Friday, August 20, 2010

Fancy Street Food at Spice Kit in San Francisco

Bringing Asian Fast-Food to SOMA
405 Howard St. (at First), San Francisco
PH: 415.882.4581
Open weekdays, 10:30 a.m.–8 p.m.; Saturday, 10:30 a.m.–3 p.m. Closed Sunday
No reservations

I’ve been talking about the new outlets for a working lunch in Oakland, but I’m always reminded when I go into San Francisco how much better the worker-bees have it there.

During a recent day off when I was in the city on a weekday, I checked out the fairly new Spice Kit, a lunch spot on the bottom floor of a business tower in the SOMA neighborhood towards the waterfront. Specializing in Asian street food, Spice Kit has gotten some press because of its pedigree: the founder is Will Pacio (formerly of the French Laundry and Per Se) and the main chef is Fred Tang (who has cooked with Ron Siegel at the Ritz Carlton Dining Room).

With such training behind the stove, you know it’s not your ordinary $2.50 bahn mi sandwiches that you can get in the Tenderloin.

At the counter, the ordering process starts with you deciding whether you want a banh mi (the Vietnamese sandwiches made with a toasted French baguette), a ssäm (the Korean wrap using rice paper), or a salad.

Then you choose what you want in it. And the choices include: five-spice chicken ($6.90), Kalbi-style beef shortribs ($7.95), roasted pork ($7.75) and the vegetarian choice ($6.75) or tofu.

Because I knew I wouldn’t get here that often, I decided to try both a banh mi AND a Korean ssäm wrap. I know. I nearly killed myself that afternoon.

First the ssäm. I ordered it with the slow-roasted beef shortribs, which was marinated kalbi-style often used for Korean BBQ. It was my first time eating a ssäm wrap, and it looked pretty big and stuffed. It was also filled with red leaf lettuce, cucumber slices, seasoned rice, bean sprouts, kim chi and the house ssäm sauce.

The beef cubes were incredibly tender, and you could tell it was of a high quality. But it didn’t have a strong flavor. The taste was pretty mild. I liked all the other ingredients, but I didn’t feel like it had much of a kick like I expected from Korean food.

For the banh mi, I ordered it with the five-spice chicken. The baguette was stuffed with the traditional pickled carrots and daikon radish strips, cucumbers, jalapeno, cilantro and mayo.

The chicken, which was also very tender, definitely had the five-spice flavor, and this time I felt it was too much, somehow almost conflicting with the pickled vegetables in the banh mi. It was very filling though.

Side note: The limited menu also offers up steam pork buns, lotus chips and a ginger-peanut slaw as well as Asian drinks like Vietnamese iced coffee and Thai iced tea.

Spice Kit looks like a nice place for lunch and the portions seem like a lot for the price. But I somehow feel like it lacks authenticity, maybe because it’s emphasizing upscale Asian food because of the chef’s culinary talents. Still, it’s a place worth checking out if you work in the area.

Spice Kit on Urbanspoon

Related posts:
Banh Mi in Saigon
Banh Mi economy
Cam Huong banh mi


Carolyn Jung said...

I am dying to try that place. So fun to see fine-dining chefs getting down and dirty with modern, fast food now.

lulu said...

hello! i'm new to all this and you look like you may just be the fella to help me! pleeeeease come visit me and make a suggestion :)

foodhoe said...

That banh mi looks very good to me, and oh do I miss lunch in the city...