Heaven’s Dog

Charles Phan's Vietenamese Restaurant, The Slanted Door, is one of Christian's favorite restaurants in the city. So back in 2009 when we heard Phan was opening a new Chinese restaurant, Heaven's Dog, we knew we had to go check it out.  Three years later and we're finally going!  What can I say, there are a lot of restaurants to try and keep us busy in the Bay Area, so we're not what you would call "on trend" with this one. But it's my birthday and we're heading downtown to go dancing and wanted something relatively inexpensive and easy so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to finally give it a try.

To be honest, after reading many of the diner reviews I didn't have super high hopes...I know, I know, so then why am I risking my birthday dinner here? Well, to be honest we have faith in Charles Phan and have heard amazing things about the cocktail program by bar manager Trevor Easter (who was recently named a SFGate Bar Star).  So off we go!  Is Heaven's Dog Best in Show or a Pound Puppy?  Read on to find out...

First things first...the cocktails!  I got the Pimm's Cup Rangoon and Christian ordered the "Freedom from Choice" where you simply tell the bartender your spirit of choice and if you prefer citrus or spiritous cocktails.  My drink was delightful, not to sweet but with enough gin that you knew you had a drink...light and refreshing so it didn't overpower or compete with my food too much. Christian's adventure led him to a Kentucky Mule with candied ginger.  This is what I call a manly cocktail...puts a little hair on your chest with that first sip but sweetened up just enough to make it fun.  Quite delicious...they make some top notch cocktails here and for $10 that's about as good as it gets in this city!

First up for food, the Scallion Pancake. I actually wasn't expecting much from this but was pleasantly surprised.  Nice and crunchy with a strong scallion flavor. It could have used a tad less salt (and seriously, I never say that!) and some kind of a dipping sauce or spread to go alongside but all in all it was pretty good.

Next, Shumai Dumplings. To be fair, I'm not a dumpling connoisseur but the texture of the filling of these really put me off at first.  The flavors were quite nice (as were the flavors in the horseradish mustard and chili dipping sauces) but the texture felt fatty and sinewy at first.  By my second dumpling the texture didn't bother me quite so much and by my third I was fully enjoying it and over the initial mouth-feel issue. That being said, I think I would go with the Shanghai Dumplings next time and skip these. The Shanghai Dumplings are soup dumplings which is a fun experience in of itself if you've never had a soup dumpling before...they kind of explode a little soup-like goodness inside your mouth so you have to eat the whole dumpling in one bite.  Kind of like those chocolate covered cherry candies we all loved when we were kids!

State Bird Provisions – Bon Appétit’s Best New Restaurant

The "dim-sum style" cart making it's rounds at State Bird Provisions

I may call myself a foodie but I am never on trend. So when I found myself celebrating our anniversary at State Bird Provisions the very same week that Bon Appétit named it the best new restaurant in the entire country I was extremely proud...especially since I completely agree with their rave review!  So what's all the hype around State Bird Provisions?  Well, in my opinion it's the perfect trifecta of fantastic food, warm and somewhat funky atmosphere and a unique style of service.  It wakes you up out of your "going out for another fancy dinner" stupor and makes you think, eating out should always be this fun!  And while it certainly would classify as sophisticated, high-end cuisine, it's done in an extremely approachable and affordable (in my "Bay Area skewed definition of affordable"opinion) manner.

The atmosphere has a bit of hipster funk to it, but in a mom's kitchen kind of way.  Quirky yet warm.  The service is extremely friendly which is important since the waitstaff interacts much more closely with the patrons due to the table-side explanations.  It may seem a bit slow to some, but I honestly think that's just because they kind of try to leave you alone when they're not explaining the food table-side so that they're not at your table the entire night!  It's a small enough place though, very easy to call someone over whenever you do need some extra attention.  You can also try to grab one of the bar seats overlooking the kitchen, which I honestly think would be the best seat in the house, but I always love watching the kitchen at work!

My recommendation?  Get to State Bird Provisions stat...before all of those globe-trotting foodies start pounding down the door to this small Western Addition gem.  It's the perfect spot before a show at the Fillmore or the Boom Boom Room or even Kabuki Theaters.  But when you go, go with an open mind. Be comfortable with deciding what to eat as you go and not knowing how many dishes you'll actually end up ordering. The dishes that come by dim-sum style ranged from $5-$9 each but they're enough to share 2-4 ways depending on how many you order. Yes, you can order items from the 5-7 items on the "commandables" list...but since that only represents about 1/3 of the actual dishes you'll be presented with throughout the night don't order too many.

For the two of us we ordered 2 commandable main dishes, 1 commandable starter, 6 table-side dishes and 2 desserts.  It sounds like a lot, but we were happily full by the end, not bursting at the seams...and remember, we were celebrating so we indulged a bit!  For all of that variety plus two drinks each and tip we spent about $130, which for San Francisco high-end cuisine and honestly one of the most fun nights at a restaurant I can remember felt like a bargain.  So you ready for the culinary photo tour?  Let's get started... Guinea Hen Dumplings at State Bird Provisions

Guinea Hen Dumplings in a delightful Pho-like broth.  We were slurping up every last drop of broth knowing that if this was the first taste we had a good night ahead of us!

Ahi Crudo with Quinoa and Chrysanthemum Greens at State Bird Provisions

Ahi Crudo with Quinoa and Chrysanthemum Greens...the delightful surprise in this dish was a combination of perfectly cooked quinoa with toasted crunchy quinoa sprinkled on top. Fantastic juxtaposition of textures.

Heirloom Tomato and Corn Salad with Salmon at State Bird Provisions

Heirloom Tomato & Corn Salad with Salmon.This dish had another great crispy crunch sprinkled on top and the salmon was cooked perfectly rare.  Lovely sophisticated touches added to one of my favorite summer salads.

Calabrian Chili Tofu with Pickles at State Bird Provisions

Oh, this reminded me of something you might get at Mission Chinese Food (another one of my quirky faves!).  Not nearly as spicy as it looks or what you would get at MCF but the Calabrian Chili Tofu complemented with a unique take on pesto and crunchy pickles was just so unique and delicious.  The texture of the tofu was divine as well...I'm not sure if it was homemade, but the firmness was just perfect.  Absolutely loved this dish.

One of the Top 50 Restaurants in the World: Astrid y Gaston, Lima

In the middle of a huge trip to the Galapagos Islands and Machu Picchu we had one sole day in Lima, Peru.  Actually, more like half a day.  Neither one of us had ever been to Lima or even Peru for that matter so we were excited by the prospect of our first Peruvian food exploration...which of course is what we chose to spend our limited time on in Lima! Astrid y Gastón was the obvious choice. Not only has it been recognized as one of the top 50 restaurants in the world, #35 to be exact, but everyone we knew who had been insisted that we go as well. So we made a reservation for lunch (dinner was booked 3 months out) and considered our one afternoon in Lima planned!

Originally we had intended to do the full tasting menu but when we got there and they told us that it would be a 3-4 hour experience we decided to just order a la carte instead so we still had a bit of time to explore the city before taking off on the next leg of our trip.  As you'll see below we were still able to explore quite a bit of their huge menu...

First up, a little mango and sea urchin amuse bouche.  Served in a crispy tortilla-like shell this was a perfect little bite with a nice juxtaposition of salty/sweet and crunchy/soft.

Next we sampled the Peruvian national dish, Ceviche.  We love ceviche and have had quite a few great ceviches throughout our well-fed lives but this one immediately rose right to the top of our past ceviche experiences.  Really, it's only tied with the ceviche we've had at our favorite Peruvian restaurant in San Francisco, La Mar (which we actually found out is owned by Astrid y Gastón...fabulous!) .  The ceviche at Astrid y Gastón was incredibly fresh with a clean taste and delicious sauces that were each distinct yet subtle enough to not overpower the fish. One sauce was traditional lime while the other two were a bit more unique.  One spicy with plantains and another with sweet potatoes and hints of mango and coconut. Absolutely divine...best ceviche we had during our entire time in Peru.

Another appetizer we tried was called "La Guerra de los Antiuochos"...tender yet crispy grilled octupus served alongside lightly fried white asparagus and shaved Peruvian olives.  This was great...some of the best prepared octopus I've ever had.  And the Peruvian olives almost had an intense truffle-like flavor.  Wow!

Video: Off the Grid with SavoryGirl

Street food is one of our 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 this Friday and check it out yourself!

Pacific Catch

 

I keep waiting until a time where we actually eat in at Pacific Catch instead of ordering out to take a good photo and tell you about it, but I've decided enough is enough and it's time to share!  Pacific Catch is by far our favorite take-out place...we order it in at least twice a month, which is saying a lot for us since we prefer to try new places and are rarely repeat customers!

So what's so great about Pacific Catch?  They have fantastically fresh seafood, great flavor combinations and super high-quality ingredients.  I order the same exact thing every time (which again, is crazy for me!)...not because the other bites I've had aren't delicious as well but because I genuinely crave this dish pictured above (it would be even prettier if not in a take-out container!).  So what is it?  It is the Japanese Wasabi Bowl with Poke and half brown rice/half salad (instead of the full white rice order it usually comes with).  So freaking good!  Ridiculously fresh Ahi, avocado, fresh ginger, micro greens, wakame salad, shredded nori all lightly dressed in a soy wasabi sauce.  Don't let the wasabi in the  name fool you, it's not super spicy.  Mix it all together sit back and eat some of the most guilt-free yet satisfying take-out you've ever had!  

SavoryGirl on Check, Please! Bay Area

KQED is re-airing the Check, Please! Bay Area Season 6 Opener featuring yours truly this weekend! The schedule for the re-airings is below (Friday, Saturday & Sunday!), but I've also included a link to the online episode in case you miss it.

So if you haven't seen "my" episode before, take a look and let me know what you think! Are you going to my restaurant recommendation, Saha ASAP?!  If you ever doubted my reviews before this should give you a bit more confidence...SavoryGirl knows good food!
Noodle Theory

I can't believe I haven't written about Noodle Theory yet.  I almost cried when the one in my neighborhood went out of business and now I have a hard time eating anywhere else when I find myself near the one location in Rockridge.  So to be clear, I LOVE Noodle Theory.  I think my love is two-fold.  First and foremost, I am kind of obsessed with noodles, especially when served in a soup.  I crave them at least weekly...particularly Udon, but really any noodle with an Asian-inspired broth will do.  Second, I don't like to feel guilty about my noodles.  So greasy noodles with poor quality meat or barely identifieable vegetables just won't do.  I like my noodles to be dressed up with high-class, respectable ingredients.



You would think in a city like San Francisco with such an deep Asian history and influence, noodles like this would be pretty easy to find.  But I tell you, that just isn't true.  I still haven't found a go-to place since the Noodle Theory in the Marina closed!  So my noodle craving often goes unsatisfied...unless I make them myself which still just isn't the same.
Chimayo in Park City, UT

Ah, Sundance Film Festival! I was lucky enough to get an opportunity to go last year for work and so I thought in honor of the 2012 Festival kicking off this week I'd share a bit about a restaurant we really enjoyed while there last year, Chimayo.  While I'm not necessarily a huge film buff I had so much fun...more than I ever thought I would.  So much so that I think I'd like to go back again in the future, on my own dime even, so I can bring Christian along as well!



If you've never been to Sundance, I strongly encourage you to check it out.  Honestly, I'm not really a huge film buff (I have pretty low entertainment standards...ask Christian!) but I had so much more fun than I ever thought I would.  The movies were great (and only like $25 a ticket...way less than I thought they would be), Park City is amazingly adorable and the people watching was fantastic.  I really wish that I had Christian with me since he's is so good at identifying celebrities and the town is just crawling with them, but I had a few star sightings of my own!  I even got a picture taken with two...cutie Adrian Grenier from Entourage and the legendary Harry Belafonte! But I digress...back to the restaurant.

Louis’ Lunch

Okay, so can I prove that this is the birthplace of the Hamburger Sandwich?  No.  But Louis' Lunch in New Haven, CT is confident enough in the claim that they put it right on their website and after trying these bad boys I'm not disputing it!  These are some damn tasty hamburgers.  Since I grew up watching my dad make hamburgers at home on the stove-top and throwing them between two slices of white bread slathered with mayo (seriously, so good!) I knew he would love checking this place out too, so last time I was home visiting in MA we took a drive down to CT to check it out.



This place has been around since 1895 and developed the hamburger sandwich back in the early 1900s in response to a customer in a rush who requested something that he could eat on the run.  Ground steak trimmings were thrown between two pieces of toast and the beginnings of hamburger history began!  It's exactly the type of place that I love, too.  Line out the door full of regulars, local workers on their lunch breaks, and of course the requisite tourist or two.  But really you get an immediate vibe that this is a locals place with the staff behind the counter chatting everyone up and calling them by name.  It's super small, but cozy and has a great atmosphere.  Grab a spot as soon as one opens up even if you're still waiting in line to place your order...especially if you can get one of the seats built into the wall, so cool.  

Chotto

Chotto, a Japanese Izakaya, is a relative newcomer to the Marina food scene having been around for only a little over a year.  But if you haven't discovered this gem yet, you're missing out.  Traditionally, an izakaya is a Japanese drinking establishment with samplings of food and small bites to go along.  Order a dish here and there along the way while you drink until you've had your fill ....both the menu and service are set up at Chotto to fit this traditional izakaya experience perfectly, allowing you to linger and socialize while satisfying your hunger at intervals that suit your fancy.

So, first things first for an izakaya....the drinks.  As expected, Chotto has a great sake menu.  If you're new to sake, the sampler is a perfect way to start off.  They give you enough to share between two people if you want to use it as a way to decide which larger sake to order for the table.  One of our favorites though, is the cold unfiltered Ozeki Nigori...cloudy in apperance with a deliciously complex flavor.  Somewhat nutty while also a bit sweet with a slightly creamy finish.  Divine and pairs so well with all of their food, especially from the raw portion of the menu.  While we don't typically venture into the cocktail portion of the menu, friends always seem pleased with their unique concoctions...all either shochu (distilled liquor, similar in taste to vodka) or beer/wine based.