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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Spice Kit and Tea Garden Restaurants SOMA

I took the opportunity today, between dire deadline demands to wander over to San Francisco and taste some 'street food'.  Yes, I overate, I am a pig, a straight haired Mangalitsa sized pig.  I met a friend of mine, Rob Bergstrom, for lunch and a chat about food, after all, what do you talk about over lunch but food.  Rod has recently started off a new venture on fish sauce, which has triggered an old passion for street food.  Because of the nature of our health department regulations, real street food is hard to find.  But, it has become popular now to serve street food from restaurant settings, with high quality ingredients and preparations allowing me to partake of foods that I had to give up due to some health issues.

Spice Kit is an Asian Fusion/Street food place of the best type, offering quality meats and preparations in forms familiar to anyone that has eaten off of a food cart or hole-in-the-wall place.  I ordered the pork belly steamed pork bun and a 5-Spice chicken Banh Mi.  The flavors were bright, pure and clean with well prepared meats.  The 5-Spice, often not fresh, clearly had the pungent, aromatic qualities that only fresh ground 5-spice can really have.  The chicken was intensely flavorful with fresh sugar pickled veggies and a home made pork pate, that is often sorely missed in Banh Mi I have had elsewhere.  The bread was a little disappointing to me, as it was not what I have come to expect and the size of the sandwich was on the large size.  I can see why people would like the larger bread and sandwich size, but, the flavors become tired by the time you are done.  The steamed bun with pork belly was just terrific, the soft white bun with the savory pork belly was perfect with the flavor and texture of the pork being spot on.  Again, the flavors were clean, precise and showcased the meat very nicely.  Oh, and order the Taro Chips.

Then we wandered over to a place that Rob highly recommended, called Tea Garden, it features take-away dumplings, buns and other items with a Taiwanese flavor.  This was hole-in-the-wall at it's finest.  The counter and kitchen are built into what was probably once an parking garage office.  Small with limited space, the steamed pork bun with pork belly here was earthy, braised with the skin on, and served on a white bun with braised pickled mustard greens and some other herbs and spices.  The flavor was complex with a definite feel of something cooked by a family.  It lacks the precision of the classically trained chefs at Spice Kit, but, just as good in it's own way.

Spice Kit
405 Howard St
(between Fremont St & 1st St)
San Francisco, CA 94105

Tea Garden
515 Mission St
(between 1st St & Ecker Pl)
San Francisco, CA 94105

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