Punjab Kabab House

Before I went to Punjab Kabab House I was expecting something pretty hole-in-the-wall-ey.  Something like Pakwan or Lahore Karahi.  So I was pretty surprised when I walked in to a large dining room with fancy chairs and pretty decorations.

I was also surprised after I’d eaten there to discover that this restaurant was featured on something called 7×7’s 2010 Big Eat SF list.  I felt kind of embarrassed that here was this restaurant right in my neighborhood that I’d never even heard of and it had what one magazine deemed to be one of the 100 essential dishes in San Francisco.  It’s the chicken curry lunch special, by the way, if you want to participate in the Big Eat SF scavenger hunt.

Let’s go back to the past, back when all I knew about Punjab Kabab House was that it was a little nerve-wracking to lock my bike up outside of it.  Yeah, I admit it, this corner is a little sketch.  I don’t know if it’s always as boisterous around there as it was that night, or if the street folk were especially rowdy because it was Super Bowl sunday.  PKH has a tv mounted inside by the door that you can see from outside.  I was sitting with my back to the window and kept getting freaked out because this guy

was banging on the window intermittently, I guess when something he liked or didn’t like happened in the game.  There were also a group of two men and a lady who would pop their heads (and sometimes the rest of their bodies) in to ask what the score was.  So, some added excitement to our meal.

When I got to PKH Steve was already there and had ordered this

It’s Super Beer y’all!  I’d never seen or heard of this beer before (it was just a night of full of discoveries for me!), but I liked it, it was pretty malty so it made a good foil for the spicy stuff to come.

I pretty much left the ordering up to Steve except that I requested rice and raita.  The raita move was fortuitous, I was just in the mood for it but I was very glad to have it later.  In fact, I ended up getting another order halfway through.  I’m a pretty big wimp when it comes to spicy stuff, but I know the difference between really spicy and kinda spicy.  The food at PKH wasn’t super crazy spicy, but it was definitely hotter than the food at the average Indian place in San Francisco.  So just what did we eat, besides yogurt? 

We ate this lamb kabab, which tasted as gorgeous as it looks.  It was crunchy on the outside with lovely charred bits of intense flavor and was moist on the inside, heavily spiced and yogurt-y sour throughout.  It seemed like instead of just being marinated, the lamb had been covered with some sort of yogurt and spice paste before grilling, which created a crust of yumminess.

This is where things got really hot.  Not the rice, that was just normal, delightful rice.  I’m talking about the chicken kalahari.  Kalahari is quickly becoming one of my favorite dishes.  With big slices of peppers, onions and tomatoes, it could be the fixings for a super delish pizza.  Yum.  The vegetables all have some bite left to them after they’ve been cooked up with some (in this case pretty pungent) curry and chicken cubes.  This was complemented perfectly by the roti

The roti I’m used to has a crisp crust and is light with big pockets of air and has been brushed with a little bit of ghee.  This roti was dense, chewy and sweet.  No ghee.  It was also docked like a pizza dough, which I believe is done to prevent those big bubbles you usually see on naan.  Similar to a pita, but denser.  Good stuff. 

And of course the raita

Good stuff, creamy and cooling.

Then, as if the evening hadn’t been exciting enough, what with the never before tasted beer and kabab and roti, and the homeless peeps and the window hitting, we saw a cat!

We watched this cute little guy walk around the ledges and fire escapes of the building across the street, climb into one window and emerge from another and then enter yet another.  Seeing a cat in the “wild” in San Francisco is thrilling and terrifying, especially when you’re a cat owner.  The thought of my cats getting outside is the stuff of nightmares, for me and for the cats I’m sure.  This little guy seemed pretty chill though.

There are tons of Indian and Pakistani places within a few blocks of Punjab Kabab house, a few I’ve been to and several I haven’t visited yet, but after this dinner PKH shot to the top of my list of places to go when I’m craving some curry.  Did I mention how nice the staff was?  They won’t be all on top of you, but when you need something just go up to the counter and they will be soooo sweet helping you out with whatever. 

Punjab Kabab House

101 Eddy St

Their Yelp Page

Pakwan

Pakwan was not the first choice for dinner this particular night.  Lahore Karahi, across the street, was too packed with Academy of Art University students for Steve and I to get a table, so we wandered over to Pakwan. 

Pakwan is a typical San Francisco sort of fast food Indian place; order at the counter, pick up your own plates and utensils, grab a carafe of water from the fridge, pay on your way out.  I think I somehow ended up doing the ordering, which is probably why we ended up with so so much food.  I like to try to get a kind of balanced meal, and I also like naan AND rice so I usually end up getting pretty out of control if I’m ordering for less than three people.

These three dishes

plus this massive pile of rice

and a naan each

it’s just too much.  Especially when your dinner date is rice-phobic (too many carbs).  I ended up eating pretty much that entire plate of rice.  Plus the naan, plus my share of the main dishes.  When we left I felt like I had a rock in my stomach.  Ugh. 

But let’s talk about the food a little bit.  I ordered the things on the menu that I hadn’t encountered before, like mirch salan

roasted peppers in a ground nut curry sauce.  It was pretty delicious, the peppers were mild and the whole thing was infused with a roasty toasty pepper flavor.  It looks oily in that photo, but it was more creamy than anything else, it didn’t leave a greasy feeling in my mouth. 

I had also never had or heard of chicken makhanwala, so I had to order that

also pretty tasty, it was like a less creamy, more tomato-ey chicken tikka masala. 

I tried to get a good picture of the saag gosht but it was difficult because it was really dark and pretty unattractive looking in person, and it turned up even less appealing in the photos.  Here’s my best effort

Usually saag gosht is a pretty safe bet, but this one was just kind of blah.  The lamb flavor just wasn’t there, and it was sort of bland.  We probably could have done without it, but I love me some lamb and it’s hard to pass up. 

I also ordered a mango lassi, which was pretty good.  It was more mango than yogurt, which is not what I’m used to but I liked that. 

Things got kind of weird about halfway through our dinner there, suddenly the people working there were running in and out of the restaurant, for a while we were the only people in the place; diners, employees or otherwise.  The woman who we had ordered from ended up leaving and was replaced at the counter by a young guy, who, as I got up to pay, said “Goodbye, thank you very much.”  I explained to him that I hadn’t paid yet and he said, “Oh, you could have just left.”  Too bad, I missed my chance to dine and dash! 

Pakwan

501 O’Farrell

www.pakwanrestaurant.com

Fina Estampa

For Steve’s birthday dinner he wanted to go somewhere for the blog.  What a nice guy!  Since we were planning on hitting up a movie at the AMC 1000 (Youth In Revolt) he choose Fina Estampa.

Fina Estampa is notable for turning into a pretty off the hook dance club on some nights.  Other than that I knew nothing about it.  It looks kind of creepy from the outside because all the windows are pretty high off the ground so all you have to judge it by is the fortress-like exterior.  Inside is not much more inviting.

It’s rather cavernous and dark.  And, at least the night we were there, totally empty.  So empty, in fact, that we were almost sure that nobody was working there for at least a minute.  A really nice waiter eventually appeared and seated us and brought us our menus, then brought us bread and dips.

AMAZING bread and dips you guys.  This was the best thing we ate.  Check this stuff out.

The gold stuff is butter, obvs.  The white stuff is a kind of vinegary hominy.  The red is a super spicy roasted pepper sauce and the green stuff was this garlicky salty fucking delicious stuff.  I ate way too much of it.  Way way too much.  But I couldn’t stop.  I want to go back to Fina Estampa and just eat bread and dip and drink this.

Pisco Sour.  So delectable.  I think this has egg whites in it, but it tastes like a really good creamy margarita.  We got a pitcher of this for $26.  Totally worth it, especially because check out the classy wine glass you get to drink it out of!

Things went a little downhill from there.  It was so sad because I had such high hopes.  It didn’t suck or anything, but we didn’t have anything else as outstanding as the bread and the drinks.

Fina Estampa has their menu broken up into four sections; Tapas, Mexican Food, Peruvian Food and Platos de Mariscos.  We ended up ordering from each section except the Mexican food, because it was the most ordinary and boring, though if I were to return I’d probably order some quesadilla or something, because it’s also the cheaper sections.  We started off with the Spanish food,

When we ordered the mussels, or choros a la criolla, I was expecting steamed mussels, but these were more like a ceviche.  This was difficult to eat because there was so much of the pico de gallo-esque salsa on top of each mussel, and also because it was so lemon-y sour with not much salt to balance it out.  This could be remedied somewhat with some doctoring up with the bread condiments.  The sourness was also accentuated by the lack of flavor in most of the mussels.  They were of very uneven quality, there were a few that were tender, plump and sweet, but the others were bland and difficult to chew. 

Steve choose his entree from the Platos de Mariscos section of the menu, Saltado de Mariscos

I found the calamari to be the standout in this dish, which consisted of tomatoes and onions sauteed with calamari, clams and shrimp as well as french fries.  It was pretty good, but I think a saltado is better when it’s made with steak or chicken.  Seafood is a little more delicate in flavor and texture and has a harder time standing up to french fries.

I ordered from the Peruvian portion of the menu.  There were several dishes featuring noodles, and I couldn’t resist trying one.  I had never encountered noodles in South American food before, so how could I pass them up?  My tallarin de pollo was very much like chow mein, but not exactly.  The chicken strips were reminiscent of cheap Chinese food, dry and rough on the outside but moist on the inside and still pretty tasty, and the noodles were certainly chow mein noodles.  The tomatoes and onions were cut in a decidedly un-Chinese fashion, and the seasoning was more like what you’d expect in a Spanish dish.  It was an odd juxtaposition, and I definitely didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it either.

In all, I enjoyed my experience at Fina Estampa.  It wasn’t the best food I’d ever had, but our waiter was really nice, and I like eating in a big empty room, and if I were to go again, the menu is so extensive that they would have a lot more chances to get it right.  I would recommend it as a spot to get a drink and bite before a movie at the AMC 1000; get that Pisco Sour.  Yum.

Fina Estampa

1100 Van Ness Ave

www.finaestampasf.com

McDonald’s

I used to go to McDonald’s fairly often; when I worked at the Embarcadero Cinemas it would frequently be the cheapest, closest, or only place open in the area to get dinner.  It was there that I acquired a taste for Oreo McFlurrys, but also where I vowed to never eat a double quarter-pounder with cheese ever again, lest I vomit.  Since quitting the theater my visits to McDonald’s have been few and far between, and when I began making plans to hit up the one on Van Ness for this blog I couldn’t remember the last time I’d eaten at one.  Perhaps that’s why I was so excited for it, I said that I was going to go in, look at the menu and just order every single thing that sounded good to me.  Which is kind of what I ended up doing. 

This McDonald’s location was recently remodled (in fact, what may have been my last visit to a McDonald’s was to this one during the construction, with Sarah, who accompanied me to this meal) but if you didn’t know that you wouldn’t be able to tell by looking at it.  It looks about as gross and “retro” as any McDonald’s you’ve ever been to, or any fast food restaurant at all for that matter.  I was kind of bummed about that, I was expecting something more modern I suppose, and certainly more well lit. 

The McDonald’s menu is confusing to me, I think they make it that way purposely to frustrate you into getting the value meals.  Big bright pictures of big mac wraps and #3s dominate, while less popular menu items are smushed over into the corner in difficult to read little white letters.  I managed to order most of what I wanted, though I misunderstood a handmade sign that said “NO MILKSHAKE” and tried to order a McFlurry.   No dairy treats of any kind were available for the whole length of our visit, even though this scene

and the removal of the milkshake sign gave us false hope later in the meal.

Between me and my three friends, the range of the McDonald’s menu was pretty well represented.

I attempted to enjoy the simplicity of my southern style chicken sandwich, but was put off a bit by how much the bun looked like someone’s butt

and by the stuff that looked like spittle coming out of the chicken after the first bite.

It tasted ok, but was a little overmoist.  I can barely remember the cheeseburger I ate

except that the cheese wasn’t melted enough for my liking. 

Sarah ordered a McDouble

and Bryan got a double cheeseburger

and there was some dispute over the differences between the two, mostly that there weren’t any other than price.  They seemed to be the same size and contain the same foodstuffs, but the mcdouble was cheaper by a bit.

Steph got the McTasty Big N’ Tasty.  I don’t know how tasty it actually was, Steph said she enjoyed it well enough, but it certainly had the most appetizing looks of anything on our table that day, what with the pristine sesame seed bun and the frilly lettuce sticking out from the bun. 

We all ordered fries.  I only got them as a replacement for my McFlurry, I generally could take or leave fries, especially from McDonald’s, though I do have pleasant childhood memories of Happy Meal french fries.  I would take the little bag out of the bigger bag and when I’d finished all the fries in there I would root around in the bigger bag and be thrilled by the hidden treasure trove of fries I would find.  These fries disappointed though, everyone agreed that they were cold.  There’s little worse than a cold french fry.  I have to admit that most of mine went in the trash.

We also got a 20 piece Chicken McNuggets for everyone to share.  Sarah really pissed off the peeps working the counter by requesting every nugget dipping sauce they offer.  You should have seen this guy’s face as he slammed the honey down on her tray.

The nuggets were the best thing I ate that day.  For whatever reason, I grew up with sweet n’ sour as my default dipping sauce, and it was as delicious as I remember.  As an adult I began ordering my nuggets with barbeque sauce, which was still good, but I’d never tried the chipotle BBQ sauce before.  It was tasty, as was the spicy Buffalo sauce, which was actually pretty darn spicy.  I wasn’t crazy about the ranch or the honey mustard sauces, I’ve just never been a big fan of honey mustard, and they were both too creamy to stand up to the greasiness of the nuggets.  I don’t think I tried the honey, it grosses me out a little bit.

The aftermath:

I felt sick to my stomach pretty much immediately after finishing as much food as I could stand.  My body’s just not equipped to handle an onslaught of fast food like this.  It’ll be interesting to see how I fare at upcoming fast food establishments.  For now, despite the semi-disappointing nature of this trip, I am still optimistic and excited to try out KFC/Taco Bell and Burger King in the coming months.  I should be ok as long as I have a good posse to back me up.  Oh, and I make sure to obey any posted time limits;

McDonald’s

600 Van Ness

www.mcdonalds.com

EZ Pizza

It was a lazy, kind of sickly day, and a suggestion of delivery pizza sounded pretty good.  I hit up grubhub to find an acceptable place.  It’s not easy.  When you’ve set a goal for yourself like I have you have to make certain sacrifices, one of them being denying yourself pizza you know to be delicious to engage in the crapshoot of randomly picking a Tenderloin delivery-only pizza joint.  But that is my cross to bear, and so I waded through 20 something restaurants before settling on EZ Pizza.  What made me choose that particular one?  Well, first off getting delivery from EZ meant that I wouldn’t have to eat there; it’s located on Taylor between Turk and Golden Gate, which I have to admit is not my favorite area to hang out in.  Second, it has fair reviews on Yelp, which I take with a grain of salt, but are nice to see.  And lastly, the menu was pretty interesting, they have a lot of very delicious sounding special pizzas.  So I entered my order in grubhub, which I love.  I love ordering food online, I love not talking to people on the phone, especially now that I seem to be going deaf, I love getting a confirmation email, I just love everything about it.  Right, so the order went through and my pizza arrived in an acceptable window of time and here is a really great picture of it

Ha ha, not!  That is a terrible picture!  In real life the cheese was, y’know, a normal cheese color, not some crazy neon yellow green horrific color.  This pizza looks a little radioactive, I know, things are just really yellow in my house for whatever reason.  Anyway, this closeup is an teensy eensy bit better.

I guess.  It’s still looks kind of nuclear or something.  Anyway, I ate a slice of this pizza, the Gourmet Chicken Pizza with pesto, chicken, black olives, mushrooms and garlic, probably as I watched Jeopardy, and most of the cheese and the toppings slid off, which is annoying but doesn’t really take away from my enjoyment of it, I can deal with that.  It tasted pretty good.  The chicken I liked a lot, it was totally not what I expected when I read “marinated chicken” on the menu.  It was very saucy, very tomato-ey, not all dried out and hard enough to cut the roof of your mouth like chicken on pizza often can be.  It was my favorite part of the pizza.  I did like the crust a lot too, it was crispy and had hint of cheesiness.  Really though, the pie was about a million times better the next day, cold out of the refrigerator.  Weird how that happens sometimes.

Oh I also got a Caesar salad.

It wasn’t bad, it was lightly dressed and I didn’t find any of those weird slimy dark pieces of lettuce, so I guess they probably actually cut up some lettuce leaves to make it.  Which is nice, and the romaine was fresh and crisp.  The croutons were a little salty, but all right.  This is a pretty solid place to get a meal, and it’s pretty cheap (our large specialty pizza was around 23 bucks) and they have some good deals available on grubhub right now. 

EZ Pizza

39 Taylor St

www.ezpizzasf.com