Incanto

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Once in a while you find a restaurant so perfect, so unassuming and so satisfying, that even after one visit it becomes an instant favorite. I first tasted Chris Cosentino’s cooking at the Anthony Bourdain book release event last November, so when a friend’s birthday rolled around, I knew I had to take him to Cosentino’s restaurant, Incanto.

Neslted in San Francisco’s Noe Valley, the place is an offal-lover’s paradise. You want beef heart? Check. Mortadella? Check. Tripe? Check.

To start, we ordered the grilled beef heart with roasted golden beets:

Grilled beef heart with roasted golden beets

Internet, do you have any idea how much I love beef heart? And beets? The two together was like a marriage made in heaven. The true sign of a well-cooked beef heart (or kidney) is that it still tastes good even after it’s cooled down, and this easily stood up to the test.

For my entree, I got the Bucatini, Sardinian cured tuna heart, egg yolk and parsley:

Bucatini, Sardinian cured tuna heart, egg yolk and parsley

I sometimes mix a raw egg into my rice when eating chelo kabab, or with a number of Korean stews. But I’ve never had it with an Italian pasta, and oh my, it is delicious. The tuna heart added a perfect note of saltiness.

My friend got the truffled mortadella agnolotti, which was also very good:

Truffled mortadella agnolotti

For dessert, I had the three-cheese plate, which was my least favorite part of the meal. It could have been because I was already full, but I’m not really a dessert person to begin with:

Three-cheese plate

Incanto may not receive as much hype as some other Italian restaurants in the city (especially ones that *cough* start with a letter and end in a number *cough*), but the service was attentive yet not stuffy, the food was what offal dreams are made of, and well, it’s my favorite Italian restaurant.

Sapporo-ya

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My guiltiest food pleasure is ramen. Through the years, my tastebuds have moved up the ranks from Maruchan’s Oriental flavored instant ramen to Nong Shim’s seafood ramyun. I usually add toppings to the soup, like konnyaku or okra. And a raw egg at the end, of course.

You would think that ramen-yas (or ramen houses) would be one of my favorite types of restaurants then, but no. I seem to enjoy pre-packaged, preservative-laden instant ramen better than the real, handmade thing. That being said, one of the few Japanese restaurants that serves up a bowl of ramen good enough for me to return to is Sapporo-ya in San Francisco’s Japantown.

Kimchi ramen

I got the kimchi ramen, which was a good fix for a chilly afternoon, though I could have done without the big slabs of pork. (Seriously, what is that about? Why does almost all ramen include pork or at the very least, pork broth?) The noodles were a firm, chewy texture, and the wakame provided a colorful contrast.

I still count on my good friend Nong Shim as my ramen standby, but Sapporo-ya is there for when the mood strikes. Oh, and don’t go there and order the yakisoba, it’s too greasy. They do have okonomiyaki though, so I know I’ll be back.

Little Sheep Hot Pot

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The name itself was enough to make me want to go, and since my first visit I’ve gone back time and time again for Little Sheep Hot Pot’s brothy goodness. For the uninitiated, hot pot is like the East Asian version of fondue, only better.

Medicinal herbs (which taste a lot better than they sound) form the base for the broth. I’ve identified garlic, green onions, ginger, goji berries, and possibly jujubes, but the rest remain a mystery.

Upon entrance, visitors are immediately hit with the fragrance of the restaurant’s several vats of spicy and non-spicy simmering broths, which are brought to your table after you choose which ingredients you want to add to your hot pot. My favorites are the shiitake mushrooms, deep-fried bean curd, and lamb shoulder. The best part though? The buttery-soft garlic in the broth at the end of the meal.

The one I frequent is the one in San Mateo, but there are several locations along the Pacific Rim. You can recognize them by the steam enveloping the windows. I’m not kidding.

Little Sheep Hot Pot

Pumpkin Spiced Muffins

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Winter is the season for baking, and well, I’m not the best baker out there. Half the time when I make bread, it’s more or less a disaster, and my biscuits could use some work too. But when I tried baking these muffins, I couldn’t believe how deliciously moist and fluffy these came out. Plus, they made my apartment smell like the holidays!

Pumpkin spiced muffins

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup canned pumpkin
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Put oven in middle position and preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Oil a muffin tin lightly with vegetable oil.

2. Whisk together flour, sugar, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl until combined. In another bowl, whisk together pumpkin, remaining oil, and eggs, until smooth, then whisk in flour mixture until just combined.

3. Stir together remaining 1 teaspoon cinnamon and remaining 1 teaspoon sugar in another bowl and set aside.

4. Divide batter among muffin cups, then sprinkle tops with cinnamon-sugar mixture. Bake until puffed and golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes.

Roasted Red Pepper Salad

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I don’t like bell peppers. I never have, but lately I’ve been trying to make dishes in new ways that feature ingredients I’m usually not so fond of. So when I made a vinegar-heavy bell pepper salad a few weeks ago, I was pleasantly surprised at how well it came out. So much so that I think I’ll be making this one over and over again:

Roasted red pepper salad

Ingredients:

2 red bell peppers
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons drained capers in brine
2 tablespoons basil

1. Preheat broiler. Meanwhile, half peppers lengthwise, discard stems and seeds, and put peppers in an oiled shallow baking pan.

2. Broil until charred and softened, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and cover and let steam for 15 minutes. Cool and peel peppers.

3. Toss together all ingredients and let stand for 1 hour to let flavors develop.