Posted on

I’d heard a lot of hype about Esperpento before I ever got around to dining there. My friends who had visited told me it was amazing, and given my love of tapas, I couldn’t wait to visit this tiny restaurant tucked away in a corner of the Mission District in San Francisco.

I was not disappointed.

Esperpento isn’t just about the food, it’s also about the ambiance. The crowds are huge and the wait is long, but it’s a loud, fun place to hang out on a weekend night and share a pitcher of sangria with friends. I did that exactly a few months ago, and while I didn’t snap photos of everything I ate, I left happy and sated.

We started with the blood sausages with rice. These were my first blood sausages so I was excited to try them, though they had a little too much rice and not enough meat for my taste.

Blood sausages stuffed with rice

The photo is blurry, but I can’t review Esperpento and not mention the fried anchovies. Sprinkled with a bit of lemon juice, these little fish were a delicious accompaniment to our drinks.

Fried anchovies

We also ordered the fried cod. This was perhaps too much fried fish for one meal, but having four people agree on several tapas can be an excerise in restraint. The cod was crispy on the outside and flaky on the inside, albeit bland. The accompanying tartar-like sauce didn’t help much.

Fried cod

The sauteed mushrooms were one of the healthier tapas we chose. Simply prepared, their earthiness was a good change of pace to all the meat dishes.

Sauteed mushrooms

The pollo al ajillo was messy but tasty. Richly flavored and garlicy, the meat was practically falling off the bone.

Pollo al ajillo

The best dishes, however, are not pictured. The patatas bravas was by far my favorite dish of the evening (it’s my favorite at Bar Cesar too) and the patatas al ajillo were a close second.

I can’t wait to go back. There were a lot of dishes on Esperpento’s menu that I wanted to try but didn’t get a chance to on this visit. Next time, I’ll be trying their stewed oxtail, the alcachofas and calamari frito.

Little Sichuan

Posted on

I’ve been reading Fuchsia Dunlop’s Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China and loving it. It’s one of those books that I don’t want to finish, so I’ve been reading it increasingly slowly as I approach the end. Dunlop learned to cook Chinese cuisine in Chengdu and so natrually, her favored style of cooking is Sichuanese. Reading about the Sichuan peppercorn reminds me of Little Sichuan, an unassuming Chinese restaurant in San Mateo that I visit every few months or so.

Every meal at Little Sichuan begins with complementary bowls of spicy Sichuanese pickles and boiled peanuts. I love the pickles – they’re salty, sour, spicy and laced with chile oil. They’re fun to nibble on while I peruse the (very long) menu, though after several visits, I still haven’t found a dish that really stands out.

On my last visit, I ordered the dry-fried chicken and sizzling rice beef. The beef was a dissapointment – the sauce was bland and the rice almost instantly became soggy. The chicken, on the other hand, was well-prepared and tongue-numbingly spicy. (A little too spicy for my taste, though.)

Dry-fried chicken

Sizzling rice beef

Little Sichuan remains a restaurant that I’ll probably keep on visiting every few months or so, when the craving strikes. I just wish I could find a dish or two that’s evocative of the descriptions in Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper.

Waterfront Pizza

Posted on

I first discovered Waterfront Pizza in Foster City while searching for a place in the Peninsula that served hookahs and tea. You’d never guess it by the name, but most people come to Waterfront Pizza for the hookahs (or nargileh, or ghalyoun, depending on where you’re from) rather than for pizza.

On one visit, I decided to try their pizza and being Lebanese-owned, the restaurant has a lot of Middle Eastern items on the menu. I went for the Middle Eastern pizza, which is topped with tomatoes, sumac and feta.

Middle Eastern pizza

Their pizza is delicious. It certainly doesn’t taste traditional, but it’s fresh and intensely flavored. (The same goes for their hummus, which is drizzled with the most wonderful olive oil ever.)

Oh, and their hookahs? They last for hours, if you can manage to get the attention of the hookah attendant who comes around every once in a while to change the coals. Which brings me to my next point: I don’t quite know how to say this politely, but good luck getting the attention of anyone here.

For all of its positives, Waterfront Pizza regularly has an excruciatingly long wait and cold service to boot. I’ve waited close to an hour to get a hookah (while they were clearly not busy and while others were getting swift service) and the last time I was there, I got up and left after waiting forty-five minutes for the waiter to even approach us. If the staff is busy working, that’s one thing, but if they’re busy socializing, it’s just rude. I was going to get all socio-political on why some people receive preferred service and some don’t, but this isn’t that type of blog, so I’ll leave it be. In any case, I haven’t been back there since, and I don’t think I’ll be visiting anytime soon.

It’s too bad, because Waterfront Pizza has really great food and hookah.

Aab Doogh Khiyaar

Posted on

It’s raining outside and I haven’t seen the sun in what feels like ages, but I’m dreaming of summer. It’s my favorite season, and with Norooz (Persian new year) only a few weeks away, warmer weather is finally beginning to feel like a reality. And with that weather comes cravings for aab doogh khiyaar.

Aab doogh khiyaar is for Iranians what gazpacho is to Spaniards or what somen is to the Japanese. It’s a comfort food for me, evocative of long sweltering days where my family couldn’t be bothered to turn on the oven.

I tried recreating it last summer and it tasted pretty close to the nostalgic aab doogh khiyaar of my childhood.

Ab doogh khiar

2 Persian cucumbers, chopped
1 green onion, chopped
2 cups plain Middle Eastern or Greek yogurt, beaten
1 handful fresh basil (preferrably Persian), chopped
1 handful fresh chives (preferrably Persian), chopped
2 tablespoons mint, chopped
5 radishes (including greens), chopped
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup chopped toasted walnuts
1/4 cup raisins (preferrably Persian)
2 cups cold water
1 cup ice cubes
2 slices Pita bread (or other Middle Eastern flatbread), toasted and torn into smaller pieces

1. In a bowl, stir cucumbers and green onion into the yogurt. Add the mint, tarragon, chives, walnut, raisins and salt. Mix well together.

2. Stir in water and mix. Adjust seasonings to tasted, and just before serving add ice cubes and bread and mix.

Koryo Wooden Charcoal BBQ

Posted on

Koryo is my first true love as far as Korean restaurants are concerned. While I’d been sampling Korean food all over the Bay Area for years before I finally found Koryo in Oakland, it was the first where I became a regular. Despite the somewhat sterile interior (the space was under construction the last time I visited), their bulgogi and stellar banchan won me over. After a few visits, I decided to branch out with what I order.

The last time I was there, I eschewed the grilled items in favor of hoe naengmyeon, a bowl of cold noodles with raw skate fish and chili pepper dressing.

Hoe naengmyeon

It was refreshing and spicy, but after a few bites, I found myself wishing I’d ordered bulgogi. Maybe it was the skate – I love raw fish but wasn’t expecting to do so much chopstick maneuvering for so little meat on the bones. Maybe I had just gotten too used to having the bulgogi – the novelty of cooking your own food over a coal fire at your table while your cheeks turn red from the heat is so much fun, and the grilled beef remains my favorite dish at Koryo to date.

After several visits, Koryo is still among my top three favorite Korean restaurants. But the dishes are hit or miss, and depending on what you order, you may end up hooked or dissapointed.