EAT THIS: 4505 Meats' Fried Chicken Yum Yum
By Lou Bustamante
The Ferry Plaza farmers' market was drizzly and humid on a recent Saturday, the kind of day that makes you seek shelter in the warm embrace of a hot meal. We wound our way around the market until something on the menu at 4505 Meats decided it for us, with a name — Chicken Yum Yum ($10) — I found impossible to resist. If nothing else, I needed a little humor.
The name might have been playful, but the sandwich was seriously delicious: a spiced chicken filet dipped in a thin cornmeal batter and fried, wedged onto a toasted and buttered bun dressed with peppery aioli, and decorated with a tangy mixture of lightly pickled zucchini, peppers, jalapeños, and tomatoes that seemed to express summer better than the sky seemed capable of.
The chicken was crispy, not greasy, its thin veneer of cornmeal breading serving both as juice barrier and source of contrasting crunch. It managed to be simultaneously rich and light. And after eating half of it in the rain, the part I saved for later stayed remarkably crisp and moist. A chicken sandwich that stays crunchy in the drizzle? For shizzle.
4505 Meats: Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market, 1 Ferry Building (at Embarcadero), Thu. and Sat.
ICHI Pleases Like an Old Pro
By Alex Hochman
Tim Archuleta didn't seem like a chef whose restaurant was just three nights old. Behind the sushi bar at ICHI recently, Archuleta was all smiles, telling stories while preparing dishes and calmly speaking orders to his sous chef.
Though Archuleta and his wife, Erin, are first-time restaurateurs, they have plenty of experience as owners of both ICHI Lucky Cat Deli at 331 Cortland Marketplace and ICHI Catering, plus the Monday night happy hour at Bender's.
The chef cut his teeth at Tokyo Go Go under Kiyoshi Hayakawa (now owner of Koo), whom Archuleta refers to as "sensei."
Ichi's fish is fresh, generously portioned, and impeccably cut. We started with yellowtail ($5.25), firm and assertive, and local albacore tuna ($4.75), meltingly rich and smooth. Next, a Sriracha-spiked mayonnaise added pleasant but not jarring heat to a spicy scallop roll ($5.75). Thankfully, we were still able to taste the rest of our food. A pair of glistening shrimp was juicy and sweet; their accompanying heads expertly fried and a little gamy, just how we like it. Our final bite from the sushi bar was an exemplary order of briny, flanlike sea urchin roe, harvested in the waters off Fort Bragg.
Because of limited kitchen space and the lack of an exhaust system, Archuleta prepares three of his hot plates sous vide, finishing them in a small convection oven or deep-fryer. Yuzu chicken wings ($9.50) were actually marinated in kobosu (a Japanese citrus), burnt sake, and soy before being sealed and placed in their warm bath. Then they were rolled in potato starch before a trip to the fryer. The result: wings unlike any I've tasted. The starchy exterior eventually covered my fingers and lips, giving way to moist, mildly fruity bites of meat followed by a lightweight punch of spice.
Pork tenderloin ($10), also prepped sous vide, was pan-seared in the convection oven — Archuleta's clever workaround for burners. The pork was sliced thin and served over a large puddle of citrus-shallot mustard. Though tasty, it was a dish more Heidelberg beer hall than Mission sushi bar. I found myself secretly hoping for a side of spaetzle.
With food this good after only three nights, Archuleta's sensei should be proud.
ICHI Sushi: 3369 Mission (at Godeus), 525-4750.
Who Makes S.F.'s Best Japanese-Style Beef Curry?
By Jonathan Kauffman
Modern-day diners may spot a box of Golden Curry at Nijiya Market and assume Japanese importers brought curry back from the port of Kolkata, or perhaps it arrived through trade with Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta. But the story of Japanese curry is even twistier.
Curry — the kind served by local Japanese curry houses like Muracci's and Volcano Curry — actually belongs to Japan's tradition of yoshoku, or Western, cuisine. Yoshoku is the equivalent of the American love for smoked-salmon-and-cream-cheese sushi rolls. A few years ago, The New York Times ran a brilliant article tracing the roots of yoshoku dishes like hambagu and omuraisu to the Meiji restoration of the 1850s.
In fact, it was the British who introduced the Japanese to curry powder, itself a European shortcut for the complex spice blends British colonists encountered in India. That's why the Golden Curry box calls for Western vegetables like carrots and potatoes, why it's often made with beef (banned in Japan until the Meiji restoration), and why Japanese curry is often served over katsu, aka wienerschnitzel.
Unlike the one-hour dinners you make with store-bought cubes, Volcano Curry of Japan claims that its curry-making process takes a full day — eight to 10 hours of simmering, plus another 12 hours letting the flavors mellow and combine. The resulting sauce is thin, cornstarch-glossed, with that singular Madras curry-powder flavor bolstered by the umami from the chicken stock. Served with beef and vegetables over rice, the curry is something you can eat without paying it much mind — at least until the sharp-edged, persistent heat makes you stop for a while, clear your palate with some white rice and a boiled potato, and then return to shoveling it in.
Muracci's Curry and Grill, in the FiDi, claims its curry-making takes even longer — two days. Indeed, whatever it's blending and simmering results in a denser, oilier gravy, one where the spices sometimes come to the fore and then, as you continue eating, melt away into a unified wash of umami. It's not particularly beefy, like the best Japanese curries I've tasted (sorry, not in the Bay Area); in fact, the plate I received was vegetable-free, lumpy with the grainiest, fattiest stewed beef I've eaten since college.
Comparing the two, is there a winner? Not a clear one. I'd give a second-place ribbon to both.
Volcano Curry of Japan: 5454 Geary (at 19th Ave.), 752-7671.
Muracci's Curry and Grill: 307 Kearny (at Bush), 773-1101.
Boudin Belongs to the Past
By Jonathan Kauffman
As committed as we San Franciscans are to local foods, we have such conflicted feelings about the local companies that have made it big, don't we? Witness the Aidells Sausages stand at the Ferry Plaza farmers' market, kicked out this winter because the company had gone national. Guittard Chocolate regained its respect among local chocolatiers only once it introduced a premium, small-batch line of chocolate. And Boudin Bakery has been headquartered in San Francisco since 1849, but many in the food world write its sourdough off as fodder for tourists.
Did you know that Boudin sourdough has been baked at the company's 10th Avenue bakery since 1906? According to the company's timeline , Louise Boudin, wife of founder Isodore, lugged a bucket containing the sourdough starter away from the post-earthquake fires that destroyed their North Beach facility, then set up shop in the Inner Richmond. There's a chance that, when you bite into a hunk of the bread, you're eating the great-to-the-10,000th-granddaughter of the wild yeast organisms that soured the first Boudin loaf.
Somehow, though, Boudin has become synonymous with commercial sourdough, and when I bought a late-bake loaf (last baking: 7 a.m.) at the 104-year-old facility, I didn't find my opinion of the bread changing. Having been eating Acme sourdough for a couple of decades now, I noticed the thinness of the Boudin loaf's glossy crust, the compactness of the crumb, the restrained sourness of the bread. The tang crescendoed as I tore off more and more pieces of the sourdough, but never achieved the same mouth-contracting effect as other local sourdough loaves.
So the Boudin sourdough is not a great bread, but it's certainly a decent one. Someday, as a point of local pride, I have every intention of making it to Fisherman's Wharf to eat clam chowder out of a Boudin bread bowl, something my parents have been doing for years on their visits to town. But, like the crooked block Lombard Street or the Cable Car Museum, I suspect the Boudin bread bowl will remain part of the San Francisco they know, not the one I live in.