Friday, July 29, 2005

osha thai noodle house, valencia street

in all the years that i've lived in the mission i've never, not once, stepped foot inside osha thai noodle house on valencia street. why? well, the prices seemed just a tad high and i'm just not a huge fan of thai food, what will all that fish sauce and seafood floating around. plus, it's always looked so damn crowded every time i've walked by. i don't like crowds, it makes me think of lemmings. lemmings and good food do not usually mix. or do they?

but now that i'm older and more inclined to spend more than ten dollars on a meal, i decided to give this little thai restaurant a shot, mostly due to the fact that a friend of mine and a very picky eater swears by the place.

my first visit was during the lunch hour, around 1 pm on a weekday and although there were a few diners scattered around, the place was anything but crowded. i was pleased.

to start we ordered the tofu satay with peanut sauce ($ 5.50). it was absolutely delicious. the fried and grilled tofu slightly seasoned with curry was smoky and chewy and crispy and perfect with the thick peanut sauce and cucumber-onion relish that accompanied it. it was just so darn meaty. it was a great start.

and then we waited. and waited. and waited. just as i signalled to the waiter to see if perhaps our order had been forgotten our main dishes arrived. first came the pad see you ($ 7.95), a pan fried noodle dish with tofu, garlic, egg (omitted at our request) and chinese broccoli in a black bean sauce. it tasted like they'd forgotten the sauce or something. it was bland. it wasn't bad and tasted much better once i'd added some condiments. on the positive side, however, it wasn't greasy like most thai fried noodle dishes.

and then came the pumpkin curry with tofu ($7.95). kabocha squash, bell pepper, bamboo shoots, sweet basil in a red curry sauce. wow! we requested medium spicy and we got it medium spicy, meaning that it left a heat on the tongue without searing it. the curry was sweet and creamy and rich and spicy all at the same time. it tasted like it had a coconut milk base but the coconut was not particularly assertive. it really hit the perfect balance.

that was the first visit. the second visit was during an early dinner. we again ordered the tofu satay and pumpkin curry. both dishes were as good as the first time, although much more beautifully presented. on this visit, my dining companion ordered the salmon and prawn satay with peanut sauce ($6.95), which she really liked. we then shared the fresh mango salad ($7.95) with the seafood on the side. this dish did not impress. it was too fishy from the fish sauce, had too little mango (extruded in distressing worm like shapes) and the dressing was just not very assertive. my first instinct was to go with the papaya salad, which i've heard good things about. maybe next time. we also shared an order of the special of the night - a thai eggplant dish with basil, garlic, black mushrooms over tofu. again, this dish was just okay. although the flavors were good, it lacked a richness - it seemed almost watery. the eggplant was cooked very nicely, a little firm to the bite. i think the dish would have benefitted immensely from the addition of the filet of sole, which was it's intended base. the other star of the evening was the coconut rice. if you like coconut, you have to order this very coconut-ty and rich-but-not-too-over-the-top rice to accompany your meal.

for drinks we had thai ice tea (very very sweet-too sweet for me) and a rockin' lychee sake soju cocktail (very very tasty-i had two). although not crowded, service again was a little off, with a very long lag time between the appetizers and the main courses.

overall, the food is good with some real standouts. i think the key is to order carefully, culling recommendations before you go and making sure to request some condiments on the side, just in case. the ambiance is nice - a fairly spacious, light filled, modern dining room, it's "hip" without being annoying. portions are fair to large, they were really nice about leaving out fish sauce here and there, and hey, the place is open till midnight.

osha thai noodle house
819 valencia street
san francisco, ca
415 826 7738

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

maggie mudd

maggie mudd's is a little ice cream shop on cortland avenue not too far from wildside west, one of my favorite bars-with-a-killer-backyard/garden/patio that you can drink in during one of those rare, sultry san francisco nights. located just past the majority of restaurants on the strip, you can't miss it... it is marked by a gigantic, six foot tall ice cream cone standing sentinal outside. and you shouldn't miss this place, especially if you are an ice-cream jonesing vegan. or are vegan friendly. or just vegan curious. for those falling into none of the preceeding catagories, they do indeed carry the real, six cylindar, twelve udder thing. and just for the record, i've never met a vegan ice cream i've liked. that is until now.

pictured below is the mexican chocolate (in front) and the mudslide (rear).

both are vegan and i swear to god you abosolutely can't tell. almost. sweet and creamy and delicious. and in addition to "dairy free" ice creams, they crank out a largish selection of regular ice creams, gelatos, low fat/no sugar added ice creams, sherberts, ice cream cakes, shakes, frozen yogurt, waffle cones (also vegan!), and the list goes on and on and on.

the vegan selections use one of two different bases: soy or coconut milk. the mexican chocolate flavor is soy-based with a good strong chocolate flavor with just enough cinnamon to come through without being bitter or overpowering. the ice cream itself if creamy creamy creamy, though i could tell, just slightly, that it wasn't the real deal. it was just a tad lighter than dairy ice cream, which is not a bad thing. the mudslide, on the other hand, is better than regular old lactose based scoops. it uses a coconut base and if you like coconut this is the way to go. as we all know, coconut tastes really good and creamy and fatty because it's really bad for you. this is why it tastes so good. the mudslide has a thicky hearty coconut tinged chocolate based and is stuffed full of brownie bits, nuts (i think), gooey streaks of chocolate, chunks of chocolate. wow. it's insane.

for more information they have a website with a menu and scrumptious looking pictures.

maggie mudd
903 cortland avenue, san francisco
415 641 5291

Thursday, July 21, 2005

ryowa (formerly kobe), berkeley

i really wanted to love this place, i really did. when i used to go to the mountain view branch when they first opened i did, i really did like it a lot. sigh. tv blaring japanese variety shows, selection of newspapers and comic type books to browse, great big bowls of free kimchee, endless supplies of barley tea, house-made ramen noodles....what was not to like?

and the berkeley branch has all of the same elements, except for the kimchee that was, during my visit, made of what looked to be prarie grass (probably chives) and not cabbage. it reminded me of the stuff my cat eats just before he throws up.

i ordered the vegetarian ramen (6.50), which was, as you can see, big. it came with a little carrot, wakame seaweed, spinach, daikon sprouts, seasoned shitake mushrooms and a bit of toasted nori. the broth was interesting. a little sweet and quite nutty. neither like the clear fish/pork/seaweed stock broths i'm accustomed to, nor like a miso broth. it tasted peanut-ty but probably was sesame based. it was good, not great. the noodles themselves came out undercooked. they were a little too chewy but maybe this was intentional because by the time i got 1/4 of the way into my meal they had softened up to just about the perfect firmnes. this was the good.

and this was the bad.

a bowl of chilled noodle ($8.50!!!), available only in the summertime. it was awful. the noodles were undercooked. the sauce had no real flavor or zing to it. it was topped with pickled ginger, a little cucumber, some canned corn, and some hard chewy pickled strips (dried pickled daikon? i have no idea). the only predominant flavor was that of pickles and canned corn. it tasted bland at the very best, pickled and canned at the worst. oh, and it came with 1/2 of a hard boiled egg with a pale yellow yolk sporting a green halo.

the place, at lunchtime, was filled with japanese people, most of whom seemed to be ordering the lunch sets which included a choice of ryowa ramen/soy sauce ramen/soybeans ramen/butter corn ramen, all accompanied by 3 pieces of gyoza and either steamed rice (7.00) or for .50 cents more, fried rice. this seems like a pretty good deal and maybe the one to go with.

although i did not sample them, the gyoza did look good....perfectly browned and crisp looking little fat pockets of stuffed dough. and they have a vegetarian version on the menu for 3.50.

the verdict? at all costs avoid the cold noodle dish, oreder yourself a lunch special and kick back and watch a little japanese variety show programming.

other people seem to love this place. to check out their rave reviews, click here and here and here .

ryowa ramen
2068 university avenue (near shattuck)
berkeley, ca

Friday, July 08, 2005


a few weekends ago, on a sunday evening, my consort (i just love that word!) and i had just finished watching the hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy at the four star on clement street. not on the large screen, mind you, but the small one, which makes me feel like i'm watching a friend's vacation slides projected in the "family den" of a cookie cutter, pre-fabricated house buried deep in the bowels of a newly constructed bedroom community. which really gets my goat. the screen, not the housing. heck, after living crammed into overpriced and undersized san francisco apartments with zero amenities, those tract homes don't look all that bad. anyway, back to my other rant. if i am watching a movie on a screen that 75% smaller than the main screen, in a room that is 75% smaller, why, oh in god's name why, am i paying exactly the same admission price as those fools getting all the big screen action? if the ticket were discounted even just a little, it would not make me quite so steaming mad. now don't get me wrong - this is no beef against the four star, which i love, or the "little" roxie, which i also love, but it's the principle of the thing, y'know?

anyhow, this is how i ended up dining at mescolanza, a little italian joint basically across the street from the four star. i know, i know, i could have gone to pizzete 211 just a block down, but i didn't feel like pizza.

so back to clement street. this little strip is interesting and jam packed with dining options. there appeared to be a several promising looking places: thai, indian, a meat/organic deli place (ak subs, owned by the same people who own the south of market one), a vietnamese banh mi deli, at least one japanese place, and others i'm sure i overlooked. so as my beady little black eyes peered at the window-side dining customers in these venues, undoubtedly frightening them into an early bout of indigestion, the place that appeared to have the largest clientele and the more authentic (oh, i know, bad, bad un-p.c. me) looking clientele was this mescolanza place. so in we went.

and on a sunday evening the place was almost full. having drunk a flask of booze and a eaten a bag of popcorn (all in the spirit of the free-wheelin', free-associatin', steam-of-consciousness spouting movie selection of the evening, i assure you) we weren't so very hungry and so skipped over the appetizers and hit a few pasta dishes. my dining companion ordered the evening's special of fresh spinach lingune in a clam sauce and i, sucker that i am for gnocchi, selected the spinach gnocchi in a light tomato cream sauce.

now let me tell you that the first time i had gnocchi was in italy. in rome. in a little outdoor trattoria not too far from the train station. and it was beautiful. it melted in my mouth like a piece of chocolate. like a piece of that hazelnut chocolate i used to love as a kid, i think it was called ice cubes, or some such thing. since then i've tried, how i've tried to find that gnocchi of my young, virginal dreams. and mescolanza came close. the closest yet.

but first the bad. the dining room is basically a box with poor acoustics. it is not a warm place, despite the murals on the walls. some reviewers on citysearch say it's "cozy" and maybe it is if you don't end up plopped on a center table. where we were seated, in the eye of the hurricane, it felt cozy like someone's garage. but maybe i'm just sensitive to that, having lived in mexico where, more likely than not, you are dining in someone's garage. one of the specials of the night, the spinach linguine with clams ( about $14.00) was way too salty. the pasta itself was excellent, cooked slightly al dente with a good strong spinach flavor. the menu claims their pastas are house-made and i believe them. the clams were another high point as they were very fresh.

and the good. well, here it is:

oh, i know it doesn't look good, but looks can be and often are deceiving. it was divine. the spinach gnocchi (about $11.00) just melted in my mouth. an excellent choice for your toothless dining pal with the beady black eyes. the light tomato cream sauce looked brutish but tasted subtle and delicious. and the best part was that it was gigantic. it was the best gnocchi i've tasted since that late afternoon in rome. really.

and they had some rockin' looking authentic italian looking pizzas on the menu (thin crust with some blistering, minimal toppings) for around ten bucks a piece.

the clam eater wasn't impressed with his dish but loved mine (grrrr....back off bivalve eater!) and he doesn't even like gnocchi. the next time i will sample the pizette as an appetizer followed by my creamy dreamy pillows of roman fantasy, the almightly gnocchi. for more reviews go here citysearch reviewers give this place a whopping 9.8, which i think is crazy-talk. based on our two dishes i'd give it more like a 9, whatever that means.

2221 clement street
san francisco, ca
415 668 2221
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