BitterSweet

Sweet Musings with a Bitterly Sharp Wit


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Silent Sunday: Sichuan Situation

Tofu Clay Pot

Turnip Cakes

Hot and Sour Soup

Steamed Bao

Big Lantern
3170 16th St
San Francisco, CA 94103

Garlic Pea Shoots

Fish-Fragrant Eggplant

Vegetable Dumplings

MaMa Ji’s
4416 18th St
San Francisco, CA 94114



Sizzling Eggplant

Bean Curd with Mushrooms

Pot Stickers

Crispy Taro Rolls

Lucky Creation
854 Washington St
San Francisco, CA 94108

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Rush Hour

Rhythmically, persistently, a small child is kicking me in the shins. Propelling his legs with blissful abandon beyond the constraints of his stroller, the rubber-soled shoes strike with a dull thud as regularly as a metronome. This is the least of my concerns though, as I struggle to find an open pocket of air in the overcrowded BART car. A nauseating bouquet of sweat, cologne, and Chinese takeout infiltrates my lungs, mingling together in one pungent, irrepressible plume. Each inhalation skews slightly to one or the other, though none holds particular appeal. Breathing becomes a careful, measured effort, akin to meditation.

Hurtling through tunnels, cutting across highways and open fields, chasing after the fading sun, the train starts and stops, yet not a single person moves an inch. Wedged firmly in place, it would be impossible to fall, even if one gave up standing on their own volition. Familiar vistas flash by through smudged windows, but from my vantage point staring directly into some tall man’s armpit, the scenery looks all the same to me. Somewhere between Embarcadero and West Oakland, I find myself wearing someone else’s headphone wires. Perhaps the whole mob, myself included, is beginning to merge into a single person.

Compared to many, my trip across the bay is mercifully short. Swimming upstream against the current of writhing arms and legs, it takes many gentle shoves, a few accidentally trampled feet, and many profuse apologies to disentangle myself from the mass when the doors finally open at my home station. The stagnant but open air has never felt so good. To all the faithful, tireless workers who continue forward on their journeys, to repeat the trip once again the next day, again and again with no end in sight: I salute you. That onerous commute is a full time job, in and of itself.


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Best of the Booch

Once referred to in hushed tones, it was the health nut’s moonshine, fermented in dark cellars and secreted away from the general public. Authorities railed against its commercial production as controversies erupted over the surprisingly potent alcohol content conspicuously absent from printed labels. Kombucha, the ancient fermented tea, has finally unshackled itself from overzealous legislation and a litany of misunderstandings, bubbling over into mainstream acceptance. Now touted as a probiotic superpower, this fizzy refreshment has a lot going for it, but as far as I’m concerned, flavor should always come first.

Dozens, if not hundreds, of brands are now agitating to come out on top, and over 50 of those are located in California alone. Even for a place as big as the Golden State, that’s a whole lot of booch! Taking into account all of the restaurants offering up various blends on tap and in bottles, you’d be forgiven for losing count. What’s a thirsty kombucha devotee to do when seeking new watering holes that also serve superlative vegan eats?

It is with great pride that I present the highlights from my adoptive hometown, from the east bay and San Francisco proper, in the Kombucha Hunter‘s Kombucha Guide to California. The very best places to find the most bubbly brews just happen to be some of my favorite restaurants to begin with, so it wasn’t hard to whip up some delicious recommendations to contribute. Uncovering gems up and down the west coast, locals and visitors alike will find a bottomless glass of temptations worth traveling for.

The guide is available for free at Lento Market in Echo Park and can be shipped anywhere in the US for a donation of any amount to Farm Sanctuary. Stay tuned for the digital version, coming soon!


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Take It Easy

Clear, defining factors that separate Creole from Cajun cuisine are difficult to tease out of each bubbling hell-broth of boiling gumbo, but the difference between typical low country cooking and the offerings at Easy Creole are unmistakable. Born on the bayou, seafood is practically synonymous with the traditional fare, and a love of wild game means that no offal is too awful for inclusion. Uprooting the concept and bringing it to Northern California, this one-of-a-kind kitchen populates half of the menu with entirely vegan options. Though an unthinkable compromise to some, it takes only a taste to realize that no concessions are made when it comes to the underlying flavor, heart, or soul.

Original inventions like Thai Peanut Etouffee meet classic Mahattan Maque Choux or Mushroom Stroganoff, all on the same plate and served over white or brown rice. Unfamiliar with these bold compositions? Don’t be shy, just ask for a taste! Unfailingly friendly servers readily dish out samples, as if doling out tasting spoons at an ice cream parlor, until you strike upon the perfect stew to suit your mood.

An endlessly evolving menu brings a new excuse to drop by every day, but makes it difficult to recommend any particular dish, for fear of heartbreak or disappointment. Luckily, a few of my favorites have proven to be returning staples, enjoyed on many occasions in the past and no doubt many more to come.

Spinach and Mushroom Etouffee is a personal favorite, a creamy and deeply savory combination that hits all the right notes when I’m craving a bite of comfort. It’s a dish that can pull me out of the house at a moment’s notice, as soon as it appears on Easy Creole’s Instagram feed. Considering how often I fall victim to that siren song, perhaps it would be wise to stop following that endless stream of temptation. That said, falling into that delicious trap time and again over the course of two years has yet to disappoint.

Most medleys are quite mild, designed to accommodate for all tastes and all hot sauce preferences, of which the choices are downright mind-boggling. Over two dozen bottles of fire water populate each table, right alongside a generous shaker of nutritional yeast. You know you’re in the right place when you see those golden yellow flakes in ample supply, mixed in with the other condiments as if it was no big deal. Though the cheese and sour cream toppings are out, raw onions are always a good choice to add crunch and cut through the richness of any of the luscious, rich stews. Don’t forget to finish the meal with a side of perfectly crisp garlic bread, satisfyingly greasy in all the right ways.

One constant, at least, is dessert. Dairy-free Rice Pudding is served chilled year-round, spiked with unexpected flecks of citrus; a zesty contrast to the predictable cinnamon-spiced approach. Fruits may vary, but expect soft stewed apples or simmered raisins in most cases. Dive in with an open mind and don’t sweat the details. As promised by the restaurant’s name, it’s easy to fall in love with.

Easy Creole
1761 Alcatraz Ave.
Berkeley, CA