Monday, May 27, 2013

Nick's Crispy Tacos. Don't Bike There.


NIck's Crispy Tacos is a well established taco institution in San Francisco. And for the longest time I couldn't really take them seriously. C'mon: it resides inside of a club. And with a name like Nick's, I just assumed some sort of abomination by some burned out surfer with one too many boozed out trips to Baja and visits to Sammy Hagar's Cabo Wabo. I was wrong of course. It just took a few years to see the error of my ways.

After a cruise up the very dangerous polk street yesterday, my companion suggested a stop at Nick's. Two Baja style tacos arrived and impressive they were. Perfectly batter fried white fish, green and purple cabbage, all topped with creamy and slightly spicy sauce. A few squirts of lime and I almost forgot that I was in the Marina. Almost. (Or is it Cow Hollow?)  My only complaint was that the tortillas were shown no love at all. I don't think they even touched a comal. Had they even briefly touched a seasoned grill these tacos would have been an A-plus. 

IMG_4977

After ordering I noticed a sign begging patrons to save parking on Polk Street. In other words, Nick's was one of the local businesses fighting proposed improvements to Polk Street. Polk street is something of a cluster fuck at the moment. It is the only north south corridor for people biking in the neighborhood. And cycling is exploding in this city. Unfortunately, so are the accidents. Needless to say, the city is working on improvements to main thoroughfares in order to ensure the safety of those not behind the wheel. However, a few of very vocal business owners are doing their best to stop SFMTA improvements on Polk to make it safer for cyclists and pedestrians. These business owners, including Nick's very own Howard Schindler seem to be stuck in the 1970s in their vision of transit. Even though a full 80 percent of people visiting Polk street arrive on foot, Bike, or transit, their main interest appears to be to save a few parking spots.

After finishing our meal and starting up Polk street, only a few blocks from Nick's, a driver kicked open his door nearly striking my companion in a manner nearly identical to the way I was doored back in 2009. A few blocks later another car nearly caused another accident. This time, a car almost turned into a cyclist in a move that could be chalked up to blindness, drunkenness, or simple negligence. It didn't need to happen. Mind you, I've seen cyclists behave in the same way, but this whole situation can be avoided with streets that serve everybody's needs. See San Francisco Bicycle Coalition's information about Polk street here.

Others don't see a problem here and they are certainly entitled to their opinion. But I'll be taking my business to places that care about my safety and well being. Good luck in the 20th century guys.

Nick's Crispy Tacos
http://www.nickscrispytaco.com
1500 Broadway San Francisco, CA 94109
(415) 409-8226

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Pizza-a-Day

How was your January this year? Mine was busy. I ate a lot of pizza.
IMG_3486
Pizza. It has long been a daunting task for me. So daunting that I simply didn't approach it. I let others take the lead. And usually that was good enough. You see, I am more or less in the camp that thinks you should do something well or not at all. I don't own an oven that goes up to 800 degrees, and have long found most homemade pizza to be so subpar and depressing that it kept me away.

Some people swear by pizza stones. I'm ignorant. Of the two pizza stones in my house, one has broken into many pieces and the other simply doesn't fit into the oven. The door doesn't close and you have what is essentially a rock sticking out of a rather inefficient heater. What I do have, and any self respecting cook should as well, is a cast iron skillet. I use it for everything and so should you. I can't stress this enough. So a couple months ago I got to thinking, is there another work around for making pizza at home that doesn't require a fancy oven or specialty equipment? The answer is yes. 

Most of the method I employed is covered in this article here. But here's the quick and dirty: Turm on your broiler. Heat a cast iron skillet on your oven until you think it might catch fire. Assemble your pizza, slide it into red hot skillet, and then into the oven for a few minutes. That's it. Enjoy your pizza. The end.

Here is a simple pizza of sauce, parmesan, and blue cheese on the peel. A floured wood cutting board works great too.
IMG_3475

Here's the pizza in the pan right after being slid off the peel and into the skillet.
IMG_3476

And here it is a few minutes later.

IMG_3477

I'm still a couple papers away from my MA in linguistics. Instead of making papers in January I made pizzas everyday. I am a moron but also I am a better pizza cook. If anything can be learned from this, it is that learning a skill takes time. Putting your energies into something once or twice might lead to decent results. But doing something day in, day out just might make you an expert. Do I make perfect pizzas? Hello no. Can I make these pizzas in my sleep? Yes I can. I still have a lot of things to improve upon. Getting comfortable with the ingredients and methods is the step that must be overcome before you can actually have some control. Before then you might just be getting lucky.
IMG_3603

Some of the "best" food I've ever eaten (can I really say such a thing?) has often been made by folks who have been making a particular dish for years. For decades even. Their techniques have developed from a deep understanding of the ingredients, techniques, and results. In many ways this project was inspired from artisan bakers, noodle vendors, and taco sellers I have been blown away by over the years across the globe. No, I'm not in the same league nor will I ever be, but making the same thing each and every day has lead me to have an even deeper appreciation for those who spend years of their life making one thing each and every day of their work week.

If you have some time to spare and a desire to make pizza on your own, here's my basic dough recipe straight outta the Cheese Board recipe book. 

Here it is without much elaboration:

1 tablespoon of yeast
1.5 cups of water
1.5 teaspoon of salt
2 tablespoons of olive oil
3.5 cups of flour

Over the course of the month I experimented with different combinations of flour. I found that two cups of white bread flour and a cup and a half of whole wheat made the best crust. But then again, I'm still experimenting. You should too.
IMG_3521
Get baking.

And for those of you who only care about the pictures, here's the slideshow of pizzas from the month:

Friday, September 21, 2012

Yamo

Today I want to talk about Yamo, one of my very favorite restaurants in San Francisco. Yamo is a long standing Burmese joint in San Francisco's mission. It's not a secret by any means and it's always got a line. And Sometimes that wait is intolerable.

What brings me back over and over again is the small seating area, which only seats about twelve, that places you right in the kitchen. This sense of immediacy is one of the more exhilarating things really. you see and hear metal utensils smack against the wok, see flames jump as oil is added, hear indecipherable words, phrases and cackles from the older ladies who work their butts off in this tiny space. There are no frills, and the atmosphere is simply the well worn kitchen and seating area. There's nothing you don't need in this place save for the food.

So, how is the food? It's pretty good! I mostly ignore the stir fry dishes, as they just seem to be retreads of well known Chinese dishes. However, a few things are worth a try. On my most recent visit, we started with the tea leaf salad.

IMG_9335
It's a great mix of fermented, fishy, salty, and crunchy. It's small, but so is the price.
IMG_9339
My companion tore into the ever popular house noodles. It looked and tasted nice enough.

Just about every visit though, I get the poorly named "Chicken Noodle Soup."
IMG_9341
If it isn't obvious from the picture, it's a bowl of coconut curry noodles, topped with shallots and cilantro. For me it's an ultimate comfort food. It never ceases to excite my taste buds and satisfy a certain craving.
IMG_6378.jpg

Don't let me overstate here dear reader. This isn't a place to take a group, or get a fancy or even exceptionally authentic Burmese meal. It's really the charm of the experience that keeps me coming back. If you were to look up 'hole in the wall' in the dictionary there would be a picture of Yamo next to the definition. For me, Yamo is one of the closest experiences in America to eating at a noodle stall in the street or in an alley somewhere in Asia. What you get is simple, fresh, and cheap food. It always puts a smile on my face.

Yamo
3406 18th St
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 553-8911