Thursday, March 23, 2023

Salami burps and other gross-outs

 I'm guessing other people have this challenge of being more grossed out by crowds post-COVID? Before COVID I had no qualms about crowds and in punk spaces I've been in some of the sweatiest, stinkiest, shoutiest rooms known to man. I can still handle crowds but now I think more about people's respiration and clouds of mingled breathing. Smiller would tell you that I'm extremely sensitive to scents, especially artificial scents, not like they give me a headache or anything. I just obsess on lingering scents and get something akin to a panic attack if I can't escape one. A laundering experience in Thailand led to nights of poor sleep. I carry my own Dr. Bronner's because I would rather eat with dirty hands than ruin a restaurant meal with soap smell. I am shocked and appalled by how many upscale, well thought out restaurants have smelly soap.

Which brings us to not exactly an artificial scent but a phenomenon I've suffered through TWICE recently: someone near me having salami burps. The first time was at a show, smiller is going to have to help me out here which show, I know I mentioned it to him later. The second time was at David Cross at the Crest last night (he was pretty good, very anti-Christian and his digs at Sac were the funniest part to me).

More grossouts after the jump and also food stuff

Wednesday, March 01, 2023

Gadget alert!

 RIP to Bay Area artist David Lance Goines. He did all the Chez Panisse art I'm sure you've seen his stuff. And the Acme Bread logo with the little girl and baguettes. I always have thought that this Harbor Winery print I have was done by him but now I am doubting myself.

"She loved a good pickle plate" could be a contender for my epitaph. Cheese plate? Meh. Pickle plate? Helllloooo! Kodaiko has one that is consistently great. The top are slightly sweet mushrooms, you've got Billy's recipe kim chee which is dynamite and then some cucumber action. I got this on a stupid day when I went to Kodaiko just to get a special Filipino-influenced special ramen, then I didn't see it on the specials chalkboard and instead ordered something I didn't really want and didn't end up being into. Frustrating, but the pickle plate was the high point. Ya know what? I like their new Japanese subway-type signage too. Pozole after the jump

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Lodi is for Lovers


I've been to Guantonio's in Lodi twice, and I'm a super fan. I'm not alone! Me and smiller went on Saturday to celebrate V-Day. The restaurant opens at 5:00, we arrived at 5:10 and our wait was an hour to be seated (outside, near a heater). I would advise, you either need to get there at 445, or come around 7 and you won't have much of a wait. Definitely 530 or 6 is a bad time to arrive. 

Waiting is not too bad, because you can get an excellent brew or bottle of wine and stand at tables outside (also by heaters). Folks tend to chat amongst the tables. It's very friendly. We heard another table from Sacramento who was really making friends, and we talked to a Lodi couple about restaurants they like in Sac. We got a tip from those locals that the Lodi Airport cafe (only open M-F for lunch and Sunday brunch) has really good food. The motto is "eat. fly. skydive." but I would def subtract "skydive" due to the safety record of that skydiving business.

We were seated slightly after 6, which is not late to eat so it was fine. We got a bottle of an Italian red blend. The owner seems to come out to open every bottle and discuss it, so that's a pro tip if you want to give compliments to the chef.

Guantonio's has a very exciting menu. I will often look at a menu and feel pretty meh about everything, but because of the creativity of the app menu at Guad's, I usually want to get just about everything. This time we chose a deep-fried hardboiled egg. It has a breadcrumb shell and was served with house-made chive mayo and topped with trout roe. That's honey on the plate! Crazy! Nick G. loves honey, if you get his pie "Nick-style" it's a roni pie with ricotta and hot honey.

I love a winter salad! So if I see some pretty-ass chicory on a salad I WILL be ordering it. This one had yuzu AND grapefruit AND crunchies (in the form of peanuts) AND miso AND dukkah and like a true salad master (sadly rare) it all came together to make this salad off the chain. My only note: maybe pistachios instead of peanuts? I should not be giving a genius notes tho.

 On to the pie. It had Olympia Provisions mortadella. It just goes to show how hard charcuterie is that some of the best can't be found any closer that Portland (there's Molinari for closer), but anyway I really should be eating more mortadella (doctor's orders) so this was a natural to choose. Also, hot peppers. The pizza is quite good, it lacked a crunch or crisp or chewy factor, not talking middle sog, but edge crust, which was a little more crust than I need. It's so hard to write about pizza, as I found when I briefly worked for Slice (RIP to that website). There are many pizza styles in the world, but  my partiality to Masullo's pizzas colors my perception of this type, which I won't really call Neopolitan but I guess wood-fired.

We even got dessert, which we never do, but eff it, it's Valentine's Day. Buffalo milk vanilla and salted caramel soft serve.  We saw a lot of takeout orders leaving with "Noni's canoli" so those are probably good. I think his dad and mom were working the kitchen, so perhaps Noni was there. 

Later that night we went to Dancing Fox Winery, which has a very interesting beer list, and then in the morning we went to Charro's Birriera, which I had clocked the day prior.

You know I'm gonna get stoked when I order birria and they ask me if I want goat or beef. The answer will always be G.O.A.T.

OMG so good.

Here's a taco made from my soup.

Smiller got a birria taco and a quesabirria taco, so his breakfast was ridiculously cheap, got a little bowl of consomme too.
My check was expensive because I got the full soup and a Michelada too! Hair of the dog for the wine and beer at Guad's the night before

Conclusion: Lodi is rad (in some ways!)

Monday, January 23, 2023

Still craving Taiwanese food and tried Betty

After that pork belly bao I was still thinking about Taiwan best mart, so I went back on Saturday lunch with Smiller to try dining in. It only has two tables and both were full but within a few minutes of ordering both opened up. While I was waiting for a table I poked my head in Osaka Ya. There was a line of people for the mochi, but I noted that Osaka Ya is looking careworn. Using this word made me look it up and it means "tired and unhappy because of prolonged worry" so I am somewhat using it incorrectly. I guess I mean "worse for wear". They have that broken window that's been boarded up for a long time. Anyway, wondering what is going on and hoping Osaka Ya is thriving.

At TBM I ordered an oyster omelet. It had 5 or 6 big oysters in there, strong-tasting ones. I would describe the texture with the gravy, and rice flour out-muscling the eggs as "gloppy". It's my first oyster omelet and I ordered it due to being bummed to not have the opportunity to order an oyster omelet in Thailand, so for me it was swing and a miss but interesting! I'm sure it is quite different from a Thai oyster omelet so I think my ordering motives were not pure. 

One of the main dishes commonly associated with Taiwanese food is beef noodle soup. I have had tastier versions, including at Yang's (RIP) but this was good. The seemingly house made noodles were the best part. The bok choy was too chunky to be able to get good bites of it.

Smiller got sesame noodles with the same noodles above and he purported to like it, that dish is a bit plain if you don't add anything to it.

It was fun to eat there, and I am very stoked on Taiwan Best Mart and trying more of the dishes. 

I know you are marveling that I posted this here rather than saving for the Gram. This is like Instagram gold right here so feel privileged. This is the back patio at new Southside wine bar Betty. I hesitated to go in because I am ride-or-die on Good News and I always feel like I should spend my wine money there. A friend said Betty was really cute so I had to go. It is indeed, cute as hell. Smiller was wondering aloud who created the wine bar/store as pantry/larder concept? Who was the first to decide that a wine bar should sell foodstuffs such as drum roll please....tinned fish! I know Ordinaire has been hugely influential on natty wine stuff but they pretty much focus on wine, so it's not them.

I respect the vibe of the Betty selection, particularly in the store part. It's tough to order a glass when a place picks one wine for each category (like one white, one rose, etc.) because if I want a white wine but not the one they have on offer then what the heck do I order? But I loved the classic Euro feel of some of the picks on the shelves. I feel like it is respecting the greats and has lots of natural wine but is not trend chasing. It has such a female feel to it, due to the name, the owner being female, and the crowd when we were there being 80% female, so it's like the antithesis of natty wine bro. 

Due to the limited selection, I had to order an Italian orange wine (shudder), this is an orange version of a pinot grigio and it tasted mostly just like a glass of white PG. I am kinda kidding when I say shudder but I find orange wine to often have off flavors and mouth textures (didn't say mouthfeel) that I don't enjoy. For my first glass I got an Italian white,

Betty is a cute (did I say mention it's cute?) new addition to the "scene" and hopefully Sac is big enough for all these places to find their niche.

Friday, January 20, 2023

Happy Lunar New Year I ate some dumplings

 I still want to post more about the food in Thailand, but I wanted to do a quick post on recent food "adventures". I have a new year's resolution to lose weight (I know) but also to eat more Asian food (in general and specifically in Davis when I am at the office) and to do more fine dining this year (trying out some fancy places is actually smiller's resolution but I am in favor) so those resolutions are really at odds!

Dating back as my time to SNR as food critic, I get news releases from people. A lady who flacks for Black Angus sends me stuff (I don't have the heart to unsubscribe, I guess I'm like what if I'm the last person left on her list who has not opted out of news releases with the subject line BLACK ANGUS STEAKHOUSE LAUNCHES NEW MOBILE APP), and also Paragary's related places. So I got an announcement that Centro is having crab month. That has set me on a seafood craving path. I def do not eat enough seafood (I mean if I see food....right?) Centro is really close to our house yet I never eat there. I was determined to go there for CRAB MONTH. I made this happen and these are Dungeness crab tacos. We discovered that they now have a tomatillo salsa with the free chips and not the pico de gallo we all remember. I got an excellent Oaxaca margarita with mescal. This food was very bland (I mean duh it's Centro). This made me realize that it may have been these specific black beans that made me think back in the day that I did not like black beans. They just tasted like salt. Now I know that black beans can be very rich and delicious and are the backbone of some regional Mexican food, like in Oaxaca. But when I was  young (days of yore) this was my intro. Also this rice is just...white rice, with maybe a little oil. No seasoning! We had a great time and don't worry Centro is exactly the same and was crowded on a Tuesday.
A friend (CH) recommended I try these juicy pork buns from Tasty Dumpling (Crocker Village). I was skeptical because some of these dumping chains seem really meh. She said it was not a chain, which seems to hold up upon Google research. Their specialty seems to be XLB soup dumpling; their menu is very interesting. She warned me that these juicy guys are squirters, and indeed they are! Make sure you let them cool before you get your juice bath. I put on an apron, but some juice squirted on my phone. They are a two-bite dumpling. They come with chili oil and vinegar. I will be back to this place! I got takeout but would like to eat there because the bready wrapper was steaming in the container and had collapsed
As part of the aforementioned resolution to eat at a fancy-ish place once a month, we ate at Mulvaney's. I def have affection for and support these people behind this restaurant but boy was this a disappointing meal. The entire cute main restaurant was reserved for a private event (I had made reservations for "dining room", which I assumed was the restaurant), so we were in the other area, which has kind of a warehouse feel. Not bad, but not cozy. I won't belabor all of it but it was an off night. We ordered this app, smoked salmon and brown bread, which is a Mulvaney's classic. It was good, although the onions were a bit strong and plentiful. But it's not like they can control the onion strength, I just avoided them. Although on second thought I do control the strength of red onions by lightly pickling them :) Our food all tasted good, but the beverage choices were not exciting.
DUDE LOOK AT THIS BAD BOY. I already knew Taiwan Best Mart was the bomb from semi-regularly getting their rice bowl with stewed pork, pickle and stewed egg. But today I thought: I should try something new. I saw this gua bao for only five bucks (it's about the size of a fist): pork belly, pickled mustard greens, cilantro peanut powder on steamed white bun. DAMN SON this is just as good as the one I got at cool guy LA spot Pine and Crane. I'm excited as you can tell. Fine dining is hard to deal with price-wise, because it's rare that anything you get for say, $38 is as delicious as this was, IMO. Here's an article on why fine dining is unsustainable in its current form. Many think pieces of this kind are coming out now due to Noma's announcement of their eventual closing.

I also got Zha Jiang Mian which they describe as zha-jiang (ground pork, beacurd, edamame, sweet flour sauce and bean paste) on noodles with cucumber and scallion. The noodles stuck together (this would be a better dine-in dish) but the zha-jiang was nicely salty/savory.

Thursday, December 29, 2022

Beef noodle soup and roti

This beef noodle restaurant in Chiang Mai (Rote Yiam) is famous, and is in the Michelin guide. It had many pics of Thai celebs with the owners.

You pick your meat assortment, I got meatball, tendon and steak and you pick the type of noodle too. This was a delicious bowl of soup, especially the tendon. I would not have minded more pieces of it. Portions in Thailand tend to be small by our standards, which is kind of nice when you want to hit up multiple restaurants.
This is the big pot at the front that they mix your soup up from.

This pic above is from a roti shop in Chiang Rai. Remember how I said yesterday that my fancy hotel was right near tons of good restaurants? This Roti shop was less than ten minutes, and it was a fun walk down residential streets. I ended up talking to 3 little girls while they showed off their various cats to me. You can see pots of curry, with fried fish there in the middle and beef at bottom
Wiki reveals that Thailand is 5-10% Muslim and you see quite a few women in headscarves. So there are halal restaurants and some of them specialize in roti. Dessert roti booths are ubiquitous at night markets. The roti is fried up fresh and filled with nutella, bananas, what have you. I got a banana egg one that was bomb. Above is a beef curry soup and roti. Both were pretty small and since they were so good I also got...
Chicken-and-egg stuffed roti. I could eat this all the time. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

A great Chiang Rai restaurant Lab Sanam Keela

 I did a trip by myself to Thailand recently. Some people asked "why Thailand" and my answer was that I already knew I liked SE Asia, having previously visited Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia (just Phnom Penh), and that post-COVID I was feeling unsure about how travel would be so it seemed like a good idea to go a heavily touristed country. Of course the food was on my mind, and the question of what it would be like there vs. the Thai food in Sacramento and what I grew up eating.

I don't think I ever, or rarely ate Thai food growing up. Moving downtown in the mid-90s Amarin Thai (now called Bangkok@12 Thai and frequently crashed into by cars) was the jam, I can't remember why. It was one of the few on the grid probably. I remember getting curries and Tom Yum soup. Working in Davis for almost the last 20 years, there are so many Thai restaurants (many have closed and the popularity of Thai with college students has maybe waned in favor of Chinese, especially boba chains) and coworkers always wanted to go to Thai for birthdays etc. I always kind of groused about that internally because I thought the food was bland and often too sweet, and never liked that kind of pounded out breast meat that was what you got when you ordered chicken as the protein. Sophia's of course is still going strong in Davis, which at times has served as a fun venue and which Davis loves for their sweet cocktails.

My knowledge of Thai food barely progressed past that really. I got into Laotian food from learning more about it at Hmong New Year and there's a definite overlap there but my curiosity to find good Thai food in Sac wasn't really piqued. I ate at Kin Thai once with KW before the pandemic (if memory serves) and then got takeout there once or twice during, and once the ordering process went really wrong so although it's walkable from my house and I could tell it's really popular I didn't eat there often.

Anyway, although I posted lots of IG-bait pics of temples to IG while I was gone, I didn't post as many food pics, so I wanted to do a whole post on the food. I'll start in the city where I ended my trip, which ended up being my favorite place I visited: Chiang Rai. Chiang Rai is far north and kind of equidistant from Laos and Myanmar, very close to both. I still know nothing about Myanmar food, but I def had food in CR that I think of as Lao style.

I'll start with the first meal I ate when I arrived in CR (it was 4 hours via swank bus from Chiang Mai). I had decided to splurge on a 4 star hotel ($130 a night for White Lotus vibez) and I was a bit concerned that it was outside the city center, but I figured if that was annoying to get back into the center that I would just stay at the hotel a lot and maybe eat lame hotel food. But on the tuk tuk from the bus station  (10 minutes) we passed multiple crowded restaurants that were 5-10 minute walk from the hotel. I was so psyched. I checked in, gawked at the room/pool etc and right away headed to a very close place that specializes in larb, called Lab Sanam Keela. Their pork larb is pictured above. It has bits of liver, skin, unknown bits in there but was not gamy or particularly strong tasting, just delicious. It was warm and a bit saucy. Sticky rice seems more common in northern Thailand, probably the Lao proximity influence, not sure, and look at those herbs! The herbs were the real draw, and also cabbage and mustard greens to make wraps. Dude at the table next to me was eschewing implements to ball up the sticky rice in his hand and use it to scoop etc. so I did the same.

I isolated some of the interesting herbs. This one had an incense-like flavor. I just spent about 15 minutes browsing Thai and Lao herbs to try to find what it is with no luck. Even a reverse image scan didn't work.
The one above was slightly bitter and very sour and I made a joke on IG "it me". Pause for laugh.
And then you have fish mint, which I recognized from Vietnamese dishes I've had.

Here's what it looks like from the outside. I liked it so much that I went back for dinner the next day. The first day I went for late lunch, the restaurant only had a few others, the second time I was at prime dinner time and it was quite crowded, many big parties. Traveling alone and not being Thai I stood out and this visit was a bit awkward. I felt self conscious as a weirdo, and then they sat me directly in the entrance so then I'd be the first person that every party coming in saw so the awkwardness just kept rolling on but oh well.
On my prior visit I saw this dish at a table and the roasted squash sold me that I had to try it. It was not on the English language menu, but I looked up a pic from online reviews of this place and screenshotted it for ordering. There was some concern from the server about me ordering it, to the extent she brought someone out from the kitchen about it, but the language barrier just couldn't be overcome. I assured the kitchen guy I would not send it back. It was completely not spicy or unusual to a Western palate so I'm not sure what the concern was. Anyway, it's a mild green chili dip and veggies. Great!
This fried fish dish is a show-stopper, it's on many tables and the dip is the real story. Really heavy on the lime and so good. All the puffy bits on top of the fish are whole garlic cloves, deep-fried, some with a bit of papery garlic skin still on. The meat is filleted and fried and is resting on the skeleton of the fish. I think initially some of the concern is just that I ordered too much food, and true that, but I knew this would be the last time I could ever eat there so I had to go all out.
I wanted to capture this tableau because the best way to drink watery beer in a hot climate is of course on ice.
One last thing that was a little bit funny was after I had been served, the guy from the kitchen who had earlier tried to dissuade me from the dip plate brought me this little bowl of pork belly soup to see if I liked it. I feel like he was trying to get a feel for if it pleased a Western palate and I assured him it was great. You can see that it has cilantro, the varietal that's stronger tasting, and you don't see cilantro super commonly in Thailand in my eating experience in my limited time.

So that's that restaurant, probably my fave place all around that I ate but true to the awkward and experimental nature of travel not always easy and comfortable at all times.