ROASTED MILK TEA AT COOL TEA BAR
728 Pacific Avenue (near Grant) in the Miriwa Center, 415-781-8312
This is really a not-to-miss drink rather than a dish, but it’s so good I had to mention it. Boba teashops originated in Taiwan and are popping up all over the City. There are places like the Quickly chain that use stale tapioca and powdered tea, and The Boba Guys, a shop using all organic ingredients, but the tea tastes like watered-down milk. And then there’s Cool Tea Bar, an amazing little boba teashop that’s tucked inside an indoor strip mall in Chinatown. At Cool Tea Bar, they steep fresh tea and make the tapioca balls (the “boba”) on site, producing that just-chewy-enough texture. Their best seller is the roasted milk tea — you can smell and taste the nuttiness, and it’s perfectly balanced with the green tea. The fragrant jasmine milk tea and Oolong milk tea are also not to miss, but my personal favorites are the roasted milk tea and the kumquat green tea. Additions like the fresh boba, grass jelly, or aloe are optional.
SWEET POTATO RAVIOLI AT MASON PACIFIC
1358 Mason Street (at Pacific), 415-374-7185, www.masonpacific.com
I went to Mason Pacific a few times right after it opened, and it left me with fairly low expectations for future visits — until I ordered the sweet potato ravioli. It’s perfect for the season, and better than similar versions at top Italian restaurants. Tender house-made pasta is filled with moist sweet potato, topped with Parmesan cheese, beurre fondue (butter emulsion), and a generous shaving of burgundy truffles. Harvested in southern Italy, burgundy truffles have an aroma reminiscent of hazelnut and are more robust in flavor than summer truffles; they complement the delicate sweet potato but don’t overpower it. If you’re a ravioli lover, don’t miss this dish.
STEAMED SPARERIBS OVER RICE NOODLES WRAPPED IN LOTUS LEAF AT TAISHAN CAFE
1125 Clement Street (at 12th), 415-668-0838
Taishan Cafe is a very traditional clay pot restaurant that serves cuisine from Taishan (a county-level city in southern Guangdong Province, China). Their specialty is clay-pot rice with various toppings such as Chinese sausage, yellow eel, salty fish with pork patty, or chicken and mushrooms. My favorite is the steamed spareribs with black bean sauce over ho fun (flat rice noodles) wrapped in a lotus leaf. The aroma from the lotus leaf combined with the porky goodness from the spareribs is enticing, and the earthy flavors are simple and comforting. A few tips: Get there early because they always run out of noodles; also, they’ll give you complimentary house soup, but only if you ask.
SEA SCALLOPS AT RICH TABLE
199 Gough Street (at Oak), 415-355-9085
Rich Table is currently my favorite restaurant in San Francisco. Chef Evan Rich always uses the very best seasonal ingredients, and the menu changes frequently so I never get bored (even when I visit multiple times in one week). The sea scallops are large and plump, seared to caramelized perfection and cooked just beyond translucence inside. It’s a generous portion, topped with wilted escarole and rutabaga miso puree. Rutabagas (originally a cross between cabbage and turnip) are a sadly underused root vegetable, and they shine here in chef Rich’s capable hands.
COWBOY SALAD AT MIXT GREENS
475 Sansome Street (at Commercial Alley), 415-296-8009, www.mixtgreens.com
When I’m in the mood to eat like a health nut, I head to this place for lunch. Mixt Greens offers the freshest vegetables in their salads, which are the best in the Financial District. My favorite is the cowboy salad — crisp romaine hearts, grilled chicken, roasted red peppers, black beans, sharp cheddar, and red onion with a Point Reyes blue cheese dressing and a chipotle-honey drizzle to add a little sweet heat. Ask for it “Tony’s Way” — substitute the black beans for edamame, the roasted red peppers for yellow beets, hold the chicken, and add extra dressing.