Food in San Francisco – From Fried Chicken to Salt and Pepper Ice Cream

There was a fair amount of eating while we were in San Francisco, much of it good. Here are a trio of spots we visited.

Little Skillet

While still in Bangkok, Tawn and I had developed a hankering for fried chicken. Despite the preponderance of grilled chicken, there is very little fried chicken in Thailand outside of KFC (which isn’t that bad, actually). Doing some research, I stumbled across an entry on public television and radio channel KQED’s food blog about the best fried chicken in the Bay Area and planned on visiting Little Skillet.

This “restaurant” is just a walk-up window in an alley not far from the Caltrain station and AT&T Park. An offshoot of the “neo-soulfood” farmerbrown restaurant, Little Skillet is open only for extended lunchtime hours and keeps a short and simple menu. Fried chicken features prominently. You order at the window and wait for your name to be called. Eating options include sitting on the loading dock of a warehouse across the street or, if you buy some of their coffee, the java joint next door lets you use their tables.

The biscuits are tasty and buttery, although more crumbly and less flaky than the ones I make. Still, they were pretty good.

Tawn, who prefers his chicken drier than I do, opted for the fried chicken po’boy sandwich. Made with chicken breast, he exclaimed that it was the best fried chicken he had ever had. 

Aiming to evaluate Little Skillet by its ability with the classics, I ordered a two-piece fried chicken with waffles. Tawn’s exclamation was well-placed: this was amazing fried chicken. The meat was flavorful and extremely well-seasoned. The coating was crispy and adhered well to the skin. The homemade honey jalapeño hot sauce is a perfect foil for the juicy, crispy, deep-fried goodness of the chicken. While I’ve never understood the combination with chicken, the waffles were light with just the right amount of crispiness.

Little Skillet is on the must return to list!

 

Wise Sons Delicatessen 

Speaking of the must return to list, we made a return visit to Wise Sons Deli, located on 24th Street just east of South Van Ness Avenue.

After our first visit last June to this relatively new entrant to the San Francisco deli scene, we were eager to return. Exiled New Yorkers have long bemoaned the lack of good deli food in San Francisco but that has recently started to change, not least of all by the entry of Wise Sons’ proprietors Evan Bloom and Leo Beckerman. Their meats are cured in-house and the quality of food, homey atmosphere, and friendly service make the place feel like it has been on this corner for decades.

On my last visit, I enjoyed a tasty pastrami sandwich. This time, I tried their corned beef Reuben. I’ve had a lot of Reubens in my life, many of which were made by my mother. This was simply the best one I’ve ever had, the one that came closest to recapturing my childhood memories, except that this corned beef was much better than any my mother ever made. Wise Sons cooks the brisket until fork tender and cuts it relatively thick. To say it “melts in your mouth” is accurate. Unlike a lot of brisket, this beef isn’t at all tough or chewy.

We also shared a plate of sinful pastrami cheese fries, minus the pastrami since Tawn isn’t a beef eater. The fries are loaded with Swiss bechamel sauce, caramelized onions, pickled cucumbers and jalapeño peppers, with a side of Russian dressing. Couldn’t eat this every day so that’s why we ate it this day!

 

Humphrey Slocombe Ice Cream

While San Francisco isn’t known for its pastrami, it does have a great reputation for ice cream. Swensen’s, the global ice cream chain, was founded in San Francisco, and there are many small ice cream parlors that make interesting and innovative flavors from. One of the most prominent of these parlors is Humphrey Slocombe. Located just around the corner from Wise Sons, Humphrey Slocombe opened in 2008 and quickly gained notice for flavors like salted black licorice, hibiscus beet, and Jesus Juice.  

We were pretty full from lunch but Tawn ordered a Tin Roof Sundae: three scoops of Tahitian vanilla ice cream, hot fudge sauce, candied peanuts, and a sprinkle of sea salt. Oh, boy!

Enjoying calories I didn’t really need. I also tried a taste of their salt and pepper ice cream, which tastes amazingly of… salt and pepper!

Well, hope that’s enough food porn to get your weekend off to a good start. There’s more to come!

 

StrEAT Food Park in San Francisco

One of the more interesting dining experiences on my trip to the United States was the StrEAT Food Park in San Francisco. The renaissance of street food trucks – no longer the “roach coaches” of my youth – has swept many major cities and San Francisco has been no exception to this foodie trend. In June 2012, a permanent street food truck park opened in the city’s edgier South of Market district.

The park is located just beneath a freeway overpass across the street from the Costco warehouse store. Each day, up to ten different vendors park, following a rotating schedule. The range of options is overwhelming: from Spanish-Filipino fusion to Japanese sushi, gourmet Vietnamese sliders to Korean tacos, Italian word-fired pizzas to Indian curry. The website and twitter feed lists which vendors will be present and the park is open for lunch and dinner seven days a week.

The facility includes plenty of tables and chairs, restrooms and sanitary stations, and a 100-seat covered seating pavilion for those days when the weather is inclement. The crowd is varied but local high tech and bio tech firms are well-represented. Free bicycle parking is provided, encouraging environmentally friendly transportation.

Spoiled for choices, I finally settled on Roli Roti, a truck specializing in rotisserie chicken and porchetta, crispy roast pork. Open more than a decade, Roli Roti claims to be the country’s first mobile rotisserie and their focus is on sustainably raised meats and organic produce. While the chicken looked and smelled amazing, I opted for the porchetta and arugula sandwich.

The sandwich offers a generous – hearty, even – serving of juicy pork with very crispy skin, an onion relish with a tanginess that cut through the richness of the pork, and huge mound of baby arugula that looked like it has climbed out of the field a few minutes earlier, it was so fresh. 

The sandwich was served on a wonderful roll that sopped up all the juices. Sure, it was too big to eat like a real sandwich, and I had to take it apart and eat with a knife and fork. But it was a pretty tasty lunch, all for about $12 including a side of potatoes.

The roast fingerling potatoes sit underneath the rotisserie, where they are bathed in the drippings from the chicken and the porchetta. Sprinkled with rosemary sea salt, they are addictive.

No doubt, the StrEAT Food Park will be a destination to which I will return again and again on future visits. After all, there are so many different types of food to try and so little time. Many thanks to SF-based Xangan Jason for introducing me to this gem.

 

Thorough Bread and Pastry – San Francisco

Our trip to Kansas City for my grandparents’ 70th anniversary lasted just three days. Bright and early Monday morning (after an 80-minute mechanical delay), we were on our way to San Francisco for a few additional days of rest and relaxation before returning to Bangkok. Arriving late in the morning, we headed around the corner from our friend Anita’s house (where we were staying) to a newer bakery we hadn’t yet tried, the cleverly named Thorough Bread and Pastry.

The bakery is housed in the space formerly used by Just Desserts. It has a lovely brick wall and an open ceiling (which you can’t see in this picture). Lots of light comes in from busy Church Street, making it an inviting and warm place to stop for a while.

The selection of baked goods is wide and all of them look tasty. We arrived late in the morning so some items were down to just a handful of remaining pieces.

In addition to pastries, Thorough Bread and Pastry lives up to the “bread” part of its name. The baguettes were beautiful and the olive and sourdough loaves had me want to go on a carbohydrate binge.

For snacks with our coffee, I selected a cinnamon roll. Upon request, the bakers will put you food into the oven for a few minutes to reheat it. Of course, that is a must with a cinnamon roll because you want the topping to be just a gooey and molten as possible.

Tawn opted for an almond croissant, which tasted plenty good even if it wasn’t the most beautiful croissant in the world. That reminds me, I’ve been meaning to try my hand at croissant making again, just as soon as this crazy hot season eases off a bit and I can actually cool my kitchen to a workable temperature.

Feeling the need for something passing as healthful, Anita oped for the quiche, which was also very nice. With lots of fresh vegetables, you could almost forget the loads of fat.

In the past several years, there has been an explosion of artisinal, small-shop bakeries and patisseries. From Tartine to Craftsman & Wolves to Thorough Bread, San Franciscans are spoiled with many fine choices for baked goods. It is something we miss about living in the City and I am glad there is yet another place to visit when we are next in town.

 

Lunch at Rye in Kansas City

While in Kansas City, we met a friend for lunch at Rye, a restaurant in Johnson County that is an offshoot of the well-regarded bluestem restaurant by award-winning husband and wife team Colby and Megan Garrelts. (My blog entry about a 2009 dinner there.)

Located in a newer retail/residential development near I-435, Rye has a welcoming atmosphere and a menu designed to celebrate Midwestern cuisine. It was busy when we arrived right in the middle of lunchtime, but we were seated after only a ten-minute wait. Service was friendly although, to my taste, a tad overfamiliar.

The restaurant has an extensive list of wines that are available in 6-ounce, 8-ounce, and 24-ounce servings, which translates into quarter, third, and whole bottles. (Which isn’t quite right because a standard 750ml wine bottle is 25.4 ounces.) Confusingly, sometimes it is cheaper to buy a bottle and other times, it is cheaper to buy four 6-ounce servings of the same wine. When I pointed this out to the server, who then introduced me to the person who manages the restaurant’s wine selection, I received a murky explanation that led me to suspect that nobody had ever noticed this pricing discrepancy.

That oddity aside, the wine list is a nice one and they deserve kudos for making more wines available by the glass, which encourages exploration and horizon-broadening.

The menu could be described as rustic but with a bit of panache. It celebrates Midwestern classics – chicken salad, pulled pork sandwich, and dumplings feature on the menu – but presented in a way that is a bit lighter, a bit more seasonal, and a bit more sophisticated than might come from your grandmother’s kitchen. 

I ordered a two-piece fried chicken plate with a side of mashed potatoes. The breading was crisp and well-seasoned. The chicken inside was juicy but, like a lot of American chicken, the meat wasn’t very flavorful. American chicken (and pork, for that matter) is bred for blandness, much to my sorrow. The potatoes were nice and the mixed greens kept the dish reasonably light. 

Curious, I also ordered a side of creamy mac and cheese. On one level, this serves as a good benchmark dish because so many restaurants serve it and it is so often the same-old, same-old. In this case, there wasn’t anything to fault with this mac and cheese, but there also wasn’t anything that raised it above similar dishes at other restaurants.

Tawn had a roasted salmon dish served on Indian rice with a lemon dressing and greens. This was a tad more elevated than the “fish and rice” dish you might find as the more healthful option on typical Midwestern menus. The fish tasted like it might be farmed – for the price, that wouldn’t be a surprise – and was a bit drier than I like, although Tawn prefers his fish that way. The lemon dressing was refreshing and the Indian rice was toothsome, although I couldn’t figure out if they were referencing Native American rice or South Asian rice!

Our friend had the house salad, grilled salmon added, with a sherry vinaigrette. While I didn’t try it, she seemed pleased with the dish. The greens were a nice mixture of types, so it certainly was a step up from a plate of iceberg lettuce. Of course, if a James Beard award-winning chef served a plate of iceberg in anything other than a wedge salad with Maytag dressing, I would be disappointed. 

Nearing fullness, we ordered a single slice of pie, banana cream, for dessert. While I love pie, banana isn’t my favorite so I let Tawn do most of the eating. It was a nice enough pie although I found the crust a little tough. The pudding was nicely made, creamy and smooth.

All in all, Rye seems like a decent restaurant, providing familiar food with a slight twist at reasonable prices. While I don’t return to KC very often, I would keep Rye on my list of places to stop for a meal.

 

THAI Airways Bangkok to Los Angeles

When I moved to Bangkok more than seven years ago, I flew THAI Airways’ nonstop flight from New York JFK Airport to Bangkok. In the years since, THAI has discontinued both the New York and Los Angeles to Bangkok nonstop flights. In their place is a one-stop flight via Seoul Incheon Airport to Los Angeles. When shopping for tickets for our recent flight to the United States, this Bangkok-Incheon-Los Angeles flight was the cheapest option offered by a Star Alliance carrier. 


Click here to view the HD version on youtube.

I’ve edited a nice video that overviews the flight, the cabin, the amenities, and meals served. If you would rather view the pictures and read the story, those follow here:

The flight departs Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport at 7:10 am, a bit earlier than ideal. Thankfully, we were packed the day before and made it to bed at a reasonable hour. Still, the 3:00 am alarm came much too early!  The queue at the airport was short and the wait was less than fifteen minutes to check in. There were no lines at either the security screening or immigration counters. 

Just past immigration is a large scale sculpture of one of the most famous episodes in Hindu mythology, the samudra manthan or “churning of the milk ocean”. It is an impressive sculpture that illustrates that this mostly Buddhist culture has strong Hindu and Vedic Brahminist roots.

We made our way to one of the many THAI Airways Royal Silk lounges. These lounges offer a nice respite from the stresses of air travel: a quiet ambience, comfortable seating, and a selection of reading materials, food, and beverage.

Since we had departed home so early, I helped myself to a latte, some small pastries, and (something I never eat!) a box of chocolate breakfast cereal. Maybe this is because my mother would never allow us to have so sugary a cereal in the house when I was a child, now I enjoy having a bit every now and then as a special treat.

Our Boeing 777-300 was waiting at the gate as the sun slowly climbed above the hazy horizon. The windows of the terminal were not very clean, making for this poor-quality image. Boarding commenced a few minutes late but the passenger load was only about 60% so boarding did not take long. 

The economy class product is comfortable and modern. The seat maps provided on THAI’s website indicated that certain rows of this plane had 34″ pitch. I brought a small tape measure and samples several rows and found a consistent 32″ pitch. Comfortable enough and an inch more than most US-based carriers, but nothing special. Asiana, Korean, and All-Nippon offer 34″ pitch and EVA offers 33″ pitch as the standard in their long-haul economy class.

The morning breakfast option was pancakes and sausage or (my choice) stir-fried pork with ginger, rice, and pumpkin and egg. The food was tasty enough, although nothing very special.

About four-and-a-half hours later, we arrived at an overcast Incheon and were soon at the gate and off the plane. The same aircraft would take us to Los Angeles but all passengers were required to disembark so the plane could be serviced and a new crew could board.

This is my first time transitting Incheon since they opened the new mid-field concourse. It is a bright, sun-lit place with modern architecture. Within a few minutes, we had cleared the security screening and returned to the departure level.

Despite only having about 80 minutes on the ground, we took the time to stop by the Asiana Airlines lounge. As a holder of the United Club card, I have access to Star Alliance member lounges. This is a nice perk for long-haul travel and this new lounge in Incheon is very nice, with a faux library and a baby grand piano. I wonder what would happen if a guest decided to begin playing it?

The selection of food wasn’t very interesting, but I did help myself to some salad and a glass of draft beer. Truth be told, the beef was very hoppy and as I’m not much of a beer drink, I had only a few sips. On our return trip from Los Angeles, we had a slightly longer layover in Incheon and I took the opportunity to use the individual shower rooms to freshen up. 

Returning to the gate area in preparation for boarding, I admired the nice combination of steel, wood, and glass. Despite being very modern, the terminal does not feel cold and impersonal, probably because of the wood floors and many plants.

One sore point about flying through Incheon is that there is a pre-boarding security inspection. All liquids must be disposed of, including any bottled water purchased in the terminal. The claim is that this is for US TSA security reasons, but that makes no sense because at Taipei and Tokyo, passengers can bring liquids from inside the terminal aboard US-bound planes. I hope this restriction is lifted soon because not bringing your own water aboard is an inconvenience that does nothing to improve security.

The flight out of Incheon was only about 50% full, leaving lots of space including an empty seat between Tawn and me. There was only one person in the row ahead of us and she sat in the middle seat, so her recline did not affect our leg room. Once airborne for our 10.5-hour flight to Los Angeles, service began with cocktails. Unlike some airlines that have miniature liquor bottles, THAI carries full-size bottles and mixes drinks to order. 

Drinks are served with a retro stir stick featuring THAI’s original 1960s logo. I managed to collect several of these between our four flight segments, figuring they will make a nice collection in the future.

Menus were distributed out of Incheon. Interestingly, the menus include information for both the Bangkok-Incheon and Incheon-Los Angeles segments. I am not sure why menus were not handed out as we departed Bangkok. You could argue that there is really no point of menus but I think it is a nice touch that makes the service appear more sophisticated. Certainly, it is nicer to think of your meal as having four courses rather than just being a single tray of food, even if all four courses are in fact delivered on a single tray!

I opted for the Korean style beef bulgogi, which wasn’t as interesting as I was hoping. It was tasty, though. Note that each tray comes with a package of kimchi! The dessert was a raspberry chocolate cream cake and the appetizer was smoked salmon.

The other selection, which Tawn chose, was a pork green curry served with Thai jasmine rice. Curry is an excellent choice for airplane food because at high, dry altitudes, your sense of taste is diminished. Curry has plenty of flavor and remains enjoyable. Notice, too, that the utensils are metal, even the knives. We can’t bring water aboard but are given an admittedly dull metal knife.

Slightly less than halfway through the flight, we crossed the international date line and jumped back to the start of our day. I dozed only a bit on this flight, instead watching several movies and television programs on the on-demand video service. Gone are the days of sheer boredom on a plane. There are plenty of ways to distract yourself as the hours go by.

Mid-flight, snacks were available in the form of instant noodles and sandwiches. About two hours before landing, a second full meal service was provided. I opted for the boiled glass noodles (made from mung beans) with sauteed beef tenderloin. Actually, I didn’t find any beef in my serving! 

The other option, which Tawn chose, was sauteed yakisoba with chicken teriyaki. Neither of these dishes were that interesting and while quality was fine, the meals weren’t as interesting on these flights as they have been on other recent THAI flights.

It was a beautiful day as we descended into Southern California. Because the passenger load was so light, I moved to a window seat to take in the view when we landed. Rain storms had passed through recently, so the sky was clear and visibility was better than normal.

After landing on runway 24-right on the north side of LAX airport, we taxied the long way around to our gate. This took us past the United Airlines hangar where one of their Boeing 787 aircraft sits, stranded by the FAA’s grounding of these new composite jets in late January. Hopefully, the fleet will be released to fly again soon.

Pulling into our gate at the Tom Bradley International Terminal, we had neighbors from China and Japan. Had the price been right, I would have liked to fly All-Nippon on this trip.

All in all, the THAI flight was a pretty good experience. From departure in Bangkok to arrival in Los Angeles was less than 17 hours, one of the shortest routes between the two cities. Service was good and the flight was reasonably comfortable, given that we were traveling in economy class.

 

Two Tidbits

While I organize my photos and videos from the US trip, let me post these two tidbits to keep you entertained.

The first is a picture of what qualifies as a drive-up window here in Bangkok. A stretch of sidewalk (outside a 7-11, nonetheless!) is filled with vendors selling all manner of food. A man on a motorbike pulls up at the curb, orders something from a vendor, and she packages to go. Two minutes later, he speeds off with his dinner. Can you imagine In-N-Out burger working this quickly?

And in the “Thinglish Example of the Day” category, here was the stage backdrop at the recent first anniversary of the Terminal 21 shopping mall. Yes, they are celebrating “NO 1st”. In all fairness, ordinal numbers are confusing and in Thai are no different from cardinal numbers, using only a simple prefix to distinguish them from cardinal numbers.

 

Return from America

Sorry for being away from Xanga for almost two weeks. We just returned last night from a trip to the United States and I discovered that the Xanga mobile app isn’t very convenient for uploading entries. In fact, after two entries disappeared into the ether, I gave up and decided to wait until we were back in Bangkok to try again.

Our flights over and back were smooth enough. I’ll share more about them, including our trip on THAI Airaways’ Bangkok-Seoul-Los Angeles flight, in the next few days. 

The primary purpose of our trip was to attend a family reunion for our grandparents’ 70th wedding anniversary. They had expected that Tawn and I could not make the trip but when I learned that we would be the only grandchildren not attending, I booked our flight. Needless to say, they were pleasantly surprised when we showed up at their front door the day before the anniversary.

 

While on the trip, we had the opportunity to see several friends including a few Xangans. Left, Andy and Sugi drove down from Omaha to see us in Kansas City. Right, Jason met me for lunch at San Francisco’s food truck parking lot. Also, Dr. Zakiah was so kind as to mail her book of poems to my sister’s house, where it was waiting for me. Must make it to Quincy for a future visit!

 

The trip also had its share of good food, about which I will write more in the next few days. Highlights include a porchetta and baby arugula sandwich (left) from the San Francisco food truck parking lot and fried chicken and waffles (right) from Little Skillet restaurant in San Francisco’s South of Market district. Stay Tuned!