Cotogna (SF)

When I searched for “vegetarian friendly dinner” in the financial district of San Francisco, one restaurant that caught my eye was Cotogna.  Its colorful website was bursting with pictures of fresh vegetables, so I didn’t have to feel silly about calling them and ask if it was a good idea to take a vegan there.  It just so happened that the night we were dining there was also a Sunday Supper night, which I was looking forward to.

I had the regular set for Sunday Supper while Will had a modified vegan set.  I didn’t get to take too many pictures because I was both starving and trying to hold an active infant in my lap for the start of the meal. Luckily, the staff was nice enough to borrow another highchair from a nearby restaurant so that we could put Robin in it and eat like somewhat-civilized people. Robin seemed to enjoy the food as well.

One thing Cotogna is known for is their fresh pasta and it did not disappoint. My taglioni was the perfect amount of al dente — I expected no less. What really impressed me was that they had to use dried pasta for Will’s dish since most fresh pasta isn’t vegan and even their dried pasta dish with tomato sauce, which sounds boring, was really good.  Will declared that he would be happy to return to the restaurant soon.

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There was also a beet salad appetizer. While it was good, it didn’t blow me away. I’m just bored of beet salad.

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In lieu of a meaty protein dish, Will got this hearty bowl of fresh corn and chanterelles. He really enjoyed this and was happy it wasn’t yet another salad. The only odd thing about this dish was the choice of purslane for garnish. It made the dish look pretty, but the lemony taste of the purslane didn’t really mesh well with the rest of the elements in the bowl. I had the same thought about the fennel fronds in my lamb dish.

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Other than the odd taste of the fennel in the lamb, I enjoyed my meaty main. The lamb was not overcooked and the eggplant puree served with it added the necessary pop of flavor to an otherwise heavy bite.

Since I picked Cotogna because it was vegetarian friendly, close to our hotel, and had something special for Father’s Day, I have to say it was a hit. It could be the Aperol flip that I had to start with, but I also thought the wine selection by the glass was both interesting and reasonably priced.

The only downside to dining at Cotogna is that it’s going to be hard to decide between eating there or Barbacco next time I’m in SF and want that type of Californian-Italian food for dinner.

490 Pacific Avenue,
San Francisco, Ca 94133

Burger Bar (SF)

Burger Bar (SF)When I found out that my hotel was going to be within blocks of Hubert Keller’s new Burger Bar, I knew I had to eat there at least once — especially after seeing the delicious burger Chef Keller made on Top Chef Masters.  Maybe I was expecting too much and nothing could live up to the hype, but I left disappointed.

I ordered the Classic American burger ($15), which is about as standard as you can get with beef, cheese, bacon, lettuce, tomatoes and onion.  The burger also came with a side of fries and a pickle.  The patty came out pink and juicy on the inside, a perfect medium rare.  The meat was spiced well and the bacon a reasonable two strips, but the rest of the burger was what I’d expect for any $10+ burger.  It really was a good, all-american classic burger.  The side of fries, an afterthought, reminded me of Burger King fries. I like Burger King fries, but I expected more.

Despite having a good burger, I left disappointed. Part of it was just the location of the restaurant.  It’s on the 6th floor of the Macy’s building in San Francisco, making it a prime tourist location.  The crowd and decor in the restaurant made me think of Cheesecake Factory, except with burgers.  Like Cheesecake Factory, expect a long wait unless you’re lucky enough to find a seat at the bar.

The service also needed some work. I came alone and sat at the bar, but it took several minutes for me to even get acknowledged and given a menu. Then, when my food came, there was a mix-up with whose food it was even though I kept telling the confused server that yes, that was what I ordered. He kept trying to give it to the gentleman next to me, who kept telling him that was not what he ordered.  Then, it took fifteen minutes for me to get my credit card back even though I was sitting right in front of the cash register.  It wasn’t even that busy in the restaurant.

Maybe that’s what I get for going to a restaurant less than a week after it opened. The food side of things was okay (other than the lack-luster fries), but the service side definitely was not okay.  For a $16 burger, I want it to taste good and be served promptly and well.

Burger Bar
251 Geary St
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 296-4272

Porridge @ Hing Lung (San Francisco)

Hing Lung in SFRice porridge, congee, jook, zhou, whatever its name, there’s no denying that it holds a comforting place in my heart.  When I was a kid and sick with the flu, mom would make the tasteless, bland version with just rice and water to soothe my ailing stomach.  When we were feeling lazy on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, we would make a delicious fusion version with the turkey carcass for broth.  The simple mixture of rice and water is just a happy way to start the day and what makes it even better is freshly fried you tiao (Chinese donut/cruellers) to dip in it.

Hing Lung is located near the heart of San Francisco’s historic Chinatown.  I had delegated that area as too old-school Chinese and had low expectations of Chinese food there because it was so touristy. How wrong I was.  Walking into Hing Lung is like walking into a busy Chinese cafeteria.  It’s loud, the tables are greasy, there are people hustling about, the air smelled like fried foods, and the waitress was brisk and efficient.

Hing Lung in SF

The menu has almost a full page of different types of porridge as well as other breakfast dishes, but I ordered my old stand-by: pidan sourou zhou (porridge with thousand year old egg and salted pork).  The pidan had a rich, flavorful yolk that went well with the saltiness of the pork.  Most of the salt and flavor of the pork seeped into the porridge, which made it incredibly savory and tasty.  I thought maybe they added some msg to it because damn, that porridge was good.

Hing Lung in SF

The BF ordered a plain porridge which was just rice and water.  I had a taste and indeed, it tasted very plain — it didn’t even have any msg! I asked the waiter to bring some scallions to flavor it with.

Hing Lung in SF

To go with our porridge, we also ordered you tiao which was so fresh from the fryer I burned my mouth on my first bite.  It was worth it.  The fried dough was denser than what I’m used to in a you tiao, but its flavor was perfect with just the right amount of saltiness.  Nothing really beats a fresh from the fryer you tiao that was still crispy on the outside. I could just eat a few of these dipped in some red vinegar.

Hing Lung in SFI was happy to see so many families and elderly people eating at Hing Lung.  It lends the restaurant authenticity.  I knew walking in and seeing so many tables full of Chinese people that I was in good hands, but I’m also glad that the food spoke for itself too.  Now I have a decent place to recommend to people when they ask about a good Chinese restaurant in SF Chinatown.

On the way out, I snapped a picture of the cook frying up you tiao near the front. He ducked out of the frame just in time, but before I left, he yelled something like “Bu yin si fu!” which I took to mean one of two things 1.) don’t take pictures of the chef (yin in this case = shadow = film = taking picture) or 2.) don’t bother the chef (where yin = tease/annoy).  Hearing that made me extremely glad I ate there. It’s always an authentic Chinese restaurant experience to get yelled at by the cranky staff.

Hing Lung Restaurant
674 Broadway
San Francisco, CA 94133-4406
(415) 398-8838‎