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 😉

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International Dumpling Party

International Dumpling Party

Spring forward! It’s been quite awhile since I posted. Lots to update on my trip to Thailand/Hong Kong, as well as some other fun things. But first, a party….

My mom once told me that she loved eating wonton soup when she was pregnant with me, so my love for minced meat wrapped in pastry of different forms doesn’t surprise me. Last month (while eating a gyoza), I was marveling about how many different types of dumplings existed in the world. There was the gyoza I was eating (Japanese), xiao long bao, or soup dumplings, which originated from Shanghai, but became popular through a Taiwanese chain called Din Tai Fung. Then, there were mandoo, the Korean version, a bigger more plump dumpling, eaten steamed, pan fried or in a soup during the new year. So many different types of Asian dumplings! And if you think beyond that, there’s ravioli, European dumplings, western dumpling soup — possibilities are endless!IMG_7618Din Tai Fung’s mascot

With that, I decided to throw an international dumpling party a couple of weeks ago. We’d help make a few different types of dumplings and enjoy them all together. I thought I’d kick it off by making Korean mandoo with a beef filling. Dumplings are such an ideal food — they are packed full of goodness in such a small package, but little did I realize the work that goes into them!

Photo Mar 08, 1 12 43 AMPhoto Mar 08, 1 13 01 AM
My first attempt at making mandoo. Tip: read instructions carefully!

I won’t place blame on one thing in particular, but the extreme jet lag I was still suffering, along with the full work week did not help with my already lacking skills in following detailed instructions (I hate putting together IKEA furniture for this very reason!). I forgot to par-boil (in Thai, ลวก) the cabbage before combining it into the mixture. You’ll also notice the giant batch here — I tried to double the batch, but did it wrong and added way too much of one thing (onions – oops) and way to little of another for it. I ended up picking out the onions (which were supposed to not be raw, another oops). I also improvised and added in some shitake mushrooms (yum!) and shredded carrots (bad idea – see below). I spent about 3-4 hours putting all the dumplings together, from prep to wrap.

The mandoo turned out decent, but I came away with many lessons from my first attempt:

  • While you may not hold to this rule in your other dishes (like me), it’s important to follow directions on dumplings, especially in measurements!
  • Chop everything in bite sized pieces — that means shredded carrots, too. Having carrot pieces poke through the shell will make the dumplings fall apart easier
  • Don’t overstuff! If you feel like you’re trying to get back for all the times you ate an under-stuffed dumpling, now is not the time. Overstuffing the dumpling causes it to explode when cooking
  • If you want to save the dumplings, best to cook them first, then save them, especially if the skins are fresh and very soft (like these were). Or, dust with some flour to make sure they don’t stick — yet another “why didn’t you read the instructions, Taya?” moment :/

My friends and partners in dumpling-making crime the next day were much more successful. They followed the instructions in their recipes (and were also already-skilled cooks).

Photo Mar 08, 6 18 01 PMDumpling makers, hard at work on shu mai 

Photo Mar 08, 6 51 34 PM Photo Mar 08, 7 26 20 PMShu mai from my very talented homemaker friend.

Photo Mar 08, 6 18 17 PM

Gyoza from my partner-in-crime and co-host, Rose

In total, we had 4 different kind of dumplings: my mandoo (Korea), two different styles of shumai (Hong Kong), a gyoza (Japan).  We also had some Taiwanese sticky rice, egg noodles and roast duck to round out our feast.

I almost feel like Sandra Lee (gah!) or Ina Garten for saying this, but throwing a dumpling party doesn’t have to be as time consuming as I made it. The fun was in making the dumplings and eating it together. 😊