Category Archives: On the Cheap

Drunken Vegetarianism

Allow me to clear up a common misconception. Vegetarians are not necessarily wholesome by definition. Sure, we enjoy the healthy side benefits of a meat-free lifestyle, but we go out, get shit-faced, and get a hankerin’ for fried food just like everyone else.

Which is why I’m so in love with Truck. Stuck on the corner of Nowhere and Filthy in the Mission (that particularly lonely stretch of Folsom, just past the FoodsCo), Truck is a welcome oasis. Smallish, gayish, cheapish and friendly as all get out. And then there’s the Fried Tofu.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve been out and about, staring longingly at the deep fried chicken fingers of my drinking pals. Not that I want the chicken—I just want the fried. Truck understands that feeling, and serves up a deep fried platter of veggies and tofu, with your choice of dipping sauce. (My choice happened to be the curried ketchup. Yum.) The batter is surprisingly well-seasoned, and not at all greasy. And the tofu slabs sit snuggled in a basket with fried broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini and mushrooms. It’s the perfect reason for another round of Citron and Tonics.

Now I’d like to pretend that my evening ended there. But long story short, and a few bars later, I was hungry again. Thankfully, Crepes A-Go-Go is an equidistant stumble between the Eagle and my house. It’s located next to Butter, in a cart on 11th between Harrison and Folsom. As far as I’ve noticed, it’s only open late at night, serving up easy-eatin’ hand food to the rowdy crowds. I’ve enjoyed the sweet life-giving nectar of a Nutella Crepe there at 2:00 a.m., and this weekend, I tried the Mushroom, Spinach and Cheese. To be honest, I can’t tell you whether or not it’s actually any good: I’ve never been there sober. (Sweet Baby Jesus, this post makes me sound like I should change my last name to Lohan.) But I can tell you this—when it’s time to head home, and you’ve got your munch on, Crepes A-Go-Go doesn’t disappoint. There’s plenty of choices for veggies and meat lovers alike.

So let’s raise a toast to the beautiful abandon of drunken eating,  when the rules fly out the window, and pure satisfaction is the only goal. Cheers.

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Burma Superstar!

When I say Burma, you say Superstar.
Burma (Superstar!) Burma (Superstar!)

First off, you have to love the name. It puts you in a good mood before you even crack the menu.

Then, there’s the issue of choice: Their vegetarian selection makes me downright giddy.

Finally, the food. It throws your mouth for a wonderful loop. Is that India I taste? Thailand, what are you doing here? And where the hell did the felafel come from?

We started last night with the obligatory Tea Leaf Salad– tea leaves, tomatoes, lettuce, fried garlic, sesame seeds, peanuts and split yellow peas. I say obligatory because you damn well better order it when you go. Trust me. The tea leaves bring a smokey funk to the dish that’s hard to resist, while a bright squeeze of lemon gives it a charge of acidity.

Then we had the Samusa Soup. A soup that feels like a big, warm bear hug. At first glance, it’s a jumbled mess. Samusas (hand wrapped pasta filled with curry and potato) swim with broken felafel, lentils, cabbage and onions in a thick curried broth that will remind you of your favorite Indian take away. Savory, tangy, and spicy in perfect measure.

We added the Stir Fried Pea Shoots with wine and garlic, and the Tofu Tower, which sits on top of a nest of watercress, mushrooms, and bell peppers in a chili and black bean sauce. Both dishes were good, but maybe less surprising than the others. The knock-you-on-your-ass delight of the salad and the soup was a hard act to follow. Of course, their Coconut Rice another story all together. Think of it like cocaine. Once you try it, you’re going to want A LOT more.

Wash it all down with a cold, dry Singha, and you’re looking at one fine, reasonably priced, vegetarian feast–well worth the schlep out to 4th and Clement. (I know, I know. It’s not that far. But I tell ya, anything past Masonic seems like a long haul to me.)

Good stuff, friends. I’m jonesing for some more Coconut Rice as we speak. So, if you’re holdin’…

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Chez Days Continue: Chez Maman

One Chez was not enough for me this week. So the aforementioned Mike and I decided to have lunch at Chez Maman. Before we left the office, Mike wondered aloud if I’d have any options there. (He’s a sweet boy, that Mike.) So we checked their site. And I proceeded to do back flips with joy.

Several veggie apps: check.
A bundle of salad choices: check.
A veggie panini: check.
Vegetarian burger: check.
Vegetarian crepe: check.
Vegetarian quesadilla: check.
Vegetarian entrée: nope, but I forgive them, anyway.

The meal was just what we needed on a blustery, sun soaked San Francisco day. We split the Warm Goat Cheese with Arugula and Cipollini Onion salad. The onions lent just the right amount of sweetness. Then I enjoyed the Vegetarian Crepe (filled with ratatouille, or so it seemed—not mind-blowing, but good enough) while Mike dug into a burger smothered in more goat cheese. Thankfully, he shared his fries, which were divine.

Who knew Chez Maman offered so many vegetarian options? (Apparently everybody but me.) Plus, the waiters are très French—just like they are at Chez Papa—so you get to feel all Euro while you listen to zem recount zee daily specials. Seriously, is there a monthly boatload of sassy French waiters and waitresses shipped to San Francisco to keep Chez Papa, Chez Maman and Plouf running? Or are they all faking it because they know idiot Americans like me eat that shit up? Either way, count me in.

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Weird Fish

What’s so weird about Weird Fish? Maybe the fact that vegetarians, vegans, and meat eaters alike can sit down and enjoy a meal together. Now that’s downright freaky. Weird Fish serves up good, old fashioned, nail-the-basics food at reasonable prices. (Of course, my definition of nailing the basics is broad enough to include fried pickles and tofu tacos.)

weirdfish1.jpg

Their food isn’t fancy—rather, it’s personable. It’s a meal that feels like a fun conversation with an old friend, versus, let’s say, a lecture from a grad school professor.

So go. Get there early and snag a table, ‘cuz they don’t take reservations. Then get your eat on and revel in the fact that at Weird Fish, we CAN all just get along.

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Pizzeria Delfina

Work sucks.

Not because I don’t enjoy what I do. (I actually love it.) And not because I’m lazy. (I’m only moderately lazy.)

Work sucks because it keeps me from writing reviews in a timely manner.

Case in point: I had dinner at Pizzeria Delfina last Tuesday night. Here it is Sunday, and I’m just now getting around to writing about it.

It seems like every other person in San Francisco lists Delfina in their Top 10—hell, their Top 3 if we’re just talking pizza—but whenever I thought about going, I was too hungry to wait in line. This time, however, I had a patient partner in crime. My wise, wonderful friend Julie.

We showed up early, so the wait was doable. (If you’ve never been there, the space is tiny. Just like a pizzeria should be.) We lucked out and got a table by the window after a short ten minutes. It gave us just enough time to start salivating with anticipation at every dish that passed by.

The best/worst thing about Pizzeria Delfina is the painful paradox of choice. (Props to Barry Schwarz.) (P.S. I’m not really complaining. I’m just trying to sound literate and clever.) Choice is something I’m simply not used to having anymore. Usually, I scan the menu for the solitary item I can order, then thank my lucky stars if it’s something that actually sounds reasonably appealing. But Pizzeria Delifina’s menu is another beast all together. The antipasti list is friendly and extensive. And five out of nine pies are vegetarian. (Six if you ask them to leave the anchovies off the Napoletana.) I felt like a kid in a candy store—a candy store drizzled with warm olive oil. Continue reading

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Ode to San Francisco (Out the Door)

You can’t help but fall in love with San Francisco on a day like today. While my East Coast friends are shoveling snow, I’m wondering whether the back of my neck is getting pink from the sun.

So it was the perfect day for lunch at the Ferry Building. Or as I like to call it, “church”.

I’m lucky enough to work just a few short blocks from church, so it’s easy to worship on a daily basis. Today, I heard the gospel of Out the Door, Slanted Door’s ingenious take on fast food.

There’s been so much written about Slanted Door, it seems pointless to add to the noise. (Of course, when has that ever stopped me?)

Out the Door ain’t perfect, but more often than not, it’s exactly what I need. Something light, fresh, quick, and delicious. Their Green Papaya Salad refuses to go the cloyingly sweet route, opting instead for bright and refreshing. And their Steamed Vegetarian Buns give a big middle finger to their pork-filled friends— they’re just as savory without the meat, thank you very much. Today I opted for the fresh Vegetarian Imperial Rolls. I could be a total beeatch here and say that I like mine packed with a bit more tofu, but I’m telling you, it’s just too nice outside to complain.

Days like this keep me going. Yummy take-out eaten in the sun, sitting along the Embarcadero with a few of my coworker pals. I should try to remember the warmth of February when I’m shivering on my birthday in July.

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The Good, the Bad, and the Sandwich (‘Wichcraft)

Okay, maybe Top Design is growing on me. Todd Oldham’s voice is sounding a little less like a grade school drag queen’s, and Kelly Wearstler’s one line smackdowns bear the mark of some serious evil genius.

But even if the show received a stay of execution on my Tivo To-Do List, it’s still no replacement for Top Chef. Yesterday found me hankering for a fix.

Enter ‘Wichcraft, Tom Colicchio’s sandwich shop at the bottom of the Westfield San Francisco Center. We were headed to see Pan’s Labyrinth anyway, so the stop made perfect sense.

The space itself has all the charm of a Microsoft campus cafeteria. Which is a loaded comment, because I mean it quite literally. If you’ve ever had the, uh, pleasure of working with our friends in Redmond, you’ll know what I mean. Their giant cafeterias are actually pretty nice, with a sort of Pacific Northwest modern thing happening. But they still manage to feel hollow and cold. Hmmm…I wonder why? (Dear Bill, if your spies are reading this now, I’m sorry. Please don’t hurt me.)

It was grey and fizzy in the city yesterday, so I really wanted a warm sandwich. Instead, I opted for the chopped chickpeas with roasted peppers, black olives, lemon and parsley, in solidarity with my vegan brothers and sisters out there, who are out there keepin’ it real for the rest of us vegetarian slackers. I got a half sandwich with a cup of lentil soup on the side for $8.50. My partner, aka “Slave to Truffles,” went for the grilled fontina with black trumpet mushrooms and truffle fondue. Both came with a bag of Tim’s lightly salted chips.

Our sandwiches were decent, but nothing rocked my world. Mine had a really nice flavor, but a singular consistency. Mush. It was crying out for lettuce or something to give it a bit of crunch. The mushroom sandwich was ooey-gooey-good, but I suspect you could melt some decent fontina over dog food and make yourself a nice meal. The black trumpet mushrooms needed to be chopped up a bit more—they sort of slithered out of the bread at inopportune moments, a little too long to be manageable in a sandwich.

I kept thinking of what Big Daddy Tom would have said if one of the Top Chef-ers had served him the same lunch. He’d have been every bit as hypercritical as me. Because he’d expect more out of a Top Chef, right? (Oh, the irony.)

I’ve got to give the man a break, though. He’s doing the right thing in a hard business. Or at least he claims to be. They say they work with small producers and use local market vegetables whenever possible. (Why they only sell Fiji water, though, remains to be seen. The mileage on that stuff is ridiculous. Honestly, I stopped drinking it.) I’d rather eat at ‘Wichcraft than a host of other “fast” food establishments. And in the spirit of full disclosure, I’ll admit to losing my foodie virginity over a vegetarian tasting menu at Gramercy Tavern years ago. (My first mushroom cappuccino, but certainly not my last.) So keep it up, Tommy Boy. You get points in my book for trying, but you didn’t earn immunity in the next challenge.

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