Food, drink, film and other random thoughts from The Lone Star State.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


Qi is a Lapsang Souchong based liqueur made by the good folks at Hangar One Vodka. If you have not tried Lapsang Souchong tea, I insist you run out and try it. Now. I'll wait.

Lapsang Souchong is a black tea that has been smoked within an inch of its life. Out of the box it smells like a campfire. Prepared with a touch of Agave, its reasonable substitute for coffee. As a base for a liqueur mixed with Lillet Blanc, Vodka, Orange and Peychaud bitters, its fanstastic.

Here is the current blueprint for a QiTini, which has been mostly a hit with the 'less sweet' martini crowd.

  • 1.25 Qi Black

  • 1 Vodka

  • 1 Lillet Blanc

  • 1/3 Agave

  • Dash Orange Bitters

  • Dash Peychaud Bitters

Shake with ice and strain.

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Sunday, August 08, 2010

San Francisco

Bar @ Neiman Marcus, Union Square

I was lucky enough to spend a huge chunk of my youth in the bay area. Its a unique place; I have only found the density and diversity in one other city - NYC.

I was excited to attend a week-long conference in SF, not only because the conference was centered around my PhD thesis but also to see how the city had changed since I last lived there.

While the core of the city remains exactly, disturbingly the same, the eastern edge has exploded. Gone are the distribution warehouses, now replaced with high-dollar residential and commercial. There are 50 new high rises slated for this area over the next 5 years; so much for California's economic crisis. High tech is opting out of Silicon Valley and taking up roost in the city, filling the void left by the exiting financial crowd.

Sather Gate, UC Berkeley

The Campanile, UC Berkeley

The conference was frenetic but I still managed to sneak onto the subway to see my old college, UC Berkeley. Although there are many new buildings around the perimeter of campus, the core campus seemed exactly the same. Still the same kids on skateboards with mohawks and slightly gothic-surf look. Still the vendors on Telegraph hawking t-shirts, necklaces and drugs. Still Blondies takeaway pizza. Still the same orthogonal mindset that sets Berkeley apart in its own liberal category making an already liberal state seem like a suffocating autocracy in comparison.

And people wonder where I get it from.

Bay Bridge from Embarcadero

The rest of the bay area I have explored to exhaustion, particularly in the city, so there wasnt much need to 'see the sights'. However, I was traveling with people who hadnt lived there for 14 years, so I showed them around. Most of the touring involved eating, of course, since San Francisco still holds its crown and septor as king of highest rated restaurants per capita.

Findings ...

La Briciola
489 3rd Street
San Francisco, CA 94107-1234
(415) 512-0300

If you're looking for the heavy tomato-sauce and garlic version of Italian food, you need to leave the city as most Italian in SF will be of the lighter Northern Italy variety.

La Briciola was a random stop on a Sunday night. Strangely, in a city like SF, most restaurants are closed on Sunday or at least close early. Not conducive to my 10p dinner hour at all! But as a crossed under the freeway to a part of SoMa I had never been, this place appeared.

If you have time to try only one item it must be the Sea Bass Stuffed Ravioli in Lobster Reduction. I don't think I need to elaborate.

Hunan Homes
622 Jackson Street
San Francisco, CA‎
415) 982-2844‎

In a city with a disproportionately large Chinatown, its almost impossible to make a choice of Chinese restaurants. In theory they are all great, however, in reality some are just better. Look for large crowds of Chinese patrons, little decor, little visibility and noone passing out coupons for the place on every street corner.

Stacked up against the rest of the Chinese I've had in SF, this place, hidden deep in the heart of Chinatown, shines. No signature cocktails, no valet parking, no chatty staff. Noone here is likely to care if you're a tourist, rock star, Chinese or Mexican pre-op tranny in full drag with tiara, seriously. Bascially what you get is incredibly efficient service and some of the best Hunan food around. Period.

The knockouts here were the Pork Dumplings in Pepper Sauce (hot even for me) and anything with the name 'Hunan' in the description; Hunan Chicken was my favorite. Hunan style is a little hotter than others but the staff at Hunan Homes will ask what level of spicyness you want. Please be afraid to crank it up beyond how its normally prepared unless you are one to eat raw Jalapenos and find them amusingly warm.

2100 Ward Street
Berkeley, CA 94705
(510) 549-3486

One day took my friends to see the UC Berkeley campus since they had never been. Prior to getting in the tube that goes under the bay we talked about where we might eat. Since both my friends are from The Gambia, West Africa we decided to try a West African place in South Berkeley. Ah, the best of plans. When we arrived we found not only was the restaurant closed, it was closed for good.

No worries these days, we just pulled out our phones and Yelped our way to a new place. Kirala was only a mile away and we all thought Japanese sounded pretty good. To our surprise, when we arrived at this small, neighborhood restaurant, buried in a primarily residential area, the wait was a hour long. I over heard two student-esque patrons comment that an hour wasnt so bad. Really? An hour? Considering our options were limited we decided to saddle up on barstools and eat bar nibbles, have a cocktail and wait for table. I mean, if an hour wait is acceptable, the premise is that the food will be great.

Beware of Kirala's Pomegranate Soju cocktails. I had 3, that was probably one too many but wow, are they smooth. And tasty! I've decided Soju is the equivalent of Bacardi 151, you might not feel it going down, but you will when you try to stand up.

A hour passed quickly and we sloshed to our table. Alcohol notwithstanding, this would my best Japanese meal ever.

The menu covers many Japanese styles but the sushi and robata bar are brilliant. Collectively we tried almost every item on the robata bar menu; while simple in preparation, the result will leave you advocating the 'less is more' principle quite strongly. Particular favorite were the Shitakes, Scallops and Chicken Meatballs. Sushi follows a more traditional path and is exquisitely fresh and flavorful. Don't miss the Hamachi and Unagi here, I was almost afraid the Hamachi would swim away with freshness.

Although this was hands down my best meal in SF (if not ever), the bill was surprising light.

If I'm ever in SF again, there will be a BART trip out to South Berkeley for Kirala!

Kirala, Gambian Approved Dining

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