Restaurant briefs: Recent and Unusual

by Max Hauser

“Mondays” (at facilities of Cafe Yulong), 743 W Dana St, 650 960 1677
Monday lunches only.

A novel downtown lunch option began this Spring. Using his parents’ restaurant Cafe Yulong, CCA-trained chef Ronald Pei offers cosmopolitan Japanese-inspired casual lunch fare Mondays only. “Katsu” sandwiches (deep-fried meat or shrimp patties dressed with spicy vegetable salad on Acme torpedo rolls), $7-$8 each, and rotating specials. Basic service, cash only, prices with tax rounded to whole dollar amounts.
Mondays 11:30 – 2. Popularity has grown with local and online buzz.

Pei, whose main career has been in San Francisco restaurants (Postrio,

Salt House, Laiola), is an artist with spices. Garnishes and side dishes, often finger foods, included unusual pickled vegetables and “popcorn” cauliflower (spicy, big hit at our table, $3). French fries ($2) were good. Brussels sprouts finished in savory gold-raisin vinaigrette, roast-pork sandwiches with hot peppers, unusual vegetarian “egg rolls,” remarkable asparagus and crouton salad, and noodle dishes illustrate past specials. I’ve yet to find anything I didn’t like.

The Kitchen Table
142 Castro Street
650 390 9388

Respected local chef Steve Long manages this restaurant, open a year. (Steve has also taught most subjects at SF’s California Culinary Academy, CCA, including instructing Ronald Pei, above). In an only-in-Silicon-Valley connection, the multi-talented Steve
also competes this month in Barbados at the Woz Cup world Segway-polo championships.

After several lunches, I characterize TKT as a moderately upscale, creative, unique restaurant with fresh seasonal ingredients and extensive in-house preparation (condiments, spiced meats, fresh pickled vegetables, etc.). I’ve had some of my best Castro St. sandwich experiences at TKT. The popular, well-spiced house pastrami has many garnish options. One pastrami sandwich on rye was customized to order with excellent house-pickled Fresno chili peppers, accompanied by a salad, itself worth the visit, done with taste and subtlety, strips of tender vegetables and pecans (sandwich with pepper supplement and salad, $13). I and others have enjoyed the excellent French fries, an alternative to the salad. Other dishes have included lamb sausages and lamb “bacon” in BLT sandwiches; kabobs; smoked fish; many vegetarian options. TKT offers Sunday brunches (Web site has current menu). Impromptu live entertainment even happens occasionally when visiting New Yorkers, fussy about their deli sandwiches, complain that TKT’s differs from the version at their favorite Manhattan source.

TKT’s kitchen is Kosher and Halal. That has dominated publicity about
TKT, overshadowing the flavors, which I think recommend it to anyone. One afternoon a black-suited rabbi, evidently missing someone, asked solicitously if I could complete a prayer-group quorum, but being among the untutored goyim, I confessed I might do a poor job. We then turned to discussing the food, whose appeal, we heartily agreed, isn’t only spiritual.

Zpizza, 146 Castro, 650 314 0088,

Zpizza, a locally-owned franchise from southern California, opened in 2008.
In the crowded local pizzeria world, healthy organic and unusual ingredients distinguish Zpizza, which, like Amici’s, bakes its pies on hot bricks to a crisp dark finish. Prices run from $7.50 (10-inch cheese pizza) to $21.50
(elaborate 18-inch); slices available on-site.

Zpizza’s closest competitor is surely Amici’s, but Zpizza’s focus is different. Menu lists three categories of house pizza recipes (and custom “builds” from lists of cheeses, sauces, and toppings, especially vegetables). Of the “Standards,” I’ve tried the pepperoni and sausage-mushroom, liked both. Zpizza’s pepperoni pizza is closer to those I enjoyed in earlier times and in the Northeast (Mecca of classic US pizzas) than other pepperoni pizzas tried locally. Twelve “Zpizza creations” include the visually appealing “Napoli” (fresh tomatoes, basil, roasted garlic sauce, cheeses – some might label it a Margherita). I liked the “Tuscan” with three types of mushrooms, fresh thyme, cheeses, and caramelized onions, but the onions’ sweetness eclipsed the
mushrooms. A customized version without onions worked well as a savory mushroom pizza. The justly popular “Mexican” has spicy lime chicken, multicolored onions, salsa, and cold garnishes of cilantro, avocados, and a sour-cream drizzle, my favorite of “Zpizza creations” tried. “Rustica” pizzas are elongated and free-form, one size, five options, $8.95. Of two or three I’ve sampled, the pear and Gorgonzola has been superb and light; I recommend everyone try it. Salads and sandwiches (including two calzones at $6.95 and a “Yuppie Veggie Sandwich,” $5.95)
complete the menu.

Tip: Local coupon envelopes in the mail have included attractive Zpizza offers such as a free small or Rustica pizza with $20 delivery order. A seriously good value and a pleasant way to sample Zpizza’s wares.

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