Who Rolls S.F.'s Best Kimbap?
By Jonathan Kauffman
The front counter of most Korean markets is a snacker's paradise: fried chicken drummettes, plastic containers filled with a dozen or so panchan (side dishes), tangles of japchae. In my 20s, I used to wait for the bus a block away from Woo Ri Korean Market at Fillmore and O'Farrell, and I systematically tasted my way through the packets on their counter, including the soondae (blood sausage) and dried cuttlefish strips in chile paste (a favorite).
The snack that I still walk out of the store clutching most often is kimbap, aka "Korean sushi." Sold in bus stations, packed in lunch boxes, bought in tiny convenience stores, kimbap is the ham and cheese sandwich of Korea. Except it's more healthful than a ham and cheese sandwich, a complete meal in a bundle.
I've been picking up kimbap at both Woo Ri and the Richmond's First Korean Market (two rolls cost $4 at both places, and are more than enough for one hungry person) for so long I never thought to compare the two.
The differences are minimal. While kimbap can contain anything from beef to crab or tofu, the rice rolls at both markets are largely the same: a strip of fish cake, bright yellow pickled daikon, shredded carrots, and short-grain rice rolled in a sheet of kim (seaweed) brushed with sesame oil and sometimes sprinkled with toasted seeds. First Korean Market's rice-rollers add cucumber and sweet omelet, Woo Ri's spinach and tofu.
The winner? First Korean Market's kimbap is more carefully rolled into cylinders and more delicately seasoned. I could smell the sesame oil from across the table but not across the room, as I could with Woo Ri's kimbap.
First Korean Market: 4625 Geary (at 10th Ave.), 221-2565.
Woo Ri Food Market: 1528 Fillmore (at O'Farrell), 673-9888.
EAT THIS: Tell Tale's Heirloom Pumpkin Pastries
by John Birdsall
Savory pastries tend to get stuck in gougère limbo, but Tell Tale Preserve Co.'s William Werner is thinking outside the pâte à choux. Werner's finds himself in his own limbo at the moment — his shop at 33 Maiden Lane is stalled — but that hasn't stopped the former Quince pastry chef from ringing up sales. He's got his own cases at Coffee Bar and Sightglass, and makes weekly appearances at the Ferry Plaza Tuesday market.
Werner's Valrhona Tainori brownie ($2.75) with a seductively squidgy filling of salted-butter caramel is the kind of thing that gets my mom to deploy the phrase "to die for," but it's the savory side where Werner kills. Last week he offered a muffin-sized version of his savory cake ($3.50), tinted vivid aniline yellow with a purée of marina di chioggia pumpkin grown at La Tercera Farm in Bolinas, shot through with an astonishing quantity of green Castelvetrano olives. The taste: complex pumpkin sweetness dotted with bright olive acidity.
A more concentrated sweetness lay at the heart of Werner's savory pop tart ($3.50), filled with a mash of sugar pie pumpkin (also from La Tercera) and melted leeks, with enough sage to channel Thanksgiving. It was in a pâte brisée jacket, flaky at the edges, less so on top, where a cap of pepita-studded Asiago held sway. Pretty much to die for.
Tell Tale Preserve Co.: Ferry Plaza Tuesday Farmers' Market, Tue. 8:30 a.m.-2 p.m. .
EAT THIS: The Grill's Works! Burger
by John Birdsall
First-time restaurant owner Mary Anne Lane has created the man cave of SOMA lunch spots. Show up after 1 p.m. and the Grill, her 5-week-old lunch spot, can feel quiet as an auto-shop waiting room, lined with the kind of beadboard wainscoting that looks like it was crowbarred off the set of Bath Crashers. There's a kid with an elaborate chest tattoo just visible above his V-neck T, lacing his Chicago dog with a thick rope of ketchup as two guys in slacks from the sheriff's department wonder aloud why Obama won't just man the hell up. Even the menu items all end in exclamation points, like they're being shouted over the roar of a generator.
Gregory A. Smith — Lane's son-in-law — oversees the cooks' line. He grinds his own beef for burgers like the Works! ($10.95). It packs enough fat calories to paste-wax the linings of your aorta: four slices of bacon, a frizzled pile of fried onions, avocado, gooey Jack, sautéed mushrooms, even a buttered bun. Push half of it aside and you're left with a decent burger. The meat tastes minerally, like iron, the texture — at a bloody medium-rare — is soft as tartare, you feel your body shifting all its energy into digesting the load. Good thing there's Blue Bottle coffee to put hair on your chest.
The Grill: 799 Bryant (at Sixth St.), 543-4745.