Bún Riêu @ Bún Mam Sóc Trang, Oakland

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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.

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

Revisiting the Lucky Pig @ Solbar, Calistoga

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The Lucky Pig @ Solbar, Calistoga. Serves two.

When I launched this blog back in 2008, I didn’t have a camera, a fact that seems positively foolhardy to me now. A food blog without photos? What’s the point of that? Surely I had given myself far too much credit as a writer in those early days. After a year of blogging, however, I finally realized that photos were essential to this medium (duh), and I invested in a decent DSLR.

Five years later, I wouldn’t dream of posting a restaurant review without photos. To that end, I’ve been spending the last few weeks at the Accidental Wino cleaning house, deleting those half-formed posts that either don’t contribute much or that have become irrelevant over the years. But I’ve also come across several early posts that were pretty well written, but which lacked the artwork to make [… read more …]

The Bun Mam Soup @ Bun Mam Soc Trang, Oakland

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The Pho Alternative: Bun Mam Soup @ Bun Mam Soc Trang, Oakland. Served with Mint, Basil, Bean Sprouts, Banana Blossom and Lime.

I haven’t actually verified this statistic, but I would say that for every 100 restaurants that offer pho in the Bay Area, only one restaurant will offer bun mam. I could be over-estimating the scarcity of this Vietnamese fermented-fish soup, but I also know that my numbers can’t be off by very much, either. You have to do some serious legwork to track down a bowl of bun mam, even in the neighborhoods that are stacked with Vietnamese restaurants. I’m still not sure why this is the case. Is it because pho is geared more generally towards Western tastes, since it’s based upon a beef broth? Or is bun mam so über-regional that it’s simply less popular, even in Vietnam? These are the things that I [… read more …]

Richmond, El Cerrito, Albany: Exploring the Best of San Pablo

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Unknown Dish @ Huong Tra, Richmond.

I’ve got this thing for what I call “the heart “of San Pablo Blvd, that 8-mile stretch bound by the 80 and the 580. Some of the East Bay’s most definitive ethnic restaurants share a San Pablo address, which can make eating rather convenient, even if decisions might prove difficult. Living in Napa, it’s actually taken me a few years to really suss out the best of the best on San Pablo Blvd, but I’ve always had an affinity for this stretch of road: It’s perfectly straight, it runs due north and south (well, practically), it’s restaurant-dense, and parking is relatively easy. San Pablo just doesn’t require much know-how or planning, which can be nice.

Case in point: I tried to visit Zaki Kabob House a couple weeks ago, not realizing that it was Ramadan and that the restaurant would have a [… read more …]

The Run-Down: Some Bay Area Food Pics to Consider

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Roast Duck Banh Mi Dip @ The Kitchen Door, Oxbow Market, Napa.

Having worked at Martini House back in 2007,  it would be impossible for me to offer an unbiased opinion of the newly-opened Kitchen Door at Oxbow Market — truthfully, I know too many of the staff, and in some cases, I already know the food (a handful of the Kitchen Door dishes, including the mushroom soup, are vestiges of chef Todd Humphries’ former Martini House menu). That said, it’s worth leading off this most recent photo purge with a snapshot of the Kitchen Door’s roast duck banh mi, a sandwich that — along with the “Lahmajune” Armenian pizza — definitely ranked as a front-runner among dishes that I most wanted to try. My short and biased opinion: The banh mi was good. The presence of the dipping broth definitely spins things in a new [… read more …]

Banh Mi Monday @ Auberge du Soleil, Napa Valley

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The banh mi sandwich @ Auberge du Soleil, with a yellow and green bean salad (not pictured: Auberge’s unrivaled patio view).

Back when I first moved to the Napa Valley, I took a job as a line cook at Auberge du Soleil, and despite two years of chef school and several years of prior professional experience, Auberge proved to be an education unto itself. It not only redefined my standards, but it also redefined stress and adrenaline. These elements are inseparable, especially with Michelin-star cooking, and I reserve so much respect and admiration for the line cooks who can list two- and three-Michelin star restaurants on their resumes. The folks who ascend to those kitchens are far more passionate and dedicated than I ever was (and they possess far more culinary insight than any food writer, with very few exceptions).

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Having left the [… read more …]

Bánh Mì @ Cam Huong Deli, Oakland Chinatown

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The word “barbecue” has many different connotations in the culinary world, depending upon what you’re eating. I think for most people in the United States, “barbecue” implies cooking with smoke, whether it’s the short, intense heat from a real charcoal grill, or the tried-and-true, all-day, slow-and-low approach with a meat smoker. To be sure, most etymologists would agree with this description, since “barbecue” is most likely a bastardization of the Carribean words barbacoa, which is a meat-roasting stand, and barbicú, which is the roasting process itself.

Somehow, despite barbecue’s smoky origins, a few other foods have also earned the “barbecue” moniker, even though they feature smokeless preparations. In Louisiana, for instance, “barbecued” shrimp are sauteed in a mixture of butter, Worcestershire sauce, garlic and rosemary. From there, the shrimp can be served in a bowl alongside a baguette or, preferably, stuffed inside a po-boy roll [… read more …]

Bánh Mì @ Vietnam Restaurant, San Francisco

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The #6 at Viet Nam on Broadway, San Francisco

Bread may be one of the few foods where the importance of texture can actually trump the importance of flavor. I say this in reference to the bánh mì sandwich at Vietnam Restaurant in San Francisco, which easily ranks as one of the best Vietnamese sandwiches I’ve ever eaten. While it’s almost unfair to highlight the bread in lieu of the deliciously tender slices of grilled marinated pork within, the baguette itself is what truly sets this sandwich apart.

Grilled and slightly charred, the bánh mì crust is thin and delicately crispy, yet the bread itself is perfectly soft and airy, providing little resistance after that initial shattering crunch. Having never traveled to Southeast Asia, I suppose that I lack the authority to vouch for the authenticity of the bánh mì at Vietnam Restaurant, but I suspect that this sandwich is [… read more …]