Highlights 2016

Despite a rather tumultuous year, personally, professionally, and politically, I managed to squeeze in some great restaurant finds during my moments of respite.  Here is a quick rundown of the top dishes that I sampled throughout the year. Happy New Year 2017!

1. Thai Orchid (read Blog)

Thai Steamed Dumplings

Thai Steamed Dumplings

Seafood Prik Prao

Seafood Prik Prao

2.Taqueria Los Primos (read Blog)

Tacos Al Pastor/Carnitas




3. Chez Dior (read Blog)

Thiebou Diene

Thiebou Diene - Senegalese Stewed Fish

Accra/Black Eye Pea Fritters

Accra - Black Eye Pea Fritters

4. Panda Gourmet (read Blog)

Shanghai Bok Choy and Winter Mushrooms

Shanghai Bok Choy and Braised Mushroom

Spicy Cumin Lamb Skewers

Spicy Cumin Lamb Skewers

5. Evolve Vegan (read Blog)

Southern Fried Chick-un/Yams/Sweet Maple Kale Salad

Fried Chick-un

Raw Chocolate Cheesecake

Bakeless Vegan Chocolate Cheesecake

6. Woomi Garden (read Blog)

Jap Chae

Jap Chae

Beef Bulgogi

Beef Bulgogi

7. Great Sage (read Blog)

Pink Peppercorn Beet Salad

Pink Peppercorn Beet Salad

Spinach Artichoke Dip

Vegan Spinach Artichoke Dip

8. Jerusalem Restaurant (read Blog)

Hannet – Stewed Lamb

Hannet - Stewed Lamb

Makdous/Stuffed Eggplant

Makdous - Eggplant stuffed with Walnuts, Red Pepper, Garlic

9. Swahili Village (read Blog)

Grilled Goat, Beef, Chicken, Chapati Bread, Collard Greens, Spinach, and Rice Pilaf.

Group Platter - Swahili Village

Samaki Wa Nazi/Fish in Coconut Sauce Samaki Wa Nazi - Fish in Coconut Curry

10. Yekta Kabobi (read Blog)

Chicken Soltani Combination Kabob

Chicken Soltani Beef Kabobs

Bastanee Nooni/Saffron Ice-cream Wafer

Bastanee/Saffron Ice Cream

11.Baan Thai (read Blog)

Thai Pineapple Chicken Bites

Thai Pineapple Chicken Bites

Northern Thai Pork Curry

Northern Thai Pork Curry










Thank you for reading my blogs throughout 2016. Happy Eating in the New Year!

Highlights 2015

I’m posting this blog to highlight the restaurants and dishes that I enjoyed the past year. Happy New Year to everyone.

Zaytinya (read Blog)

Batijan Bin Laban - Zaytinya, D.C.

Turkish Coffee Chocolate Cake & Matisha Ice Cream - Zaytinya, D.C.

Batijan Bin Laban/Fried Eggplant
Turkish Coffee Chocolate Cake, Matisha Ice Cream

Askale Cafe (Read Blog)

Vegetarian Combination, Askale Cafe, Washington DC

Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony, Askale Cafe, Washington DC
Askale Vegetarian Combination
Ethiopian Coffee

Yuan Fu (Read Blog)

Chow San Shein

Veggie Duck with Basil & Ginger
Chow San Shein
Veggie Duck with Basil and Ginger

Toki Underground (Read Blog)

Fried Chicken Steamed Buns

Toki Classic Ramen

Fried Chicken Steamed Bun
Toki Classic Ramen

El Patio (Read Blog)

Empanada Tucumana

Grilled Ribeye Steak
Empanada Tucumana
Grilled Ribeye Steak

I Love Pho (Read Blog)

Bo Bun Hue

Crispy Noodle
Bo Bun Hue/Spicy Beef Noodle
Crispy Noodle

Myong Dong (Read Blog)


Be Beam Naeng Myun/Cold Buckwheat Noodles
Mandu/Korean Noodles

Thip Kao (Read Blog)

Knap Paa/Grilled Salmon Wraps

Laab E'kae/Minced Alligator Salad
Knap Paa/Grilled Salmon Wraps
Laab E’kae/Minced Alligator Salad

Thank you for following my blog in 2015.  I hope you will enjoy my new finds and postings for the new year.  Happy Eating.

Yuan Fu

Yuan Fu Vegetarian Restaurant

I have always had an affinity, and still do, for vegetarian/vegan cuisine.  However, I have found that the best forms of this meatless realm are the ones tucked among the meat and seafood dishes, notably in Indian, Middle Eastern, and Asian restaurants. My experience has proven that vegetarian cuisine is very tricky in sustaining the interest of the diner, especially the omnivore, and that many exclusive vegetarian establishments don’t quite “get it”.  But there is one place that has kept my taste buds curious with their offerings over the last few years.  I paid the eatery my first visit many moons ago, and I left with a favorable impression by what I had that night.  Due to the long distance from my former home to it, I did not return until my recent move closer, and this also made easier by the monthly meetings that I have to attend at a nearby school.

Hot & Sour SoupYuan Fu Vegetarian Restaurant is located on the busy Rockville Pike in Rockville, MD, at the end of a 4-business strip mall that has been left unscathed by the rapid development around it – it is very easy to miss it especially due its location on the service road off the main road.  Inside, the space is rather small without feeling cramped. The menu lists quite a number of appetizers and soups, and a few were sampled. On a number of occasions, I started my meal with the Hot and Sour Soup. The first spoonful was a bit of a surprise but it said it all.  I was expecting a good hit of vinegar but what I tasted was milder.  As my tongue adjusted to the flavor levels of vinegar, salt, chili heat, and savory stock, I was appreciating the fine balance that did not steer my tongue too far in any direction.  The bits of button mushroom, Shiitake mushroom, Chinese mushroom, wood fungus, bamboo shoot, and tofu pieces added the “meaty” body and different textures to this thick bowl.  The side of crispy dough bits tasted fresh and nearly greaseless.  For me, this rendition will put any of the meat versions to shame with the well-balanced flavors and the bowl chokeful of mushroom and fungus.

Crispy Black Mushrooms

Continuing the mushroom theme, I ordered the Crispy Black Mushroom on one occasion.  Pieces of dark sinuous pieces arrived on some lettuce with a hint of a sticky sauce.  Biting into them, the slightly crispy batter gave way to pieces of rather thick and chewy mushroom strands.  I was truly amazed at the texture that was quite “meaty” and the flavors of the forest since I’m fond of these fungi, and I can never get enough of their flavors.  The batter was made from rice batter, evidenced by the firm texture and slight bouncy give.  The dark sweet sauce had hints of sugar, vinegar, and orange peel that made these pieces irresistible.  Never mind that they are deep-fried since they were not greasy and the flavors enticing.  This is a must-order in my books.

Sesame Spinach PancakeAn appetizer on another occasion was Sesame Spinach Pancake.  Triangles of pan-fried dough arrived with a deep green spinach stuffing peaking through.  The outer layer was crispy tasting fragrant from whole sesame seeds toasted by the hot oil and slightly bouncy from the rice flour, much like Chinese sesame doughnuts I grew up on.  The spinach filling tasted fresh and wholesome, but it was devoid of any salt which made them a bit underwhelming.  But with the help of some condiments, Chinese mustard and sweet sauce, my interest was perked up with the sinus-clearing mustard and the sugar in the red sauce.  Not exactly the most flavorful bite, but I appreciated the healthy elements in this pancake.

Tan Tan Noodles

Still within the realm of dough and spinach, I ordered Tan Tan Noodles on one night.  A bowlful of green noodles arrived topped with carrots, beansprouts, Inochi mushrooms, snowpeas, and shredded carrots.   The star in the dish is definitely the noodles which were thick as udon, stained with spinach and cooked al dente, which made these dough strings slightly chewy and healthy tasting.  The flavoring to the whole mix comprised of bits of salted radish and chili flakes that added the necessary saltiness and heat to each slurp.  In addition, a small pool of broth at the bottom added the moisture and more savoriness to the mix.  Not quite comparable to the real version that is heavily flavored with chili oil and seasoned chopped meat, I was yearning for a bit more flavor.  But I appreciated this much healthier version as well as that bright green noodles whose every strand was worth slurping .

Pan-Fried DumplingsI was curious how the house would stand up to a Chinese classic – Pan-fried Dumplings.  Four dumplings arrived with one side pan-fried and the rest steamed, signs of being cooked the proper way.  One bite into the first bundle pointed my tongue in the right direction.  The skin was thin and slightly elastic, encasing a stuffing of chopped Napa cabbage, bits of mushrooms, a good dose of ginger that added a fresh zing to the slightly dark flavors of the filling partners.  The dipping sauce had notes of oakey black vinegar and chili oil that took these little parcels to another level, and I could have eaten the whole order easily before my main course – but I had to refrain from indulging in these wonderful  bite-size packets.

Veggie Duck & Cilantro Rolls

The last dish that I savored from the appetizer section was Veggie Duck and Cilantro Rolls.   Two halves of a wheat wrap arrived stuffed with mock duck, lettuce, cilantro leaves, and crushed peanuts.  One bite into them revealed a rather firm but fresh wheat pancake, reminding me of the ones used for Peking Duck.  The “meat” was made with pressed soy sheets and it was rather soft and moist, much like fowl meat, and exuding notes of dusky spices.  The greens and herb were vibrant and they added the fresh notes to the meat, along with the fresh-tasting crushed peanuts that added some rich nuttiness to the whole mix.  The sweet plum and Hoisin sauce was the perfect accompaniment with its sweet and sour notes.  Although these bites were rather filling, it did not take much time to finish them off before the other courses due to the fresh and satisfying flavors and textures.

Veggie Duck with Basil & GingerFor the mains, one of the first dishes that I tried years ago, and is one of my favorites, is Veggie Duck with Basil and Ginger.  A hot metal pot arrived boiling with a mound of brownness topped with some fragrant fresh basil.  Pieces of “duck” (pressed soy sheets) are paired with button mushroom, fresh Shiitake mushroom, dried ginger, and mock smoked ham.  This dish was a hit with me and friend from the first bite with the fragrant 5-spiced infused “poultry”, the depth of flavor from the dried ginger, the firm texture of the fungi, and the “meaty” smokiness from the “ham”.  It was the gestalt effect of these elements that brought a lot of satisfaction to this diner and made this hot bowl totally irresistible for me. Not only is it a popular Chef’s Special but a must-order in my books.

3 Kinds of Crispy Delight

Another dish on one night was Three Kinds of Crispy.  The platter arrived with a mound of brown pieces that were not easily discernible at first sight.  I started off with the dark strands sitting on top, and immediately I recognized it as the Crispy Black Mushroom appetizer that I was fond off – one down.  The second bite was one of the battered rounds.  The crispy and fairly exterior gave way to the silkiest and mildest eggplant piece that impressed me right away.  Underneath this layer, I found pieces of battered mock chicken that mocked me for its meat-like texture and poultry-like flavor – three down.  What brought these disparate elements together is the similar sweet dark sauce found in the mushroom appetizer that tantalized the taste buds with the fragrance of dried orange peel and heat from whole dried chilies.  This is definitely a vegetarian version of the ubiquitious Orange Chicken, but tasting supped up with the chewy mushroom and melt-in-the-mouth eggplant pieces which kept me marveling at each bite.  The batter got to be a bit filling, making the side rice bowl a bit redundant in the fill-the-stomach category.

Crispy Hunan "Fish" FilletAnother fried battered dish that caught my attention one night was Crispy Hunan Fish Fillet.  The colorful plate comprised of large pieces of “fish” and some parboiled fresh vegetables on the side.  The “fish” pieces had a soft texture and appearance of crab meat, while the seaweed wrapping imparting a scent of the sea.  I found the protein pieces a bit stodgy due to a thin piece of taro root used to hold the “fish” together, but by removing it, it didn’t taste as “heavy”.  The vegetables were perfectly cooked as well as the pieces of pea and carrot on top of the fish.  But no Hunan dish is really veritable if were not for its sauce.  Here, we have a perfectly executed one with the right amount of vinegar, sugar, chili heat, salt, and spicy bean paste – the proper elements to make the right Hunan sauce.  I would order this again just for that well-executed sauce that made this dish sing.

Chow San Shein

Another Chef’s Special was the last dish I savored on my trips there – Chow San Shein.  The plate arrived glowing bright with colorful pieces of sweet pepper, broccoli, snowpeas, yellow squash, and three types of main elements.  The smoked “ham” like in the Veggie Duck dish was present, exuding its savory smokiness and having a meat-like bite.  The oval bites of “baby abalone” had a slightly firm texture reminding me of fish cakes and tasting of seafood notes.  But it was the “carved and curved” Shiitake mushroom that screamed for my gastronomic attention. These pieces were slighty “meaty” in texture, reminding me of the consistency of squid, and replete with its forest goodness that made me look for more of it among all the other goodness.  The brown sauce, probably vegetarian oyster sauce, was the right balance of flavors that brought all the elements together without being gloopy or overwhelming the integrity of each ingredient including the fresh-tasting perfectly cooked vegetables.  I must say I couldn’t get enough of this flavorful and healthy looking dish and I’m looking forward to another order of this dish.

Yuan Fu Vegetarian RestaurantFinally, I have found a vegetarian restaurant that not only serves dishes that are well-executed and properly seasoned, but they are inventive enough to keep me wanting to try more of its offerings despite the lack of animal protein.  At times, I could not believe that I was enjoying them as much as I did, with the wonderful perfectly balanced Hot and Sour Soup, the crispy “meaty” bites in the Crispy Black Mushroom, the al dente spinach-colored Tan Tan Noodles, the gingery and savory Dumplings, and the flavorful and equally tempting mains made with mock duck, seafood, ham and chicken.  Putting aside the lack of meat and seafood protein, the kitchen here understands what it takes to serve exciting and flavorful dishes, pointing towards the history of vegetarian cuisine in the Far East as the result of  practicing the Buddhist faith. No wonder an article published yesterday named it the top Chinese restaurant in Maryland (read article) – maybe a slight hyperbole, but a quite fair estimation in my books.

Yuan Fu Vegetarian on Urbanspoon

Himalayan Heritage

Himalayan Heritage

Himalayan HeritageI have had my fair share of Indian food, either during my youth growing up in Southeast Asia, or the Indian food establishments that I’m always seeking out to find good authentic Indian fare.  So, when a coupon for Nepalese cuisine popped up on my computer screen, there was no hesitation pressing “enter” to purchase this deal, having in mind that this South Asian cuisine could be fairly similar and at the same distinct from the aforementioned cuisine.  I showed up at Himalayan Heritage in Adams Morgan, D.C., with coupon in hand, to later find out that it had just passed the expiration date for such deal.  Walking through its door, I entered a familiar space that held a former life and cuisine (that restaurant and its type of food escape me), and I was immediately impressed by the rich and exotic decor that whisked me to the Himalayan highlands, with a bright autumn light flooding and illuminating the rich painted walls within.  Since the paid value for the deal was still valid, I sat down and looked at the menu with a certain degree of enthusiasm and culinary curiosity, having not ventured in this gastronomic field before.

Spicy Soybeans and Puffed Rice

Immediately after taking my seat by one of the well-dressed windows, a waiter put down in front of me a plate of soybeans and puffed rice.  After perusing the menu and placing my order, I took my first bite of this opening dish.  The soybeans were a bit firm, an indication of being freshly cooked, tasting slightly salty, spicy from some chili heat, slightly sweet from the onions and red pepper, and yellow from some turmeric.  This was an indication of what I could predict what Nepalese food was about – rather simple and not overspiced.  The puffed rice was a playful counterpoint to the green beans, being flavorless but slightly nutty.  An order of Mango Lassi as my drink was a pleasant surprise from the usual expectation, it being not too thick, not too sweet, and the mango puree fruity and not metallic (the result of canning), exuding some slight floral notes.  A good start.

Coconut Tomato SoupI decided to go for the five-course special in order to sample as many dishes as I could in this one sitting – the mango lassi, glass of wine, or beer made up the first element.  The next course was a choice of soup or salad, and I went for the Coconut Tomato Soup – unfortunately, I could not substitute this course with the famous Nepali Momo, akin to Chinese dumpling.  The large bowl arrived with a waft of coconut essence emanating from the orange hot liquid, forecasting what to expect with each spoonful.  It was an interesting combination of Indian Sambal soup with its sour fragrant notes, slightly fruity from the pureed tomato, and rich from the coconut cream and toasted coconut bits in it.  Each spoonful was a layer of my gastronomic research as my curious tongue probed each mouthful.  I eventually had to place my utensil down as I was started to feel quite full from this hot soup, and I had to leave room for the rest of the meal. It was tasty and interesting, but I would have preferred as smaller bowl of this rich sip.

Stuffed Chatamari

Stuffed ChatamariI was taken aback when my next course arrived.  The Stuffed Chatamarin looked like a huge pizza with a topping of different colorful ingredients. One mouthful revealed its true nature.  The dough was a spongy rice flour base that was completely mild and lightly seasoned, sans the gluten pull, and made yellow with the use of turmeric. Studded through it (not toppings, but cooked as part of the dough mix) were pieces of green onion, red peppers, white onion, bits of ground chicken and a whole egg cooked as its center.  The disparate elements came together in each bite, with the rice dough providing the mild backdrop, the vegetable bits fragrance, the chicken its meatiness and some good seasoning, and the over-easy egg its rich yolk creaminess.  Just like the above soup, each bite was whetting my curiosity, but I had to stop my probing venture into this dish when nearly half had already been consumed.


Nepali Style Shrimp TarkariAs for the next two courses of the super meal, the choices were served as half orders, and understandably so. The first medi-portion was Nepali Style Tarkari.  My order came with 3 large shrimp, butterflied and cooked perfectly, just done without any bounce in each bite, and tasting fresh and seafood sweet.  The sauce was quite salty (which I didn’t mind once mixed with rice) but slightly sweet from the tomato base,  fragrant from onions, ginger, cumin, and a little spicy from some chili.  Obviously, someone in the kitchen knows what he (I did see Mr. Chef) is doing with such skilful handling of the elements especially the star protein in this dish. The side of Basmati rice was properly cooked, being light and fluffy, slightly oiled, and studded with some flavor-exploding whole cumin seeds.




Asparagus Bhutuwa

The other half portion was Asparagus Bhutuwa.  A bowl was filled with cauliflower, asparagus, and chunks of potato, covered by a orangy sauce containing some fragrant cumin seeds.  But what impressed me the most was the cooking of all the different vegetables: the cauliflower completely cooked without being mushy, the asparagus tasting fresh with a slight crunch, and the potato completely cooked and disintegrating in the mouth with ease – such cooking needs perfect timing.  The sauce was slightly sweet with a hint of sufficient spice heat, and a tinge of sourness to complement and add some more interest to the whole mix.  This was a most satisfying and worthy vegetarian/vegan dish.

Sikarni - Spiced Sweet Yogurt PistachioDessert was the final course, and while perusing the menu, I shied away from the usual Indian suspects and honed in on a Nepali sweet dish: Sikarni – Spiced Sweet Yogurt Pistachio.  The bowl arrived with thick full-cream yogurt studded with bits of nuts and sultanas.   The first mouthful woke this diner up with its use of cinnamon that not only provided some zing but also a bark-like fragrance from the fresh-tasting spice.  The nut-fruit element did not come across as an afterthought in this dessert since they were quite soft from a long sitting in the mix, having absorbed the slight tanginess from the fermented milk.  The sugar level in it also pointed to a judicious hand that was skilful in providing the perfect balance.  My only complaint was the lack of fragrant pistachio as listed in the menu, but this dessert was already chockful with nutty slivers of almond.  Even though I was quite stuffed from the previous courses, I found this sweet ending very tantalizing and completely irresistible, and despite its richness, I simply could not get enough of this cold sweet fragrant yogurt.

Himalayan HeritageDespite not being able to capitalize on the coupon deal on time, I was most impressed by my trip to this restaurant serving a little-known cuisine in this area. I did walk in with some preconceived notions of how the food was going to taste. But what I came out with far outweighed those ideas as the dishes left me with a big smile from a sated stomach and my pleased gastronomic senses; the interesting rich coconut soup, the tasty and intriguing rice dough “pizza”, the perfectly cooked shrimp curry, the equally stellar and perfectly cooked vegetables in a spicy sauce, and the mild yet no-less-satisfying yogurt dessert. Yes, it did take some effort finding these Nepali offerings amidst the sea of Indian fare, but the effort paid off handsomely. Never mind I did not get to order the Nepali Momo dumpling. What made up for it was the well-executed dishes that whisked me away to another place, aided by the lush décor around me, and the next table of Nepalese enjoying the dumplings themselves. From this dining experience, I think I have found a new cuisine that I have quickly fallen for.

Himalayan Heritage on Urbanspoon

San Francisco

After a chilling winter in the East Coast (it snowed in DC on the second day of my SF trip) and a two-year hiatus, I decided to spend my Spring Break holiday in one of my favorite cities, San Francisco.  It is definitely a big change of locale for me as its energy is totally different and refreshing from the East Coast vibe, who tends to get suffocating after a while. Besides the nicer weather and change of scenery, one thing I enjoy and look forward to is a wide variety of restaurants that can be attributed to the cosmopolitan feel of the city and the different culinary influences stemming from the various immigration groups that have landed in the Bay Area.  Without much further ado, here is a quick run down of places that I visited in one week.


Since I was visiting my college buddy dating back to the first day of Graduate school in Maryland 24 years ago, he chose our first meal to celebrate his birthday at Cha Cha Cha in the Haight neighborhood.  This local chain has a few branches in the area and it serves up a menu that represents various Latino culinary traditions, or Pan Latino.  Our opener was the popular pickled seafood, Ceviche, that was brimming with small shrimp, bay scallops (the smaller ones), and squid.  The seafood morsels were sweet and tender, well pickled by the lime juice, and fragrant with some jalapeño pepper and cilantro.  A side of sweet plantains were as good as they get, accompanied by a smooth paste of refried black beans.  The seafood paella was rather decent with pieces of shrimp, tender pieces of fish and some mussels, embedded in some aromatic rice made yellow sans the pricey saffron threads.  However the Jerk Chicken was not close to any authentic version that I have savored – it was tasty but the name was a total misnomer.  Despite the last dish, this meal was a pretty good start to my gastronomic week.


For his birthday dinner, my buddy chose Cafe Ethiopia in the Mission District.   Our orders arrived on a large enameled platter covered with the sourdough injera bread, topped by the various protein and vegetables.  I was quite impressed by the dishes since each was very tasty and held its distinctive flavor and character while setting themselves apart from each other.  The orders that impressed me most were the collard greens, the lentils, and the salmon dish that had moist chunks of the seafood covered by a tasty but not overpowering sauce.  An order of goat was a bit unfortunate as a bit more cooking would have made them less tough.  The extra pieces of injera bread were the perfect vehicle to scoop up the food and the accompanying sauces.  One of the guests exclaimed that this was the best Ethiopian food he has tasted in the Bay Area. and I must agree that it was as good as the ones found in the DC area replete with restaurants of this East African cuisine.


Staying at the Haight district, I stumbled across this little dive serving Thai food – The Best of Thai Noodle.  I must say that such name tends to conjure up some suspicion, but I decided to give them a try for lunch.  I ordered the Combination Of Sliced Rare Beef, Beef Stew, And Beef Meatballs Noodle Soup since I was in the mood for such a noodle soup dish on a cool day.  The bowl arrived with strands of wide rice noodles swimming in a very rich fragrant soup filled with pieces of stewed beef pieces and beef meatballs.  With my first bite, I recognized the dish that I have had recently – Boat Market Noodle Soup.  Upon enquiring, the waitress confirmed my observation.  This bowl was as good as the one I had a few months back in Thai Square with the heady cassia and star-anise laced soup, the tender pieces of beef and meatballs, and the fresh noodles.  Looking at the menu, this small joint offers an amazing array of authentic dishes from this Southeast Asian tradition.  This establishment is definitely worth checking out despite its rather dingy appearance.

The Slanted Door

The Slanted DoorFor lunch the next day, I decided to go Vietnamese, and I stopped by the most reputed Vietnamese restaurant in the area located in the Embarcadero Ferry Terminal – The Slanted Door.  I had eaten at this establishment a few years back and I was looking forward to it again after the absence.  For the starter, I ordered some Chilled Wild Louisiana Gulf Shrimp.  Large pieces of shrimp came with sides of chili spiced cocktail sauce and a Thai basil aioli.  The shellfish were perfectly cooked and their sweetness in each bite was indicative of the freshness and quality, complemented by the irresistible sauces.  For the main course, I ordered the Grilled Pork Belly and Meatball Rice Vermicelli Noodles.  Basically this is the supped up version of the Bun Noodle Salad enhanced by large pieces of moist savory grilled meatballs, tender pieces of tasty pork belly, and pieces of the house Imperial Roll made with chunks of shrimp and ground pork- this was a hearty, satisfactory and flavor-packed bowl.

The Slanted DoorFor dessert, I couldn’t help but hone in on something whimsical listed on the menu despite feeling rather full after the above dishes – Lemongrass Cotton Candy.  A big cloud of this spun sugar arrived at my table that left me bug-eyed by the unexpected size – I guess I have not been to the local fair in a number of years.  When the dessert arrived, I slowly tore pieces away from it, with a bigger amount each time.  It is basically your typical cotton candy with a citrusy and slightly grassy lemongrass flavor that made this childhood favorite as irresistible to the now adult.  I literally had to stop myself from finishing the whole mass and I got the rest packed for home.  The meal at this Modern Vietnamese restaurant was worth every dollar spent with the high level of cooking, the artful presentation, and the authentic flavors that left me satisfied and dreaming of this gastronomic experience.  Btw, don’t forget the Lychee Ice Tea that made the perfect thirst quencher with the above dishes – exotic and refreshing at the same time.

Spicy Eggplant and Mushrooms.Golden Era Lemongrass "Chicken"

No where is better to try Vegan/Vegetarian cuisine than in the West Coast, and I returned to my and BFF’s favorite establishment- Golden Era Vegan Restaurant.  A vegetable dish that we have enjoyed and always ordered is Spicy Eggplant Mushroom.  Pieces of purple skinned Asian eggplant are paired with fresh button mushrooms, crunchy carrots, slivers of onion, and large pieces of green onions, all coated in a slightly sweet spicy sauce that brings all the different elements together harmoniously.  A must order is the house’s most popular dish, and rightfully so – Lemongrass Deluxe.  Pieces of mock chicken have been spiced up by a heady amount of shaved lemongrass and a dry spicy sauce, ringed by crispy bright green broccoli florets that make the perfect mild foil to the herbacious spicy “chicken” bits.  The platter comes with a generous amount of the protein, and this dish always delivers.  I have spent days dreaming before coming to the West to savor this vegan delight.  Word of warning: it is located in the seedy Tenderloin neighborhood but walking distance from downtown, hence the importance of having a dining companion with you for the walk.


Suzu Japanese Noodle HouseWith a large population of Japanese descent, it would be amiss to not savor authentic Japanese cuisine in Japantown, located in the Fillmore neighborhood.  That is where I headed to for lunch one day to savor some Japanese Ramen noodles in Suzu Japanese Noodle House recommended by my college buddy.  Agedashi was the first order, consisting of tofu chunks that have been fried in a light batter, sitting on a pool of dashi sauce and topped with a piece of eggplant tempura, grated daikon and fresh ginger, and slivers of bonito flakes and dried seaweed.  This was a bowl of clean pure flavors that just left a serene contentment within.  For the main course, I ordered Spicy Pork and Egg in Spicy Broth Ramen. The bowl came with a mound of al dente egg Ramen noodles topped by a single sliver of roast pork (meat as a garnish, not main course), half a boiled egg, pieces of bamboo shoot pickle, raw spinach leaves, and topped by a mound of white leek strips.  The soup was a fairly rich meat stock spiced up by some slightly smoky chili paste.  The bamboo spoon to help slurp the soup added a level of authenticity in addition to the small diner that whisked me away to a cramped eatery in the Far East.  Be prepared to be patient for a table in this small establishment, but it is worth the wait.


_6002278.jpgOne of my favorite parts of the city is North Beach where many Italian eateries can be found.  Caffe Greco is a spacious deli that serves Paninis, and my order made with Prosciutto ham, Mozzarella cheese, and Red Pepper was the perfect afternoon bite with the salty meat, mild and slightly creamy cheese, and the pickled red pepper slivers that added the acid touch and herbal oregano flavors to the airy pieces of pressed Foccacia bread that held the fillings together.  My companion’s sandwich made with turkey and large ribbons of zucchini was equally successful, albeit milder in flavor.  The accompanying side salad was well-made with the right amount of balsamic vinaigrette coating the healthy mix of a variety of lettuces, making the lunch complete. To chase the bites down, we ordered the house special, Grecco Sunrise.  A tall glass of Orangina is spiked with a shot of cherry syrup which turned it orangey red at the lower half, hence its name.  It was the perfect sip with our sandwiches in this part of town that evokes the Mediterranean.


_6002353.jpgFor dinner, my college mate invited me for some raw seafood at Sushi Time in the Castro area.  Located in a small mall, this cramped space has only a few tables along with the sushi bar, and when we got there, a line was waiting for a table.  An opener of a Seaweed Salad and a Cooked Spinach Salad were simple but tasty appetizers.  The Avocado Tuna Tartar was delectable with pieces of spicy tune paired with creamy avocado punctuated by pieces of fresh asparagus.  The pieces of sushi tasted clean and fresh, as good as most good sushi joints, and there was a good variety for the diner.  What stood out for us was a serving of Butterfish sashimi which exuded clean yet a rich unctuous texture and flavor.  The set menus are reasonable and priced competitively. Like the ramen eatery, it is worth the wait and the cramp space has that Japanese urban feel.


I was the honored guest of a brunch hosted by a Facebook social group that I am a member of, and we met at Catch in the Castro neighborhood.  This spacious space serves American fare with a heavy emphasis on seafood.  What caught my attention was the Salmon BLT which came with an option of a simple salad, Ceaser salad, or french fries – where else can you find a seafood BLT but in Cali!  My sandwich came with perfect sautéed salmon fillets with a crispy exterior but moist inside, topped by crispy bacon and spicy arugula leaves, moistened by a citrus aioli, enclosed by pieces of crispy french baguette.  I really enjoyed this sandwich with the well cooked and well matched ingredients.  The side Caesar salad was creamy with the rich tangy dressing and shards of Parmesan cheese.  Everyone in the group seemed to enjoy their pasta or seafood dishes.  If only I could have tasted someone’s seafood soup that looked very temptingly rich and brimming with pieces of the sea.


For my last meal before heading to the airport, we walked up to Cole Valley to La Boulange (not Le Boulanger).  This is a local chain that has branches in many parts of town, serving up French pastries, meals, and drinks. My mini sandwich of Smoked Salmon was excellent with the quality fish paired with a slathering of cream cheese and bits of red onion and green chives sandwiched by the well-made roll.  An order of Almond Croissant hit the right spot with the short flakiness of its dough (not stretchy elastic) sweetened by the rich almond paste filling and accentuated by a plethora of toasted almond slivers on top – it is one of the best almond croissants I have tasted in a long time.  My friend’s French Toast was decadent, consisting of a round sponge cake dipped in an eggy custard (real eggs) and cooked gently to produce a light ethereal version of this breakfast staple, washed down by a decent “bol” of roasted Cafe au Lait.  For my flight home, I took out a Walnut Baguette with Prosciutto and Figs, which was an interesting tasty combination.  A dessert of Lemon Custard Turnover was the perfect flaky pastry with the rich sweet lemony filling that made me wish I had another order – it definitely sweetened the long-haul home.  Now, I see why reviewers give this chain an overwhelming thumbs-up, and deserving so.

Ah, San Francisco – The city of Beauty and Great Eats! Here is my photo essay of the city: San Francisco