The Best San Francisco Restaurants and More: The Podcast

Wayfare Tavern’s Fried Chicken (photo property of VirgoBlue)

I recently had a great discussion with Seth Resler of Mystery Meet, where food lovers in the Bay Area can get together at a restaurant in San Francisco (that isn’t revealed until 24 hours before) and discuss their love of all things culinary.

Here’s my podcast interview with Seth of Mystery Meet discussing all my favorite eats in San Francisco. I basically leave no stone unturned, talking about my favorite purveyors like Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen, Wayfare Tavern, Frog Hollow Farm, Curry Up Now, 4505 Meats, my thoughts on the SF vs. NY food debate, my pick for the best date/anniversary restaurant in town (it’s not what you think), my love of Thomas Keller, why the food truck trend has exploded, and even manage a BlogHer Annual Conference plug. Obviously, I’m in marketing. ;)

It’s all here: http://mysterymeet.org/find-dining-podcast/podcast-episode-8-wayfare-tavern-in-san-francisco/

YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4C7IfmpaD-o&feature=youtu.be&a

Wayfare Tavern on Urbanspoon
Sociale on Urbanspoon
Wise Sons Deli on Urbanspoon

Ramen Roundup Part 2

I realized with my last roundup of ramen joints in the Bay Area that I was only scratching the surface. It seems like ramen is the new obsession around these parts, and noodle lovers have their staunch favorites.

Ramen in the Bay Area may not be the “fast food” item it is in Japan, but it’s certainly not a fussy meal, though extremely customizable. With that rich meaty broth and chewy noodles, and fixings like hardboiled eggs, corn, and dried seaweed (nori), it’s a complete comfort food meal in a bowl. In Japan, ramen noodle houses are as common as pizza joints are in the States. It’s a cheap, filling, and delicious way for them to satisfy their hunger.

So here are four more places on the Peninsula and in the South Bay I visited recently.

Ramen Club Garlic Kimchi Ramen
Ramen Club Garlic Kimchi Ramen with Pork

Ramen Club — Burlingame
This restaurant’s ramen is by no means the best, but it’s a good, fun bowl of noodles. I say fun because the Garlic Kimchi Ramen with Pork is not exactly authentic, but good and tasty. I loved the zesty crunch from the spicy kimchi cabbage and the added kick of the hot sauce on top. The texture of the noodles is good and chewy but not soggy. However, the broth and the pork are lackluster. Still, it’s a good version of ramen.

Ramen Club
Ramen Club & Catering on Urbanspoon

Ramen Parlor Spicy Pork with Soft Shell Crab and Black Garlic
Ramen Parlor Spicy Pork with Soft Shell Crab and Black Garlic

Ramen Parlor — San Mateo
If you’ve been to Santa Ramen or Dojo Ramen in San Mateo, you’ll love this place. Ramen Parlor is owned by the same folks as Santa and Dojo, and is the newest of the three. Though it’s not as popular or as good as Dojo, it is definitely a strong second, and certainly my favorite on this list. Their specialty is infusing spicy seafood elements into their broth like lobster oil, or fried soft shell crab. I ordered the Ramen with Tonkatsu (pork) Broth and Soft Shell Crab, spicy of course. Along with all those fun flavors, it comes with a glistening, buttery, full-fat slice of pork belly, pungent black garlic oil, and a creamy, perfectly cooked hard boiled egg. It is delicious, bold, innovative and every element was cooked to perfection. Heaven.

Ramen Parlor
Ramen Parlor on Urbanspoon

Santouka Spicy Miso Pork Ramen
Santouka Spicy Miso Pork Ramen

Santouka Ramen — San Jose
Santouka is a popular Japanese ramen chain restaurant, and this is their only franchised Bay Area outpost. Located inside the Japanese Mitsuwa Marketplace strip mall as part of a mini-food court, it’s as close to a fast food ramen place as you can get around here. The ramen noodles have that ideal chewy-but-not-soggy texture and the broth has good depth. However, I suspect it was full of MSG since I came away later that day with some serious thirst and a slight headache. And the portion itself was very small. My American palate, unfortunately, is used to a serving double the size of what they gave me.

Santouka
Located in the Mitsuwa Marketplace
Santouka Ramen on Urbanspoon

Ramen House Ryowa Roasted Sesame Ramen with Pork
Ramen House Ryowa Roasted Sesame Ramen with Pork

Ramen House Ryowa — Mountain View
“Ryowa” apparently means sesame, so I’d be remiss not to order the specialty of the house. Out of the four places I went to, this was both the most authentically Japanese in setting (bar seating, very fast food-like atmosphere) and straightforward in terms of the food. The broth and noodles were both reliably good, but nothing to write home about. Although I loved that the ramen is served with a side of gyoza dumplings, which apparently is what they do in Japan. It makes for a nicely rounded meal.

Ramen House Ryowa
Ramen House Ryowa on Urbanspoon

Searching for Okonomiyaki

Ramen Taro Okonomiyaki
Okonomiyaki from Ramen Taro with Beef and Cabbage

Okonomiyaki is a dish that’s described many different ways: a savory pancake, Japanese pizza, or an Asian frittata. Whatever you call it, it can be hard to find around these parts. With the exception of San Francisco and San Jose, all places in between can be an okonomiyaki-free zone.

Okonomiyaki is a classic comfort food dish in Japan. It’s a round, flat, savory dish that’s made from flour, eggs, cabbage, and seafood or meat. It’s got a drier exterior and a soft, moist interior. A good dose of sweet Japanese mayonnaise and sweet, smoky Okonomi brown sauce is drizzled on top, and then the dish is finished with some dried fish flakes (bonito) and dried seaweed. A good version of the dish shouldn’t be to dry or too wet.

Literally translated, okonomiyaki means “grilled as you like,” which explains why you’ll see slightly different versions of the dish everywhere in Japan. Here in the Bay Area, I’d be happy to see it even half as often as I do sushi and chicken teriyaki.

I remember the first time I tried the dish at a restaurant in Japantown. I had ordered it out of sheer curiosity since the photo on the menu made it look, indeed, like a Japanese pizza. The flavors were like nothing I’d ever had before. There was sweetness from the white sauce, smokiness from the brown sauce, and seafood flavor from the bonito flakes on top. Crunch came from the cabbage inside. It was thoroughly satisfying and I couldn’t wait to have it again.

So my recent craving sent me on a search for the dish. I was determined not to look to San Francisco or San Jose, where you can find it more readily since both cities have Japantowns.

There may be tons of Japanese restaurants in the Bay Area, but I realized that most of them don’t serve okonomiyaki. So I was thankful to find these two restaurants that serve good renditions of the dish.

Ramen Taro Okonomiyaki
Okonomiyaki from Ramen Taro with Beef and Cabbage

Ramen Taro — Foster City
This newer Japanese spot may focus on ramen, but its their other dishes on the menu that are both tastier and more interesting. Their okonomiyaki is bold and chock full of ingredients. It’s drenched in more brown sauce and mayo than I’d like, but it has a load of flavor and texture with its abundance of cabbage, pickled ginger, and bonito flakes on top. And it’s not too doughy either, which is a good thing. It’s served pre-sliced so it feels like you’re eating a very exotic pizza.

Bushido Okonomiyaki
Bushido Okonomiyaki with Seafood

Bushido — Mountain View
This trendy Japanese restaurant has some very unusual dishes like a Tuna Poke Burrito and Kimchi Goyza. But surprisingly, their version of okonomiyaki is fairly straightforward, but well-balanced and had a less overwhelming mix of flavors. Their version had shrimp and veggies, giving a nice contrast of textures and tastes. My only complaint was that it was a smaller portion than others I’ve had, which would make it a good shared appetizer for the table.

I know I’m just scratching the surface on my quest to find some good okonomiyaki around these parts. If you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them. My search continues…

Ramen Taro
Address: Map
1495 Beach Park Blvd
Foster City, CA 94404
Phone: (650) 212-2883
Hours: Mon-Sun 11am – 9:30p

Bushido on Urbanspoon

*Cross posted @ KQED’s Bay Area Bites.

Curry Up Now Wants You to Join The Dosa Republic

Inside The Dosa Republic

Husband and wife team, Akash and Rana Kapoor have created a name for themselves with their Curry Up Now food trucks, specializing in authentic and boldly flavored Indian street food. Their immense popularity spawned an equally popular brick and mortar joint in San Mateo, which opened last year.

Curry Up Now started as a pipe dream for Rana. She had always loved feeding large groups of friends and family at home, and wanted to bring that feeling of creating and sharing a good home cooked Indian meal to a larger community.

But Akash, who also loves to cook and create special dishes for their restaurant’s menu, had a culinary dream of his own.

“I went to this place in India that specialized in dosas and they had 140 different kinds you could choose from. They took a traditional Indian dish and made it cutting edge. That became the inspiration for this new restaurant.”

Enter The Dosa Republic, which opened this week. The new fast-casual restaurant in San Mateo serves rice bowls, salads, inventive appetizers, and of course, dosas. The Kapoors are taking this traditional Southern Indian staple and giving it a modern twist.

Dosas are thin, crepe-like delicacies made from a rice and lentil batter, making them naturally gluten-free. The dosa crepes are then filled with a variety of ingredients. That’s where the fun comes in for Akash, who created the menu.

Paisano Dosa
Paisano Dosa

They have two dosa menus which include The Dosa Republic’s own innovative creations, like the Paisano, filled with prosciutto, figs and burrata, along with the more traditional ones, like the Bombay, with potatoes, green onions and chili. Many dishes can also be made vegan.

Kale Vada Sambar
Kale Vada Sambar

One of the more notable appetizers include the Kale Vada Sambar, a deliciously fried lentil and kale dumpling served with their lentil and seasonal veggie stew. Many dishes come with the stew or a Sri Lankan Curry to dip. Others are served with a variety of chutneys like young coconut, tomato, and strawberry habenero mint. It’s a lot of flavors to take in, but they certainly make for an extremely interesting and adventurous eating experience.

Tanga Dosa
Tanga Dosa

But one of the most popular dishes seems to be the Tanga Dosa, filled with an unusual combination of ramen noodles, carrots and cabbage for crunch, and Gobi Cauliflower (chili cauliflower), which resembles more of a Chinese sweet and sour dish because of it’s bright orange hue. “Chinese food is actually really popular in India right now, or their version of it,” says Akash. “That’s why the Gobi Chicken and Cauliflower look like something from a Chinese restaurant.” The flavors, thankfully, are more tangy and spicy than sweet and sour.

The Tanga was a wonderfully satisfying dosa, giving you a complete protein, veggie and carb meal all wrapped in one extremely delectable package.

Sinhala Dosa
Sinhala Dosa

Also notable is the Sinhala Dosa, which contains juicy chicken, curry and potato. The boldly flavored spices come through loud and clear without coming on too strong. Everything was cooked perfectly from the meat to the lightly crisp yet soft and tender crepe it’s wrapped in.

The Kapoors have taken this humble yet commonly enjoyed Indian dish and managed to make it fun, tasty, and surprisingly unintimidating to a Bay Area audience that might not be familiar with it. It’s a formula they seem to have down pat with Curry Up Now. Now at The Dosa Republic, they’re betting that formula can work for them again.

Dosa Republic Interior

The Dosa Republic
Address: Map
2299 S El Camino Real, San Mateo, CA 94403
Phone: 650.458.DOSA
Twitter: @thedosarepublic
Facebook: Curry UpNow

New York City: Work hard, shop hard, eat well

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New York City has always been about three things for me: Work hard, shop hard, eat well. I was in town for only 3 nights on a business trip, so I had to pack a lot into just a little amount of free time. Fortunately, NYC is a good place for that.

I visited a few key restaurants and hit up a few key sales, deciding not to waste my time with stores that were even remotely touristy or similar to the ones I could find back in San Francisco. I was shopping with a purpose, no browsing here. And I wanted to hit up a few key eateries that were sure to please.

Here’s a recap (but by no means a “Best of” list):

Uniqlo – I arrived early enough in the evening to hit up their new 5th Avenue flagship store before closing time. The place opened less than a week ago and in the daytime, there were still plenty of people lining up just to get inside the 3 story building full of H&M-esque Japanese fashions. They were promoting a lot of cashmere (in 25 different colors), puffy jackets, and $10 jeans (on sale), but I was more interested in their undergarments and leggings. They’re a great deal and good quality.

Halal Cart http://53rdand6th.com (53rd St. & 6th Ave.) – Their famous Chicken and Rice platter with white sauce is frequently named as one of the best street food eats in town. I’m lucky because I usually end up staying at the Hilton which is right next to the cart. And after arriving in NYC just a few hours before, it was the perfect low-key meal to take up to the room and eat while unpacking. Although, I suspect this meal tastes much better after some club hopping and you’re looking for something hearty to suck up all the alcohol in your system.

Ess-A-Bagel http://www.ess-a-bagel.com (831 3rd Ave.) – Just like NYC pizza, you can’t get a bagel anywhere else like the kinds you find in the Big Apple, and Ess-A-Bagel is the perfect place to get the perfect bagel. It’s been around since 1976 and is a NYC institution. I went with the standard lox and cream cheese with some red onions and lettuce on a toasted everything bagel and it was the perfect breakfast. The bagel itself was perfectly crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside, just like you’d want it to be. Why is this so hard to find anywhere else?

Lupa http://www.luparestaurant.com (170 Thompson St.) – This Mario Batali eatery is the lower key version of his famous Babbo restaurant, though many think it’s actually better. It’s casual and low-key, which I liked.

My friend and I shared the Salumi Platter which included slices of Prosciutto Di Parma and house-made Coppa Cotta, Testa, Speck and Lingua, among others. It was the highlight of the meal. For entrees we ordered the Spaghetti Carbonara, which was solidly good, but nothing to write home about, and the Skate with Lentils and Greens, which had a bright citrusy flavor from the grapefruit in the dish. And it was perfectly cooked. For dessert, we splurged with the Lupa Tartufo which both looked and tasted like a huge Ferrero Rocher chocolate, except with a decadent ice cream filled center. There was hazelnut and chocolate all over this huge thing. It was delicious and definitely enough to serve two. The service was friendly, attentive and unpretentious.

The Jill Sander Sample Sale – This event happens twice a year in NYC from what I can tell, and it’s a popular sale with locals. Eventhough my pregnant self can’t fit into any of the clothes that were 85% off, I found handbags and shoes. You can’t beat getting a pair of patent leather flats and pair of neutral slingbacks for just $140, altogether (including tax). They originally retailed for over $400 a pair.

Prune http://www.prunerestaurant.com (54 East 1st St.) – Before I talk about the food, I have to get my Jake Gyllenhaal sighting out of the way. The dude was waiting for a table just like anyone else, so that was refreshing to see. Unfortunately, I didn’t want to get all TMZ on him so I didn’t snap a picture.

Anyways, this famous restaurant is a favorite among chefs like Eric Rupert and Anthony Bourdain, and obviously, celebrities that like to wander in without an entourage. Chef Gabrielle Hamilton has become a bit of a celebrity herself in recent months with her culinary accolades, bestselling book, and personal life. All that aside, the food was surprisingly simple but beautifully executed.

We ordered the Rock Shrimp Roll with Old Bay Seasoned Fries and the Duck Breast with Beets. The shrimp was some of the freshest we’d ever tasted. They were so tender and sweet and tasted like they were just plucked from the water. The duck breast had just a touch of sweet smokiness and was cooked to a perfect medium rare. It was simplicity at its best.

Laduree (864 Madison Ave.) – I have been in love with this legendary Parisian macaron giant since my first bite at their Champs Elysees flagship store. Everything about it is over the top but their macarons stand up to the hype with their wonderfully delicate cookie (crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside) and their fragrant flavored fillings. I HAD to make the trek to their new outpost in NYC. This is their first and only store in North America. I’m happy to report that the macarons taste just as good as they did in Paris…except just a tad sweeter (to fit the American palate, unfortunately). They come in a myriad of flavors and colors, but my favorites will always be Cassis, Orange Blossom, and Salted Caramel. Yum…

Pizzarte http://www.pizzarteny.com (69 West 55th St.) – It’s hard to find a distinctive place to eat in the heart of Midtown that’s not touristy, overpriced, or unimaginative. Enter Pizzarte. Though it wasn’t the New York-style pie I was craving, it didn’t disappoint. Their Neapolitan-style Margherita pie had that perfectly charred and chewy crust with a fresh and tangy tomato sauce. And the Warm Burratta with butternut squash and broccoli rabe appetizer my friend and I shared was creamy and comforting.

The interior was clean, stylish and contemporary, and the food was of surprisingly great quality and preparation, which was a great surprise given its kitschy location.

Botkier Sample Sale – My last present to myself came in the form of a beautiful plum handbag that retailed for $600 at Nordstrom, but ended up being only $200 at their company’s sample sale. There were clutches for less than $100, and many bags were only $150. Incredible steal for a designer leather bag. I’m glad I went.

Besides Jake Gyllenhaal (which frankly would’ve been enough), I shared space with Gayle King and the Reverend Al Sharpton earlier that same day. Craziness. I was hoping I’d bump into George Clooney by dinnertime, but no such luck. I think my luck was already pretty good, so I didn’t complain. :)

The Nom Nom Truck: SoCal Comes to NorCal

It’s amazing what a reality show can do for your food truck.

Second place finishers on the Food Network’s “The Great Food Truck Race” and Los Angeles food truck staple, Nom Nom, have spread their love to the Bay Area.

Co-owners Jennifer Green and Misa Chien met during their time at UCLA. It was also during that time that they realized they could fill a niche in the growing food truck scene.

Nom Nom Truck owners - Jennifer Green and Misa Chien
Nom Nom Truck owners: Jennifer Green and Misa Chien.

“It started in 2009 when we had a lot of Kogi BBQ trucks around the UCLA campus and their popularity grew out of nowhere,” says Jennifer. “I made a lot of Vietnamese food for my friends on a regular basis and I realized the lack of Vietnamese restaurants in the West LA area. Then it clicked.”

Green and Chien chose the classic Vietnamese baguette sandwich, banh mi, as their truck’s specialty not only because there was a lack of places that served it in their area, but because it’s easy to eat.

“It’s portable, it’s fast and has a fresh taste that you can’t get from a burrito or hamburger,” states Jennifer. “The great thing is that we can also put a little bit of our gourmet twist on it too. One of the most traditional banh mi ingredients is grilled pork and I grill it with honey, which is a little different than the traditional. We also have Lemongrass Chicken and Vietnamese tacos, which are like a banh mi in your hand.”

“We also work with Le Boulanger to have our bread baked especially for us from a recipe I worked really hard on.”

Deli Banh Mi sandwich. Photo courtesy of Nom Nom Truck
Deli Banh Mi sandwich.

Indeed, the perfectly crusty on the outside, pillowy on the inside French bread roll is key to a good banh mi, and it was the highlight of the sandwich when I got a chance to sample their Honey Grilled Pork version. The pickled carrots and daikon that topped the sandwich were flavored well and super fresh, but I wish I’d gotten more of them to create more of a textural and taste contrast to the sweet pork. And I missed the lack of fish sauce flavor that brings it all together.

All in all, it seemed like something similar enough to what I could get in a Vietnamese Mom and Pop shop. So what’s the big deal?

First, the size of this sandwich is double the size of one you’d get at a typical brick and mortar. Coming in at 12 inches long, it’s a torpedo of a dish. But more importantly, Nom Nom is obviously trying to appealing to those who have never had a banh mi before.

“It’s exciting to see how many people who have never had one before try it and see their reaction, says Misa. “It’s like an introduction to Vietnamese food for those who have never had it. We’re appealing to the American palate.”

Their popularity has grown steadily, peaking when they started showing up on the Food Network reality show.

“We went into it wanting an adventure and it was a great way to expose our truck to a larger audience. People totally embraced us and it was great to see that feedback,” says Misa. “To see a small town embrace a food dish they’d never tasted like banh mi was a great experience.”

“We were bummed we came in second, but deep down we had to tell each other it was just a reality show. And the great thing was that we won the chance to travel and it was amazing,” says Jennifer.

Nom Nom recently acquired their third food truck and their next move was up north…at least for Misa.

“We decided on San Francisco because it’s a real foodie town and it’s been a dream of mine, personally to live up here,” she says. “We have two trucks in LA and one in San Francisco, now. I’m not complaining that I had to move up here! And the response has been great. People up here come to the truck, whereas in LA, you have to go to the people. They’re a little lazier down there.”

For now, Green and Chien don’t have any other plans to expand. “We have three babies right now and we’re focused on them,” says Jennifer.

For two women fresh out of college, running several food trucks in two major cities can be a challenge, but their goals are clear.

Misa says, “At the end of the day, we want to make people happy through our food. And as employers we want to hire staff that will work together to create an amazing company and work environment. Plus I get to build a great business with my best friend!”

Nom Nom
Twitter: @nomnomtrucksf
Facebook: Nom Nom Truck SF
Various locations throughout the Bay Area (no regular schedule)

Eating in Atlanta + Quality Time With a Top Chef Master

Pulled Pork BBQ plate from Sweet Auburn BBQ truck
Pulled Pork BBQ plate from Sweet Auburn BBQ truck

I’d never been to Atlanta, but I’ve always heard great things: the Southern hospitality, the quaint neighborhoods, and the fabulous food. After experiencing it for myself, I’m happy to say that all three points hold very true.

After traveling there for the BlogHer Food Conference in May, I got the opportunity during my brief downtime to hunt down a few raved about eateries. I got my barbecue fix from the Sweet Auburn BBQ food truck. After tasting their Asian Pear Coleslaw and Pulled Pork, I realized that, unfortunately, nothing in the Bay Area could possibly compare.

I visited a restaurant called, Wisteria, in the picturesque Inman Park area of town. They served classic yet modernized Southern dishes like Fried Catfish with Succotash, Crab Cakes, and some of the best Macaroni and Cheese I’ve ever had (with braised greens!).

Various doughnuts from Sublime Doughnuts in Atlanta
Various doughnuts from “Sublime Doughnuts” in Atlanta

I also had my morning sugar rush thanks to the folks at Sublime Doughnuts. Their sugary varieties included red velvet, chocolate coconut, white chocolate peach, s’mores and mocha cream. Dunkin’ Donuts had nothin’ on these guys.

But my favorite eatery had to be Empire State South. With its bocce ball court outside, casual settings and service, and playful yet sophisticated take on Southern classics, it was the best meal I’d had in Atlanta.

They start your meal with some good old housemade yeast rolls and grilled sourdough (perhaps a nod to Top Chef Master and Owner, Hugh Acheson‘s time as a sous chef at Gary Danko in the late 90s?). The yeast rolls were so sweet, soft, and classically Southern. They were so good it took everything in me not to ask for more. I knew we had a lot of good eats to come so I was pacing myself.

Soft Poached Egg from Empire State South. Photo courtesy of Beth Lee of OMGYummy.net
Soft Poached Egg from “Empire State South” (Photo courtesy of Beth Lee of OMGYummy.net)

We ordered a variety of appetizers and entrees for the table, including the Soft Poached Egg with wild nettles and grits; Crisp Pork Belly with kimchi grits; Wild Ramps with corned beef tongue and field peas served in a mini cast iron skillet; and the Ramp Orecchiette with carrots, peas and some beautiful fiddlehead ferns.

Everything we had was exceptional. The whole “farm to table” movement is really gaining steam there, and the freshness and imaginative use of all that wonderful produce was proof of that. The eggs and grits were rich and creamy, and the pasta was fresh, light and bright. All the combinations on each plate were inventive, classically southern (plenty of butter and bold flavors), but sophisticated. There was even a touch of Asian fusion in some of the dishes (the pork belly definitely had some soy sauce flavors going on).

But boy were we glad we ordered an extra helping of those amazing Kimchi Rice Grits. It was simply one of the most memorable dishes I’ve ever tasted…anywhere. The texture was like a thicker rice porridge or congee, but with more flavor and less soupy. And the kimchi gave the dish so much punch and flavor but never overpowered. I wish someone would replicate it in the Bay Area!

Cake from Empire State South. Photo courtesy of Beth Lee of OMGYummy.net
Peanuts and Coke Soft Serve w/Funnel Cake from “Empire State South” (Photo courtesy of Beth Lee of OMGYummy.net)

Before we ordered our Peanuts and Coke Soft Serve with Funnel Cake for dessert, Owner and Top Chef Master contestant, Chef Hugh Acheson came over to pay our table a visit and even sat down for a nice long chat with us. After he realized I was from the Bay Area, he talked about his time working for the now shuttered Mecca restaurant, and as opening sous-chef for Gary Danko back in the 90s. “I learned a lot while I was there, but he was a tyrant. He’d be the first to admit it, though,” he said of Danko.

I also got to experience Chef Acheson’s wickedly dry sense of humor, which unfortunately didn’t get enough airtime on Top Chef Master. He’ll be the first to mention what he calls his “monobrow,” which he’s been getting known for since the show started. “Somebody on Twitter told me I should shave my monobrow. They don’t even know me! Maybe they should focus on my food.” But he’ll be the first to laugh at himself, even mentioning what he calls “The Monobrow Preservation Society” frequently on his Twitter account.

My experience meeting Chef Acheson was indicative of my time in Atlanta. People there are ready to sit down and chat, have a good time, and take pride in all their city has to offer. I love San Francisco and it’s always been home, but I miss my taste of Southern hospitality.


Sweet Auburn BBQ truck

Facebook: Sweet Auburn BBQ
Twitter: @SweetAuburnBBQ
Various hours & locations

Sublime Doughnuts
Address: 535 Tenth Street Northwest, Atlanta, GA 30318
Phone: (404) 897-1801
Facebook:Sublime Doughnuts
Twitter: @SublimeDoughnut

Wisteria
Address: 471 North Highland Ave., Atlanta, GA. 30307
Phone: (404) 525-3363
Facebook: Wisteria Restaurant
Twitter: @wisteriaatlanta

Empire State South
Address: 999 Peachtree Street, Atlanta, GA 30309
Phone: (404) 541-1105
Facebook: Empire State South
Twitter: @ESSouth

*Cross posted on Bay Area Bites.

Move Over Off the Grid: Moveable Feast Comes to the Peninsula

MoBowl, Babaloo, and House of Siam on Wheels
Three popular trucks at 5:45 = MoBowl, Babaloo, and House of Siam on Wheels

Moveable Feast is to the South Bay and Peninsula, what Off the Grid is to San Francisco. But the vibe is most certainly different.

Held this past Friday on July 1st, Moveable Feast felt way more like a county fair than OtG’s hipster foodie hotspot. The San Mateo Event Center location also had plenty of grassy areas for the suburbanite families in attendance to have a dinnertime picnic. There was also a pricier flat parking fee of $10 per vehicle, though that didn’t seem to deter most people from checking out the inaugural event.

Ryan Sebastian in front of his truck, Treatbot
Moveable Feast Operator, Ryan Sebastian in front of his truck “Treatbot”

Moveable Feast (formerly called “SJ Eats”) is the creation of Ryan Sebastian. This former transportation planner always had plans of creating community spaces, and he knew food was a great catalyst to make that happen.

“My family always had big gatherings growing up in San Jose and I loved it. And my wife has a culinary background, so it happened pretty naturally.”

It started this past April with their first food truck gathering in San Jose. Their first time out was huge, but not exactly a success.

“I own the Treatbot ice cream truck with my wife, so I knew a lot of other trucks in the area. I knew the San Pedro Square Market in San Jose had enough parking space, so we ended up there on a Saturday with about 10 trucks and spread the word through Facebook. The demand was so much higher than we ever expected and it got out of control. There was overcrowding, the wait times for food were ridiculous and we got slaughtered on Yelp, afterwards.”

Three months later, after a lot more planning and organization, the San Jose event goes off in the same place every Saturday, without a hitch.

Their success eventually caught the attention of the folks at the San Mateo Events Center, who actually called Ryan to ask if he’d be interested in doing a similar event for the Peninsula.

“This is the biggest food truck event on the Peninsula, ever. Twenty-five trucks is pretty big. We’re gonna be here the first Friday of every month from here on out.”

The line is about 20 deep @ An The Go @ 5:45
Lines are getting long in front of the “An The Go” truck at 5:45

And attendance was pretty big too. Though the event was supposed to start at 5:30, there were plenty of folks checking out the scene at 5:15. By the time I had left at 6:15, the lines for some of the more popular trucks had gotten about 20 people deep, and I estimated anywhere from 1000-2000 people total with many more streaming in. Add to that some local live music on-site, and you’ve got a huge suburban block party.

3 popular trucks at 5:45 = Mama's Empanadas, Hiyaaa, Curry Up Now
3 popular trucks at 5:45 = Mama’s Empanadas, Hiyaaa, Curry Up Now

The line-up of trucks is intentionally made up of mostly Peninsula and South Bay-based food trucks like Curry Up Now, Mama’s Empanadas, Hiyaaa Naked Chorizo and BBQ Kalbi. That’s the main difference between Moveable Feast and Off the Grid. OtG features trucks from all over the Bay Area.

But Off the Grid organizer, Matt Cohen had talked a few months ago ambitiously about starting an OtG on the Peninsula. Is there room for both of them?

At least 1000-1500 people by 6pm.
I estimated at least 1000-1500 people by 6pm.

“People in the Peninsula know there’s a huge demand for this and that the food coming out of these trucks is fantastic. This is America and there’s room for both of us in a metropolis of seven million people. I have nothing but respect for Matt. OtG is awesome!”

And Ryan has faith that mass food truck events like his are here to stay. “Ultimately, the idea of informal eating is not a new concept and it’s not a fad. When we provide legitimate marketplaces for these entrepreneurs to do business, it helps all of us do better.”

Moveable Feast
San Pedro Square, San Jose, Every Saturday 5-9pm
San Mateo Events Center, First Friday of every month, 5:30-10pm

Facebook:MVBLfeast
Twitter: @MVBLfeast

*Cross posted on Bay Area Bites

Toasty Melts Food Truck is Grilled Cheese Goodness

The mere mention of a grilled cheese food truck tends to evoke one of two responses:

1) How hard can it be to make a grilled cheese at home? Why do you have to find a truck to go get it?
2) Damn, that sounds good.

Sure, you can make it yourself at home. But can it be easier, not to mention tastier, if you get it from the folks at Toasty Melts.

Business partners, Tiffany Lam and Alex Rando, started the Toasty Melts food cart in 2009 after being inspired by other popular carts like The Magic Curry Cart and The Creme Brulee Man. They also figured they could donate a portion of their earnings to the San Francisco Food Bank, where they were frequent volunteers.

So why switch from part-time food cart hobby to full-fledged food truck? “Matt Cohen wanted us to come to Off the Grid, but we weren’t that ambitious because we both had day jobs,” says Lam. She was a project manager for Marin company, Republic of Tea, and has since quit to devote herself completely to Toasty Melts. Rando is still at his day job. “We heard rumblings last year that the permit process was going to change. So last September, we finally started looking for a food truck to transition to,” says Lam.

Just this past March, they finally debuted their shiny new bright red food truck, ready to take on the already crowded food truck space.

But here’s the kicker: neither of them have any professional culinary experience. None! And that’s exactly how they came upon the decision to focus solely on the simplistic grilled cheese sandwich. “There’s no way we could do something fancier. It was definitely something we could execute. If we could do it, anyone could do it! It was the most realistic food avenue for us to take. But it’s also very versatile. We could be creative with the grilled cheese sandwiches and blend quality ingredients to make different variations.”

This simple sandwich requires no special equipment. They make the sandwiches on the truck’s grill, cooking up evenly and to a perfect golden brown.

I tried their two signature sandwiches: The ABC, which has thin apple slices, bacon from Zoe’s Meats and cheddar cheese; and the 3 Cheese, made up of smoked gouda, jack and cheddar cheeses. Both were served on Panorama bread, made locally in San Francisco. Most of the cheeses they use are from Kerrygold.

Both had the perfect amount of toastiness with the right amount of crunch. But the interior of the bread was also soft and pillowy with just enough buttery goodness.

3 Cheese

The 3 Cheese stood out because it was amazing to me how distinctive all three cheeses were even when melted together. The jack cheese was smooth and creamy, the cheddar gave it the classic flavor, and the smoked gouda provided a wonderfully sharp punch that made it stand out. I absolutely loved it.

I have to admit, though, that I wanted more from the ABC. The best thing about it was the thinly sliced apples, which gave the sandwich additional texture and a subtly sweet contrast in flavor. The bacon, unfortunately, was a bit dry and rubbery. I would’ve loved if it were more crunchy. And I longed for a cheese with a tad more flavor. The jack cheese just couldn’t hold its own.

Regardless, their sandwiches are still worth going back for, especially if you’ve got a hankering for a good grilled cheese. It’s fresh, perfectly toasty and gooey, affordable at $4-$6 a pop, and easier than making it yourself. “Who would want to shred and blend three different cheeses for one grilled cheese at home? We also provide the novelty and the convenience,” says Lam.

For now, you can find them at Off the Grid on alternating Mondays at Civic Center Plaza and on alternating Tuesdays at UN Plaza, along with possible regular stops in San Mateo and Brisbane. Lam wants to have a firm presence in San Francisco, though, despite the food truck permit drama that seems to happen frequently these days.

“We’re going to continue to pursue all our permits for various locations in San Francisco. And Alex and I would love to expand our menu at some point. For now, it’s just the one truck. My Dad owned a restaurant and I don’t know if I really want to own a brick and mortar restaurant. This one truck takes every ounce of my energy!”

Toasty Melts
Off the Grid Mondays and Tuesdays & other various locations pending
www.toastymelts.com
@ToastyMelts
Facebook.com/ToastyMelts

*Cross-posted on Bay Area Bites.

The Curry Up Now Food Truck is Officially a Restaurant

Curry Up Now restaurant interior

The popular Indian food truck Curry Up Now has hit the big time. Their first brick and mortar restaurant opened this past Saturday in downtown San Mateo to long lines out the door. Fortunately, they invited some friends, family and food bloggers for a sneak peak the day before they opened to the public.

“Everything’s the same except now we have a restaurant,” said staffer, Jessica Hui. Their four food trucks will continue serving their versions of Indian street food all over the Bay Area. “The restaurant is more of a sit down place to eat, whereas the trucks are for people who just want to grab and go,” although takeout is always an option at the restaurant as well.

Counter and menu at Curry Up Now restaurant

Customers order from the oversized menu on the wall and pay at the counter. You then scribble your name on one of the mini chalkboards they’ll give you, and take it to your table so the food can be delivered to you there.

The menu looks almost like a mural, becoming a focal point for the entire room. “The fonts on the chalkboard menu are inspired by hit Bollywood movies,” says owner Rana Kapoor. That, along with their newly redesigned pink and orange logo, add a pop of color and character to the otherwise clean, simple, yet comfortable setting. And there is definitely an urban feel from the distressed wood and brushed metal accents that is on par with their street food roots.

blackboard menu at Curry Up Now restaurant

The menu is almost identical to what you’d find on one of their trucks, including fan favorites like Chicken Tikka Masala Burritos, Kathi Rolls, and Deconstructed Samosas. They plan to do different specials everyday to change things up a bit.

The biggest differences are the selection of Thalis, which are like dinner/lunch plates, and include saffron basmati rice and parantha (a sort of flatbread) and small salad. Diners choose from either two or three items from the list of options, which include Kadhai chicken, paneer or tofu, and Keema Matar Aloo. Fans of the Curry Up Now trucks and those familiar with Indian food will have no problem maneuvering through the menu. Those who aren’t will need some handholding from the friendly staff.

The other difference from the truck is the addition of a kids menu. Since this is a suburban brick and mortar joint, the need for this was obvious. “I didn’t know what to put on the kids menu so I asked my kids what I should do,” says Kapoor. “They said, ‘Mom, just serve them what you serve us!’” Hence the three options of either a quesadilla, Tandoori chicken or paneer, or Kathi Roll, and a side order of fries or broccoli.

Chicken Parantha Quesadillix with yogurt
Chicken Parantha Quesadillix with yogurt

Like any other restaurant, there’s no point in judging the food on the very first day of operation, but I’m glad to say all the items I ordered were completely consistent with the taste and quality of the food on any of their trucks, including the Chana Masala, a spicy stew of chickpeas and classic Indian spices, and the Chicken Parantha Quesadillix with yogurt on the side and that famous green sauce.

Curry Up Now’s over 4000 Facebook and almost 6000 Twitter followers will surely be excited at the thought of grabbing a Kathi Roll whenever they want now. And with a stable location, new fans won’t have to have a Twitter account to find their food.

Curry Up Now
Address: Map
129 South B Street
San Mateo, CA 94401
650-477-1001
Restaurant Hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 11am-10pm
Facebook.com/curryupnow
@curryupnow

Curry Up Now on Urbanspoon

*This article is cross posted on Bay Area Bites.