Spaghettini with Fried Eggplant and Capers

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If I had to choose, eggplant may very well be my favorite vegetable. When undercooked, it tastes terrible, but when cooked properly it becomes sublime, buttery perfection. I’m no stranger to eggplant and pasta dishes, so when Food and Wine ran a Sardinian-inspired version, I had to try it. I adapted the original version to my own tastes, using less oil, substuting the Pecorino for Parmesan, using brined capers in place of salted ones, and omitting the homemade croutons altogether.

This version might just replace my standard southern Italian-style pasta and eggplant recipe, which includes tomatoes and ricotta salata. That’s the thing with eggplant dishes – you can never have enough.

Spaghetti with eggplant and capers

Ingredients:
1/4 cup brined capers
1 lb spaghettini
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 eggplant, peeled and cut into 1-inch dice
Salt and pepper
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
Large pinch of crushed red pepper
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Place the eggplant in a colander and sprinkle with salt an let stand for 15 minutes. Lightly pat with a paper towel to absorb excess moisture. In a bowl, rinse the capers and squeeze dry. Meanwhile, in a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the spaghettini until just al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving 3/4 cup of the cooking water.

2. In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1/4 cup of the oil until shimmering. Add the eggplant, season with salt and pepper and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 8 minutes. Add the sliced garlic and crushed red pepper and cook until the garlic is softened, about 2 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, in a small pan, heat the remaining 1/4 cup of oil until shimmering. Add the capers and fry over high heat, shaking the pan slightly, until the capers are golden and puffed, 1 minute. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the capers to a paper towel–lined plate.

4. Add the pasta to the eggplant. Add the Parmesan and the reserved cooking water and simmer, tossing, just until the water is nearly absorbed, about 2 minutes. Serve the pasta in bowls, sprinkled with the fried capers.

Fook Yuen

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My favorite dim sum restaurant in San Francisco is Ton Kiang, but overall in the Bay Area, it’s Fook Yuen, hands down. Located in Millbrae, Fook Yuen specializes in seafood dim sum and is always packed on weekends around brunch time. Most of their dim sum offerings are classic, standard fare, but with better taste and craftsmanship than most other restaurants. It’s the perfect place to share small plates with a group – everyone gets to try a bite or two of everything.

Like most visits, we started this one with the har gau (translucent shrimp dumplings). Har gau have a clean, fresh taste unlike many other dim sum that are heavily sauced. Next, we tried the cheong fun (rice noodle roll), which are filled with either beef or shrimp.

Rice noodle roll

One of the less commonly-served dim sums are fu pei guen (tofu skin roll), filled with shrimp and chives. Part of the fun in dim sum is mixing textures, and I usually like to have a fried dim sum or two in between most of the steamed ones.

Tofu skin shrimp roll

Next, we tried Fook Yuen’s potstickers, which on this visit, were the best potstickers I’ve ever had. (Unfortunately, during my last visit, I ordered the potstickers again and ended up with among the worst potstickers I’ve ever had. The dough was significantly undercooked.)

I try to avoid limited myself to only seafood dim sum, so we also tried the fried tofu squares with black bean sauce, which were delicious and crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside.

Fried tofu squares with black bean sauce

We ended our meal at Fook Yuen with jin deui (deep-fried glutinous sesame seed rolls filled with red bean paste). These are sweet and warm, and my sister’s favorite dim sum.

Jin deui

The best thing about dim sum is the element of surprise. You never know which dim sum will be carted around next. At Fook Yuen, you usually can’t go wrong with whichever dim sum you choose.

Jong Ga House

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I don’t really know how to begin this post other than just saying it: I really, really love Korean food. Honestly, I think it’s the banchan that does it for me. Not only do you get your main dish, but you get at least ten additional tiny plates of delicious, savory, morsel-y goodness de rigueur! I mean, come on. What other national cuisine does that? Oh, and then there’s gohcujang. I think I could write an entire post about the ubiquitous Korean red pepper paste that makes everything taste like happy.

My favorite Korean restaurant is Jong Ga House near Lake Merritt in Oakland. They have great ambience and serivce, and their entrees never dissapoint me. Also, they play K-pop, which only adds to the fun.

Instead of the usual seaweed soup in a light broth that most Korean restaurants serve at the beginning of the meal, Jong Ga House brings diners a cold kimchi soup. The soup is refereshing and peppery without being overwhelming.

Cold kimchi soup

The restaurant is generous with the banchan, usually bringing thirteen or fourteen of the little side dishes. They’re delicious, but a little sweeter than I’m used to.

Banchan!

I usually order the bulgogi, which is almost always moist and juicy. It’s grilled to perfection, mixed with flecks of charred and grilled onions.

Beef Bulgogi

At the end of the meal, as is the case in all Korean restaurants, a tiny chilled cup of sikhye is served as a non-alcoholic digestif. Made of cooked rice, this sweet beverage helps cleanse the palate too.

Oakland is home to a lot of good Korean restaurants, but even in a city with strong competition, Jong Ga House easily stands out.

Sparky’s 24 Hour Diner

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I should preface this review by saying that I haven’t actually eaten at Sparky’s more than once in the past four years. However, I used to go there on a pretty regular basis during my college days.

Located in the heart of San Francisco’s Castro district, Sparky’s was and still is the perfect place to end a late night of debauchery. It’s not most revelatory food and the menu is pretty standard, but it’s the kind of place that comes alive at two in the morning, when all you really need is a deep-fried snack and a cup of coffee.

I’ve always had a weak spot for fries, especially seasoned curly fries. Sparky’s serves these up with a side of ranch dressing, just the way I like them.

Curly fries with ranch dressing

If you’re craving something more substantial, Sparky’s also has a pancakes and hamburgers on their menu, as well as several varieties of shakes that use Mitchell’s ice cream.

Sparky’s is the kind of restaurant that’s at its best in the middle of the night (when it’s the most packed), so if you ever find yourself hungry in San Francisco after a late evening of shenanigans, pay Sparky’s a visit. The memories (and fries) will be worth it.

Osha Thai

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I love Thai food. I mean, who doesn’t? It’s spicy, salty, sour, sweet and simply delicious. Osha Thai, with multiple locations across San Francisco, is my go-to Thai restaurant. I’ve enjoyed so many of their dishes but my favorite is Osha’s Sea (which isn’t offered at all their locations).

Eggplant and seafood curry

The eggplant is fried and buttery and the red curry sauce has that perfect hit of spiciness where it hurts but not so much that you don’t go back for more. It’s a generous portion, and I usually can’t finish my bowl of salmon, calamari, crab, shrimp and mussels. (Although believe me, I try every time.)

My favorite Osha is the one on 2nd Street, followed by the one on Valencia Street. The one in the Embarcadero is my least favorite. The vibe is trendy in all their restaurants, but thankfully, this doesn’t mean that the chefs have sacrificed any flavor. The one on 2nd Street is especially loud and lively, in a good way. Go there in a group, order some appetizers and a Singha, wait for your Osha’s Sea to arrive, and dig in. You’ll see what I mean.