Rocketfish: Fatal Fusion on Potrero Hill
By Alex Hochman
The name "Rocketfish" reminds us of a doomed dot-com circa 1999, dreamed up by a couple of college buddies during a long night of beer pong. In reality, it's Potrero Hill's 2-month-old self-billed "Japanese tapistro," featuring the food of Kenichi Kawashima, former chef at Blowfish Sushi.
An eye-popping presentation of walu carpaccio ($10), delicately dressed with lemon confit, caperberries, and green jalapeño vinaigrette, was a strong indicator of what Kawashima is capable of. The lemon tamped down the jalapeño to a bare buzz, enriching, not overpowering, the mild fish. I'd order this again. Avocado curry tempura maki ($4.75) crammed three cultures on one plate — usually a recipe for disaster — but surprisingly, it worked. The roll was fried in lightly curried tempura batter, then drizzled with the kind of glaze-y sauce commonly brushed on unagi, yielding a sweet, crunchy bite with a faint Thai aftertaste.
It's when the kitchen went into "tapistro" overdrive that things got dicey. I ordered the agedashi mozzarella ($5) solely out of respect for Kawashima's sheer ballsiness to attempt it, but the gloppy cheese left me yearning for two things: the lightness of agedashi tofu and a crock of marinara. This was fusion gone way wrong.
An order of panko-fried scallop skewers (two for $5) was served pommes frites–style, in a cone. The server gave instructions to dip the scallops into small bowls of crushed, salted sesame seeds and soy. Bad advice. One bite was so salty, it had us all desperately draining our water glasses in desperation (unfortunately, we couldn't find the server to give us a refill). A second, undipped bite confirmed that the scallops were rubbery, which only added insult to injury. Not to get all Tom Colicchio, but was anyone tasting this stuff in the kitchen?
I left with more dot-bomb disappointment than dot-com nostalgia. Rocketfish has a catchy name and a nice-looking space, and Kawashima has a strong point of view. But it adds up to a restaurant unsure of what it wants to be.
Rocketfish: 1469 18th St. (at Connecticut), 282-9666.
Eat Real Attendance Up, Hints at L.A. Expansion
By John Birdsall
More people showed up at last month's Eat Real Fest than organizers first estimated. Festival director Susan Coss says she feels "very comfortable" saying that 110,000 food seekers showed up at Jack London Square Aug. 27-29, 10 percent more than first reported, and 40,000 more than last year. "What a difference a year makes," she says. "When we started organizing for last year, we were begging people to participate. In just one year there was a huge explosion."
Coss also suggested that Eat Real was planning a major expansion for 2011, beyond merely adding vendors and upping attendance in Oakland, hinting that the organization has its sights on L.A. Coss says she's planning to announce dates and other news in October.
Last month's festival featured 90 food vendors — twice as many as in 2009 — some 75 of them street-food hawkers. In 2009, Eat Real coincided with the Outside Lands music festival, which Coss thinks kept numbers at Jack London Square down.
EAT THIS: Iced Coffees withAsian Roots
By John Birdsall
Spiced Iced Coffee at Hooker's Sweet Treats: 442 Hyde (at O'Farrell). $2.50
In the Tenderloin, source of the city's best Vietnamese and Thai eateries, Hooker's Sweet Treats serves up an iced coffee steeped in the aromatics of the neighborhood's dominant cuisines. There are ginger, star anise, and clove, to name only the three we could make out, over a needle prick of cayenne. The coffee: Sightglass, French-pressed and chilled, sweetened with simple syrup made from unrefined sugar. The counter guy pours it over ice, hits it with a plug of Straus half-and-half, and you're ready for the streets.
Macau Iced Coffee at Vega at Langton: 1246 Folsom (at Eighth St.), 260-1262; available also at Special Xtra: 46 Minna (at First St.). $3.50
Sure, the cold-steeped New Orleans iced coffee Blue Bottle's James Freeman taught John Quintos to make at SOMA's Cento/Vega/Special Xtra coffee kiosks is delicious (only difference with Blue Bottle: Quintos doesn't believe in presweetening). But when the temperature spikes much above marine-layer frigid, it's Quintos' Macau I seek out.
The Macau isn't available at Cento on Ritch Street. But at Vega and Special Xtra, baristas scoop up a cup of ice, add whole milk and a shot of simple syrup made from organic sugar, then pour over a double shot of Blue Bottle espresso, depth-charge-style, its ripply fingers drifting gracefully to the bottom. Why Macau? It's where Quintos' business partner, Kirk Harper, has family roots. "They do this style of coffee there that's pretty similar to Vietnamese iced coffee," Quintos explains.
Vietnamese-Style Iced Coffee at Coffee Bar: 1890 Bryant (at Mariposa), 551-8100. $3.50.
Coffee Bar's Luigi DiRuocco wanted to replicate iced cà phê sua da, traditional Vietnamese coffee, in barista-counter format. That meant forsaking tabletop pour-overs through stainless cà phê phin filters in favor of cold-brewed (ground beans steeped in cold water for hours). And in place of Vietnam's darkly roasted beans, DiRuocco uses Bolivia, Oakland roaster Mr. Espresso's darkest beans (DiRuocco's dad founded Mr. Espresso — which roasts over oak — in 1978). Like Viet traditionalists, Coffee Bar dilutes with Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk.
"The coffee has a nice smoky flavor without being bitter," DiRuocco says. "Combined with the sweetness and caramelized flavor of the milk, I'd say it's authentic. Though not entirely the same as Vietnamese."
EAT THIS: HRD Coffee Shop's Kimchi Burrito
By John Birdsall
The guy shitting in Taber Alley breaks his concentration long enough to give you the death gaze, like, Dude, you do not want to be here. He's right. Meanwhile, the South Park workers lined up just around the corner at HRD Coffee Shop seem just as intent on lunch. Owners David Yeung and Jojo Banks serve up San Francisco's version of white-board diner food — barbecue pork with scrambled egg over rice, yellow curry chicken, spicy tofu stir-fry — but it's when the cooks stray from the canon that HRD kills.
The Mongolian cheesesteak (hoisin beef and green pepper stir-fry, punctuated with globs of provolone) might be for the ravenous alone, but the kimchi burrito is good enough to seduce the skeptical. It's a fat roll stuffed with bits of incandescent pork and kimchi fried rice, all of it glowing with the capsicum sweetness of kochu chang, Korean spicy bean paste. Sour cream, too. Oh, and celadon-colored cubes of kiwi that totally work here, in the bolt-down-stool ambience of ancient chop-suey joints, updated for a generation that likes lunch foil-wrapped.
HRD Coffee Shop: 521A Third St. (at Taber), 543-2355.