Love in the Time of Coriander

Thoughts on food & more.

Monday, May 30, 2005

The 11th Hour

It's probably a bit premature to begin calling the next few weeks to my wedding the "11th hour." It is something more like the 5 week countdown, which in wedding time is almost the end of the road. Coupled with a few weeks left of school (including a 12-page paper and a few hundred pages of reading left--and I am ahead, mind you) and only a mere few days left at my practicum with clients, I find myself wanting to sleep the days away. When I'm not napping, the reading suddenly drops by the wayside and buying plants from the nursery down the street for my yard looks like the only option to keep awake. That, or, an ice cream sandwich.

So, instead, I blog. (Well, I did grab a bit of Reed's ginger ice cream from the freezer to help.) I've been piling up a few reviews and a question or two, so I'll make it brief. At least, I'll try.

1: Osha Thai.

For many years, I craved a good Thai restaurant in my old hood near the 16th/Valencia corridor. It was astonishing to me that in the middle of a multi-ethnic dining nabe (high and low end) there was a scarcity of good Thai. For anything resembling it, you'd have to haul butt up to the Castro or walk to the far end of Valencia (26th) to dine at Suriya (which has a good rep for good reason). Finally, in the last year of my Albion Street life, I discovered the original Yamo Thai at the corner of 18th & Mission--one of the places that has been written up a gazillion times by food writers for its very colorful owner. You never knew when she'd turn on a dime and yell at you for something as innocuous as requesting hot sauce to go. As rude and unpredictable as she was, she made a mean pumpkin curry. I've yet to taste one as good as hers. But the downside of Yamo were multiple: it was mostly a lunch place and didn't have seating aside from a 5-stool bar. Then, suddenly, instead of the grungry exterior which defined Yamo, I saw hipsters putting up signage with a fancy logo. She had sold the place, and in the process, it has become an exclusively vegetarian Thai joint. Is it any good now? I don't know. I haven't eaten there since. If you have, let me know what you think.

Now, after I have moved out of the Mission, my prayers for excellent, sit-down Thai have been answered. As the folks on Iron Chef would say, "Osha Thai reigns supreme!" On Neela's suggestion, I had gone in for an early dinner once a few months back, but because I only ordered one dish, I didn't comprehend the full scope of the restaurant. Then, Hansa, my brother's girlfriend, requested a recommendation for good Thai for her graduation dinner. I passed my knowledge along (including Suriya as a possibility), and we (mostly family) ended up dining at Osha.

It was an absolute hit from the moment we put the food in our mouths. Actually, it may have started even prior to that with the funky ambiance. Large tropical pictures are placed behind elusive screens and lit in a futuristic way. Even some of the furniture, retro plastic or metallic mesh, pays homage to Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. Despite the 70s vibe, the decor's finishing touch is modern and clean. It's not super fancy, but it's no Yamo, either.

The drinks were on the money. Hansa's sisters praised the Lychee martini, which was more fruity than alcoholic. The food, though, was the star. We began with chicken satay and spring rolls, moved onto pad se ew, pad thai (again, not the best dish in the house but also not in the East Bay so I'm not rating it), green curry with chicken, green curry with vegetables (we had a few vegetarians at the table), spicy green beans, and an eggplant and tofu dish. The standouts, many of us agreed, were the green curries and the pad se ew. For dessert, we shared a few fried bananas with coconut ice cream. They were fresh and divine.

Everyone thanked me for the recommendation, and one of Hansa's sisters even said it was "the best Thai food she'd ever had." Them's are fightin' words.

2: Firefly.

I took Kirthi for a pre-birthday celebration to Firefly. We had both heard of this place--often described as "cute"--in the almost completely residential part of Noe Valley, but neither of us had ever eaten there. Friday night, and we ended up in this quaint restaurant.

Even as we approached from the outside, I felt a warmth toward it. Strangely, Firefly has the charm of an authentically French cafe (like in France!), partly due to the waitresses we had who wore very plain but stylish black outfits and one of whom definitely had a European accent of some sort. But there are other things that give it that non-American feel. There are charming (and not so artistically brilliant) paintings on the wall of fireflies. The lighting is dim, and the space is small, adding to the cozy feel. Standing in line for the bathroom before dinner, I ran into a woman who claimed that the last time she had been to the restaurant, the lights flickered like fireflies. But when she asked the waiter about whether this was actually true, he replied that they had recently fixed the glitchy system. Both she and I were disappointed that the lights no longer mimicked the restaurant's theme.

I mentioned to Kirthi that I thought it was a good date place, but there was also a family (with older children--maybe 10 and 13) seated next to us. Though the prices are a bit steep for family dining (entrees in the $15-20 range), nevertheless, it seemed like a family get-together joint, too. For starters, we ordered a salad with strawberries and pistachio-encrusted goat cheese, which was unassumingly delicious. Kirthi, a vegetarian, opted for vegetable and goat-cheese tamales for an entree. More than I am, she's a fan of Mexican food--but I was tempted by this dish on the menu, too. I ordered a cajun-spiced halibut with quinoa, artichokes, and an ever-so-slight flavor of anchovies.

The food was very good, but not amazing. My fish was well flavored and well-cooked but its accompaniments needed a little va-voom. A lemony spring sauce or something like that? I only tasted a bite of Kirthi's dish and can't write extensively about it, but I know she enjoyed it. Oddly, we were stuffed when the meal ended (even though we had even what seemed to be a normal amount), so we forewent dessert. I was so full, I wasn't even tempted by the strawberry-rhubarb crisp or chocolate pot-de-creme. What was I thinking?

3: Gioia Pizza.

Saturday night, Laurie's family and Tabatha came over to have dinner & dessert in my little pastoral yard. We ordered pizza from Gioia--a pizzaria on Hopkins & Monterrey, next door to the Hopkins Bakery and down the street from the Monterrey Market. This might possibly be the best pizza on earth! Super, super thin-crust Italian (as in Italy!) style with just the right amount of toppings and a very fresh tomato sauce. We ordered one anchovy and chili-pepper pizza and one mushroom pizza--and gobbled them up within minutes.

For dessert, I made blueberry lemon cupcakes with lemon cream cheese frosting. The frosting never, despite the recommendation of the recipe to refrigerate, hardened to the consistency of regular cream cheese frosting. Thus, I plated the cupcakes & poured the frosting like a sauce over them. In terms of taste, it was a hit. I searched extensively for advice on how to thicken a frosting and couldn't figure out what would be the best thing to add. Instinct told me that more powdered sugar might firm up the frosting, but it had already reached an optimal level of sweetness. Any more would have wiped out the lemony flavor. Please email me if you've got thoughts on what might help.

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