Mission Chinese Food
Mission Chinese Food took both coasts by storm and has left the food scenes in SF and NY reeling. Whether you love it or hate it, no one can discuss the hottest, most influential new restaurants anymore without the Mission name front and center. We love its super casual, divey laid-back vibe, it’s off-the-cuff feel, the bargain prices and the unconventional twist on conventional Asian cuisine. We also love that GW always hooks us up when we visit (check him out: http://sf.eater.com/archives/2012/11/08/mission_chinese_foods_greg_wong_on_four_hour_waits.php)! Woot woot!
We’ve taste-tested the greater portion of the menu (either through our own gluttonous over-ordering or through GW’s generosity), so I’ll build for you my perfect dinner here, based on our favorites from our latest visit.
Start your meal as if you’re at a traditional Chinese banquet, with Beijing vinegar peanuts with smoked garlic, anise and rock sugar. Salty, nutty and sweet, with just the right amount of crunch. The delicious soft garlic was a particular weakness of mine (lucky ATO)!
Another small snack to start: the fresh and crisp “smashed” cucumbers with salted chili, sesame paste and garlic.
Next, move on to the braised pea greens with adzuki beans, Old Bay, boiled peanuts and pumpkin broth. We were all pleasantly surprised, and a bit taken aback, by the layers and depth of flavor of this dish. YUM.
My favorite of the night: the Taiwanese clams with soy caramel, basil, potatoes and fried garlic. Savory and absolutely scrumptious. Finding each huge chunk of broth-soaked potato was like discovering gold on a treasure hunt.
Finally, soak it all in with a big bowl of carbs: spicy peanut noodles with chopped lamb brisket, cucumbers and chili oil. The various flavors mixed and melded into a vigorous and wonderful bowl of noodles.
Bonus: If you’re a big fan of the super peppery Sichuan-style cuisine and love the way it numbs your mouth and stings your tongue (EW and ATO!), here’s a couple of additional dishes you’ll love.
The spicy buckwheat noodles with horseradish, cucumbers, bean sprouts and mala vinegar definitely delivers the kick that its description promises.
The tingy tea smoked chicken with chili sediment, Sichuan pepper, black vinegar and peanuts will definitely knock all your taste buds out!
Double bonus: best “leftovers for breakfast” dish goes to the clean and simple Westlake rice porridge with sweet shrimp, braised beef, egg and cilantro.
One more thing to love about Mission Chinese: the very cool red dragon crawling beneath the ceiling!
Ferry Building Marketplace: Mariposa, Cowgirl Creamery and Miette! (San Francisco)
Mariposa Baking Company
Got a little nephew who is allergic to gluten, soy, nuts, diary, eggs and a wide assortment of fruit? Unfortunately, we do. But have no fear: even he can enjoy a cupcake, a cookie or a treat at Mariposa! (We’ve found a comparable NYC bakery in Babycakes). He thought the desserts here were absolutely delicious! But what did we gluten/diary/egg eaters think? Definitely not as bad as expected, but everything tasted like a “diet” version of what it intended to be. Certainly not the same as a real cookie or cupcake, but given the circumstances, this is as good as it gets!
Cowgirl Creamery Sidekick
Cowgirl Creamery is my favorite cheesemaker. And while we were at the Ferry Building to pick up everything-free desserts (above), Cowgirl Creamery’s Sidekick caught my attention and I went absolutely crazy with excitement. A whole menu of quick and easy and most importantly, cheesy, to-go items! ATO and I decided we needed breakfast at 10am, on our way to a bbq that started at 11am. We went with the baked egg and cheese with cave-aged gruyere and sauteed mushrooms. There was an option to add pancetta, so naturally we did. Served on an Acme Bread Company baguette (OMG, so good and crunchy on the outside and hot and soft on the inside - definitely gives Sullivan Street Bakery a run for its money!). Absolutely divine. Best egg and cheese I’ve ever had in my life. Hands down. Since then, I’ve thought about this sandwich non-stop. Must. Have. Again. Or might combust.
So we were heading out of the Ferry Building when we came across Miette Patisserie. And we thought, dessert in hand for the little one, the rest of us should get sweet treats as well! So we bought a dozen cupcakes for 8 people (you got a free 13th cupcake if you ordered 12 - it only made sense!). Below (in my personal order of least to most favorite) are the chocolate with vanilla buttercream, vanilla with vanilla buttercream, carrot with cream cheese frosting, chocolate marshmallow meringue, chocolate with raspberry buttercream and gingerbread with cream cheese frosting.
Here’s a closer look at the gingerbread with cream cheese frosting. From their website: “Made with a dark stout beer, molasses, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon and cardamom then topped with a sweet cream cheese frosting.” The clear winner in my eyes. And apparently the masses and experts both agree, because it’s their best selling cupcake and was voted “best cupcake in America” by the Food Network!
State Bird Provisions (San Francisco)
State Bird Provisions: named “2012 Best New Restaurant in America” by Bon Appetit, beating out some stiff competition, including NYC heavy hitters The NoMad, Atera, Blanca and Battersby. We would have to see for ourselves!
State Bird Provisions, which opened earlier this year, is run by husband-wife duo Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski. While their shared history includes serving time at Drew Nieporent’s Rubicon, the couple took a 3 year hiatus from the restaurant industry to cater private events, often employing an “hors d’oeurves party” format. They decided to take it to the next level: applying that hors d’ouerves format to a restaurant setting. Which is how they came up with the concept behind State Bird Provisions. Everything is offered in tapas sizes. There are two ways to load up on food: there’s a small a la carte menu of “pancakes” and “commandables” (slightly bigger portions) to choose from. Everything else (the “provisions”) arrives on dim sum carts or trays, marked with price tags ranging from $5 to $9. No one small plate in the restaurant exceeded $15.
The dim sum style ordering results in some psychological nervousness/anxiety and serious over-ordering. We noticed they’d often come to our table with one dish remaining and say “it’s the last dish of this we have right now, want it?” and the overwhelming reaction is to say “Yes!” for fear that if the opportunity is not now taken, your moment with that dish may be gone forever. The pace is a bit slower than normal Chinese dimsum, so because you don’t know what’s coming next (perhaps nothing else good?!), and you don’t know if you’ll ever see a certain dish again (not all the dishes made it out more than once), you best order it now just to be safe! So here’s a spin through the dishes our 3 person party took down….
Kimchi pork belly and tofu. Loud, spicy and pickled… but a bit too blunt for me.
Albacore crudo with quinoa and bonito-rosemary aioli. Subtle but delicious.
The namesake dish: CA state bird with provisions. Quail deep fried in a pumpkin seed/breadcrumb crust, served with a citrusy lemon onion jam, parmesan cheese and chives. Zing! That onion jam sure packed a zesty punch, which sang in perfect harmony with the slightly gamey, perfectly fried and very savory quail. Best. Dish. Of. The. Night. (Spoiler: minus dessert). We ordered 2 of these.
Guanciale (cured pork jowl), pecorino, soft boiled egg, bread crumbs, spicy tomato sauce, chanterelles and chives. Tasty. But been there, done that (blends in with a dozen other dishes I’ve had before).
Sweet corn and garlic chive “shortstack” pancakes with Cowgirl Creamery’s Mt. Tam. Awesome, in that totally guilty pleasure way. I actually buy Mt. Tam to eat on its own, but this pairing elevated it to a whole new level for me.
King salmon with mandarin oranges and a hazelnut-garum (a sauce made from fermented fish) brown butter. My brother and ATO thought this was a knock-out.
Burrata served on fried garlic bread. Can you really ever go wrong with fried bread and cheese? Me thinks not…
Togarashi oil oysters with pickled karabi. Simple but unique; clean yet flavorful.
Sungold tomatoes with fried eggplant, fried dried basil, pimenton and pickled tomatoes. Mmmmm, the tangy pickled tomatoes and that perfectly fried meaty piece of eggplant came together so well.
Duck liver mousse with almond biscuits. WTF. Heaven. Smooth, creamy, decadent musky mousse with slightly sweet, nice-and-sticky-on-the-outside but moist-and-delicious-on-the-inside biscuits.
Guinea hen dumplings with aromatic mushroom broth. ATO’s favorite dish of the night. I started to fade at this point.
Oxtail curry with bok choy and French crepes. At first, we declared this dish the biggest miss of the night. But then, the complexities and nuances in that curry really started to grow on us. And the texture of those crepes was to die for.
Almond parsley pesto and Calabrian spiced yuba, cucumber and tofu. Egh…. just OK.
Steak tartare with shishito peppers and bell pepper buttermilk. Again, nothing special.
Finally, for dessert: cheesecake japonaise with tomato caramel and strawberries. Holy sh*t. This was outstanding. My personal favorite dish of the entire night (and desserts usually never win that title for me). Savory but sweet, creamy and tart, smooth but dotted with crispy little seeds…. so out of the box and so out of this world!
All in all, a very entertaining and yummy meal. I wouldn’t, however, have picked it over Blanca, Atera or The NoMad (and we’re going to try Battersby next week). So because of all the hype and the Bon Appetit title, I left slightly underwhelmed and disappointed. But upon further reflection, I think it’s unfair to compare it to those 3 other restaurants. Because our entire meal with drinks for 3 people was less than the cost per person of either Blanca or Atera, and was even far less than a meal for 2 at The NoMad. Comparing it to similarly priced restaurants, this place is a gem. A pound for pound (or dollar for dollar) welterweight champion!
Ritual Coffee Roasters (San Francisco)
I live in Midtown, Manhattan. Finding a good coffee shop to hang out for an afternoon is always a near impossible order. I am surrounded by Starbucks (no joke - I can count at least 6 within a 5 block radius of my apartment). Why can’t we get better coffee shops around here? Actually, forget better coffee shops; why can’t we get anything but Starbucks??
On our whirlwind food tour of SF, we visited one of the local, independent coffee shops that line Valencia Street, near my brother’s apartment: Ritual Coffee Roasters. First impression: what a cool place to lounge around for an afternoon! Long tables line the back area, where hipsters and Internet geeks are clonking away on their pretty white Macs, heads bobbing to the music playing on their headphones. A few couches litter the corners of the giant industrial-looking room, where you can cozy up to a date or a nice hot cup of java.
And the coffee itself? They purchase super high quality “green” coffee beans (meaning they haven’t yet been roasted) from Central America and Kenya and roast it at a lighter roasting degree than is typical in the US (more like Scandanavian coffee). Interesting. Unfortunately I don’t drink coffee and ATO has little coffee-tasting expertise, so it just tasted like a normal cup of joe to us (and actually a bit on the bitter side). Oh well… still worth it to come for the atmosphere; very cool place to hang out for a weekend afternoon (while sitting on conference calls and drafting agreements, as ATO can attest to)!
PS - New Yorkers can have a taste of Ritual Coffee Roasters now too! Certain NY shops have begun importing it: Cafe Grumpy or Murray’s Cheese to name a couple…
Nopalito (San Francisco)
Big sister restaurant, Nopa, is “a San Francisco gathering spot” (whatever that means) known for its great organic, wood-fired rustic American/Mediterranean cuisine. Nopalito is the more casual, cheaper sidekick: the concept behind it was to serve “staff meals”, the type of food that the kitchen staff makes for itself, which in this case was apparently authentic traditional Mexican fare. And because we’re in SF, everything is made from sustainable, local and organic ingredients. Ahhh.
No doubt this place is not expensive. Nothing costs more than $16. But in my research I found its name mentioned in a few “cheap eats” lists. To me, the words “cheap Mexican food” conjure up images of grimy, hole-in-the-walls serving greasy $2 tacos, and this certainly isn’t that. Instead, this joint is bright, colorful and clean, and was bumping with baby strollers and dogs parked outside on this sunny Saturday afternoon (just like the UWS!). I was a bit surprised (and maybe disappointed) when I first caught a glimpse of the restaurant, and my initial reaction was to question Nopalito’s authenticity (apparently others have as well, throwing around allegations of “gringo” Mexican food). However, once the food started coming, all of my fears were assuaged: everything from the tortillas to the masa to the mole was made from scratch. This is certainly no Chevy’s….this is the real deal. And given the level of workmanship, the quality of the fresh ingredients and the stellar prices, you sure can’t find anything quite like it in NYC.
Some classic drinks to start: here we have the organic almond horchata. Reminded me of the cashew nut milk that BPC sells!
And the Michelada! Beer, lime juice, tomato juice and various spices. Savory yet refreshing.
The totopos con chile were the first to be served: tortilla chips topped with salsa de arbol, cotija cheese, crema and lime. Dang these were good. We were all starving by the time they arrived, and we quickly gobbled them all up.
Next up, another appetizer to share: the quesadilla roja con chicharron, which was a chili-corn tortilla filled with crispy pork belly, salsa cascabel, jack cheese, queso fresco, onions and cilantro. Dude, these appetizers reeeaaallly hit the spot (and I’d have to say that in general, they were better than the larger dishes, although admittedly we were hungrier when these arrived). Mmmmm this was my favorite starter!
Our final shared plate, the panucho de pollo al pibil: a tortilla topped with black beans and citrus-achiote chicken, cabbage, pickled red onions and salsa habanera.
Moving on to the larger plates. Chilaquiles rojos en cazuela: tortilla chips, guajillo and chipotli chilies, tomato, egg, green onion, crema and queso fresco. A tasty mix of ingredients, but it was missing that “homey, tasty leftovers” feel that you want from chilaquiles. In terms of chilaquiles in SF, GW had had better.
GW also ordered a side of the toasted sweet corn, cotija cheese, chile, lime, crema and pico de gallo de tomate cereza to accompany his main. Super super smoky. Like to the point where we were questioning whether that was the intent, or whether they had just burned the corn a bit!
Carnitas: pork braised in orange, bay leaf, milk cinnamon and beer, served with cabbage salad, pickled jalapenos and salsa de tomatillo. The taste of this dish did not match the looks. I was drooling over my neighbor’s plate of carnitas when we first walked in, but they didn’t live up to their visual appeal. They weren’t bad by any means, but they were a bit under seasoned and lackluster in general.
The enchiladas de mole con pollo: a mole sauce made of chilies, chocolate and nuts, served over shredded chicken with tortillas, onion, queso fresco and refried pinquito beans. So when I think of mole I think of the Rick Bayless version which was served to me at Topolobampo. And then no other mole can compare. This one, unfortunately, also fell victim to that high standard. It was too mild on the spices and the savory tones and too heavy on the chocolate - I do not want dessert served on my chicken!
Finally, my machaca de camaron con huevo y salsa: smashed shrimp mixed in scrambled eggs with serrano peppers, tomatoes, onions and cilantro, and served with refried black beans and salsa ligera de jitomate. This was the type of dish that grows on you, bite after bite. And even with all of that salsa and other (yummy) distractions, you really could still taste the natural flavor of that shrimp!
To end our lunch, the complimentary polvorones: sugar-dusted Mexican wedding cookies. Chomp! Now just need to find a way to digest this before dinner in 5 hours!
In-N-Out Burger (San Francisco)
Without fail, the first thing ATO’s parents ask us each time we arrive at the airport in SF is, “want to go to In-N-Out on the way home?” We hit it up on every visit of the Bay Area. Do all In-N-Out’s look like this? (See photo above). Maybe it’s because I didn’t grow up with them…. but they all look the same to me (like Asians! JK. For those who don’t know me, I’m allowed use that joke because I’m Asian).
Mmmm, milkshake. You know how sometimes it’s like near impossible to decide between vanilla, chocolate or strawberry? Well, with a Neapolitan flavor, you don’t have to! One of the world’s great problems solved. And don’t worry, I didn’t order this. No amount of Lactaid could prevent the pain that would result….but I did steal a couple of quick sips from GW.
Oh man, this makes me very happy. This was lunch. AN-I-MAL style!!! (for those non-West coasters, that means it’s topped with grilled onions, cheese and thousand island!). Listen, I grew up with McD’s and I freakin love the Big Mac as much as the next fatty…. but a Big Mac just got nothing on an Animal style In-N-Out burger! So good, so good. ATO even prefers this to Shake Shack (blasphemy!).
A very reasonably sized lunch for us, no? So reasonably sized that we left wanting more. But we had a classy wedding to attend, so we ignored our urges and went our separate ways. Except then we got drunk at said wedding, and at 12:30am, desperation and gluttony reared its ugly head and got the best of us. It was off to In-N-Out again! WTF. So gross, right? Double-header. 2 entire meals of In-N-Out in 12 hours (fine…. it was only like 8 hours). The 2nd time around, I went with AN-I-MAAAAL style fries too. OMG - I swear I shall never get plain fries there again.
Here’s a close-up of my burger, about 1 second before I took my first bite!
Quick poll: ATO and I had this argument numerous times over the weekend. What is a better comparable for In-N-Out: McD’s or Shake Shake? Let’s hear your thoughts!