July 14, 2005

One strong caipirinha to wash it down


Several months ago, my Portuguese friend, Mikas, clued me into a new Brazilian joint called Carioca, that opened on 3rd & Clement St in the Richmond. We went there on somewhat of a whim, and were lucky enough to squeeze one last meal out of the closing kitchen.

I had some of the best beef I've ever had that night -- a steak with mustard sauce and a beef carpaccio to literally DIE for. It was memorable, and we vowed to do it again.

Months later, we decide to treat ourselves to some nail salon action, then hit Carioca again for dindin. Well no such luck! As quickly as the restaurant opened, it closed. *Groan* With stomachs growling, we had to find a carnivorous joint as substitute and fast!

I mention seeing a newly opened Brazilian steakhouse on the corner of Gough & Market; and we hit the gas and fly over. Aiiii! It's Friday night and crowded. We couldn't wait the wait, so settle for Chinese in the Mission which was far, far away from the original plan. Again, we vow to check out that Brazilian steakhouse.

So Mikas rings me last Friday and we talk the possibility of steak. We hot-tail it to Espetus (the restaurant's name btw) and get ready for a much longed for dining experience.

Espetus is an all you can eat buffet-style Churrascaria, or "House of Barbeque." Before coming here, I was advised by a Brazilian guy to skip the buffet and just concentrate on the meat. "Don't even bother with the chicken," he said. Though delicious, the main event is the wonderful grilled beef, pork and lamb.

I meet Mikas and Mario at the front of Espetus and we proceed to get busy. The place is packed, and there's a bit of a wait for a table. Not too long though, for a Friday. We decide to grab drinks at the bar and wait it out.

Mikas scans the drink menu and mentions they serve caipirinha, a Brazilian cocktail made of muddled sugar & limes, mixed with a glassful of ice and cachaca, a VERY strong sugar cane brandy. Being a classic gin & tonic girl, I thought I could hold my own here, but damn! This cachaca was a totally new spirit for me. I could feel my cheeks warming and I wondered when we were going to get to the steak business, because the last thing I needed was to get loopy at the bar over a pre-dinner cocktail.

Finally, the hostess taps our shoulders and seating appears. Btw, Mikas and Mario both have delicious-looking Sangrias of both the red and white varieties. They looked fresh and yummy, and weren't overloaded with orange wedges like most crappy cafe sangrias tend to be. Ok, I veer, back to the beef.

We get seated, we grab plates, go to the corner buffet and carefully select from a choice of sides that are only the minor players tonight. I get a little paella, a green salad, hearts of palm, baby asparagus and a bit of white rice topped with a toasted root powder, that I know nothing about. Mario tells me Mikas always puts that on top of her rice, so I follow suit. I imagine it's like a manioc or tapioca starch which I'm pretty familiar with.

As soon as we get ourselves reseated, the swords of meat make appearances at our table:

pincanha (sirloin flavored with sea salt & garlic)
lombinho (parmesan encrusted pork loin)
linguica (pork sausage)
coracao de frango (grilled chicken hearts -- a fave of Mikas & Mario)
alcatra (more sirloin)
pork loin
jumbo shrimp

Our soldiers of meats & one seafood, are brought to our table and the server slices off what we like. Most is yummy and grilled to perfection. The pincanha especially! This is the main reason to go. It's sublime -- a thin slice of medium rare sirloin with an edge of fat and a salty char crust. Your mouth will thank you tenfold.

We realize we can't keep up with the march of meats, and notice there's a little "yes please" and "no thank you" sign at the edge of our table. The servers come to you when it's "on" and not when it's "off." We quickly turn it off and work in on the slices before us.

It was like a job -- the eating. You really have to pace yourself and take only what you can handle. Thankfully one of the servers comes out with a sword of grilled pineapple, to clear our palates midway through the meal. We manage to get it all down and proceed to nurse our drinks. Me with my big, strong caipirinha just waiting to take me down.

I couldn't believe we decided to do dessert, but man I'm glad we did. Mikas and I order coconut mousse and passionfruit mousse, respectively, with the intention of sharing. My Lord both mousses (meeses, mice?) were amazingly good -- especially together. You could go to Espetus just for these 2 desserts. Sooooo good. The coconut tastes like a coconut, not like an overly sweet interpretation you get with most non-tropic derived desserts (Baker's coconut can kiss my ass). The passionfruit mousse is strongly flavored and was a bit much for Mario. I love this fruit, so it was fine for me, but cutting it with the coconut elevated the flavor many more levels.

I'm exhausted now just reliving this eating experience. Alright, I'll wrap it up. Espetus -- go there, you will not be disappointed. Vegeterians you will be.

Brazilian Churrascaria
1686 Market Street @ Gough
San Francisco, CA
415 522 8792

July 03, 2005

Totally Tonkatsu - Japantown

Dinner, Tonkatsu
Originally uploaded by jetalone

I've just rolled home from a feast of a feast of a late lunch, and I am beat. A good friend is in town, and we're preparing for July 4th BBQ celebratons for tomorrow. After today's earlier meat selecting and gathering needed ingredients, the troupe of shoppers decided to head over to Japantown to Takara Restaurant, one of our favorite, comfy Japanese restaurants.

Takara is tucked into the back hallways of Japantown's maze of indoor/psuedo outdoor shopping malls. It's literally set back from the rest of "restaurant row" and you probably wouldn't know of its existence if someone didn't tell you about it.

I was introduced to Takara by my friends Rio & Peter who raved about its excellent tonkatsu. I have loved Japanese food since childhood, but never understood the appeal of tonkatsu. That is, until Takara. Ever crave a crispy, yet juicy porkchop? Well that's a good tonkatsu, and Takara does it right. Damned good right! The cutlet is fried perfectly: crunchy crispy w/out a trace of greasiness, and the pork within is juicy joylicious. Not dry and lifeless of past tonkatsus I've encountered.

We've never eaten at Takara during din-din hours, and discovered their dinner portions are double lunch size. That's a fried pork fest, I tell you. With our stomachs churning, we order a slew of dishes eating with our eyes:

agedashi tofu (fried tofu w/grated daikon in a light, sweet sauce)
karaage (fried chicken)
a large platter of various sushi
shrimp & vegetable tempura
saba (grilled mackerel)
chowan mushi (savory egg custard)
japanese pickles
miso soup
kakuni (stewed fatty pork)
tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet *the star*)
and one perfectly fried shrimp head (which Rio & I shared)

After bouts of "mini breaks", we all managed to clean our plates. I even had room for a small scoop of red bean ice cream to close my door. A marathon meal and worth it. Outside of tonkatsu, I highly recommend any of Takara's seafood dishes. Their sushi especially is fresh and clean tasting.

Skip any run of the mill Japanese dishes and go for the winners. I do have to note that although the karaage was flavorful, it was missing that "something" that would make me order it again. Maybe it needed more salt or another seasoning to kick it up a bit.

I would recommend the agedashi tofu. It's a different style from most places I've ordered in that the silken, fried tofu pieces come swimming in a thick, slighty sweet sauce with shitake mushrooms, but the taste is absolutely delicious. Not heavy as one would expect from the presentation.

If you're in Japantown craving hearty Japanese fare away from the tourist trap joints near Benihana, check out Takara Restaurant. It's located in the Peace Plaza, at the foot of the Miyako Inn fronting Post St, around the corner from Mifune and Seoul Garden. Make sure to call for hours and most importantly, bring friends!

Takara Restaurant
22 Peace Plz Ste 202
San Francisco, CA 94115-3611
(415) 921-2000
Cross Street: near Geary Blvd.

July 02, 2005

RIP Luther Vandross -- I raise my cup to you

Ritual Coffee Roasters
Opening day
Originally uploaded by DogMilque.

Some SF days are overcast and foggy. Summer can be a hit or miss. Today it was lovely outside and I couldn't wait to pull out my new-yet-used cheapo bike and take care of errands around my hood.

My can of Cafe La Llave has run out at home, and a glass of oolong milk tea just didn't cut it this morning. I remember seeing a new cafe in the neighborhood, next to Lost Weekend Video, called Ritual Coffee Roasters. It's nice, shiny exterior has taken over a space I barely remember. I roll over dying for a tall glass of espresso con ice.

After struggling for a few minutes w/my new bike lock (I'm still trying to figure this one out), I walk into a busy space reeking in the most delicious way of fresh, roasted beans. I figured I'd sit myself down w/a cup and write out the monthly rent check. No dice, this place was packed to the brim.

Oh well, I may as well get my coffee to go. I ordered a double iced espresso, and was served up a glass of ice mixed w/the anticipated dark elixer. I make my way to the bar to dress it up and find a nice surprise of liquid sugar! Now in Asia and most of the Pacific, liquid sugar (or sugar syrup) is a common sweetener for iced drinks. It's one of those common sense things that just hasn't caught up to the cafes here. With sugar syrup you never worry about stirring your drink to oblivion in hopes of dissolving the sugar crystals. Sweeten up and you're ready freddy.

Post-espresso dressing, I finally give my iced espresso a sip and oh my lord.... it was the best cup of coffee I ever had. Truly! It beat Martha Bros on 24th St in Noe Valley hands down. Now that's saying a lot. I had to have more.... but I felt aprehensive, especially since I really needed to write that rent check and get on w/my life. Oh what to do... I wanted to savor that cup slowly & surely. I figured the next best thing was to take away a 1/2lb of the house roast, "Hair Blender." Oh lovely this Hair Blender! I grab my bag of goodness and zip away.

After careful produce selection at one of my favorite markets on 23rd & S.Van Ness, unsuccessful thrifting at Salvation Army and roasted chicken noshing at one of the divey Chinese take-out joints -- I head home to feed the guinea pigs their Summer salad and take in some Chocolate City on KCRW.com.

I realized much of this evening's mix was a lot of 80's & 90's soul, which is usually not the norm on this wonderful radio show. The answer to today's theme is brought to light when the host announces a tribute to r&b balladeer Luther Vandross, who passed away today at 54.

I have fond memories of Luther's early tunes -- Never Too Much, A House Is Not A Home, and the entire The Night I Fell In Love album. One track in particular, Creepin' is one of his most underrated songs. It's a slow, sultry tune that defined a mid-80's Summer. This is Luther before he went by the Disney soundtrack wayside. The power ballads to follow his early success never really sat well with me.

So in honor of the talented Luther Vandross, whose early music presented the backdrop to my awkward coming of age years, I raise my delicious cup of Hair Blender coffee in your memory....

Ritual Coffee Roasters
1026 Valencia St, between 21st & 22nd
San Francisco
415 641 1024

weekdays 7am-11pm
Sundays 8am-9pm