02.23.2017
Fleetwood Mac
Tango in the Night
I'm not saying that Fleetwood Mac doesn't get the credit they deserve—they're one of the biggest bands to ever not be the Beatles—but I am saying they don't not not get the credit they deserve.
02.23.2017
Banana
Banana
Here's a weird one. Banana is the name of the group (and album [and every song on the album]) made up of Cate Le Bon's touring band—who indie music writers like to confoundingly point also includes a member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers—and Cate Le Bon herself, who in between shows and tours and recordings, got together and recorded this 4-track album of Steve Reich and Mike Oldfield inspired instrumental improvisations. Of course, when I say "Steve Reich and Mike Oldfield inspired instrumental improvisations," you probably start to roll your eyes and feel some anticipatory boredom. Thing is, if you've listened to Cate Le Bon's music, you know her band is fun. Fun and talented and a little goofy and fearless. So yeah, the tracks here (titled "Banana A", "Banana B," etc.) have a whiff of Reichian formality to them. But they also have some raunchy barry sax. It's all fun and melodic and pleasant, and look, it's 4 tracks; it's a quick listen, and I actually wish there was more of it.
02.12.2017
Sampha
Process
I think this Sampha guy is the real deal. He's been slowly making a name for himself in more of a behind-the-scenes and collaborator role with some of the big gun Kanye/Beyonce types in the last couple years, but then (for those of us not paying close attention to who collaborates with those big guns) out of nowhere, he releases this single, "No One Knows Me Like The Piano," and you're like, "Hmm, this should be bad, but it's good." It's real songwriter shit. It's somebody, in 2017, sitting down at a piano and writing a song. I'm sure we'll all be sick of it a year from now, but at the moment it's so refreshing to hear. Also refreshing: This whole album is just as good. Okay, maybe not just as good. But for a mainstream pop (with a little bit of soul) artist, it's almost shocking to hear a collection of songs, written with a single voice, seemingly produced by a single producer, and free of any guest spots and collaborations. Which is a half-assed compliment to give something if the actual music wasn't good, but hey, it is! Vocally, he's basically doing James Blake, but with a little more energy here or there. But before I get too critical about the comparison, I'll note that I've already listened to this album more in one week than I listened to any of James Blake's last 3 albums in the last 5 years. The songs are just better. The energy is higher. It hooks. I do wish he'd take his voice to some different places; he never really goes for it. I also dock it a point or two because the second half of the record doesn't have the immediacy of the first half (which is basically perfection), and it closes with a half-baked Bon Iver knockoff, but whatever. It's good. Real good. Now I'm just going to hope he doesn't become super famous and annoying.
02.08.2017
Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau
Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau
If you know Chris Thile and you know Brad Mehldau, you'll know that a Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau album is going to be a very good album. You probably don't even really need to listen to it. It's in your head right now. It's right there. Hear it? Pretty nice, right? Very nice even. You know this album isn't going to be bad, it's not going to be a bust. You will not be disappointed. Or rather, you might be disappointed, only if your hope is that it exceeds your hopes and transcends the obvious greatness of a Chris Thile and Brad Mehldau collaboration into something timelessly stunning. Which, as far as my initial listen is concerned, it does not do. And I'm not even sure it's trying to. It is, simply, Chris Thile and Brad Mehldau hanging out in a recording studio playing music with each other. And as you know, this is great.

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02.01.2017
Once and Future Band
Once and Future Band
Do you like early Yes? Do you like early ELO? Do you like Animals era Floyd? Do you like Lamb Lies Down era Genesis? You know who else does? Once and Future Band. And they're not just unafraid to admit it, they fucking revel in it. And not only do they fucking revel in it, they do it so well that you'll seriously think you're listening to the greatest unreleased prog pop album of the mid 70s.

A band like The Darkness does 70s and 80s glam rock and power metal, but there's enough borderline-irony there that it feels modern. Belle & Sebastian do Nick Drake and Nico, but filtered through decades of literary punk, grunge, and indie ethos. Joey Bada$$ does early 90s boom bap, but there's no confusing it with the real thing. But Once and Future Band are something else. They don't try to look the part (find a clip of of their live shows, they look very much like a modern bearded indie band), but everything about their sound is of the era. It's as if they've played the last 15 years as a Yes/Genesis tribute band, honing their chops at bars and state fairs around the country, then took what they learned and put it into their own songs. And aside from being good, maybe even great, songs, they somehow take this stew of influences and make it their own. There's no points where you say, Oh now they're being Genesis, Oh now they're being ELO, oh now they're playing "Welcome To The Machine". As obvious as their influences are, they've truly been distilled here. It's a pretty amazing thing to hear. And super fun.


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02.01.2017
Sheer Mag
Compilation LP
Sheer Mag caught my attention from a solely aesthetic perspective. Here's this band with a name and logo that screams Darkness-style 70s glam rawk, but who's album covers look like scary underground black metal releases. In reality the black metal cloak and dagger is a bit of a bluff, because the music here is pure Thin Lizzy inspired balls-out guitar boogie, recorded in a washed-out, peaking lo-fi scuzz. Their first few singles were hit-and-miss for me, so I mostly spent the year waiting for them to release a full length. And this isn't it exactly, but it's a compilation of those 3 EP's. Which is fine by me, actually, because really, all 3 of them are pretty much total quality. There's not a lot of stylistic variation or experimentation here, but that's less important than this: These songs are great. Forget the black metal covers, forget the cool logo, forget the unnecessary lo-fi recording. This is a band of legitimately talented musicians playing real good rock music. In particular, take note of "Fan The Flames," which is one of those This is so good I don't know if they ever need to release another song singles, and one where their entire "real" debut album will depend on whether or not they can match it. If they can, holy shit, these guys are going to be the real deal.
02.01.2017
The Flaming Lips
Oczy Mlody
After—good lord—a whole decade of mediocre official releases, well-intentioned but borderline unplayable official releases, and a nearly countless number of unofficial side project collaborations and experiments, this new Oczy Mlody has been hailed as some sort of return to form, "the next Soft Bulletin" even. It is not. It's just boring.
12.15.2016
Steve's Favorite Music of 2016
A List
Instead of trying to defend my own favorite music this year, which is almost entirely different than any major music publication's year end 2016 lists, I'd like to take a moment to make you mad: Lemonade was not very good. Whew, that felt nice. And while I'm at it: Coloring Book is mostly a bunch of church camp counselor baloney, Black Star wouldn't crack anybody's top 20 if Bowie was still alive, Radiohead was still better in the 90s, and I never even bothered to listen to The Life of Pablo, but I bet it stinks. On with the list!

Albums
1. Walter Martin - Arts + Leisure
2. Moon Tooth - Chromoparagon
3. Okkervil River - Away
4. Cate Le Bon - Crab Day
5. Mammal Hands - Floa
6. Katatonia - The Fall of Hearts
7. Trust Fund - We Have Always Lived in the Harolds
8. Opeth - Sorceress
9. Hamilton + Rostam - Had A Dream That You Were Mine
10. Nicolas Jaar - Sirens
11. VRTRA - My Bones Hold A Stillness
12. Japanese Breakfast - Psychopomp
13. Laura Mvula - The Dreaming Room
14. Starling Electric - Electric Company
15. Ian William Craig - Centres
16. The Avalanches - Wildflower
17. Devendra Banhart - Ape In Pink Marble
18. Angel Olsen - My Woman
19. Pinegrove - Cardinal
20. Solange - A Seat at the Table
21. Kendrick Lamar - Untitled Unmastered*

Songs
1. Japanese Breakfast - “Everybody Wants To Love You”
2. Walter Martin - Every single song on Arts + Leisure**
3. Devendra Banhart - “Saturday Night”
4. Ian William Craig - “Contain (Cedar Version)”
5. David Bowie - “Blackstar”
6. Beyonce - “Formation”, but just the part where she says “…bama!”
7. Cate Le Bon - “Love Is Not Love”
8. Astronoid - “Up and Atom”
9. Opeth - “Chrysalis”
10. Leapling - “Alabaster Snow”
11. Maxwell - “1990x”
12. Radiohead - “Decks Dark”
13. Grumbling Fur - "Heavy Days"
14. Michael Kiwanuka - “Cold Little Heart"
15. The Saxophones - “If You’re On The Water”
16. NAO - “Bad Blood”
17. Hope Sandoval - “Let Me Get There”
18. case/lang/veirs - “Atomic Number”
19. Pinegrove - "Old Friends"
20. Moon Tooth - "White Stag"

* I feel like I have an asterisk every time a Kendrick Lamar album is on one of my lists, so let this be no exception. Point is, I worry Untitled Unmastered doesn't really count as an "album", since it's essentially an outtake collection from his last album. So that keeps it from being higher on the list. I'd leave it off entirely if it wasn't of such impeccable quality that it demands to be on.

**This is not really a joke. Every song on this album, on its own, could easily be in my top 10, at least, songs of the year. It's amazing. And then the face that all these wonderful individual songs actually do follow a certain thread, both thematically and aesthetically, and it really wasn't even a contest in my mind for what was the best album of the year. Sadly I've seen it on nobody's Best Of lists. Maybe if he got Kanye and Bon Iver to appear on it...

12.06.2016
GoGo Penguin
Man Made Object
Given my mini love affair with Mammal Hands' Floa this year, I was pretty excited to dig into the even-more-awkwardly-named but just-as-British GoGo Penguin. They've been touted as one of those crossover jazz groups that grew up just as much on Aphex Twin and Four Tet as on Thelonius Monk and Keith Jarrett, attempting to "make jazz cool again," or something like that. Which, by the way, I didn't actually quote anyone there. Just making believe. More or less what we're looking at here is a technically proficient to the point of Aspergers drummer, laying down tittering tottering tippy tappy beats as a very chill pianist does his best Brad Mehldau over it. Unfortunately, for as nice as it is, the lack of a second lead instrument—like Mammal Hands' uber melodic saxophone—basically forces me to compare this to Mehldau and Matt Chamberlain. And guess what, as good as GoGo Penguin may be, that's not a comparison anyone can realistically overcome. Which leads me to...
12.06.2016
Brad Mehldau
Elegiac Cycle
Just try to convince me that Brad Mehldau isn't the greatest piano player alive. Do it. I dare you. Wanna fight? Let's fight.
11.29.2016
VRTRA
My Bones Hold A Stillness
I'm usually very particular about my metal. And my use of "usually" there should probably tip you off to where I'm going here. VRTRA doesn't seem to be doing anything special; they don't write amazing melodies, they don't have a transcendently talented vocalist, they don't subvert genre (or sub genre) cliches, they don't blow my mind with chord progressions or movement transitions or mind melting solos. They just play "blackened doom metal" (god, metal genre-ing is great), but they do it with such intensity and focus that I can't help but love it. And this isn't even a "real" album, it's just a 3 song demo, so the recording quality is a bit rough, but whatever. Look at these song titles: "Perpetually Hag Ridden"... "The Cold Suffocating Dark Goes On Forever"... "My Bones Hold A Stillness." Just total perfection. Genre dogmatic perfection, sure, but perfection.

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11.25.2016
Hope Sandoval & the Warm Inventions
Until The Hunter
Whenever Hope Sandoval releases a new album, I always like it, but I also always secretly wish it was just "Fade Into You" playing on repeat a dozen times.
11.11.2016
Nicolas Jaar
Sirens
Sirens fools you on first listen listen, as the opening track plays out like a beautifully sublime electro-acoustic Tabula Rasa, meshing field recordings and patient, ambient crescendos into glittery synth peaks. And your'e like, "Fuck yeah, this is going to be amazing." And then track 2 is, like, experimental remixed 80s highway blues rock? Like getting smacked out of a trance. And then it never quite gets back to that initial slow burn. And you're bummed and forget about it. But then you find yourself camping in a northern California river valley, miles away from anyone, on crisp October night lying on your back with the Milky Way above your head, and you give Sirens another try, and it all makes sense. Yeah, there's some weird 80s blues rock, and then there's some Latin pop, and some sort of Chris Isaac thing. But all these genre experiments are folded and inverted and osmosized through some biorobotic fugue, like waking up at 3am to the sounds of a half tuned adult contemporary radio station and not fully comprehending if you're asleep or dreaming, this depressingly rare case of an electronic artist completely transcending electronic music and simply just making music, and it's perfect.
02.12.2017 - by Steve
Shake Shack - Bloomington
Chicken sandwich
I wrote about Shake Shack a couple months ago, and my general opinion on their burger was something like, "Well, I mean, it's good, but is that it?" But on the recommendation of a NYC insider source I have, I tried their chicken sandwich. And here's what's up you guys: this might be the best fast food chicken sandwich in the game. It's flawless. It's a real chicken breast that's been marinated or brined or something, and then battered right there in house, and fried perfectly, and topped with some pickles and some kinda aoli. Not too crazy, not too bland. I know they're famous for their burgers or whatever, but this chicken sandwich is good enough to start a megahyped fast food chain of its own.
02.08.2017 - by Steve
Crescent Moon Bakery - Northeast Minneapolis
Pizza
I think I've written about Crescent Moon on here before, probably years ago. So, so many years ago. But I just had to chime in about it once more here, because I can't stress it enough: Crescent Moon, the Afghan bakery on Central, makes fantastic pizza. They also make fantastic kebabs and goat curries. It's really one of the most interesting food places we have in this city.
02.05.2017 - by Steve
1029 Bar - Northeast Minneapolis
Lobster roll
The Smack Shack downtown is very annoying, and you should not go there. It's basically like if you dropped a harbor-side Boston tourist trap restaurant-theme-park in the middle of Minneapolis and filled it with every young Target executive trying to find a happy hour close to his new condo and every bachelorette party who was too late in getting reservations to Chino Latino. Which is unfortunate, because their lobster rolls are pretty good. Well lucky for you there's the 1029 Bar! Because—and this isn't so much a secret as it is something people just don't really know—the Smack Shack sells lobster rolls at the 1029! Not just lobster rolls, either, but basically their full menu. I don't really understand why this is the case, but I'm not going to think too hard about it. Point is, it's a decent-to-good neighborhood bar, where you can get a good-to-very-good lobster roll (which may or may not be a little too salty), and you don't feel like a douchebag for eating there.
02.02.2017 - by Steve
Cali's Vietnamese - Northeast Minneapolis
Pho
Cali's is an okay Vietnamese restaurant that's a block away from me. And that's pretty much it.
02.01.2017 - by Steve
Spitz - Northeast Minneapolis
Gyro
Spitz is the worst restaurant in the city. I'd usually try to give a place the benefit of the doubt, or at least try to be level-headed thoughtful about how I respond to a bad restaurant experience, but I don't know. I think this is a special case.

First of all, it's called "Spitz." That's disgusting. Nobody wants to eat at a place called Spitz. Secondly, they describe themselves as "Mediterranean Street Food," which, I mean, would be cool if they were, but they basically sell gyros and fries. And then you have the interior design decisions. Which I'd describe as "Avril Lavigne chic." Just the gaudiest faux-punk rock dripping-neon-paint nonsense this side of Target's teen girl section. There's a full wall-sized photo of Kurt Cobain crowd surfing, for fuck's sake. Kurt Cobain. There's just no rhyme or reason for any of it.

But that's all secondary, right? We're here for the food, right? Well my gyro (they don't call it a gyro, they call it a "Berlin style" something or another, which, Fuck You) tasted like nothing, and was cold. The dipping sauce with the fries tasted like nothing. The fries were Aramark's special "beer battered" style I assume, and tasted like such. The whole place basically made me sad, and further makes me sad when I consider that Spitz is basically the symbol of what is happening to Northeast.

Spitz sucks.


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12.15.2016 - by Steve
Steve's Favorite Food of 2016 - South Minneapolis
A List
Just for clarification, I base the items on this list more by 'meal' than by 'establishment,' and more on 'pure satisfaction' rather than 'quality.' Like, if I had a really great and satisfying piece of chicken at Popeye's, I'm going to go ahead and throw that on here, even if it's junk. So the items here and their placement have more to do with how much I simply enjoyed one meal at one place than what I think of the place in general, or if I think one might be technically better than the other. Like, obviously Revival is of higher quality than L&L Hawaiian Barbecue, but whatever. On with the show!

1. Juniper (Boise, ID)- Maple bacon sweet roll, mole huevos rancheros
2. Hi Lo Diner - Chicken wings and pancakes
3. Spoon & Stable - Grilled venison
4. TIE - L&L Hawiian Barbecue (Honolulu, HI) - Plate lunch
4. TIE - Cafe 100 (Hilo, HI) - Moco Loco
5. Revival - Roasted pork
6. French Hen Cafe - Banh mi benedict
7. World Street Kitchen - Beef shawarma tacos
8. Lu’s - Pork banh mi
9. Koja Kitchen (Berkeley, CA) - Korean short rib bowl
10. El Farolito (San Francisco, CA) - Al pastor burrito
11. Bibuta - Sushi burrito
12. Surly Brewing Co. - Cornbread
13. Red Stag - Limousine burger

12.06.2016 - by Steve
Spoon & Stable - Downtown Minneapolis
Grilled venison, beet cured trout, goat goulash
The cycle continues, and Spoon & Stable is now the "best" restaurant in the city, which mostly means it's the newest restaurant in the city to charge premium prices for premium food in a premium setting filled with premium people, and all of your Facebook friends talk about going there like it's no big deal because they just like good things, so of course they love it, duh, and oh, you've probably been there too because it's the best restaurant in the city, and you need your friends to know that you're good too. So Spoon & Stable. What does that even mean, spoon and stable? Are we eating horse soup? This getting away from me, I'm going to regroup...

So I went to Spoon & Stable by myself on my birthday, because I deserve it. I think? It's been a long time since I've been to a "good" restaurant, and I didn't have any other plans, so I just said Screw It, I'm gonna go and sit at the bar throw down 100 bucks on a ridiculous dinner. Usually in these cases I'd try my best to be careful and thoughtful about my choices, or maybe I'd actually be there with another human to be able to split and try things. But nah, I just went for it. Here's the rundown: Beet-cured trout, served kinda like lox, with some citrus and beets and other assorted nibbles... Grilled venison with malted jus and some kinda puree over a big fat celery root... Goat goulash pasta. The food itself (not the surroundings) reminded me of the 112. Favorably even! Which was a pleasant surprise; the cynic in me half expected to hate it, given its bound-to-come-back-down-to-earth-in-time reputation. But nah, it was good. In fact, the venison was one of the best dishes I've had anywhere in a long time. It's one of those entrees that you've had a dozen times before—quality piece of meat atop some starchy puree with some deglazed pan sauce and a some greens—but this was pretty much flawless. Every bite of the meat was lean and perfect, and the sauce had a deep rich body that came as a surprise. If I had any gripes (other than the fact that I don't love celery, so the celery root wasn't exactly my favorite), it's that the whole dish was so richly savory that it needed an extra stab of something else. Some little sweet or vinegary burst somewhere. But really it was fantastic. The beet trout, I won't blab much about, because I don't have much to say about it. It had that deconstructed Travail sort of vibe, without the Travail surprises. But it was fine. So then after ate those, I tallied the damage and decided that I'd be wasting a birthday dinner if I didn't get one more dish. Which of course was the goat goulash, because of course I'm going to order the goat goulash. If I'd never been to the 112 or La Grassa before (or the late lamented JP's) I would've sworn this was an incredible plate of food. But in truth it just made me wish I was eating the comparable—and slightly better—pastas at 112 and La Grassa. But whatever. It was still delicious!

Oh, and I also made the mistake (?) of mentioning to the bartender that it was my birthday. Because as I was paying up, he brought me an embarrassingly large ball of cotton candy. It was the Uptown Cafeteria Pork Rind Incident all over again. Everybody stared at me. People commented under their breath. I literally died. But I also shared some with the rest of the bar, so I guess I made some friends. And isn't that what it's all about? No?


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11.29.2016 - by Steve
Ideal Diner - Northeast Minneapolis
Eggs and french toast
Oh, by the way, I went to Ideal Diner for the first time in years. I think it's under new ownership now. Who knows. It's completely unexceptional greasy spoon diner food; I love it.
11.26.2016 - by Steve
Lu's Sandwiches - Northeast Minneapolis
Pork banh mi
Sometimes this music and food blog is about food. But often (lately) it's about me complaining about the state of food in this city, and really about the state of this city in general, which seems to be steamrolling forward towards... something... without trying to figure out what that thing might be, instead just handing the keys over to a small handful of developers who in turn hand retail space leases over to a small handful of restaurant food and liquor retail entrepreneurs who then maybe make good food, but mostly pay restaurant interior design companies and design and marketing companies a ton of money to make their spaces look good—but more importantly, brand-expandable—in the hopes that they can have a successful year or two and then open a second and third and fourth location, and maybe god willing become the next Chipotle.

Focusing my attention on Northeast this time around, specifically the 'downtown' Northeast area, anchored by Surdyk's and Kramarczuk's and, well, formerly Nye's [this space reserved for future angry essay about the motherfuckers who destroyed Nye's, and pretty much sealed the deal on proving nothing in this town is sacred and that we'll all just be a condo eventually]. Here's a quick tour of those couple blocks:

• Rachel's - dying
• Chipotle - chain
• Noodles - chain
• Ginger Hop - lame
• Kramarczuk's - god help us the day they close
• Pizza Nea - fine
• Punch Pizza - chain trying to shut down Nea
• Jimmy Johns - chain
• Keegan's - fine
• JL Beers - local chain from Mankato
• Rachel's - dying
• Butcher Block - fine
• Masu - locations in MOA and Apple Valley
• New Bohemia - locations in Golden Valley and Roseville
• The Bulldog- locations downtown and Uptown
• Whitey's - second location in Stillwater
• Ray J's - chain
• Conga - fine
• Brasa - at least one other location
• Rusty Taco - chain
• Spitz - probably a chain, or will be soon. Either way, who on earth wants to eat at a place called Spitz??
• Savoy Inn - chain. Used to be a beloved mom n pop joint.

Which brings us to:
• Lu's Sandwiches - second location on Nicollet

I liked Lu's pork banh mi a lot. With the standard banh mi caveats applied (that french bread is always too crusty!), it was a pretty flawless and authentic sandwich. Awesome, great, good. But to bring us back around to my central issue here: This isn't just a quality Vietnamese sandwich place. It's the second, new-construction condo based, location of what maybe once was just a quality Vietnamese sandwich place, but is now clearly gunning to become the next Chipotle. Funky fresh clean interiors. Funky fresh clean graphic design. A big logo on their bright green wall. A menu and build-it-in-front-of-you service taken straight from the Chipotle playbook. And of course a price tag for a sandwich that was a solid couple bucks pricier than what you'd pay at a "real" Vietnamese sandwich place. Because the interior design firm doesn't work for fish sauce and shaved carrots.

What am I complaining about? I enjoyed my sandwich. Can I really fault somebody for trying to make a buck? Maybe this is the only way you can run a restaurant these days. Franchise or die? I guess? But this doesn't seem to be the norm in places like New York and Chicago and other "food cities." Or is it? I don't know. I just know that I just moved to Northeast, and was excited to see what that area has been up to lately. And when 75% of the options around are places that I could have anywhere else in the city, what's the point? At which point does living in the city become no better or different than living in the suburbs? I can get Masu there too. And now Nye's is gone and there will be a new glass box there, probably with a new Hola Arepa location, or maybe a Sonora Grill, or really just probably a Potbelly, because what's the difference anymore.

11.11.2016 - by Steve
El Farolito - San Francisco
Al pastor burrito, horchata

If you'd like to follow the epic narrative of my big road trip eating adventures in their proper order, scroll down until you get to River Rock Coffee, 19 or 20 posts down. And then go up from there. Or don't worry about that and just do whatever. See if I care.

So it's my last morning in San Francisco, and I'm flying home in a few hours, and in these final moments of reflection and contemplation, there's one feeling that I can't shake: There's no way La Taqueria is the best burrito in San Francisco, right?. So in my last dwindling hours of vacation freedom, do I walk across the Golden Gate bridge? Do I visit an art museum? Do I ride a street car up to the Full House house and take a selfie with a loaf of sourdough? No, I do not. There are burritos to be eaten. Specifically, burritos at El Farolito, La Taqueria's most insistent challenger on the internet's endless collection of Best Mission Burrito lists. Farolito isn't so different than Taqueria, or probably any of the places on Mission, and as such isn't so different than any random Mexican taco/burrito joint you're likely to visit anywhere else. So what's the deal? Why do these Mission places get this universal acclaim to be the Worlds Greatest Burritos, when they're seemingly doing nothing different than 1,000 other spots in the country? To be honest, beyond simple history and reputation, I don't know. But I do know this: El Farolito's al pastor burrito was fantastic, better than La Taqueria. Maybe the best al pastor I've ever had. Still, as a pure burrito experience, it was fine? Above average? At least better than any random place on Central? Look, I like San Francisco's burritos. They're just probably not worth the airfare.

11.11.2016 - by Steve
Dynamo Donut - San Francisco
Chocolate rosemary donut, lemon poppyseed donut
We're deep into the post-cupcake Donut Renaissance right now, and you can visit nearly any decently sized city and find at least one "cool" donut place, trying Elevate The Donut, or some such thing. I'm sure there's a hundred of them in San Francisco, but I picked one of the acclaimed spots, Dynamo Donut & Coffee, an uber-cool little nook that's seemingly leading the headlong charge of gentrifying an unsuspecting Hispanic neighborhood. Or maybe they're fully suspecting. Either way, their rent is about to skyrocket. Anyway, as is the case with almost every one of those donut place I try, I was not terribly impressed. These things are about 4 bucks a piece, and were too oily, neither crispy or soft, and the combination of rosemary and chocolate, while looking nice on the wooden menu, just tasted like rosemary and chocolate. Nothing magical. Beyond just Dynamo, I'm starting to feel like maybe donuts don't need to be anything more than a 50 (or fine, 75) cent ring of dough with some chocolate and sprinkles. Or maybe a 4 dollar donut in San Francisco is actually just the standard rate.
11.11.2016 - by Steve
Henry's Hunan - San Francisco
Marty's special
I wasn't about to bother with Chinatown during my brief San Francisco stints, but I did want to test my hypothesis that the very existence of Chinatown, and a large Chinese population in general, is a high tide that raises all the boats of San Fran's Chinese restaurants. So when I found myself in the Noe Valley neighborhood (after attempting to watch that night's World Series game in the local Cubs bar), I saw Henry's Hunan, and thought, "Sure, why not." I think my theory was mostly, sort of, proven true, because Henry's was indeed better than your average sugary slop Chinese place. It wasn't amazing, and I've certainly had better Chinese food before, but it closer to something like Rainbow than New China Garden Palace Wok. The most interesting thing about the place was that they offered a small selection of in-house smoked meats, including ham, which is apparently a classic Hunan thing, but I don't think I've ever seen on a menu before. I got the "Marty's Special," which was a spicy smoked ham and chicken stir fry, and some steamed dumplings. It was a classic Chinese restaurant situation (usually specific to Szechuan places) where I wish I had somebody eating with me, because while my dish was good, it was a little too intense to eat solely as an entree; salty and spicy and loud. It could've used some other dishes to balance out. Still, interesting to get smoked ham at a Chinese place, and nice to know that you don't have to deal with the madness of Chinatown to get good Chinese food in San Fran.