All posts by Catherine Uy

Catherine Uy is the Social Media Editor at Xpress Magazine, where she covers arts and culture. Follow her on Twitter @catherinereport.

Food Passport: Waraku

The tan tan ramen cooked in a sesame broth and served with ground pork. All photos by Catherine Uy

 

Waraku, the dimly-lit restaurant run by Shabuway and Men Oh owners, Eiichi Mochizuki and Koji Kikura, is quaint and cozy. Despite its simple aesthetic it really speaks to the idea that good things, or food in this case, are found in the smallest places.

When sitting down, on a date or with a group of friends the setting itself is intimate and demure. It’s a very trendy ambience because of the crowd of people that attend this restaurant as popular music is played throughout the background.

The bowls are a favorable portion size, but worth the price at only $8-$12. Jars of peeled garlic are served table side to add pressed garlic to your bowl of ramen.

The tantan ramen is a hearty portion of soup and noodles, oily and hot, with a little bit of spice. The tonkotsu ramen, which contains a creamy, milk-like broth, is infused with rich slices of pork. The noodles, which are thick and have a springy-texture, have a good consistency.

The tonkotsu ramen cooked in a pork bone broth served with barbecue pork.
The tonkotsu ramen cooked in a pork bone broth served with barbecue pork.

All bowls come with basic toppings such as bamboo shoots, soft, slices of barbecue pork, and green onions. The soft boiled egg has a creamy yolk with a custard like texture. It also has a combination of both smokey and sweet flavors.

The gyoza (potstickers) are nothing special. The dumplings are crispy on the top but overly soft on the bottom. The takoyaki (octopus balls) on the other hand, were perfectly cooked, crispy yet soft.

The only issue is that Waraku’s tonkotsu is not really flavorful. It lacks a heavy pork bone flavor and the pork is either too soft or tough.

 

The verdict: The smoked egg is creamy and delicious, and the bowls come with a good portion of toppings. However, a rich broth is what really makes a perfect bowl of ramen.

★★★ out of 5

Waraku, 1638 Post Street

Food Passport: Hot Sauce and Panko

 

A look at Hot Sauce and Panko’s panko parmesan and Korean fried chicken wings. All photos by Catherine Uy

 

I was overridden with guilt when I devoured four chicken wings in less than three minutes, but let’s be real: good food overrides potential calories.

At Hot Sauce and Panko, Terrence Luk serves up a variety of unique chicken wings, from ramen crusted to siracha caramel.

Located in the Richmond District, Hot Sauce and Panko is really a hole in the wall. The small outpost on Clement Street is quite charming and its funky decor definitely keeps you entertained while waiting for your food. One wall is lined with shelves with rows and rows of hot sauce, from ghost pepper to habanero. There are Star Wars figurines,  a small Spider Man bust, kitschy signs and a wall adorned with a small urinal. The Christopher Walken “We accept Walkens” sign just adds to the restaurant’s quirky humor.

A look outside the small hole in the wall on Clement Street.
A look outside the small hole in the wall on Clement Street.

I went to the hot wing joint during lunch with a group of friends. We got the following wings: Chris’s, Korean and Panko Parmesan. We also got a side of fries.

The wings are surprisingly cheap. For $6 you’ll get wings that are significantly bigger than Buffalo Wild Wings or Wingstop.

The Chris wings were the most basic as compared to the bolder flavored wings we tried, but nonetheless delicious. It contained a nice balance of sweet and salty flavors. It’s well seasoned with honey, salt and black pepper. The wings were  sticky due to the honey glaze, but it still had a nice crunchy texture.

The Panko Parmesan wings were fried to perfection, crisp on the outside and both tender and juicy on the inside. My only issue was that some wings had a little too much parmesan. But tossed in their Siracha ranch sauce, it tasted even better. The Siracha added a nice kick, making the wings slightly spicy while the ranch created a mixture of salty and tangy flavors.

Unlike the Panko Parmesan, the Korean wings required no dipping sauce These wings were dressed with sesame seeds and gochujang, a Korean chili paste. The sesame seeds gave it a nice crunch. At first bite, these wings were sweet and sour, but once the spice kicked in it left me feeling like I got slapped in the face.

The fries weren’t anything special, but they made for a good side dish.

The only downside is the restaurant’s space.  It’s small and gets crowded easily; seating is limited. There are two small tables inside that could seat five people and two standing tables outside. Ordering takeout might be your best bet during lunch hours.

 

The verdict: The wings at Hot Sauce and Panko are made the way wings are supposed to be: crispy, juicy and full of bold flavors.

★★★★ out of 5

Hot Sauce and Panko, 1545 Clement St

 

 

Food Passport: El Farolito

A look inside the popular Bay Area Mexican chain restaurant. All photos by Catherine Uy

Located in the outer Mission, just a few blocks from the BART station, a rich aroma of smoke emanates from inside a small Mexican restaurant. Inside you’ll find walls in the colors of the Mexican flag and red tables with wooden booths on each side of the space’s tiled floor. In the background, mariachi music plays as a chef places tortillas on a large skillet.

El Farolito looks like a restaurant straight from the 80s with its fluorescent lighting and festive colors, but its  flavors and dirt cheap prices make up for its decor. It’s the type of place where you can enjoy a quality burrito at 2 a.m. when you need to satisfy the drunchies.

The al pastor burrito is extraordinary, filled with pinto beans, tomatoes, onions, cilantro and salsa. It’s filled with strong flavors and textures: a slightly crisp tortilla, tender slices of pork and fresh and flavorful vegetables. Compared to other burrito joints the fillings aren’t overly soggy. There’s just the right balance between chewy and crispy textures.

The small restaurant also serves up a variety of authentic Mexican foods, like nachos, enchiladas, and tostadas de ceviche.

Carne asada tacos filled with cilantro and onions.
Carne asada tacos filled with cilantro and onions.

 

The tacos here are everything you could ask for. The tortillas are rich and buttery, filled with juicy bits of grilled steak. The soft, thin flatbread carries an appetizing medley of diced onions, cotija cheese and cilantro. It has all the elements of the perfect taco: pico de gallo, well seasoned meat, and a chipotle sauce, that’s sweet with just a little bit of spice.

The nachos, however, are nothing special. The chips are topped with mounds of beans, melted cheese, avocado, sour cream, and jalapeños. The tortilla chips have a nice crunch, but are way too salty and greasy. Despite all the toppings, you can’t have good nachos without good chips. It’s a shame though considering the salsa is so damn delicious. Word of advice: try the green sauce.

During the day it’s packed with hungry customers, but the service is quick and friendly. The food is mouthwatering and delicious, but the restaurant loses points for cleanliness. Some of the tables have remnants of food or trash from its previous eaters.

The verdict:  Craving a good burrito? Need to satisfy the drunchies? El Farolito is the place to go.

★★★ ★out of 5

El Farolito, 4817 Mission Street San Francisco

Ladies of the Board

Zoe Safanda, 11, skates the bowl at the Potrero Skate Park in San Francisco at the monthly Skate like a Girl skate date on first Friday. All photos by Zhenya Sokolova

 

Among the sea of men at the skate park, a young girl with long blonde hair breaks the boundaries. The boys are eyeing her to see if she is any good. Dressed in camo pants, a T-shirt, and a helmet adorned with stickers, she races down the bowl. Her lips purse as she rides down with fixated eyes.

Despite her small size, Zoe Safanda isn’t afraid of the bowl. The eleven-year-old has been skateboarding since she was five. She’s here to break all the ideas you have about skateboarding, and she’s not the only woman set on doing this.

Skateboarding is often seen as a sport for men, but thanks to organizations like Skate Like A Girl, more girls are getting involved in the skate scene. Skate Like a Girl (SLAG) founded in Olympia, Washington in 2000, is a non-profit committed to empowering girls, and women, through skateboarding clinics and classes. Since its establishment, the organization has relocated to Seattle and expanded with chapters in Portland and San Francisco.

The San Francisco chapter is the youngest in the entire organization, with some members as young as six. It opened in 2008 when founder, Erica Harris, quit her job as a wildland firefighter for the U.S. Forest Service. She began volunteering at Skate Like A Girl’s summer skate camps, and during her time there, one of the organizers suggested she start a chapter in San Francisco. After giving it some thought, she started the chapter immediately after moving to the Bay for a new job.

“I wanted to do something positive back home, and skateboarding is a big thing in the Bay Area,” says Harris. “It just seemed like the right thing to do.”

Harris grew up in Ojai, a small, rural town in Southern California. She’s always had this keen interest in skateboarding, but never learned until she was in her late twenties. At 26, she felt like she was too old to learn.

When her friend mentioned that Tony Hawk was still skating, she realized there was no real age limit. The revelation led Harris to a pawn shop where she bought her first skateboard. She started teaching herself and became hooked.

Harris’ experience with skateboarding was mostly positive. Though often times, she says, women are underestimated in the skate scene. “Can you kick flip?” is a question that she says female skaters are always asked. The San Francisco chapter was created to provide a welcoming and all-inclusive space for not just female skaters, but for anyone with a passion or interest in skateboarding.

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  • Marie Baeta, who's been skating for 9 years, skates the bowl at the Potrero Skate Park in San Francisco at the monthly Skate like a Girl skate date on first Friday.
  • Zoe Safanda wears a helmet that says "Girl is not a four letter word" at the Potrero Skate Park in San Francisco at the monthly Skate like a Girl skate date on first Friday.
  • Skate like a Girl members, Kathryn Sy, Coleen Greene and Marie Baeta joke around at the Potrero Skate Park in San Francisco at the monthly Skate like a Girl skate date on first Friday.
  • Marie Baeta skates the bowl at the Potrero Skate Park as her friends watch in San Francisco at the monthly Skate like a Girl skate date on first Friday.

Skate sessions take place in several Bay Area cities: San Francisco, Berkeley and San Carlos, with skate dates happening every first and third Fridays of the month. Skate dates are meet-ups for anyone interested in learning or meeting others who can skate. Clinics, or drop-in lessons, are held every last Saturday of the month in an indoor skatepark at San Carlos.

Aside from skateboarding classes, the organization also uses skateboarding as a means to help the community. It has done everything from creating skateboard jewelry for fundraisers, to organizing free skateboard clinics for community events like Walk against Rape SF. But as compared to its sister chapters, SLAG SF is not as sustainable. The organization is entirely volunteer-driven. It hardly has access to clinics or parks. Most of where they skate is either in public spaces or donation based areas.

It’s Saturday afternoon and the Berkeley skatepark is buzzing. Two middle school-aged boys are playing a game of skate, a game similar to H.O.R.S.E., but with skateboards. Meanwhile, a few boys kick and push around the park with scooters. The skaters immediately stop and stare as young girls skate through the entrance. One boy, turns towards his friend with a snarky look and tells him, “They’re all girls.”

A woman passes out stickers with a vector image of a female skateboarder leaping in the air, while another woman leans against the fence, smiling when she notices more girls entering the park. The woman, Marie Baeta, walks over to greet them.

Baeta is the volunteer in charge of organizing Berkeley skate dates for SLAG SF. She’s been teaching skate clinics and sessions for five years. She discovered SLAG SF by accident while she was skating at Potrero Del Sol Skate Park in San Francisco, when she was approached by another skater. “I literally almost cried, I was so happy to find them,” Baeta recalls. “I wondered where they had been for five years.”

An hour passes and the air feels a bit humid. A gray-haired woman with sunglasses skates by. She slides along the edge of the bowl in a Paul Frank shirt that displays a monkey skull and crossbones. Stefanie Friedman has been skating for about a year now. “It’s good exercise for me,” she says. The 54-year-old took an interest in skateboarding out of curiosity after her son moved out, leaving behind a ramp that he built in their backyard. She’s here today to learn how to drop in on a bowl.

When it comes to skateboarding, women have been shredding it since the sixties. Despite there being badass skaters like Patti McGee and Peggy Oki, there’s an inherent sexism in skate culture. Women are objectified as sexy skater girls with scantily outfits in magazine ads, clothing and even skateboard decks. In a 2013 interview with Thrasher Magazine, pro-skater Nyjah Huston said, “skateboarding is not for girls at all.”

Based on Baeta’s own personal experiences, females sometimes get unsolicited advice from male skaters. “I’’ll get offered advice on how to land a trick like I don’t even know what I’m doing,” she explains.

For Safanda, skateboarding is more than just a hobby or sport, it’s one of her passions. She skates almost every day, at skate parks or at the ramp built in her backyard. She skates because it’s fun and she loves the challenge.

Safanda finds it frustrating when she can’t land a particularly difficult trick—but all her persistence pays off, leaving her feeling rewarded when she finally nails it

“Skateboarding gives her a great sense of freedom to develop confidence, and her own style of skating. She has the freedom to have fun and create her own movements,” says her mother, Elisa.

When Zoe first started skating, she didn’t know many female skaters. However, after skating with SLAG for about a year, she’s gained new friends and become part of a community skaters.

Doing anything “like a girl” used to be considered a pejorative statement, a dismissive insult. Baeta takes offense to this. She’s been skating for so many years, using her board to overcome crushing social anxiety.

“Skateboarding was the path out of those dark places,” says Baeta. “Because I didn’t know anyone who skateboarded, it was incredibly terrifying to be in public on a skateboard. Especially because I was a beginner. Especially because I am a female I’ll stick out more, which is a death sentence to a socially anxious person.”

She’d drive to Pacifica skate park, park her car and sit there deciding whether or not to get out. Her heart would pound, like a jackhammer. It took her many years, but today she has no problem going to a new skate park. Sometimes her heart goes off like an alarm, but things are different now. Becoming a part of the SLAG SF community has given her the space to expand her leadership skills. When she approaches a new park, she now has the confidence to skate without feeling like the world is caving in.

“Skateboarding has empowered me to fight for things that I want, to conquer fear, challenge stereotypes, advocate for underrepresented skaters, and of course, make the change that I want to see in the world,” says Baeta.

Interview: Amber Gordon, founder of Femsplain

Image courtesy of Femsplain

Femsplain is a online platform where women and anyone female-identified can tell their stories. Launched in 2014 by Amber Gordon, the site has become a safe space and community for women to share their thoughts.

Each month the website publishes a variety of articles that range from personal essays, illustrations, interviews, and poems. Since its launch, it’s garnered the attention of celebrities like Lena Dunham and YouTube personality Tyler Oakley.

Gordon spoke with Xpress about the challenges behind keeping the Internet troll-free and the importance of having diverse voices in media.

 

Amber Gordon, founder of Femsplain.
Amber Gordon, founder of Femsplain.

1. So what inspired you to found the site, and what’s it been like to see it develop?

Femsplain was inspired by a very long conversation myself and three friends had one night. We wanted to take the idea of talking to your friends in a group chat, writing in your diary and having a support group, and bring it to life on the Internet.

It’s been incredible. Ever since I was young I’ve always wanted to build something of my own, and to see Femsplain grow bigger and bigger each month is so amazing.

 

2. There are other feminists sites, but what makes Femsplain different?

We focus primarily on personal and relatable experiences. I think that because we’re offering a platform to anyone who identifies as a woman, we are opening the door to women who might not feel welcome on these other sites. We also offer offline events and workshops so that we can build our community in real life and do awesome things with awesome people.

 

3. Based on my experiences and others’, it sometimes feels like women aren’t welcome on the Internet. They’re threatened and harassed online in all forms of social media. Femsplain’s overall message seems to be about fostering a safe community and space for anyone female-identified. How do you go about maintaining that safe space? Are there any challenges?

Since we launched, our mission was to create a safe space so that these personal stories could live comfortably. I’ve experienced harassment both online and offline, so going in I knew what we had to do to make sure this didn’t happen to our community and contributors. We moderate all the comments that people leave on posts. Even though it’s time-consuming and manual, it’s important that we set the tone for the discussions that happen on our site.

 

4. What’s been the overall response from the community since Femsplain launched?

It’s been overwhelmingly positive! Honestly I never thought Femsplain would become what it is today, so every time someone messages me about how much they love it, or I see a comment on social media, my heart just skips so many beats. People have been expressing how they love the positive interactions and discussions happening in the comments. In the comments!!!

 

5. The site’s content is built around monthly themes. How do you go about choosing those themes?

Initially we chose themes that were aligned with what was happening in our lives at the moment.
“Firsts” made sense for our first theme, “secrets and secrecy” was our second, in which I chose to come out to my friends and family. Now we’re experimenting with suggestions from our contributors. We don’t want to limit ourselves to one certain category or style, so we try to make them as broad as possible so that everyone can participate.

 

6. How do you decide what gets published? What’s your process? What makes a Femsplain piece?

Our founding editor Gabriela Barkho handles the entire editorial process from beginning of the month to end. We open our submission period on the first of every month when we announce the theme and then accept pitches for a few days or until we fill up our slots. We usually have anywhere from 50-60 slots, which get filled up rather quickly. Gabi selects pitches that she feels tell unique and personal stories. We won’t publish anything that’s directly attacking someone and we always make sure that claims have sources to back them up. Although most of our content is made up of written work, we also accept art, music, etc.

 

7. Did you look to other writers or publications for inspiration when starting the site?

Yes! I’ve always enjoyed anything I’ve read on The Hairpin, as well as the amazing community Rookie has managed to build.

 

8. Given the current state of the media, how important is it to build more driven and diverse stories?

So important. The media is drowning by the same voices, and by continuing to ignore diverse voices we’re missing out on the important stories that are honestly more interesting.

 

9. Has your idea of feminism changed at all since starting Femsplain?

Absolutely. Every day what it means to be a “feminist” is evolving. Of course feminism means equality, but that’s not really where mainstream feminism is right now. Each day I’m learning through these stories about the struggles women less privileged face and I’m making sure that when I talk about Femsplain, I talk about them, but more importantly let them talk for themselves.

10. Lastly, what advice would you give to female writers trying to find their voice?

Trust in yourself, believe that your voice matters and know that your words are good enough.

Protestors march in SF against police brutality

 

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Hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets of San Francisco this afternoon as part of Nationwide Shutdown Day to protest against police brutality.

The protests come in the wake of the latest police shooting caught on video. Last week, Tulsa police released a video of a sheriff deputy who fatally shot a suspect with his gun. The suspect got into an altercation with police after allegedly trying to sell guns to undercover cops. According to the Washington Post, the man was unarmed.

Reserve Deputy Robert Bates, 73, claims to have shot the 44-year-old suspect, Eric Harris, on accident. In a phone interview, Bates told Tulsa World that he meant to use his taser. Harris was taken to a local hospital where he later died.

“Mr. Bates is charged with Second-Degree Manslaughter involving culpable negligence,” Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler said in a statement.

Here’s a brief recap of the protest that took place at city hall and 24th & Mission. You can check out the full recap on Storify.

 

 

 

Food Passport: Koja Kitchen

Kamikazi fries, one of Koja Kitchen’s most popular items. These crisscut fries are topped with bulgogi meat, sautéed onions, kimchi, green onions, a secret spicy sauce and Japanese mayo. All photos by Catherine Uy

 

It’s a dangerous situation, taking a bite from its delicate rice buns, hoping it won’t fall apart and spill its generous filling of bulgogi beef. The hand toasted garlic rice buns, which are crisp on the outside, have an overly soft and mushy interior, making it a challenge to eat. Take a bite from the top, and the overloaded burger begins its inevitable crumble, spilling a mixture of Siracha-like sauce and Japanese mayo. Things fall apart, and that’s ok. Sometimes all you need is a fork and napkins.

At Koja Kitchen, Chef Alan Tsai fuses together Korean and Japanese foods with a menu of Korean barbecue burgers, rice bowls and fries topped with seaweed flakes and kimchi.

The popular Asian-fusion restaurant started out as a food truck on the streets of San Francisco back in 2011. Though food truck ventures still happen with the occasional Off the Grid visits, this one found a permanent home in Berkeley two years ago on Telegraph Avenue.

A look inside the Berkeley fusion restaurant on Telegraph Avenue.
A look inside the Berkeley fusion restaurant, Koja Kitchen, on Telegraph Avenue.

When you enter, you’ll find a siracha bottle sitting on every table. The small space is filled with yellow walls and minimal decor, like flat screens displaying close-up shots of their own food-porn, and a few Japanese-inspired wall scrolls.

Be warned though, there aren’t many seats and most of the space is taken up with lines of customers. But the service here is fast and friendly, so you won’t be waiting anything more than ten minutes.

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Beef koja served with a side of koja fries.

Their most popular side, kamikaze fries, are basically carne asada fries with an Asian twist. It’s made up of crisp crisscut fries drizzled in a sweet and tangy sauce, garnished with tender bits of slightly spicy kalbi-style beef, kimchi and green onions. Though all of this is delicious and full of umami flavors, the excessive amount of sauces make the fries soft and soggy.

Kamikaze fries could be a meal itself, but if you can’t handle them, there’s a lighter option dressed with spicy red sauce, Japanese mayo and seaweed flakes. The taste is similar to that of takoyaki, a Japanese street food made up octopus balls.

Kojas, on the other hand, are a whole different story. The restaurant’s main item, kojas, are barbecue burgers sandwiched between two lightly seasoned garlic rice buns. They come in three variations: barbecue chicken, bulgogi beef and portobello mushroom.

The mini burgers look like light snacks, but they’re actually quite filling. Their chicken koja is sweet and salty, as it’s served with a large caramelized pineapple slice and pieces of sesame vinaigrette lettuce. And their beef koja contains juicy strips of bulgogi in a sweet marinade served with sautéed onions. However, the rice buns aren’t firm enough to hold the meat and fillings together, though there’s a rice bowl option to remedy the messy eating.

The verdict: If you’re looking for a savory meal at an affordable price, Koja Kitchen is open till 9 p.m.

★★★★ out of 5

Koja Kitchen, 2395 Telegraph Ave., Berkeley

Food Passport: Yamo serves up Burmese classics

Stir fried egg noodles mixed with fried garlic, green onions, cilantro and beef from Yamo. The Mission restaurant serves meals with flavors influenced by Burmese cuisine. All photos by Catherine Uy

 

At the corner of 18th and Mission, lies a tiny restaurant, tucked between a beauty salon and smoke shop. Red paint peels and cracks off the surface of its tiled walls, some of which appear to be missing or broken. Below the window is a faded image of cats eating noodles with chopsticks from bright orange bowls.

Yamo is the kind of place you could easily miss if you walked by because of its run-down appearance, but its pungent aroma of garlic and spices are enough to lure you in. The hole-in-the wall Burmese restaurant serves a variety of dishes for takeout or dine-in. There’s sautéed tofu with black beans and mixed vegetables, samusas and chicken noodle soup cooked with a coconut milk base.

On weekdays, long lines of customers wait for their takeout or a chance to dine inside the tiny joint that serves hearty meals for under $10.

Expect to wait at least fifteen minutes for a seat, and a few more minutes for a chance to order. Don’t even think about going inside to check for empty seats. An elderly woman at the counter will squint her eyes, give you a mean glare and shoo you away.

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  • The scene in front of Yamo, a small Burmese restaurant located at the corner of 18th and Mission.
  • Inside the tiny space, a chef prepares noodle dishes for takeout in a cramped open kitchen.
  • Tea leaf salad (cabbage, tomato, onions, dried shrimp, fried bean, nuts and sesame seeds) at Yamo.

The wait can be annoying, especially since the restaurant only seats about ten people. If you’re lucky enough to snag a seat, you’ll find rows of Viet Huong fish sauce bottles set against the window and a sign that reads: “Cash Only.”

You’ll be welcomed by a gray-haired woman, who won’t say anything at all. She’ll throw a paper placemat and menu on the counter where you sit and leave to tend to other diners. After a few minutes, she’ll visit you again, with an intense gaze, yelling to ask what you want. It’s like eating with your least favorite aunt.

A rich aroma of smoke, spices and meat fills the small rectangular space. There are no tables,  just a long counter offering an up-close view of the women prepping and cooking thanks to its open kitchen. The bar stools are arranged so close together that you’re basically bumping elbows with the person next to you. Behind the counter are two women, one taking orders and prepping meals, and another in a maroon apron cooking.

The women behind Yamo don’t seem to care about the dining experience, it’s all about the food.

The vegetable egg rolls while crisp and flakey, needs more seasoning. Portion wise, their popular tea-leaf salad is not enough, but it still packs a burst of flavors and textures. It’s sweet and sour, and tastes as if it were doused in a citrus dressing. The sesame seeds and fried beans give it a nice crunch, while the onions create this bitter bite. The only issue was that there were more cabbage than tea leaves.

But when your beef house noodles finally come, you’ll realize that the attitude and wait are worth it. The noodles are soft and warm, and garnished with crunchy bits of fried garlic. It’s mixed with green onions and minced cilantro served with thin slices of soft, tender beef. It’s incredibly greasy, but delicious, nonetheless.

The verdict: If you don’t mind smelling like smoke afterwards, dine in at Yamo. Otherwise order takeout.

★★★ out of 5

Yamo3406 18th StSan Francisco

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SF State’s Vista Room offers fine dining on a budget

The oven roasted lamb chops (bottom) and eggplant parm tower (right) served at the Vista Room, SF State’s only on-campus fine dining experience. Photo by Martin Bustamante 

 

Double doors open to reveal a large dining room where each table is set with a glass of red roses. The decor is a bit outdated, with its white walls, black marble columns and long turquoise curtains. Yet the room still has a feel of sophistication. Soothing sounds of violins and cellos play in the background as two hosts kindly greet a group of eaters and walk them to their table. A sweet and savory aroma of freshly baked bread greets one’s nose at the door.

On the fourth floor of Burk Hall lies the Vista Room, SF State’s most elegant hidden gem. The fine dining restaurant, managed by hospitality students, offers a weekly three-course menu and unlimited drinks for just $17.

The Vista Room was started two decades ago by former Hospitality Department Chair, Janet Sim, as a hands-on lab for hospitality students in food service. Each meal is prepped and served by students under the supervision of its new chef, Shelly Rapaport. The menu features three meals (appetizer, entree, dessert) with menus changing every week.

Unlike a traditional fine dining establishment, the Vista Room exudes a nice casual ambiance despite its polished setting. There’s no defined dress code so you won’t feel out of place in jeans and a T-shirt. Most of their diners are casually dressed students or faculty in business attire.

Service: The service is excellent, and the staff is incredibly friendly and attentive. Many seem to anticipate your every need before asking, refilling your water every two minutes or constantly checking up on you. Yet none were ever intrusive or annoying. The tables were bussed quickly, but entrees took awhile to arrive. The taste, however, made up for the delay.

The corn chowder soup with bacon bits and potatoes. Photo by Martin Bustamante
The corn chowder soup with bacon bits and potatoes. Photo by Martin Bustamante

Appetizers: Diners are welcomed with a variety of bread rolls. My group and I started our lunch with golden-brown Parmesan bread. The texture was light and flaky, and had the perfect blend of Parmesan cheese.

Appetizers included your choice of soup or salad. I opted for the corn chowder soup with bacon bits and potatoes. It was garnished with corn fritters – deep fried cakes made of corn. As soon I took the first bite, I was in heaven. I immediately wondered how I went twenty-two years without ever eating corn fritters. They tasted like fluffy pancakes. The soup was rich, creamy and had a thick consistency. It had this summery, sweet corn taste that worked well with the bacon, which gave off a subtle smokey flavor.

Entrees: I’ll be honest, I started planning my return right after I took a bite of the oven roasted lamb chops. The meat was cooked perfectly as it was soft, tender and juicy. It was served over a bed of couscous in a red wine reduction sauce. The sauce brought out this sweet and tangy flavor. My companions, on the other hand, enjoyed the eggplant Parmesan and the seasonal catch (petral sole) over polenta with asparagus.

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The lemon meringue pie served at the Vista Room. Photo by Martin Bustamante

Dessert: The lemon meringue pie was more like a lemon meringue bite as they were baked in tiny pie shells. These were difficult to eat because the crust was too hard. The lemon custard filling was silky and rich, while the meringue topping was fluffy and sweet. It was unfortunate because the crust would have brought the whole dessert together.

The verdict: With its great service and gourmet meals, the Vista Room is the place to eat. The portions are just right and you get more than what you pay for. I mean, where else can you get a delicious three-course meal on a college student budget?

★★★★

Vista Room, Burk Hall 1600 Holloway Ave, 4th Floor,  San Francisco

 

Food Passport: exploring Bay Area cuisines

Graphic created by Caty McCarthy

Ask my friends what my reaction to food is, and they’ll usually imitate me playing with my hair and saying “you know what sounds really good right now?” I get excited about grocery shopping, and I spend my time and energy on Yelp searching for new restaurants to try. I also have this problem of watching the Food Network while eating dinner. Oh, and I’m that girl, the one who Instagrams what she’s eating.

Hi, hello, I’m Catherine Uy, a 22-year-old journalism student with a passion for food. I’m just a small-town girl lookin’ for the meal of her life. For the next few months, I’ll be exploring all the diverse foods that the Bay Area has to offer. I’ll be writing features and reviews on a different cuisine every other week.

Food Passport is a column dedicated to celebrating food. I’ll be writing restaurant reviews every now and then, but it’s not about the stories of me eating. Every restaurant and meal has a story. My goal is to share with you the story behind what and where eat.

 

 

 

Why ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat Matters

Screenshot of Hudson Yang in Fresh off the Boat (ABC)

As she opens up her purple Rugrats lunch bag, she’s excited to find the food that her mother cooked for her. Inside the plastic container are chow mein noodles with stir-fried meat and vegetables. Wrapped in foil are one of her favorite snacks, crispy chicken egg rolls; But as the small second grader prepares to take a bite of her homemade meal, a classmate interrupts her.

“What are you eating?” asks her classmate, “That looks gross, how come you never eat normal food?”

The 7-year-old with the “super Asian” lunch turns red, and the next day, demands that her mother prepare “American” food instead.

That was me 15 years ago, an embarrassed Filipino-Chinese American who traded some of her favorite cultural foods for Lunchables, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

In my elementary school there were kids who weren’t used to seeing diverse dishes, and like the main character on ABC’s Fresh Off The Boat, I sometimes threw away my lunch because I desperately wanted to fit in.

For years, Asian-Americans have been portrayed as perpetual foreigners. Regardless of whether or not we were born in the U.S., or how assimilated we are to American culture, we’re not perceived as “American.” In many instances, the stereotype is reinforced through the portrayal of Asian characters in TV shows and movies.

According to the Pew Research Center, Asian Americans are one of the fastest growing ethnic groups in the United States. In the United States alone, there are approximately 18 million Asian Americans. However, despite the growing population, there’s still a lack of Asian-American representation in the media. How often do you see Asian American actors with main roles or a decent amount of screen time? Not often enough.

That’s why it’s refreshing to see a show like Fresh Off the Boat, which depicts one perspective of the Asian American experience. The comedy series is one of the first sitcoms to feature an Asian-American family in 20 years since Margaret Cho’s All-American Girl.

Fresh Off the Boat, which is loosely based off chef Eddie Huang’s memoir of the same name, takes a look at Huang’s experiences growing up as a Taiwanese-American. When I first heard about the TV show, I was both excited and nervous. Finally, a show that I could relate to, a show with Asian-American protagonists; but I was worried. Would the show reinforce racial stereotypes or disrupt them?

When I watched the pilot, I laughed out loud. There were a few corny moments, but it was delightfully funny and well-written for the most part. I’ve only seen three episodes, but the show definitely has some potential. Hudson Yang is charming as the young Eddie, and Constance Wu’s timing and delivery as Tiger Mom Jessica is hilarious.

What strikes me most about Fresh Off the Boat are the scenes that are way too real. For example, young Eddie opens a container of chow mein only to be picked on by white boys in the cafeteria. This leads him to persuade his mother into getting him “white people lunch.” Another example that shows the Asian-American experience is when Eddie is continually praised for speaking great English, despite the fact that Eddie was born and raised in America. Although Eddie and his mother share the same ethnicity, they get into frequent arguments over the aspects of their culture. For example, I wanted to cry whenever Eddie told his mother, “You’re never on my side,” because I have said the same thing to my mother whenever we experienced differentiating clashes between our (Chinese-Filipino-American) culture.

Shit got real, I saw bits of my childhood on TV. For other viewers, however, the ABC show is far from groundbreaking. Some viewers voiced their fear on Twitter, saying that the show may continue to perpetuate stereotypes because of the context of its jokes. But we can’t expect one show to be a representation of all Asian Americans. In an interview with Vulture, Huang said, “This show isn’t about me, nor is it about Asian-America.”

You, the viewers, may not have had the same experiences as Huang, and you may not think his show is funny. However, Fresh Off the Boat is momentous because it offers a perspective on what it’s like to assimilate in America.

Smartphone case lets you print photos

Photo courtesy of Prynt

Remember the good ol’ days when you got excited for a photo to develop? And then after three minutes of patiently waiting, you found out you had the perfect smile but your eyes were closed? Yeah, I miss the fun that came with instant photos too.

Polaroid discontinued film in 2008, and ever since then instant film photography has become this hipster trend. There are apps like Instant and Polamatic, which add white polaroid-like frames and filters to your photos. Cameras like Fuji Film’s Insta Max 8 and 210, have become a popular accessory for tweens and hipsters. But I don’t blame them. There’s just something genuinely special about instant film and holding something tangible. So I was intrigued when I heard about Prynt, a phone case that turns your smartphone into a modern Polaroid camera.

Prynt lets you print photos straight from your phone. Just attach the case to your iPhone or Android device and take a photo using the app. Within 30 seconds an image emerges from the case. You can even print photos from your camera album, Instagram and Facebook.

Like a Polaroid, the case comes with 10 “rolls” of photo paper, and you can restock on the digital film through the app. It’s powered by a battery and works offline.

In 2011, graphic designer Mac Funamizu came up with a similar concept called The Sophie. But unlike Funamizu’s product, Prynt has this augmented-reality feature. Each time you take a photo, the app records a short video. When you hold your phone over the printed image, your photo comes to life.

There are some downsides to this gadget though. The case is too bulky. So it probably won’t fit in your pocket. As of now, it’s only available for the iPhone 5 and 6 and the Galaxy S4 and S5.

According to the Kickstarter campaign, the product is currently under development. It’s expected to be released this summer for $99.

 Video courtesy of Prynt