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Monday, August 08, 2005

Ten Favorite Dishes From Bay Area Restaurants

A good friend of mine recently posed an interesting challenge, which was to identify my ten favorite dishes served in Bay Area restaurants.   After thinking about it for a few minutes, I felt the need to impose a few additional constraints:    (1) non-dessert items only (because comparing desserts and non-desserts is really comparing apples and oranges);    (2) no entries from what I consider to be top-tier establishments (to prevent such restaurants from dominating the list);   and (3) only one entry from any given restaurant (just to keep things interesting and to showcase a broader array of excellent food).

Even with the above conditions, I still had some difficulty limiting myself to just ten items.   But after considerable effort, I finally managed to come up with the requested list of my absolute favorite dishes - at least as of right now.
So here they are, organized alphabetically by restaurant name and with a verbatim description of each item from the relevant restaurant’s menu, followed by a few comments of my own:

AzizaKumquat Enriched Niman Ranch Lamb Shank
Bergamot infused dried fruits, cranberry couscous, grilled green onion

Tender lamb, fluffy couscous and a sweet sauce coalesce to achieve an excellent, and distinctive, result.   Best of all is the fact that this is a fairly generous serving, making it quite possible that you will have leftovers to savor the next day.

BetelnutSzechuan Green Beans

After trying green bean dishes at virtually every Asian restaurant in town, I can honestly say that none of them even comes close to the one served at Betelnut.   A delicious soy-garlic sauce clings to beans with just the right amount of "bite"left in them, easily earning this menu item a spot in my top ten.

Bistro JeantyCoq Au Vin
Chicken, mushrooms, bacon red wine stew

Chicken that literally falls off the bone sits in a sauce with such incredible depth that it will shock your tastebuds.
The bacon and red wine play their parts well, but the secret and nontraditional ingredient here is, surprisingly, cocoa.   For some reason, the version served at Yountville’s Bistro Jeanty always seems to be better than that found at San Francisco’s Jeanty at Jack’s.

EvviaHoriatiki "Classic Greek salad"
Tomatoes, cucumbers, green pepper, red onion, oregano, olives and feta

This is an item that always transports me back to my last visit to Greece, as it is one of the few truly authentic renditions of a Greek salad found in the Bay Area.   Crisp cucumbers, fresh tomatoes, crunchy green peppers and slivers of red onion are tossed in a simple olive-oil-oregano dressing and then punctuated by the tanginess of crumbled feta cheese.   And, most importantly, no lettuce – just like the real thing.   A fantastic salad.

Fiesta Del MarCamarones Alex
Jumbo shrimp sautéed in chipotle chili sauce (smoked jalapeno), onion, fresh garlic, olive oil, and a hint of sour cream

I sometimes wonder if I ever even tasted Mexican food before a friend turned me on to Fiesta del Mar.   In place of the tired, myriad permutations of tortilla, beans, beef, cheese, and vegetables, this restaurant serves a wide array of rich, well-conceived and novel dishes.   Camarones Alex is one such offering, with plump shrimp in a complex, spicy and slightly smoky sauce.   A simply outstanding dish.

New DelhiChicken Korma
Succulent pieces of chicken cooked in coconut milk and very mildly spiced

I enjoy spicy Indian food just as much as anybody, but there is something particularly decadent and luxurious about New Delhi’s mildly-spiced Chicken Korma.   A thick, flavorful, creamy sauce with tender pieces of chicken and slivers of almond makes this one of my longest-standing favorites.

The Slanted DoorChicken Claypot
With caramel sauce, chilies and fresh ginger

It only took one taste of Chef Charles Phan’s Chicken Claypot to get me hooked.   Small cubes of white and dark meat chicken in an sauce comprised of soy sauce, fish sauce, chilies and brown sugar.   The sweet, spicy, and ever-so-slightly pungent result is nothing short of spectacular.

Sushi RanLemongrass Broiled Butterfish

Tender pieces of perfectly-cooked butterfish are coated with a paste that hits the palate with all of the impact of wonderful Thai curry.   Served on a bed of baby green beans and paired with a side of white rice, this dish is one that cannot be missed.

TartareTruffled Foie Gras Pasta

Butter, cream, foie gras, truffle, and fresh fettuccini – the ingredients of this phenomenal dish say more than any other words could possibly do to describe it.   This is one of those menu items that, with each bite, almost instinctively causes my eyes to close.   It’s that good.

Thep PhanomKaeng Karee Gai
Sliced chicken in mild yellow curry paste with onions and potatoes

Based on tastings done far and wide, I have no qualms about saying that Thep Phanom serves the best yellow curry chicken in the Bay Area.   A fragrant, flavor-packed sauce of coconut milk and yellow curry paste surrounds pieces of white meat chicken, slivers of onions, and boiled potatoes.   An amazing dish, and another long-standing favorite.

Each of the items on my list is enough, by itself, to lure me into the pertinent restaurant.   And if I happen to be in one of the identified restaurants already, I have a hard time not ordering the associated dish.   So, if you ever have the opportunity to try any of the above, I would certainly suggest that you do so – and then let me know what you think!


Blogger Sam said...

great list thank you for sharing.

My own list would probably more downmarket than that.

I have been thinking about this very topic for Be Rachael Ray For a Day challenge.

August 08, 2005 3:13 PM  
Anonymous Fatemeh said...

You know, I would have to put a Sushi Ran cooked dish in my top 10, too.

Only, in my case, it would be the Miso-Glazed Seabass, which I've tried (quite fruitlessly, I might add) to replicate in my own kitchen.

August 09, 2005 1:39 PM  
Blogger NS said...

Sam: Thanks for the encouraging words. I would love to hear your ten favorite Bay Area restaurant dishes - or will that become clear once we see your Rachael Ray For a Day post? As for me, I'm still mulling over how to make $40 stretch over an entire day...

Fatemeh: The miso-glazed fish at Sushi Ran is, indeed, fantastic, and it was my favorite dish there until the lemongrass butterfish just slightly edged it out. Your comment about trying to recreate it at home reminds me -- there's a recipe for Miso-Glazed Black Cod in Michael Bauer's "Secrets of Success" cookbook that I've been meaning to try for ages (although I cannot for the life of me remember at the moment from which restaurant the recipe comes). Perhaps I'll have to tackle that soon. I'd love to hear the remainder of your top ten list too!

August 09, 2005 2:23 PM  
Anonymous tiffany said...

Thanks for sharing this great list! I consider myself lucky to have dined at 6/10 of these establishments, and hope to one day try the lamb shank at Aziza if I could only force myself to stop ordering their amazing rabbit with Hungarian paprika and parsnip puree! I also fell in love with their signature bastilla dish and embarked in replicating it in my own kitchen, with two fairly successful attempts (still working on the presentation aspect).

Have you considered creating a top 10 desserts list?

August 25, 2005 2:49 PM  
Blogger NS said...

Tiffany: Thanks for stopping by, and thanks for the comment! I know exactly what you mean about getting "stuck" on favorite menu items; there are many things on Aziza's menu that I would like to try, for example, but I just cannot get past the lamb shank! Their bastilla is also excellent - I'm very impressed that you've been able to replicate it at home.

A Top 10 desserts list is an excellent idea -- I'll have to give that some thought (only after some experimentation, of course)!

August 25, 2005 3:05 PM  

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