Crispy Ginger Shrimp @ Huong Tra Restaurant, San Pablo Avenue, Richmond

Crispy Shrimp with Ginger and Onions.

Crispy Shrimp with Ginger and Onions.

There are lots of Vietnamese restaurants around the Bay Area, and quite frankly, finding a decent bowl of pho is far less daunting than trying to find a decent bowl of ramen. I’d also say that there is also a fair amount of banh mi to be had. But what about something beyond soup and sandwiches? For me, Huong Tra in Richmond is one of my favorite places to explore the other facets of Vietnamese cuisine.


The Katsu Curry @ Muracci’s Japanese Curry, Berkeley


The Katsu Curry @ Muracci’s: Panko-crusted pork cutlet, steamed rice, plenty of curry sauce, and of course, a sunny side egg added on.

When I used to live in West Los Angeles, I learned to take full advantage of the wonderful Japanese eateries that dotted Sawtelle Boulevard. Since I’ve left Southern California, the scene along Sawtelle only seems to have improved over the last 10 years, with some killer ramen shops now in the mix. I wish Tsujita and Daikokuya had been there during my post-collegiate years.

Back in the late 1990s, my favorite restaurants included Hide Sushi and Hurry Curry of Tokyo, the latter of which offered a terrific pork cutlet that became a weekly staple throughout my early 20s. I was thrilled to find something similar when I discovered Muracci’s in San Francisco several years back. The only problem was that Muracci’s was deep in the Financial District, which is probably [… read more …]

The Lemon Ricotta Pancakes @ Solbar, Calistoga


The Lemon Ricotta Pancakes @ Solbar, Calistoga. Served with huckleberry sauce and pine nuts.

In my experience, people from Napa tend to discuss Calistoga with an air of levity. Is this fair? I’m not sure, but there may be a few reasons for this attitude. Perhaps it’s mainly because Calistoga has remained somewhat rustic, despite the tourism boom that seems to have affected the rest of the valley. Or maybe it’s because Calistoga is the very last stop to the north before you cross from Napa County over into Sonoma County (surprisingly enough, Calistoga is actually two miles closer to Healdsburg than it is to the City of Napa, which says quite a bit about our geography).

As the culinary centerpiece of Solage Resort & Spa, Calistoga’s Solbar is easily the town’s finest restaurant, having maintained its Michelin star since 2009. Though Solbar can easily be overlooked because [… read more …]

Tonkotsu Ramen @ Tadamasa, Union City


Tonkotsu Ramen @ Tadamasa, Union City.

I could be wrong, but I believe that my visit to Tamadasa last week might’ve been the first time that I’ve ever set foot in Union City. To be honest, the entire Hayward-Fremont area of the East Bay remains kind of a blind spot for me. As many times as I’ve made the drive from Napa to San Jose, the 680 whisks me past Hayward and Fremont before it bends westward and drops me into Milpitas.

My reason for stopping through Union City was to taste the ramen at Tadamasa, which proved delicious, with its relatively light, very clean-tasting tonkotsu broth. Tadamasa offers a Sapporo-style ramen, which is typically heavy on the vegetables, though I still ordered chasu (roasted pork) with mine. I also noticed a miso-coconut broth on the menu, which I’m tempted to try on my [… read more …]

Tonkotsu Ramen @ Himawari, San Mateo


The Tonkotsu Ramen @ Himawari, San Mateo.

I’ll just cut to the chase. San Mateo boasts a quartet of reputable ramen shops: Ramen Dojo, Santa Ramen, Ramen Parlor, and Himawari. These are the four noodle joints that dominate the San Mateo landscape. Three of these restaurants (all but Himawari) are owned by the same chef, Kazunori Kobayashi, who launched his mini-empire with Santa back before ramen was a thing (the original Santa location was where Ramen Dojo is now).

In some ways, Kobayashi is what Thomas Keller is to Yountville, though that might be a stretch. I guess it all depends on how much you obsess over ramen. I enjoy it quite a bit, myself.

With Kobayashi quietly dominating the ramen landscape in San Mateo, Himawari is kind of the independent option in town, which is absolutely welcome. Even under the best circumstances, you don’t want all of your ramen [… read more …]

Spätzle with Herbed Walnut Sauce @ Gaumankitzel, Berkeley


Spätzle with Herbed Walnut Sauce @ Gaumankitzel, Berkeley. Before…

I was at a wedding on Sunday, and my lovely date was surprised to hear me mention that I wanted a cold beer. I realize that she’s only known me to drink wine thus far (which is always how it is in the beginning), but I do enjoy a cold beer, especially on a warm afternoon.

The groom at the wedding was a good friend of mine from our Martini House days. Back in 2007, the kitchen staff would habitually drink “Tecate Tea” after work: That’s a one-quart plastic deli filled with ice, a liberal squeeze of lemon and lime juice, and Tecate poured to the brim. It’s impossibly refreshing after a night in a sweltering kitchen.

A beer aficionado may criticize this whimsical concoction, perhaps the same way that a wine aficionado may sneer at sangria. But I don’t [… read more …]

“The Deal” Burger @ Marrow, Oakland


“The Deal” Burger @ Marrow, Oakland.

“The Deal” Burger at Marrow is quaint, like its price tag of $9.17, which includes beef-fat fries and a drink. However, if you’re accustomed to half- or third-pound burger patties, you’ll want to supplement your lunch with dessert, a milkshake, or at the very least, a salad. The frail and the elderly could probably get by on “The Deal” alone, and I’m not necessarily saying that as a criticism. I only mention this caveat as a heads-up to the hungry, and a word to the wise: If you’re anything like me, you might just view “The Deal” as a snack.

The Brisket @ Brick Pig’s House, Oakland


Brisket, creamy potato salad, and cornbread muffins @ Brick Pig’s House, North Oakland.

I visited Everett & Jones for the very last time a few months ago. I promised myself that I’d never go back after I’d suffered through the driest brisket of all time. I usually try to avoid negative reviews in this blog, since I much prefer to compile a list of recommendations. I cook for a living, so I don’t have time to visit every single restaurant in the Bay Area, much less write reviews for all of these restaurants. Therefore, if I have a bad meal, I simply move on, and I don’t mention it. From an aesthetic standpoint, I don’t want to publish pictures of lousy food, and I certainly don’t want to waste my time by rehashing a bogus meal.

But Everett & Jones really let me down this last time. Honestly, I [… read more …]

Napa Valley Barbecue @ Smoakville, Napa

The Brisket “Burnt Ends” Sandwich @ Smoakville, Napa. Nicely charred and piled high.

When it comes to the truly hidden gems of the Napa Valley, there are several wineries and maybe just a handful of eateries (some brick-and-mortar, some on wheels). Among the latter category, my recent favorite has been Smoakville, a tucked-away barbecue joint that you would probably never discover by accident, unless you took a wrong turn into a hidden cul-de-sac. The fact that Smoakville is geared mostly for take-out makes it all the more elusive – it’s a tiny storefront, with just one table inside and one single picnic table out by the curb.

Like any decent barbecue purveyor, Smoakville offers a small-yet-carnivorous menu, but one that also remains fool-proof, as every item is well-executed, right down to the side dishes, right down to the house-made pickles. I’ve had the pleasure of exploring the Smoakville menu the [… read more …]

Bún Riêu @ Bún Mam Sóc Trang, Oakland


Bún Riêu @ Bún Mam Sóc Trang, Oakland. Crab meatballs, pork blood, fish tofu and plenty of rice noodles. One step beyond pho.

Hey there. I’ve been absent from these virtual pages quite for a long time, and I’ve missed writing about food. Well, I’m back. If you’ve been wondering, there are several reasons for my lack of updates lately: (1) I’ve changed jobs during the last two months. I’m a pastry chef now, adjusting to the new schedule and routine; (2) I’ve been preparing to teach a class in culinary history this summer. Reading books and composing course materials have monopolized most of my creative energy; and lastly, (3) I’ve been posting most of my updates on Facebook via Instagram. It’s like social media shorthand. If you don’t follow me already, please check me out.

• • •

As a chef, I’m always craving new [… read more …]