charanga

Mission near 19th. This place is just a few doors down from Cha Cha Cha and serves small plates with a Cuban theme. They don’t have a liquor license, so there are no mojitos, but there is sangria, which is just fine. It’s hard to get a table here — the place is small and there’s usually a wait, but I’ve never found it to be ridiculous. It’s got that typical Mission blend of dressed down and pricey food, but the flavors here are more robust.

I said it’s small plates but it’s more accurate to call them medium plates. The price reflects the increased size. It was a while ago, so I don’t remember everything, but we did have a delicious garlic soup and a very tasty medium-rare steak (Niman Ranch, I think). As a warning, the shrimp are almost always cooked and served in the shell — while the former improves the flavor, or so I hear, the latter results in a big mess that invariably rubs off some of the flavor from the food. A good bed every time are the fried plantains (maduros) and the frijoles negros. That’s some tasty home-cookin’.

I’d recommend Charanga if you want to have light-to-medium dinner in a fun Mission spot. Of the similar places in the Mission, I’d have to say the food there has been the best, but I know people who would disagree.

Pagolac

Larkin near Ellis. This is another place I had been meaning to write about for a long time (more than a year now). This is probably the best Vietnamese food I’ve had, and a steal for the price. It’s in the Tenderloin, which is not the nicest of neighborhoods, but it’s a good place for an early dinner before going for more adventures (or rehearsals). If you’re a pho fan, you’ll find their broth to be richer than most places, and the tai (rare flank) is really fresh until you push it under the broth to cook it. There’s a 7-course beef feast that I’ve never tried but I hear it’s delicious. I’ve also tried the construct-your-own spring roll with shrimp molded over sugar cane and grilled (you have to try it). On the curry side I had a lemongrass dish that was good but just wasn’t as exciting as the other things. The restaurant itself is a little spare but in an elegant clean designed way. And did I mention it’s cheap?

slow club

Mariposa at Hampshire, one block west of Potrero. I meant to write about this place before, but it slipped my mind. Slow Club is one of those hip restaurants in that area between Potrero Hill and the Mission. We had to wait for a table so we decided to sample the drinks at the bar. I had a Junipero martini. I’d never had Junipero before, despite it being a local gin, and it was quite good, although I think I prefer Hendricks if I’m going to pay ridiculous amounts for gin. Overall though, I’d skip the bar next time and maybe get a glass of wine with the meal.

Slow Club is the kind of place that has good food that even your picky (but non-vegetarian) friends might eat. There’s always a pasta, a lamb, a chicken, a fish, and the burger. As I mentioned, the vegetarian pickings are slim. Prices range from $10-$20 for an entree, but I definitely recommend splitting an appetizer, such as the grilled flatbread. It’s a kind of lavash-like pizza thing and it’s ridiculously tasty. The menu changes daily and is posted online.

We had the flatbread and I had linguini with a veal ragout. The pasta tasted fresh and light, much like the Phoenix Pastificio in Berkeley. The sauce was delicious, and not too fatty in spite of the veal. I think I tasted fennel in there, which I will have to try the next time I make meat sauce. I also got to try my friends’ dishes, a leg of lamb that was too tender to be believed, and a citrus-rosemary crusted chicken. It’s the second time I’ve tasted the orange-rosemary combination and I’m sold on it now.

I’m definitely going to go there again, maybe on an off-night. As long as you can ignore the endless parade of hipsters and the loudness of the room and concentrate on the good eats, you’ll be golden.

6 degrees

1403 Solano (in Albany). This is a new vaguely European small-plates restaurant near the Albany/Berkeley border. I went there with my research group after reading about it on Chowhound. The menu is still a little in flux and the wheels of the operation haven’t yet been oiled, but I’m pretty confident that they could work out the kinks by the end of February when they officially open. At the moment, however, the restaurant leaves a lot to be desired.

I ordered the Roman Manhattan, which was Maker’s and Cinzano and was a bit watery. This might have been due to the 10 minutes they spent making it — it had that left-in-the-shaker-to-melt taste to it. For a restaurant that was so empty, it was a little disappointing.

There were a lot of things missing from the menu — the venison was absent to lack of availability, and the Holland crepes were also out, which was surprising since as far as I could tell they are like Dutch quesadillas. The menu also had some pretty glaring typos; not something you expect in such a high-end place. It was especially bad if you knew French. It was hard to tell what was vegetarian and what was not. Lots of the things had ham or something hidden in them.

We ended up getting the pommes frites, saffron rice croquettes with pancetta, breaded olives stuffed with ricotta, ham, marjoram, “amalfi grilled vegetables,” crostini with various spreads, mussels cooked in white wine and garlic, and the vegetarian grill, which was an entree with lots of veggies and some vegetarian croquettes. The bread that came initially was clearly not that fresh, which was a real downer, especially since the Acme bakery is so close by. Of the dishes we ordered, the saffron rice was a clear winner — lightly fried and the saffron was clear but not overpowering. The wine from the mussels was overpowered by the intense brine flavor and the garlic was mostly absent. The vegetarian grill had some sauce on it that was a little sour but absolutely delicious. The olives kept losing their breading but the ricotta was surprisingly good as a stuffing. I didn’t really get to try the crostini so I can’t comment.

Dessert was cheese and fruit and a creme brulée. The latter didn’t have a crunchy enough top — certain movie characters would have been sorely disappointed. On a different day I would have chosen something more chocolate-oriented — there were some other tasty options on there that may have been more exciting.

All in all it seemed like the whole place was getting into the rhythm of things, and I think they have a lot going for them. I’ll definitely try it out again sometime.

Afterwards, we went bowling, and I managed to bowl a 151, which is shockingly good for me. I attribute the score to the white Russians.

edibles folded into main blog

My old edibles blog has been folded into the main blog — once I figure out how to get link bar working properly they should appear there. Maybe that will encourage me to write more food commentary.

Update: WordPress lets you make static pages external to the blog itself but using the same stylesheet. The Edibles section is now available from the top navbar as well as the sidebar.

Bissap Baobab

(Mission and 19th) This Senegalese restaurant is always busy, like it’s neighbors Cha Cha Cha and Charanga, so be prepared to wait. Senegalese cuisine is like that of other West African countries — starches, stews, and grilling things. There’s a DJ on weekends and some pretty tasty cocktails with ginger, hibiscus, and other “exotic ingredients.”

We started with fried plantains with a tamarind dipping sauce. Actually, according to our Senegalese companion, plantains are not native to Senegal, but to Cameroon and Cote d’Ivoire, so that dish was not particularly authentic. We managed to ignore that on the basis of its tastiness. For the main course I had the Yapou Khar, which is a lamb stew with tomatoes and onions over rice. The lamb was tender, but I found the stew a little too watery — I wish they had cooked it a little longer or reduced the liquid more. The centerpiece dish is Thiebou Djen (or Djolof rice for those who know Ghanaian food). This is a spicy fish stew over red rice, and is hearty and tasty.

Bissap has managed to get less and less spicy every time I’ve gone there, and the prices seem to have gone up, so it’s harder for me to recommend it against some of the other places in the area. However, if you have a hankering for these flavors it’s still your best bet.

Fattoush

(Church at Clipper) I’m not sure how they managed to get fattoush.com, but more power to them. This restaurant is a bit out of the way, so I wouldn’t recommend it as a pre-movie meal (unless you trust the J-Church MUNI line to come like clockwork), but it’s the only really good pseudo-Lebanese food I’ve had in the city. The ambiance is nice, although some ongoing renovations make the patio area unusable at the moment.

We split an order of hummus to begin with. It was tangy and flavorful, a moister version than you sometimes get at restaurants, but not at all runny. For the entree, I split the Mansaf and M’sakhan with Liz, both of which were covered with a yogurt sauce. The Mansaf was lamb chunks and rice with a slightly sour/tart (“aged”) yogurt, topped with almonds. A whole plate might have been too much for me, since I found the sauce a bit too aggressive for the lamb, which could have been spiced more heavily. The M’sakhan’s yogurt sauce had saffron and was quite a bit sweeter — a nice complement to the Mansaf. They take chicken and caramelized onions and wrap it in a lavash, grill it, and cover it with the sauce. The spicing in this dish came through much better, in my view.

The dishes are large and dense here, so come hungry! Going “family style” might be a better option for those who get full quickly.