Tuesday, January 4, 2011

I Am The King Of Thai - 2010 San Francisco & Napa Trip Day 1

I travel to eat. Of course I travel also to see new places and experience new things. But the local food scene is what I am ultimately interested in. The heart of any culture is in its cuisine, and eating what the locals eat gives me a glimpse into the way the people live in any particular community. It's hard as a tourist to find the real local spots. Having yelp is definitely a plus in our day and age, but with so many places it can be challenging to narrow your choices down to the five or so places you have time and stomach for.

For someone who have been to San Francisco a few times in my life, I really didn't know much about the city. All the previous times I went I fell victim to the tourist traps of Fisherman warf. This time I was determined to get a real sense of what San Francisco is truly about. As I was planning the entire trip, I posted to my thirteen hundred Facebook friends for possible suggestions for places to dine at and things to do up north. I had also enlisted my nearby friend Kenneth, since he had lived shortly up in San Francisco before, for his opinions and suggestions of possible restaurants to check out. Ultimately I was fortunate enough to have a friend currently living in San Francisco who loves food, to take me to one of his favorite spots as well as a quick tour of San Francisco.

(Adante Hotel)

It was a rainy night when I arrived to San Francisco with my travel buddy. I originally wanted to drive up highway 1 along the coast and visit jade cove and other coastal towns along the way. But I scraped that idea when I saw the weather forecast that it would be raining up north by the late afternoon and into the night. It was a bit risky to take the Pacific Coast Highway up north as the roads may end up being extremely congested because of the rain. Instead we opted to go up the 5 Freeway, cut across on the 152 to the 101 and head into San Francisco from the south. I also wanted to avoid the toll bridge during rush hour.

I made Vietnamese spring rolls for the road trip. They were the same as the ones I had at my family's Christmas day dinner. This time I wrapped them myself with the same ingredients as the ones my aunt made. My wrapping skill was a hit or miss; I definitely can use some practice. A few turned out nice while the others barely stayed intact. I will spare myself the embarrassment of posting pictures of them here. Nevertheless these vietnamese spring rolls made for a good lunch on a road trip. They were light and didn't stink up the car, though the rice noodle did put me in a slight food coma immediately afterwards. I was able to switch off and let my travel buddy take over the drive for an hour or so.

We arrived at our hotel the Adante Hotel, which was a few blocks west of Union Square at the border of Tenderloin. Because of the location, the hotel was very reasonably priced. There was really no problems with the neighborhood at the hotel as long as we didn't venture too far west in the middle of the night. My friend Dave came by at 730pm to pick us up and take us dinner. The spring rolls were a good snack on the trip, but I was ready to have a real meal on this cold and wet night. I told Dave I wanted to check out a low brow dive joint, a place where the locals would eat. He ended up taking us to a local popular chain of Thai restaurants, King Of Thai Noodle House.

(Combination Beef Noodle Soup)
The noodle house was south of market street near Powell. It was a happening place despite the rain. We parked a block away from the restaurant on the street and ran in the rain over to the entrance. The restaurant was mostly full. There was a table by the door but we opted out of that one and waited a few minutes for another one that was further inside. I detest sitting by the door, especially on a cold, rainy night. Dave told me he used to eat at this chain nearly every day a few years ago. Supposedly there was a rift in the family and some of the members went down the street and opened another Thai restaurant. I wasn't able to confirm this story, but I still enjoyed a good old fashion restaurant drama before a good hearty meal.

The menu was rather basic. I suppose I have been spoiled by the enormous amount of choices from restaurants in Los Angeles. Nevertheless I asked Dave for suggestions based on what he normally eats. I wanted to eat like the locals, so why not ask the local what he eats here and order that. He ordered the combination beef noodle soup and I followed suite.

I don't recall ever having a noodle soup at a Thai restaurant. It's not the first thing that pops into my mind when I think of Thai cuisine. I normally would order either some form of curry over rice, a pad thai or some sort of dry noodles, or even a tom yum soup. In terms of south east Asian cuisine, like most people I think of Vietnamese Pho when I think about noodle soup. I didn't quite know what to expect in terms of flavor from a Thai noodle soup.

The menu said the soup was a little spicy. I am always weary of spiciness; I have a rather low tolerance of spice. My friend reassured me that the noodles are not spicy at all. I was still weary of the soup since my friend had a high tolerance of spice, but I went for it nevertheless. The soup turned out to be barely spicy but extremely flavorful. It was a rich, dark, beef broth that almost tasted like a good bowl of Taiwanese beef noodle soup. We ordered the rice noodle, but apparently they changed their rice noodles a year ago from the thin version to pho noodles.

That aside the beef stew was very tender and melted in my mouth. The beef slices were thicker than the Vietnamese style which I prefer in my noodle soup. It's very easy to over cook the beef in a noodle soup because the broth continues to cook the beef after plating. Their beef was just bordering well done so it was still acceptable in terms of texture for me.

(Vegetables Over Rice)
My travel buddy ordered vegetables over rice since she wanted to eat something lighter. I took a bite of her veggies and thought the dish was pretty flavorful. On one hand I do enjoy the rich flavors of the sauce that the vegetables were stir fried in, but at the same time I almost miss the original flavor of the vegetables. I generally prefer my vegetables to retain their original natural flavors. Once in a while, a heavily sauced vegetable dish is still nice over a bit of rice.

(On Top Of Twin Peak in San Francisco on a Rainy Night)
After dinner Dave gave us a quick driving tour of the city. We ended up on top of Twin Peak with a night view despite the rain. Having had a crash course on the neighborhoods of San Francisco, I had a slightly better feeling for the city. I was ready to go to bed and hit the city head on the next day.

Continue reading at:
A Fortunate Pilgrimage - 2010 San Francisco & Napa Trip Day 2 Part I
It's a Small Small World - 2010 San Francisco & Napa Trip Day 2 Part II
Burger To Die For - 2010 San Francisco & Napa Trip Day 3 - The Food
Riesling, riesling, where for art thou my riesling? - 2010 San Francisco & Napa Trip Day 3 - The Wine


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