10 dishes that’ll bowl you over

Pub date April 18, 2012
WriterAli Lane
SectionPixel Vision

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The bowl, the cradle of sustenance, a definite necessity on those windy, overcast days to which SF is so prone. Here are some of my local favorites, from classic French onion from Chez Maman to Coi’s bowl-bound fried egg artistry. 

Pork ramen with buttered corn from Genki Ramen

Ramen, that steaming, succulent noodle soup, is sure-enough Japanese comfort food. Genki does it right, with a well-balanced broth, springy noodles, tender meat, and a heaping spoonful of buttered corn to pack in just a few more decadent calories.

3944 Geary, SF. (415) 752-2663, www.genkiramen.com

Onion soup from Chez Maman

Onion soup is such a French classic that when restaurants do it wrong it’s downright shameful, and when they get it right it’s amazing. Chez Maman has the best brew I’ve ever tasted, with just the right ratio of salty beef broth to sweet carmelized onion, topped with a thick soft layer of lightly bruléed gruyere. Even though it’s wonderfully filling, one bowl is never enough. 

1453 18th St., SF. (415) 824-7166, www.chezmamansf.com

Guilin lamb noodle soup from Mission Chinese Food

This trendy spot may be better known for its pork belly, but the noodle soup here is the unsung hero of the menu. Tender braised lamb cheek mingles with thick rice noodles, flavorful peanuts, and crunchy pea shoots in a generously-sized bowl. Eating it makes me think of windswept nights on the Mongolian tundra, cuddling in a yurt. While geographically inaccurate, the fantasy conveys the rugged snuggle of this yummy bowl. 

2234 Mission, SF. (415) 863-2800, www.missionchinesefood.com

Spaghetti with ricotta, fava leaves and black pepper-cured egg yolk from Flour + Water

Finally, a pasta dish in which the focus is on the very essence of pasta: not sauce, or meatballs, just the flour and water of its name. My favorite so far is Flour + Water’s spaghetti, al dente noodles enhanced with minimal topping. With a sprinkling of sweet and salty ricotta, a gentle glaze of egg yolk, and a handful of tender greens, this dish makes me feel like a sophisticated woman in springtime as I slurp.

2401 Harrison, SF. (415) 826-7000, www.flourandwater.com

“Fried egg, not fried” from Coi

This is probably the most artistic bowl on the list. A custardy egg yolk sits atop a nest of breadcrumbs, brassica, and garlic blossoms with a puree of roasted garlic below. The intricate presentation recalls an exhibit in a gastronomic art museum. Tastes like a rarified, amazingly seasoned, smokey toad-in-the-hole.

373 Broadway, SF, (415) 393-9000, www.coirestaurant.com

Seasonal soups from Outerlands

Outerlands caters to a crowd of Sunset-dwellers seeking warmth. The restaurant even offers a basket of blankets in which to wrap yourself. When even that’s not enough, the velvety seasonal soup is always there for you. My favorite is the “early girl” summer tomato. Sweet, tangy, creamy, and fresh, it goes great with their thick, crusty toast or a grilled cheese sandwich. In winter there’s butternut squash, topped with maple hazelnuts and yogurt. Other varieties include carrot ginger, roasted red pepper, potato leek, spicy kale and red bean, broccoli, cauliflower, and lentil.

4001 Judah, SF. (415) 661-6140, www.outerlandssf.com

Vermicelli bowl with roasted pork and imperial rolls from Pho Garden

This staple of Vietnamese menus everywhere is exceptional at Pho Garden. The pork has the right amount of grill char and sweetness, and the imperial rolls are crispy bites of heaven, overflowing with bits of barbecue pork and diced black mushroom. A cheap, thoroughly satisfying meal.

2109 Clement, SF. (415) 379-8677, www.phogardensf.com

Mapo tofu rice bowl with eggplant at Suzu Noodle House

Immensely filling, with soft cubes of tofu swimming in a spicy brown sauce of ground pork and Szechuan pepper, this bowl reminds us of just how delicious tofu can be. The sautéed eggplant is the third delectable component, all stacked atop a sticky, vibrantly white mound of rice. If you finish the entire bowl, you probably won’t have to eat again for a few days.  

1825 Post, SF. (415) 346-5083

Cha Cha bowl at Orlando’s Caribbean BBQ

The Cha Cha bowl is that rare thing – healthy and delicious ballpark food. Rice, black beans, and tender chunks of jerk chicken are topped with pineapple salsa, shredded zucchini, carrots, onions, and one of four sauces – BBQ, chipotle, jalapeño, or habanero. No matter how much sauce you slather on, no worries about spilling on your jersey. It all comes in a neat, portable container. Yay for bowls! 

24 Willie Mays, SF, (415) 972-1800

Bowl of beignets from Spruce

And now for dessert. The beignet is the dainty, fluffy, Southern cousin of the donut hole. Spruce dusts its version with sparkling sugar, and accompanies the treats with twin dishes of chocolate ganache and crème anglaise for dipping.

3640 Sacramento, SF. (415) 931-5100, www.sprucesf.com