Thursday, March 31, 2011

Hong Kong: Temple Street Comes Alive After Dark

This is my first day in Hong Kong, and after a 14-hour flight arriving in the early morning before this bustling, densely populated cosmopolitan city stirs awake, I was thoroughly beaten. But after a much-needed nap (and I never take afternoon naps) and an early dinner with my uncle for some refueling, I got my second wind and ventured out onto the streets this evening to the Temple Street night market.

Temple Street is in the Yau Ma Tei neighborhood on the Kowloon side of Hong Kong. (If you're not familiar with Hong Kong, there's two distinctive areas connected by the popular ferry service -- Kowloon and what's known as Hong Kong island. I'm staying on the Kowloon side.) Everyday starting around 2 p.m., vendors set up stalls over a four-block area along Temple Street, but really much of the action begins around dinner time when the dai pai dong or restaurants with street-only seating go into full steam.

While there are a few food vendors, the majority of the hawkers sell souvenirs and tschokes. It reminds me of the Chinatown street festivals where booths are selling cheap leather products and T-shirts. It's like that multiplied by a hundred, with products ranging from the touristy Oriental items (silk blouses, tea cups, fake jade pendants) to the cheap goods (toys, fake electronics) to the just plain weird (dildos and lingerie).

This vendor was selling pickled items and preserved plums. I guess it's a nice way to start the evening and get your appetite going.

The tiny food vendors pour out onto the streets, creating their eating areas. This one with the sign "Spicy Crabs" seemed to have the largest gathering. Funny, though, the crowds seemed to be separated between the tourists and local Chinese. I didn't try any of the street food because I just had a big dinner with my uncle. But I have to say one vendor selling claypot rice dishes had some sweet smelling food!

Some vendors set up a table with displays of their dishes, like this food vendor selling a whole bunch of shellfish.

This guy was selling fresh water chestnuts on a stick. I'm not sure how this is a popular treat because water chestnut, while slightly sweet, can be pretty bland.

I saw this dog hanging out next to this big basket of durian, the smelly fruit that seems to be in a lot of Southeast Asian countries. The dog was totally sprayed out on the floor but popped his head up to pose for me.

I thought this print of the kids was creepy.

The weather is just starting to get warm as Hong Kong moves into spring, which makes this soft serve ice cream truck a good idea.

This sign is right in front of a row of stalls that had some explicit adult items like the aforementioned dildos, lingerie, g-strings, etc. I felt like a shower just walking by them.

The Temple Street night market is more a tourist attraction, with the exception of the dai pai dongs catering to the local Chinese looking for a cheap hearty dinner. To find it, take the subway (known as the MTR) to the Yau Ma Tei station and walk along Man Ming Lane until you hit Temple and just keep following the stalls.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Single Guy’s Planner

OK guys, I’m heading off to the airport for my flight to Hong Kong (yikes, 14 hours stuck in the window seat), but that doesn’t mean you guys should just be sitting at home waiting for my next blog post live from Hong Kong. (OK, if you want to sit and wait, whom am I to stop you!) Instead you should head out and check out the many food events occurring in San Francisco. Because of the tragic events in Japan, many of these events are local fund-raisers as the food community tries to do something to pitch in. Go out and support one of them and feel good helping out.

April 2, Saturday – Eat Real Bake Sale for Japan. The first of several fund-raisers for the tragic situation in Japan, this national bake sale put on by food bloggers and with food from local restaurants and bakeries will spring up in sites across the country from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on this day to raise money for relief. Proceeds go to Peace Winds Japan. There’ll be several locations for the bake sale in the Bay area, including Pizzaiolo in Oakland and the Bi-Rite Market in San Francisco’s Mission District. Visit to find a participating bake sale near you.

April 3, Sunday – Chefs United for Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami Farm Aid Dinner. For a more fancier affair and fund-raiser, go to this major dinner at San Francisco’s Prospect Restaurant and features local chefs like Ravi Kapur (Prospect), Sho Kamio (Yoshi’s), Hiro Sone and Lissa Doumani (Ame and Terra), Bruce Hill (Bix), Staffan Terje (Perbacco) and Paul Canales (most recently the chef of Oliveto). Cost is $300 per person with all proceeds going to disaster relief. Cocktails and appetizers start at 6 p.m. with the 6-course dinner with wine and sake pairing begin at 7 p.m. For tickets, click here.

April 3, Sunday – Indian Home Cooking Class at 18 Reasons. Like Indian food? Always wanted to make your own raita? Learn from two Indian moms and food bloggers Simran Singh and Stacie Dong at this Mission district community food art space. Cost is $30 for members and $40 for everyone else. Class runs from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at 593 Guerrero St., San Francisco. Click here to purchase tickets.

April 5, Tuesday – Hope to Japan: Earthquake and Tsunami Disaster Relief. The Northern California Japanese Restaurant Association and Nikko Hotel San Francisco has partnered to put on this special fund-raiser for the victims in Japan. An evening of drinks, food, music and “generous spirits” will take place at the Nikko Hotel, 222 Mason St., in Union Square starting at 6 p.m. Tickets are $150, and funds support the Japan Red Cross. For more information and to purchase tickets go to

April 7, Thursday – Toast of the Town San Francisco. This major wine fete by the Wine Enthusiast takes over City Hall this year to feature more than 500 wines and 30 local restaurants serving up small bites. Like previous years, VIP tickets for $169 allows you early bird entry at 6 p.m. and then the grand event for the regular $109 price lets you in an hour later. For more information and to purchase tickets, go to the website.

April 7, Thursday – Taste of the Nation. Across town on the same night is this annual fund-raiser for the Share our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign. Local chefs gather to produce small bites for tasting, all for a fun evening benefit. This year the event takes place from 6:30 p.m. (5:30 p.m. if you’re a VIP ticketholder) at the Bentley Reserve building at 301 Battery St., San Francisco. Tickets cost $95 and $165 for VIP entry. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit the website.

April 16, Thursday – Third Annual Goat Festival by CUESA. No kidding around, it’s all things goat at the San Francisco Ferry Building with this day of goat products (and actual goats). Come meet goat ranchers, taste goat milk’s cheese, meet authors Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarborough of “GOAT: Meat, Milk, Cheese” and Laura Werlin, author of “Grilled Cheese Please.” As usual for these Saturday farmers market events, activities are free. For more information, visit

April 17, Sunday – San Francisco International Chocolate Salon. OK, you know where I’ll be on this Sunday. That’s right, it’s the annual cocoa crazy crowds at Fort Mason Center. This is the larger event (compared to the smaller fall event I judged last year), running from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. But organizers this year will keep vendors to a select few but with a lot more space to wander and explore … and stuff your face with chocolate. Tickets for adults is $25 in advance and $30 at the door. Children between 6 and 12 pay $10 while younger kids get in free. (The kids going in free must be accompanied by an adult, and limit is two free kids per adult.) For more information and tickets, visit

April 17, Sunday – A Taste of Tequila and Tamales by the Bay. This annual event for those tasty tamales take place at the Design Center this year at 11 Henry Adams St., from noon to 4:30 p.m. Tickets are $45 if you purchase before April 10 and $50 afterwards. For information, visit

April 23, Saturday – Book Signing for “Salad as a Meal” by Patricia Wells. I never used to make salads as a meal, but later in life as I focus in on healthy eating, I find salads can be made pretty hefty. So get more ideas for salad entrees from this author, who will be appearng at the Pasta Shop in Berkeley from noon to 2 p.m., and then later in the day at 3 p.m. at Omnivore Books in San Francisco. Pasta Shop, 1786 Fourth St., Berkeley, and Omnivore Books, 3885A Cesar Chavez St., San Francisco.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Burmese Kitchen in San Francisco

Home-style Dishes from Across the Pacific
452 Larkin St., San Francisco
Civic Center/Tenderloin
PH: 415.474.5569
Open Mon., 10:30 a.m.–3 p.m., Tue.–Sat., 10:30 a.m.–8:30 p.m. (closed Sunday)
Reservations, major credit cards accepted

Last week my friend Hector and I checked out the Bali exhibit at the Asian Art Museum, and afterwards we decided to look for dinner in nearby Little Saigon. And while Hector had his mind set on Vietnamese, which I’m always gamed for, I threw a twist and suggested Burmese Kitchen.

The restaurant used to be a fast lunch deli called Larkin Express, but its owner Dennis Lin transformed it two years ago into a place to serve up dishes of his homeland of Burma.

While the exterior with the fading photos of dishes in the window make the place seem like a dive, the inside was surprisingly warm and comfortable with a quaint Southeast Asian décor. It was also very popular with all the tables pretty much taken. Hector and I were able to grab the last two-top near the entrance.

We started dinner with one of the popular salads. The tea leaf salad is a classic, but we wanted to try something different and went with the Gin Dok, or Ginger Salad ($5.95). When it arrived, it wasn’t the most prettiest plate, looking like a pile of beige food.

But when we ate it, we tasted the crunch of the many nuts mixed in (I tasted sunflower, peanuts, and maybe soybeans) with the freshness of the lettuce combined with the tang of the fresh ginger. The ginger flavor was nice and subtle, and not overpowering like it could be. This was a clear winner for the dish of the night.

Our waiter convinced Hector to order the Fried Golden Tofu ($4.95), which you know I wouldn’t suggest since I don’t eat deep fried foods. And this dish is almost representative of why I’m not a fan of deep frying. You get this nice home-made tofu that’s immersed in hot oil, creating almost a sponge for the oil.

I tried one just to see what it was like, and it wasn’t anything special. Because the tofu was thinly sliced, it was almost like tofu chips. Hector said he thought it would come out like Japanese agedashi tofu, but that’s a more refined dish of fried tofu sitting in a broth. This was just fried tofu, although Hector did like the dipping sauce and didn’t have any problems eating most of the plate.

For our mains, first came the Fish with Tamarind Sauce ($6.50), which looked a bit like a curry. It was basically fish filets covered by the brown sauce. I didn’t get any distinctive flavor, and Hector agreed that the tamarind wasn’t very prominent.

Then came another dish that also seemed like a curry. It was the Pork with Pickled Mango ($6.50), which I’ve never heard of before. Again, the dish just looked like a plate of brown clumps, not very appetizing. But the pork cubes were nice and tender, and I would sometimes bite into the chunks of pickled mango. And while that taste can be to strong for people not used to it, it reminded me of eating preserved plum candy as a kid.

Dinner started off with a blast with the ginger salad, but then just didn’t go any where with the home-cooked dishes that lacked any visual appeal on the plate. Still, the comfy feel of the restaurant and the prices make Burmese Kitchen an affordable option in the neighborhood.

Single guy rating: 2.5 stars (salads shine)

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

Larkin Express / Burmese Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Friday, March 25, 2011

Short Ribs or Spare Ribs? Let's Just Ad Hoc Them

OK, I really need to read the recipes in this Test Kitchen series. Remember when I got confused about how much chipotle to add? And sometimes I end up doing a recipe and realize I don't have all the equipment to make it per the cookbook.

Well, in the masterful "Ad Hoc at Home" cookbook (award-winning cookbook, that is) by Thomas Keller, everyone voted to have me test the roasted pork short ribs recipe (40%), over the pan-roasted duck breast (31%), lemon bars (18%) or romanesco sauce (9%). Simple enough.

So I got started on getting my ingredients, and this was an extremely easy recipe because it was just salt and pepper, and letting the pork slow roast in the oven. So what went wrong? I misread that the recipe calls for pork short ribs. I bought pork spareribs.

Is there a difference? I'm not exactly sure, but I think it probably is because the spareribs I got didn't necessarily seem "short." I blame it on the fact that 1) I had spareribs on my mind because I recently used a recipe that called for pork spareribs and 2) the Ad Hoc cookbook had a glazed pork spareribs recipe right next to the short ribs recipe.

Well, it is what it is. So here's how the roasted pork spareribs recipe turned out if Ad Hoc wanted you to make roasted pork spareribs.

First of all, not everyone stocks pork spareribs. The baby back ribs are more popular, but the spareribs are more fatty. (Wonder if it would be easier shopping for short ribs?) After letting the spareribs get to room temperature, I generously seasoned them in salt and pepper. Keller specifically says to use gray salt (or coarse sea salt) and I happened to have gray salt, so I was good there.

Then I had to pan-fry them in a pan in batches to get them brown, using Canola oil in the pan. This was a real chore because to fry up all my spareribs, I had to fry four times to fit all the spareribs in the pan. And because this cut was fatty, there was a lot of oil splashing around. After awhile with my pan all fatty, it created a lot of smoke and my place started to get really smokey.
But once I was done browning the spareribs, I placed them on two baking sheets with racks and cooked them in the oven at 350 degrees for about two hours. (I love my new oven with the window and light. I can monitor the cooking without opening the door like I used to do.) Again, because the spareribs were so fatty, my new oven got a lot of oil splatter that I used the self-cleaning option for the first time afterward.

Here are the spareribs after they came out of the oven. I let it rest for about 30 minutes before cutting into them. And that was it. See, pretty easy recipe. But was it too simple?

Here's the final dish, served up with some braised Savoy cabbage as suggested by Chef Keller. I have to say, even though they weren't short ribs, they still looked pretty scrumptious, huh?

My tips and warnings about this recipe:

  1. Buy "short ribs," not spareribs or baby back ribs.
  2. The cut of pork meat is very fatty, so be prepared for a lot of clean up. Use a splatter guard if you have it.
Ease of cooking: The instructions are so simple, and that's part of the Ad Hoc approach, to make simple dishes that are home-like but delicious. But actually, not every recipe in the cookbook is this simple. So of the simplest sounding dishes actually require a lot of steps. But this one can't be any easier. Just season and bake and forget about it.

I had my doubts because this recipe didn't call for anything but salt and pepper. I thought it'd taste plain and boring, but I was actually pleasantly surprised. By generously seasoning with salt and pepper, these roasted spareribs tasted like one of my favorite Chinese spareribs dish that's like a dry roast. The natural fatty flavors of the pork add to the whole experience, brought out by the salt and pepper. And because the fatty parts get all crispy, it was like eating crispy bacon in certain parts.

Overall grade: A-
because this was super simple to make and satisfying to eat. I just knocked it off a bit because it's so fatty (translation: bad for my cholesterol).

Don't forget to vote for next month's Test Kitchen in the poll on the upper right hand column. The featured cookbook is actually a Christmas gift from my sister. It's the "Antojitos" cookbook by Barbara Sibley and Margaritte Maley and it's from a New York Mexican restaurant. I thought it might be interesting to try a Latin recipe because some of you know I'm not a fan of Mexican dishes because I think they seem pretty much the same (meat, lettuce, tortilla, beans). So maybe trying a Mexican recipe will change my mind about Mexican cuisine. Pick a good one!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Boot and Shoe Service in Oakland

Fire Hot Pizza Near the Lake
3308 Grand Ave., Oakland
Grand Lake neighborhood
PH: 510.763.2668
Tue.-–Thu., 5:30–10 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 5–10:30 p.m.; Sun., 5–10 p.m. (closed Mondays)
Major credit cards accepted, no reservations

Typically, the word “boot” isn’t associated with pizza, unless you’re thinking about a leathery crust. So yeah, not what you’d want to imagine when thinking pizza. But somehow, the people behind Boot and Shoe Service in Oakland make it work as evident by the regular crowds who make their way to this neighborhood pizzeria.

Boot and Shoe is the second restaurant from Charlie Hallowell, who opened the highly successful Pizzaiolo in the Temescal neighborhood. In Grand Lake, he took over the space of a former café that was once a shoe cobbler. Like Pizzaiolo, the focus is on the wood-fire Neapolitan-style pizzas but Boot and Shoe seems to focus on it more with its limited menu.

The Grand Lake area is also close to my gym, so that made it convenient for me to drop in for pizza after a work out. (What? You never heard of the post-work out pizza diet?) I try to get to Boot and Shoe soon after it opens because a few minutes later and you’ll end up having to wait since it doesn’t take reservations.

It’s easy to find a spot at the bar, however, which is a separate room in the back where I ended up on one visit. The bartenders are friendly and laid back, but it is a pretty dark spot so not that great for taking pictures.

I started off with the arugula and frisee salad with toasted hazelnut and moliterno al tartufo ($9). While a salad sounds simple, there’s something about Boot and Shoe’s salads that are just so refreshing and bright. It must be the quality ingredients, like the fresh moliterno a tartufo, a sheep’s milk cheese.

For the main event, I got the housemade sausage pizza with greens ($16). The pizza crust is puffy and airy on the edges and slightly chewy in the center, but it’s a nice complement to the massive toppings of sausages and greens, which I think was rapini or nettles. But what Boot and Shoe’s pizza makers do well is the burst of flavors you get here and there (but mostly in the center of the pizza).

My only gripe was that the pizza came with red onions, which I’m not a fan of but a common ingredient in pizza. It wasn’t included in the menu description, so I always have to remember to ask.

On my next visit, I sat in the front dining area, which is made up with a few communal tables. Even though the restaurant was crowded already soon after it opened at 5 p.m. on a Friday, I was able to get a seat on the edge of one table since I was by myself.

In the main dining area you can see the pizza makers busy pumping out those pies, which meant the service is really fast and you get your food fairly quickly. This time I tried the fluke crudo with kumquat ($12) as a starter, and the combination of raw fish and kumquat looked really familiar. Boot and Shoe’s version adds avocado and some celery, and everything combined nicely with the fresh, raw fluke. Again, a simple presentation highlighting the quality of the ingredients.

For my pizza, I got the wild nettles and ricotta salata pizza ($16), one of the regular options on the menu because of its popularity. And it was a good thing my server described the pizza, which has no tomato sauce, because the main ingredients include wilted wild nettles and thinly sliced red onions. So I ordered it without the red onions.

The pizza, even without the red onions, looked heavy with the toppings because of the ribbons of fresh ricotta salata cheese. With so much of the nettles, it is a bit of a challenge eating the slices that couldn't hold up their shape when picked up, but I loved the combination of the nettles and the light sauce.

This time I got dessert, which was a caramel pot de crème ($6.50), which tasted like a combination of caramel and butterscotch, with just the right amount of creamy texture and density for richness.

The pizza at Boot and Shoe can be creative with ingredients like wild nettles, potatoes, or spring onions, which is what East Coast people must think of when they think California pizza. But Boot and Shoe definitely does it with a modern twist while still offering something for the purists like the marinara or margherita.

While the pizzas are just as good as Pizzaiolo, there’s a different vibe at Boot and Shoe, which has more of a rustic or rougher edge to it, like the unfinished walls exposing the crawl space of an office. Not exactly polished, but warm and satisfying.

Single guy rating: 3.5 stars (Modern California Pizzas)

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

Boot and Shoe Service on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Jane on Fillmore in San Francisco

There’s been a lot happening in the lower Pacific Heights area of San Francisco, specifically along the busy Fillmore corridor. While a lot of focus has been on Elizabeth Faulkner’s Citizen’s Cake moving from Hayes Valley to the old Vivande spot, a newcomer right next door is also getting some attention.

Jane is an upscale coffee and tea house that’s hard to describe. The spacious room with a tiny mezzanine nook has a bakery feel because of the abundance of baked goods from coffee cakes to scones to cookies. But then in the back you see an open kitchen counter where chefs are prepping ingredients for the salads and soups, making it seem like a fast-casual café.

Owner Amanda Michael, a former pastry chef who named the place after her daughter, says the décor is a little bit of 70s punk-rocker in an English tea parlour. The design is definitely bold and conversation-inspiring, from the patterned walls to the yak head above.

When I checked out the place on a rainy Saturday afternoon, there were a lot of people sitting at the tables in the front, sipping either the Four Barrels coffee or the heirloom organic tea from San Francisco’s Five Mountains.

I tried a slice of the layered coconut cake ($3), and it was a comforting but elegant treat. The flavors were spot on and the cake was light, with a just-as-light cream that was definitely restaurant-quality.

Jane is a bold new space for the neighborhood and the offering of coffee, tea and treats make it a place you’ll come back again and again to try each one or a soon-to-be favorite.

Jane on Fillmore, 2123 Fillmore St., San Francisco. PH: 415.931.JANE.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

10 Days and Counting to 'Fragrant Harbor'

I haven't been able to sleep well lately. It might be me still trying to adjust to the dang change in Daylight Savings Time, but I'm sure a lot of it is just my excitement about my first planned foreign trip in three years. At the end of this month I fly out to Hong Kong for a week of gastronomy, HK style.

My Mom is from Hong Kong (translated to mean "fragrant harbor" because of the early trade of sandalwood), so we used to visit a lot when I was a kid. But I think the last time I was there I was maybe 11? I barely remember it. And I haven't gone back as an adult. So I figured it's about time to check out this cosmopolitan city of the East. It's going to be a quick trip, but I'm pretty sure all I will be doing is eating, eating, and maybe some more eating. I have a long list of places to try, but if you have any "don't miss" advice for me, please let me know!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Secret Menu at Betelnut

Offal Dishes Highlight Home-style Malaysian Cuisine
2030 Union St. (at Buchanan), San Francisco
Cow Hollow
PH: 415.929.8855
Open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. (till midnight on Friday and Saturday)
Reservations, major credit cards accepted

I recently got a Blackboard Eats membership, which is a food site that offers up limited discounts at restaurants around San Francisco. But one of the first deals that I took advantage of wasn’t a discount but a special all-access-pass to a secret menu at the consistently popular Betelnut.

I recruited my fellow blogger friend Foodhoe, who’s the only person I know who will travel by bus in the rain across town to try out an offal menu, as we met for dinner on Tuesday. Foodhoe was running late because of the rain, so I waited at the bar and ordered up a Singaporean Sling – the touristy drink made up gin and cherry herring. The drink came out looking red just like the walls serving as backdrop to the 1940s Shanghai décor.

It’s been a long time since I last visited Betelnut, but the bar still had the mechanical bamboo fans playing up the tropical vibe of Southeast Asia. The open kitchen seems new to me, offering up a view of the kitchen staff firing up the specialties.

When Foodhoe arrived, we settled into our table and started to strategize about the secret menu. The Blackboard Eats special allows members to order from an offal menu designed by Chef Alex Ong, who offered four items that were influenced by his Malaysian childhood.

I convinced Foodhoe to skip the crispy chicken liver because the dish was deep-fried, after I confirmed it with the server. (I’m not a fan of deep-fried dishes.) So we decided to go with the salt-and-pepper veal sweetbread ($12.88) because I love sweetbreads and I thought they would be prepared pan-fried like I’ve seen at other restaurants.

The dish, however, was also deep-fried and Foodhoe and I thought it was odd that the server didn’t warn me after I made such a big deal about not ordering the chicken livers. Anywho, I did try just a few pieces of the sweetbreads (I know it won’t kill me). The pieces were like little fried nuggets, smaller than most sweetbreads (the glands of veal), and it was simply served with chopped chile and scallions.

Even though it was simple, and the deep-fried aspect took away any moisture of the sweetbreads, I did enjoy the salt-and-pepper spice with the chile and declared (yes, I make lots of declarations as I eat) that this would be a popular street food item to sell in the current food truck craze.

We moved on to the cured lamb tongue ($11.88), which was served in a light dressing of lime juice and galangal and topped with tiny sprouts and bits of taro chips. The tongue seemed really tiny, and they were braised and thinly sliced. The presentation was like eating sashimi (sliced raw fish). The tongue lacked any gamey flavor, instead given a brightness from the lime.

Then came the highlight of our meal, which was the fish-head tamarind curry ($15.88). The dish is supposedly a celebratory dish in Malaysia but served only at home and rarely on a restaurant’s menu.

I had reservations about eating a fish head because I thought the head would be small and not have a lot of meat, but Ong’s version was made from the head of a huge striped bass. When the casserole container was brought to the table and the lid taken off, the entire dish looked like a lot.

Foodhoe and I started to dissect the head, using our spoons to scrape off the tender flesh from the cheeks, and then sucking on bones to get as much of the curry sauce. We also dared each other to eat the fish eye. First we found the pupils, which looked like a more round white tic tac. It was hard and tasted like chalk, so I don’t think the pupil is the best part of the eye to eat.

Then we discovered the eye socket, which was gooey like raw squid and it actually didn’t taste too bad. The texture was like eating uni, or sea urchin. Foodhoe said it was like eating a small raw oyster.

The curry sauce was a subtle blend of spices, not super spicy to mask the natural sweetness of the fish meat that we were able to suck off the bones of the head. The work put in to eat this dish reminded me of eating Dungeness crab – you eat with your hands and it can be messy, but so worth it.

I suggested to Foodhoe that we also order something from Betelnut’s regular menu. Throughout our dining experience, I could smell the other dishes being made for the other diners and they all seemed to have the strong savory flavor of soy and sugar. Glancing at the regular menu, I could see that there were a lot of the Chinese dishes that appeal to American diners such as firecracker shrimp, minced meat lettuce cups, and glazed short ribs.

I wanted to avoid these dishes and maybe order something different, so that’s how we ended with the “Beggar’s” chicken ($21.88), a half chicken wrapped in lotus leaf and then encased in clay and baked for almost two hours. (Yes, it was a long dinner.)

Our server brought out our chicken dish and handed me a wooden mallet to crack our clay-encased chicken. I tapped the clay in the spots that he pointed to and this is how it ended up looking, like some cracked dinosaur egg.

Then our server went about removing the clay pieces and pulling back the lotus leaf, which released an aroma that Foodhoe caught right away since she was sitting closest to the chicken. When the chicken was unveiled, our server pulled out some of the stuffing, which included wood ear mushroom and smoked pork belly pieces.

The chicken is brined overnight before being encased in clay, and that resulted in this extremely moist chicken. I enjoyed the texture of the meat, but I wished that it picked up more of the extra flavoring from the lotus leaf and pork belly. Instead the flavors were more one-dimensional. Still, eating this dish that was served tableside was a production that had diners at other tables turning their heads.

We didn’t order anything else from the regular menu because we were full from the chicken and the fish head curry, but mostly because Foodhoe wanted to save room for dessert, which was a chocolate-filled mochi that she had read about.

The trio of mochi came in a variety of flavors, including a chocolate mochi (mochi is the Japanese sticky rice treat) filled with a marshmallow (not my favorite), a mochi with white chocolate (just OK), and the mochi with chocolate ganache filling (the clear winner). The mochi were also served with a coconut-flavored cream on top of a pineapple sauce that was a bit salty and created this interesting salty and sweet playfulness in my mouth to offset the chewyness of the mochi.

Our secret menu dinner at Betelnut was a fun evening of trying unique dishes that also seemed to be the most authentic of dishes compared to those found on the regular menu. I don’t know if maybe Chef Ong doesn’t think his regular diners would like offal dishes or if he’s just playing it safe, but I feel the uniqueness of these offal dishes play more to the growing experimental hunger of Bay Area diners. Hopefully Ong won’t keep this menu a secret any more.

You can check out Foodhoe's version of our secret menu dinner on her scrumptious blog here.

Single guy rating: 3.25 stars (get pass the kitschy décor for the authentic flavors )

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

Betelnut on Urbanspoon