Continuing with the eats that California spoiled us with. San Francisco in particular offered some exceptional Asian cuisine, especially to someone who comes from a country where it is still difficult to get good Chinese fast food, not to mention the nuances of Thai, Vietnamese, Korean etc.
And it was pure luck both times. We stumbled into King of Thai - a fast food joint very close to Union Square - just because we were famished. It didn't look like much from the outside, or, to be honest, the inside. But it was jam-packed with people who clearly should know what good Asian food is all about. So we stayed and sat at the bar-like table near the wall and realized that the entire wall was covered with various framed honor-letters and letters of quality. Zagat's best for every year, etc. The service was very quick and friendly and the portions, so typically for the States were humongous. But they packed them up without you even having to ask for it, so we could finish ours in the hotel. For me and Siim, this was, without a doubt, best Asian we've so far had (not counting sushi here, impossible to have that in the same category).
I had egg noodles with beef broth and fresh cilantro. I wish I knew what the spices and sauces where that made the broth taste so good. Ideas, anyone?
Siim had fried chicken and fried rice, the rice he said, was the best he'd had. I guess it's all down to what you have to compare it against, but we were happy :)
Pot de Pho - organic Vietnamese noodle house. The second time we had a great Asian food experience was also just by chance. Driving through the hilly San Francisco (it really makes you car-sick I must admit) we somehow ended up in a quiet neighborhood with lot's of restaurants and picked that one. None of us had had Vietnamese before and our waiter was extremely amused by that.
We had Vietnamese spring rolls with prawns and tofu - apparently they're nothing like the Chinese ones. They're filled with noodles - in addition to whatever filling you've ordered and covered in a think skin - something that's probably made out of rice flour.
For the main course we all had pho, with chicken or beef or pork or the vegetarian version. Everyone was satisfied. For other Vietnamese cuisine novices - they first bring out a small platter of herbs and spices - marinated onion, cilantro, lime, mint leaves and chilly. Then they bring out your bowl of pho and you're to sink the herbs and spices in it. I still have no idea of what some of the vegetables in my pho were. The chunks were big, so I had plenty of material to sample, but some things I had just not had before.
And the dessert - most of us had vanilla-bean custard covered with chocolate sauce. I have no idea, if this really could be somehow Vietnamese, or typical there or justa CA add-on, but it was very good. As our waiter was so happy with us he brought us coffee on the house. 'Vietnamese coffee', he said, looking all mysterious. Apparently coffee boiled with condensed milk (canned). To a table-full of people who still remember the Soviet Union, the condensed milk, of course, was of no surprise. But we didn't have the heart to tell him, that this Vietnamese coffee sounds like Soviet coffee instead.
All in all it was a great experience. And the place looks really nice, they have bird cages hanging in the ceiling, it is quiet, light and cozy. And on that particular day it was filled with big groups of Vietnamese families having their family lunches. Sunday lunch, you know.