So it’s been entirely too long since I’ve posted on my site.
Hello, everyone! Long time no see and Happy New Year!
Before I knew it, 2014 arrived and life, as usual, has been busy. So far, it’s been a good year and hopefully, it has been for you, too.
I’ve been mum on San Francisco Food for a few different reasons, but rest assured, I’ve been going out to eat a lot. However, my DSLR was acting up and rarely would I have a night where it worked through the evening so I could get a full array of shots. Instead, I had to revert to my Galaxy Note 3 photos, which are fine for social media uploads but not quite of the caliber I’d like on the blog.
But I am really active on Twitter and Instagram these days, since the lesser photos don’t really make a big difference there, so connect with me there by clicking the icon below for daily updates!
I did want to catch you all up on what I’ve been up to. The photos may be of less quality but it’s just for this one post as I have my handy dandy Canon 5D Mark II ready to fire up starting tonight!
But first, get a load of this video. Live octopus!
Eating Out and About — Other than Live Octopus
Down in the South Bay in Santa Clara, I found a restaurant that serves “Hwal-uh” (활어). In essence, this is one of those places that serves live seafood. They have tanks full of live halibut, sea cucumbers, abalone, and the live octopus shown in the video above, and you hand-pick the creatures you want to eat, and they prepare it for you. The octopus in the video was hand-selected by yours truly. It’s a bit savage, but you can’t beat it in freshness.
Here’s some background story for you: long time ago in Korea, it was pretty commonplace to take the whole (small) octopus and dunk it in sesame oil to stuff into your mouth in one piece. The oil was to keep the suction cups from latching on too tight inside your mouth. However, there were quite few cases of men (who are normally the gender that would partake in eating live octopus) who suffocated and died. Those suction cups are no joke…and when you have all the legs suctioning to your mouth in a fight-or-flight instinct, there’s a good chance the octopus will win.
Since those days, the serving of whole live octopus has been banned in Korea. However, as shown in the video, even chopped up — there’s no lack of movement there. It’s a little funny (and a little sickening) to place one of these parts on your tongue and have it suction right on, despite it being totally dead. Those pesky nerve endings take awhile to die.
While it is “sashimi” in a technical sense, it’s different from the Japanese sashimi you’re used to. There is no sushi option and you won’t find any live albacore tuna or salmon swimming in these tanks. Instead, you get the entire plate of halibut sliced up for you, and with the remaining body and bones, they will make a fish stew to bring to your table at the end with rice.
If you’re feeling a tad adventurous and like raw seafood, it would be worth your while to go down to Santa Clara and visit Crab House at 3395 El Camino Real, smack dab in the Koreatown section of Santa Clara. The meal, given its unique approach and true freshness, is not cheap–but it is different and it is a lot of fun with good friends. Soju with this type of food is almost mandatory.
There’s also been a lot of other food.
Just listing some of these out – check out this turkey sandwich one Dutch Crunch bread from Lucca Deli in South San Francisco. These sandwich are so big that I eat half for lunch and save the other half for dinner. My appetite is not small, and this is more than enough to fill me up for both meals. All that for under $10 — it’s tasty and economical. On the days when I don’t feel like going out or cooking — this has been my go-to meal. One purchase takes care of the whole day!
One day last year, my friends got together and we hit up Osteria Coppa in San Mateo. It’s just minutes away from where I live, and I’d heard good things about it, but to be honest, when I am going to eat out at a nice location, I have about 50 places in San Francisco that I’m more apt to go to than heading south to San Mateo. Therefore, it didn’t happen for a few years, but finally, we went.
They are well-known for their pizzas but overall, I’ve had better pizzas elsewhere. (Tony’s in SF comes to mind!)
What was spectacular was this dish below: the pork chop! To date, I don’t think I’ve had a pork chop that is this moist and juicy. That alone is worth a trip to Osteria Coppa. That said, the meal came to $100 per person for eight people (and a couple bottles of wine), so it borders on uber-expensive. That price point is always one where I debate adding $50 more to go completely high-end, or deducting $50 to make it more affordable by going elsewhere. Osteria Coppa was neither this nor that….but I do suggest you go try the pork chop and their macaroni and cheese side dish. The only place I know of that rivals this pork chop would be NOPA in San Francisco…and I’m not sure which one I’d pick as the winner.
And then there was a stretch of time there when I got desperately ill for reasons unbeknownst to me. For about 2.5 weeks, I couldn’t tell up from down and while I was never completely debilitated, it was a long time before I could actually get my senses together. Naturally, since I wasn’t cooking, it involved a lot of soup takeout from various places. With Korean soup so far away from where I live, the closest comfort soup was pho. Good old reliable spicy pho.
Thank God for pho.
But with the boyfriend working in Oakland these days, I was able to get hefty servings of wonderful “gomtang” (곰탕) from Seoul Gomtang in Oakland, shown below. If you’re in the East Bay, that’s when you have to think about having Korean food. And at the top of my list would be Seoul Gomtang. Granted, it still doesn’t compare to the tastes available in Los Angeles, never mind Korea, but it comes close enough and beats cooking it at home. Seoul Gomtang is at 3801 Telegraph Ave in Oakland.
Take a look at the tofu shown above. Pretty plain looking dish, if you ask me, except…it might be the best thing that hit my mouth in 2013. This happened during my October trip to Las Vegas when people were raving about Raku Grill in general. Luckily, despite the hype, I was able to score a reservation for the same night as my arrival, and after a quick freshening up, we headed to our 9:40 PM dinner reservation. I won’t bother reviewing the entire restaurant (since this is one of those places where my 50D died as soon as I turned it on), but I do want to point out that the tofu they make, which is served fresh, fried, in ponzu sauce, or basically however you want your tofu. is just about the creamiest, richest, most decadent treat ever.
In fact, all of their food is pretty simple and delicious. It’s pricey, but honestly, the $300 bill felt worthwhile after some great food and fabulous sake. Also shown above in their simple but beautiful combination of fresh uni,. poached egg, okra, ikura, radishes and a ponzu sauce. Heavenly. Oh, and I should also show this video below. For the record, I have now tried raw liver:
Cooking at Home
I’ve also been cooking quite a bit at home. For 2014, I hope to post more recipe posts on San Francisco Food. Loving food in general, I obviously eat out a lot and like going to restaurants where food is cooked for me. But in the end, my true love is more likely cooking. What thrills me about trying amazing foods at restaurants is the wonder of “How did they make this!?!” going through my head. Sometime in the next week, I’ll post about some things I’ve been cooking.
But in the meantime, you’re now caught up on a portion of what I’ve been eating and where!
Hopefully, 2014 will be full of amazing eating experiences for all of you. Happy New Year, SF Food folks!
Grace Keh is the author of "Food Lovers' Guide to San Francisco" and the critic, editor and photographer behind San Francisco Food. In her regular day job, she consults for corporate clients in marketing and event strategy. Once the sun sets, she's on the hunt for great food in what she considers to be one of the world's greatest cities, San Francisco.