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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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
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:
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?
As we were walking down Clement Street afterwards, we spotted a buzzing crowd around Burma Superstar and having heard a lot of good things about the place, decided to give it a try. Ever since I moved out of the Richmond district in San Francisco a couple of years ago, I’ve stumbled upon all these great restaurants that were in my neighborhood the whole time I was living there.
I checked out the menu while I waited for our names to be called. Half an hour later, we were seated. We started with the samusas, which to me tasted like a cross between Indian samosas and Iranian sambuseh:
I had the Nan Gyi Dok (Coconut Chicken Rice Noodle Curry) and my friend had the Burmese Beef Curry. Both were delicious.
Burma Superstar gets busy and cramped, but in a warm, inviting way. The service is attentive and the food is pretty good (albeit heavy). I’ll be back for more. With all the attention on Thai and Vietnamese cuisine in recent years, Burmese is just waiting to be discovered.