Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Best Drink Ever

India is home to the best non-alcoholic beverage ever. Fresh lime soda, or nimbu-pani, is light, refreshing, delicious - and quintessentially Indian. It's even got a historical legacy - K.T. Acharya, author of the A Historical Dictionary of Indian Food, claims that it was ""the supreme quencher of colonial thirst" in India. Forget those brand name sodas or mango juice - fresh lime was here first. It's easy to make, tasty - and it continues to be the everyday beverage of choice.

One sip and you can understand why. The drink is a peculiar blend of tart and luscious, sweet and salty - and if you get it with soda, fizzy and smooth. Don't be fooled by the simple title either - there's a great deal of choice in how one orders a fresh lime. Are you a salty or sweet drinker - do you dare to mix both? Or are you such a devoted drinker that you can handle it with sulfuric black salt or chili powder? Would you take it with soda or straight water? And of course, ice or no ice? I'm a "soda, salty sweet with black salt please, no-ice" fresh lime connoisseur myself.

Fresh lime virgins may liken the drink to American lemonade - but the metaphor doesn't do this beverage justice. Lemonade is overpoweringly sweet and invokes images of Grandma's front porch and a plate of country cookies. The fresh lime is subtle and sophisticated - teasing your tastebuds. And in pairings, it's remarkably versatile. You can take it alone as a non-alcoholic aperitif in an elegant high glass, or straight out of a plastic disposable as you eat idli off of a banana leaf.

One thing's for sure - while the drink has been around a long time on the subcontinent, I've never seen it served up elsewhere. I think it's time for a little culinary exportation. . . For anyone interested, here's a recipe:

2 tbsp. simple syrup (made by first boiling together equal parts sugar and water,
then letting it cool)
1 1⁄2 tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice (persian limes work best)
3⁄4 cup soda water
1/2 tbsp. salt
Lime slice

1. Fill a glass with ice cubes, then add simple syrup and lime juice. Add soda water and salt. Stir well, then serve garnished with a lime slice, if you like.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


Mumbai natives will hardly find this review surprising. They've been fans of Indigo for years. But since I visit the place every time I'm in town, I wanted to get it up on here too.

Full of pretty people and tasty food, the restaurant offers Western fare with a creative twist. Located in Colaba, one of Mumbai's most happening neighborhoods, Indigo gives you a taste for how India's changing - and why this is a metropolitan city in its own right. Dining in this city is hardly just about avoiding Delhi belly - you can have a fabulous meal and experience too.

The ambiance alone is worth the trip - the restaurant remains a hang out for the city's young metropolitan crowd. Uber chic is the theme du jour. Every day. Expect to see everyone from supermodels to investment bankers there on a weekend evening. Admittedly, that might sound like typical New York - but the fact that that crowd's gathered in Mumbai, half a world away, makes it slightly more unusual than you'd expect. And the decor is beautiful - cool whites and brown, unusua
l flowers accentuate a modern aesthetic.

And if you're there after dinner, the joint turns into a fabulous cocktail bar. You can rub elbows with Mumbai's beautiful people - with a seasonal cocktail to boot.

Food here is awesome, and the menu's full of great international fusion dishes. For lunch I was spoiled with a chestnut and pumpkin pasta, covered in nut pesto and sauteed squash. Eating out in Mumbai rarely involves actual Indian food - and with choices like some of those on Indigo's menu, I understand why. If you're there while the beet and coconut soup is on the menu, try it; may sound weird but it's delicious. And, after traveling halfway around the world, I still found a pastry chef who's skills are worthy of a gold star - Suresh Kumar, thank you for your creative and yummy cappuccino souffle!

4 Mandlik House
Colaba, Mumbai

Saturday, January 19, 2008

First Worst Meal in SF

I had my first worst meal in San Francisco last week. It was so off-putting that it's taken me a week to blog about it. (That and a little trip to India that's kept me busy, but we'll get to that).

The most disappointing aspect of this meal, though, was the high expectations I had going into it - Thrillist featured the place as its hot new restaurant recommendation for the week. Thrillist overhyped;
Sangha underdelivered.

Nothing about the place, which blends Scandinavian interior design with Latin and Japanese fusion food, was great. Thrillist promises "strength in synergy," but instead diners get a chilly dining room that looks unfinished, and tasteless (or at worst, bad tasting altogether) food. The chefs may need to revisit their menu.

We tried every single specialty roll on the menu but couldn't find a single one that was worth the trip back out to Glen Park for a second serving. Even the self-proclaimed "Ecstasy" roll, which combines maguro and binchi, was disappointingly bland - and it was the best of the lot. My vegetarian friend had the worst luck - her best roll was a meager combo of rice and diced fruits. Mango, cucumber and rice do not an enticing fusion meal make! The spider roll was a disaster entirely. The seaweed wrap on the outside had such a strong fishy taste, we couldn't finish more than two pieces for fear that the softshell crab inside the roll had spoiled.

That said, it's interesting to see Sangha get such positive reviews on Yelp - maybe we just had a particulary bad experience. But even if that's true, it's not a good sign that this brand new restaurant, just 4 weeks post-opening, is struggling to capture the gastronomical hearts of diners. More likely than not, Sangha's popularity is due more to the dearth of Japanese dining options in Glen Park.

The highlight of our meal at Sangha, if I had to pick anything? The fact that Gialina's is just down the street, and you and your date can order one of their divine nutella and marscapone dessert pizzas to wash out Sangha's sad flavors.

678 Chenery Street
(between Carrie St & Diamond St)

Monday, January 14, 2008

Sweet Spot

I am not a chocolate lover. Those words may strike some of you as sacrilegious, but it's the truth. The good news, though, is that the fact that I'm featuring a chocolate shop means it's damn delicious.

This isn't some mass-manufactured, individually-wrapped and nationally shipped Ghirardelli either. The name's XOX Truffles, and their little truffle bites are divine.

Tucked into a little Fisherman's Wharf - North Beach store front at 754 Colombus Avenue, you'd be lucky to accidentally stumble across this place - although that's how I somehow found it. The yellow sign in the window read "rated one of the 7 best chocolates in North America," and my inner foodie was intrigued.

XOX specializes in little, bite-size chocolate truffles that come in 27 flavors. Truffles, the sophisticated pinnacle of chocolate making, have been mastered by chocolatier John Marc Gorce. For the traditionalists, the classic amaretto and dark chocolate ones are well suited. Not too sweet, these chocolates are smooth and buttery, a dreamy consistency. But they don't pack the overwhelming sweetness that turns me off of Godiva or Ghirardelli's versions. For the more adventurous, the Early Grey, Red Wine and a l'Orange are worth trying. The flavors are subtle and complement And at 75 cents a bite, you can sample as many as you like.

I may become a chocoholic yet. Let me try the other 22 flavors and then get back to you on that. . .

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

These Ain't Your Mama's Eggs

I may be the last person in SF to discover how amazing Sunday brunch at Foreign Cinema really is, but at least I'm blogging about it.

Foreign Cinema has the best brunch I've had since New York. Better than my typical lazy Sunday Chinese ordering-in. Even better than Universal Cafe. For those of you too lazy to leave your neighborhood on the weekend, this is worth the trip. And for those of you lucky enough to live in the Mission, it's worth fighting you all for a table every Sunday.

Actually, that one of the surprising parts about my visit. Sunday afternoon at 12:30, and we didn't have to wait in line at all for a table for four. Maybe that day was an anomaly. The space is really pretty - a converted cinema space (and they still do foreign film showings, go figure) with high ceilings, wide open spances, an industrial-chic look. And a pretty little patio in the middle for those craving unadulterated SF sun. This is where the pretty people hang.

The Bloody Marys at Foreign Cinema are delightful. Just spicy enough, they're mini works of art. And if you don't like yours with celery, don't worry - there's also an olive, pickled onion and caperberry for you to nibble on.

Try not to get too drunk before eating though, or you'll spoil the best part. The brunch fare at FC is amazing. I kept stealing bites from my friends' baguette French toast. The bread was seriously warm and thick and buttery soft. It was like eating bready creme brulee with a touch of powdered sugar and fruit! I've always through brioche made the best French toast, but this dish singlehandedly changed my mind.

Still, one of my greatest tests for a restaurant menu is whether it can reinvent a classic. And this place certainly has - one bite of their 'scrambled eggs' made that quite clear. These ain't your mama's eggs. They were fluffy and light, with a touch of crumbled goats cheese and lots of this picante green mole sauce. And they topped a crispy fried tortilla, laced with a touch of red mole sauce and refried beans. So good! And quite pretty, too.

Foreign Cinema -
2534 Mission St.