Frisco Fried's Chicken and Waffle
By John Birdsall
Hard to believe Frisco Fried has been open only six months. At 2 p.m. one day last week, the Bayview soul-food restaurant felt like the kind of place that defines a neighborhood, as ladies with sunglasses and Coach purses waited for grocery-bag-size takeout, and a young woman under a shimmering sweep of ringlets showed off week-old Dontaye to the cooing staff.
The place is painted Giants orange, decorated with enough home-team totems to make you think the games were still being played at nearby Candlestick. There's a gallery of African-American heroes — Dr. King, of course, and a Christmas-card-ready portrait of the Obamas. Handsome as that is, it can't touch Frisco Fried's House Special chicken and waffle ($5.99, breast $1 extra), two crisp-crusted pieces of some of the moistest bird this side of West Oakland. The flavor pulses on the strength of salt and garlic powder, counterpoint to the waffle's restrained pumpkin-pie-spice sweetness: a classic version from Bayview's new soul-food destination.
Frisco Fried 5176 Third St. (at Thomas), 822-1517.
Moya's Spicy Ethiopian Chicken
By John Birdsall
Fana Alemayehu's new Ethiopian eatery is the real thing. The spare, high-ceilinged site in a SOMA SRO has a sort of mum, beige elegance, with Alemayehu herself — shy and smiling — doing the cooking in Moya's semi-open kitchen.
Alemayehu's ye doro tibs ($12): soft nubs of chicken sautéed in spiced butter (kibe), married to a scant, mashy tomato sauce sweetened with bits of long-cooked onion. Order it spicy and the color shades aniline orange via chile-laced Berbere spice. Its heat sneaks up on you. Swaddled in pinched-off scraps of house-made injera — Ethiopia's tangy, pockmarked, pancakelike "bread," here made with teff, barley, and wheat flours — the burn is negligible. But when you get to the sauce-soaked injera beneath, it sears like a hot sidewalk under bare feet.
Moya 1044 Folsom (at Sixth St.), 431-5544.
Party Like It's 1919
By Brian Yaeger
With speakeasies, Savoy cocktails, and other early-20th-century booze culture touchstones back in action, it's only natural beer should get roaring. We got our first taste of MillerCoors' new Batch 19 Pre-Prohibition Lager at the First Annual Giants Brewfest, an event showcasing local craft beers ('cept that the "Pre-Pro" Lager is neither craft nor locally brewed).
San Francisco is one of five select test markets for this new product, which claims to be a replica of a recipe brewed by Coors before the onset of national Prohibition in 1920 (Colorado, home of the Adolph Coors Co., enacted statewide prohibition in 1916). This honey-colored, vanilla-sweet beer with a suggestion of hop bite in the aftertaste can be found on draft only at five city saloons — the Parlor, McTeague's, 83 Proof, Hotel Utah, and Lush Lounge — and at the Brit in San Jose.
MillerCoors says the recipe is an exact replica of one recently rediscovered in a brewer's recipe log, but the malted grains and hops are merely educated guesses in replicating the flavor, especially considering Batch 19 does contain some corn. It's a little hard to imagine a mouthfeel this clean in the Pre-Pro era, but, compared to other American premium lagers, this doesn't offend the way its 21st-century MillerCoors brethren do.
Dish Duel: The Torta Cubana
By Jonathan Kauffman
Lately we've been feeling the pull of the Mexican-style Cuban sandwich, which is the Thing of cubanos, exposed to cosmic rays while out on a routine space expedition and mutated beyond recognition. Where the Cuban cubano contains its mess — melted cheese, pork times two, and pickles — in a compact, pressed length of bread, the Mexican torta explodes. It's a Dagwood Bumstead torta, as daunting as it is compelling.
We decided to compare the colossus from That's It Market on Mission with the legendary six-meat torta cubana ($9) from Tortas Boos Voni in the Excelsior, one of our favorite sources for carnitas tortas. This shop advertises six kinds of meat: milanesa (breaded steak), spicy pork, chicken, ham, bacon, and hot dogs. And because the thought of six kinds of meat still leaves us peckish, the cooks add a fried egg, avocado, onions, and mayonnaise — all pressed between a floury telera bun, which is warmed just enough to crisp. The cooks wrap the torta so neatly in white paper that it's possible to make it all the way home ignorant of the brutal spectacle that awaits.
But the moment the sandwich emerges from its wrapping, all becomes clear. The torta cubana is so dense, so meaty, that its flavor collapses in on itself, and it is impossible to taste anything but a mash of meat-egg-onion.
At That's It a few days later, the elaborate ritual of creating the cubana ($10) mesmerized us, since it took place in about 9 square feet of kitchen space. The cook carefully toasted a loaf of bread while layering the stack of meat, cheese, onions, lettuce, tomatoes, pickled peppers, and sour cream, then deftly slid it between the two bread halves. A trio of Swedish skiers behind us (well, they looked like they belonged on the Nordic slopes) were splitting a single sandwich, making us feel like Kirstie Alley on the rebound.
Indeed, though both cubanas weight about two pounds, That's It's torta cubana is one ounce heavier than Boos Voni's and about 50 percent bigger. It's also better than Boos Voni's because the many layers somehow seem more distinct — the milanesa slightly less leathery, the chorizo-reddened omelet flavorful, the ham and bacon actually detectable. We might even have enjoyed the experience had we not decided to eat in the car. The sour-cream-coated vegetables have been scrubbed off the seats by now, but we fear that after several days of July weather, the glob that dripped between the seat and the gearshift is going to make driving a very unpleasant experience.
That's It Market 2699 Mission (at 23rd St.), 285-9833.
Tortas Boos Voni 5170 Mission (at Geneva), 585-5880.