Coco Ramen Is Good Ramen We Can Walk To, Anytime

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I remember the first time I encountered a bowl of ramen. The year was 1986, and I was sitting in a New England movie theater, watching the opening scene of Tampopo, the wonderful Japanese comedy about the sensual joy of food and the complex art of making an excellent bowl of ramen. This is what I saw:

The scene is a spoof, but it obviously pointed to something very serious, and I knew at that moment that I wanted real Japanese ramen to be part of my life. Even though I was in New England. Even though it was the 1980s, and sushi was still considered a novelty. Somehow, I wanted to have ready access to tasty ramen like the delicious-looking stuff I saw on that movie screen.

It took a few more years until I had the opportunity to actually eat a proper bowl of ramen, and I had to go to Japan to do it. But it was worth the wait. Good ramen is superlative soul food: Delicious, hearty, soothing, and so much more.

Yet Japan is far away, even when you live in San Francisco.

A decade ago, you had to drive waaaaay down to the South Bay to get a good bowl of ramen. More recently, San Francisco has enjoyed something of a ramen boom, as general awareness of the Joy of Ramen has slowly permeated our local food culture. For a while, Katana Ramen, downtown, was the only ramen gig in town. Then, a few more ramen places opened in the Richmond. Then, ramen came to the hipster zones of The Mission, north of 18th Street. Your Bernalwood editor tried most of it, and much of it was pretty good, so that in due course, my ramen cravings could be satisfied with only a short car trip across town. We even had a ramen pop-up for a brief while on Cortland, though it was only available one day a week, and it didn’t last for long.

Yet there has not been a place where I could well and truly live the ramen dream that has beguiled me for these many years: To be able to get a decent bowl of ramen, within convenient walking distance from my home, without too much fuss, pretty much whenever the mood hits me.

Until now.

Coco Ramen opened a few months ago at at 3319 Mission Street, in a former head shop next door to Crazy Sushi, near 29th. Your Bernalwood editor has eaten at Coco Ramen three or four times since then, and I’m here to tell you that it’s it’s a big win for Bernal Heights.

Let’s get the caveats out of the way: No, Coco’s Ramen isn’t the best ramen in San Francisco. Yes, it’s connected to Crazy Sushi, which means the owners and staff are all Chinese. No, they don’t really have much in the way of idiosyncratic regional styles or exotic gourmet ingredients.

None of this is really meant as a ding. San Francisco is currently flush with fancy-schmancy ramen, yet Coco Ramen is simply a very solid neighborhood ramen joint; equivalent to a something a Japanese commuter might be quite content to find near the local train station. Simple. Reliable. Convenient. Affordable. Spiritually rejuvenating.

Here’s a bowl of Coco Ramen’s tonkatsu broth:

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The broth is rich, fragrant, and flavorful, which is the most important thing. The noodles are springy and properly cooked. The smoked egg is excellent. The chashu roast pork slices are a weak link, but not terrible. Overall, pretty good!

Coco’s Ramen enjoys a very respectable four-star rating among the crankypants critics on Yelp. One reviewer ate there a few days ago, and he gets it just right:

I’m not a ramen snob but do frequent the good spots like dojo, parlor, santoukas, and orenchi. That said the ramen here is pretty good. They aren’t that fancy but do offer no/regular/black garlic options and have a good assortment of toppings. Their soft boiled egg is great! The braised pork belly is awesome too. One qualm I have is that, seeing as the owners are Chinese, there are clearly some Chinese rather than Japanese flavors, especially in the braised pork belly. It tastes like a traditional Chinese clay pot pork belly (which I love) but seemed a bit of a misfit in the ramen.

The chicken karaage likewise had a Chinese popcorn chicken taste to it.
Price was fine at $11.50 a bowl average.

Overall: 3.5 stars. Rounding down for the odd tastes, but still very delicious!

Boom. Exactly. The ramen at Coco does not disappoint, but the results from the other dishes on the menu can be uneven. The gyoza is quite good. The yakitori not so much. Grilled shishito peppers are meh.

But who cares! The point is, I can now walk out of my front door, and 10 minutes later find myself sitting in a perfectly cozy little ramen joint, ordering a perfectly respectable bowl of ramen, with no driving or airfare required, for lunch or dinner (any day but Tuesdays).

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It took three decades for all these pieces to fall into place for me.

But now Coco Ramen is here in Bernal Heights, and my humble dream is fulfilled. Good ramen. In my neighborhood. Pretty much whenever I want.

Finally.

Monday Night: Come Celebrate Hillside Supper Club’s Second Anniversary

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Has it been two years already?  Because it seems like just yesterday that the Hillside Supper Club crew was wandering around the Mission District in pop-up mode, dreaming of one day opening up a restaurant of their very own in Bernal Heights.

They did it, of course — inside the former sad Italian restaurant (and former rowdy hippy biker bar) on the southwest corner of Precita Park.

So on Monday, January 19, Hillside Supper Club is celebrating its second anniversary, and Chef Tony Ferrari writes to say he hopes you’ll drop by after 9:30 to celebrate:

Want to shoot over some details about our second anniversary dinner/party. We’re having a special reservation-only dinner earlier in the evening — but its already sold out.

After dinner is over (I’m guessing around 9-930ish) we will open up to the public and welcome everyone to celebrate the rest of the night with complementary sparking wine, five dollar draft beers, and seven dollar glasses of wine.

We again want to thank all of our friends, family, neighbors, guests, bernal heights, and industry folk for supporting us and allowing us to do what we love most: feeding people. We have come a long way and don’t plan on stopping any time soon. We are honored and grateful to be apart of it all.

We look forward to celebrating with everyone!

PS: Our limited poster was screen printed by hand with Jon Fischer, and we will be giving them out during the night.

Separately (though not surprisingly) none other than The Michael Bauer, eminent food critic for the SF Chronicle, recently revealed that Hillside Supper Club makes some of his favorite pot pies in town.

Your Bernalwood editor is no The Michael Bauer, but I did dine at Hillside Supper Club on Friday night, and I did order the very same venison pot pie described below. So I can indeed confirm: It is extremely delicious:

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Unholy “Donut Turducken” Created by Clever Bernal Heights Foodie

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There’s a new food fetish that’s attracting attention on the social media Interwebs, and it is deeply infused with Bernal Heights DNA. The Huffington Post captured the buzz:

The mention of a Thanksgiving turducken — you know, the turkey stuffed with a duck stuffed with a chicken — will get mixed responses. Generally, avid carnivores are all for it; vegetarians are rightfully disgusted. But we’ve recently come across another type of turducken that we think everyone will be on board with: a donut turducken.

There’s no poultry of any kind to be found in this donut creation. The name was bestowed upon this breakfast pastry because it uses the same philosophy of the more traditional turducken: stuffing delicious things into already delicious things. It was made in the test kitchen of CHOW and we can’t stop thinking about it.

Consider how great chocolate frosted donuts are. Then top that with sprinkles and fill it with custard. The donut turducken takes this already truly stellar donut and stuffs it with an entire fried apple fritter. Amazing, we know.

If you click through to that Chow article mentioned above, you’ll find this little bit of backstory:

Last week at CHOW, Kim Laidlaw was testing donut recipes […] As she was finishing up, she did something monstrous: She wrapped an apple fritter in a custard-filled donut, then glazed it with chocolate and paved it with sprinkles as subversively menacing as clownface. We spent—oh—10 minutes trying to think of a name monumental enough to describe a thing so weighted with desires of the id. Nothing seemed as right as referencing that other fantasy of conflated wants, the turducken. Ladies and gentlemen, say hello to the turducken of donuts, a cream-filled, double-fried, chocolate-glazed vector of desire.

It’s insane! It’s creative! It looks delicious! Those are all things we associate with Bernal Heights, so it should come as no surprise that the diabolical inventor of the turducken of donuts is Bernal recipe guru and author Kim Laidlaw, who lives on the south side of Folsom near the Alemany Farmer’s Market.

And someday, when you see long lines of skinny-jeaned hipsters queuing in long lines to sample the Turducken of Donuts, you will know that it was born of Bernal Heights.

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PHOTOS: Turducken of Donuts by Chow. Kim Laidlaw and daughter via Kim Laidlaw

Sunday: “Cry Baby’s Brunch Pop-Up” at PizzaHacker on Mission

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This Sunday, December 21, local chef Risa Lichtman is reprising her tasty pop-up brunch extravaganza inside the PizzaHacker on Mission Street. Chef Risa says:

I’m excited to bring Cry Baby’s Brunch Pop-Up back to Bernal! Our first installment was a great success, with delicious food, lovely people, and a packed house in our host shop, the PizzaHacker. Come join us again for another seasonal brunch featuring local produce & breads. Bring your friends & family, or come on your own..you won’t regret it either way!

Some favorite menu items include:

Lonely Mountain Egg Sandwich (add crispy prosciutto) – with a fried farm egg, arugula, fresh chevre, calabrian chili aioli, Arizmendi english muffin. side of greens.

Polenta Breakfast Bowl – with a poached farm egg, cheesy polenta, varietal winter squash, dino kale, and salsa verde.

The Cure – a pizza braid filled with fluffy farm eggs, pecorino, prosciutto, sweet ‘n sour chili sauce and a side of greens.

Cry Baby’s Brunch Pop-Up
Sunday, December 21, 2014 from 10:30am – 2pm
at PizzaHacker, 3299 Mission St (at 29th Street)
*Cash only!

PHOTOS: Courtesy of Cry Baby’s Brunch Pop-Up

Andi’s Market Now Serving Fresh Deli Sandwiches on Cortland

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Neighbor Andrea Cohen from Andi’s Market at 820 Cortland tells Bernalwood she’s added fresh deli sandwiches to her store’s repertoire  — as well as a secure way to receive package deliveries:

When I was first considering taking over the old JC Market, one of the comments I heard over and over from Bernalites was that Cortland Avenue had no traditional sandwich deli—a place when you could get in and out with a fat sandwich, potato or macaroni salad or chips and a drink for $10 (or under). So now we’re doing that, and it’s <finally!> up and running.

We’re hand-slicing the basics: pastrami, roast beef, ham, turkey, salami, chicken breast, tuna salad and putting it on fresh Dutch crunch and sweet French rolls or wheat or sourdough bread. We also have gluten free bread for those who need it. We found an awesome old panini maker in the back of the store, had it refurbished, and can grill sandwiches as well. Green salads are fresh and simple—they can be ordered with or without deli meat.

Right now the deli is staffed at lunch (from 10am to 2pm), but if you want to pick up a sandwich later in the day, you can call it in between ten and two and we’ll have it ready. We also have a handful of “grab and go”. The macaroni and potato salads are great. We’ve priced everything sanely—and we’re using Columbus meat and high quality cheeses.

Also, separately, wanted to mention that we now have a Swapbox automated kiosk at the store — it’s a physical location for packages to be picked up and delivered. The box is at the store year-round, but is extra handy around the holidays for those not home to sign for packages. It’s a great way to avoid having packages stolen, and it’s easy to set up online.

PHOTO: Courtesy of Andi’s Market

Bernal Neighbor Creates Redeeming Recipe for Kugel

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The holiday season is upon us, which means it’s time for seasonal holiday foods, like gingerbread, and fruitcake, and (for our Jewish friends) kugel.

What’s kugel? The Wikipedia sayeth:

Kugel (קוגל kugl, pronounced IPA: [ˈkʊɡl̩]) is a baked pudding or casserole, similar to a pie, most commonly made from egg noodles (Lokshen kugel) or potato. It is a traditional Ashkenazi Jewish dish.

Kugel is basically a sweet noodle dish, but what the Wikipedia fails to mention is that many contemporary Jews don’t really like kugel all that much… because it’s a sweet noodle dish.

Enter Bernal neighbor Julia Weber from Joy Street. Neighbor Julia is on a mission to redeem kugel for the 21st century. Neighbor Julia’s kugel with apricot nectar (recipe right here) — which comes from a recipe created by Rachel Breuer in the Excelsior — was recently discovered by the foodie scouts from The Food Network magazine, which also gave her contributions to the kugel arts a special shout out in the December 2014 issue:

Kugel seems to be the underdog of Hanukkah staples: Everyone talks about latkes and jelly doughnuts this time of year, but few people seem to give the traditional noodle casserole a second thought, until the Kugel Nosh Down came along. Friends Rebecca Weiner and Julia Weber dreamed up the cook-off two years ago, and they have launched a full-on kugel craze in San Francisco.

Want a taste? Neighbor Julia invites you to the 2014 Kugel Nosh Down this weekend to benefit the religious school at Congregation Sha’ar Zahav. Get your tickets here:

2nd Annual Kugel Nosh Down – Sunday, December 14, 3:00 – 5:00 p.m

Join us for an afternoon of kugel sampling and fun! Competitors will show off their skills with savory and sweet kugel samples. Prizes will be awarded! Help us choose the most delicious kugel and join family and friends while raising money for Beit Sefer Phyllis Mintzer, our fabulous Shabbat and Hebrew school for kids K-8!

Here’s the plan for the afternoon

3:00 p.m. Tasting begins with kugel, drinks, additional fabulous snacks, and more (entertaining surprises await!)
4:15 p.m. Voting concludes
4:45 p.m. Prizes awarded
5:00 p.m. More kugel tasting and event wrap up

Want to enter your delicioius kugel? Questions?Contact us at kugelnoshdown@gmail.com

Adults: $25 in advance; $30 at the door. Kids under 12, $5.00
Please note: $12.50 of each adult ticket may be tax-deductible.

Location:
Congregation Sha’ar Zahav
290 Dolores (at 16th Street)
San Francisco, CA 94103

PHOTO: Neighbor Julia’s Kugel with Apricot Nectar via The Food Network

Sad Food Critic Complains Because Service at Red Hill Station Is Very Friendly

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As you know, Red Hill Station is the wonderful new(ish) seafood restaurant on Cortland opened by Bernal neighbors Taylor Pederson and Amy Reticker. It’s delicious. Also, it’s now open for both lunch and dinner. And food critics are starting to take notice. Zagat loves it, but Anna Roth, a critic with SF Weekly, published an odd review last week. The biggest problem with Red Hill Station, Roth says, is that it is too friendly.

To be sure, Roth really enjoyed her seafood:

There are a lot of highlights on the seafood-heavy menu. Red Hill served one of the best sandwiches I’ve had in recent memory, stuffed with albacore that had been slow-poached in olive oil and studded with capers and lemon juice. The oily tuna, bolstered with garlic aioli, melted into its buttered, toasted Acme roll, its juices dripping onto the plate and coating my fingers with every bite. I couldn’t stop eating it, even as I complained about how full I was. I had similarly strong feelings about the bay shrimp that accompanied the Caesar salad. Heavy on lime juice and tossed with toasted garlic and bread crumbs, the tiny, flavorful shrimp wouldn’t have been out of place at a Vietnamese restaurant.

Roth felt the vegetables at Red Hill could use some more love, but her main gripe had nothing to do with the food:

The most objectionable thing about the restaurant was the service, which was so aggressively friendly that it strayed into intrusive. Waiters inserted themselves into and hijacked conversations more than once, grinding them to a halt. It seemed to be a misplaced use of the friendly, small-town attitude of Bernal Heights, and the spot has already become a gathering point for the close-knit neighborhood. The restaurant was full on both visits, and the servers greeted many of the patrons by name. But all this extroversion can also be off-putting to outsiders, especially when dishes hover around $20 a plate.

Wait… what? This complaint is as sad as it is laughable. It’s like going to New York and whining that the dining scene there is “aggressively competitive,” or visiting Tokyo and grumbling that the service was “aggressively formal.”  To whine about such things is to deny the essence of the place; the thing that makes the dining experience genuinely local. Of course, its fine to want something less local — McDonald’s created a very large business by assiduously stripping out all the local from the food, after all — but to complain about a chatty neighborly vibe in Bernal Heights is to miss the point of the exercise entirely.

Sure, to someone from off-hill, many of our local establishments may feel a little bit like stepping into an episode of Portlandia. But that’s precisely why we call Bernal’s main street Cortlandia, after all. It’s funny because it’s true.

Team Red Hill Station should wear this ridiculous criticism as a badge of honor. The food at Red Hill is exceptional, and the atmosphere inside is comfortable and relaxed. The data suggests this formula is working brilliantly for a great many happy, paying customers.  If aggressive friendliness is to be the ding against Red Hill Station — and against the very thing that makes Bernal Heights so Bernal — then its safe to say we’re all doing something right.

IMAGE: via Red Hill Station on Facebook