Tú Lan – A San Francisco Institution!

Menu Cover at Tu Lan

First, let me say that I am a failure of a foodie...it has taken me 8 years to try this San Francisco institution and now that I have I am kicking myself for the 8 years wasted not eating this amazing (and affordable!) Vietnamese food.  And truly, I'm not just saying that...just because others rave about a restaurant does not mean I agree (take the famed Boulevard for example).  This spot is truly worth a try...here's a quick rundown why:

Tú Lan has been in one of the sleazier parts of San Francisco, 6th right off Market, since 1977 which is a feat unto itself.  They've recently renovated but honestly it's still a dive so I can't imagine what it was like before...I almost gave my out of town friend a heart attach walking the two blocks on 6th to get here and there wasn't much solace once inside.  But for me, that's part of the charm...I've lately been feeling kind of tired out on all of the fancy eating San Francisco has to offer and am really enjoying the many dives and bargain bite spots with character and sometimes surprisingly delicious food, like Tú Lan. The other part of the charm is that Julia Child loved this place, particularly the lemon beef salad.  Just the sheer thought of Julia Child in this neighborhood,  hunkered down and truly appreciating this simple but great food is enough to make me smile.  But the real reason to come check this place out is, of course, the food itself...

Imperial Rolls

First up, #1 CHẢ GIÒ...better known as Imperial Rolls.  I've had my share of Imperial Rolls over the years but these are to die for...and that's coming from someone who typically avoids fried food.  Perfectly crispy and crunchy on the outside and bursting with peppery, pork on the inside. I kept telling myself to not finish these, but we certainly didn't bring any home...oops!

Lemon Beef Salad

SavoryGirl Video: Off the Grid Fort Mason

After this amazingly beautiful weekend in the Bay Area it is clear that summer is here...and that means Food Truck season is in its prime! So I'm re-posting this May 2012 video and post to inspire you to get out there and start sampling all of the amazing Food Trucks that the Bay Area has to offer!

May 3, 2012

Street food is one of my absolute favorite things about traveling abroad.  It's the fabric of a culture...what ties communities and generations together while allowing locals to make a living and share their authentic food with those who come to visit.  Eating street food is like drinking locally grown wine...it allows you to taste and get a sense of place.  Terroir, if you will.

The relatively recent swell of food trucks in our own country brings this glorious tradition to our own backyard...but even a die-hard foodie like me found it hard to keep up with all of the different trucks and be where they happened to be just at the right time.  So for the first couple of years when food trucks were all the rage, I kind of missed out which was frustrating!  But who has time to chase trucks all over town just to show up right when they're running out?  So when Matt Cohen founded Off the Grid, which brings food trucks from all over the Bay Area together into centralized locations I was thrilled!  Finally, an efficient way to sample from many food trucks and support my local food scene.  It's like I'm traveling & eating all around the world right in here in San Francisco.

This short video takes you on a tour of the Fort Mason Off the Grid market...take a quick look and then swing by on a Friday and check it out yourself!

A Taste of New England Summer in San Francisco
From Sesuit Harbor Cafe in Cape Cod, MA

SavoryGirl's Favorite New England Lobstah Roll from Sesuit Harbor Cafe in Cape Cod, MA

Nothing says summer like a New England Lobstah roll and with this amazing heat wave we've been having in San Francisco lately it definitely feels like summer is upon us.  That and recently having the Bruins in the playoffs (I don't want to talk about it) was making me miss home a bit, so a homage to my New England roots only seemes appropriate. Particularly since a few weekends ago I found myself in the fortunate situation of staring down two food trucks, both of which proudly boasted their own version of the classic lobster roll (lobstah if you please!).  I, not so subtly, convinced my friend and co-worker to embark on a lobster roll taste-off with me...and while I know there are many other lobster rolls to be devoured in the city, consider this the start of a SavoryGirl journey down lobstah lane.

So first things first...I will say neither came even close to my favorite lobster roll from Sesuit Harbor Cafe in Dennis, MA shown above.  Let's be honest though, I'm not expecting to find a CA-made lobster roll that can rival an authentic New England one...but I sure will be happy trying!  Now onto the first two contenders...Sam's ChowderMobile and Lobsta Truck.
SavoryGirl’s Recent Eats!
As you all know, lately I've been making strides in rebuilding my social life, making new friends, reconnecting with old friends and generally just reminding myself how to live the good life now that I'm on my own.  When you live in a city as food-obsessed as San Francisco, an active social life often means a gastronomic tour of duty...no complaints from SavoryGirl on that!  So I thought I'd share my iPhoto journey of my past 10 days eating out...enjoy!
Bar Jules in Hayes Valley

Bar Jules in Hayes Valley

First up!  Bar Jules in Hayes Valley.  I bus by this adorable cafe restaurant twice a day on my way to and from work...and while it has always caught my eye this was my first visit, which I was very excited about.  Come to find out, that excitement was well warranted!  I loved everything about this place...the food, the atmosphere, the service, the crowd...everything. There are a lot of amazing restaurants in my fair city, but to be honest, there aren't many that I immediately put on the "I'll definitely be back" list.  Even before I had a taste of the food I had a feeling Bar Jules would be making the list, but as soon as I had my first few bites it was firmly planted there.
Foodie Itinerary: New Orleans, LA

Since Jazz Fest is right around the corner, thought I'd bring back an old post that will help you eat your way through your time in New Orleans if you're lucky enough to be heading down for some fun!  I had an amazing time last year and I have to say the fried chicken at Willie Mae's Scotch House and oysters and gumbo at the bar at Dickie Brennan's Bourbon House were spot on, so I strongly recommend both of those from last year's full itinerary below.  I also strongly recommend the pork rinds at Jazz Fest itself...seriously the best pork rinds of my life.  Some also swear by the fried chicken at the festival but I thought Willie Mae's was even better.  If you want to see the post-New Orleans blog post with pictures of all of the food from last year you can check it out here for some inspiration to get you hungry. Happy Eating...oh yeah, and enjoy the great music too!!   Originally Posted on April 17, 2013: New Orleans has a very special place in my heart...the first and only time I've ever been there was 11 years ago on my cross-country road trip to move from my hometown of Springfield, Massachusetts to San Diego, California.  Since we were tight on cash and camping our way across the country, New Orleans was the only big city on our 2-week trip and I totally fell in love! I'm finally heading back for a work conference and Jazz Fest, so while my time will be tight I'm going to make the best of it! Luckily I know a few locals so my 11 year gap shouldn't slow me down at all.  Between all of the conference meals and Jazz Fest food I will only have a few meals to explore on my own, but in typical SavoryGirl style I'm going in prepared and sharing my full itinerary for all of the places I would want to check out if I had the time. So next time you're heading to New Orleans go ahead and use this foodie itinerary as a starting point to plan all of your great culinary adventures in the Big Easy and then let me know what you think.  The drinking and nightlife version will be coming next week, so stay tuned.  If you like what you see, feel free to check out my past foodie travel posts here.
The Great Boston Cannoli Taste-Off!

As most of you know, I'm from Massachusetts and a proud Mass-hole through and through despite having lived on the West coast for over 10 years now. While I didn't grow up in Boston, I did grow up heading into the city pretty often throughout my childhood for museum visits, parades, Red Sox games and of course, cannoli from the North End. So every time I return to Boston I make a bee-line straight for my old stand-by, Mike's Pastry, to get myself a cannoli experience filled with childhood memories, nostalgia and yummy Italian pastry.

But on a recent visit when I was doing a bit of foodie research I kept finding mention of another fan-favorite cannoli spot, Modern Pastry, and I had to wonder...could it stand up to my Mike's? Could these other people possibly know something I didn't when claiming that Modern, not Mike's, had the best cannoli in town? Only one way to find out...enter SavoryGirl's Great Boston Cannoli Taste-Off!

So first things, first....acquiring the cannoli. 10pm after a Red Sox game, my best friend and I along with our husbands headed to Mike's and then Modern to get a plain cannoli and a chocolate dipped cannoli from each spot. The vibe of each bakery was extremely different.

Mike's, just as I remembered, is bustling, disorderly, frenetic and has an air of anticipation within the large open bakery. A ridiculous assortment of cannoli type to choose from...not necessarily traditional, but certainly something for everyone. The women behind the counter are a bit gruff but in a forgiving way...almost as if they're playing the stern but loving Italian grandmother role.

Modern, on the other hand, is quiet and orderly with customers queuing in a straight line outside of their tiny shop. The cannoli selection is much more limited, but definitely more traditional. The women behind this counter are similar to those at Mike's in the sense that they also aren't friendly or warm but instead of being gruff, they are curt and short on patience with their customers.

So now onto the cannoli themselves...we removed ourselves from the potentially biasing atmosphere of either bakery and walked down to the Greenway right outside the North End to do the tasting itself. Jeff, always one to play along, presented the first cannoli to me in grand first-bite tasting style. We of course ensured that I had no idea which box the cannoli came from so that this truly was a blind taste-test (I am a researcher by trade after all). As you can see above, our theatrics were starting to draw a bit of attention...

Eating Our Way Through New Orleans!

The Big Easy, NOLA, The Crescent City…whatever you call it there's one thing that isn't up for debate.  New Orleans is one of the greatest food cities around!  Rather than try to put it into words, I thought a photo journey through our recent trip would be more appropriate.  If you missed them, check out my New Orleans Foodie Itinerary and New Orleans Nightlife Guide.

Go ahead and take a spin through our foodie photo tour below…you'll be planning your own foodie visit to New Orleans in no time!

First things first…breakfast.  SavoryGirl's favorite meal of the day. I have to say that any city that serves grits alongside most breakfasts is an immediate win…but beyond the creamy, buttery grits we had some amazing breakfast.  Pulled Pork Cakes over Mustard Greens with Poached Eggs Creole Hollandaise, Grits and a Biscuit (EAT). Strawberry Shortcake Cornmeal Pancakes (EAT). Banana Fosters French Toast with Boudin Sausage (Surrey's)  Yup, this is a fantastic breakfast town!

I love me some oysters and I have to say New Orleans had some of the biggest, plumpest oysters I've had in a long time.  So salty-sweet perfect and plentiful…which means cheap! If I had more time I would have had oysters every day I was there…those you see above are from Dickie Brennan's Bourbon House…sit at the bar, order a drink and enjoy the atmosphere of local oysters being shucked and served right before you.  I really loved this place and highly recommend it. 

M.Y. China – Yan Really Can Cook!

Chef Martin Yan...renowned chef, cookbook author and cooking show personality extraordinaire has recently opened a new restaurant in the Dome Collection at the Westfield San Francisco Shopping Center. I know, mall restaurant doesn't typically scream fabulous food and atmosphere, but trust me, M.Y. China is an exception.  The atmosphere is fun, lively and entertaining and the food is to die for. Seriously...To. Die. For. Eating at M.Y. China makes you feel like you are eating from an authentic stall in the streets of China.  And for a gastronomic traveler like me, that's a real compliment.  No Americanized Chinese food here...fresh flavors, beautiful colors and authentic spices and ingredients. Hungry yet?  All right then...let's take a little i-Phone enabled photo journey through M.Y. China!

First up, house-made spicy green papaya pickles! We love green papaya salad that is so common in Thai food, but this was a nice tangy twist on green papaya as we know it.  Perfect to snack on throughout the entire meal to add a bit of acidity between courses.

Next, Wild Boar Juicy Dumplings. Served piping hot...so the hardest part is letting them cool down a bit before popping them into your mouth. If you've never had juicy dumplings before, it's important that you eat the whole thing in one big bite so when the delicious juicy filling squirts out you capture it in your mouth instead of all over your face! Gingery, garlicky goodness.  Delish.

We followed our juicy dumplings with Dan Dan Noodles.  An amazing, traditional Chinese dish that has chilled noodles flavored with a delicious mix of vegetables,  pork, peanuts, Szechuan pepper and chili-garlic oil. Makes your lips all tingly and your fork keep digging back in for more.  I could eat this every day of the week.

Chris Cosentino’s Incanto

Trotter cake, periwinkle snails & radishes being devoured

Christian and I have been saying that Incanto is one of our favorite restaurants in San Francisco since our very first visit about two years ago, so it was only fitting that we return there for Christian's birthday this year. I'm always a little nervous when I return to a "favorite" since there's a chance that it won't live up to expectations...but Incanto more than delivered. I guess that shouldn't be surprising since chef Chris Cosentino was just named Top Chef Master recently and is even closer to über-celebrity chef status than ever.

So what do we love so much about Incanto? Well it's Italian to start (yes, we're that easy!) but beyond that chef Cosentino's philosophy about using the whole animal is right up my alley. We love trying new cuts of meat in unique and skillful preparations and that is precisely Cosentino's area of expertise. We honestly have a hard time getting past his "Odds & Ends" special board onto the main menu whenever we go there for dinner! And while we're being honest...I have a total foodie crush on Chris Cosentino. He's like the bad-ass chef without trying too hard...who wouldn't want to come home to his cute face, engaging personality (on T.V. at least!) and delicious cooking every night? Yum.

The master at work...Chris Cosetino

Ok, moving off the man-meat and onto the real food...our first dish was an amazing take on a traditional prosciutto with fruit plate - Boccalone Ibérico di bellota lardo with roasted figs, hazelnuts & rose thyme. The lardo is delicate with a slight salty-sweet essence that pairs oh-so perfectly with the roasted figs and crunchy hazelnuts. A lovely start to what promised to be a delicious evening!

Boccalone Ibérico di bellota lardo, roasted figs, hazelnuts & rose thyme

Next, onto our first special from the Odds & Ends board...beef heart tartare with chives and puffed beef tendons. I know, I know...puffed beef tendons?  But if you even remotely like pork rinds you will love these! My only complaint is that there weren't more of them to eat alongside the tartare. The tartare itself was incredibly rich and flavorful. The chives and bit of fish sauce used really brought the flavors together...yum.  I think this was Christian's favorite dish of the night.

Beef heart tartare with puffed beef tendons

The Odds & Ends specials board is always so enticing that we ended up getting 3 appetizers...we figured it was fitting to behave like little piggly-wigglys when we were in a restaurant that practically acts as a shrine to pork! Speaking of pork, this third appetizer was a Trotter Cake with Periwinkle Snails and Radishes. Definitely the best trotter cake I've ever had...large succulent pieces of pork leg/foot meat seasoned to perfection in a nicely crisped exterior. The pairings of snails and radishes with trotter cake initially seemed a bit odd (but also why we ordered it) but it really all worked well together.  

Bluebird Tavern in Burlington, VT

Menu - Bluebird Tavern in Burlington, VT

Flipping through Bon Appétit a few months ago, I stumbled across an article all about Burlington, Vermont which was convenient since I was heading there for a wedding in September.  So I read up and promptly made a reservation at Bluebird Tavern. Why? Well, first because it's my kind of restaurant...one with intense ties to the local food community sourcing seasonally, locally, organically and proudly listing all of their farm partners right on their menu. Of course, it didn't hurt that their menu sounded absolutely delicious and that the article made it sound like it was almost unfair for a small state like Vermont to have a restaurant this good!

I have to say I agree...this is a fantastic restaurant and I would strongly encourage you to check it out next time you're in Burlington, with my only criticism being that I found it to be overpriced, but read on to find out all about the food...

Bluebird Tavern's Open Kitchen

When our party of 5 first arrived at Bluebird Tavern the few outdoor tables were full but the inside was almost completely empty. It was 6:30 on a Friday night. A bit early, yes...but the lack of customers compared to the bustling vibe of other restaurants we had just walked by concerned us a bit. As you can see above, there is a lovely open kitchen which we were happily seated right near which at least temporarily distracted us from our concern over the lacking customers...and by the time we left it had picked up a bit more as well.

Pickled Tomatoes with Bacon Butter on Grilled Bread at Bluebird Tavern

First up...a Vermont spin on bruschetta. Pickled tomatoes atop bacon butter and grilled bread. This was delicious, and we enjoyed the bread in this starter quite a bit more than the house-made focaccia that they brought over when we first sat down. Lovely, rustic serving style that you'll see continued throughout the meal.

Handmade Cloth Cheese with Local Honey, Apple Butter and Spice Bread at Bluebird Tavern

This next starter wasn't even an option...as soon as I saw it on the menu I declared that we would be ordering it. Homemade cloth cheese served alongside local honeycomb, freshly made apple butter and spice bread. Each element of this tasting board was divine on it's own but the cheese and honey together was like a Vermont welcoming party in your mouth.