Friday Sundae: Bi-Rite Creamery's Banana Split

Sure, lots of places make banana splits, but the version at Bi-Rite Creamery (3692 18th St.) truly elevates the art. The sundae ($6.50) has typical elements such as vanilla ice cream, hot fudge, whipped cream and nuts (toasted walnuts, in this case). But when they whip out the blowtorch to caramelize the bananas, creating a hard and sweet sheet like the topping of a creme brulée, you know that this is serious business indeed.

Mission Street Food Goes Native

Rabbit, bison and acorns are some of the unusual highlights of Mission Street Food's Native Foods Night tomorrow night (February 26), featuring dishes from guest chef John Farais (a board member of the Marin Museum of the American Indian and member of the California Native Garden Foundation, to which he'll donate his proceeds). MSF now donates its profits each week to a different charitable organization, often those who directly feed local people in need, and for this dinner, they'll give to the Free Meals Program at Glide Memorial Church. The cash-only dinner takes place between 6 p.m. to midnight at Lung Shan (2234 Mission).

MSF is now also operating most Saturday nights at the same time and place. Chef Anthony Myint says he's still working out his menu for this Saturday night, though one item he knows will be there for sure is his classic flatbread sandwich of king trumpet mushroom with triple fried potato, garlic confit and charred scallion sour cream ($6). He is also excited to confirm Sara Miles, author and founder of the non-profit Food Pantry, as his guest chef on March 5. Profits that night will be donated to FP, which feeds 700 families per week.

Humphry Slocombe's Foie-Gras Ice Cream Sandwich

Humphry Slocombe (2790 Harrison), as reported by Tamara Palmer in December, makes some very unusual ice creams. Undoubtedly the most eccentric flavor is foie gras, which the shop pairs with housemade ginger snaps to make ice cream sandwiches ($4).

Even tasting the ice cream by itself, I can't say I was able to detect any foie. If I hadn't known it was there, I probably would have guessed brown butter and salted caramel. It was a nice little tidbit, but for the price, next time I'd get ice cream instead.

Actually, I did get some ice cream, too, and was very impressed with the intense flavors, minimal sugar, and free hand with salt, particularly in the pineapple five spice and rhw balsamic caramel. To my taste, this is the best of the new wave of artisanal ice cream shops, which also include Bi-Rite Creamery in SF and Ici and Sketch in Berkeley. I was particularly pleased with the wide variation in texture among HS's ice creams, which ranged from sticky-dense to mousse-like (just like at my favorite gelateria in Rome), and with how they were served at just the right temperature for eating, neither icy nor melting too quickly.

Comments have been disabled on this post. If you have an opinion to share about foie gras, please see last week's Village Voice article, "Is Foie Gras Torture?" and post a comment there.

El Cachanilla's $1.50 Tacos

I heard about El Cachanilla's $1.50 tacos al vapor from Incanto chef and offal maven Chris Cosentino by way of a Chowhound post from a tourist visiting from New York. This funky little place's menu has all the odd bits you see in taquerias in Mexico but not so often here: head, tongue, brain, tripe, even eye.

It was raining, so we went into the restaurant (2948 21st St, corner of Treat) rather than ordering at the walk-up window, but when we tried to order tacos, the owner sent us back outside. While we were waiting for our tacos, he came by and told us we could eat our food inside. He then offered an incomprehensible explanation of why he organized things that way. I think the idea was that people got too confused about the numerous toppings available for the tacos, so he set up a bar at the takeout window, with a choice of several salsas, chopped onions, cilantro, lime wedges, and so on. The tacos come out with just meat (plus beans, if you want them), and you do the rest yourself.

Beyond the California Roll: 10 Types of Hood Maki

(S.F. sushi spots create specialties far more regionalized than just the California Roll; image via Flavor J)

It's not that the California Roll isn't appreciated, but it sure is fun to see sushi joints naming their maki after the neighborhoods where they operate. Here are 10 that stand out:

1. Potrero Veggie Roll (asparagus, scallions, tofu, carrots, avocado, inari) at Blowfish Sushi (2170 Bryant)

2. Marina Roll (shrimp and avocado) at Enoshima (2280 Chestnut)

3. Castro Rainbow Maki (Crab, avocado, tuna, sake, albacore, ebi and halibut) at Crazy Sushi (3232 16th St.)

4. North Beach Roll (baked sushi with tiger shrimp, avocado, imitation crab, cucumber inside, wrapped with smoked salmon and topped with aioli sauce) at Sushi on North Beach - Katsu (745 Columbus)

5. Divisaderoll (choice of tuna or amberjack, avocado, masago) at Tataki Sushi and Sake Bar (2815 California)

6. Sunset (ikura and quail egg wrapped with salmon) at Jimisan Sushi Bistro (1380 9th Ave.)

7. The Fillmore (saba, shiromaguro tartare, gobo) at Yoshi's (1330 Fillmore)

8. Fort Point (grilled asparagus and avocado topped with seared Kobe beef, fried shallots, garlic ponzu) at Tokyo Go Go (3174 16th St.)

9. Barracuda on Market (rice paper wrapped, dried pineapple, red tuna, salmon, kaiware, avocado, wasabi, tobiko, blueberry and mango sauce) at Barracuda Sushi (2251 Market)

10. S.F. Wave Tsunami (cooked red tuna chopped with ginger and green onion wrapped in egg and served with Kabuto seaweed gravy sauce) at Kabuto (5121 Geary)

Friday Sundae: Humphry Slocombe's Tin Roof

Sundaes are finally being rolled out at Humphry Slocombe (2790A Harrison). The Tin Roof (which will soon be joined by the Hot Mess and the Gabba Gabba Hey, all $6) has three scoops of Tahitian vanilla ice cream (the recommended flavor, although you may select any flavor), hot fudge, marshmallow fluff and Humphry Slocombe chef/owner Jake Godby's ungodly wonderful "frosted peanuts." How exactly a peanut is frosted is not ours to ponder, just to enjoy.

Good Coffee in Big Arty Space

If you're going to spend top dollar for your fancy java, there might as well be some perks thrown in (pun intended). Four Barrel Coffee, open for four months on Valencia in the Mission, boasts a huge room with a lofty ceiling featuring beautiful exposed beams. The vast space is adorned with sculptural wood tables, and a row of animal heads line one wall -- chic if not exactly PC.

Donuts are trucked in from the Mission's own Dynamo Donuts, including the famed glazed-maple-bacon. Your cappuccino will have the food-porn photographer's fave, the fancy drawn-on-foam topping, if that's your thrill. They're building their own roaster, too (for now the French press is made with Stumptown coffee from Portland). They offer a simple Italian/French lineup of classic espressos, machiattos, and lattes (look elsewhere for shots of flavored syrup and ice-blended frappuccinos). 

We've been on an economy kick, brewing our own at home, but we were in need of a jolt of caffeine, and fell in love with the unusually appealing room. The sheer extravagance of space and witty stuff to look at made us want to linger -- and return.

Four Barrel Coffee, 375 Valencia (at 15th Street), 252-0800. Open Monday through Thursday 7 a.m. -- 8 p.m., Friday until 9 p.m., Saturday 8 a.m. -- 9 p.m., Sunday 8 a.m. -- 8 p.m. Cash only.

We Love Lovejoy's Attic, as Well as Its Tea Room

We were reminded, when we read the following delightful passage from Writers' Favorite Recipes, our new favorite book which we wrote about here, by the somewhat insalubriously named Kay Dick, that we'd promised ourselves to revisit Lovejoy's Tea Room and/or Crown & Crumpet very soon, two perfectly adorable tearooms which we wrote about here, as part of our New Year's resolutions.

"The meal I absolutely adore is tea, that much despised and rare feast, which brings out all my incipient  indolence. Let us imagine summer, a green lawn, or a sandy beach will do -- with exquisitely thin cucumber sandwiches straight out of The Importance of Being Earnest, followed by plates of equally thin bread and butter and Gentleman's Relish, topped by tiny iced cakes, pretty pastel shades, and fragrant Earl Grey with slices of lemon. And winter, with snow and roaring winds outside, a fire brightly burning one's toes, with delicious toasted crumpets soaked in butter which drips down one's cheeks, Ceylon tea this time, with rich fruity home-made cake, and indolence nothing but indolence in view: no time to think of the undelivered manuscript. Tomorrow will do for that lesser pleasure. And books around one: not those one should be reviewing or researching. Oh no! That would spoil the tea sensuality: let there be all the books one shouldn't be reading."
Tags: Books, Brody, Food

Tasty Lamb for Less: S.F.'s Halal Butchers

It's an open secret that halal markets offer some of the tastiest meat around, often at prices lower than you'll find even at Costco. I've learned from talking with the butchers that the animals are often grass-fed, and come from farms in the Central Valley. Lambs and goats are brought in whole, and most of the innards are available.

This week I bought a 2.5-pound bone-in lamb rib roast for $10. I told the butcher, who didn't speak much English, to leave it whole. He took it over to the bandsaw anyway, and thinking he intended to slice it into chops, I called out to him to stop. I took the roast home, rubbed it with two tablespoons of ras el-hanout (recipe follows) mixed with two teaspoons of salt, wrapped it in plastic, let it sit in the fridge for a few hours, roasted it at 350 degrees to an internal temperature of 145 degrees, wrapped it loosely in foil to hold the heat, and let it sit for ten minutes before serving.

Mission Street Food's Inauguration Gala and Charity Work

Mission Street Food is sharing in the country's revelry of Inauguration Day by making this week's installment a dedication to the election of Barack Obama, including a "Rocket's Red Glare" salad, remixes on classics like mac & cheese, BBQ and beans 'n weenies and even Baracky Road and I Have a Dreamsicle ice cream from Humphry Slocombe (2790 Harrison).

MSF will also inaugurate a new policy to donate all of its proceeds to charity each week, starting with offerings to Project Open Hand and C.H.E.F.S. (Conquering Homelessness through Employment in Food Service), the latter a gift from this week's guest chef Ryan Farr, who works directly with C.H.E.F.S. This celebration takes place this Thursday, January 22 from 6 p.m. to midnight at Lung Shan (2234 Mission), and there's more info on the MSF blog.