Worth…Queueing?

Photo Apr 13, 9 11 05 AM
Line for cruffins outside of Mr. Holmes Bakehouse on a Monday morning.

The other day, a girlfriend pointed out that San Franciscans (I guess I’m one now) are made fun of because we like to wait in line for things. In fact, we watched this video while we also were waiting in a line.

Compared to my expansive hometown of Los Angeles, San Francisco occupies a tiny space of roughly 49 miles (hence the 7×7 reference), with an ever-growing (hungry) population, looking to sample the best/newest/hippest things. It’s no wonder there’s a line everywhere you turn. In fact, I skipped out on Outerlands today for this sheer reason — I was too hungry, impatient and unprepared to wait. However, to say that this waiting game is played only in SF is a little unfair. The fact is people will go to great lengths for good food, no matter where you live.  

To that end, I made it a point to spend my 10-day staycation doing just that: experience the good food I’d normally have to wait for. Some of these places I’ve frequented, but others I’ve shied away from because of their lines.

Operation Line Hack: Los Angeles

For my roughly 6-day trip home to Los Angeles, I scheduled in quite a few meals to make the most of my trip, planning to beat the line at places that normally would have 30+ mins wait time.

Din Tai Fung at the Americana

Dessert Xiao Long Bao: red bean and taro filled dumplings
Dessert Xiao Long Bao: red bean and taro filled dumplings

Din Tai Fung is quite possibly one of the handful of restaurants my dad will wait for. I’ve been to a few locations, and like that this one is adjacent to a mall, so I can spend my time in Nordstrom while I wait my turn. I went with my parents on a Monday afternoon, and we were still met with a roughly 20 minute wait — the lunch crowd — but not as bad as the usual 45+ min wait on a weekend. And for those of you in the Bay Area, no fear! The soup dumpling chain is finally making its way to us, after much anticipation. Get ready to queue up this winter, while you browse the luxury collection in (former client) Westfield Valley Fair in San Jose :).

Verdict: Duh.

Eggslut

Photo Apr 07, 12 15 44 PM Photo Apr 08, 3 47 46 PM

Left: The Fairfax, soft scrambled eggs with chives and cheese, with bacon added, on a brioche bun. Right: The Slut, a specialty coddled egg in a jar with whipped potatoes, with a salad instead of a baguette.

Downtown Los Angeles is certainly making a comeback, and nowhere have I seen this more than in the Grand Central Market – hipsters rejoice! I’ve been itching to try Eggslut for some time now, but the last time I was in LA for a three day weekend, the line was too long to wait for, and we ended up at the equally delicious Sticky Rice for Hainam Chicken Rice (my kryptonite). This time, we were determined. A girlfriend and I stopped by on a Tuesday around 11am. Forgetting about the lunch crowd, we encountered a line that seemed to move pretty fast as we caught up over G&B lattes. The best part of the weekday trip to Eggslut was how easy it was to get a seat at the counter. It really didn’t disappoint, but I think you can’t go wrong with eggs, if you like eggs and breakfast as much as I do. I got the Fairfax sandwich, and added in a slice of bacon — best decision ever.

The next day, I found myself in downtown again with another girlfriend visiting from NYC. We walked past Grand Central Market and saw the empty counter and line-less Eggslut. Thought we just had lunch 2 hours before, we couldn’t resist. This time, I tried the Slut, an interesting take on coddled eggs, mixed with whipped potatoes (and copious amounts of butter, I’d assume). It’s usually served with a baguette, but i got it with a salad instead, having devoured the brioche bun the day before. No wait and still tasty. I’m not sure if I’d wait in a 45 min line for Eggslut — Fred 62 has pretty unbelievable breakfast sandwiches and are open 24 hours — but it was worth the trip.

Verdict: Would wait no more than 30 mins.

Salt and Straw

Sea Salt with Caramel Ribbons
Sea Salt with Caramel Ribbons

Larchmont Village has always been one of my favorite parts of town, and it’s changed so much since I’ve left, including the addition of this Portland-native ice cream shop. I stopped by on a Wednesday night with two friends after an indulgent meal of truffle pasta at Angelini Osteria. But, as everyone well knows, we women have a separate stomach for desserts 😜. The stantions outside of the ice cream shop indicated that long lines were inevitable, but seeing that we arrived 30 mins before closing, we lucked out on the lines. I’ve patiently stood in the Bi Rite Creamery line time and time again, so waiting for ice cream wouldn’t have been a problem for me. No wait was even better and it really did not disappoint. I got one of the shop’s best-selling flavors, the Sea Salt with Caramel Ribbons, which was a perfect blend of salty sweet. I especially loved the partnerships the shop did with local schools to create ice cream flavors — very clever, though I was not adventurous enough that day to try.

Verdict: Would wait for ice cream.

Pok Pok Phat Thai

Pad See Eww with Pork
Pad See Eww with Pork

I’ve been highly fascinated with Chef Andy Ricker for quite some time now. Mainly, because his grasp of the Thai language is pretty excellent, as is his understanding of Thai, particularly Northern Thai cuisine. I have yet to make a trip to his first restaurant in Portland, Pok Pok, so was so glad to see he opened this hawker style/street food Phat Thai place in Chinatown (a neighborhood also going the hipster route). I met up with a few friends on a late Thursday night, around 8pm, and we didn’t have to wait in a line. However, the tables outside were in a wind tunnel, so we did sit in the cold to eat (did not feel like Bangkok). I appreciated Ricker’s attempt for the Thai-style feel: the self-seasoning of dishes, throwback Thai-style decor, and drinks that took me back to Thailand. And perhaps it was my fault for not ordering the namesake Phat Thai (I’m usually not a big fan of Phat Thai) and getting my staple Pad See Eww instead, but I was sadly not enamored. Yes, I believe you should season dishes to your taste before you eat them, but they usually do come seasoned to a degree. It also might be that I’ve just returned from Bangkok, where I had my favorite Pad See Eww of all time at Ma Yord Phak. Good stir fried noodles need to have that wok-burnt charred taste, which this was lacking.

Promisingly, I’ve heard positive things about Pok Pok in Portland and look forward to trying that, which has a wider selection of dishes.

Verdict: Drive a little further into Thai Town. Don’t wait in line.

Operation Line Hack: San Francisco

Mr. Holmes Bakehouse

Cronut? Cruffin? Come again?
Cronut? Cruffin? Come again?

Back home for a few days before I embarked on my next career adventure, and i found myself in the line I mentioned at the beginning of this post. A girlfriend thought it’d be a great idea for us to finally try the highly hyped cruffin at Mr. Holmes Bakehouse. We met at 8am, when the shop had just opened, and proceeded to devour croissants and coffee before getting in the cruffin line. Cruffins came out of the oven at 9am, and there is a 2 per person limit. That day’s cruffins were brownie, so the filling was chocolatey. We were about the third group of people in line, happily filled our pastry boxes, then trekked to Grace Cathedral for a good walk to burn off the previous baked good before devouring another.

Mr. Holmes should get credit for their other baked goods as well. The regular croissant I had was on par with the ones I’ve had in Paris. The California Croissant was an interesting take on smoked salmon sushi in a croissant, and the Ferrero Rocher Choux Bomb was pretty….well, bomb.

The cruffin was indeed tasty, and interesting. The flaky croissant layers enveloping a cream filling was more of a dessert than breakfast to me, with its sugar sprinkled exterior.

Verdict: Try it once, but come back for their other pastries.

4505 Burgers & BBQ

Photo Apr 13, 12 41 54 PM

That same day (yes, after eating all those pastries), my girlfriends and I walked down to 4505 Burgers & BBQ. I hadn’t heard of this place before, but have always joked that if I wasn’t Thai, I’d probably be either Korean or Southern — I love BBQ and Southern food! The four of us got a few different items to try and share. The ribs and brisket were tasty, but I must admit, the burger was surprisingly amazing — juicy and prepared at just the right temperature. The sides were also to die for — the baked beans had pieces of pork in it, the coleslaw was creamy and peppery, and (not pictured) there was a fried mac n’ cheese side dish with hot dog bits that was delicious with some Crystal hot sauce sprinkled a top.

Verdict: How long is this wait, exactly?

Brenda’s French Soul Food

Crawfish Beignets
Crawfish Beignets
Pork Belly and Grits
Pork Belly and Grits (Not pictured: Tums for indigestion post-meal)

I couldn’t let my last day of staycation go to waste. After running a few errands about town, I plotted where I wanted to go eat — it was a toss up between Orenchi Beyond, one of my favorite South Bay ramen spots that just opened in the Mission, or this gem, Brenda’s French Soul Food. I’d heard so many great things about this place – including the inevitable weekend line. On a Tuesday afternoon around 1:30pm, there was no line in sight, so after a (heartracing) walk through the Tenderloin, I plopped myself on the counter to try what all this hype was about. I must’ve looked like a lunatic because in addition to the watermelon sweet tea (delicious) that I ordered, I also got an order of crawfish beignets and the pork belly and grits — enough food for two. (No, I didn’t eat it all, but also doggie bagged it for hubby to try 😉

The crawfish beignets were surprisingly delightful — i’ve never had savory beignets, but the bread was still a slightly sweet cornmeal. You really can’t go wrong with grits and a poached egg, so the pork belly dish was amazing, though a bit heavy for me, given all the fatty pork belly. I need to go back and try the gumbo and shrimp and grits.

Verdict: I’d wait patiently for 30-45 mins for this!

I still have about a dozen hyped, line-lingering places to try in San Francisco, but in all, I’d say most of the places I’ve been to have been worth the wait. I’ve waited for food in a few different cities — all with folks who love to eat, so really, it’s not just San Franciscans that “love” waiting in lines. It comes down to how patient you are for the prize 😉

ink.

ink.

Each year, one of my college friends and I have a holiday tradition: I make/bring treats or alcohol, we pick up  our favorite indulgent fast foods (usually involving her fave KFC, McDonald’s and the like) and we exchange gifts amidst watching The Holiday. The film takes place primarily in LA, which makes us not feel too bad that our Christmas really isn’t that white. The tradition has morphed a bit since I’ve moved up to the Bay Area and our stomachs are less capable to handle copious amounts of fast food. This year, we continued the tradition at Top Chef Michael Voltaggio’s restaurant, ink.

It was my second time at ink, my first being in the small private room towards the back of the restaurant. I always feel a special sense of authenticity when seeing the celebrity owner-chef I admired a

To me, it feels like there’s a level of authenticity when seeing renowned owner-chefs in action in their restaurants’ kitchens. It’s as of they not only made that restaurant famous, but still put their dedication into it. I love seeing Nancy Silverton make her famous Nancy’s Chopped Salad at Pizzeria Mozza, Chris Cosentino in his signature black and white striped apron at Incanto, and that night we saw Michael Voltaggio at work in his kitchen at ink.

Like many new restaurants in Los Angeles, ink bears the concept of small tapas-style share plates. What I love most is the interesting pairing of food combinations in each dish, and the curious, fun plating. There were three of us, so we ordered seven dishes and got a good sampling of the menu.

IMG_7700Main course menu at ink. Plates are listed from light to heavy dishes

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My drink for the night, the chef’s favorite Islay Scotch

We began with drinks, mine this Islay Scotch, a smoky flavored drink containing my favorite citrus flavor: yuzu. ink was about unexpected pairings, and this traditional Japanese flavor with such an American style drink was definitely unique. Unlike most scotch drinks that came with many ice cubes, this had one giant ice cube that gradually melted as you sipped your drink, ensuring the perfect consistently (and temperature) for your drink all the way through. This concept was very reminiscent of the drinks I had a few months back at the famous Aviary in Chicago (more on Chicago another time).

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Little Gems (photo credit to my friend Sara): Creamy burrata with lettuce and anchovy crackers. I have never had a burrata this texture before: creamy, but also less stringy than usual. Served very cold, it was delicious. I also couldn’t get enough of these anchovy crackers which reminded me very much of Thai/Chinese breakfast foods.

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Hamachi: Fresh fish with fresh wasabi and the tartness of the green apples that cut through the milkiness of the fish perfectly. Very reminiscent of a ceviche with a clean, fresh taste.

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La Querica Berkshire Ham: When this dish arrived, I truly forgot what we ordered and thought, “I don’t recall dumplings on the menu.” It finally clicked and I can’t get enough of this plating: sheets of beets cloaking a yogurt sauce, paired with this delicious ham.

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Egg Yolk Gnocci: Favorite dish #1 of the night. I kept trying to figure out how in the world Voltaggio managed to get egg yolk into these pillowy gnocchi. I’m a sucker for egg yolk, so this dish, with the pairing of tasty sauce and mushroom, really hit the spot.

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Cereal: Favorite dish #2 consisted of more egg, this time fried, atop fried chicken skin and what was basically grits to create a glorified breakfast dish (get it, cereal?). My friend Qi and I couldn’t get enough of this dish and scraped every bit of it.

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Octopus: I love tako, so this dish was all parts welcoming to me. Served piping hot, the octopus was perfectly smoky and deliciously chewy paired with the fennel to cut through the creamy texture.

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Potato Charcoal: For me, this is the dish that drove me back to ink. The clever plating of the pot, presented with a charcoal grill that’s removed to reveal these curious little lumps next to silky delicious sour cream. To go along with the unexpected pairings, this dish is served with a spritzer of Chinese-style black vinegar, which seems to enhance the smokiness of the potatoes. I can’t help but smile every time i see this dish.

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Apple: For dessert, I ordered this deconstructed apple pie. Equal parts buttery (graham cracker pieces) tarty (the green apple balls) and creamy (that semi freddo shell atop), this was the perfect ending to the meal.

I much preferred ink to Animal, which is also growing in popularity for its small plates and “unusual” foods (pig ears, which are a childhood favorite of mine, are much raved there). Service was swift and the drink menu boasts twice as many pages as the food menu.

Looking forward to a year of good eating and hopefully lots of travels, and wishing you all a very happy, healthy New Year!

Eat: ink: 8360 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, CA