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

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.

An Evening with Anthony Bourdain

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If you’ve been reading this blog for more than, oh, five minutes, you probably know that I am unabashedly inspired by/live vicariously through Anthony Bourdain. No Reservations is one of the two television programs that I watch regularly, and I’ve devoured his books.

So when I was gifted tickets for this past Saturday to a reception and dinner at E&O Trading Company to launch his new book, I was ecstatic. And what’s more, dinner was being prepared by Chris Cosentino of Incanto, Alex Ong of Betelnut and Tim Luym of Poleng Lounge.

Anthony Bourdain in person is much like he is in writing or on television – well spoken with a touch of humored snarkiness, and really tall. I was pretty nervous approaching him, seeing as how I was the first person pushed forward to get my book signed, so I didn’t chat him up as I’d intended. A few glasses of champagne later, however, I went up to him and asked him to consider visiting Iran for his show. He lit up and said it’s at the top of his list for countries he wants to visit and his crew is planning on it for the fifth season. We spoke about that and his visit to Beirut for a a while and let me tell you, I was giddy inside. Giddy enough that I went back a third time and asked him for a photo:

An Evening with Anthony Bourdain

Tony, if you’re reading this, call me, okay? We can go to Iran together. I’ll show you around the best eats. My grandmother cooks a mean ash-e reshteh!

After we snacked on hors d’ourves of fried corn fritters, stewed oxtail, seared scallops, deep-fried tripe with citrus salt, and peanut-ginger bites, a pleasantly buzzed Anthony gave a brief speech on how inside every great cook there is an old Chinese man. He made a couple of jabs at Rachael Ray and her ilk, and we were seated for dinner.

The lighting was too dim to get any presentable photos of the banquet-style food, but we were served the following:

King salmon with serrano peppers, kaiware sprouts, and Meyer lemon ponzu

Green papaya rainbow salad with kaffir lime nuoc mam dressing, pomelo, green mangoes, and toybox tomatoes

Kauai prawn rendang with spicy coconut kaffir lime sauce

Shanghainese red cooked pork belly with jasmine rice “jook”

Hot and sour braised short ribs in an aromatic broth, chilis and mustard greens

Whole roasted stuffed pig trotter with savoy cabbage and mustard

Long life braised E-Fu noodles with conpoy, Dungeness crab, straw mushrooms and Chinese chives

Celebration jasmine rice with aromatic spices and fresh turmeric

Fresh market vegetables, stir-fried Nonya-style

The company around us was great, and we were delighted to have discovered like-minded people who understand the importance of offal and stinky tofu. Afterwards we moved on to dessert, which included:

Grapefruit foam soda

Lemograss chocolate lollipops

Truffles

Mock pork belly (made of yams)

Alex Ong provided everyone with artisanal Filipino sea salt to take home, and the chefs were friendly and gracious enough to sign my menu and take photos too:

An evening with Anthony Bourdain dinner menu

It was an amazing evening. I’m still glowing and can’t wait until the next time Bourdain is in town. Hopefully next time he’ll give a longer speech and you know, take me up on my offer as his tour guide. So what do you say, Tony?