Saturday, October 14, 2006

HFF Gets Caught Up

So yeah--not much posting lately and I apologize. There's simply been way too much to do in the non-dining world for your humble host and narrator. The fact is, I haven't eaten anywhere worth writing up extensively. But.... some highlights of the hiatus.

A. Did a dinner at Magnolia Pub that was great--really good fall menu right now including a tasty fried plantain appetizer. Pork schnitzel sandwich also quite nice. Finally had their fried chicken special and that was pretty damn tasty too. Still just an all-round great spot.

B. So if you do find yourself with drastically limited dining options in greater suburbia, here are some of your best bets:

1. Fish & chips at Red Robin. Red Robin overall is the best of the casual dining establishments, taking one tiny extra step to actually care about how their food comes out.

2. Lettuce wraps at Chili's. Straightforward and relatively healthful.

3. Spinach and artichoke dips. An institution of casual dining! Red Robin's (with "hint of bacon") is tops.

4. Fried green beans at TGI Friday's. Just goes to show that what's on the menu's at Bay Area Top 100 restaurants ends up on casual dining menus three years later (and at McDonald's after that--see the fruit and walnut salad). Honestly, Friday's' version gives Coco500's a run for their money--just going to show that breading something and frying it is the easiest way to create super-tastiness.

5. Stay the fuck away from Applebee's.

C. Can I talk again about Sofia? This tiny hole-in-the-wall on Solano Ave in Albany (which somehow failed to make the Chronicle's Bargain Bites) is one of the best places going. Fresh, usually organic ingredients combined together to make the best Mediterranean food I've found. Best falafel, baba ganoush, and roasted eggplant salad you can get. Honestly, once you've had Sofia falafel any other falafel just tastes heavy and dry. Did I mention homemade pita, hamentaschen, baklava, and strudel?

D. I think Gregoire is phoning it in, to a degree. The food has still been tasty but the offerings--particularly the sandwiches--have lacked inspiration lately. How many times can you offer smoked shrimp?

E. Two tentative thumbs up for the new Cesar on Piedmont Avenue. It's nice to see that they addressed many of the problems of Berkeley Cesar--most notably the too-small bar, too crowded tables, and no waiting area--at this new one. It's also an awesome space and the slightly more expansive menu is appreciated.

F. Tokyo Fish has some excellent ready-made dining options that I've fallen for. In addition to a nice selection of sushi from Musashi in Berkeley, recurring Tokyo Fish specialities include hijiki salad, a panko breaded and fried rice ball with sardine, and a hamachi salad with cucumber, ginger, and avocado tossed in Japanese mayo and topped with tobiko. Speaking of tobiko, check out their flavored flying fish roes too. Both the citrus roe and the wasabi roe are pretty damn tasty. Other items that I haven't tried yet--breaded sole, salmon croquettes, and tuna salad.

G. Daimo. Daimo! One of my new favorite restaurants. Daimo! It's not just that it's open until 3AM every day, it's that the food is pretty damn tasty and dirt cheap. Don't miss out on the steamed pork buns (available until 3PM and then after 10PM daily). Three soft sweet buns stuffed with barbecued pork (for $2.50, btw). Shrimp chow fun with egg sauce is a must get, as are the deep fried smelt and deep fried tofu with chili and fried garlic. The menu is many pages long and the walls are plastered with specials so it definitely encourages repeat visits. Even standards like sweet and sour pork and green bean chicken are executed well. Another highlight? The hot chili sauce is second only to Sofia's in the world of local homemade hot sauces.

So what's next on the HFF agenda? Expect a lot of San Francisco posts--tentative trips planned include Home (with the return of Lance Dean Velasquez!), Jardiniere, and Range. Also expect another Napa trip and a stop at Bistro Jeanty. Also, expect more short posts, rants, and wine reviews.

Sorry for leaving y'all with blue balls for so long. HFF'll make it better, I promise.

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