Jimmie Bar Ristorante

Usually we don’t go to restaurants as pricey as Jimmie here at Goldentooth.  We generally keep it in the $10 and under per entrée range.  However, Steve acquired a restaurant.com coupon for the place, we were taking a friend along to share the cost, plus it was right before Christmas, so I guess we were feeling a bit festive. 

It’s a bit odd at Jimmie.  The room is not especially large, but it feels rather vast because they don’t have tables crammed into every available space as they do at most other restaurants.  The stone tile floor makes the room feel very cold, and, combined with the openness, rather like a convention center or hotel conference room.  Which I suppose makes some sense, since Jimmie is in the Cova Hotel.  Also strange is the staff.  They are extremely attentive and polite, adding to the fine dining experience that the menu items and their prices create, however, at least while I was there, they were dressed extremely casually in jeans and untucked polo shirts.   I don’t know why, but it made me feel a bit uncomfortable. 

Well, on to the food.

We decided to order several items from the street cuisine and entrée sections of the menu to share.  First though, we had to start with some oysters.

Ugh, apologies in advance for how terrible the photos are going to be for the rest of this entry.  Anyhow, we had a dozen oysters, an assortment of whichever varieties they were offering that night.  I love oysters and am treated to them rarely, so I relished these and to me they seemed particularly delicious.  Spoiler alert, they were the best thing I ate at Jimmie. 

Next up, the green papaya salad.  (See?  Terrible photo, and they only get worse.)  Slippery threads of green papaya with dried beef and peanuts in a spicy and sweet brothy dressing.  Also a pretty legit dish.  I know I already said the oysters were my fave, but there weren’t nothing wrong with this salad neither y’all. 

Things got more pedestrian from there.  Crab cakes were quite mayonnaise-y and sweet.  I have to say though, they contained a good amount of real crab meat, and the surfaces were well crisped. 

Lamb chops were so delicious and juicy in some spots that they had us gnawing on the bones.  Unfortunately there were also some dry bits on the meat pops, and the accompanying veggies were buttery but bland. 

Lastly we had the Frutti di Mare, a melange of seafood sans pasta (which distinguished it from the Seafood Pasta that was also on the menu).  I had no photo of this dish that was not so blurry that you couldn’t make out what was happening.  I don’t think I was drunk, so it must have been the first symptom of a food coma.  Because I just realized I didn’t even mention the wonderful bread and butter that I ate before anything else.  Man I love me some bread and butter.  Dang.  Anyhow, yes, the Frutti di Mare.  Eh.  It was not so great.  In fact, it was about as good as the photos I took of it.  Well…that’s probably unfair.  It wasn’t bad, just unnecessary.  It probably suffered from being the dish we ate at the very end of this long meal. 

I think Jimmie is an interesting addition to a neighborhood that doesn’t have a lot of fine dining options.  It seems though that it is doomed to cater mostly to patrons of the Cova hotel.  If the opportunity arose I might be interested in trying Jimmie out again, but it won’t be at the top of my list of places to revisit.

Jimmie Bar Ristorante

Their Yelp page

655 Ellis

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Ngoc Mai

Ngoc Mai is the sweetest little Vietnamese hole in the wall in the Tenderloin.  I was delighted by its cheerful exterior before I ever ate there. 

When I did finally sit down for a meal there I was equally delighted by the interior and the homey food.  It is such a tiny place, here’s a shot from the back corner table;

but they pack a lot of personality into the square footage.  Steve and I were there for lunch right before Christmas and there was tinsel everywhere in addition to their everyday decorations, like these guys.

Too cute.  Ngoc Mai is run by a family; mom cooks in a cubbyhole kitchen, the daughter waits on customers and dad runs the cash register and helps out with everything else.  We got tea

and a bowl of noodle soup and an iced coffee each.

Steve had some sort of combo noodle soup with pork and fish balls. 

After I took this photo he added enough rooster sauce to turn the soup a murky red.  Still, the deep flavor of the broth would not be overpowered by the spicy chiles.  Thin ribbons of slightly chewy rice noodles mingled with torn bits of herbs instead of clumping together at the bottom of the bowl.  It’s unfortunate for Steve that his soup was so good because I couldn’t stop stealing spoonfuls. 

My curry chicken noodle soup was a disappointment.  Doesn’t that bowl up there look like it should contain a flavor explosion?  Oddly enough, this soup was totally bland.  Even the onions weren’t providing any taste enhancement.  The broth was oddly thin and the thread-like rice noodles slipped down my throat nearly undetected.  With enough of the provided condiments I was able to make the soup a bit more enjoyable to eat, but this is definitely one of the few stinkers on the ngoc mai menu. 

So, though the curry soup was a flop, I count myself as one of ngoc mai’s biggest fans.  It’s one of my favorite places to recommend and one of my favorite comfy lunch spots.  So if you’re looking for an affordable homestyle place to eat some great pho or try some Vietnamese street food or very fresh stirfries, I’d say, bump Ngoc Mai to the top of your list. 

Ngoc Mai

Their Yelp page

547 Hyde St

Sing Sing Sandwich Shop

I was meeting friends for a long, late lunch on a Friday afternoon, which is just the perfect thing sometimes.  I was the first to show up so I lurked around outside the place taking a bunch of photos,

then I wandered off for a bit to check out another Vietnamese sandwich shop down the block.  When I got back Jessie was waiting outside, and soon after Sarah and Justin arrived and we headed inside. 

I liked the look of Sing Sing a lot, the red checkered table cloths, the towering plants,

and the flat screen tv showing some sort of Vietnamese karaoke extravaganza.

The place was totally empty when we were there, at least the front room; I think Jessie mentioned that he went into the backroom and there were some people doing some gambling.  That’s what Sing Sing is known for, according to Yelp anyway, indoor smoking and backroom gambling.  We probably missed out on this because we were there so late, that sort of stuff is more of a morning activity.  A few days ago when I walked by around 10 am on a Saturday there were guys just spilling out of the place. 

Anyway, we ordered at the counter from a guy who didn’t speak great English.  I am really terrible at communicating with people with accents or a poor grasp of my native tongue, which makes me feel really bad and racist but I try really hard, I do.  I’m just a little hard of hearing and not good with visual cues.  To be fair, I’m not so great at communicating with people who speak English as their first language who have no accent.  So.  There was a little confusion since Sarah and I had both read that they only serve one thing at Sing Sing, a combination Vietnamese sandwich, but when we tried to order just that we were told that they only had pork sandwiches that day.  So we ordered four pork sandwiches and four iced Vietnamese coffees.

The coffees were delicious and strong and refreshing, and we were also given a pot of hot tea which provided a nice contrast.  Jessie said something great about the flavor of the coffee (or was it the tea…) that was so great I had to write it down so I wouldn’t forget to put it in this post.  Of course, I’ve misplaced where I wrote it, but as soon as I find my notebook I’ll update it for you all to enjoy. 

The sandwiches came out and looked so beautiful I could hardly stop taking photos long enough to eat.

Before this it had been a while since I’d had a Vietnamese sandwich, so I don’t know if this was a particularly outstandingly delicious sandwich, or I just forgot how much I like them, but dang, it was good.  It was a masterful combination of textures.  Fresh, crusty bread, it cut the roof of my mouth of course but sometimes that’s the price you have to pay, with a soft inside.  Crunchy and cool pickled vegetables, tender roast pork, thinner cartiledge-ey slices of pork and a creaminess that didn’t taste overpoweringly of mayonnaise all melded together into perfection.  We were, again, a little confused since we’d been told that this wasn’t a combination sandwich, but it was similar to combination sandwiches I’d had in the past, with the different types of pig meat and what looked an awful lot like pate…

Maybe their combination is more than one type of meat?   My one beef with this sandwich was that it had pretty large slices of raw jalapeno, but it’s a pretty meaningless complaint because they are easy to pick off if you’re a wimp like me.  I should also note that I was the only one to take the jalapenos off my sandwich (after I ate one, thinking I could handle it but I totally couldn’t).  Like I said, I am a wimp. 

So Sing Sing sandwich shop, who knew?  For whatever reason this place is not mentioned in discussions of great Tenderloin Vietnamese sandwich shops, those in my experience are limited to Saigon Sandwiches and Baguette Express.   They are vastly more popular ( Saigon sandwiches has 1098 Yelp reviews and Baguette Express has 125, to Sing Sing’s 40), and I guess I would venture that it’s because they are on the less scary Larkin Street and they are both more obviously places to get food.  I mean, neither of them from the outside seem to just be a room full of plants.  And I have actually never been to either of those spots (I know, sacrilege) but I think it’s pretty safe to say that neither of them display their slices of pork in a refrigerated case like this

With a cherry on top. 

Sing Sing Sandwich Shop

309 Hyde Street

Their Yelp page

Vietnam Too

This is a story of Vietnam Too restaurant, but it’s not the same old story.  If this had been the story of any other of my visits to VT, it would go like this: the food was really good and surprisingly cheap and it came out fast and the servers were not going out of their ways to be nice but they seemed to tolerate me.  But that’s not the story this time.  I’m not sure why.  It could be because Steve and I sat at a table for maybe 10 minutes waiting for Bryan and Sarah to get there and we were asked maybe 3 times if we were ready to order and we said, no, we were waiting for a couple people.  Though, it would be pretty silly to be upset with us for that, since they have a large restaurant and it was largely empty and we did order beers.  Maybe it’s because once Bryan and Sarah got there, it still took us a little bit to order food.  Or maybe it’s because we ordered more food than could fit on our table.  I don’t know.  All I know is that it saddens me a little to be writing about the worst experience I’ve had at a restaurant I really like for this blog.

See, there we are enjoying our 33s while we wait, looking out on a mostly empty dining room.  Bryan and Sarah arrived shortly after I took this picture and we got down to figuring out the food sitch.

I like everything I’ve ever ordered at Vietnam Too, but mostly I’m interested in the banh hoi.  These are make your own spring rolls, you choose your protein and they bring out a dish of grilled meat, a plate of greens and sweet pickled veggie, a bowl of boiling hot water and a stack of dry rice paper wrappers.  It’s fun and tasty and I was way excited to try it again.  We ordered the BBQ prawns to share. 

Steve and I ordered the combination Won Ton soup for the two of us.  It was ok, but not my favorite thing ever because, you know, fish balls.  Yeah, it had fish balls in it, which I wasn’t expecting and didn’t really appreciate.  Otherwise it was fine, but disappointing in comparison to the other soups I’ve tried there (like Crab and Asparagus soup) which have been excellent.

Sarah ordered the green papaya salad for the table.  I don’t eat papaya salad that often but I always enjoy it when I do, and this was no exception.  There was a nice melding of sweet, tangy and salty and I liked the juicy crunchiness of the papaya.  My favorite part of this dish was the lightly fried prawns that dotted the top.  They evoked what popcorn shrimp could be if popcorn shrimp was routinely delicious.  Light and lacy outside, sweet and tender on the inside, they were a perfect complement to the vegetable part of the salad.

The banh hoi arrived, the lemongrass scented BBQ prawns on a bed of cellophane noodle that soaked up all the oil and juices the little crustaceans released.  The oddly textured things to the back left of the prawns in the above picture are the rice paper wrappers, and to the back right you see the lettuce, herbs (mint and basil), bean sprouts and pickled carrots and cucumbers you use to put your wrap together.  Some people like to put the lettuce inside the rice paper, i like to have the lettuce on the very outside of everything.  Whichever way is right, it’s all equally delicious.  Though, I have to say, I didn’t think the prawns were as delicious as the charbroiled pork I’d had here before.  They certainly couldn’t live up to the bodacious prawns from the papaya salad. 

Steve and I also ordered the pork kebab as, I guess, our main course.  Though I’m not sure why we thought we needed so much food.  By the time this dish came out, I was pretty full.  Still, I managed to cram a couple bites of pork into my overstuffed gullet.  It was flavorful and tender, with some charred and caramalized edges that I really liked, but it probably wasn’t the best choice for our one main dish, considering that it was just a big pile of meat on a plate.  I get a little antsy if I don’t see any vegetables.  But that’s neither here nor there I suppose, because it was still yummy.  We did get bowls of their very good brown rice to eat with the pork, and the smoky sweet meat went very well with the sweet and nutty rice.

This is where it starts to get kind of funny again.  Not funny ha ha, funny weird.  Bryan and Sarah had ordered their own main courses, each was getting a bowl of pho tai.  Well, our pork kebab had been on the table for several minutes, but still no big cauldrons of soup had arrived.  Bryan flagged the waiter down to ask about the pho, and the waiter said they’d be right out.  Now, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m something of a veteran noodle soup eater, so I have a pretty good handle on how long it takes a bowl of pho to get from kitchen to table, and it’s roughly between 30 seconds and 3 minutes.  I can’t remember a time, even in the busiest restaurants, when it took longer than that between my order and my receiving the soup.  I don’t recall exactly how much time had passed by the time B and S’s phos were set down in front of them (I’d had a few 33s by that hour) but my internal clock knew it was longer than it should have been.  Also, the soups were not accompanied by their standard herb and citrus accoutrement, though at this point our companions decided beggars can’t be choosers and just dug into their soggy noodles without condiments.  Also, the “rare” beef in the bowls was completely cooked through, perhaps suggesting that the bowls had been sitting in the kitchen ready to go for some time.  So the meal ended on something of a low note. 

All in all, this was an out of the ordinary meal at this establishment.  I am not pleased to report it here to you, since I am otherwise quite fond of the restaurant.  Overall the food was good, but nothing was particularly outstanding, and the service, which I feel isn’t their strong suit on a normal day, was strangely hostile.  I definitely do not want to dissuade you from trying Vietnam Too, it is a great place for affordable Vietnamese food that is a step or two above average.  I suppose I’d just recommend that you don’t get seated before your whole party has arrived…and that you don’t over order.  Good luck!

And hey, check out their cool fountain while you’re there!

Vietnam Too

701 Larkin St

Their Yelp Page

Hai Ky Mi Gia

I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned here before that I love soup.  Soup is my favorite thing to eat.  So Hai Ky Mi Gia is something of a Mecca for me.  A menu devoted 100% to soup…it’s like something out of a dream…

I know I’m a dilettante, I’m not interested in trying to make myself sound like I’m not.  Therefore, I’m not going to try to explain why the sign says “CHINESE CUISINE” but all the menu items are in Vietnamese.  I turned to Yelp because I’ve found that it can be helpful in these kinds of quandaries, often somebody knows the proprietors or someone recognizes their native cuisine and writes a review explaining the food in response to the multitudes of ignoramuses spouting nonsense in their reviews.  I didn’t find anything on Yelp but I also couldn’t get through the first page for this place.  Hopefully I’ll come off better in this post than the folks on Yelp.  Can I just say though, you don’t have “MSG poisoning” after your Chinese/Vietnamese/Japanese/Whatever meal.  You’re sleepy and thirsty afterwards?  Sounds like you just ate a shit-ton of salty carbs.  Which is generally what you do at these types of restaurants.  And if you want to get mad at me about it, you can read about MSG here, on wikipedia, which I believe goes straight from God’s lips to HTML.

Ok, ok sorry, that was pretty uncalled for.  Back to the business at hand.

The restaurant is rather small, with two narrow rooms crammed with tables.  There are a few two or four tops, but many of the seats are at long cafeteria style communal tables.  I’ve never eaten here and felt overly crowded or too close to my fellow diners.  They do a good job of spacing you out.  It has the kind of ambience that I like; cluttered and homey, but clean, lots of clatter and chatter, but not so much that you can’t have a conversation.  I know a lot of people don’t go for this, but it makes me feel comfortable.  Also, it’s warm and a little humid inside, which was certainly nice when I was there right in the middle of San Francisco’s cold snap. 

Hot tea is complimentary, but we also ordered coffees.  I got mine hot, Steve got iced.  I guess I never get hot coffee because I was totally flummoxed by the thermos of hot water that came with mine.  I was like, what do I do with this, dilute my coffee with it after it’s brewed?  Steve said I should pour it through the grounds again.  I ended up doing a combination of both.  I ended up with a good, very strong cup.

I was intrigued by #21 on the menu, Mi Sa Te, Satay Beef Egg noodle soup.  I had no idea what it was, I figured peanut sauce would factor in there somewhere.  When I ordered the waitress explained to me what it was without my asking, which was nice of her, even though I do like a surprise.

She described it as having some peanut sauce, and a little spicy.  I didn’t find it spicy at all, but that’s okay, that’s why they have sriracha on every table.  There was more than some peanut sauce, I had a bowl full of a thick peanut soup with slices of beef and some noodles floating around.  My first thought was of the peanut butter soups I’ve been served as dessert at Chinese restaurants and how Steve and I kid each other about them because we don’t especially care for them.  Luckily this was dissimilar to dessert soup in pretty much every respect.  I looooooved this dish.  First of all, I really liked that they put all the veggies and herbs in there for me, I love that stuff but if it comes to me on the side I am often too lazy/gluttonous to add it before I scarf my soup down.  I really enjoyed the green crunch in my muddy soup.  The peanut broth had a perfect balance of sweet and savory, and the thick grainy texture sounds unpleasant but was very nice and really familiar in a way I can’t quite place.  And when it started to get a little overwhelming, I had a bowl of clear broth on the side.  I was so glad I decided to try something new with this dish.  It’s one of my new favorite things, and I can’t wait to start trying to replicate it at home.

This is Steve’s boring old standard, #27, Mi Ga Dai, shredded free range chicken egg noodle soup.  This is before he added enough chili sauce to turn the whole thing a fiery red.  Not so boring after all I guess.  I kid though, Steve likes chicken soup, and I can’t argue with that.  They do it well at Hai Ky Mi Gia.  Steve and I both got hooked on this chili sauce they had on our table that I don’t remember from previous visits.  It was thicker than sriracha, and not as spicy or fruity, it was a lot saltier.  It was in an unmarked squeeze bottle, so I guess I can just hope it’s on my table again next time I’m there.  I probably ended up with about half the squeeze bottle in my bowl, it was a nice accompaniment to the peanuts. 

Hai Ky Mi Gia is exactly the kind of restaurant I like.  I really wish that I could convince everyone to go, but I know that it is exactly the type of restaurant that a lot of people hate.  The service is pleasant but brisk.  The food is delicious but simple.  The atmosphere is nil.  It’s in the dreaded Tenderloin.  Honestly, I can’t suggest that you make a special trip here if you don’t live in the neighborhood.  If you live in San Francisco, chances are you have a great noodle soup place not 10 minutes walk from your house, and that’s part of the joy of a place like this.  Wake up on Saturday morning, roll out of bed and pull on some clothes and in less than 15 minutes you’ve got your face in a steaming bowl of soup.  It doesn’t get much better than that. 

Hai Ky Mi Gia

707 Ellis

Their Yelp Page

Red Crawfish

The Red Crawfish sign confuses me.  I don’t understand how they chose which letters would be red and which would be black.  It doesn’t really matter, I just thought I’d mention it.  So, Red Crawfish!  It is right next door to Bodega Bistro.  I can’t remember if it was just a regular Vietnamese restaurant before they went all Bayou, I didn’t notice them until they changed their signage to advertise their buy 2 get 1 free special.  That’s buy 2 pounds of crawfish, get 1 pound free.  That’s what Steve and I got the first time we went there.  The crawfish came to our table in a big plastic bag; they were steaming hot and difficult to crack open.  We finally got shucking technique down but not without a good deal of hurting.  We both agreed the crawfish weren’t worth the work.  We wrote off Red Crawfish.  Then, I started reading reviews in the local papers.  And they were unequivocal RAVES.  People LOVED this place.  I’ve seen a lot of small neighborhood places like Red Crawfish open that I thought were really great that didn’t get covered in the media like this, so I figured maybe I’d gotten it wrong.  Steve was intrigued by shell on shrimp and garlic noodles and was game to give it another try. 

Things were different.  First off, the place was hopping.  We got one of the last tables that wasn’t reserved.  The menu was different as well,

Generally the same cuisine, but with a few additions.  We were planning on getting just shrimp, but we decided to go wild and get the Combo Special, which had crawfish, mussels and clams as well as shrimp.  We also ordered salt and pepper squid to start and garlic noodle to sop up the liquid from our seafood.  And of course, a tsing tao.

Because that’s how I roll.

Our squid came out first:

I love love love squid.   I love the texture, I love the taste, I like it fried, I like it braised, I like it raw.  I just really really like it.  It’s hard to disappoint me when it come to squid, I’m not picky about it, but I know when it’s good as opposed to OK and this squid was AMAXING.  That’s right, so amazing I had to spell it with an X.  Excellent crispy stuff, excellent tender squid.  It was accompanied by a  sauce that I was scared of at first glance (I thought it was going to be syrupy), but turned out to be well balanced between sweet salty and spicy.  Mmmm, it makes my mouth water to think of it. 

So we’re getting excited now, we’re thinking, maybe we got this place wrong, maybe it’s the best restaurant we’d unfortuitously written off, it’s jampacked full of people and it smells terrific, we’re filled with anticipation, we’re tying on our bibs…

Here it comes, this time we get a bowl instead of a plastic bag, which is heartening.  There’s a nice garlicky aroma wafting towards me, the dish looks impressive, I’m excited to try sucking the brains (or whatever) out of the shrimp heads.  I eat a clam; it’s good, well cooked and juicy.  I eat a mussel; it’s good, usually I don’t care too much for mussels but I can deal when they are prepared properly like this one was.  Finally I go for the hard stuff.  (FYI, that corn is for Steve, I do not eat that shit on the cob.) 

Thank goodness I’m wearing a bib.   Unpleasantly flavored blood colored stuff sprays all over the place as I wrestle with a crawfish.  I wasn’t sure if you were supposed to eat it…I think probably some people do, so I wanted to try it…I found it gross.  I finally tugged the single tiny morsel of meat this crawfish possessed out of its tail…wow.  So underwhelming.  Possibly even less enjoyable than on my first visit.  Next I tried the shrimp.  In my past experiences with whole shell on shrimp I’ve been successful in ripping the little legs off then pulling off the rest of the shell like a wee skeletal bathrobe.  These shrimp weren’t making it so easy on me.  The legs were not coming off clean and the shells were sticking to the flesh.  There was another thick, dark liquid coming from somewhere.  I finally got a clean bite and it was totally not worth my labor.  The flesh had an odd cornstarch like texture on the outside, and was extremely bland throughout.  I tried sucking…something out of the shrimp head but all I got was the sensation of trying to use a straw with a hole in it and a faint bitter taste.  Ugh.  I guess I made a mistake. 

I tried to make things better with the provided salt and pepper and lime wedges, but nothing doing.  I enjoyed the mussels and clams, but the strong garlic flavor started to get funky after a while.  Also not helping were the garlic noodles, which were gummy and an odd attempt at Vietnamese-Italian fusion, as they were topped with parmesan cheese.  Steve liked them and I might have enjoyed them too if I wasn’t already experiencing garlic overload, code red.

The aftermath.  It’s not pretty, is it?  I’m not averse to getting my hands dirty (I love BBQ ribs!) but this was a little ridiculous.  At the end of the day, I have to accept that this (this being steamed tiny crustaceans) is just not my thing.  I’m glad the place is doing well, I’m all for a diverse selection of restaurants, and I hope they stay open, but if they do it won’t be because of my patronage.  Sure, I was pretty impressed with their squid and have heard that some of their other Vietnamese dishes are tasty.  I just can’t imagine being that close to Bodega Bistro and choosing Red Crawfish instead.  Bodega Bistro is the superior restaurant on all fronts; food, service and ambiance.  So, that’s strike two Red Crawfish. 

Red Crawfish

611 Larkin

http://redcrawfishsf.com

Bodega Bistro

I’m like way into Vietnamese food.  I was way into Vietnamese food before I knew what Vietnamese food was.  When I was going to community college in Sacramento I used to go to a place called Bobo Cafe for lunch 2 or 3 times a week and get the bun with shrimp, pork and imperial roll.  I don’t know how I didn’t know it was Vietnamese.  I guess I just went in and thought, this is a different kind of food, and just ate it and enjoyed it.  Remember when you were young?  When you didn’t have to overanalyze every single thing you did?  Those were the days, huh?

Well, not so much, because you didn’t know about Bodega Bistro then, and that is a sad sad thing.  Bodega Bistro is your first stop in the area of the Tenderloin now known as Little Saigon (please don’t ask me to define Little Saigon because I have no idea.  Wikipedia says the two blocks of Larkin between O’Farrell and Eddy.  they should call it REAL Little Saigon, ha ha, thank you very much).  Bodega Bistro is something of an oddity, not only in the Tenderloin, but in terms of Vietnamese restaurants in general.  I imagine when you think of a Vietnamese place in San Francisco you think of the Pho slingers; tiny, cheap cafes with dirty formica tables.  Certainly nothing wrong with that, nothing wrong with that AT ALL.  But Bodega Bistro is different; I think the name might tip you off to that.  It’s a little classier, they serve LOBSTER here folks.  But even if you are a frequenter of the cheap eats spots I don’t think you’ll feel out of place at Bodega. 

Because, apart from being purple, the most striking thing about Bodega Bistro is how comfortable it is.  Part of it is the room itself; it’s open and airy and bright with natural light.  You’ll feel like you’re outside or in some lovely courtyard.  The other part is the service; they’re not fussy here, they’re warm and casual.  Sure, they’re bringing you some quality food, some of it a little pricey and some of it traditional “fine dining” fare, but they make you feel relaxed.  It’s a nice balance between “fancy restaurant being taken care of but be on your best behavior” and “dingy pho joint, the faster you eat and get out the better.”  You will want to linger here.  On to the food!

I’ve been to Bodega Bistro many times and I have my favorites (in case you’re wondering, my very favorite is I believe #18, the crab and tomato soup) but I wanted to try something different this time.  I ended up with #10, My Tho rice noodle, which I got with soup because I love soup.  I’m really glad I did because the broth was definitely the highlight.  It was like the best wonton soup broth you’ve ever tasted with the addition of a strong garlic flavor.  The noodles were good as well, thick gelatinous cellophane type noodles that I dipped into hoisin and sriracha sauces.  I also like the greenery, a frond of red leaf lettuce and chopped green onions, but the protein in the soup was kind of disappointing.  It’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed fish balls and fish cakes (I used to love them) and the ones in this soup weren’t changing my mind.  The squid was nicely textured but really really bland.  I had to dip it in the hoisin/sriracha mixture as well.  The shrimp were shrimp.  I’m pretty over shrimp.

Steve got a super delicious rendition of my old favorite from Bobo Cafe, #17, vermicelli with all the fixin’s; pork, shrimp and imperial roll.  I was kind of jealous.  The pork was insanely tasty, crispy on the edges and juicy and greasy (in a good way).  The noodles were perfect, light like a cloud and lightly oiled so each noodle was its own entity; no clumps here. 

Another of my favorite things ever, Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk.  I know you’re thinking “you’re supposed to get this with the little metal percolator thing on top of the glass and you wait forever for all the coffee to drip out and then you make a big mess taking it off and putting it on your napkin…”   Whatever.  It’s not what it looks like, which is that they have a big pitcher of stale iced coffee in the back and they pour you out a glass when you ask for it and mix it with half and half.  No, when we ordered the super nice waiter told us it would be 10 minutes for the coffee.  And when it came out it tasted exceedingly fresh and strong, all of which tells me that they do the little percolator for you in the back.  Which is fine with me.  The point is, this stuff is good like crack.  I have a feeling I could put a few of these away if it didn’t take so long to get it.

This is the thing about Bodega Bistro.  Everything is super high quality, everything is obviously made by someone who cares about what they’re doing.  For this, you’re going to pay a little bit more than what you’d normally pay for Vietnamese food.  But it’s worth it dudes.  Totally worth it.

In terms of scariness;

While the restaurant is right across the street from one of the skeezier blocks in the TL (Larkin between Eddy and Turk on the west side doesn’t have any apartment entraces or storefronts, the whole block is a wall that hides the Phoenix Hotel’s parking lot, this makes it an ideal spot for shady people to do nefarious things), this is not such a bad neighborhood because it is full of Vietnamese families doing their thing.  And their thing is going to Lee’s Sandwiches and getting boba and playing with their kids on the sidewalk and shit like that.  So yeah, it smells horrible outside, like it does in most of the Tenderloin, but you’re not going to get hasseled.  Unless you try to mess with some of the Vietnamese youth throwing the N-word around like they invented it.  Because nobody likes getting messed with, fool.

So, in summary:  not such a crummy area, completely delightful dining space, high quality food made totally delicious for an eensy bit more than you’d normally spend at a Vietnamese place.  I think you’ll love it.

Bodega Bistro

607 Larkin St

http://bodegabistrosf.com

Golden Era

Have you heard of Supreme Master?  A few things you should know about her:  she loves animals, she hates alcohol and she is super rich and she built a manmade island off the coast of Florida to live on but it was seized because that is pretty illegal I guess.  Probably the most important thing you should know about her is that she’s used her clout as (basically) a cult leader to have a number of vegetarian Vietnamese restaurants opened.  I know of three in the bay area, Golden Lotus in Oakland and the Loving Hut in SF Chinatown and Golden Era in the TL.  I’d been to Golden Lotus and Loving Hut and liked both of those places because I like vegetables and I like Vietnamese food.  For some reason I had delayed going to Golden Era (which is especially weird because I had been to Golden Lotus twice and it’s in Oakland!).  Actually, I know the reason, it’s because they don’t deliver, and I am pretty delivery-centric when it comes to eating by myself.  Because I’m lazy. 

So, my old friends Lal and Zander were coming back to the bay from Colorado for a visit and invited me to a dinner at Golden Era.  I was like, fux yeah!  It is so on…and so last night I walked down the hill to O’Farrell street…turns out O’Farrell is not that nice.  For some reason I had convinced myself that the block between Leavenworth and Jones would be a fine place to live;  I think because it has a lot of trees.  However, in this case, more trees equals more shit on the sidewalk.  For the most part though, the walkway was clear of people, and I would rather deal with skidmarked pavement than hordes of bums.  Not the best trade off, but pretty fair.  Golden Era deals with the problem of unpleasant surroundings by having a sunken dining room.  Nice.  There are no windows to look out of to see the dirty dirty streets and you are far enough away from the door that the aroma of urine cannot make it’s way to you whenever another patron enters.  Good show Golden Era.

Enough about the scenery, lets talk food:

Hello, this is a spring roll.  Yes, this is after I had already massacred the majority of the roll.  Sorry for the peanut sauce carnage.  This roll was pretty good, the rice paper was pleasanty chewy and smooth, and it was nice and cold, but there was something odd and gritty/grainy in the filling that I couldn’t figure out.  I suppose it could have been ground peanuts, but it didn’t have much flavor.  Still, it didn’t take too much away from the lovely greens and tofu alongside it. 

Entrees.  Let’s take these clockwise from the left shall we?  First, my order, the House Rice Claypot.  O M G.  So good you guys.  I guess I should tell you that I am an absolute fiend for rice, so take that as you will.  This was one of the most delicious things I’ve eaten in some time.  Slighty oily (but not at all greasy) rice, crisp and nutty where it touched the clay pot, topped with shreds of tofu and fake chicken and black fungus and ginger…I loved it.  I really really loved it.  I wish I were eating it right now.  I ate about a quarter of it at the restaurant, took the rest home, and scarfed down the contents of the doggy bag about an hour later.  It hit all the right notes, slightly sweet, perfectly salty, chewy and steamy…if you go to Golden Era you must get this.  Or if you go to any of the other Supreme Master restaurants, as it seems they have the same menus.  Which leads to the next entree, spicy yellow curry with “chicken” and potatoes, a dish I’d eaten previously at Golden Lotus.  This is a pretty good dish.  I didn’t enjoy it as much as when I had it before, this time it was a little spicier and the fake chicken wasn’t as tasty.  Still , this was a satisfying dish at Golden Era.  It’s hard to go wrong with potatoes and yellow curry.  The deficit was definitely the protein, which was also what I had a problem with in the final dish, the Caramelized Chicken.  I’m a big fan of the Vietnamese caramelized dishes, and the sauce on the fake chicken did not disappoint.  It was sweet without being cloying, and I liked how they served the hot “chicken” on top of fresh spinach, causing the spinach to wilt and absorb the sauce, basically creating a second dish.  Two for one, score!  The issue was the fake chicken, and it’s not that it wasn’t tasty.  I am a fan of vegetarian “meats,” I generally like the texture and flavor because they are so unusual.  The flavor of the fake chicken at Golden Era did not disappoint, it was the texture.  Instead of being slightly springy and nicely chewy, I found it to be a tad bit rubbery and weirdly leathery on the outside.  I don’t know much about cooking with TVP or whatever this stuff is, so I don’t know what could cause these issues, but I wouldn’t call them deal breakers.  The food is still pretty delicious.  My one big regret from my meal is that I forgot about dessert.  I am always excited to try vegan sweets because I have found them to generally be insanely rich and indulgent.  Golden Era offers several varieties of vegan cakes, so I guess I’ll have to go back to try them.

And I will definitely be back.  The prices are pretty standard for a Vietnamese place, though some of the “specialty” dishes can border on too rich for my blood (that means more than 10 bucks), but one entree is really enough for two people.  So, if you’re super broke, just get some rice and share and you can eat like kings for about 6 bucks a person.  One thing to note, Golden Era does not serve alcohol (Remember?  Supreme Master is not in to it) so if that’s a problem for you, get your food to-go.  Although, in a weird bid to save the world, they ask you to bring your own to-go containers.  I’m not sure how strictly that’s enforced (since they did give me a paper box for my leftovers) but it may be something to keep in mind.  So, to sum up; very tasty veg food, kind of yucky neighborhood that is nevertheless well populated with normals, reasonable to moderate prices, haute-cult dining.

Golden Era

572 O’Farrell St

www.goldeneravegetarian.com