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brunch/ Hawaiian/ San Francisco

Aina: SF Gets Lei’ed

San Francisco has its fair share of the latest Hawaiian craze sweeping through our cities, and I am all for this. Hawaiian cuisine has a lot of flavors that I love – island food (e.g. seafood, fresh fruits, etc.) with an overlay of Japanese influence. What’s great about āina is that they’ve taken their love of Hawaiian cuisine – with its attitude and welcoming aurora – and made it oh-so-very-SF by using seasonal ingredients to match.

Let’s dive in by talking about their spam masubi “ssam style”, using Stone Valley Farms whole hog spam, boston bibb lettuce, house-made kimchi, and short grain rice with egg yolk furikake (the seaweed sesame topping you see above). This delicious bite – or in my case, few bites worth – is delicious and awfully satisfying. The spam is unlike anything you get out of that can.

Let us not forget about one of the most important brunch time items – their Bloody Mary – made with lemongrass infused soju, charred tomato mix, fresh horseradish, pink peppercorn, and tabasco sauce. Fairly spicy and lightly tart, this drink finished with a savory taste that satisfies any hungry stomach as it waits for the next dish.

Then there’s the Malasadas, which was the epitome of you could imagine to be a Hawaiian doughnut. These three Portuguese style doughnuts coated in coconut sugar and filled with guava custard were fairly dense. It’s a great dish to share with friends given how easy it is to get full off of this; gotta make room for more later!

Here’s a dish where it’s obvious where the Hawaiian comes from – French toast made from taro bread served with apple wood smoked bacon, macadamia nut crumble, salted coconut caramel, fresh strawberries, and vanilla whipped cream. This dish is basically giving you hugs and kisses every time you take a bite, it is that good and comforting to your soul.

There’s their take on the loco moco, which became the kalbi version – braised kalbi short rib, smoked honshimeji mushroom jus, sunny side up eggs, hearts of palm pico de gallo, cilantro, short grain rice, and pea tendrils. The short rib is very tender, and salty which is nicely paired with some rice and egg to balance it all out.

Lastly, but not least, the Chicken katsu made of mary’s chicken, rolled omelet, vadouvan carrot purée, udon noodles, aïoli, katsu jelly, and grilled seasonal greens. This “bento set” blew my mind away, mostly due to their version of the Japanese potato salad; instead they used udon noodles and made it taste like how the potato salad would be but lighter! The omelet also incorporated furikake, added the umami element to the mix. I wish I could have this everyday.

I find myself wanting to head over to āina as often as I can, even if there is a wait (my personal limit is 45 minutes; I’ve generally been seated quicker than that here). With their love of using the land around them aka local ingredients, they fit right into the SF food scene and all the while, making sure you feel right at home in Hawaii.

900 22nd St, San Francisco, CA 94107
No online reservations

brunch/ lunch/ San Francisco

Picnic at the Presidio: Eating with Off the Grid

Looking for food trucks to help supplement a nice day at a park? Look no further – Off the Grid (Presidio) provides a great space to enjoy the beautiful days in San Francisco, with many food vendors to boot. It reminds me of Smorgasburg in New York but with camping tents and picnic area.

I managed to try out a few vendors, not all, so here were my eats:

Girl Friday Zeppoles were delicious; light, not oily and flavorful, these zeppoles were a perfect start to whetting my appetite. A zeppole order came with a one of their four signature sauces which you can choose from. The savory zeppole had bacon, garlic, herbs, and parmesan in it, with a creamy harissa sauce (this is the only savory sauce). The other zeppole was the traditional type, slightly sweet, and got the earl grey chocolate sauce. Even though I didn’t find early grey to be that strong, it was a great pairing regardless.

In hopes of eating more to satiate our appetites, my friends and I naturally gravitated towards fried chicken. Sugarfoot Grits brings the southern flavor to the mix, and this fried chicken was cooked perfectly. It was juicy and nicely breaded so we easily finished each piece – “finger lickin’ good – was how I would describe it. The biscuit was a bit dry and was significantly less impressed by.

Fine and Rare brought some seafood to the park, as seen above is their crab roll. There was a good amount of crab meat with a touch of mayo. The lettuce provided a nice crunchy bite in conjunction with the soft bun.

Lastly, after a huge wait, we got Little Green Cyclo‘s garlic noodles with nine-spice grilled chicken. This was really good and we ate this dish quite fast. The chicken was tender, and not over cooked, with a nice char flavor. The noodles were full of garlic – which I am openly partial to – with some sriracha sauce, and chomped away until there was nothing left.

If you’re in the mood for getting a nice blanket, your own booze and have yourself a picnic with the option of checking out more of a SF food scene, Off the Grid Presidio is a the place to go!

Off the Grid Picnic at the Presidio
Main Post Lawn
Montgomery St & Lincoln St
San Francisco, CA 94129

American Traditional/ brunch/ San Francisco

Foreign Cinema: Brunch is the Key Scene

No, we’re not showing the Avengers…“, said the hostess as she hung up the phone. Having the name Foreign Cinema, it’s hard not to confuse it with a normal theater; this restaurant resides within a space that has the exterior with a marquee, and they play foreign and independent films in their outdoor courtyard (check out their website for the films. After my friend mentioned this place makes homemade pop-tarts, I immediately jumped on board for brunch.

Reading through the menu, I was caught up in their descriptions; words like “heavenly” or “crowned with” and “warmed” were used throughout, as if these dishes were in some dramatic play. Would they live up to how they’re beautifully illustrated on the menu?

Act I: Whetting My Appetite

I started brunch off with a Bloody Mary, of course. This version of the Bloody Mary was spiced and served with lime and some pickled vegetables. It was perfectly savory and prepared my taste buds for some legit brunch food.

Act II: Prelude of Pleasantries

Say what…organic blackberry ‘Pop tarts’? What I really liked about this was that it actually tasted like a real pastry. It was flaky and crispy, and when I bit into it, real blackberries oozed out.

We ordered lavender goat cheese with endives, golden raisins, tapenade with baguette toasts. It was served up warm, and worked as a great spread on the bread, which was creamy and slightly sweet.

I absolutely LOVED this dish – brandade gratin (whipped salt cod), potatoes, garlic, green chillies served with grilled baguette and house pickles – because it had the right amount of saltiness, and pickles helped with cutting any excess creaminess.

If there was any dish I felt was average, it was the duck liver pate toast, with Sausalito Springs cress, baby beets, Banyuls vinigrette and toasted spices. The pate wasn’t gamey, and it was tasty overall but just not as memorable as their other dishes.

Smoked salmon with Petrossian salmon caviar, creme fraiche, pickled onions, fresh dill and spelt toast was light and refreshing, not too fishy, which I think is hard to achieve with salmon as your main ingredient.

Act III: Eggy Bliss

I couldn’t resist ordering the Champagne omelet (with a name like that, how can you not) with morels, fine herbs, Comte and Raclette cheese, creme fraiche, small salad, and crispy fried Yukon potatoes. Using Santa Cruz pastured eggs, this omelet was one of the best I’ve tasted. It was as if special care was taken to make this dish. Fluffy and flavorful, there was a soft but still firm inside so it still held its shape. The ingredients in the omelet were finely chopped, so it dispersed the mushroom and herb flavors evenly.

Act IIIa: Side of Amazement

We couldn’t resist getting their brown sugar alderwood smoked bacon which was sweet, slightly crispy and full of bacon goodness. After devouring my piece, I wished every slice of bacon would be just as good.

After yearning for a number of these dishes days after this meal, you can be sure I will be going there again. The space is great, food is tasty, and maybe even catch a movie next time. And…cut!

Foreign Cinema
2534 Mission St
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 648-7600

American Traditional/ brunch/ nyc

North River: Belly Doughnuts and More

After reading a Zagat snippet about weekend brunch at North River titled “If you’re looking to be bad”, I was enticed to go check out the “belly doughnut“. What exactly does this donut entail? Slow-cooked pork belly, miso, coconut flakes, and brown sugar. It was awfully delicious, and a perfect example of how sweet and savory can work together to delight your tastebuds.

North River is a new addition to the East Village, serving traditional American dishes with small twists (e.g. shrimp pad thai tacos). Started by Culinary Institute of America alumni Colby and Sarah Zito, and Adam Starowicz as chef, you’ll find their culinary backgrounds in places like Momofuku Ko, Mas (farmhouse), Maialino, etc. matches how good the food tastes. The recently opened for brunch, which is the meal I went for, and I found it to be delectable.

The scrambled eggs were perfectly soft cooked, incorporating smoked salmon, cream cheese, and dill in it. It’s exactly how you would imagine good scrambled eggs would taste like – bits of salty with creamy and fluffy texture of the eggs – served with potatoes. If I had this every morning, I would be a very happy worker.

Spicy chicken sandwich served with lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise and french fries was good. Nothing particularly exceptional about it, but that’s what made it good. Simple and straightforward.

With what I experienced at brunch, I intend on going back to experience dinner and happy hour. Of course, I’ll also want another order of the belly doughnut please.

North River
166 First Avenue (near 9th Street)
New York, NY 10009
(212) 228-1200

American Traditional/ brunch/ drinks/ nyc/ Spanish

Caliu – AYCD Brunch with Spanish Flair

I am all for scoping out great food deals. All You Can Drink (aka. AYCD) brunch happens to be one of those great deals that each NYer needs to experience for themselves. Unlimited drinks plus brunch food? What can be better. Venturing into the West Village you can find Caliu, a small but cute restaurant with the $25 brunch deal.

Their watermelon sangria, shown in the first picture, is definitely a highlight. If you grab brunch, definitely try it (since it’s unlimited anyway). It’s light, refreshing, and tastes like you’re eating watermelon that is slightly spiked.

Having the choice of one entree I chose their eggs benedict with serrano ham, jalapeno hollandaise, salad, and truffled hash browns (normally $13).  It was a solid brunch dish, eggs poached nicely and I definitely enjoyed the fragrant hash browns; anything with truffle oil makes it automatically taste better.

All in all, it was a pleasurable experience drinking and eating a casual brunch with my girlfriends. I’m not sure about dinner, but at least brunch is worth making a trip.

557 Hudson Street (Between W. 11th. & Perry St.)
New York, NY 10014
(212) 206–6444


American Traditional/ brunch/ lunch/ nyc

Motorino – Perfectly Made Pizza

Motorino has been on my list of pizza places to try around the city, and I finally had a chance to go! I somehow always managed to forget to make a trip there considering S’Mac is right next door. Anyway, good thing I ventured there because I got to sit down immediately on a Sunday at 1:30PM versus waiting for those restaurants with massive crowds for brunch.

This here is a beautiful and delicious pizza – their Pizza Al’Uovo which is only available on Saturdays and Sundays. It translates into “egg pizza” and boy is it good. Not only does it have a soft cooked farm egg on each slice, but also fior di latte, chili oil, basil, and pecorino. Everything comes together nicely. As you bite into the slice, you taste the egg yolk oozing and paired with the saltiness of bacon and pecorino, how can you resist? Talking about it makes me want some more…

Alongside the previous pizza, I decided to order their Margherita as a sample for how good a NY pizza truly is. After all, if you can’t this pizza right then how can make any other pizza good? Well, they sure passed the test. The simple toppings – tomato, mozzarella, basil – were all very fresh. The proportion of tomato to mozzarella to basil was perfect. Their dough is really what is most impressive: slightly chewy but not doughy, and not burnt. Oh how I want another slice…

Again, Motorino is definitely worth checking out and eating at. Best $15 you’ll spend on a pizza!

Motorino East Village
349 East 12th Street
New York, NY 10003
(212) 777-2644

Breakfast/ brunch/ Chinese/ lunch/ travels

A Taste of Chinese Comfort Food: A&J Restaurant

It’s hard to find good authentic Chinese breakfast / lunch food these days. As a Manhattanite, I find myself frustrated with the limited options of this city. In a city full of Chinese people, generations and generations of us, I have yet to find solid comfort Chinese breakfast. Where did I end up? Not Flushing or Brooklyn. Instead I was brought to a place in Virginia called A&J Restaurant.

What kind of name is that? Don’t ask me. All I know is that there were a healthy number of clientele at this place, where steaming bowls of noodle soup and fresh soybean milk (豆漿) were served. Can’t stop drooling? Okay, onto the pictures!

Bean curd with mustard greens and soy beans (毛豆百葉) was a nice starter to whet our appetites. Not too oily and the bamboo was nicely crisp.

Pan fried pork dumplings (鮮肉鍋貼) was perfectly soft yet crunchy at the same time. They had a nice thin dumpling skin while maintaining a fair ratio of meat.

Szechuan Style spicy wonton with hot sauce (紅油抄手) is one of my favorite dishes in general. Granted, the ones in Taiwan I had are still the best I’ve ever had in my life, but their version surely was not forgettable. Though there might have been too much sauce provided for these wontons, they still proved to be a scrumptious bite of spice and savory, with the delicate wonton skin to wrap this delicious package.

Oh yes beef noodle soup (紅燒牛筋麵) is one of my ultimate comfort foods. The intense and steaming beef broth was brought out along with thick noodles and greens. How much more comfort can you get from a beef noodle soup? Yum.

Shredded pork and mustard green noodle soup (雪菜牛絲綿) had a clear broth, possibly a chicken-based stock, which made it easy to slurp and consume without feeling guilty about ingesting oils. We got a Shanghainese style noodle (thin) and went very well with this dish.

Needless to say, I had an amazing time – warm food prepared in the upmost traditional methods to provide the Chinese breakfast food I was craving. My stomach was very satisfied and happy, yearning for more after returning to New York. Perhaps my next mission is to find another place like this in Manhattan. Feel free to mention any places you have encountered like this in the city!

A&J Restaurant
4316 Markham St
Annandale, VA 22003
(703) 813-8181

brunch/ drinks/ Latin American/ nyc

Awesome Deals: Mercadito Cantina Brunch

In this island of expensive meals and outrageously priced anythings, New Yorkers are always looking for a good deal. After all, they are hard to come by…or so you would think. It is a personal mission for my close friends to find cheap eats usually including alcohol. So we took this opportunity to celebrate a birthday AND eat and drink merrily, without breaking the bank!

For two hours, there is an all-you-can-drunk brunch special that includes one brunch entree for $25. Yes, ONLY $25 for as many alcoholic beverages as you would like. This does have great potential to be detrimental to your health, but it really provides an enjoyable drinking experience for all involved.

We all started off with their three types of guacamole appetizer: traditional (tomato, cilantro, onion, chile serrano), guacamole de mango (pico de gallo, jicama, chipotle), and guacamole de pina (pineapple, tomatillo, habaero, mint). We easily munched it down while taking gulps of our pineapple / mango mimosas.

I ordered the Revuletos – scrambled eggs with Berkshire pork carnitas, tomatillo pico de gallo, and ancho salsa. It is as good as it sounds since the eggs weren’t overdone and the salsa complimented the pork very well.

It is easy to say that we walked out of there full and happily buzzing with joy. Cheap deal, lots of alcohol, tasty food, and great conversation. This is definitely a place to check out with friends for a fun and intense brunch.

Mercadito Cantina
179 Ave B between 11th & 12th streets
New York, NY 10009
(212) 529-6490

American Traditional/ Breakfast/ brunch/ nyc

Tribute to Pancake Month with Clinton St. Bakery

I am an avid pancake eater. I love how there are so many things that can be incorporated into pancake batter along with a variety of syrups that come with it. This special month allows me to indulge in buttery, fluffy pancakes and not have a problem with doing so. As a dedication to celebrating pancake month (February), I want to share with you one of the best places to get pancakes in the city – Clinton St. Bakery. I hate to give into hype, but this place is actually really good. Clearly I am not the only one who thinks so; every single time I try to go there, it is packed. People are standing outside in 30-degree weather waiting for their turn to get into this restaurant. Getting a seat is virtually impossible, even at 2PM. In fact, you run the risk of not being able to eat there. They have so many reservations to the point where it would bring them until 4pm, closing time. Long story short, make sure to allot some time if you plan on eating there because you will wait. Guaranteed.

Clinton Street Bakery celebrated pancake month with a special pancake every few days. My friend, as crazy of a pancake-eater as I am, urged me to go with her and of course I conceded. We ended up going twice because the pancakes were that memorable.

The first time we had poached pears with vanilla bean whipped cream and warm maple butter. Yes, it is as tasty as the description recalls it to be. Pears were included into the pancake itself and gave it a crisp texture; when I bit into my pancakes it gave it a soft crunch. Having poached pears on top enhanced the vanilla flavor to all the pancakes, giving them a sweet and fragrant flavor. The warm maple butter is to die for; when you dipped your pancake into the butter, it gave the pancakes a nice touch of maple and light fatty goodness. I don’t know if they put crack into it also but it was very addicting.

The second time around my friend ordered crunchy bananas with cinnamon-chili-chocolate sauce (I opted to get something savory). I had a few bites of her pancakes and I wanted to get an order to take home. Yes, it was THAT good. Not only did the crunchy bananas provided a different texture to soft pancakes, but also the chocolate sauce wasn’t too sweet so it didn’t overshadow the butter flavor in the pancakes. We couldn’t taste the chili part of the chocolate sauce as much, but the cinnamon kicked in later on in your mouth. All in all, big two thumbs up.

Make sure to mark it down in your calendar for next year to eat pancakes in February. Clinton St. Bakery is sure to be celebrating this culinary holiday, and hopefully you will taste awesome buttery flat pancakes there, and hijack some of that maple butter for me.

American Nouveau/ American Traditional/ Breakfast/ brunch/ nyc/ snack

New Year: Bring It On!

2009 is here! Bring on the new year, and hopefully better luck than the last. As I sit here, blogging because I am currently un-staffed, it gives me the chance to devote myself to writing about my delicious food experiences. As I’ve noted before I know I’m pretty bad at updating this blog but I do aim to make my entries as meaningful (aka. “makes-you-hungry”) as possible.

I realized that I really enjoy eating brunch, namely because of theeggs. Ahhhh eggs…that cholesterol-filled bright-yellow yolk adjoined with streaming egg whites…perfect for starting a new day.

Top to Bottom: Eggs Norwegian from Pastis; Spinach and Garlic Eggs from 5 Ninth; Smoked Salmon Benedict from Stanton Social

All I can say is that I have a genuine appreciation for eggs done well. Trust me, plenty of places put too much hollandaise sauce or eggs are too well done. Cna you imagine DRY, CRUSTY eggs? Ew. That thought just makes me unhappy.

And now to talk about restaurants! My friends and I felt the urge to try out Stanton Social, located in the Lower East Side. Founded on the idea of sharing, all the dishes are designed as small portions to be served throughout the entire mealtime. At first I was a bit confused thinking, “is this like…Chinese lazy-susan dining style?” to which I was definitely off. I would say this is like…American-style tapas, specifically catered to accommodate several people.

Now that you are thoroughly confused, this is what I mean:

Grilled Pizzetta with fresh mozzarella, oven dried tomato, roasted garlic and hot chile oil. It was good, though nothing stood out about it.

Social Frittata with wild mushrooms with smoked goat cheese. Can’t say I really liked it, simply because it has smoked goat cheese…and those who know me know that I do not have an affinity towards cheese…

French Onion Soup Dumplings. I think these made the meal actually. Nothing to me stood out, aside from the restaurant concept and this dish. It had enough cheese, and the bread was able to catch the onion soup.

In addition, we saw BLAKE LIVELY there. She is as pretty as she is on television, and I wanted to take a picture with her. However, my friends advised me against it and by the time I mustered enough courage to ask, another group of Asians took pictures with her. That ruined my opportunity, but at least I know we dined with a celebrity…from afar…

Overall, food is okay and the concept is interesting. The decor definitely made it feel warm as well so I would say they did a good job incorporating sharing themes with their whole restaurant.

Stanton Social
99 Stanton St.
New York, NY 10002