By Jonathan Kauffman
Most studio apartments are bigger than Shigemi and Mimi Komiyama's tiny, personal restaurant, and signs of Shigemi's adoration of the Beatles are everywhere at Halu — the walls, the shelves, the television, the soundtrack. The Komiyamas hustle about the kitchen, but the mood is definitely chill. There's a reason that most customers order a couple of big beers up front, slowly pouring them into tiny glasses as they wait for plates of ramen, kushikatsu (deep-fried skewers), and yakitori to trickle out from the kitchen.
San Francisco doesn't lack for ramen, kushikatsu, and yakitori these days. In fact, San Francisco doesn't lack for iterations of Halu's two best skewers: the pork jowl, or tontoro, and the bacon-wrapped mochi. It's just that they taste better here than anywhere else.
The striations of fat and lean in the pork jowl are tightly bound together, and as the meat cooks on the grill — seasoned only with a little salt and pepper — the fat melts and sizzles, but stays encased in taut layers of lean. That is, until you bite in, when the tontoro crunches, the binds break, and a spurt of melted fat floods the mouth.
The porcine shell of the bacon-wrapped mochi grills up even more crisp, constricting around a small chunk of rice cake and binding it to the skewer. The molten mochi resembles nothing more than fresh mozzarella, creamy and sticky, seasoned with a potent hit of salt, smoke, and pork. A bacon-wrapped mochi stand belongs in the Minnesota State Fair's famous gallery of foods on a stick. It also belongs on the table with tiny glasses of Sapporo, the White Album playing in the background.
Halu: 312 Eighth Ave. (at Clement), 221-9165.
By John Birdsall
Anna Tvelova arrived from Moscow, took a look at San Francisco, and thought: Oh.
“I thought California would be warmer,” says Tvelova, the 33-year-old owner of Anda Piroshki, scheduled to open in the 331 Cortland Marketplace next week. “And I thought the buildings would be big, like in Tokyo, but it was all small houses.” At least the people here were nice — especially the ones at business incubator La Cocina, where Tvelova has been nurturing her piroshki and soup startup since last year.
Tvelova spent the early part of spring rolling out and baking piroshki Sundays at Sea Biscuit Cafe in the Outer Sunset. Now she's about to have a stall of her own at 331 Cortland: beef and vegan piroshki, plus soups (borscht and rassolnik, made with pickles from market neighbor Paulie's), and coffee starting at 7 a.m. As for Bernal Heights' dense streetscape of the sort of small houses that once surprised Tvelova? They couldn't look nicer.
Anda Piroshki: at 331 Cortland Marketplace, 331 Cortland (at Bennington). Twitter: @andapiroshki