Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Cafe at Filoli


If you ever get the chance or desire to visit Filoli Gardens in Woodside, I hope you do and if you do,  rest assured, you can find decent food at their cafe. A friend and I drove down from San Francisco and were hungry by the time we arrived. As anxious as we were to see the gardens, we just had to eat a quick bite before we did. The Cafe at Filoli just happened to be situated very close to the ticket office, in a sun filled room overlooking the gardens. It was a very lovely start to a day of garden walks and looking to see how the other half lived during the early part of the 20th century. As it happened, the family that owned Filoli also purchased and developed Muckross House in Killarney Ireland, as a wedding present for their daughter.


Never expecting a great pastrami sandwich from anywhere west of the Hudson River, I ordered one anyway. It was a very satisfying pastrami and emmentaler  on dark rye, that was sliced too thin, but tasted good all the same. It was accompanied by a fresh green salad with a few shredded carrots added for color. The cherry tomatoes were ripe, so most likely were added for actual flavor. As good as the sandwich was, it was secondary to the Red Velvet cake, though it was, in accordance with tradition, eaten first. Not the all time best, it came in a close second. My friend settled for a chocolate caramel cheese cake that was excellent.

86 CaƱada Road
Woodside CA 94062
Open: Tuesdays - Sundays

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

San Wang


After all the times I've been to San Wang, It seems impossible to not have a photo of the restaurant itself, but there you have it, no photo. Until one is shot, the kim chee will have to do. For me, the two will forever be linked, because I have never sat down at San Wang without the waiter placing a bowl of it on the table in front of me. I love this fermented, spicy cabbage, and am pleased to receive it, but still have not figured out a link between this Korean condiment and a Chinese restaurant. I'm certain there's a good story there.

After years ordering the Walnut Prawns, I have never tired of it, perhaps because the walnuts are always sugar glazed to order and they give off a fragrant, nutty aroma when they are still hot. Or perhaps it's because I just love the fried, shoe string, potato basket it has been served in. Wait just a minute, what happened to the potato basket? When I inquired, the waiter told me I just needed to specify that I wanted it the next time. A slip up like that could keep me from returning. Since when does one have to specifically ask for an integral part of well known recipe? I know times are lean, but this was like ordering a "taco" sans the tortilla. If the battered fried prawns weren't so beautifully cooked and tasted less divine, I may just take this off my list of items to order. Since another of my favorite dishes, a plump, fried oyster extravaganza, covered in a complex sauce, that was filled with julienned vegetables is no longer available, my list is short enough. Okay, I'll ask for the potato basket next time. The trauma of not finding one on my plate during this order will keep it ever fresh in my memory.

Needing a replacement for the fried oysters, I perused the seafood section of the menu and found "Dry Fried Squid". It was quite good, battered and mixed with mushrooms, red peppers, green onions and lots of garlic. I had no expectations about it, so these turned out to be a very satisfying surprise. Sometimes you just have to try something new without giving the waiter the 3rd degree about how it is made, unless you have some type of food allergy.


Mu Shu Shrimp was new to me. Mu shu is on just about every Chinese menu in the city, but always in the form of pork and sometimes chicken. This combination was every bit as good as pork. There were shredded green onions and hoisin sauce to spread on the pancakes. My idea is to use up the entire amount of hoisin sauce on all the pancakes. It's sweet/savory taste really adds to the experience of eating mu shu.

San Wang is known for its hand made noodles. If you've ever seen a video on noodle making, you know how labor intensive it happens to be. I have to really admire the fact that this San Wang Soup Noodles was only selling for $6.95. It made for an extremely filling one dish meal.

San Wang Menu from

1680 Post St (in Japan Town)
San Francisco CA 94115
(415) 921-1453

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Al's Cafe

If you're up for a trip down Memory Lane, not your memory, but your grandmother's, Al's will help to transport you there. Shockingly familiar, even after my 20 year absence, I finally remembered why I used to come to this funky diner in the hinterlands of Mission Street. It wasn't because the waitress was charming, she's always been gruff, but in a very amusing and unselfconscious way. Unlike the actresses whose ageing photos line the walls, she doesn't play, but truly is an iconic character one would have seen during the heyday of Hollywood musical comedies. Thelma Ritter would have played her in the 1940's, Joan Blondell in the 1950's. But I digress, I came for the pancakes.

In this particular case, I ordered the Pancake Sandwich that came with a poached egg and bacon sides, but the stars of the show were the pancakes. Tender, light, and fluffy describe the texture, but the taste description remains elusive to me. You just have to try them. The batter sits in a large pitcher next to the grill, so it's handy for pouring the next order, but that's all I know about it. I want to think it is a longtime family recipe shared by the the 2 octogenarians who own the cafe. One sister is always behind the counter, so she acts as chef, and the other is the front man, so to speak, the waitress I could never forget, the source of historical information about Al's, which we always referred to as Jim Al's. Now I know why. Al, the "girls'" father opened the cafe, Jim the son-in-law devoted his life's work to it and when his father-in-law died, he encouraged the sisters to keep the cafe, thereby earning himself a place in the name. Maybe that's confusing, at any rate, the "girls" changed it back to Al's sometime during the last 2 decades, so it's officially Al's once more.

Al's excels at making a big, hearty breakfast. This plate of eggs over corned beef hash should attest to that. The potatoes were definitely a generous portion and I could easily be satisfied with those alone, or perhaps with pancakes (a bad combination I developed a craving for in my early teens; I still hope to outgrow it one of these days). The coffee is ever flowing at Al's but a connoisseur would wince at the taste. Then again, what would a coffee snob be doing in the outer Mission?

Lunch and dinner are also served, so I suspect they make a mean patty melt if one is actually on the menu and I'll bet this is the place to come for comfort food like meatloaf and mashed potatoes with gravy. I hear their burgers are also a throw back to a bygone era. I'm hoping to try one soon. I wonder if they come with pancakes?

Al's serves it's Bernal Height's neighborhood well and faithfully, providing service 7 days a week including dinner on week nights. I dred the day the "girls" decide to retire, but I suspect their family of regular customers is what keeps them motivated to stay.

3286 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA 94110-5007
(415) 641-8445
Open Weekdays 7am-10pm; Weekends 7am-4pm

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Anchorage 5

Anchorage 5 was a restaurant of last resort, because our first choice, Fish, had lines out the door and a long wait ahead for anyone joining the line. We had gone over to Sausalito for crab sandwiches and hated to go home empty handed. Luckily I was with an "old salt" who knew his way around the area, and with a quick walk out of the parking lot and across the street, we found ourselves at Anchorage 5 Restaurant, a homey, modest American & Mexican restaurant that serves crab in season. You wouldn't choose this place for atmosphere, just go for the food. It's primary business is breakfast and lunch, since they are open from 7 a.m. - 3 p.m. daily except Sundays when they open an hour later. They have every Benedict on the menu except Arnold, including crab, salmon, avocado, vegetable, and corned beef to name but a few.

The old salt selected the crab melt with fries, a reasonably good choice that had plenty of crab to please his desire for the crustacean. For my taste it was too much like a tuna melt, which will forever remind me of the Jolly Roger restaurant at Disneyland and a child's disappointment at a perfectly good grilled cheese being ruined with tuna.

I had a better fish to fry, and decided to go for the special of Crab Enchiladas. The full plate including rice beans and a small salad cost all of $11, less than half of a crab roll at Fish.

The corn tortillas were filled with fresh Dungeness crab meat, barely layered with a green salsa and then covered with Monterrey Jack cheese. A Mexican recipe for crab was just the right choice.

475 - Gate 5 Road
Sausalito Ca 94965
(415) 331-8329