochu with fresh squeezed grapefruit juice and soda at the bar, Sara and I were seated in the chaos of shouting ramen chefs and privileged foodies chompin’ at the bit for their ramen to hit their table. Given I’ve waited 5 years to eat here, I didn’t want to mess around – we ordered the steamed pork buns, fried chicken wings, a green salad, and the Wasabi Shoyu Ramen, a soy sauce and vegetable based noodle soup that the waiter recommended as a lighter version of the thick pork broth that can get a little salty. The pork in the pork bun was perfectly crispy and meaty with just the right amount of fat content, but I by no means welcome mayonnaise in anything, and I couldn’t really get over the glob of mayo that caught my eye. The hot fried chicken wings with Ippudo’s black pepper sauce made up for it – a plate of 3 for $7 was a steal, and they were meaty, hot, crispy and totally unique in tangy peppery flavor. The crispy cabbage on the side rounded it out as the perfect small meal. The green salad was nothing to boast about, but that’s to be expected. 

steamed bun with pork

steamed bun with pork

crispy chicken wings!!

crispy chicken wings!!

wasabi shoyu ramen (the only vegetarian option)

wasabi shoyu ramen (the only vegetarian option)

Now, the ramen. I know the traditional order is one of the ramens in pork soup, but as a sickling all I wanted was something light and brothy. The shoyu ramen was the perfect answer. It was dark, earthy and rich in flavor, and with the side order of pork and a bounty of curly ramen noodles, it was absolutely filling. While the bamboo shoots were a little tough to chew, the soft slices of seaweed added a unique texture, I only wish there had been more. 

At just $25 per person, I left Ippudo feeling satisfied with the return on my investment – a rarity in this city of exorbitant prices and small food. When I’m willing to wait again with a party of 2 (probably no more, though they have a few pretty large tables), I will definitely be back. 

Grade: A-
Location: 65 Fourth Avenue @ 10th Street (new location in midtown west coming soon!)
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Wondee Siam: authentic Thai experience in Hell’s Kitchen

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I remember hearing about Wondee Siam years ago. My colleague and now friend Jane would venture crosstown just for a crispy beef salad at this tiny 5-table restaurant. So naturally, when she had a free night back in town, she suggested we meet there to fulfill her undying craving for their authentic thai food. As soon as I was forced to squeeze through the kitchen to use the restroom, I knew it would be tasty. Chefs orchestrating woks and pots and fryers gracefully and pumping out hot, flavorful food made me feel like I was actually in Thailand, in the thick of master thai chefs so focused on their craft.

crispy pork

crispy pork

fried red snapper with mango salad

fried red snapper with mango salad

I arrived famished, so after a short wait for a table, Jane and I shared pad thai with shrimp, crispy pork with water spinach, and whole fried red snapper with a vinegary mango salad. Overwhelmed by the bounty of food and salty and spicy sauces, we slowly made our way through the bright and flavorful meal. The fried fish was meaty and surprisingly easy to eat – instead of arriving whole and untouched, the fish was more of a plate to whole the perfect rectangular pieces of fish filet that had been removed from the fish and fried separately. With the mango salad, this was the perfect hearty and refreshing flavor combination. The pad thai was, as pad thai always is, delicious, and the bite sized crispy pork was crunchy but not at all greasy. The service was spot on, and with a bill amounting to $50, I only wish this place was closer to my house. Keep in mind it’s BYOB – another great reason to gather here for a cheap meal with friends.

Grade: A+
Location: 752 9th Ave btwn 52nd and 53rd streets
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Chez Sardine: pricey, carefully portioned Japanese

Picture 5

I did it. I finally did it. Last Sunday night, inspired by the lack of crowd outside the highly coveted Chez Sardine, I unexpectedly dove right in determined to check this place off my bucket list. I sat at the sushi bar, excited by all of the interesting combinations and the miso-maple salmon head, a dish that has been praised by my friends and fellow bloggers alike. Hipster waiters in high top converse were very attentive, bringing a complimentary pickeled daikon salad to start the meal. And while the maple-wooden space is pristine and beautiful, the food just didn’t impress. While the sushi arrived so beautifully plated and sounded so intriguing (as they should for $5-$7 a tiny piece) – hamachi with chicarron and ginger, mackerel with leek and potatoes, smoked arctic char with spicy rice – they oddly lacked flavor, and were no more exciting than the several pieces I can get for this price at my local sushi spot down the street. The spicy tuna hand roll was thin and skimpy – not what I wanted on an empty stomach. I waited for the salmon head to arrive to take my breath away, but after minutes of peeling away skin and fat to get to a microscopic piece of edible meat overdosed in miso paste, I gave up. I decided to stop my order right there and head home.

miso salmon

$70 later, I was disappointed that all that I had hoped and dreamed of regarding Chez Sardine (considering this group’s other restaurants I love – Montmartre, Joseph Leonard, Fedora….) was blown to pieces. I would come back to try the buttered caviar toast, but only on someone else’s dime. Coming here hungry and with hopes to spend conservatively was torture. I’d save your sushi cravings for Momoya in Chelsea.

Grade: C+
Location: 183 West 10th Street @ West 4th street
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Montmartre: kicking off Chelsea’s fine food expansion

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When I pulled up to the busy thoroughfare of 8th Ave and 18th in Chelsea, I have to admit I was not excited to be there. To me, the few blocks north of my workplace represent quick service chain restaurants, pizza shops, and my cheap manicure salon -– not stand out cuisine. And while the Montmartre space itself is narrow, the bar is not very spacious (like all Joseph Leonard team restaurants), and it’s not a spot for those hard of hearing (I was yelling for most of the dinner), the food was some of the best I’ve had in a while at a new NYC restaurant.

We started with the chicken liver, which came generously spread atop a thick piece of country bread. The liver mousse was just the right texture – not too smooth, just enough roughness to make it interesting. The white asparagus salad totally reminded me of something that would come out of SPQR in SF, and came as one thick poached asparagus on top of a delicious puree topped with salty crispy ham. I’m usually skeptical to order raw fish when I’m trying to branch out, but the Hamachi here is unique in preparation and flavor – thick slices wrapped around a tartar topped with diced apple and a delicate vinaigrette.

hamachi (photo from SeriousEats.com)

hamachi (photo from SeriousEats.com)

There was a ton on the menu I would have loved to try for my main course, but I chose the smoked and roasted chicken because it sounded so intriguing with such a bare bones description. It may have been one of the most interesting chicken dishes I’ve had. And, the kitchen was even nice enough to plate a half order of the ricotta gnocchi with morels and hazelnuts that I just couldn’t resist, which ended up tasting like little clouds of heaven.

amazing ricotta gnocchi

amazing ricotta gnocchi

smoked and roasted chicken

smoked and roasted chicken

This place is very reminiscent of some of the inventive ingredient-focused restaurants that cover San Francisco (SPQR, Heirloom, Rich Table), and I absolutely love it. It could actually be one of my favorites for unique food in a familiar setting. So maybe middle of Chelsea isn’t so bad afterall. And maybe, since it’s not in the haven of wonder that is the West Village, it will be more amenable to walk-ins.

Grade: A
Location: 158 Eighth Ave., nr. W. 18th St
Website: (which I love)

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Las Vegas: Sushi Samba and Tao, two NYC transplants

800px-Las_Vegas_Strip

It’s ironic that such a culturally dry place like Las Vegas can be seen as a microcosm of the world – in an hour, you can visit the Eiffel Tower, ride on a Venetian Gondola, pass tourists of every nationality and eat at some of the world’s best restaurants, most of which were founded in NYC. While I like to branch out when I travel, Las Vegas is the type of place that’s so shocking to my system that it leads me to resort to the familiar. So, when I was given the opportunity to dine out during my two nights there for a work conference, I decided to go with two old-time New York City (and Miami) staples: Sushi Samba and Tao.

The big difference between hotel restaurants in Vegas and New York is that in Vegas, there are very few windows. You feel like you’re eating in a dungeon most of the time, and it could be any time of day. Sushi Samba and Tao, both at the Venetian Hotel, were no different. Dark, somewhat depressing, and sterile. The food, however, was better than I remembered it. At Sushi Samba, my friends and I had a reprieve from heavy food with the tuna tataki salad, the mushroom toban yaki, and the neo tokyo roll with big eye tuna. While the mushrooms were doused in butter, the rest was light and refreshing.

inside sushi samba

inside sushi samba

tuna tataki "salad"

tuna tataki “salad”

Neo Tokyo roll with big-eye tuna

Neo Tokyo roll with big-eye tuna

mushroom toban-yaki

mushroom toban-yaki

The great thing about Tao is the large round tables, the perfect set up for a big group of people. Because we were in a rush to make a concert, I was given the privilege of ordering for the entire table – my favorite thing to do! I selected a few from each section, but the big standouts were the crispy peking duck spring rolls, the pad thai, and the satay of chilean sea bass. But for once in my life, I was less focused on the food because the lychee martini was so delicious.

tao-asian-bistro_atmosphere_r620

the iconic massive Buddha

sea bass satay (photo from StarChefs)

sea bass satay (photo from StarChefs)

duck spring rolls

duck spring rolls

Vegas hotel restaurants and restaurants on the strip have their routines down to a T. Because everyone’s pumped on adrenaline and hotels want their patrons back at the Black Jack table, there’s no time for slow service or cold food. As much as I wanted to hate the food at these commercial, table turning restaurants, I was actually really pleased. But next time, I’m going to make reservations at the restaurants that aren’t so accessible at home.

Grade: A for both for high quality food and service. 
Location: Venetian Hotel

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Omai: authentic Vietnamese in an upscale setting

Omai

After reading Gabe Thompson’s Chelsea Neighborhood Guide on SeriousEats, I became inspired to branch out of my typical West Village confines to explore the bordering neighborhood that he so loyally promoted. Omai was the restaurant that stood out most on his list, and as a recent fan of Baoguette for delivery, I was curious to see if there really was a better nearby Vietnamese restaurant that I had been missing out on. I’m not one for settling when there’s potential for improvement. My conclusion? Omai has knocked Baoguette off my delivery list – bittersweet given my recent love affair with Baoguette’s grilled chicken pho.

Everything at Omai is done with a little more care and attention to detail than usual. The typical tom cuon shrimp rolls, for example, are made with plump grilled prawns as opposed to cold sliced shrimp. The eggplant hasn’t absorbed loads of grease because they’ve flash sautéed it in a gingery, vinegar-fish sauce. And the bun ga nuong, rice noodles with grilled chicken, lettuce and herbs, is utterly addictive tossed in their tangy vinaigrette.

rice noodle salad with chicken

rice noodle salad with chicken

beef pho

beef pho

Most remarkable, however, is the Pho. It took my tasting awe-inspiring pho to realize that what I had been eating for so long was actually not that great. The cinnamon-scented broth that was so simple, yet so rich in flavor, and it tasted like it had been brewing for hours. The noodles are wonderful too; long and thin, they perfectly capture the broth between each strand to make each bite a soupy one. I only wish there had been more bean sprouts. Either way, this is the type of food I love because it doesn’t leave you feeling heavy and gross.

In terms of service, the rhythm of our meal was a little spotty: everything came out one at a time with odd spacing in between. Given that, it’ll likely (as planned) be my go-to for delivery as opposed to a night out, though it got pretty lively with the techno music they were pumping.

Grade: A-
Location: 158 9th Ave btwn 19th and 16th Streets
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Filed under Asian, Cheap Eat, Chelsea, Vietnamese

Jeepney: one beer cocktail and a memorable halo halo

Jeepney

photo cred: tomas delos reyes

I can rarely end a meal without a formal dessert, so I was thrilled to come up with the genius idea of stopping at Jeepney in the East Village after my sweet-treat-less meal at Prune. I was stuffed to the brim, but all things considered (finally being in the area, having wanted to eat there for ages), I couldn’t resist ordering the dessert that brought me back to my childhood: the halo halo. Halo halo is a traditional Filipino sweet that’s pretty much their version of “everything but the kitchen sink.” It’s usually served as a mixture of ice, evaporated milk, and a random assortment of fruits and sweets. Jeepney creates the best version I’ve ever had – shaved ice, evaporated milk, chunks of coconut flan, red bean, sweet candied fruits, and the icing on the cake: one large scoop of purple yam (ube) ice cream and rice crispies. I devoured this thing in seconds, and sipping my orange-flavored beer, I was in fruit-filled heaven.

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blurry halo halo

This week’s NY Times review and this dessert is proof I need to come back for a full meal, though my heart will always be with Maharlika, the gastropub’s sister restaurant.

Grade: A+ for dessert
Location: 201 First Ave between 12th and 13th Streets
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Filed under Affordable Date, Asian, East Village, Filipino