Friday, December 14, 2007

Foodie Time

Alright, I read a lot of food-related blogs. Chowhound, Eater SF, Gridskipper, etc., etc., etc. It's kind of a hobby of mine, and obviously a lot of other people as well, since San Francisco might as well be the foodie epicenter of the country. It's deserved too - I don't think anywhere focuses as much on the locally sourced, humanely treated, organic, and pesticide-free way of eating that San Franciscans love to indulge themselves in, and which, by many accounts, Chez Panisse in Berkeley created.

What bothers me, and I'm trying not to sound like a snob here, is that a lot of people *think* that they know their stuff, and they're absolutely wrong. Do you know how easy it is to look up a review in Zagat, or to read the Chronicle's (Michael Bauer's) Top 100 Restaurants in the Bay Area, and then to check it off and say you agree with the experts? I was reading a post a Chowhound that asked for a "unique San Francisco restaurant" with the OP mentioning that they already scored reservations for French Laundry. Do you know what the people on Chowhound recommended?

Gary Danko - okay, I can understand that, it's arguably SF's best restaurant, although everyone I've heard from who has gone in the past year or so thinks otherwise
Slanted Door - I guess fusion or Vietnamese food hasn't really gone mainstream outside of the coastal foodie hubs, so I understand that, too
Cha Cha Cha - HUH?! The person who recommended it actually said "that place on Haight with the good sangria, yum yum I love sangria!!"
Scoma's - HUH?! A Wharf seafood restaurant? NEXT!
Bistro Boudin - HUH?! Because they don't have Boudin in EVERY MALL IN THE COUNTRY.
Americano - dude, homie's going to French Laundry... I'm sorry, but Americano's flatbreads don't cut it.

Honestly, this sounds like a list of the who's who of San Francisco restaurants loved by people who live in Atherton.

I'm not a foodie, but here's what I would have recommended, and I'll tell you why.

Bodega Bistro - I agree that Vietnamese food is not quite mainstream, but Bodega Bistro gives you more of the "real" stuff rather than the blanded down version of Slanted Door's carefully manicured "Vietnamese experience." The surroundings are amongst crack alleys in the Tenderloin, but the purple painted walls, gracious host, and quality of food are second to no other Vietnamese-French restaurant in The City.

Burma Superstar - the wait is long, the legend is hyped (at least amongst locals), but unless you live in Eastern Los Angeles, you've probably never had Burmese food before. Burma Superstar is nice enough that you won't feel uncomfortable, they always explain what's in every meal when they bring it to you, and Burmese food is different in that it's familiar enough to any palette who recognizes Chinese, Thai, and Indian flavors, but its flavors and textures mixes in a way that no other cuisine can quite match.

Chez Panisse - The Bay Area's number two punch. I've never been to French Laundry, but Chez Panisse was the best meal I've ever eaten in my entire life. Often imitated, but never duplicated, this is the original California cuisine. Yes, I know it's in Berkeley.

Kiss Seafood - Here's the thing. I don't like sushi. But I know many people coming to San Francisco want to try out high-end Japanese restaurants. And Kiss, from what I understand, is the best among them. Some of the freshest fish in the world, Japantown location, sushi as well as more traditional prepared Japanese delicacies - this is what San Francisco's obsession with freshness combined with its international aura is all about.

Anyways, I can go through a lot more examples, but I feel oftentimes people speak out of their ass. Seriously, who would recommend going to Cha Cha Cha for anything other than ANOTHER Silicon Valley birthday having a night out in The City?! I put more credo in local reviews, I put more credo into unique voices, I put more credo into people who aren't afraid to try ten bad meals just to find one sparkling meal, and I put more credo into those who aren't afraid to venture into the neighborhoods, leave their Zagats and Chronicle Top 100 and Michelin lists at home, and explore the actual restaurants that make San Francisco such a unique dining destination in the world.


maria said...

A) Cha Cha Cha suuuuuucks. Except I will always have a soft spot for the Mission location.

B) Your vendetta against Michael Bauer is hilarious.

eddo said...

I actually think Michael Bauer is really good. I respect the guy, his reviews are well thought-out and he obviously comes from a more sophisticated and well-versed palate than I. I just hate how others view him as The Holy Grail, like he's like the Pied Piper of San Francisco restaurants.

He'd never step foot in Lahore Karahi, he'd never step foot in Old Mandarin Islamic, he'd never step foot in Shanghai House. How can you possibly grasp the overall everyday SF dining scene if you're only going to the restaurants owned by the same 50 or so people?

Steph said...

Nice piece, Ed! I happen to agree w/ a lot of your points and personal recommendations (I can still taste that tendon from OMI!). It's interesting to look at whose opinions people tend to trust and examine what values and cultural aesthetic they represent. Zagat, Michelin, MB...Do the faces, palattes, and life experiences behind those "institutions" represent the cultural diversity (ethnic, social class, etc) of our major cities? I'm feeling a racism rant brewing up in me, so I'll just stop now.

p.s. I imagine MB to look like Jeffrey Steingarten...maybe it's the old White dude thing.