Why natives are reluctant to leave San Francisco

There are a few times of the year when San Francisco is nice and quality of life is almost tolerable. One is the beginning of Indian Summer, when the kids are back to school, the hipsters are at Burning Man and it’s Labor Day. These three things converge and suddenly, traffic isn’t as bad, hunting for a parking space takes several minutes instead of half an hour and most importantly, the sun finally comes out and it’s gorgeous outside.

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San Francisco summer is underneath that fogbank from May to August.

The second is Christmas Day, when all the carpetbaggers go back to where they came from and The City feels almost at peace. Of course, we will be chatting about the former since it’s September now.

I met some friends for Sunday Brunch at Original Joe’s in North Beach after the first GOP debate.

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This is the sign from their original location on Taylor and Golden Gate, deep in the ‘Loin

It was a pleasant meal, with selections off their brunch menu and a split decision on who “won” the first debate. That’s the point of having a primary election, isn’t it?

In an old school San Francisco place, every meal begins with fresh baked sourdough and butter. As it should be.

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Fresh sourdough demands butter. Not olive oil. BUTTER.

Two of us had crab and two of us had salad. I will admit, one of the salads looked damn good.

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Maybe they should call this Crab with a side of greens.

The other salad was a Cobb and it looked good too. Just not DAMN good.

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It’s pretty. Pretty good!

I went for the Crab Benedict. It was good, nice and crabby and the hollandaise was excellent. The potatoes were also excellent and fresh fried. Hot inside and seasoned perfectly.

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A well balanced meal. With crab. Next time, I’m getting the Crab “Salad”. More crab.

So about that debate. One liked Ramaswarmy with his energy, his outsider status and his addressing issues that most Americans care about. He showed he could roll with the punches and punch back. Another liked Haley with her expertise in foreign policy. I disagreed with her analysis on why America should continue drowning Zelensky with taxpayer dollars. The third liked Burgum because he was middle of the road. Meh. Then we finished eating and headed out, still friends. This is the way.

It’s this sort of Sunday afternoon with good food and good friends in North Beach that diaspora from San Francisco pine for.

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Washington Square on a pleasant Sunday afternoon with St. Peter & Paul’s towering above.

Original Joe’s
601 Union Street (@ Stockton)
San Francisco

Return to Singapore (after 4 long years)

It’s been a long time since I’ve had a Kaya Toast set and genuinely good Hainan Chicken Rice. The last time I did was back in 2019 which was my last visit before the Plandemic.

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Some things don’t change like a Singapore River cruise.

We decided to do something I’ve not done before in Singapore. B suggested something that involved the outdoors and marching, erm, “hiking”. In 90 degree heat with humidity. We visited Pulau Ubin which is a National Park and an island that requires a bumboat to get to from Changi Village.

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The view from the top of a mountain. I’m pretty sure that’s Malaysia out there.
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Land Rover Defender, complete with snorkel for fording water.
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We had fun with the girls who took our photo.

It’s a big park with the old kampung lifestyle, trails and campgrounds. Also meh cell coverage and nowhere worthy to eat. We went there early in the AM and returned to Changi Village for hawker stall lunch.

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Boneless Hainan Chicken Rice, the main course.
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with the supporting cast…

More food forthwith!

What to watch out for at Ben’s Chili Bowl

I was in DC for a few days last month, playing tourist and freezing my butt off (it was REALLY cold). The last time I was in DC was in January 2001 and some things have changed. The area around Ben’s back then was a bit rough. Not anymore. It’s been gentrified along with much of DC. Thankfully, Ben’s hasn’t changed.

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Same as it ever was.

As befitting a place with the words “chili bowl” in the name, Ben’s makes pretty much everything with chili on it. Chili burgers, chili fries, chili hot dogs/half smokes. If they ever made a salad, I’d expect it with chili on top as a dressing. I wouldn’t eat it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a Ben’s salad did have chili.

I took a friend there for her first visit and we ordered a lot “to share”.

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Chili fries to share
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Chili Con Carne to share
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A Chili Half Smoke (one for each of us)
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The griddle at the front where all that half smoke and porky goodness comes from

What you need to watch out for is everything with chili (for sharing) disappearing when you walk over to get beverages and your companion is sitting there with a sheepish look on her face. Your chili is NOT safe!! Lesson learned: eat chili first, worry about beverages later.

Ben’s Chili Bowl
1213 U Street NW
Washington DC 20009

Momosan Santana Row: I queued, I ate, I paid

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This mural takes up the back wall

I will admit, I am not a trendy person. I don’t usually go out to do the latest trendy thing. It takes a lot of effort on my part and requires queuing, which I suck at. If anything, I wind up being ahead of the trend (such as blogging about ramen back in 2002, flashpacking before the term was invented, etc) or trying to desperately ignore it. Pumpkin spice anyone? IGNORE

So Chef Morimoto (of Iron Chef fame) opened up a branch of his ramen/casual dining restaurant Momosan in San Jose a couple of weeks back. Momosan also has locations in NYC and Waikiki. The other night, I decided to drive down to try the place out with a friend who lives down there.

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The decor inside is modern, minimalist and woody. Kinda trendy and a full house

The rule about new trendy spots that open is to try the place on a weeknight. Actually, the rule is to go to any place that’s popular on a weeknight. The queues shouldn’t be as bad as the weekends. This is true according to the manager there. He also told me that the queue for the night I was there began at 16:00, an hour before they opened and was 40+ by opening time.

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This was about 30 minutes. Note: Line died down around 19:30 on Thursday night.

When you enter, the staff greets you with a hearty ”irasshaimase!!” as you’re seated. Even though the servers are new at the ramen game, service was friendly, fun and prompt.

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Next: Food!!

Look at the menu here. The going price of a bowl was US$19.00, a little higher than the norm over here of US$14-15 for a bowl. The jaw dropping bowls were US$29.00, one called the All-Star which was basically meat with some noodles and broth tossed in and the other one, the Gyukotsu which reads like short rib ramen. The latter is limited to 30 bowls a night and the manager told me that it sells out within the first hour. My friend got the All-Star and I got the traditional Tonkotsu.

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Popcorn Shrimp. Not like the typical with the fried batter

But first, appetizers! Two easy ones, the duck fat fries with truffle ketchup and the popcorn shrimp (tempura battered with kojuchang aioli). Both hot and fresh and delish!

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Fries came out hot hot and the ketchup was great

Now the main course. Right off the bat, I love the presentation. And you’ll notice the bowls here fall under the ”least amount of toppings” category so there’s something really good here.

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Tonkotsu Ramen with that ajitama tamago

The noodles were thicker than my preferred Hakata style but not as thick as Hokkaido ramen noodles. A nice middle of the road Tokyo noodle I’d call it. The noodles were fine. The broth had the tonkotsu umami and savoryness but not as heavy or as fatty as traditional tonkotsu. That means that you can indulge and you don’t feel like you have to be rolled out of the restaurant. I liked the broth a lot. I finished it.

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There’s some chasiu for you

The chasiu was different. Instead of the typical slices of chasiu, this looks like they put it in a slicer. They were thin cuts of chasiu, rolled up. When you picked it up with hashi, it looked like slices of bacon. It was good! And also wasn’t too heavy. Was this a diet bowl of ramen I had? Perhaps.

My friend devoured the All-Star before I could get better pix of that. He did let me steal a piece of the pork belly that came with his bowl. The fat was melt in your mouth delish and the meat was almost melt in your mouth too. Yum. Next visit may try that if the gyukotsu is sold out again.

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The All-Star, with pork belly, chasiu and chicken

Momosan Santana Row
378 Santana Row, Suite 1130
San Jose, CA 95128

Proposition Chicken; I Vote YES!!

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Now this is a Proposition I can totally get behind. My name is Rodney and I approved this message…

I’ve passed Proposition Chicken many times going to and from Downtown. I never thought much about the place, thinking it was just another overpriced meh place in Laurel Village.

Then two things happened:

1: They opened a location in SFO, at the Terminal 3 Food Court
(across from the big United Club)
2: I happened to be in Laurel Village for an appointment.

So off I went for lunch.

I’m glad I went. The food was damn good. Now as the name of the resturant implies, they serve chicken. Well almost. They serve three kinds of chicken, Fried (the BEST), Flipped (rotisserie) and Fake (tofu).

Regarding that last choice, this IS San Francisco and they have to cater to those types here.

Your chicken (or soy product) can be had three ways, as a sando, a salad or an entree. The real chicken entrees deserves special mention in that it’s HALF a chicken with biscuit and salad. Too big for lunch today. They also have varied chicken wings and a lot of sides.

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The menu is on the wall as you walk in. This reminder is on the way to the bathroom

I ordered the Fried Chicken Sando with a side of the Garlic Thyme Potato Wedges. The sando was excellent. It has the right amount of dressing, the chicken was moist and crispy and the roll was almost Dutch Crunchy.

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The fried chicken sando is a good size for sharing or eating it all yourself

I will save my swoon for the Wedges. Crispy crust on the outside and when you bite into it, hot and almost creamy potato in the middle. I ate at the restaurant so my food came directly from the kitchen (I was sitting next to it). Because of that, fries demanded a fork and three bites to finish, lest I burn my tongue.

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Look at that crust!
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Plating is important.

Another thing I learned about this place is that they are open to 21:00. Places that are open past 20:00 are becoming a rarity in San Francisco so this is a find!

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Neon Chickens

Nice to find a chicken place nearby that doesn’t start with a K (FC) or that I don’t have to take a road trip for (CFA). I’ll update when I have the half a chicken and Matzo Ball soup.

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I forgot to mention that all of their sauces and dressings are made in house

Proposition Chicken
3465 California Street, Laurel Village
San Francisco, CA 94118

It’s Labor Day today

Summertime is bookended by Memorial Day and Labor Day. Everyone tries to go on vacation, airfares and hotels have ridiculous prices and gas prices traditionally spike. This year, even worse. But it’s nice on Labor Day because all the idiots leave The City for Burning Man. Lots of Labor Day parties, despite inflation. And opportunities for rooftop views of a peaceful and empty Civic Center.

Empty City Hall and Civic Center from the roof of 150 Van Ness. Taken with a GR Digital

San Francisco Chinatown: Recent happenings and the hunt for 牛腩馄饨面

It’s common knowledge that San Francisco Chinatown has been slowly dying over the past few decades or so. The need to go to San Francisco and brave the traffic, lack of parking, crime, drug addicts and purposely homeless is no longer there. It started in the 70s and continued with the migration of the Second Generation to the Richmond and Sunset districts and their New Chinatowns. The Chinatown dispora continued to move to other parts of The City and eventually down the Peninsula and to the East Bay. Then Loma Prieta hit. Chinatown was cut off from the Bay Bridge by the destruction of the 480. As a result, Oakland Chinatown thrived at the expense of SF Chinatown. Things that you could only get in SF Chinatown, such as good food or Chinese groceries you can get in most parts of The City and the Bay Area now.

Then Wuhan Virus hit. And “our leaders” in Silly Hall and Sacratomato went overboard with their power trip, ordering businesses closed while continuing to demand full taxes from them. Many old school institutions in SF Chinatown such as the Empress of China, New Asia and Four Seas and even more restaurants and businesses, such as the small places that make noodles and quick food closed too.

SF Chinatown isn’t dead yet, despite San Francisco’s efforts to kill it. Since Wuhan Virus and the attacks on Asian seniors in San Francisco that led to the recall of Chesa Boudin, Chinatown has been experiencing a renaissance of sorts. New places have opened and old places have reopened and/or expanded. More people are attending events such as last weekend’s early Harvest Moon Festival. It’s as the attacks and virus has revived interest in Chinatown and being Chinese.

As I’ve whined about on this blog before, it’s been difficult to find a proper bowl of Hong Kong style Beef Stew Wonton Mein (牛腩馄饨面) in San Francisco. . There have been great places in the past, such as Won Ton King, formerly on Irving at 21st Avenue that made proper prawn won tons and noodles kneaded with the bamboo pole. Emphasis on “formerly”. Many of the shops that made decent WTM have either changed ownership or have closed outright. If you want a good bowl of won ton mein after 19:00, you have to drive to Hing Lung in San Bruno (north of Tanforan). If you’re around for lunch or early dinner, I have two restaurants here for your consideration in Chinatown.

Yin Du Wonton Noodle has been, according to my friends in the know, the best won ton mein in Chinatown for a while now. It even got a recommendation from the local “newspaper”.

They’re on Pacific near Grant Avenue, next door to the infamous Hollywood Bakery (daan taat anyone?)
Newly reopened after a remodel brought on by a burst pipe in the ceiling. Please note the auntie in the middle of the photo. She’s making won tons.

I went with my friend who brought his GF and her son and had an early dinner. He raved about the ngau nam and how it was tender, flavorful (fatty) and almost perfect.

Dry Ngau Nam Wonton Mein
Two bowls of the same, in soup

You can order ngau nam won ton mein dry here. I didn’t know that. My experience with dry won ton mein comes from ordering the dish in Singapore and Malaysia where it’s served on a plate with a small bowl to dip the noodles in (In Penang, there are many great shops that does both dry and soup versions). I ordered the traditional soup and he ordered it dry. It looks damn good in food porn about and tasted even better. The beef was indeed full of flavor and really tender. The noodles weren’t al dente; they didn’t have that “snap” when you bite into them, but they were still good. The wontons had a decent amount of prawn in them and were good too. We all arrived at 17:00 and they had to kick us out at 19:30 because they wanted to go home (they close at 19:00) and we spent too much time talking about nonsense.

One of the Wuhan Virus victims in Chinatown was the Washington Bakery. They had baked goods and decent wonton. They closed due to the lockdowns, the government and because of some family drama, which I will not go into. The space was taken over by Hon’s Wun-Tun, a small unassuming shop on Kearny and Clay that has been there since 1972 that makes wonton soups.

From their website, their original shop is unassuming and has no parking
Chinatown, San Francisco
Much like Hong Kong shops, the kitchen is in front where they sling bowls of wontons and noodles so you can eat in the back (Photo: Dave Glass via Flickr)

One block over and half a block up, Hon’s on Washington Street has an expanded menu and a more upscale vibe.

Inside, it was well ventilated, about three times bigger than the old place and very swish
You can see the chefs making dumplings and wonton from the sidewalk

As is the current trend, you can scan the QR code, order and pay from your iPhone (or ‘droid if that’s what you use). Regular ordering via paper menus and a server are available.

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When you’re seated, you get a paper menu, utensils and tea

Prior to going to Yin Du, we went here the week before to try it out. We ordered a plate of gai lan to start and when it arrived, I thought they got the order wrong. My friend figured they sliced it as well as chopped it. That makes it easier to eat. He was right because normally gai lan is just chopped with oyster sauce on top. It’s kind of like trying to eat a telephone pole because it’s so thick and it does take a lot of effort to bite through it. In that case, I ask for a fork and knife.

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Gai Lan usually is presented like this. Cooking instructions here.

Hon’s gai lan. It was easier to eat.

You can chop gai lan both ways.
Hon’s Ngau Nam wonton mein

I liked the noodles, they had the proper “snap” to them as well as being al dente. The broth was fish based, as is the norm for practically all the places I’ve been to in Hong Kong. There was some controversy here since my friend has never had wonton mein in Hong Kong and his first reaction was:

Eww, that’s fishy!

I’ve never really paid that much attention to the broth other than its consistency. But after he went on about never having broth here that was “fishy”, he had a point. Many places, if not all places here either do a light broth or some broth with the ngau nam gravy mixed in to make it more savory. So I will concede his point.

The beef was a different matter. Either by choice or not, the beef was on the lean side. Chewy. It wasn’t stewed long enough so it had that “falls apart when picked up by chopsticks” consistency. And the other thing about lean beef is that it is lacking in flavor, cos it’s lean beef (filet mignon not included). It was solid, but not yum. The wontons are made in house and they were good too. Good but not fantastical. There was more pork than prawns in the wontons. And the prawns were chopped small and I believe they were frozen.

Hon’s on Washington Street (pinched from Yelp review, link below)

I will give Hon’s on Washington Street the benefit of the doubt, since we went there during their soft opening. When they have their grand opening, we will do a return visit, because you don’t really need a reason for having ngau nam wonton mein, right?

Yin Du Wonton Noodle
648 Pacific Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94108

Hon’s Wun-Tun Washington Street
733 Washington Street
San Francisco, CA 94108

Both restaurants close at 19:00 and Yin Du only takes cash. Hon’s takes Apple Pay and credit cards in addition to cash.

Stacks! More than the infamous Bacon Waffle

The other day, I met a friend in Burlingame for lunch before we went to pick up her new car. Since this would take much of the day, she treated for lunch. I don’t have to explain what I ordered.

Crispy AND hot and juicy inside! On the left is whipped butter for the waffle and country gravy for the chicken. Maple syrup is out of shot.
I mean, just look at that! I finished it all.

Stacks is a breakfast/brunch spot in downtown Burlingame. It’s extremely popular on the weekends and it’s a bit of a scene with lots of nice cars driving around. One of their specialities (and my usual go to) is their Bacon Waffle. It’s a large waffle like in the photo, except it has crumbled up bacon in the batter. It’s really good and AFAIK, the only place around here that makes it. I recommend the Bacon Waffle and/or the Fried Chicken and Waffle.

361 California Avenue
Burlingame, CA 94010