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Fresh Eats: We recommend Reverie's pozole and Ajisen's ramen 

Wednesday, Aug 25 2010

EAT THIS: Cafe Reverie's Pozole Verde

By Jonathan Kauffman

When I need to escape the pull of the Internet, I occasionally work at Cole Valley's WiFi-free Cafe Reverie, a friendly place with comfortable seats, beer as well as coffee, and an ever-so-slightly gourmetified menu of sandwiches, burgers, and salads. No WiFi usually means no distractions, but recently the smell of the bowl of pozole verde on the next table kept taunting me with oregano and garlic until I set my laptop aside and walked to the counter, buying a half-gallon-size bowl for $6.

Reverie's cooks are from the Yucatan, not Guerrero or Jalisco, western Mexican states famous for their pozole. But don't hold it against their soup. Long simmering has stripped the puréed tomatillos of their brashness, leaving a muted acidity. Shreds of chicken twine around chewy hominy kernels in the jade-green broth, just as the floral perfume of the fresh cilantro sprigs scattered overtop wraps itself around the duskier, vegetal smells of the herbs that simmered with the soup as it cooked.

The pozole wants brightening with the traditional garnishes — onions, chiles, lettuce, radishes, and lime — which the cafe doesn't serve. The two women who'd gotten me to order the pozole handed me their bottle of salsa, and its vinegary chile kick helped make up for the lack. Bring your own garnishes, or lobby the kitchen to include them, even if it means the cafe will charge you an extra 50 cents. After all, the pozole verde serves two.

The cafe serves pozole verde once a week, so call ahead of time to see if it's in house. Dinner goes until 8:30 p.m.

Cafe Reverie: 848 Cole (at Carl), 242-0200.

EAT THIS: El Gallo Giro'sCarnitas Tacos

By John Birdsall

It may be named for a twirling rooster, but El Gallo Giro taco truck stays put outside the gates of Parque Ninos Unidos at Treat and 23rd Street. The vehicle's streetside mural looks like something from a kids' book, one where roosters with extravagant tails wheel around a pink-walled rancho. The Michoacan-style carnitas here are excellent, more like straight-up roast pork, with a healthy cap of fat that's crisped and gilded in the frying. Order it in tacos, and you get irregular hunks and fibers of meat, chewy, soft, and a little elastic, doused with a salsa that lets you taste the comal that has blistered its tomatoes and chiles.

El Gallo Giro Taco Truck: Corner of Treat and 23rd sts.

Trend Watch: Bow Down to the Bao

By Tamara Palmer

With all the trucks, carts, and folding tables out there, you can pretty much get any kind of taco you want on the streets of San Francisco, whether your fancy is regional Mexican or upscale French. But there's another vehicle that's gaining in popularity in the open air: the bao. The fluffy, steamed, or baked bun made with yeast, flour, and sugar is more and more being wrapped around fillings other than the traditional Chinese barbecued pork or sweet custard.

Folding-table maven MaliNumNum Treats, for example, uses them for her sio-bao, a Filipino-Chinese hybrid with fillings such as pork belly, chicharrones, and tomato, or shrimp and mango salsa. The truck Chairman Bao is dedicated to the steamed and baked varieties, excelling at original creations such as lion's head meatball with kimchi and crispy garlic tofu with miso greens.

The Filipino cart Adobo Hobo is betting on the trend with a recently debuted menu item called the adobao, a steamed bun with chicharron-encrusted Visayan- (i.e., Southern Philippines-) style pork belly adobo with acharra (pickled carrots), radish, and cilantro.

"There are so many fusion/nouveau tacos out there right now that baos offer a new vessel to put meat and stuffings in that isn't overdone yet," reckons Hobo's Ed Chui.

EAT THIS: Ajisen's Kumamoto-Style Ramen Is Really Good

By Luis Chong

It's been more than a decade since a branch of Japan's Yoshinoya came to the city and failed, so I was curious about San Francisco's latest chain import, the just-opened Westfield San Francisco Centre branch of Japanese fast-food company Ajisen Ramen.

Ajisen specializes in Kumamoto-style ramen, signature of a region on the Japanese island of Kyushu. It shares the same characteristics as other ramen variations from the island, namely the use of tonkotsu broth and straight noodles. The difference here is the milder-tasting tonkotsu broth blend, usually achieved by adding vegetable and chicken stocks to the secret base recipe.

A beautiful laminated picture menu facilitates ordering, but won't be completely helpful to anyone unfamiliar with standard ramen fare, things like kikurage (woodear mushrooms), negi (spring onion), menma (bamboo shoots), or nori (seaweed), or who might not know that milky-white tonkotsu broth is a reduction of pork bones and tendons. Also, non-pork-eaters might not understand that when the menu mentions beef, it's referring to a ramen topping. The default broth is tonkotsu.

For our inaugural taste, I ordered the flagship premium pork ramen ($8.75). The creamy, flavorful soup put a big smile on my face. I gorged on the thin slices of Kumamoto pork and noodles in less time than it took to bring the hot bowl to the table. While top honors still go to Izakaya Sozai's Ritsu tonkotsu ramen for its decadent porkiness and unrivaled pork belly, Ajisen has quickly earned runner-up status.

Ajisen Ramen: Westfield San Francisco Centre, 865 Market (at Fifth St.), #C-12, 357-0288.

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