Edit: I had a couple of friends asking why this item was no longer available, and unfortunately didn’t realize that I posted this during the last weekend this item was on the menu! Lily is no longer offering their fried rice until indoor dining resumes in SF. Stay safe, and hopefully we can all indulge in some of the most amazing fried rice once the pandemic is over.
If there’s anything my friends know, it’s that decadent food is my choice of sin. Lily transforms fried rice, embellishing the classic leftovers dish with wagyu, uni, ikura, and crab, and I’m here for it.
The only thing I’ve had that comes close to this dish is the wagyu beef bowl from Fat Cow in Singapore, where the bowl contains wagyu, uni, caviar, foie gras, and an onsen egg. It’s also $73, and the portion size is definitely only enough for 1 person to eat. Not exactly a staple in my diet, but definitely worthy of a splurge on vacation. I told myself I’d probably make a trip back to Singapore just to have that bowl again, because I’d never come across anything similar in the US.
I originally saw this dish on willwanderforfood‘s instagram, and knew I had to try it! Dac biet fried rice sits at a hefty price tag of $68, which sounds like a lot for fried rice, but I mean it when I say that it was 110% worth every penny I paid for it.
The fried rice is superb, without being too greasy, too soggy, too salty, or too dry. They were spot on with the texture, taste, and seasoning. Without all of the fancy embellishments, I’d still consider this fried rice A+. There are bits of crab hidden throughout the fried rice that are juicy and succulent, and a generous portion of wagyu. The ikura and uni both tasted extremely fresh (no fishy, briny aftertaste), and the vivid orange yolk with edible gold flakes on top was chef’s kiss on top of the entire thing.
Each bite of this fried rice really held all of the flavors it had to offer. I tasted rice, chives, crab, egg, and wagyu / ikura / uni in each bite! There were two things I was unexpectedly really impressed by:
The ingredients in the fried rice seemed to be evenly distributed and chock-full of what they promised to include. There was no skimping on any of the portions of wagyu, ikura, uni, or crab.
I thought this dish was going to be small in size and that I’d want a second portion, but I actually couldn’t finish it in one sitting (and I was VERY hungry before I dove in). I ended up eating it over three meals, and I don’t have a dainty appetite by any means!
It’s uncommon for me to eat a dish and not have a single bad thing to say about it, but I guess there’s a first for everything! I’ve read rave reviews about their bo kho and sinh to, and if they’re anything like this special fried rice, I think I’m going to be a regular customer.
Lily was really responsive on Instagram, and throughout the pandemic, we’ve seen small businesses squeezed out of operating. F&B margins are thin, especially during times like this, and delivery services take up to 30% from a restaurant when orders are placed through their platform. If you want to, and are able to, support Lily directly, you can phone in orders directly for pickup (their takeout menu can be found here)
Birdsong… where do I begin? As my most beloved restaurant in SF, and possibly in the US, there are so many praises I have to sing about this place and their food philosophy. I’ve eaten here 3 times (the first in their first week of opening), the most number of repeat visits I’ve accumulated for any Michelin restaurant, and have tried nearly every item on their takeout menu during quarantine. This review will be focused on Birdsong’s dining options during quarantine; I hope to do a fully-fledged tasting menu review once dining experiences return to normal!
Birdsong hasn’t been an exception to the number of fine-dining restaurants that have had to rethink how they share their work with the rest of the world, and I’m enthralled to say that I think they’ve risen magnificently to the challenge. They started with an upscale casual Birdbox, and have since expanded to providing meal kits, pastries, desserts, and even offering meat from their dry age room. Though I’m looking forward to eating in their beautiful dining room again, a small part of me will be sad when they don’t have the bandwidth to be making these wonderful entrees anymore. They’ve done a standout job of experimenting with different approaches and food that both deviate from their usual style, but maintain the quality and care they put into their cooking. I’ve had Birdsong 5 times during quarantine already (and a 6th if you count ordering a fried chicken Birdbox and delivering it for a friend’s birthday), so I’ll do a quick summary of items I’d recommend.
Fried Chicken Birdbox
The fried chicken Birdbox at Birdsong was the first item that came out on the menu when shelter-in-place began. It comes with a giant slab of fried chicken – with the claw included! Let me begin by saying I’m not a fried chicken person, and clarifying why. I know there are fried chicken aficionados out there, but I’ve always found the combination of overwhelming grease, kinda soggy skin, and pretty dry meat to be massively unappealing. It doesn’t taste good, and makes me feel even worse. All of that changed with Birdsong’s Birdbox.
The chicken was crispy on the outside, and juicy on the inside; it was as perfect as fried chicken could be, with substantial breading, but none of the dreaded excessive grease. Accompanying the chicken is their house-made hot sauce, which I loved, though my dining companion said that the chicken was good enough on its own that the hot sauce was unnecessary! Dipping the chicken in the hot sauce and following it with a bite of cornbread and a sip of champagne* was all I needed on a delightful Sunday evening at home.
If you’ve been to Birdsong before, you’ll know that one of the most famous items on their menu is the Peruvian cornbread. The third time I ate at Birdsong, my dining companions and I may or may not have wielded so much unfettered enthusiasm for the cornbread that they gave us another piece. Needless to say, I was over the moon to see this included in the box of goodies, and each bite of that cornbread was accompanied by closed eyes and a smile, savoring the perfect collision of taste and texture.
*Champagne and fried chicken is definitely a thing, because the acidity and fizz of the champagne cuts the richness of the chicken and cornbread. I figured that eating Michelin-grade fried chicken warranted a bottle of Veuve to be enjoyed alongside.
Duck Pot Pie
Pot pies are predictable comfort food, in the same category of excitement as chicken noodle soup. It’s pretty hard to get a pot pie wrong, but it’s equally as difficult to take a pot pie to a new level. Birdsong’s aged duck pot pie is an adorable single-sized pastry. The mousse inside is made with duck breast, duck leg confit, duck cartilage, carrots, onions, and cauliflower, mixed together in a Parmesan bechamel sauce.
The pastry was perfectly flaky, but held its structure well, as evidenced by the photo above where the pot pie was able to be cut easily without self-destructing. The creaminess of the bechamel sauce and duck mousse coated the root vegetables well inside of the tart, and it wasn’t as runny, something I often find is the case in other pot pies. The parker house rolls with whipped butter reminded me of brioche–slightly sweet and full of air, it felt like I was eating a cloud.
Strawberry Rhubarb Pie
One of my favorite sweet treats on their menu is the strawberry rhubarb pie! Its flaky pie crust is lined with a thin layer of dark chocolate, filled with vanilla cheesecake, and topped with strawberry rhubarb jam, made in-house with fresh, farm-picked strawberries. The pie feeds about 4 people, so when it comes to my appetite, it feeds me, and me alone. I love that the pie isn’t too sweet – the slight bitterness from the dark chocolate combines wonderfully with the fluffy texture of the cheesecake layer, and the strawberry rhubarb jam adds a tart acidity to balance out the richness of the pie crust and cheesecake. It has texture, flavor, and depth. I often feel like desserts are too rich, too sweet, or just overdone to the point of feeling sick when I consume more of them, but with this cheesecake, all of the different elements felt like they played nicely together for each bite.
While I have tried other items on the quarantine menu (the lamb kit, as well as the 200-day aged ribeye), I can’t quite speak as highly of those as I can of the options in this post. I have a feeling that this has to do with cooking methods, and not the kits themselves. It’s difficult to replicate the precise cooking methods Birdsong is well-known for, and reheating foods can only get you so close to the coveted real thing. I’m sure my opinion of the aged ribeye would have been much higher if Birdsong had cooked it instead of me, so I’ll leave more cumbersome experiences for when dining in-person is an option again.
Since quarantine began, dining options in San Francisco have become limited. Many restaurants have pivoted towards delivery and takeout options. Despite my love for cooking, I sometimes find myself craving dishes that aren’t feasible to replicate at home. Uni over rice is one of those specific, but infeasible options, because the magical experience uni provides is only found in fresh uni.
I hadn’t heard of Oma until I stumbled across eatthissf’s Instagram post about their omakase option. While I was browsing their website, I noticed that they were within walking distance of my apartment in Japantown, and that they also offered an uni bento option. While I’m a sucker for uni, I’m also cautiously optimistic about ordering it from 1) new restaurants, and 2) as takeout, because it’s such a delicate ingredient.
After I had scheduled a pickup, I walked over to the plaza (Oma is located on the second story of the Japantown plaza east of, and adjacent to, Webster St.), climbed the stairs, and was given my order. The bento was adorable, and the uni was a light yellow color, with a sweet, mild fragrance coming off of it.
The uni was creamy and sweet, with no hint of the bitterness or briny flavor that I expected. The rice, lightly seasoned with furikake, was also sticky, not soggy. The black container had ikura in it, and I combined a little uni, a little ikura, and a little rice in each bite for a fresh, creamy, textured taste each time. In short, it was positively delightful.
I’ll just go out and say that, even though this uni bento knocked my socks off, I’d have to think twice about ordering it again because it costs $52. The amounts of uni included were about enough for 3 sizable pieces of nigiri, and the amount of ikura was about enough for one nigiri. At very high end Japanese restaurants, where ordering nigiri a la carte is permitted after omakase concludes, Hokkaido or Santa Barbara uni (reputed as the best in the world), costs roughly $24 for two pieces. Ikura nigiri costs about $12 for two pieces at high-end sushi joints. So no matter how you calculate this, the maximum this bento should have cost, if it was from a Michelin-grade restaurant, is $42, 20% less than what Oma sells the box for. Given the fact that there aren’t a lot of fresh sushi options to choose from during the pandemic, and the fact that sourcing is more difficult, there might be additional factors driving the cost up.
In conclusion, I’ll say that, if price weren’t a factor, I’d willingly splurge on this bento at least once a week. It hits my craving for top-grade sushi with creamy uni and fresh, sweet ikura, and if quarantine lasts too long, I might have to make another stroll across the street to Oma for another uni bento.
Tartine Bakery is one of San Francisco’s quintessential foodie establishments. It’s made every notable list, and for good reason. In 2016, Tartine Manufactory inherited 5,000 square feet of space next door to Heath Ceramics, dedicating the interior to baking bread, cooking food, and serving drinks. With countless restaurants in San Francisco vying for the same accolades and attention, repeat patrons are a reliable indicator of whether a place feels worth visiting. This was my third trip to the restaurant in the last year, and it did not disappoint.
Weekends in San Francisco are dedicated to brunch, particularly during the summer and fall months, when warmer weather beckons individuals out during the day. Nestled on the corner of Alabama and 18th in the Mission district, Tartine Manufactory has all the trappings of a memorable meal–from the coveted abundance of natural sunlight pouring in through the tall glass windows, to the quirky ingredients and reinventions of classic American dishes. Diners are greeted by the delectable sight of freshly baked loaves of bread, comfortably rising inside of industrial ovens. The ambiance evokes simplicity and elegance with its off-white colors and light wood furniture. Tartine Manufactory accepts reservations for dinner only, so it’s highly recommended to arrive early (I believe we waited an hour for a party of 4 on a Sunday at noon). The restaurant sends you a text when your table is ready, and a great way to kill the wait time is to meander next door to Heath Ceramics; besides drinking in a visually stunning display of ceramic pieces, there are also plenty of whimsical knick-knacks for sale inside the shop.
Smørrebrød is an open-faced Scandinavian sandwich. I’m principally against purchasing any permutation of avocado toast at restaurants because it tends to be prohibitively expensive, but you lose decision-making power when you’re not the one footing the bill. I’m also yet to discover a restaurant that makes avocado toast better than my homemade version (the recipe for which is coming soon!). That being said, if you are the kind of person who feels compelled to order avo toast at brunch, Tartine’s freshly baked bread does it justice, and the pepitas and serranos add nice texture and hint of heat to the dish.
For someone who is somewhat intolerant to both dairy and gluten to wholeheartedly inhale bread and cheese means that this dish is worth ordering. My first taste of this dish was love at first bite. Creamy, delicate burrata cheese was punctuated by a mild earthiness from the pistachios, yet balanced by the brightness of the meyer lemon it was soaking in. I closed my eyes as I savored the satisfying crunch from the slice of bread it was sitting atop, reaffirming a strong opinion that this experience was worth the stomach pains I’d come to endure later.
Can you even consider your meal a delectable brunch if it doesn’t include French toast? I’ve tried my fair share of French toast variations at different restaurants in the city. Either this is an impossibly challenging dish to get wrong, or every place I’ve been to has perfected the art of making it, in their own unique way. Despite the fact that Tartine’s French toast isn’t made with Challah bread (which is the best type of bread to soak up the coating), what they do have going for them, again, is bread that is freshly baked in-house. Every mouthful was an adventure of subtle, chocolatey crunch (courtesy of the hazelnuts), mild sweetness from the maple syrup, and delicate brightness from the raspberries–all against the backdrop of a crunchy-but-moist piece of French toast that had been swimming under a thin blanket of creme fraiche.
I didn’t feel very excited about this dish when we ordered it, and when it came out, it looked rather lackluster; besides the ribbons of zucchini squash plated atop the stew, it looked somewhat unappetizing. It’s funny how adding something like duck leg carnitas can spruce up what appears to be a simple vegetable dish, which took my impression of the stew from a 4/10 to a 9/10. The protein contributed a satisfying layer of dimension that was missing in the stew alone; the addition of shredded carnitas-style meat was exactly what the dish needed to come alive against the crunchy corn and soft black beans.
In contrast, I was most excited for the coddled eggs–and while they were good, they didn’t blow my mind like I thought that they would. I’m typically a big fan of fish roe and gooey eggs, but for reasons I can’t articulate very well, the dish lacked in complexity and pizzazz, and I expected more from Tartine’s execution on this one.
At this point, the four of us were getting rather nervous–we didn’t quite remember how much food we had ordered, and we were beginning to feel painfully full. We’d also grossly underestimated the serving size of every single entree we had selected. The problem lies in that, when you venture to a brunch place this good, with friends who are equally dedicated to the act of eating good food, you’ve implicitly committed to finishing every part of your order.
The grilled cheese at Tartine is one of my favorites I’d had in SF. It might tie with the grilled cheeses that Cowgirl Creamery whips up at the Ferry Building on the Embarcadero (a long-running favorite of mine), except this one included squash, an interesting textural addition that neatly balanced the rich cheese and bread combination. If it wasn’t apparent in my opinions about food, I believe that texture can make a huge difference in a dish, including one as simple and classic as a grilled cheese.
If there was one dish I’d come back to Tartine to order over and over again, it would be the grits. I’m just as surprised at myself, because this was what I thought was the least exciting item on the menu.
Tartine’s version of grits is the quintessence of what I’d call “elevated everyday food” that fully deserves the hype that moniker generates. The basic combination of ingredients is simple: grits, kale, and eggs, but when you throw in some prosciutto and embellish it with some shishito peppers, a simple bowl of grits suddenly evolves into a multi-sensory experience that combines the best of all cooking elements: salt, fat, acid, and heat. In comparison to other entrees on the menu that were decadent and rich, this item was a perfect balance of nourishment and satisfaction, with some unconventional elements incorporated for excitement and surprise.
After the grits, we were all but slumped over our dining table, battling drooped eyelids and an uncomfortable fullness in our stomachs. Against all pragmatic principles for dining out, the table collectively decided that we’d already come this far, and should experience dessert, so we ended up ordering a Bavarian fruit tart. To our relief, the tart was miniscule, enough for each of us to enjoy one perfect bite. I’d absolutely order this again.
Consistent with the experience I’d had during my previous visits, enjoying brunch at Tartine blew away my expectations. F&B in San Francisco is highly competitive, and it can be challenging for restaurants to survive and distinguish themselves in the midst of an ever-present competitiveness within the scene. As a foodie, I feel constantly spoiled by my vast selection of dining options in the city. My three experiences at Tartine make me feel confident that this is an establishment that will continue to stand out and thrive against formidable challenges within the industry, and I’m already looking forward to my next meal there!