It’s been four years since I last saw summer fog in San Francisco roll over Twin Peaks, soon to blanket the city. I had forgotten how fast the mass moves, almost like watching a time-lapse video, but speed is real life, and how the cloud trails cluster and bond together almost like they’re sentient.
I didn’t appreciate this chilly phenomenon during the brief time I lived in San Francisco in the 2000s. It’s more comforting now. Too much is changing in the world, but leaving home without a jacket while strolling through the Castro isn’t one of them, at least this week.
I’m in the Bay Area on a reporting trip. You will know more in the coming weeks. During this time, I also checked out restaurants that have opened since I last dined across SF. Here are the three I would recommend the most.
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In early 2019, Samir Mogannam began taking over the locations of the local chain BurgerMeister, which was founded two decades ago by his father Paul. He renamed the restaurants for his mother Rima (“beit” means “house” in Arabic) and began serving subtly retuned versions of his family’s Palestinian and Jordanian recipes.
A mezze sampler sets the tone with its swirls of creamy dips: hummus, baba ghanoush, lebneh, muhammara with its pleasant bite of pomegranate molasses and a few falafel spheres with bright green centers. The pita comes on the side, but it’s well worth the extra $5 to order ‘Samir’s hand-kneaded bread’, an oblong sheet of cracked dough topped with za’atar and sumac.
For more substantial plates, opt for the Gazan-style lamb shank immersed in a spicy tomato sauce. Pour into the bottom of the bowl to scoop out the maftoul – hand-rolled Palestinian pasta beads made from whole wheat and bulgur. His version of samak bil tahineh features a whole, beautifully fried branzino with tarator (lemony tahini sauce) on the side, Shutta (red chili sauce) and a tuft of herb and onion salad. My friends and I traced the outlines of the fish with our hands, tearing off each piece of crispy, semolina-coated skin around the edges.
The restaurant has two locations, one in the Castro and one in the charming Cole Valley neighborhood (which was the open outpost the night I arrived in San Francisco). A former third Beit Rima in Daly City closed during the pandemic, but hopefully Mogannam will continue to open storefronts and eventually expand along the coast to Los Angeles. beitrimasf.com
Eat your way through LA
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GOOD GOOD CULTURE CLUB
Pops of bright pink and turquoise, with a mural of tropical flora by Oakland artist Kalani Ware along the back wall; a cocktail like “Home by the Sea” mixing gin, shiso liqueur, plum sake and candied lemon in one hand; and a poppy-crusted bao stuffed with smoked beef brisket in the other. It was good to be in a Ravi Kapur restaurant again.
I loved Kapur’s Liholiho Yacht Club when it opened in 2015, and as he and his partners prepare to reopen this temporarily closed restaurant, their new place in the Mission rekindles the same kind of upbeat energy and food. that defy all major labels.
Two of us went through a shrimp and mint coleslaw salad layered over coconut cream and makrut and tossed with refried butter beans for crunch; another salad of little gems in a bright and earthy taro leaf vinaigrette; tempura soft-shell crab with green curry ranch dressing and chickpea-sized English peas; and the evening’s favourite, grilled galbi-cut short ribs coated in a cherry and sesame compote. Two vegan treats framed the meal: crisps with a smoked cashew dip to start, and the amazing “halo ha-lao” topped with ube sorbet, tapioca, blueberries and honeydew and finished with mousse coconut and tomato crushed ice.
Crowds start pouring in outside the Good Good Culture Club soon after it opens at 5 p.m. Reservations are rare, but we slipped in at 5:45 as a date and were very happy seated at one of the restaurant’s many bars. goodgoodcultureclub.com
SAN HO WON
Corey Lee’s flagship restaurant, Benu, serves an amazing tasting menu of Korean, Cantonese and French flavors; it ranks very high on my short list of destination restaurants nationwide. Lee has been working for years to create his interpretation of a Korean barbecue restaurant. In November, it finally became a reality, opening in a beautifully austere space in a restaurant section of the Mission not far from Potrero Hill. Chef and partner Jeong-In Hwang previously worked with Lee at Benu and his experimental In Situ at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Los Angeles has one of the deepest Korean food scenes in the world. That said, there’s nothing in our city like how Lee and Hwang approach the Korean barbecue genre. Hwang and his team grill meats (double-thick galbi, rib-eye, velvety beef tongue that arrives in burger-like rounds) over lychee charcoal; they prepare everything in the kitchen, renouncing table action. The lettuces and hot sauces for a saam-style wrap are impeccable in a kind of California fancy. A regular pine nut crusted bulgogi special has so much texture that I ended up eating it on its own, unwrapped and without sauce, to better savor its nuances. Everything is cheffy and tedious, but the heart of the food shines through a lot.
This also goes for starters and sides, including gyeranjjim which takes the form of an egg soufflé; a member of staff puts it in bowls next to the table, then pours anchovy broth over them. Gorgeous. Long beef mandu arrive tied in a lacy pastry sheath. A stew that mixes the kimchi jjigae and pozole riffs of a frequent staff meal and is worth keeping a bit of an appetite; it is usually served after the barbecue.
My critical mind wants to keep coming back to San Ho Won and reflecting on its expressions of tradition and innovation. But one meal is enough for me to tell you that this is one of the most exciting new restaurants in California. sanhowon.com
— Back in Los Angeles this week, I reviewed two trendy restaurants in Silver Lake that rub shoulders: Causita and Bar Moruno.
— Jenn Harris recommends a mighty roast pork sandwich served at a doctor’s office in Yorba Linda and an overdone Hawaiian burger with gravy in Koreatown.
— Jacqueline Pinedo brings you nine favorite places to satisfy cups of coffee olla.
— Stephanie Breijo reports on the complex reception that awaited the new Dunsmoor restaurant during its opening week in Glassell Park.