Wednesday, October 11, 2017

3 Star Restaurant: Filipino & Cantonese Cuisine in Vallejo

Garlic Sauce Chicken Wings at 3 Star Restaurant

We were looking to try some place new, and we had dismissed looking in the part of the strip mall where 3 Star is located because it used to be a vacant storefront that looked a bit dingy, but now it looks neat, clean & tidy. Most of the online reviews looked very positive, but we tend to be skeptical. 

Above and below: House Special Chow Fun With Gravy. Noodles, Bok Choy, Carrots, Pork, Chicken,  Mushrooms, Shrimp. Solid Umami flavors, meats tasted good, not spicy. Noodles were probably dry, and a bit on the overcooked side in my estimation. Bok Choy cooked perfectly.

Above and below: a selection from the Filipino Menu, String Beans With Coconut Milk (tomato, onion, shrimp, pork). You'll also notice tender strips of kabocha squash, which reinforces the fact this is comfort food. I assumed that the combination of tomato with coconut made this dish pink, but there were also pink flecks, maybe from some sort of shrimp paste. Nice, welcoming flavors, not very spicy, but there's a bowl of chile sauce at the table if you need it. 

OK, here's the jackpot dish. Garlic Sauce Chicken Wings, very similar to the chicken wings at San Francisco's San Tung restaurant. One of the top best dishes in Vallejo, and by far the best chicken dish. I can't think of one that comes close. Perfectly fried chicken wings in a slightly spicy sweet garlicky sesame sauce; the crunch on these babies is as perfect as can be.

3 Star Restaurant

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Smashburger in Emeryville

Salted Caramel Shake. Using Haagen Daz. Thick, rich and completely decadent. This is the gold standard, as far as I'm concerned.

Bay Burger: mushrooms, swiss cheese, spinach (my choice), arugula, truffle mayo on ciabatta--absolute perfection.

Robin got a Turkey Burger Club. She wolfed it down with a look of ecstasy on her face.

Sweet Potato Fries. Great like last time. One order was more than enough.

We also shared one of their salads, a Cobb. Fantastic with very fresh produce, and gigantic. Definitely an excellent value.

Bacon Avocado Burger at Smash Burger with Sweet Potato Smash Fries

Smashburger is one of those new hamburger chains offering upscale burgers & fries, along with healthy alternatives. Looks like they also have vegan & vegetarian options, which we'll try on subsequent visits, but this time we decided to try some basic burgers. Here, I'm having the Bacon Avocado Burger, and I was particularly gratified I could add fresh spinach for free. The burger itself was tasty and comparable to burgers by close competitors: The Habit, In & Out, Five Guys, Super Duper. The overall sandwich is what's best, because how many places have different sort of buns? (Mine was multi-grain). Produce was fresh and the spinach especially had a nice lively texture to it.

The calibre of the beef here (and the other places I mention) are far better than fast food burgers, but also lag far behind the best burgers you can get, particularly from the Farm Burger chain. You just can't beat grass-fed, dry-aged and fresh ground beef. And I'm sure there's even more expensive, higher end restaurants serving Wagyu burgers.

But the real star of the meal were the Sweet Potato Smash Fries. Cut like frites, these are topped with a rosemary & garlic infused oil, a combination you have just got to try. 

Here, Robin's having the Buffalo & Blue Cheese Burger, which she loved, judging by the silence and look of bliss on her face. Notice, though, the Haystack Onions. Some of the best onion rings I've ever had, in fact, probably the best. Very thinly cut, fried to perfection. Plus served with a delightful horseradish sauce, seen below.

Here you can see the residue of the rosemary & garlic oil used on the Sweet Potato Smash Fries. The put just the right amount on, with a little bit of runoff to dip in. 

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Chef's Wok in Alameda

Mixed Mushrooms in BBQ Sauce at Chef's Wok in Alameda.

Robin used to live close to Alameda in Downtown Oakland and has been telling me about this place for years, but somehow we hadn't made it before. Judging from the menu, it seems to be a bit on the Cantonese side, but cross-regional, and a relaxed down home sort of place. The calibre of the cuisine is quite high and the service top notch. Here's the salty peanuts and tea they bring you when you sit down.

Here's a classic Hong Kong dish: Honey Walnut Prawns. Shrimp tossed with mayo, with walnuts, served atop shredded lettuce. One of the best versions of the dish I've had. Spot on.

This appears on the menu as Mixed Mushrooms In BBQ Sauce, but it's more like Beef Fajitas, Chinese Style. Several sorts of delectable grilled mushrooms (abalone, trumpet, white), tender grilled beef, grilled onions, peppers and peas. The sauce was relatively subtle, and tasted like black pepper, garlic and a tiny bit of soy. Fantastic dish, never had anything quite like it, and reason enough to come here.

Salt and pepper fried squid, & a gigantic portion at that. Probably dusted with rice flour prior to frying, and probably frozen squid, but I thought it was pretty good, though not as stellar as the prior two dishes. Plus we were pretty full by the time this came out, and hadn't even finished the earlier dishes. But rather than evoke a wafer-thin mint, we had most of this boxed up, and I had tons of leftovers later.

This was really tempting Mr. Creosote territory, this being a slightly sweet Red Bean & grain pudding that is often served as a complimentary "dessert" in some Chinese restaurants. A few sips was all I could handle, but absolutely sublime, nevertheless. 

Chef's Wok

1821 Webster St, Alameda, CA 94501

(510) 337-9388 

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Sonoma: Vintage Festival, Walnut Trees, & Sonoma Market

The town of Sonoma isn't that far from where we live, but often it's too hot to visit, and there's plenty of traffic on the way there & back. Robin wanted to go for a drive to take some photos for an art project, and we hadn't been there in a while, and seemed like a perfect time to go. We had no idea what was happening, and it turns out this is the Vintage Festival, which has been happening every year here for a while.

These first five shots are from the perimeter of the Plaza in the middle of Downtown Sonoma, next to the Mission.

There were all kinds of vendors, and some sort of Vintage Festival "Sip & Shop" deal where you buy a wine glass and get to try samples from the Vintners who've set up shop, and meanwhile there's all sorts of Arts & Crafts and Food vendors down there, and a lot of folks chilling on the grass.

Typical shot looking out, of 100 year old (or older) buildings with new businesses in them, and above wind-swept skies looking west.

Some Jimi Hendrix tribute band was playing here, and they were note-for-note perfect. This music is beyond dated, and I'm sure everyone who ever saw Hendrix will be deceased shortly, but does that mean his music will die? Probably not, although he didn't leave behind as extensive a catalogue as Coltrane, Mingus, Ellington, Django, Louis Armstrong, Sousa, Gilbert & Sullivan, Verdi, Wagner, Beethoven, Mozart, Bach and so on. Gotta say, if I start seeing Duran Duran and Huey Lewis tribute bands in my dotage, I'll be yelling "you suck! Play some real 80s music!" Millenials will be laughing at the old wind-bag, as I'm sure they already are.

A photo of Robin taking a photo of a Walnut Tree.

Walnuts. If we had harvested some in June or July, when they are green all the way through, we could have used them to make homemade Nocino.


OK, so now we're at Sonoma Market, which at first made a huge impression on me, until I started noticing some annoying things. Such as how persistent they were to help you at the meat counter--fairly common, and not that big of a deal--but when they have meat mis-labeled, and you ask for the ribs and they give you the wrong cut, that can be an issue. Or when the label says one price, but what they give you is much higher. This has happened at other grocery stores, and when it happens, I tend to stop shopping there. 

That happened a couple of years ago, but now everything's changed for the better. The entire meat counter has a better set-up, and everything that was great about the meat and fish is still the same. There's still a mind-boggling selection of sausage along with locally-sourced fresh meats. They have dry aged steaks and other nice cuts. They have one of the best fish counters in the Bay Area. There's also stocks, game, cured meats, and "variety meats" galore. Definitely worth checking out if you're nearby. Good selection in spirits, and fantastic produce as well.

OK, so here's something both bizarre and amazing. Look at this selection of completely Old School cheese spreads. Pimento Cheese Cheddar Spread?!?! Sharp Cheddar Spread? Port Wine Spread?! A few feet away there was an impressive selection of dips, too. I don't see this very much anywhere else, and clearly they aren't putting this out for Nostalgia Sake. People must be buying Old School Cheese Spreads and Dips all the time here. You see stuff like this throughout Sonoma Market--like some of the Old School Candy and Cookies. Nothing I would ever get myself, but I kind of doubt we'll be see the likes of it that much longer, just as we won't see old dudes who dropped Orange Sunshine at the Monterey Pop Festival jamming out to a Jimi Tribute Band much longer.

But it's not like Sonoma Market doesn't have a clue. They've got a fantastic array of cheeses, local and international in origin, as good as the best grocers in the Bay Area, and certainly better than any Whole Foods.

Like I said, they've got a great produce section, like this: yellow cucumbers. I don't think I've seen these in any store, only at a farmer's market, or from the backyard of our buddy Bruce.

I really should have bought some of these Purple Sweet Potatoes while I had the chance. Hopefully I'll see them again, or we'll have to go back.

So they have Fiorello's Gelato in-store, but we wanted a flavor they didn't have out: Tony Spumoni. I'd never had Spumoni until Robin turned me onto it 3 years ago, but those were brands like Dreyer's that are pretty good, but nowhere close to this level of utter and complete sublimity. 

I was thinking how laughable it is that people praise Blue Bell (a Central Texas ice cream) as beyond comparison, but they just don't know what's here or elsewhere, if they've never been anywhere else. It's the same way with BBQ,  completely laughable to hear people speak of California BBQ as if it can compare with red-ringed, slow smoked Brisket from Lockhart or Taylor. 

In any case, Fiorello's explodes with flavor on a level you have to try for yourself. The Chocolate in their Spumoni is as good as the best dark chocolate you've ever had, and the pistachio/almond contrast makes for a very singular Spumoni blend, as most versions I've had uses Cherry instead of Almond. 

Another walnut tree.

A really huge walnut tree, in fact, that we found on the way out of town. Most vinyards were picked clean, but we did see a couple of fields with dried-looking red grapes hanging low.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Pork Exchange, Little Saigon/Tenderloin, San Francisco

Pork Belly slider at The Pork Exchange.

Great little pork slider restaurant at the edge of Little Saigon.  Bread is crisped on the grill along with pork belly, which is served with scallions, a thin slice of jalapeno, and mayo. Fabulous, perfect.

Above and below, Pork Exchange's "signature" slider, Pulled Pork with mayo and cilantro pesto. Very juicy Pulled Pork, the cilantro pesto is a lighter counterpoint.

The Pork Exchange
(415) 932-6931 | 807 Ellis St, San Francisco, CA 94109

Friday, September 8, 2017

Limoncello: Italian Deli at Sutter & Franklin in San Francisco

Spinach-Ricotta Ravioli at Limoncello

I usually don't work on Thursdays, but I had to switch my schedule up, and was out looking for some caffeine along Franklin, and spotted one of those blue Lavazza signs down the street.

There used to be an OK bodega here, but last time I ventured down to Sutter I noticed they were gone.

I stepped in to check it out, and what a transformation. I ended up getting a double espresso and a slice of dark chocolate fondant cake, sipping and nibbling at one of the cafe tables out front. Superb. I saw that this place has all kinds of sandwiches, deli items, and groceries. Very choice selection.

I went there the other day, and got this, a Goodfella sandwich. Roast beef, prosciutto, salami, and provolone cheese with fresh tomato, basil, oil and vinegar, salt and pepper on bread delivered fresh that morning. We're talking top-level stuff here, up with Genoa Deli and Molinari's. 

Next visit, I decided to try one of their BLTs. Easily the best one I've ever had at a restaurant. Perfectly ripe tomato & mixed greens. Bacon cooked crisp as soon as I ordered it.

Today I got some selections from the deli cold case.

Tomato, mozzarella & basil salad, with vinaigrette. 

Above and below: lasagna bolognese.

And, at last, perhaps my favorite dish, spinach ricotta ravioli. Nice amount of garlic in the tomato sauce.

1400 Sutter St., SF
(415) 638-6361