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Dish Duel

Monday, November 16, 2015

Ramen Throwdown: Nippon Gochiso Select Vs. Top Ramen

Posted By on Mon, Nov 16, 2015 at 2:00 PM

NGS Kiosk at Berkeley Bowl West - A.K. CARROLL
  • A.K. Carroll
  • NGS Kiosk at Berkeley Bowl West

Late last month, Nippon Gochiso Select (NGS) — a line of 40 premium artisanal Japanese products — broke into the Bay Area, inspiring a 10-hands pop-up dinner at Nico's in San Francisco, debuting on the menus of Craftsman and Wolves, B-Dama, and Hopscotch, and making its home on the shelves of Berkeley Bowl West (at least for the time being).
 
"Gochiso” has several meanings related to feasting, hospitality and gratitude. By my estimation, then, NGS (the brainchild of recipe developer and food educator, Ema Koeda) has something to do with celebrating and appreciating Japanese food. NGS is also, more specifically, a line of premium local food products — local to Japan, that is — that Koeda and her team hope to get into the homes of American cooks and consumers.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Banh Mi Dish Duel: Bun Mee vs. Cafe Bunn Mi

Posted By on Tue, Aug 16, 2011 at 1:15 PM

Cafe Bunn Mi's sole sandwich: Not the same as Bun Mee's. - JONATHAN KAUFFMAN
  • Jonathan Kauffman
  • Cafe Bunn Mi's sole sandwich: Not the same as Bun Mee's.

In Hanoi, where copyright laws are laxer than in San Francisco, success and unauthorized cloning go hand in hand. The moment Lucky Hotel gets a good mention in the Lonely Planet guide, five more Lucky Hotels appear, some on the same block. The first hotel will put up an "Original Lucky Hotel" sign, which will then be copied by the copycats.

Did Cafe Bunn Mi, which opened last week in the Richmond, pull a similar stunt with Bun Mee, Denise Tran's 4-month-old Pacific Heights sandwich shop? Both sell upscale ($5-8), Westerner-friendly banh mi, along with salads and a few more substantial dishes. More importantly, whose phonetically spelled sandwiches are better?


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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Passover Matzo Ball Soup Brawl: Miller's Deli vs. Moishe's Pippic

Posted By on Thu, Apr 7, 2011 at 3:54 PM

Miller's matzo ball soup isn't kosher for Passover, but it'll fill up even the hungriest of growing Jewish boys. - ALEX HOCHMAN
  • Alex Hochman
  • Miller's matzo ball soup isn't kosher for Passover, but it'll fill up even the hungriest of growing Jewish boys.

Sticking matzo ball soup on your restaurant menu takes straight-up chutzpah. Everyone thinks their grandma makes the best one on Earth, or if they're not Jewish, their friend's grandma. SFoodie knows only two establishments in San Francisco with the cohones to serve this Passover delicacy year-round: deli vets Moishe's Pippic and Miller's East Coast Deli. With Passover less than two weeks away, we slurped down a bowl from each place recently to see whose matzo ball soup could be mentioned in the same breath as bubbe's.

A small bowl of soup from Miller's ($4.99) contained an entire meal's worth of ingredients. Two baseball-sized matzo balls were joined by carrots, onions, celery, a child's plate's worth of noodles (we suspect they'll be removed come Passover), and a dozen or so chunks of chicken, all dunked in a peppery broth that tasted more of vegetables than poultry. The matzo balls were light and fluffy but lacked that great matzo-meal flavor SFoodie grew up with. Still, as a perpetually growing (ahem) Jewish boy, we couldn't help but get excited by each heavy spoonful we shoved in our mouth.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Would Mordecai Bow Down to Any of These Hamantaschen?

Posted By on Tue, Mar 15, 2011 at 1:43 PM

From left: Hamantaschen from House of Bagels, Cinderella Bakery, and Noe Valley Bakery, traditionally eaten at Purim, which starts Saturday at sundown. - ALEX HOCHMAN
  • Alex Hochman
  • From left: Hamantaschen from House of Bagels, Cinderella Bakery, and Noe Valley Bakery, traditionally eaten at Purim, which starts Saturday at sundown.

Purim isn't exactly a well-known Jewish holiday, so for the goyim, we offer a quick primer based on Star Wars:

Esther and Mordecai, cousins, are the heroes, kind of like Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker. Haman is Darth Vader except that he sports a triangular hat rather than a menacing black mask (Jewish moms don't like to scare their kids during story time). Mordecai refuses to bow down to Haman, thus pissing him off, so Haman decides he wants all Jews (read: the Rebel Alliance) killed. Esther and Mordecai prevail.

For unknown reasons, someone thought it would be a good idea to make a cookie shaped like Haman's hat, a cookie that would be eaten during Purim. Thus, these triangular, jam-filled treats are called hamantaschen, though SFoodie still can't figure out the symbolism of eating someone's hat. No one we know ever eats hamantaschen at any time other than Purim, but three bakeries in San Francisco bake them year round: Cinderella Bakery and House of Bagels, both in the Richmond, and Noe Vallery Bakery. With Purim coming up on Sunday, March 20th, we sampled all three, with apricot jam as our choice of filling, to find the city's best.

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Monday, February 28, 2011

Mardi Gras Smackdown: Oyster Po'Boy from Tasty's vs. Queen's

Posted By on Mon, Feb 28, 2011 at 1:06 PM

Tasty's fried oyster po'boy: What's up with the lemons? - JESSE HIRSCH
  • Jesse Hirsch
  • Tasty's fried oyster po'boy: What's up with the lemons?

Since Mardi Gras is in the air (it arrives next Tuesday, Mar. 8), SFoodie has been hankering for a proper oyster po'boy, the kind we scarfed on a four-day eating binge in New Orleans a few years back. It's a rare species in San Francisco, beyond a trio of three places. There's a good version at Yats at the Boardroom in North Beach, but it has limited hours, and closes entirely around Fat Tuesday, when owner Yon Davis makes a yearly pilgrimage back to New Orleans. The other two, Tasty's Creole Cajun Kitchen at Jack's Bar and Queen's Louisiana Po-Boy Café, both fry up oyster po'boys for lunch and dinner (Queen's is closed on Sundays). Which place serves up the better version, S.F.'s roi de po'boy? SFoodie recently embarked on a cross-town tour to find out.

First stop Tasty's, where a $2 surcharge was added for a pistolette (French roll) from Gambino's Bakery in New Orleans. It was money well spent: The exterior provided a tiny crackle before giving way to a spongy inside that masterfully sopped up mayonnaise and oyster juices. We counted a half-dozen oysters lined up over a bed of shredded lettuce and out-of-season tomato slices ― too bad they were soupy, over-breaded, and had spent a few seconds too long in the deep fryer, yielding a crunch more appropriate to fried chicken. The taste was more oil than oyster, though a few squirts of lemon helped. Still, it was all very un-bayoulike, including the option (declined) of wasabi mayo.

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Thursday, December 2, 2010

Which Frozen Latkes Are Best?

Posted By on Thu, Dec 2, 2010 at 2:43 PM

The winner by a shred: Golden Potato Pancakes from Whole Foods. - ALEX HOCHMAN
  • Alex Hochman
  • The winner by a shred: Golden Potato Pancakes from Whole Foods.

Not to kvetch, but latkes are a huge pain to make. Between shredding what seems like a hundred potatoes, hot oil splattering across the kitchen, and a funky stench that lingers until Passover, who has the time and patience? Not us. My wife and I are big believers in frozen latkes, especially since we both work and typically aren't home until well after 6 p.m.

Our daughters Sophie (10) and Anna (8) have spent their Hanukkahs eating frozen latkes and this year will be no different (that rumbling you just felt was Grandma rolling in her Boca Raton grave). After lighting the menorah last night, we held a blind taste test of three brands of frozen potato pancakes. Sophie and Anna would be the judges.

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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Two Mission Mac 'n' Cheeses, Glaring at Each Other Across the Street

Posted By on Tue, Nov 30, 2010 at 11:00 AM

Grub's mac and cheese with add-ins, Cold Stone Creamery style. - CARINA OST
  • Carina Ost
  • Grub's mac and cheese with add-ins, Cold Stone Creamery style.


When my date last week told me he had been craving mac and cheese, I suggested we make a reservation to check out Grub's mac and cheese bar. The idea is brilliant: The basic order is made with white cheddar, sharp cheddar, and Parmesan breadcrumbs ($9), and you get to choose up to 14 toppings (each $1) to add in. We ordered ours with broccoli florets, caramelized onions, applewood-smoked bacon, and sweet peas.

As soon as the dish came to the table, though, my date was disappointed to discover that this wasn't mac and cheese -- it was a pasta dish. The sauce was loose, the pasta shape was off, and there was no solid consistency or crunchy top. It was a fine dish but wouldn't fulfill the craving. Our mood plummeted. Cocktails at Beretta were required.

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Kimbap at Woo Ri and First Korean Markets

Posted By on Tue, Nov 16, 2010 at 9:37 AM

Kimbap from First Korean Market. - JONATHAN KAUFFMAN
  • Jonathan Kauffman
  • Kimbap from First Korean Market.


The front counter of most Korean markets is a snacker's paradise: styrofoam platters of fried chicken drumettes, plastic containers filled with a dozen or so panchan (side dishes), silver-dollar fritters, thumb-thick rice cakes coated in sweet-spicy chile sauce, tangles of japchae. In my 20s, I used to wait for the bus a block away from Woo Ri Korean Market on Fillmore and O'Farrell, and I systematically tasted my way through the packets on their counter, including the soondae (blood sausage) and dried cuttlefish strips dressed in chile paste (a favorite). For a time, I'd sneak Woori snacks into movies at the Kabuki, until I tore open a particularly garlicky package of something and heard two guys behind me go, "What in the HELL is that smell?"

The snack that I still walk out of the store clutching most often ― lunch on the go ― is kimbap, aka "Korean sushi." Sold in bus stations, packed in lunch boxes, bought in tiny convenience stores, kimbap is the ham and cheese sandwich of Korea. Except it's more healthful than a ham and cheese sandwich, a complete meal in a bundle. It's especially easy to eat on the bus, since kimbap rolls are seasoned with sesame oil, and neither soy sauce nor wasabi is required.

I've been picking up kimbap at both Woori and the Richmond's First Korean Market (two rolls cost $4 at both places, and are more than enough for one hungry person) for so long I never thought to compare the two.

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Friday, October 29, 2010

Two-Buck Chuck vs. Three Wishes: A Pox on Both Your Houses

Posted By on Fri, Oct 29, 2010 at 3:24 PM

Whole Foods released its Three Wishes wines in October, urging customers to "chuck the Chuck." - WHOLE FOODS/FACEBOOK
  • Whole Foods/Facebook
  • Whole Foods released its Three Wishes wines in October, urging customers to "chuck the Chuck."

Everyone knows Two-Buck Chuck, the Trader Joe's line of super-cheap Charles Shaw California varietals. At $1.99, a bottle is cheaper than one Bartlett pear at some San Francisco markets, and barely more expensive than a single Olde English 800 40-ounce. But not everyone is familiar with Three Wishes, Whole Foods' entry into the $2 wine market, released earlier this month. Whole Foods has kicked off a campaign to "chuck the Chuck," offering "ridiculously delicious" wines at the $1.99 price point set by TJ's.

Curious about this battle for the basement, I went ahead and spent slightly less than $14 on six bottles of wine, three of the same varietals in each brand, sharing them with two friends on a balmy Friday afternoon. Now, I know bragging rights for being the best $1.99 bottle of wine are dubious, like being the thinnest kid at fat camp. Nevertheless, we put Trader Joe's Two-Buck Chuck head-to-head with Whole Foods' Three Wishes to see which would be more palatable. Assuming either would be palatable at all.

Both brands offer a Chardonnay, a Merlot, and a Cabernet. After a slightly hungover discussion, my friends and I decided to blind-taste them, each of us taking notes that we'd compare afterward. I generally choose to write about wines I can be positive about, rather than be accused of exercising cliché wine snobbery. But in this case my better judgment turned out to be right: Though one of the brands was better than the other, both were only barely better than the taste of a well-used shoehorn.

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Friday, October 22, 2010

Pizza by the Meter: Tony's vs. PIQ

Posted By on Fri, Oct 22, 2010 at 3:30 PM

One quarter-meter of Tony's Roman pizza, $8. - JONATHAN KAUFFMAN
  • Jonathan Kauffman
  • One quarter-meter of Tony's Roman pizza, $8.
Jonathan Kauffman
One quarter-meter of Tony's Roman pizza, $8.

Everyone in the media business knows that the appearance of three similar things makes a trend. Three (more like ten) cooks serving pork-trotter cakes at the same time: trend! Spotting three compressed-watermelon salads in three weeks: trend! But what about when two places open within a few months of one another selling Roman pizza "by the meter"? It's a dish duel.

When you enter Tony Gemigniani's new Tony's Coal-Fired Pizza and Slice House, which added two more pizza ovens to his San Francisco fleet (total count: four), you'll spot the expected Sicilian squares and New York thin-crust pies sold by the slice. But then there are what look like arm-length sheets of parchment above, stacked one on top of one another, glossed with a fine layer of cheese: what Tony calls Roman-style pizzas, or pizza al taglio. Recently, the cooks have been laying sample toppings on top of the previously dry slices to give people some idea of how the finished pizza might look, and it helps. You buy Roman pizza by the quarter- ($8), half-, and whole meter, and pick three toppings from the menu. Once you order, the slice is cut, the pizza's topped and heated.

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