Archive for the ‘SF: Hayes Valley/Civic Center’ Category

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Izakaya Sundays at Sebo

November 12, 2007

Well over a year ago, I wrote a post on a then recently-opened Japanese restaurant (primarily sushi-focused), Sebo in Hayes Valley. I haven’t had the chance to write a follow-up review, but I’m happy to report that an update has not really been necessary, as chefs Michael Black and Danny Dunham continue to offer excellent quality fish; in time, it seems they have been able to source more frequently particularly delectable items such as Hokkaido uni. In the past week, though, changes have been afoot at Sebo, and these changes warrant an update. The first notable change is that Fukashi Adachi from Deep Sushi in outer Noe Valley has joined the ranks. The other notable change is that the restaurant is now open on Sundays (previously only open Tuesday through Saturday). On Sundays, however, no sushi is served. As proof, here is the empty fish cabinet:

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Instead, the regular menu is replaced by a list of about 15 izakaya small plates — essentially Japanese “bar bites.” The Sunday izakaya menu will change weekly, and yesterday was the very first Sunday serving. (Note: full-sized versions of all these images are stored on my Flickr account. To see the larger version, just click through any image link.)

The first plate was the delicately flavored ni-daikon,

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which was the daikon simmered in sake. There was also the goya chanpuru, a stir fry of Okinawan bittermelon:

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One standout item was the aji ichiyaboshi,

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a whole horse mackerel fish: cured, toasted, butterflied, and mostly completely edible. Toasting amplified the natural flavors of the fish, and the thin, crisp skin was a nice foil to the moist interior flesh. Another standout dish was the inari yaki:

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The inari wrappers were filled with natto (fermented soybeans), grilled, and topped with green onion. Even if you are squeamish about eating natto, I would recommend trying this dish, as the grilled wrapper was a really nice complement to the more pungent natto.

One of the great highlights of the meal was the homemade tamago yaki (Japanese egg omelette). Most sushi restaurants will serve tamago nigiri, but this can often be lackluster. The process of making the omelette is so time-consuming that few restaurants will make it in-house, so was a real treat to try not one but two homemade tamago samples at the Sunday izakaya meal, courtesy of Fukashi Adachi:

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These blocks of tamago are a work of art, as I am told that they emerged from cooking exactly in the perfect form you see in the above picture. The block on the left is an omelette infused with slivers of the green seaweed ao-nori, while the flavor of the block on the right literally sang of dashi. Both samples were delicious, complex, and had a very nice texture: firm, but with a latent juiciness. This is easily some of the best tamago currently being served in the Bay Area. Here is a close-up shot of the ao-nori tamago:

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And once more, the tamago, but served on a plate:

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Yesterday was the very first izakaya Sunday and the restaurant was, rather surprisingly, packed for much of the night, so the cooking pace was rather frantic. However, I am sure that Michael, Danny, and Fukashi will work out the operational acrobatics in time. Even on this first day, the dishes were really nice, so I am looking forward to seeing this new tradition evolve and mature. With the izakaya Sundays, Michael and Danny have continued to demonstrate their passion for serving their customers a serious, high-quality product.

RATING:

COST:

517 Hayes Street (between Octavia St. and Laguna St.)
San Francisco, CA 94102
Phone: 415.864.2122
Hours: Tues-Sat (sushi menu), 6:00-10:30 pm; Sun (izakaya menu, no sushi), 6:00-11:00 pm.

Cuisine: Japanese
Neighborhood: Hayes Valley/Civic Center

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Sushi Delight

June 19, 2007

The other night, Short Exact and a friend were on the escalator leaving Church Street station on the hunt for dinner, when our friend revealed that we would be eating at her new favorite sushi bar. At that point, Short Exact groaned both inwardly and outwardly, recalling a lackluster experience from the last time we went to her “new favorite sushi bar” (somewhere different at that time) — an opinion, it turned out, was formed exclusively on the basis of a few Yelp reviews, rather than any sort of personal experience. This time we were quick to make sure that a prior visit had occurred at some point.

When it was further revealed that the restaurant in question this time around was next door (and actually connected) to The Mint karaoke bar, and that it had the somewhat corny name Sushi Delight (rather than having a name which is, you know, Japanese or something) — well, suffice it to say that of all the emotions we were feeling at that moment, delight was nowhere on the list.

So imagine our surprise when we walked in to find a white board list of specials that included items such as uni (sea urchin) and ankimo (monkfish liver). Not that these items are particularly rare, but seeing as how this restaurant also has a long list of huge Americanized rolls with “crazy” ingredients, we were expecting lots of fusion, and not as much in the way of our favorite, more traditional items. It was, of course, necessary to try out a few of these specials:

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The hamachi belly (middle, in the above photo) was pretty good quality with a somewhat buttery texture, but it should have had a stronger flavor. The mound of sushi rice on which the fish slice rested was too large, and the rice itself was not very flavorful, and did little to support or complement the fish. An uninteresting sort of ponzu sauce largely overpowered the mild ankimo (on the right), but the liver did have a reasonably nice, creamy texture. The uni (on the left) also had a pretty good texture, but only brief wisps of uni’s characteristically briny flavor. Not a bad sample, though, and best of all, it was not the least bit bitter, which is the usual worry when ordering uni at an unfamiliar restaurant. So, while none of these special items were stunning, they were all of at least decent quality, and as we said earlier, finding them at all was a pleasant surprise.

We also tried the maguro sashimi,

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which, despite the attempt at a slightly creative presentation, was completely unremarkable; the fish was tasteless and was served too cold. For kicks, we sampled one item from the extensive roll menu,

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the “gari saba” roll, consisting of mackerel, ginger, and a little scallion. This was a pretty good roll, but the mackerel was unusually sweet, and the overall flavor of the roll turned out to be surprisingly mild, considerings its core ingredients, perhaps in part due to the outer layer of the rice, which was disproportionately thick. It wasn’t bad, but we probably wouldn’t order it again. (Readers should also note that this is one of the more conservative rolls on the menu. If you’re interested in the more complicated rolls with lots of ingredients, Sushi Delight has plenty of those you can try.)

Service here was fine, although the restaurant was not that full, so we’re not sure how the service holds up under pressure. Still, the number of patrons can be deceiving, because it looks like quite a few people from the karaoke bar next door also put in orders, even if they do not sit in the actual restaurant. The karaoke bar The Mint, which is connected to the restaurant by a door, is a little noisy, but not horribly so; the soundproofing still makes it easy to have a conversation. The restaurant’s late hours are definitely a plus.

Sushi Delight is in a location such that the exact classification of the neighborhood largely depends on who you ask. Upper Market for sure, but is it Hayes Valley? Essentially, but not especially close to the heart of that neighborhood. Duboce Triangle? Close, but it seems just outside of the traditional boundaries of the Triangle. We’ve filed this post in those two neighborhoods, figuring that this restaurant might be of interest to people in both locales. Whatever you call the neighborhood, Sushi Delight is a decent neighborhood joint. For us, it would be a stretch to call it delightful, but it’s a good choice if you’re in the area with a hankering for sushi.

RATING:

COST:

1946 Market Street (between Buchanan St. and Laguna St.)
San Francisco, CA 94102
Phone: 415.621.3622
Hours: Sun-Thurs, 5:00 pm – 11:00 pm; Fri-Sat, 5:00 pm – 12:30 am.

Credit cards accepted. Takeout available.

Cuisine: Japanese
Neighborhood: Hayes Valley/Civic Center, Castro/Duboce Triangle

How to get there: Within a few blocks are Muni lines 6, 7, 22, 37, 71, F, J, N. Church Station (lines K, L, M, T) is a short walk away.

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Larkin Express Deli

May 31, 2007

Short Exact has been terribly busy lately (which explains the lack of posts recently), but Larkin Express Deli — a restaurant located (funnily enough) on Larkin Street, in the shadow of the old Federal Building on the Tenderloin/Civic Center border — is a restaurant we’ve been meaning to write about for several weeks now, and we didn’t want to wait on this any longer, since it’s a special sort of spot. On the surface, it looks unremarkable, like any standard deli,

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and the generic name “Larkin Express Deli” does nothing to discourage that notion. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, Larkin Express Deli has a bit of a split personality. If you click on the above image and enlarge it in Flickr, the menu written on the chalkboard looks like a fairly standard American deli menu, including a variety of burgers, meat plates, and sandwiches (such as turkey, chicken, meatball, roast beef, pastrami, reuben, and others). However, lurking beneath the surface of this seemingly commonplace deli is a second menu, consisting of several authentic Burmese specialties — including such favorite, classic dishes as the catfish chowder moh hinga, the tea leaf and ginger salads, and the chicken coconut soup ong noh kau swer. Note: we have not ordered any of the American deli fare, only the Burmese dishes, so this review is based exclusively on the Burmese food, and this post has only been filed away in the Burmese cuisine category.

On a recent visit, we ordered the chicken coconut soup,

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and it was a delight. The noodles were perhaps a touch softer than we would have liked, but they were still pleasantly chewy (not the least bit mushy), and they thoroughly absorbed the flavors of the soup. The soup base was a deliciously layered and well balanced mix of curry and coconut milk, with a deep underlying chicken flavor from the stock. Chunks of tender, moist, flavorful dark meat chicken were scattered throughout the soup, and the fried peas added crunch and an additional flavor dimension. Considering the very reasonable price ($5.50, at the time of this post) for this generous portion of soup, the garnish of fried peas and fresh cilantro was unexpected, but very much appreciated.

We also ordered one of our favorite Burmese standards, the tea leaf salad (la pat dok), to go. We sort of mumbled in passing that we would probably end up trying a bit of the salad in the restaurant, just as a sample, and we expected to simply take a bite or two out of a to-go container. Imagine our surprise when a small portion was served on a plate,

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a plate that was even green to match the hue of the green tea leaves that are the centerpiece of this dish. This was a simple gesture, but it helps to demonstrate the genuine and thorough service here, which was all the more unexpected because the words “express” and “deli” in the restaurant name do not immediately suggest that there should be good service, or even any service at all.

Of course, the portion of salad in the above picture is just a small fraction of the much larger full portion. This dish was a touch oily, but it contained a delicious mixture of textures and flavors, with numerous ingredients, including garlic, peanuts, split peas, sesame seeds, wedges of tomato, and the namesake tea leaves. The centerpiece of this dish is, of course, the tea leaves, which feature a wonderfully strong, pungent flavor that is complemented well by the other milder ingredients. No corners were cut, as these tea leaves were imported straight from Myanmar. Notably, the la pat dok does not include any Western salad greens (which less traditional versions of this dish will sometimes use, perhaps to make it appear more salad-like to Americans), and the fact that the tea leaves are the only greens present helps to emphasize their role in the salad. When all is said and done, the la pat dok is a lovely, flavorful mixture.

Visiting this restaurant was a great experience. We dropped by later in the afternoon, when we were one of few customers, and this gave us the chance to chat with Dennis, the owner, for quite awhile. (Dennis also runs the Tennessee Grill restaurant, out on Taraval, which we have not visited. Unfortunately, there is no Burmese food to be found there!) Our chat not only revealed what a genuinely friendly person Dennis is, but also the care and effort which has gone into crafting the Burmese side of the menu. While the American half of the menu is a legacy of the previous owners (and, we imagine, the sandwiches and burgers are probably popular at lunchtime for office workers in the area), the Burmese half of the menu is a labor of love, in which Dennis showcases the cuisine of his native country, and the time and care that is put into these authentic home-cooked Burmese dishes shine through clearly. Combined with the kind and caring service, this restaurant has all the homey comfort that one might experience eating in a friend’s kitchen.

For Burmese east of Divisadero Street, look no further than Larkin Express Deli.

RATING:

COST:

452 Larkin Street (between Golden Gate Ave. and Turk St.)
San Francisco, CA 94102
Phone: 415.474.5569
Hours: Mon-Fri, 10:00 am – 7:00 pm.

Cuisine: Burmese
Neighborhood: Tenderloin, Hayes Valley/Civic Center

How to get there: Muni lines 5, 19, 21, 31, 38, 47 and 49. The restaurant is 4-5 blocks from lines 6, 7, 9, 71, F, J, K, L, M, N, and T (Civic Center BART/Muni station).