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.

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It's a great mix of fermented, fishy, salty, and crunchy. It's small, but so is the price.
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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."
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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.
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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

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

One Last Cup

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This afternoon I finally broke down and cooked up the very last of my Oaxacan chocolate. I was hoping to save it for some special occasion but then realized that no occasion would ever present itself and to continue hoarding this treasure would continue either until I forgot about it entirely or it became ingested by some vermin. So in between some tasks which are unmemorable and thus unmentionable, I heated it on the stove top. I made it foamy not with the traditional wooden implement seen
here, but with a milk frother bought a couple of years ago at Ikea. Modern times!

As with food and drink consumed away from its place of birth, something wasn't quite right, but then again nothing ever is. Today I wasn't feeling the overwhelming sense of melancholy I felt during previous moments of consumption and I suppose that's a good thing. If you're anything like me dear reader, food and drink is not merely about the moment at which it is consumed, but also reminiscent of the previous times and places gone by. These are too numerous and weighty to broach in this medium but i will say that nothing else tastes quite like a fresh, hot, foamy cup of Oaxacan hot chocolate. Until we meet again...
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Monday, July 9, 2012

A Word On Freshness: Tortillas and Quesadillas

A conversation over dinner some nights ago hit upon the age old question of how food can taste so good in certain parts of the world. Countless meals eaten in the most random places can be so revelatory. The topic was Italy, a country for which I have no experience, but my addition to the conversation was a simply about the issue of freshness. Is it that simple?

All too often living in a cosmopolitan city we get cocky and begin thinking that simply because we have the immigrants, the available import markets and produce, and in the Bay Area the climate, we can produce anything our hearts desire. This might be so in some circumstances, but by and large it is always incredibly difficult o reproduce here what is so commonplace elsewhere. Which brings me to tortillas.

Last summer while making Mole Negro with my Zapotec consultant, a part of the process involved going to the molinero to grind up our ingredients into the curry paste we had spent a smoke filled morning making. While our mole went through the large grinding machine, a small old woman came in with her treated hominy, the raw ingredient for masa which produces tortillas. She carried only a small bucket which she must have only have been processing for home use. After paying the owner for use of the machines, she fed her ingredients through. She was soon on her way and I wish I could have followed her.
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Likely the masa seen above went straight into fresh tortillas. The best tortillas you will ever (not) have.

At the place where I ate my meals during the week, they sometimes did things the old fashioned way, using a stone metate. 
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This time consuming process was once more commonplace, but after spending considerable time in Mexico over the years, this is not a method I have often had the pleasure to observe.

This masa was used to make "simple" quesadillas filled with epazote and quesillo, the stringy cheese briefly mentioned here.
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Simple ingredients lead to simple pleasures.
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Just about the perfect cena. Quesadillas with a spoonful or two of beans on the side, as well as some fresh salsa and guacamole.
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This fresh made and "simple" meal is so simple I've yet to find anything that touches it north of the border.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Empress of China

Without being too negative and droning on about cheap plastic junk shops and appalling food, let me simply recommend that you avoid San Francisco's Chinatown. I might enjoy the occasional walk through, but it is no means worth your time if in town for a limited period of time. That said, I was pleasantly surprised by a recent experience at the old-school institution, The Empress of China.

The Emperess of China has been around just about forever and I imagine that while tastes have changed, their menu has not. The place is a real throw back and seems to have changed little for decades and cruises on reputation alone. However, a couple of friends of mine swore that they had a happy hour worth stopping by for, and seeing that I seem to have a surpluss of time as of late, I tagged along. I was not disappointed.

From the hours of three to five there is a rather pleasant happy hour. This is early enough in fact to avoid the tourists who follow the unfortunate advice of their guidebooks or hotel staffs that recommend that they visit the Emperess of China for their rather pricey and mediocre fare. A lot the reviews suggest to go only for the view and with this I cannot argue.
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From the Lounge, which is where the ahppy hour is held, you are treated to a lovely view of the very touristy (and junk shop lined) Grant avenue. It makes for one of the more pleasant views of Chinatwon I have enjoyed. And with your view you can enjoy a ridiculous drink. I chose the popular Empress Mai Tai.
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Normally I draw the line at umbrellas in my drink, but for a half off drink I was willing to forget my self respect for an hour or two.

Emperess of China (Happy Hour 3-5 pm)
838 Grant Ave
San Francisco, CA 94108
(415) 434-1345
http://www.empressofchinasf.com/


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Ode to Tacos and a Taco Stand

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It was almost a year ago that I left for Oaxaca Mexico for the summer and yet many of the meals, snacks, sights, and sounds are still very much on my mind. Today's rumination is about tacos, but more specifically only one taco stand in the town of Teotitlan del Valle.
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Attached to the central market, Samburgesa Sam's opens up in the evenings and remains so until most of the town is asleep. As the name suggests, hamburgers are on offer, as are tacos and a variety of other simple snack foods. The tacos weren't necessarily revelatory, but they were always just about the perfect punctuation to a day. The pleasant evenings by the central square with families coming for an evening bite, men stopping by for a drink, and a gathering of friends reminded me of the importance of these types of spaces. If i remember correctly, while I was eating the above plate of tacos, a man was bucked right off of his horse onto the uneven cobblestone street. What else could he do but get back on? Everyone sort of nervously laughed and returned to their food and drink. All I could think about was how much it must have hurt. IMG_2740.jpg
I'm not sure if there's much more to say about tacos other than what I've already said before in posts written long ago. Tortillas are the perfect vehicle for grilled meats and condiments. This deceptively simple food has me running all over San Francisco in search of perfection. However, nothing compares to these modest tacos in Teotitlan del Valle. IMG_3566.jpg In many ways it is the taco stand that made me fall in love with street food and I've been chasing that dragon ever since. It's been over a decade now since I first really started wrestling with the pleasures of street food. The concepts of immediacy, freshness, and community are simple pleasures not easily found just anywhere.
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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

LA Rants; Food

I'm guilty of the rather banal sin of speaking ill of the city of Los Angeles. I mean, with such a huge and slow moving target reeking of all that is wrong with America's relationship with the automobile and the type of development it has encouraged is the lazy person's line of reasoning. That was once me and that person is now dead. Maybe only on the inside but that perspective is, well, boring. Yes, LA is a beast of a place best left only really explored with a local who knows how to get around. So that's what I did last month and frankly I can't wait to get back.
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LA provides an interesting contrast to say, a city like San Francisco. San Francisco provides a good counterexample of what is wrong with LA. San Francisco is walkable, bikable, livable, beautiful, (insert hyperbole here). However its small size and attractiveness means that everyone wants to be here and it's very very expensive. So expensive in fact that the second floor flat I live at and share with five other people is worth something around a million dollars. "Affordable" rent only exists for us only due to the blessing of rent control. Some day in the future the current or future owner could feasibly kick us out and with that might mean the end of my tenure in this fine city.  But I'm getting a little side tracked here. The point is that people are pretty smug about their little slice of heaven in San Francisco while being rather disdainful of those who would choose to live elsewhere, such as in the stinking behemoth of LA. But on each and every visit to LA I find the cost of things lower, the immigrant communities more vibrant, and the food more accessible and even better. It just comes with a larger slice of dystopia.

My photos don't tell much of a story and I like it that way.I know very little about LA, but what I do know is that I am always able to eat very well on each and every visit.
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Chilaquiles are always great at Tacos Delta in Silverlake.

Tacos Delta
3806 W Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90026

Driving around, as one does in LA, we came across a Thai sweets shop. no joke. What else did they have but the seemingly rare kanom krok. I was captivated as always.
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We sampled a number of hard to find Thai sweets that I've not had in a few years. I was impressed.

Thong Lo
1100 N Main St
Los Angeles, CA 90012

And of course, there were taco trucks. Everywhere. We needed only walk to the closest truck in the neighborhood I was staying. They had a lovely pastor spit right inside. Impressive.
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Great tacos for a buck a piece and I was left thinking about how effortlessly I was able to eat well in LA. This is the kind of eating that made me a food blogger: food right in front of me; ever present, everyday. We didn't exactly plan on any of this stuff, we simply came upon it and stopped for a bite. We didn't brave lines or pay top dollar in the endless pursuit of in-fashion foods. LA provided these few bites and more, and really, it was no big deal.