Beautiful weather drew us to San Francisco this evening, perfect for strolling around SOMA StrEat Food Park and visiting new trucks. The food truck craze has made available some of the best examples of food, from comfort to ethnic. Checking ahead on the Park’s Facebook page is a clear indicator of which trucks are present on any given day, so after seeing what was in store, we had high hopes for the food.
Lil Burma “provides healthy, gourmet street food,” as per the website, and we can’t argue. We ordered coconut chicken noodle soup but were graciously offered the Indian style curry chicken to try; no wonder, they knew that we would be impressed! The curry chicken was fork tender, stewed in an Indian blend of spices for a deliciously medium heat, and Zach thought it was the the tastiest he’s tried (in his limited curry experience). It was served over rice, which in Zach’s opinion, was “the best hands down from a food truck.” The soup was August’s favorite, being considerably milder. Abundant flour noodles and meaty coconut chicken hunks in a buttery bean soup would be the chicken noodle soup to beat any cold. It was not overly spiced yet zingy with sweet onions, fresh cilantro, and lime, achieving a good blend of flavors that any palate can handle.
Best Brazilian Skewer doesn’t have much of an online presence, but when you see the little cart, you will recognize it. Simple skewer plates were filling and nutritious, with sides we imagine taste like home for Brazilians. August erroneously thought the skewer would have had one big strip of meat, so she was surprised to see bite-size hunks of savory steak enhanced by a nice marinade; it’s always appreciated when street food is served in a manageable way, since plastic knives really wouldn’t do much for steak. A large pile of fresh mixed greens tossed in a light oil and vinegar dressing propped up the skewer, providing a good source of crudités, so to speak. The potato carrot salad was not heavily dressed and the vegetables were cooked to just the right point, maintaining good texture. The rice, so unassuming, was the underdog of the plate. It looked simple, but the flavors of garlic, onion, and black bean made it delicious like none other we’ve tried before.
Dessert in the form of a Golden Waffle was a great way to cap off the night. These waffles aren’t typical, as they are made with Belgian pearl sugar in the true liège style. Enjoy it plain or add toppings as we did – from drizzles to fruits, there are many combinations available. We chose Nutella, Ghiradelli chocolate sauce, Three Twins organic vanilla ice cream, and whipped cream. Granted, when you add toppings the waffle really becomes what you make of it, but we’re sure that anything would taste just fine atop a fluffy yet crunchy waffle.
When the weather is right, everyone comes out to play, no matter what day of the week. Similarly, the Park is open seven days a week, with standard ploys like movie night Wednesdays at mimosa brunch Sundays. Just check Facebook ahead of time to see which trucks will be there.
Having a car in San Francisco can be a hindrance. Besides the traffic of the metering lights on the Bay Bridge and the lookie-loos taking pictures on its new span (and that’s just approaching the City), finding a parking spot once there can feel like a never-ending battle against one-way streets. In the end, testing your brakes in a parallel spot on a super steep hill several blocks away from Tony’s Pizza Napoletana is so worth it. Owner/mastermind Tony Gemignani puts the everyday pizza joints to shame with the wonders coming from his kitchen. Eight ovens of different kinds (gas, electric, wood fire, coal fired, rotoflex) at a range of temperatures from 525 to 1000 degrees F, means the varieties are seemingly endless from crusts to toppings.
Honoring our native state and August’s favorite European country simultaneously, we ordered the Barcelona for its toppings, wood fired California style at 900 degrees for a mere 90 seconds. The result was a soft and chewy dough with a burnt bottom, but that was the intention. A light layer of mozzarella was the base cheese, as it is for most pizzas, but this one had the added bonus of Spanish Manchego cheese, named for the region of La Mancha where it is produced. Don Quijote likely would have loved Manchego cheese, if he were real. It is slightly piquant, which works well with the other quintessentially Spanish flavors on this pizza. Nora peppers (another name for paprika peppers) and smoked paprika chorizo tomato sauce both brought a deep spiciness, but with almost zero heat. The chorizo, being Spanish and not Mexican, was neither greasy nor spicy but more like what an American would call a fancy, flavorful pepperoni. Another famous Spanish ham product, jamón, was plentiful and delicious. Considering the tender bits of scrambled farm egg, it wouldn’t be wrong to have the leftovers of this pizza for breakfast.
Cole fired from a 1000 degree F oven for about four minutes was this “white pie with clam and garlic,” plus bacon for an extra charge. That’s about all that the description said, really. With such a description, we did not anticipate that simplicity would taste so glorious. There was mozzarella cheese but a different kind than the Barcelona, this one being a whole milk, milder, Brooklyn style – to go with the East Coast vibe, naturally. It was a creamy backdrop for the bold bacon and plentiful, sweet garlic. The clams, those in the shell as well as the minced meat on the pizza, were nicely chewy, smoky, and very fresh. This pizza had the perfect combination of flavors reminiscent of a hearty clam chowder, but in a cheesy bread bowl. There were overwhelmingly more toppings than crust, since it was thinner than the Barcelona yet harder, but don’t be scared by a little work.
As much as the white pie reminded us of clam chowder, the Detroit style red top reminded us of grilled cheese Texas toast. Funny, since the two places aren’t even in the same time zone. Anyway, Zach says he may have found his new favorite type of pizza, and we really lucked out since only 25 of these are prepared each day and we got the last one. Baked in a gas oven at 550 degrees F for 25 minutes on a blue steel pan from Detroit, the kitchen knows how to recreate authenticity. What else would the owner and first American to win the World Pizza Championship strive for, but authenticity? With its own mozzarella unlike those of the other two, Wisconsin brick, as well as white cheddar, this was the cheesiest pie of the night. Where the edges met the pan, a delicious garlic butter edge was formed, with caramelized corners adorned by mini cheese skirts. The dough under the bed of toppings was thick, soft, and slightly buttery. Poured over the top were ladles of a tangy and mildly sweet tomato sauce, rich and fresh. All that is just the basic “red top” Detroit style pizza, without your choice of toppings, and we couldn’t do without trying a couple of the roughly ten. Just like almost everything else here, the high quality sausage was made in-house. August is not generally a sausage fan, but this was mild for her and pleasantly savory. The pepperoni we requested provided the classic meatiness expected in an American pie. All the elements, from the caramelized cheese to the crust, the sauce to the meat, balanced incredibly well.
Chris, our server, made excellent recommendations and conversation, while the rest of his crew worked together seamlessly to keep the tables happy. A few people waiting for a clear table looked a teensy bit peeved, on the other hand, since reservations are impossible (literally, they don’t book them). When you come, be prepared and ask for the first table available, inside or out. If it’s cold outside, don’t worry because the heaters are set right above each table to keep guests warm and cozy while watching the sun set. We came without coats or sweaters, and we were just fine with our single layers. Across the way, if the door is open, you might catch some live jazz music coming your direction, so the ambiance outdoors is unique and can never be repeated. We intend to return to try Tony’s other types of pizzas and non-pizza items, and just like jazz, there seem to be countless possibilities on the menu.
August 5 this year is National Oyster Day, so we ditched our original dinner plans and went out to San Francisco for Hog & Rocks, a poppin’ joint with a broad variety of oysters and pork dishes. Instead of picking a few entrees, we decided to try multiple appetizer-like plates, so that we could sample as many hogs, rocks, and other treats as possible. Considering it was National Oyster Day today, we were surprised when we arrived around 6 pm, still within Happy Hour, and few tables were taken. By the time we left, though, the place was packed and bustling.
Nearly half of the menu covers beverages, so we had to try at least one specialty cocktail. Zach enjoyed sipping a glass of prosecco, while August was immediately drawn to the “Smoker’s Delight,” a delicious take on an Old Fashioned. Laphroaig single malt scotch, aged ten years, plus Tempus Fugit creme de cacao and bitters, equaled liquid warmth.
Ah, the reason we came. The Happy Hour oysters are only $1 each; at that price it was hard to pass up a dozen. There were six other oysters available, so we got one of each including Black Point, Beausoleil, and Kusshi, among others. Savor the variety and try them with a squirt of lemon, a spoon of of mignonette, or two drops of the chef and his brother’s Youks hot sauce.
Ordering the BBQ oysters will get you a plate of three large, succulent, warm oysters with a dash of mild cocktail sauce. The verdant sauce was an herb butter, which added creaminess and an earthy taste to an otherwise maritime bite. August’s eyes lit up for an “OMG” moment when she had her first one, declaring that it may be her new favorite oyster style.
Also in a trio came decadent deviled eggs. What set these apart from the standard potluck deviled eggs were the hunks of smoky, salty country ham and fried oysters. The filling was supremely rich and creamy with a very gentle spiciness – the spice was more flavor than heat. Bridging together the two ingredients of the restaurant’s name, the oyster/ham juxtaposition nestled on each egg worked well, both in texture and flavor. The crisp and crunchy oyster had a cornmeal crust, offsetting the smooth egg. In Zach’s words, these deviled eggs were “the best hands down ever.”
Not many people realize that “pickle” refers to a process, not a particular food. We’ve become accustomed in American English to referring to pickled cucumbers as pickles themselves, but we forget that any vegetable can be pickled. Here we had an assortment with fresh garlic, beet, fennel, carrot, Romano bean, chard, and classic bread and butter pickle. Zach has never been a fan of bread and butter pickles, but he really enjoyed these – they were sweet but not grotesquely so, as he often finds them to be.
Hardcore ham hounds cannot pass up this spread. A sampling of three fine hams from across the globe were each paired with their own special garnish. Suryanno ham from Virginia (top right) came with thin slices of juicy melon; salty and sweet can’t get much better than ham and melon, especially if the ham is lightly smoky and melts in your mouth. Spanish jamón serrano (bottom right) got a sprinkling of candied almonds, inedible for Zach but a delight for August. It had a similar mouthfeel as the Suryanno but was not as smoky. Prosciutto from Italy was topped with house-made ricotta cheese, and like truly artisan ricotta, the cheese was flavorless. All that ricotta should do is provide a creamy cloud-like texture, and this one did its job just right, highlighting the least smoky and most tender of these three little pigs.
It’s not easy to bring a vegetarian here, we imagine. Even the fries come either spiced or with an egg yolk glaze. We went for the glaze, which evenly coated the hand-cut fries. Crispy, fresh, and steamy, a dip of ketchup was all that was needed to make these pretty tempting.
Hog & Rocks prides itself on sourcing locally and supporting neighbors whenever possible, so Firebrand of Oakland provides the delicious pretzels for this appetizer. It was very soft and chewy, but substantial enough to support gobs of rich pimento cheese. Its flavor was that of a basic mild cheddar, but with a sweet pimento pepper essence. The cheese was smooth, creamy, and plentiful – there was more cheese than we could smear on the pretzel, so we tried it on the fries, as well (and it’s not bad).
A beef bone was split and prepared with pickled blackberry, pearl onion, and fresh dill. Buttery toast points were hard enough for us to spread the marrow like it itself was butter. The tangy pickled blackberries and pearl onions contributed a layer of flavor that made the marrow more sumptuous that it already is by nature. After eating this, there’s no need for lip balm for a week.
The plate that we agreed was the most impressive was the Trotter Tots. Their texture and flavor were identical to tater tots and pork cracklins, as if they were engineered by Jeff Goldblum. Shredded pork, smoky and salty, was mixed with tender, fluffy potatoes, then formed into balls to be fried and served on a juniper-pine aioli. We have some inspiration now for something to do for a future football party, like the Big Game (coincidentally August and Zach’s anniversary) or next year’s Superbowl. These hogtied potato bites are sure to disappear fast at an event like that.
A full bar and a few TVs mean this is a good place to catch a sports match, but it is equally ideal for a nice date night; we saw many people here tonight for both reasons. Even with all that we sampled, there was so much more on the menu that we’d like to give a chance to. You can bet that we will be back, for dinner again or maybe for a weekend brunch. We’re curious to see what a Hog & Rocks morning meal would be like.