Sandwiches: Not Only Damn Good but the Possible Key to Better Understanding the Generation Gap

More and more, the news is filled with stories of millennial opinion and influence. I recently read an article in Forbes magazine outlining the pending transfer of wealth from the boomers to the youngest generation and the disaster which may ensue. The #okboomer movement has been plastered all over social media and I even had to watch a news story about millennial preference for mayonnaise versus cranberries as an accompaniment for Christmas turkey. Things were further fueled by a recent discussion/argument I had with my son about the definition of a generation. I adhere to more of a biological definition whereas he looks at it more in a social context. According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, a generation is “a body of living beings constituting a single step in the line of descent from an ancestor” or “a group of individuals born and living contemporaneously” so by definition we are both correct. However, I find it hard to define a generation by an arbitrary range of years endorsed by Wikipedia. For example, I have a daughter born in 1995 and my aforementioned son was born in 1997. Depending on the day of the week, both exhibit varied levels of millennial qualities such as entitlement, cluelessness and a hands-off but highly opinionated concept of social justice. However, despite having the same parents and being born 2 years apart, the are supposedly of a different generation since the most agreed upon cut-off for Generation Y (aka. millennial, echo boomers) and Generation Z (who avidly insist they are NOT millennial) is 1996.

So instead of using the letters XYZ or trending hashtags to categorize generations and since this is a food blog, maybe I can explain my thoughts using an analogy more in my wheelhouse…the sandwich.

Boomers– Boomers are the upper part of the sandwich. Historically, they have protected the rest of the sandwich from things like aggressive cling wrap, flies and other sandwich predators and generally are seen as crusty. These days, many see the upper crust as unnecessary as indicated by preferences for open faced concepts like avocado toast or tuna melts.

Generation X- Gen Xs are the sandwich filling. They touch both the upper and lower parts of the sandwich and are the most necessary for the total functionality of the sandwich. Although sometimes feeling a bit smothered by the upper crust, there is a general appreciation of the role they play (and played). Tuna is tuna and turkey is turkey…there is much less of a need to acutely define themselves.

Millenials/Gen Y, YZ etc. aka Echo Boomers. The base of the sandwiches. Feel as if they are burdened by bearing the weight of anything above them. As a result, they probably eat Big Macs upside down (after ordering on Skip the Dishes) to feel a sense of entitlement. Unlike the boomers who admit they are simply bread, it is important for millennials to sub divide themselves into categories like gluten/dairy free, organic, thin, texas toast, spelt, 12 grain, brioche, rustic, artisan, olive, vegan, panetonne or sourdough.

Speaking of sandwiches, I’m a huge fan of sandwiches and figured this would be a good time to review some of the better ones I’ve had this year. First, a few observations:

  1. I sadly did not eat enough sandwiches last year. Lunch is a meal I’m often likely to skip so it usually means the chance at a good sandwich is sacrificed.
  2. In some situations, a sandwich can be enhanced with a good side, vibe or concept so I also take this into consideration.
  3. Tacos and burgers are not sandwiches….they are…well…tacos and burgers.

Charlie the Butcher– Buffalo

I love regional foods and Western New York’s Beef on Weck in one of the best. Charlie the Butcher in Buffalo offers one of the best. The combination of the salted bun, tender beef and quick dip in the au jus makes for a near perfect sandwich. In addition, the sides are incredible (try the slaw) and if you are lucky enough you might even see Charlie himself slaving away in the kitchen..hard hat and all.

Good Friend Sandwich Company-Brantford

I stumbled across this place after a quick google search and have been back a few times since. It is a house converted into a homey sandwich shop owned and operated by aboriginals. While waiting you can peruse the shelves and look at language books or have a fun conversation with the woman behind the counter who is super friendly. There are a dozen or so choices including an apple and brie cheese panini with an addictive caramel dipping sauce (pictured below), the bacon butty (bacon on buttered buttermilk bread) and classics like pulled pork and beef dips. A small handful of chips is mandatory with every sandwich based on the simple logic that you can’t have a sandwich without a simple side…works for me.

Good Friends Sandwich Company- Apple and Brie Cheese Panini

Larder– Cleveland

Larder comes with great fanfare as it was a James Beard semi-finalist for best new restaurant in 2019. Set up in an old firehall, the space is adorned with old stoves, shelves of pickles and elixirs. The pork shoulder Reuben was a solid sandwich and is available with plenty of deli sides and served by very pleasant staff.

Larder’s Pork Shoulder Reuben

Deli Board-San Francisco

San Francisco is a haven for overpriced but great food and Deli Board is no exception. You’ll pay close to $20 US for a sandwich but it’s well worth it. There is a core menu plus daily specials so there is no shortage of choice. I went with a special called the Bubba (roast beef, bacon, cheddar, provolone, cherry pepper, slaw and 1000 island) served on their garlic dutch crunch bread. The space is clean and the service is efficient but this sandwich was so good you could have served it out of a Coleman cooler on a street corner and I’d still be happy.

The Bubba

Loops-Columbus

The Italian beef sandwich at Loops in Columbus was memorable. One of Guy’s DDD choices, the star of this Chicago-style sandwich was the giardiniera which provided a tangy and spicy punch to otherwise normal roast beef.

Loops’ Italian Beef Sandwich

Mermaid Avenue Sandwich Factory– Kingston

Any place that hinges its entire concept around a music group is cool with me. In the case of Mermaid Avenue sandwich company it’s Wilco, the Chicago based alternative band. They have a nice variety of offerings and while you wait you can get your fill of all things Wilco. My choice was the “How to Fight Loneliness ( Deli chicken, honey mustard, apple slices, cheddar cheese & bacon). I’ll admit, the protein was a little scarce but overall it’s a fun place to pop into for a quick bite.

Cake and Loaf-Hamilton

This bakery usually puts out 1-2 sandwiches a day on rotation and it’s first come first serve. However, I did call in advance and they were able to hold me a couple for pick up. In particular, the chicken jalapeno in incredible as is the tuna melt. While there, the bakery itself is amazing as well. You can score everything from scones to a take home pulled pork and mac and cheese pie.

My Take

First, I think I need to eat a few more sandwiches because there is no shortage out there. Second, I think I will start to refer to generations in the context of foodstuffs especially since I’m convinced my generation is the exciting stuff. Soon enough things will change and the next generation can take over the filling and stress the keto, oceanwise, free range or whatever makes a good hashtag or social cause. In the meantime, wait for your #okboomer inheritance, #stayinyourlane and remember #cranberriesarebetterthanmayo.

Burma Superstar, Molly Shannon and High School Religion Classes

My last stop in the San Francisco area was at Burma Superstar, the iconic Richmond area eatery offering the mysterious food of Burma.  Although Burma is now technically Myanmar, I suppose not having to change the menu or threatening the near 25 year old brand is more important than geographical accuracy.  Plus, whenever I hear the name I think of two things; Molly Shannon and high school religion classes.  When Burma Superstar was only 7 years old, Molly Shannon and a much younger Will Farrell starred in Superstar which was based on the Saturday Night Live skit.  My daughter took quite a liking to the film and almost killed herself trying to do the razzle dazzle on a slippery hardwood floor.  On the positive side, it  opened up the door for me to add “don’t make out with trees” to the list of things to cover off in birds and bees talk we had later.  Regarding school, I had a Catholic education  and one thing you could count on was that once a year a teacher would forfeit the normal religion lesson to show the 1973 version of Jesus Christ Superstar right around the time of the Passion.

Based on the numerous web reviews, I knew a visit to Burma Superstar even early on a Saturday evening would mean a line and I was right. We were politely told that the wait would be somewhere in the area of 45 minutes to an hour. I made a note that our table would be right after a couple of sweet old ladies who signed in just before me.   We were offered B*Star, Burma Superstar’s sister restaurant as an alternative and, after careful deliberation, we opted for the original instead of the sequel and walked around the neighbourhood for a while.

We were seated in a little less than 45 minutes and, as anticipated, right behind the old ladies. It  was a crowded and tight place but we had some reprieve since we were sitting right by the window. We started the highly recommended signature tea leaf  salad.  It arrived to the table separated into the numerous ingredients (including tomatoes, jalapenos, beans, seeds, fried garlic and a fermented green tea paste) which were skillfully combined table side.  The magic in this salad lies in the tea paste for unami and the aromatic fried garlic which elevate the other ingredients.  The textural differences were appealing as well.

Another house favorite is the pumpkin pork stew.  This is a bit of a misnomer since it is technically made with kaboucha squash.  Also called Japanese pumpkin, this gourd is revered for its aphrodisiac qualities which, if I would have known at the time, I may have avoided given the long plane ride home given the fact I was planning to  change into jogging pants.  It all worked out though. The gross, crowded red-eye home quashed any chance of arousal at 35000 feet. The prominent flavour in the curry was ginger which was a refreshing compliment to the squash. Although I enjoyed the uniqueness of the dish, the kaboucha was very dominant and it’s slimy/starchy texture wouldn’t work for everybody.

Pork and Pumpkin Stew
Pork and Pumpkin Stew

I’ll stop here for a second to provide an update on the old ladies that were seated just before us. They were within eyesight and I was impressed by a couple of things.  First, they there using the napkins bib-style, meaning they were really getting down to business. Second, each had an Asian beer in the bottle (screw the glass), which they were sucking back rapidly in between bites.  Third, those dishes just didn’t stop.  One after another, what seemed like a significant part of the menu arrived at the table and yet they tackled them all in that graceful old lady manner.  I think I actually teared up and hoped that one day, in my elder years, I could bust into a restaurant and show a bunch of privileged hipsters how to strap on the feedbag.

The third was the Burmese chicken and shrimp casserole. My rationale for this dish was simple; cook anything in a clay pot and I’m happy.  In addition, anything with peas makes me happy.  I really enjoyed it.  The use of the bone-in chicken, the perfectly cooked shrimp and the fact the dish had the elements of both Thai and Indian cuisine were all positives.  It was like a jacked up Pad Thai married  with a chicken and shrimp biryani.

Chicken and Shrimp Casserole
Chicken and Shrimp Casserole

For dessert I had to try the black rice pudding which we split as a table. It looked like my son’s attempt at a creative bowl of cereal in the morning.  It was well balanced between sweet and savory which was catalyzed by the fresh fruit and the abundant use of sesame seeds and almonds.

Black Rice Pudding
Black Rice Pudding

To end everything off, I glanced over at the old ladies who were looking quite content as they finished off a dessert of their own and  tipped my hat to them out of a combination of sheer respect and an overwhelming feeling of  awe.

My Take  

Burma Superstar is listed as a San Francisco must in almost every magazine and website in existence. It’s success has resulted in the emergence of a number of Burmese eateries including B*Star by the same owners down the street  which offers many of the same dishes. The wait is inevitable and long, the quarters are cramped and the food is good. I got schooled by old ladies and was scared to change into my roots jogging pants. In the end, I didn’t want to sing “Hosanna!” from the mountaintops (or my desktop if I was still in high school) or break into the razzle dazzle but I would rate it much higher than 32% on rotten tomatoes.

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I Say Frittata, You Say Frittata While Getting my Rocc’s Off in San Francisco

Before heading up to Napa, I decided to scratch another triple D off the list by heading to Rocco’s Cafe on Folsom Street.  It is a classic Italian cafe offering  typical fare from pastas to Italian sandwiches. The timing wasn’t right for dinner so a breakfast visit was the next best thing.

The decor was old school Italian diner.  There is an open kitchen and more pictures than selfies in my daughter’s instagram account hanging on the wall. It has a friendly feel complete with happy cooks and equally pleasant waitstaff.  There is a certain magic about a true rundown/rustic Italian cafe and Rocco’s had the right semblance.

As much as I was tempted to go with the Grilled Homemade Polenta topped with Cheese & Marinara Sauce w/ Eggs any style with Italian Sausage,  I figured the mushroom, onion, basil, & parmesan cheese frittata ($11.95)  was authentic enough for an Italian cafe without the need to paralyze myself.  Now, the word frittata is up for interpretation. By definition, it means fried but there are all sorts of interpretations. Most of them fall somewhere on the spectrum between an omelette and a crust less quiche but usually dictate that some element of the filling is cooked within the egg.  Rocco’s offering was closer to an omelette and not quite what I expected.  Nonetheless, it had good flavour and seasoning and more than abundant fillings/toppings.  The potatoes had a slight off taste I just couldn’t identify but overall they were decent.

Mushroom, Onion and Parmesan Frittata with Potatoes and toast (not shown) $11.95
Mushroom, Onion and Parmesan Frittata with Potatoes and toast (not shown) $11.95

On the way to the subway I was craving an Americano so a quick google search told me Wicked Grounds was just around the corner.  Don’t get me wrong, I could have hit a number of other coffee houses on the way but I was intrigued at the thought of sneaking in behind the closed curtains to experience a fetish cafe in the early morning. I didn’t expect much at 830 am but there were a few customers and some very nice, courteous staff along with plenty of cuffs, paddles and other paraphernalia for sale. Most alarming to my virgin eyes was the option to have a drink served in a dog bowl for those who chose to be subservient on that particular day.  I was tempted to order a decaf and a paddle to go but I stuck with the former along with a granola bar which promised to be more awesome than a cat riding a unicorn.  It wasn’t and I left humming Chris Issak.

It wasn't
It wasn’t because a cat riding a unicorn is pretty awesome

My Take

I suppose there are worse things to do than search for a good breakfast and an amerciano  from a fetish cafe in one of the most liberal cities in the world.  What’s even better is when you get a decent breakfast and knock another DDD and getting a coffee from the same place I’d buy a blow up doll..screw you Walmart.  In the end, regardless of where  the frittata fell on the spectrum, it was a decent plate and the Wicked Grounds coffee was good even if I was able to get my Rocc’s off again.

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Rich Table:The Last Supper, Dan Brown, Exodus 16 and Foodieism as a Religion

The fact that Rich Table was my last supper in San Francisco (this was from my trip back in June..I’m a little slow these days)  made me wonder what the famous last supper was like.  I mean, the biblical account by each of the disciples was fairly uniform.  Jesus took bread, gave it to his disciples and ate it as a symbol of his body.  He then took wine, proclaimed it as his blood and passed it around.  Sounds pretty simple but I wondered what would happen if Jesus was a foodie.  I mean, what if he wasn’t happy with a 21 Herod’s Fury Merlot and send it back or got upset over the fact the bread wasn’t served with EVOO and a crisp balsamic vinegar.

These thoughts made me realize that being a foodie is like a religion if not a cult.  Think about it….can you not picture the foodie couple getting the kids ready in their little plaid shirts from the Gap so they can go to the 11 am seating at Sunday Brunch.  Instead of the Eucharist, they break and share aged cheddar scone and wash it down with french pressed coffee or a mimosa, Caesar or some other potent potable deemed acceptable on a Sunday morning. Any alms are already included in the inflated brunch prices

Ironically,  I stumbled across a website which used a scientific ranking system (science and religion don’t mix) for San Francisco restaurants based on a statistical formula which took into consideration everything from San Francisco Chronicle reviews to eateries awarded Michelin stars.  Rich table was ranked number 1, beating out bay area juggernauts such as Coi, Saison and Quince.  It’s another one of these places with a one month reservation policy but they were very polite in answering all my email questions and promptly booked me a big table when the time came. Due to the size of my group, I was told via email we would have a $65/person menu served family style.

Fast forward a month.  We had a short wait as the table before us was finishing up the earlier reservation.  It was buzzing for a Monday night and the small place was full of fragrant and savory smells.   After being seated, I realized I had a great view of the open kitchen. A friendly waiter soon arrived and handed us a few copies of the gospel according to Rich and I was reminded that it was a preset family style menu.  The menu contained 14 items divided by starters, pastas, mains and dessert.  I asked the waiter how many of each we could order and he politely informed me we were getting them all.

The flip side of the menu featured the beverage offerings which included almost a dozen beers, red and white wines and half a dozen cocktails.  I started with an El Jeffe which is a mezcal based drink with grapefruit, tarragon, aperol and bitters.  It was a refreshing summer drink with a nice amount of bitterness.  Throughout the remainder of the meal, the table developed an affinity for the Bobby Burns, a potent elixir of a holy trinity of scotch, vermouth and benedictine  and finished with bitters.  It started rough but finished smooth and a few of them went down as the night went on.

Genesis (starters):

Sardine chips, horseradish, creme fraiche– A thin slice of potato slitted,”stuffed” with a sardine and deep fried.  Served with a horseradish chip dip. Spectacular!

Douglas fir levain, house cultured butter–  Heavy, moist and extremely flavourful bread.  I had to limit consumption because  wouldn’t have had room for anything else.

Sardine Chips and Levain Bread
Sardine Chips and Levain Bread

Burrata Cheese, Strawberry Gazpacho, Chicken Skin and Almond-  This was one of the table favorites.  It was burrata elevated to  a new level.  The sweet/sour gazpacho would have succeeded as a stand alone in a big bowl, especially since it was sprinkled with some of the magic chicken skin.

Burrata and Strawberry Gazpacho
Burrata and Strawberry Gazpacho

Little Gems, Bottarga, Dill, Crispy Onion- An ingenious spin on a caesar salad that held it’s own against the other innovative starters on the table.  The balance of bitter/salt and cream/crunch was phenomenal.

Little Gems Salad
Little Gems Salad

Crispy Potatoes, Grilled Raddicchio, Garlic Chive and Comte– These went quick.  Once again, near perfect from a taste and texture perspective.

Crispy Potatoes
Crispy Potatoes

Dried Porcini Doughnuts, Raclette Cheese- I’m convinced that the manna which spilled from heavens in the Old Testament  may have been these donuts.  They were amazing as a stand alone but became a religious experience when the cheese dip was added.  A table of grown adults looked like a group of kids attacking a family pack of timbits or Homer Simpson hitting a Krispy Kreme when the red light is on.

Porcini Doughnuts
Porcini Doughnuts

The Pasta of Pastas

Pappardelle, Crayfish Oil, Goddess Melon, Pickled Jalapeno, Shiso– The pasta itself was done perfectly.  The array of flavours was a bit much for some but I thought it worked well.  The melon provided a surprising burst of sweetness which I admit was a bit odd but in the end the dish worked.

Pappardelle with Goddess Melon
Pappardelle with Goddess Melon

Garganelli, Housemade Sausage, Tomato Gravy, Basil- Once again, the pasta was spot on.  The flavours were very traditional which was almost surprising considering the uniqueness of all the other dishes at the table.  That said, it left you with that rustic, home-cooked feeling.

Garganelli with Sausage
Garganelli with Sausage

Tagliatelle, Braised Duck, Aged Sake and Almond-  This was my favorite of the bunch.  The use of sake reminded me of a penne alla vodka and the almonds nicely complemented the rich flavor of the duck.

Tagliatelle with Duck
Tagliatelle with Duck

The Gospels (Mains)

Summer Squash Gratin, Kale, Local Gouda, Mixed Herbs- Beautifully presented, this dish was a cross between scalloped potatoes and a mac and cheese with greens.  The abundant use of the herbs and crispy kale added a great punch to this common yet uncommon offering.

Summer Squash Gratin
Summer Squash Gratin

Pork Loin, Toasted Wheatberries, Cherries and Wildflower Honey- I’m a big fan of using cherries with most meats and pork is no exception.   The balance of the flavours was great and I really enjoyed the wheatberries. I wish the pork was cooked a little longer. I’m not adverse to a cut of pork cooked medium but I felt the slight undercooking of the loin affected the texture.

Pork Loin with Cherries
Pork Loin with Cherries

Alaskan Halibut, Corn Grits, Chanaterelles, Bouillabaisse, Pistachio- This was my least favorite dish of the evening. The halibut was a bit limp which didn’t lend well to the fact that the surrounding ingredients has the same texture.  It was like a big plate of mush.

Halibut and Grits
Halibut and Grits

Revelation (Dessert)

Coconut Panna Cotta, Toasted Meringue, Lime Crumble- Nice texture and nice flavours. This was a fresh way to end a large and rich meal.  I could have taken or left the meringue.

Coconut Panna Cotta
Coconut Panna Cotta

Salted Chocolate Sable, Milk Ice, Mint-Chocolate Mousse-  This one had mixed reviews at the table.  It was very minty and very chocolaty so those who aren’t extremists thought it was a bit much.

Chocolate Sable with Milk Ice
Chocolate Sable with Milk Ice

My Take

Although Rich Table hasn’t been blessed with a Michelin star by the food gods, it’s cumulative acclaim ranked it number one in San Francisco on sfist.com and statistics don’t lie.  It’s interior is somewhat humble but not overly crowded.  The large table beside the open kitchen makes for a great dining experience, especially if you are in a big group.  The service was professional and smart.  The cocktails were heavenly and wine list is reasonable including a reasonable corking policy which allows for the waiving on one corking fee if you buy a bottle there.  As for the food, there was a huge selection for a very reasonable $65 per person served family style.  The offerings were brilliant although the entrees were somewhat anti-climatic compared to the starters and pastas.  The porcini doughnuts (as well as the fowl at State Bird Provisions) are biblical, suggesting that if Foodieism is in fact a religion, San Francisco is definitely the Mecca of the foodie movement given these modern day  interpretations of manna and quail first mentioned by Moses in Exodus 16.  When thinking of my last supper at Rich Table, I couldn’t help but think of “The Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown and hoped that my dining experience wouldn’t be like the book; overhyped and lacking substance. Instead, it was much more “enlightening”, perhaps suggesting that if the Illuminati did exist, they would eat like this.

Rich Table on Urbanspoon

Burger Bar: McMillan and Wife Villains, Fleur de Lys Sauce and Drops of Jupiter in my head

San Francisco is known for a number of things including:

1. TV- It has been the setting for a number of TV shows, past and present.  Notable shows have included Full House, Hotel, Party of Five, and Dharma and Greg.

2. Music- Some of the more notable bands in American History hail from the San Francisco area.  Classic rock bands like the Grateful Dead, the Steve Miller Band, Santana and Jefferson Airplane, modern day rockers Third Eye Blind Train and even one hit wonders 4 Non Blondes began in the Bay  area.

3. Food- Everything from bakeries to renowned food trucks  to some of the most famous restaurants in the country reside in San Francisco.

That said, I realized that after 5 days in San Francisco that I hadn’t had a burger yet.  Like any other city with any sort of food scene, there were numerous choices. After a quick scope of burger research in the Bay area, it only made sense to go to the Burger Bar.  Not only was it across the street from my hotel, it was the creation of Hubert Keller, one of the most respected chefs in the US.  According to his website, Chef Keller was the first great chef to give burgers the haute cuisine treatment, from freshly ground, hand-shaped burgers to a menu of innovative toppings in a hip, casual setting.  Sounded good to me.

The hip, casual setting started with a 6 floor ride  up the Macy’s elevator. We got to hang out with a portly businessman who was obviously heading to the place I was and a couple of old ladies who got off at the 4th floor to hunt down some red tag sales.  The elevator opened to reveal a bright,open restaurant with bar and table seating.  We quickly ordered a beer from a reasonable selection of draught and examined the menu.  The burgers ranged from $10-$60, the latter being a Remixed Rossini Burger which was kobe beef stuffed with short rib topped with lobster tail and shaved black truffles and truffle sauce on an onion bun (doesn’t quite flow as well as the Big Mac song but I’m sure Train could sing a song about it in the style of “50 Sides to put on a Burger”..funny thing is there are exactly 50 sides available at the Burger Bar).  I went middle of the road and order the peppercorn burger for $17.25.  In particular I was interested in the famous Fleur de Lys peppercorn cream sauce.  I also liked the option of skinny vs fat fries…..I  like the fatties when it comes to fries and these didn’t disappoint.  The burger hit the mark. The well seasoned patty wasn’t overwhelmed with pointless toppings.  Even the famous sauce was served on the side so as to not  disrupt the precious patty.

 

Peppercorn Burger with Fat Fries $17.25
Peppercorn Burger with Fat Fries $17.25

My Take

I have plenty experience with San Francisco television and music set in San Francisco. I grew up in the mid-eighties wanting a new drug while I didn’t stop believing and felt sorry for my sister for having to endure Sara by Jefferson Starship.  I scratched my head wondering how Jessie from full house scored Rebecca Romijn, saw the Olsen twins before they were tramps, witnessed the fact that Thomas Gibson actually had the ability to crack a smile  and tried to figure out why people thought Jenna Elfman was funny.

 I can now go to bed knowing I have experienced my share of San Francisco’s trinity of Americana; television, music and food. Not only did I have a burger, I had it with the same sauce served at the iconic and now historic Fleur de Lys.  Hubert Keller seemed the perfect guy to provide it (not only is he a renowned chef but he looks like a villain from McMillan and Wife).It was an expensive but delicious taste of the Bay area. I must say I also enjoyed the steak fries which are as difficult to find as a “Sister Christian” 45.  I’m glad I left though because a few more Keller burgers and I’d probably end up with a unplanned visit to Trapper John MD and “Drops of Jupiter” in my head for the next six months.

Burger Bar on Urbanspoon

SPQR (Senātus Populusque Rōmānus): King Herod Prices And Pasta as Bloody as the Assassination of Caesar

SPQR had me fooled.  Given it was awarded a Michelin star for fine Italian food, I expected a stuffy, polite, quaint restaurant filled with overdressed waitstaff who pour wine with one hand behind their back. My first suspicion that I was wrong is when I walked past it a few nights before on my way from State Bird Provisions to Altier Crenn. From the outside, the vibe seemed more hipster than a classic Italian joint with the presence of surprisingly pounding, quaky rhythms as opposed to uncle Vito playing the violin table side.

I emailed quite a bit in advance to see if I could secure a table of 6 for a group I was with at a conference.  They told me such as table was not available but when I got on open table I was able to secure two tables of 4 at the same time.  It seemed odd to me…sorta pretentious;quite risible in fact.   On the day of, I was a real nuisance and called to see if we could combine of two tables of 4 into one table of 5 due to a few last minute cancellations.  They hesitantly accommodated us but once I walked in, I understood the issue. The restaurant is not designed for large groups. Small tables are crammed into every square foot of the smallish dining area.  When seated, one of us ended up stuck in a  swelling, protruding, quillon-resembling seat which blocked the path of everybody walking by.

The menu changes frequently but usually focuses on a decent array of appetizers, a number of pasta dishes and a few mains. There is no doubt the pasta is the cornerstone of the menu given the fact there are usually a dozen or so smart, piquant, quirky rations available at any given time.  I started with the octopus garnished with kale sprouts, panissa (a lemon chick pea cake) and a vibrant puree laced with pistachio.  Chick peas and octopus work so well together and the panissa was a creative and enjoyable way to marry the flavours .  The octopus was tender and the subtle use of lemon accented everything well.

Octopus $20
Octopus, kale sprout, panissa, chickpea, pistachio and preserved lemon $20

Although I didn’t opt for the pasta, members of my dining party did and I had the opportunity to try a few bites of each.  The bucatini “straw and hay”, california blue cheese, linden walnut, kale and sage brown butter ($26) was a delightful interpretation of this popular combination.  Whole walnuts and sage leaves  along with large pieces  of kale made it a visually appealing dish which was able to balance the intensity of the rich cheese sauce.

Buc
Bucatini “straw and hay”, california blue cheese, linden walnut, kale and sage brown butter ($26)

Another tablemate chose the famed and in the eyes of some, risky blutnudlen which sounds more horrific than the assassination of  Julius Caesar.  This popular dish mixes blood pasta with blood sausage ragu and pig’s foot breadcrumbs ($25).  I must admit it was a novelty to try but beyond a few bites  a sanguine pasta queming  ravenous hipsters is not my cup of tea.  It was rich and flavourful and reminded me why, as a pseudo-Catholic,  my consumption of blood tends to stop at transubstantiation.  I couldn’t imagine finishing the whole plate.

Blood
Blutnudlen $25

Instead of pasta, I opted for the Guinea hen “rosticceria style”, wild rice porridge, roasted strawberry, turnip and pink pepper ($36).  The presentation was a pleasant mess. The delcious hen was almost hidden among the colours of the Italian flag.  The  texture was somewhat reminiscent of a good shawarma. The meat was crispy but held in its moisture.  The wild rice porridge was vibrant and the strawberries sweetened the pot.  The sulphur of the turnip rounded the plate out.

Guinea Hen $36
Guinea Hen “rosticceria style”, wild rice porridge, roasted strawberry, turnip and pink pepper ($36)

 

We decided on a family style approach to dessert and ordered a trio which included 1. fried blueberry pie, butterscotch, lemon curd and burnt sugar gelato, 2. hibiscus bombolini, cherry vanilla, cherry bark vanilla and fior di latte gelato and 3. peanut and milk chocolate pudding , malt and chocolate gelato.  The consensus at the table was that the bombolini was the best followed by the pudding and the fried blueberry pie (all $14).  The blueberry pie was the one I was most excited about but there were too many flavours and the butterscotch didn’t really fit.  The pudding was boring looking and tasted almost the same.  It was very predictable which was kind of odd given the dishes which led up to dessert.

 

Blueberry pie $14
Fried blueberry pie, butterscotch, lemon curd and burnt sugar gelato $14

Hibiscus Bombolini $14
Hibiscus bombolini, cherry vanilla, cherry bark vanilla and fior di latte gelato $14

Peanut Dessert $14
Peanut and milk chocolate pudding , malt and chocolate gelato $14

My Take

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to  critique SPQR, not to praise it.
The dishes that men eat lives after them;
The good is oft inferred with their Michelin star;
So let it be with SPQR. The noble bloggers
Hath told you the menu was ambitious:
If it were so, it was a hipster’s demand,
And graciously  hath SPQR answer’d it.
Here, under leave of Accarrino and the rest–
For SPQR is an honourable place;
So are they all, all honourable chefs–
Come I to speak in Fareeatales.

SPQR is a perfect fit for Fillmore Street in San Francisco.  It ignores the traditional concepts of fine Italian dining by presenting beautiful dishes but throws away the spacious room filled with white linen in favour of a labyrinth of small table scattered throughout a broom closet. The service was characteristic of the latter with the staff dressed in black as opposed to a shirt and tie.   The food was delicious and deserves the accolades it has received over the years.  That said, I have to agree with many that say the food is somewhat pricey; quasi-ridiculous in fact.  Perhaps Herod had a role in charging  $25 for pasta and $14 for dessert. Despite this, the place is always jam packed so it doesn’t seem to deter the masses.  In the end, when I polled my guests to see if they majority enjoyed the experience they agreed that it was stupendously polished;quorum reached.

SPQR on Urbanspoon

 

 

Yank Sing: A Tale of Sheldon, Cam and the Bites of the Long, Rectangular Table

Dim Sum is always an adventure.  In many ways it’s a sitcom at a table, especially when you have a big crowd.  It is the perfect time for an alpha personality to take full control of a situation while one or two wheat belly people stare curmudgeonly at all the food they can’t eat.  The combination of white starches and deep-fried morsels with the odd taboo food thrown in makes for a true social experiment.

Yank Sing is one of San Francisco’s most recognizable Dim Sum palaces.  With two locations (I went to the Stevenson one), it is often quoted as not being the best Dim Sum in town but certainly is among the most popular.

The Cast:

I booked a table of 10 with the following demographics:

2 Asians- only one of which knew what they were doing.  The other is essentially whiter than I am.

1 Shameless Glutton (that would be me)

3 Nurses whose conversation about past clinic experiences was far more awkward than anything which came along on the trolley

2 Pseudo Gluttons who fold to peer pressure like a bad suit but look much better than one doing it.

2 “I don’t eat simple starches but don’t want anybody to know and plus I’m only here for business anyway” people

1 “I’ll be there after my other lunch” followed by “Sorry I didn’t make it man..my other lunch went late” colleague (thus the reason I booked a table for 10 and not 11. Plus, I think zeros are luckier than ones in the Chinese culture).

The Plot

It’s quite simple.  The cart comes by and a conversation in Chinese ensues.  The three nurses are too busy having a discussion about emergency room wounds or the biggest boil they have ever seen  to notice.  I sound like Dave Hester yelling “Yeeeeeeep!” every time I’m offered anything from a dumpling to a bun stuffed with some type of protein.  The two wheat bellies stare at the vegetables hoping they make the cut while the pseudo gluttons secretly wish the weirdest thing on the tray doesn’t. In the end, there was an array of fare which came to the table. Their famous Shanghai soup dumplings which burst with subtle salt goodness. The potstickers were a tender and classic interpretation of this classic. The deep fried Phoenix tailed shrimp reminded me of why pseudo-Chinese food is permanently ingrained in the grease-loving palates of North Americans.  The beans were quickly consumed by token herbivores.  There were other tasty morsels passed around the table; some of which seemed to get a bit camera shy during the communal feast.

Various Yank Sing Offerings
Various Yank Sing Offerings

Another signature was the Peking duck served with a stuffable bun and some hoisin sauce. Once assembled, it was a pleasant few bites and scoring a couple of them was not a huge feat given the dynamics at the table.

Yank Sing Peking Duck
Yank Sing Peking Duck

My Take

Group dinners are usually sitcoms and this one was no exception. I’ll admit that there may be a few exaggerations about the dynamics but it makes for a good story.  As for Yank Sing itself, I was a little surprised about how safe the offerings were. I’ve been for Dim Sum in Montreal and Toronto and the choices there are a lot more diverse and even a little risky.  This place isn’t cheap either. The bill for the table was $370 which was a little steep for what we got.  In the end, Yank Sing is like a tourist attraction; overpriced, a little overrated but fun nonetheless, especially when you go with a cast of characters that’s a cross between the Big Bang Theory and Modern Family.

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