(Please Don’t) Melt My Icy Heart

(Please Don’t) Melt My Icy Heart

Perhaps it’s my biased love for the food, but when I first moved to San Francisco, I noticed the surplus of ice cream shops (to my delight). This city is known for fresh foods, made from locally sourced, organic ingredients and sweet treats are no different. The variety of ice cream shops that vary in flavor specialities to techniques is so vast that you’re sure to find something to please everyone. Last year, I sought out to complete this post by the end of summer. With the middle of “summer” (because it doesn’t get truly hot here til at least September) looming near, here’s a quick-and-dirty of my ice cream votes:

WHEN IN SF: MY TOP 5 MUST-TRY PLACES

Bi-Rite Creamery

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I credit my friends Jackie and Row for introducing me to this place before I even moved here. Known for their seasonal favorite flavors like Ricanelas and Balsamic Strawberries, along with popular signature flavors like Honey Lavender (my favorite), their first shop is located by Dolores Park in the Mission and can be spotted by the line wrapping around the block. The shop has since expanded to include soft serves of their most popular flavors, and another mini stand in their market on Divisadero in NoPa (a not-so-hidden gem!).

Humphrey Slocombe

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Best known for fun, interesting flavors with kitschy names (Jesus Juice, anyone?), most notably their Secret Breakfast: a combination of whiskey and corn flakes. The flavors are fun, but not too sweet and overpowering. Here, I had the Oolong tea, which reminded me of a good milk tea, frozen to ice cream consistency. The true taste of the tea stood out well. Their original location is in the Mission, but I love walking to the Ferry Building location and browsing the shops while I enjoy this cool treat.

Mitchell’s

A true San Francisco establishment, Mitchell’s has been around since 1953. You’ve probably unknowingly had some of their ice cream if you’ve had dessert a la mode at a restaurant here, as they sell their ice cream by the gallon as well. On the border of Bernal Heights and the Mission, this place is almost always packed. They operate with a queue system like the deli, where you take a number and patiently wait, drooling while staring at the cases and cases of ice cream. Their menu is HUGE so they really have a flavor for everyone’s taste, from classic flavors like grasshopper pie to Asian favorites like Filipino Ube and Halo Halo, two kind of coconut ice cream (macapuno and buko), and fruit sorbets that fly under the radar but are my favorite.

Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneous

Mr. and Mrs. is the quintessential small batch shop. Located in the Dogpatch, the shop is open Wed. – Sun. for about a 6-hour window. The flavors are constantly changing, and if you’re going to make the trek, might as well check their Facebook page to make sure they’re open. When there, you can easily spot it by the line wrapped outside the shop. My most favorite flavor I’ve had there thus far was a seasonal mango that tasted like home.

Smitten

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What screams tech town more than ice cream frozen with liquid nitrogen? Smitten’s menu is small but mighty, with recommended sauce and topping pairings. I loved when they offered flights, so you can try the entire menu, but still good nonetheless. The liquid nitrogen makes the ice cream silky smooth, yet still rich. I love the original Hayes Valley location (literally like a shack), but they’re now on Fillmore and in the Peninsula in a Whole Foods as well. Here’s their version of balsamic strawberries with a handmade waffle cone.

MY FAVORITE ICE CREAM SPOTS

While some of those SF staples do rank as my favorites, these are also some underdog winners:

Marco Polo 

I think my parents may be Marco Polo’s biggest fans. Located in the Sunset, Marco Polo makes Italian gelato in both classic gelato flavors, but also hard-to-find Asian favorites like taro, durian (mom’s fave – hold your nose), lychee, and jackfruit. The texture is unreal — true gelato style that is thick, yet light and airy. The last time my parents visited, they asked us to take them back for another helping before leaving.

San Francisco’s Hometown Creamery

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Perhaps my most frequented ice cream shop at the moment, thanks to my husband (that’s him staring down the flight) who is enamored by their sorbets. The newcomer in this list, SFHC just celebrated their one year anniversary — Happy Birthday! Started by two brothers, one who worked across the street and loved the location in the Inner Sunset, the two set out to do ice cream right. Everything is made from scratch on site in a Japanese-restaurant-turned-ice cream shop. Their menu is a good sized, but not overwhelming, and they also have seasonal flavors. When Prince passed, they created the Purple Rain (first one on the left in the flight) as a tribute — a blueberry cheesecake style ice cream. If you’re a chocolate fan, you have to try their chocolate sorbet, which is essentially how a frozen dark chocolate bar would taste. One of the best parts of SFHC — the handmade cones are free!

Twirl and Dip

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I had a soft serve phase, and this place was a novelty to me more than anything. It reminded me of King Kone in Los Angeles, and was fun to line up in Golden Gate Park to get ice cream. Apart from soft serve, they actually also serve Mitchell’s ice cream on the truck.But my favorite from this truck are their handmade lollies, which are basically fruit sorbets. They’re refreshing on a (rare) hot day, and have real chunks of fruit in them.

NON-ICE CREAM ICE CREAM TREATS

I’d be remiss if I didn’t include some of my favorite ice cream treats not found in an ice cream shop:

Blue Bottle Affogato

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Sometimes, a classic can be done so right you wouldn’t dream of having it anywhere else. San Francisco’s famed Blue Bottle offers an affogato at select locations. It’s two shots of espresso, poured over brown butter gelato, presumably from Humphrey Slocombe. The bits of butter that still linger in the gelato make all the difference in the world to cut the bitterness of the espresso.

Souvla Greek Frozen Yogurt

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With its original location in Hayes Valley, Souvla is known for their Greek salads and wraps and this signature dessert: Greek yogurt made into soft serve. You can get it with a few different kinds of toppings: Greek honey, Greek cherry syrup, baklava crumbles or my favorite olive oil and sea salt (pictured here). The tanginess of Greek yogurt is unlike any frozen yogurt you’ve had and will make you opt for this over your Oikos, Chobani or Fage.

Happy National Ice Cream Day!

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‘Tis the (Chili Grinding) Season

What do you do when you can’t find just the right sauce to complement your dish? You make it. That’s exactly how Huy Fong’s Sriracha was born. Fun fact: the lesser known, but eponymous Sriracha is actually a Thai sauce, sweeter than Huy Fong’s and originating from the town of Sri Racha in Thailand.

Last month, I toured the Huy Fong factory in Southern California during the last day of the chili grinding season. Huy Fong Foods actually makes three sauces in their shiny new, state-of-the-art factory: the famous Sriracha sauce: Sambal Olek, a more pasty chili vinegar sauce; and their chili garlic sauce. Conveniently, they’re all made from the same few ingredients, so harvesting and grinding the chili each season covers all three products.

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One of the last truckloads of chili coming in from Underwood Ranches.

Apart from owner David Tran’s humbleness, the other thing I admire most is his use of local ingredients to make this Asian staple truly American. The chilis are trucked in from Underwood Ranches, which has locations in Southern and Central California, and the garlic is from Gilroy, California, the self-proclaimed garlic capital.

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Chili avalanche. What photos don’t capture: folks sneezing and coughing.
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Chilis getting cleaned and selected after they avalanche in from the truck.

The tour of the factory itself can actually be booked year round. What’s special was watching the trucks of chili roll in and get selected, crushed and packaged into the blue bins. Another surprising fact I discovered on this tour was even the Sriracha bottles were made in this factory, so the labels can be screen printed right onto the bottle. Having been inside much smaller foods factories, it was amazing to me how automated everything was here, from the chili selection, to the bottle making and packing of the bottles.

Sriracha bottles, marching to the boxing station.
Sriracha bottles, marching to the boxing station.

The tour ended with a sampling of various items made with the famous sauce. While Tran knows his famous sauce has peak popularity, he doesn’t hold back those who get creative with it. In fact, Huy Fong embraces it in their Rooster Room, with  souvenirs and snack creations ready for purchase.

Sriracha ice cream, handed out from an ice cream truck on the grounds of the factory.
Sriracha ice cream, handed out from an ice cream truck on the grounds of the factory.

Huy Fong Foods

4800 Azusa Canyon Road in Irwindale, CA

Watch the documentary to learn more about this epic sauce!

Kin Khao

Kin Khao

To say I have been anticipating the opening of Chez Pim‘s Kin Khao is an understatement. I’d been following Khun Pim (In Thai, Khun, often abbreviated as K. in English, is a formal reference, like Ms.) for quite some time. Her book, The Foodie Handbook, has a permanent spot in my kitchen. I had longed to taste her (or her grandmother’s, as she frequently credits) chili jam, or namprik pao. It’s a traditional Thai chili paste, made with dried chilis — super potent, but delicious, with a hint of sweetness. My favorite way to eat this chili paste is with a squeeze of lime and with chiccarones, or just spread over some toast.  But I digress…

I finally made it to Kin Khao (which literally means “eat rice” – a term Thais use to say “let’s eat”) two weekends ago. I really didn’t know what to expect. I was anticipating traditional Thai flavors that K. Pim frequently mentions, but also playful explorations on Thai dishes. After a truthfully lackluster meal at the highly hyped Night + Market in Los Angeles, I braced myself, but went in with an empty stomach and an open mind.

Kin Khao is adjacent to the Parc 55 in Union Square, a somewhat hidden location, but almost fitting to me in that it reminded me of restaurants adjacent to/ in hotels in Bangkok. The decor is modern, with hints of kitschy Thai memorabilia that delighted my husband and our friend. Each table had a tray with chopsticks in an old pepper tin (vintage, cute!), forks and spoons (the proper Thai way to eat – not with chopsticks as many tend to think), cloth napkins, and the original Sriracha, from the town of Sriracha itself. I’m not talking the rooster from California (although a favorite in my household, too). This is the original for which Huy Fong’s creation was based off of. And it’s extremely hard to find in the Bay Area. The serving trays are stainless steel/tin with floral designs, reminiscent of the ones used each morning when taking packaged foods out to the front of the house to give alms to monks coming by. I loved the little details of home at this place.

We started off with drinks, delicious with hints of Thai flavors and not too overpowering:

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From left to right: Thai Herb Julep, Ladyboy Collins (mine – it changes colors from pink to purple. Get it? ;), and the Chow Suan Gin

Next, some small bites. Left is my friend’s favorite dish growing up, Yum Kai Dao, or Fried Egg Salad. It’s a simple dish, when done right, brings out flavors of home. I thought this was tasty, and especially appreciated the high quality eggs, but it wasn’t my favorite of this bunch. The Pretty Hot Wings, right, were also very tasty. They definitely had a kick and I loved the tamarind flavor in them. And, as crazy as it sounds, they were even tastier with more Sriracha to dip!

The next dish gets its own line because it’s my favorite thing here at Kin Khao (thanks to K. Pim for introducing it!). The Saeng-wah Salad is a modern take on a traditional Thai salad, the Saeng-wah (literally meaning “play-chastise”), which is basically shrimp crudo, made in a Thai style. It’s basically very ceviche-like (and probably why I love ceviche — these are my favorite types of dishes!), with a Thai kick – the red chili peppers are potent, so watch out! This is a traditional Thai dish that I’ve never tried, so I was pleasantly surprised. K. Pim kicks it up by pairing it with another Thai favorite, pla duk foo, or crispy catfish, also typically eaten with a salad of green mango that has the same tangy flavor. Served with raw shallots and red peppers, I could not get enough of this dish. I  basically ate the entire thing myself the second time we visited, as hubby is allergic to shrimp. More for me! I loved that K. Pim brought us over extra chili peppers, which I did make use of with this salad (mouth watering as I type…)

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Another thing I really appreciated about Kin Khao was that the rice, both red (Thai version of brown rice) and white were complimentary. It reminded me of how family style should be.  On to some meatier dishes, we tried the chili jam clams (pictured below), Kua Kling Ribs and Rabbit Green Curry (not pictured – was too busy devouring 🙂

I was really looking forward to trying the chili jam clams, and they didn’t disappoint. They were sweeter than I imagined, but I am also accustomed to the bottled chili jams. What I appreciated most about these were the size of these babies that you would not get at any mom n pop Thai restaurant. These clams rivaled those I purchased for my Asari Shio Ramen I made in the fall. They were huge!

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Chili Jam Clams with K. Pim’s signature Nam Prik Pao

The  Khun Yai’s Green Curry with Rabbit was also an interesting take on your traditional green curry. The curry flavors didn’t stand out as much as I had hoped — definitely heavier on the coconut milk side, but the rabbit meatballs were so tasty, and the rabbit meat was not gamey at all.  I imagine the second day for this curry as a leftover would have more intense flavors, as curries only get better the longer you keep.

I’m disappointed I don’t have a photo of the Kua Kling Ribs because they are my husband’s favorite, and the item he ordered again on our second time at Kin Khao. The flavors of the rib tasted like the curry was really homemade — like chopped and pounded with mortar and pestle with love to create this dish. I’ve had this traditional southern Thai dish in many places (including Night + Market and authentic Kua Kling in southern Thailand), and this was pretty close to what I remember eating in Thailand. It wasn’t too soggy, and like many curries. was even more intense as a second meal (as proven by my dinner the following day).

We ended that night trying the dessert on the menu, the Black Rice Pudding Dessert. The first thing I appreciated about this dessert was that she calls it what it is in Thai: Black Rice. It ain’t forbidden – it’s my favorite type of rice. The texture of black rice is a bit heartier, much like brown rice. It’s served paired with coconut milk (a must!) and caramelized palm sugar (yum – so rare), as well as crispy rice flakes. Last weekend when we visited again, my husband lamented that he really wanted to have this again, but we were sadly too full.

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Black Rice Pudding Dessert, served on those aforementioned trays

Our second visit to Kin Khao was primarily to catch the Crab Sen Jan noodles before crab season was over. When we arrived, K. Pim sadly reported that they had already ran out of crab for the season (sad face) but not to fear, she had something else for us to try.

We ordered our favorites: the Saeng-wah Salad and Kua Kling Ribs, and also tried two new items: The Mushroom Hor Mok and Sai Ua + Nam Prik Noom.

The Mushroom Hor Mok is a vegetarian take on another traditional Thai dish, made by steaming a paste mixture of fish, coconut milk and curry. I’ve helped my mom make this dish growing up, and remember tasting it raw (and having her chastise me for sticking my finger in the batter). K. Pim’s version of this dish goes the vegetarian route, and combines another Thai favorite, khao tung. A traditional Thai snack/small bites dish, khao tung, the rice crackers seen here, are eaten with a savory mixture of coconut milk, peanuts, caramelized onions and ground pork. The hor mok is served in a pot de creme style, eaten with the khao tung (it’s normally eaten with regular rice).

This was definitely an interesting flavor for me, again, not as intense as a curry, but there was something addictive about the mushroom version. K. Pim explained that they used agar agar (ผงวุ้น in Thai) to thicken the hor mok, since it was vegetarian and the properties that fish provided to the paste could not be achieved. I thought that was so amazing, because I didn’t notice a difference in the texture very much at all. And, like the rest of the curries I tried, the flavors became even more intense on the 2nd-3rd day of this hor mok’s life — delicious!

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Mushroom Hor Mok

Moving on to the northern region of Thailand, another dish I was keen on trying was the Sai Ua + Nam Prik Noom. Sai Ua is the sausage, pictured below, made with similar flavors as the Kua Kling (although North and South, we realized the flavors were very similar). The intensity of the herbs comes from the kaffir lime leaves. It’s served paired with another northern favorite, Nam Prik Noom. Traditionally, this is a bright green chili paste made from green peppers finely minced. K. Pim creates a more salsa-like version here with roasted peppers, which give it a unique, albeit still intense flavor. It’s also served paired with homemade chiccarones (need I say more?) and quality, fresh vegetables. I’ve never had butter lettuce with nam prik noom, so I couldn’t stop munching on that!

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Sai Ua + Nam Prik Noom

The last item was truly my Ratatouille moment — the dish K. Pim said was a surprise. I have not seen it on the menu yet, so I feel very blessed and fortunate she made it for us! It was a dry version of a chili paste, dry fried with deep fried kaffir lime leaves. Pla Duk Foo Prik King — basically taking the crispy catfish and frying it with the traditional prik king paste. Most chili pastes are eaten paired with salted eggs, so K. Pim brought some of that over, too. We could tell they were homemade — the consistently and level of saltiness reminded me of my mother’s precision in timing how long she wanted to salt eggs. Store bought salted eggs are often too salty and lose the right consistency in the egg yolks. These were perfect. And it all tasted like home. Moreso because I had a similar bottle of this prik king at home from my mother. K. Pim’s version was meatier and sweeter and I nearly shed tears of joy when I ate this all paired together over rice (I really was that happy).

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Pla Duk Foo Prik King with Homemade Salted Eggs

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Thanks to K. Pim for delectable experiences at Kin Khao, complete with the Thai hospitality. I can’t wait to come back!

My husband describes it best when he says Kin Khao isn’t your average Thai place in the States, which seeks to mimic the down-home-comfort flavors at a simple, family-style restaurant (and not to say I don’t love those!). As a Bangkokian (?), Kin Khao is that place you’d go on a Friday night with friends — the hip new place that’s reimagined the flavors you grew up  with into something magical.

Kin Khao: At the Parc 55 hotel in Union Square, San Francisco

Noodlin’ Around (Part 1)

Noodlin’ Around (Part 1)

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Kakkemiso Udon at Sanukiya

Have you ever had something so exceptional and unforgettable that you often crave it, but are plagued with being unable to readily satisfy that craving? I’ve felt that recently with many of the meals I experienced on my last trip to Paris. You’d think it was a croissant or a macaron that has yet to be topped anywhere stateside (that, too), but it was actually a bowl of udon, done in a way that brought newfound respect to the noodle dish. I owe this craving to my good friend Jackie (as well as much of my food happiness while in Paris) and her 50 Things to Eat in Paris Before You Die. I can proudly say I checked off a few of those, friend. 😉

I’ve always really loved noodles, but my go-to Japanese noodle has been the ramen (more on that later). During my trip to Paris, while I picked up French words and phrases I used throughout my days there shopping and dining, I found it a bit trippy to be in a Japanese restaurant in France. My language association with Japanese restaurants has always been Japanese, of course, and English, having been to Japanese restaurants mainly in the states. So when we walked into Sanukiya after a laborious shopping day on St. Honore, it felt a little odd to still hear merci. My Japanese might be a little better than my French, when it comes to food and living, so it was almost easier to use Japanese words (and hand gestures) to communicate.

At any rate, Sanukiya did not disappoint (as my friend Jackie rarely does). One of the distinct things about Japanese food and culture is the meticulous time and dedication that’s taken to prepare and present a meal, even a bowl of noodles. The same can be said for French food, which is why the mutual love of Japanese and French does not surprise me. What I’m getting at is the presentation and amazing tastes that came from the bowl of kakkemiso udon in Paris. The noodles were perfectly al dente, served with a light shoyu/dashi broth, arugula (or rocket, as my Thai brethren call it), the most amazing flavorful pork I’ve ever had, and of course, the piece de resistance of any good bowl of Japanese noodles (as David Chang will tell you), a perfectly soft poached egg. The combination of egg, noodle, pork flavors and the surprising arugula has left me craving this dish intermittently since we’ve returned from Paris.

Along with this remarkable creation was also a frozen beer.  Eat your heart out, Homer Simpson. This was a draft Japanese beer, frozen to a slurpee-like consistency that ensured a cold beverage until the last drop.

That day, I left St. Honore feeling full and satisfied, as any great meal should leave you.

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Frozen Beer. Nuff said.