Sunday, May 31, 2009

Eggplant, I’m On to You

Last weekend I spotted these young eggplants at a stand at the Civic Center Farmers’ Market in San Francisco. I’m not a fan of the eggplant, which I’ve blogged in the past as the cardboard of the vegetable world. But I have to admit I was intrigued by the color and the slender, elongated shape of these particular eggplants.

So I snapped a photo.

Then the photo sat in my camera for a few days as I thought, what can I really say about the eggplant? I mean, I hate the texture. Everyone tries to make it seem like the greatest thing to eat, but only after they’ve deep fried the hell out of it. My friend Food Gal asked me recently if I even hated baba ghanoush, and I can’t say I’ve eaten it all that much. (Although baba ghanoush is probably my second favorite food word to say after bibimbap.)

While baba ghanoush is probably a more acceptable way to eat eggplant, it’s only because the eggplant has been pounded into such a pulp that it could pass for hummus.

Sigh, the eggplant. I was deceived by your outer beauty to snap a picture but I still hold this slightly festering disdain for you. Let me share with my readers the real you…

(Note: The following photos were found randomly on the Web and I do not hold the copyright to them.)

Angry Killer Eggplant. This is the real eggplant. Angry. Menacing. With some oddly placed red eyes. Here it is outside a nondescript college campus building, probably plotting how to rescue his fellow eggplants that have been set aside to be made into soggy deep-fried eggplant parmesan.

Eggplant-O-lanterns. Again, the eggplant can be spooky. I’m sure it harbors a lot of jealously for its cousin the pumpkin who always look luscious in autumnal orange. What kid would accept candy from this motley crew?

Some people thought they could fool me by making the eggplant cute like penguins. But I’m on to you, eggplant. You can’t fool me with your shiny skin and elongated neck. You’re still full of mush.

A Delaware County woman on the East Coast was cutting her eggplant (and yes, she was prepping them to be deep fried) when the seeds of one slice seem to spell out the word “God” to her. Divine intervention? More the work of Satan, I say. Don’t succumb to the belief that eating the eggplant will get you through the pearly gates. Ain’t gonna happen.

OK, now I do feel sorry for this eggplant, peeled just partially by the woman behind the food blog Mama’s Taverna for her recipe for Fried Eggplant with Garlicky Tomato-Vinegar sauce. It is sad how we bloggers will treat our food this way, cutting into them and then forcing them to pose for pictures. In this case, for a semi-nude layout! I’m starting to understand the eggplant’s anger.
Further humiliation comes in Israel where an ad agency called this eggplant fat and dressed it in some jacked up bikini just to make a point for a new Magimix XL food processor. (The tag line? “Big Is In.”)
And here’s another beautiful shot of the eggplant (not by me) showcasing again its rich beautiful color and curvaceous body. I give you props, eggplant, that you make a damn good model. But I won’t give in. No, you are not tasty. You may trick others to buy into you, disguising yourself in various shapes and forms. But I’ve got your number.

Oh, one more thing. Baba ghanoush!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Little Gems at Berkeley Farmers Market

I've been eating out a lot lately and one item I'm seeing over and over again on restaurant menus is the little gem salad. I haven't heard about this salad until this year and I thought what a clever little name to make a salad sound just so sophisticated.

Well, today at the Berkeley Farmers' Market I spotted a farmer selling little gems. They're described as an heirloom variety of romaine lettuce that don't get any bigger than their cute miniature size. They were selling for $4 for a 1 lb.-bag or $7 for a 2 lb.-bag. After I snapped this photo, I realized I should have put a peach or something small just to give perspective because this just looks like a close-up shot of romaine. But believe me, they are little.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Lush Gelato: Homemade Helado in My Hood

As some of you might recall, I visited Buenos Aires last fall and one of the highlights of my trip was trying all the different heladerias, or gelato stores selling the popular Argentine treat known as helado.

The helado was rich like ice cream, but also sometimes airy or sometimes slick like Italian gelato. And the flavors. There were always too many to choose from.

So I’m trying to contain my gushing as I write about the newly opened Lush Gelato in Oakland’s Piedmont Avenue neighborhood—just a 10-minute walk from my home. Lush sells authentic helado, even though they call it gelato so everyone else will get it. And the organic seasonal flavors, while a limited selection compared to what I found in Buenos Aires, offer a few surprises and amazement.

Lush is the latest incarnation in the tiny storefront across the street from the Piedmont Theater. (The address says Piedmont Avenue but it really faces Linda Avenue.) For a brief while, Tango Gelato filled the spot and apparently couldn’t build enough business and it was briefly a Lulu Rae Confections before Lush took over.

Lush’s owner, Federico Murtagh, is originally from Argentina and you’ll find him often manning the store alone. He’s been making helado for years, primarily for restaurants and some farmers’ markets, and this is his first venture with consumers. Right now, he makes the helado/gelato off-site and brings them into the store, but Murtagh says he hopes to eventually make it on the premises.

The simply decorated store sells only gelato and sorbetto, including packed containers that you can buy to take home. Murtagh changes the flavors almost daily depending on what ingredients are available, and he often encourages you to try as many flavors as you like before making your decision.

When I visited the first time, I got two scoops ($3.75) of the Bourbon Pecan and the Café con Dulce de Leche. (One scoop sells for $2.50 and three scoops is $5.) The Café flavor was a nice coffee flavor with the sweetness of milk caramel. It might be too sweet for some people, but I’m on this coffee ice cream kick so I liked it.

I also enjoyed the Bourbon Pecan, although I didn’t feel it tasted like alcohol as much as some of the alcohol-spiked helado I had in Argentina. (Oooh, I still dream of that rum-spiked sabayon.) I kind of like boozy ice cream, so could probably take more in Lush’s Bourbon Pecan. But if you don’t, then I don’t think the flavor would throw you off. The fresh pecan bits added a fun crunch and I appreciated how they still tasted freshly toasted.

I returned a second time the other day and this time saw that the basil flavor was available. This could become Lush’s signature flavor because of the early buzz about it, and it’s all worth it. When I took my first scoop of the basil gelato, it was like such a revelation in flavor, a subtle herbal taste with the slight sweetness of basil. But it wasn’t necessarily intense like slap-your-face-with-a-bunch-of-basil flavor that I sometimes get in commercial basil products I’ve tried. It was subtle but distinctly different than anything I’ve tried in awhile.

I got the basil gelato with a scoop of strawberry sorbetto just because it’s in season, and the strawberry was bold in flavor. The taste wasn’t anything amazing, but it definitely represented the fruit well. I justified eating all this because the sorbetto was fat-free.

The texture of Lush’s helado is thick like ice cream. At times, I felt it would have been nice to have more air in it but that’s really a minor quibble. The quality here is definitely high. There’s no way that it can compare to what I tasted in Buenos Aires probably because the local ingredients are different in both places, and there’s no way you can get beyond that. But I’m happy to say that it comes pretty close, and whenever I want to reminisce about walking the streets of Argentina, I’ll just take a stroll down my neighborhood to Lush.

Lush Gelato, 4184 Piedmont Ave. (at Linda), Oakland. PH: 510.547.1299. Open daily from noon to 10 p.m.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Dish on Dining: Otoro Sushi

Latest Hip Addition to Hayes Valley
205 Oak St. (near Gough), San Francisco
Hayes Valley neighborhood
PH: 415.553.3986
Open daily for lunch and dinner (except closed for lunch Sundays)
Major credit cards, reservations accepted

Whenever I visit my old neighborhood in San Francisco, I’m always amazed at all the new places opening up. Funny how they all opened up after I moved!

Oh well, it makes the return trips down memory lane even more fun. Recently I checked out Hayes Valley for a pre-ballet dinner with my friend Peter. We stopped by Otoro Sushi, which had been open for just two weeks and is housed in what used to be a longtime Cuban restaurant.

The restaurant is tiny but had that spanking new look with freshly painted walls, new furnishings and contemporary ambient lighting. The wait staff stood patiently for customers and greeted us warmly as we arrived. There were already a couple of people at the sushi bar (with elevated stools) but we had our pick of tables along the window.

Otoro Sushi is a combination sushi bar and izakaya, which is the trend of small grilled dishes often eaten in Japan as a kind of happy hour. I liked the idea of having a variety of choices to choose from.

After ordering some Japanese beer, Peter and I delved into the menu and ordered a variety of things. I don’t know if it’s because Otoro had just opened and the kitchen is still feeling its way around, but I thought the order of when the food arrived at our table was a bit illogical. (Thank you, Mr. Spock.) To illustrate what I mean, I’m going to give you a run down of what we ate in the order that they arrived at our table.

First up was our sushi platter of sushi we ordered. This included nigiri orders of ebi (cooked shrimp, $3.50) and hotate (raw scallops, $4.50) and one special roll order of the Otoro, which is made of spicy tuna, avocado and mango ($12.95). Both the ebi and hotate were nicely presented and tasted fresh. The rice was nicely packed but not overly seasoned with rice vinegar.

The Otoro special roll was beautiful but the mango, to me, looked oddly fake because of its bright orange coloring and its bendable nature. But it tasted great, with the sweetness of the mango providing a nice contrast to the spicy tuna. Although it looked odd and I’m generally not a proponent of weird California-inspired rolls, this was very satisfying and different.

Then arrived a bowl of the Goma Ae ($3.75), our attempts to get some greens into our diet. Goma ae is a traditional Japanese spinach dish made with sesame paste. Otoro’s version was fresh and vibrant, and even though the paste was thick, it blended nicely with the spinach. The bowl was also very big for what is usually ordered as a side dish.

Next came an order of the chicken yakitori ($4.25), two skewers of plump succulent chicken with the tasty teriyaki sauce. The chicken pieces were grilled with scallions, which were cooked tender from the heat and provided a mild onion flavoring to the chicken.

Then we got our Baked Green Mussels ($5.95), which ironically was listed on the board near the sushi bar as a special appetizer. So it seemed odd arriving near the end of our meal. The baked mussels were topped with some breading and baked and overall it was filling and tasty. I enjoyed it although honestly I can’t really remember what other flavors were in the topping, other than the fact that the mussels tasted fresh and plump.

Finally, we had the Tara ($8.95), a miso-glazed black cod dish. The cod had a slight fishy taste to it, and not necessarily in a good way. The miso glaze tried to cover it up, but it was still apparent to me. This was my least favorite dish.

I do, however, have a lasting impression of Otoro as a fun, fresh addition to Hayes Valley. The space is small and I don’t know if the table arrangements really take advantage of the space, which has a loungey feel with the music playing, but it’s definitely worth checking out for yourself. Otoro is a bit away from all the shops and restaurants a couple of blocks north on Hayes Street, but it’s still adding to the emerging neighborhood hip factor.

Single guy rating: 3.75 stars (Fresh Japanese Bites)

Explanation of the single guy's rating system:
1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner

Otoro Sushi on Urbanspoon

Monday, May 25, 2009

Farmers' Market at the Metreon

The Sony Metreon is going through a transformation, probably dropping the Sony name soon since it's been taken over by the Westfield shopping empire (they already operate the San Francisco Centre on Market Street). And one of the latest additions to fill up the empty spaces while the "real" transformation occurs is a daily farmers' market in the old Discovery Store spot, called the Island Earth Farmers Market.

One thing nice about a farmers' market that's opened every day is that you can even visit it on a holiday, like today when I went on Memorial Day after spending the day at AT&T Park watching the Giants finally get their bats swinging to beat the Braves. So I went to celebrate over some fresh fruits and vegetables.

The market has a mix of local farmers, food vendors and arts and crafts booths. And since it's opened into the evening (for those after-work food shopping errands), the produce selection can be plentiful or waning depending on the time of day.

See what I mean? These tomatoes actually look like a work of art to me, but it's probably because the vendor didn't have a lot of supply or it's the end of the day and he/she's running out. It'll probably take some time for the collection of farmers to gauge the supply and demand.

When you walk through the front entrance of the market, there are a few food vendors and it actually makes it smell good. I did try this great dessert empanada from a vendor called El Porteno, and it was made with banana and dulce de leche (he's from Argentina). I really liked the crust and the filling was tasty but not overly sweet. And it was just $1.50. (He sold savory empanadas for $3 each.)

You can tell there's still challenges to the market, like the odd layout that gets squeezed in the center, making it difficult to walk if the place is crowded, and the weird flourescent lighting that gives the place a dingy feel. It's not like this is the only market that's indoor (the popular Vancouver market is indoors and still do well), but it just needs to adjust the look so it doesn't look tired when it's only a week old. Still, I do like the daily hours, giving people in SOMA a place to get farmer fresh produce every day.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Fro-yo at a San Francisco ‘Pioneer’ --CLOSED

UPDATE: This store closed in 2009.

I call Yogurt Bar in Cow Hollow a “pioneer” in the title of this post because it was the first real fro-yo place to open in San Francisco in 2007 when the state was enraptured by the Pinkberry fro-yo craze. And yet, I still hadn’t made a visit.

I’ve traveled to Pasadena for a Pinkberry cup and to Palo Alto for Red Mango, but for some reason I couldn’t get myself to Union Street for a Yogurt Bar fro-yo. So recently I purposely made a trip to the tony Union Street neighborhood and visited Yogurt Bar, named the best fro-yo in the city by San Francisco magazine.

If you don’t have the address, you might miss the place because it’s actually on Octavia Street, which is on the more quiet end of the Union Street shops. It’s a tiny spot with a few outdoor seating but a nice, cute interior.

They offer four flavors of fro-yo: original plain, green tea (why is green tea always more expensive than other flavors?), chocolate and the flavor of the month (which happened to be blueberry). Yogurt Bar is also a bit cutesy with its sizes, calling its small “The Rock” (5 oz., $2.50), medium a “Union Square” (8 oz., $3.50) and a large the “Golden Gate” (13 oz., $5.70).

I ordered an original plain “Union Square” and topped it off with my usual strawberries. But I added a twist this time by asking for chocolate chips since toppings cost $1.50 extra for every one to three choices.

It turned out to be an unfortunate mistake to add the chocolate chips. The girl at the counter overloaded my cup with the chips, which I wouldn’t have complained if they were yummy. But they were dry and super hard to bite in to, making it almost hurt my teeth.

Despite the chocolate chips, the fro-yo itself was pretty nice. It’s made with organic yogurt from Straus Creamery, and taking the first bite I could tell the quality of the ingredient. It was fresh with a slight tart flavor typical of most fro-yo shops. I liked that it wasn’t too icy like some other places, but it wasn’t very creamy like Pinkberry or Red Mango. It was good, and I can see why people come back again and again when other newcomers pop up.

Single Guy's Fro-yo Rankings:

1. Red Mango, Palo Alto
2. Pinkberry, Southern California
3. Tuttimelon, San Francisco
4. Yogurt Bar, San Francisco
5. YoCup, San Francisco
6. Fraiche, Palo Alto
7. Icebee, San Francisco
8. Yoppi, San Francisco
9. Jubili, San Francisco
10. SoGreen, San Francisco
11. Yogurt Harmony, Berkeley
12. Yogen Früz, San Francisco
13. Céfiore, San Francisco

Yogurt Bar, 2760 Octavia St. (at Union), San Francisco (second new location in the Mission District). PH: 415.441.2585, Open daily except Mondays.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Spice Up the Grill

So I mentioned awhile back how I was in this Korean kick, but I always end up ordering the same thing at Korean restaurants. That’s Korean BBQ chicken.

Part of it has to do with the fact that I think eating chicken is healthier than the other popular dishes, which contains a lot of beef or short ribs (kal bi). The other part of it is I LOOOOVE the smell of Korean BBQ chicken. I don’t know if it’s the charring marinade or what, but I can smell Korean BBQ chicken a mile away and it always gets my stomach growling.

In surfing the Web, I couldn’t really find a recipe for Korean BBQ chicken. That might be because it’s a very Americanized dish served up as Korean fast food. Some of the recipes really looked just like recipes for shoyu chicken, which is basically teriyaki chicken. So below is my attempts to make Korean BBQ chicken, using the Korean kochujang hot pepper paste that I got at a Korean grocery store in Oakland.

The chicken turned out pretty good. One thing about this recipe is the soy sauce acts as a curing agent so your chicken does change in texture. I think that’s why sometimes it can seem a bit rubbery. For me, the main attraction is the cooking process because I just love the smell. So maybe this Memorial Day you can grill up this chicken. I bet you your neighbors will come around asking what you’re cooking. Enjoy!

Korean BBQ Chicken

Copyright 2009 by Cooking With The Single Guy

1 lb. chicken breasts (boneless and skinless)
2 T crushed hot pepper paste
¼ cup sugar
½ cup rice vinegar
½ cup soy sauce
1 T fresh ginger, skin removed, minced
1 clove garlic, minced

Butterfly your chicken breast so that they’re thinner and of equal thickness. Mix all other ingredients in a shallow dish or plastic Ziploc bag, then place chicken to marinate. Refrigerate for at least three hours or overnight.

Fire up an outdoor grill or grill pan and cook over medium high heat. Shake off excess marinade from the chicken before placing on the grill. How long they take to cook depends on the thickness of your chicken and the heat, but average about 6 to 8 minutes per side, especially if you’ve made the breasts thin cuts.

While the chicken cooks, you can place some of the marinade in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat, allowing it to concentrate and thicken up. Serve on the side when eating.

Serve your chicken with steam rice and some panchan dishes (traditional Korean sides) such as kim chee, spicy pickled cucumbers, sautéed bean sprouts, or sautéed broccoli.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Pair with dry sake.

TIP: I get my crushed hot pepper paste from a Korean grocery store in Oakland, but you can find it at large Asian grocery stores as well. Called kochujang, you can also order it online at KoaMart in Los Angeles.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Dish on Dining: Bund Shanghai

Hearty Northern Chinese Cuisine Done Right
640 Jackson St., San Francisco
PH: 415.982.0618
Open 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily
Major credit cards accepted, no reservations

It’s rare to find good food in Chinatown, so I was especially excited to read my friend Foodhoe’s post about Bund Shanghai, which opened earlier this year in the heart of San Francisco’s Chinatown.

Bund Shanghai, as the name suggests, focuses on Northern Chinese cuisine. Bund is actually what the Shanghainese call their waterfront. (I visited the bund 20 years ago fresh out of high school and it looked like an industrial mess with its murky water and endless row of old shipping freighters. Not sure whether it has modernized any along with that city’s emergence as a world financial powerhouse.)

I recruited my friend Vera to check out Bund Shanghai on a recent Saturday for lunch. When we walked in, I almost thought we were in the wrong place because it was totally empty at 12:30 p.m. From what I read, I thought Bund Shanghai was a pretty popular spot, but it seemed like a deserted hotel lobby on this day.

The restaurant itself is quite contemporary, with a couple of flat screens tuned into CNN. Everyone who works there speaks Mandarin, so points for authenticity.

The menu has a mix of small plates known as dim sum (but with Northern specialties instead of what you find at the popular Cantonese dim sum tea houses) along with noodles (soup and fried) and entrée plates. Vera and I started with a few dim sum plates, including the red bean puff ($3.95) and traditional Xiao Lung Bao ($6.95).

The red bean puff is a flakey round pastry filled with the sweet red bean paste (or azuki beans in Japanese). While they were warm, the puffs just seemed especially dry. The bean paste was OK, but it didn’t really thrill either one of us.

The xiao lung bao, or steamed soup dumplings, is one of my favorite Shanghai dish. Ground pork and some other ingredients are wrapped into a dumpling with just a bit of gelatin-like soup that melts into liquid during the steaming process. So when you bite into them, you get a burst of soup.

Bund Shanghai’s version was great. The skin (which is a big factor in the eating process) was a nice thin layer, which is a big plus for me. I’ve had some that were thick and dumpy. Vera says she would have preferred the skin even thinner, which we both agree we’ve only seen done well, ironically, at Cantonese dim sum places. Still, I totally enjoyed the steamer of xiao lung bao.

Vera convinced me to try one of her childhood favorites called Steamed Mantou ($3.50). I’d never heard of this delicacy but basically it’s a steamed bun served with condensed milk for dipping. But Vera says kids would just eat the bun. And what’s the enjoyment in that, you ask? (I know, I had the same reaction.) She says an expertly done mantou would have intricate layers in the bread so that when you bite into it, it would feel light but dense at the same time.

To me, this was like eating white bread without peanut butter or jelly. I didn’t get it. Sure, Bund Shanghai’s mantou was perfectly steamed and when I looked closely I could see intricate air pockets within the bread. But unless you dipped it in the condensed milk, it was pretty bland. Then Vera had the audacity to compare it to Hawaii sweet bread, which is one of MY childhood favorites.

Now all my Hawaii folks back me up here, Hawaiian sweet bread (especially from the former King’s Bakery) is amazingly light and airy but had an incredible subtle sweetness. I could totally eat a slice by itself without anything spread on it.

Moving on, we then tried a bowl of Dan Dan Noodles ($6.95), another commonly ordered Northern Chinese dish that’s known for its spicy meat topping. The bowl was quite big and tasted spicy but not overly so. I enjoyed the full-flavored broth and the noodles had a nice firm texture with some give.

Quite full by this time, we still decided to try something sweet (as if the red bean puffs and condensed-milk laden mantou weren’t enough). So Vera ordered the Sesame Seed Mochi Balls in Soup ($4.50).

Mochi is the sticky rice mixture made from glutinous rice, and then often steamed or boiled. Bund Shanghai served it in a simple bowl of water, which surprisingly wasn’t sweetened. It was just plain water. The mochi balls are filled with black sesame seed that’s been grounded into a liquid form. I used to love drinking these black sesame drinks that my dad would make fresh.

When you bit into the mochi balls, the black sesame liquid oozed out and totally created unusual scenes in your bowl that just a few minutes ago was a blank white canvas. I liked the black sesame filling, but I have to admit I’m not a fan of steamed mochi. Only because they can be bland and a definite choking hazard for young kids and older adults. (In Japan, you always hear about old people choking to death around the new year because sweetened mochi soup is one of the popular traditional new year dishes.)

As we finished off our mochi balls, the room started to finally fill up a bit (so odd since it was almost 2 p.m.). I guess Bund Shanghai must do brisk lunch business during the weekdays, but that’s a shame because the quality of the food is so good that it should be packed all the time. I can’t wait to return to explore the other Northern Chinese dishes on the menu.

Single guy rating: 3.75 stars (Sweet and Savory)

Explanation of the single guy's rating system:
1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner

Bund Shanghai Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

"Mankind is Noodlekind"

Just got back from a book reading tonight in San Francisco. "The Ramen King and I: How the Inventor of Instant Noodles Fixed My Love Life" by San Francisco writer Andy Raskin is a story about a man's quest to meet Momofuku Ando, the man behind Top Ramen and Cup of Noodles.

I don't think I'm giving anything away to say that, no, Raskin never meets Ando. But that's not what the book is really about. Like all good books, it's about a lot more. It's about life lessons and self-discovery.

Raskin seems like a really interesting person and I can't wait to start flipping through the page. The initial pages I've read seem really funny and insightful. I would be reading it now if I didn't get sucked into the whole Adam vs. Kris sing off. (Vote Kris, OK?)

In the photo above, Raskin holds a magazine that shows a photo of Ando. And the title of this post, "Mankind is noodlekind," is actually Raskin's loose translation of a Japanese saying written by Ando. (Raskin takes Ando's philosophical writings and uses it in his own Dear Abby-like Web site. Ando died in 2007.)

This is the first book for Raskin, a regular contributor to NPR's All Things Considered and This American Life. Next time you're at the bookstore (remember them?) you should check out this book. No water needed.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Frankly, It’s More Slim Dog Than Hot Dog

Hot dogs are a tricky proposition. People are passionate about what makes the best dogs, and some go crazier over the toppings. But to me, hot dogs are theoretically so bad for you that when I give into it, I don’t really care where I get it. I just want a plump savory dog in a bun piled on with relish and ketchup.

In New York City, I’d just buy one from a street cart for $2. (They’re probably more like $3 these days.)
But in the Bay Area, there’s an almost cult following for the Let’s Be Frank cart, which sells 100-percent grass-fed beef hot dogs. You can only get the hot dogs from the cart near Crissy Field, but two weeks ago Let’s Be Frank opened its first storefront in the Marina.

The hot dog hut on Steiner in the Chestnut Street neighborhood sticks out with its bright yellow-and-red painted exterior next to other dining establishments serving sushi, French-inspired small plates or organic vegetarian fare. I dropped in on a Saturday afternoon and the tiny spot looked charmingly nostalgic with a few counter seats near a large mirror-plate wall.

I ordered a Brat Dog ($5.50) because I wasn’t really in the mood for beef. The Brat Dog is made with family-farmed pork bratwurst and comes with grilled onions. But I passed on the onions and decided to top my dog with cole slaw for an extra $1. (Right now I’m on this BBQ pulled pork-cole slaw-topped sandwich binge.)

They offer a variety of other hot dogs and toppings, chili and desserts from Bi-Rite Creamery. Also off to the side are some branded novelty items for sale, including the signature Devil sauce.

Right off the bat, I noticed that the hot dog was really slim. It definitely wasn’t a ballpark frank. Since I’ve never eaten at the Let’s Be Frank cart before, I can’t tell if this is the typical size of their dogs or if it has shrunk now that they’re paying high rents in the Marina.

The Brat Dog was tasty and juicy with the definite feel of quality ingredients. And it was a good call to add the cole slaw because it was a lot more fun eating it that way. But I can’t say I’m sold on the price and size. I did get this as an afternoon snack, but I still felt hungry afterwards.

I can’t say Let’s Be Frank has steered me toward more sophisticated frankfurters. When I get the urge, I still may just get those concession-stand dogs at the movies. Then I can eat it in the dark without feeling guilty.

Let’s Be Frank, 2218 Steiner St. (between Lombard and Chestnut Streets), San Francisco. Open seven days a week. PH (for catering): 415.674.6755.

Let's Be Frank on Urbanspoon

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Oysters Under the Sun

We're having some summer weather this weekend in the Bay Area, so that got me out of my hot apartment and outside to check out Saturday's Oysterfest in San Francisco's Marina district.

The annual festival is a big outdoor party that's a perfect summer event. And yesterday's weather really complied, with a lot of sun and heat, but luckily a breeze to keep things cool. Although a lot of people did huddle under the view spots of shade, there were only a few spots like that. By 3 p.m., everyone was just under the sun exposed to the heat, music and beer. Not necessarily in that order.

I got to the Oysterfest early since I didn't buy an advanced ticket. As always, there was a line at the will call section and I just strolled over to the empty cash tickets section. (I would have only saved $4 if I bought an advance ticket if you take into consideration the processing fees online.) Since I got there early, the food booths weren't officially open. Of course, I didn't know that so I walked around looking for food and accidentally walked behind to the prep area and found these workers shucking away for the expected crowds to come.

Being a fair, I found the typical fair food, which you know what that means. Lots of fried foods! Yikes. I keep forgetting about that. There were fried oysters (natch!), garlic fries, and fried calamari. But there were also corn on the cobb, those huge smoked BBQ turkey legs and baked empanadas.

I ended up starting with the BBQ pulled pork sandwich. It was actually a huge plate of cole slaw and an open-faced pork sandwich. It was hard to eat, but actually really good. The pork was really tender and wasn't super drenched in BBQ sauce, which I don't mind. And the cole slaw was really good, nice and tangy. This was pretty filling but that can't stop me from eating ...

... oysters, because you know it was the Oysterfest. Here's my plate of barbeque oysters. You know what? I realized that I've never eaten BBQ oysters despite my professed love for oysters. I guess I've usually just eaten them raw (or a few times fried when I was young and foolish). So I was a virgin with eating BBQ oysters. But I loved it. It was nice and plump but cooked because it came off the grill, but still had the look and feel of raw oysters. I polished this half dozen in a dash.

There were a parade of oysters on plates all day long. And of course a few fried items to go with it and lots of beer to drown them down.

There wasn't a whole lot to do at the Oysterfest other than to eat and listen to the music and work on your tan (a lot of people were doing that). But there was ONE cooking demo in the afternoon. It was put on by Chefs Sean Eastwood and George Giacobbe. I'm not sure where they're from. They didn't say. But Chef Eastwood demonstrated a Louisiana po boy sandwich. Yes, more fried foods!

That's Eastwood on the left and Giacobbe on the right, getting ready to pass around the po boy sandwich they just made.

There were a lot of live music. After some hard rock bands (not my kind of music), there was the headliner: Michael Franti, who's kind of a blues band with New Orleans influences. They were a lot of fun and the crowds really seemed to enjoy them.

The festival attracted all types, including a few four-legged friends who got the chance to enjoy an event with their owners. But no oysters for them!

It was a perfect day for the Oysterfest. Despite the high temperature, it didn't feel too hot because of the breeze. It got crowded in the afternoon, but by then I was all set to leave. The price of admission is a bit high when you consider that it doesn't include food, which you end up spending more to buy once inside. But on a nice day, there's no better way to spend the weekend.

Oh, forgot to mention that the Oysterfest took place at the Grand Meadow at Fort Mason. Where else in the city can you get all these people in one area and give them such a great view?