Six Creative Ways to Say ‘I Love You’ (With Food!)

Food is already a great way to say “I love you,” but here are some ways to make it even more memorable when saying I love you this Valentine’s Day!

Idea #1: Making Edible Pancake Art Together

Pancakes cook quickly and are liquid in uncooked form, making them perfect for some edible art! Get a sauce bottle, fill it up with pancake mix (easy recipe here), and get creative together!

This is what a sauce bottle looks like a la Chef's Catalog

This is what a sauce bottle looks like a la Chef’s Catalog

Level 1: write each other’s names in cursive!

Level 2: make pretty heart-shaped pancakes

Heart Shaped Pancakes

Level 3: get 3D and colorful with food coloring

3D Panckes

Idea #2: A Picnic…Underneath the Stars

Anybody can do a cute picnic…instead, do one under the stars! Go to your favorite park at night, set up a couple of blankets, and have a nice intimate dinner (by candlelight if you can swing it). Then drink some champaign or wine and look up at the night sky.

If you’re in San Francisco, unfortunately, the night sky will look like this.

Black Sky

Instead, you can look at the skyline from Alamo Square Park, Bernal Hill, or (if you’re willing to travel farther) Mission Peak and see this.

Alamo Square Park

Alamo Square Park

Bernal Hill

Bernal Hill

Mission Peak a la Michael James Photo Studio

Mission Peak a la Michael James Photo Studio

Idea #3: A __ Crawl (ice cream, tacos, coffee, $4 toast…)

What do you two like? Pick the top 3-5 places that serve that and have a tasting. Then, rank everything and see if you agree!

Here are some initial ideas for San Francisco:

  • Ice Cream: Birite, Humphrey Slocombe, Three Twins, Mr. & Mrs. Miscellaneous, Smitten
  • Tacos: La Taqueria, Tacolicious, LOQUI (hidden gem!), Padrecito, La Oaxaquena, Taqueria Cancun
  • Coffee: Ritual, Four Barrel, Blue Bottle, Contraband (check out our espresso and drip coffee class this Saturday, February 8)
  • $4 Toast: Trouble Coffee, The Mill, Tartine Bakery

Idea #4: Home-Made Chocolate Fondue

Almost everything tastes better dipped in chocolate. If you two agree on this, this is a good activity for you.

First, figure out how to melt chocolate.

Then look through some initial ideas of what you can dip in it! Here are a few creative suggestions to get you started:

  • rice crispy treats
  • mini cream puffs (frozen)
  • mochi (frozen)
  • thick cut potato chips
  • crystallized ginger

Beware: this might get messy…but that might be a perk😉

Idea #5: Couples Iron Chef Potluck

If you want to make this Valentines Day a social activity with friends, have a Iron Chef-themed potluck. Have a few friends who are willing to sit it out set up a secret ingredient, let everybody know at the same time, and sit at the judge’s table. Then, all the contestants can start cooking on the day of the event a 3-course meal including this key ingredient. Once people arrive with their food, have judging and then tasting!

A spin on this is to have an around the world potluck — pick a type of food like noodles or dumplings that is present in every culture and have each couple represent a part of the world. Each person or couple then brings the dish from their part of the world. For example, people representing China would bring dumplings but people representing Mexico might bring empanadas.

Iron Chef

Premium Idea: Bring a Chef Home

Use a service like Kitchit to bring a chef into your own home. We recommend doing a cooking class (estimated at about $200+), but you can also just lean back and have the chef cook you a great meal.

Idea #6: Combine wine, cooking and dancing for an evening you’ll both remember!

There are so many couples’ activities around food include wine tastings, cooking classes, or food tours. Why not combine all three and come to our Antologia Vinoteca experience on February 8? Get ready for a fully hands-on cooking class on ceviche, a three wine tasting flight, some sangria and flatbreads, and maybe even some salsa dancing if you’re in the mood (with tips from owner Carlos ;)). Here’s a lovely picture of how one couple plated their ceviche the last time we hosted this:

Nothing says "I love you" like ceviche, made and plated by a Simmr guest at Antologia Vinoteca!

Nothing says “I love you” like ceviche, made and plated by a Simmr guest at Antologia Vinoteca!

8 Can’t Miss Menus in SF Dine About Town

Today is the 2nd day of Dine About Town (“DAT”), a bi-annual event that promises 10-25% discounts at over a hundred SF restaurants through January 31st, 2014. Dine About Town menus offer two-course lunches for $18.95 & three-course dinners for $36.95.

Finding the restaurant with the best Dine About Town offerings requires some digging. Luckily, Simmr has taken care of all the work for you! Here’s a list of our favorites:

Lunch

The Cavalier’s marble floors and red leather banquettes

1. The Cavalier: The Cavalier certainly didn’t skimp on their Dine About Town menu, giving guests the option to pick two mains for each of the two lunch courses (instead of slapping on a dinky dessert as the second course). Not only will you get your pick of the best reviewed lunch items (we recommend the Fish and Chips that Michael Bauer wrote about or the Farro and Roasted Beets for vegetarians), you’ll probably be able to feed two with just a Dine About Town menu for one, saving at least $9 off the menu prices. Also, here are some secrets about The Cavalier you probably didn’t know:

2. La Mar Cebicheria Peruana: This waterfront Peruvian establishment even threw in an extra course on their DAT lunch menu, making sure you leave happy with some delicious seasonal sorbet in your stomach and saving you between $11 and $15 on your meal through DAT. You have to try the Cebiche Clasico and the for the vegetarians out there, both the Empanada Tamalito and the Causa Vegetariana are tasty, so take your pick. You’ve also probably rarely had quinoa served the way it is at La Mar, wok fried with bell peppers, eggs, soy sauce, and fried egg noodles! If you’re in the mood for a drink, try the Pisco Sour — everyone on Foursquare has been raving about it for ages!

3. Absinthe: Absinthe has been on the Eater38 list for many years now, and is old gold here in San Francisco–one of the few restaurants that has maintained a stellar reputation for over 15 years of operation! What we like about Absinthe’s DAT menu is that it actually offers up dishes not typically on their menu. Not only that, but what amounts to be a free dessert from Absinthe means a lot more to us than it would at another restaurant, because Absinthe’s dessert chef, Bill Corbett, was named one of the Top Ten Pastry Chefs in America. So you know we’re excited when we read “Apple Pie Panna Cotta” as the second course on Absinthe’s DAT lunch menu! Remember, though, Absinthe’s Dine about Town lunch menu is only offered Tuesday through Friday.

Dinner

1. Roka Akor:  Others have said it and we agree, especially if Prime Beef Filet with Chili Ginger Sauce sounds amazing to you. Roka Akor’s menu is the best Dine About Town has to offer–you’ll save almost $30 on a meal here through DAT! Not only that, but we started drooling when we read “Warm Valrhona Chocolate Cake with Sightlgass Espresso Ice Cream.” Roka Akor opened only 6 months ago, is on the Eater heatmap, and we’ve been completely wowed by their food presentation–just check out these pictures! Just don’t take your vegetarian friends, because there won’t be much for them to eat.

2. Fog Harbor Fish House: Fog Harbor Fish House is a 100% sustainable seafood restaurant–they buy fish every single day and typically receive fish within 24 hours of it being caught, so you can expect some fresh seafood. While you eat, you’ll get some beautiful views from Fog Harbor’s Pier 39 location and as a bonus for Dine About Town guests–2 hours of free parking after 6pm in the Pier 39 garage! Depending on what you order, you’ll save between $8 and $16 on your meal–we hear the oysters and crab are both amazing. Don’t say we didn’t warn you though–it is a bit touristy looking as is anything in the Pier 39 area.

Vegetarian AND Omnivore-Friendly Options

We don’t recommend that you take your vegetarian friends to Roka Akor or Fog Harbor Fish House, but here are some equivalently excellent options that are great for vegetarians, too!

1. Chapeau!: Chapeau is one of the ONLY restaurants participating in Dine About Town that is rated more than 4 stars on Yelp (with over 1800 reviews, too!) Why do they even participate if they’re already so good? We think it’s probably because of their location in the less frequented Richmond district of San Francisco. People already rave about Chapeau’s Prix Fixe menu as being a great deal, but DAT makes it even more affordable (by $8). Furthermore, Chapeau takes its service seriously, which can often make or break a restaurant experience. Wendy and I went on a rainy day and they went out of their way to make sure we were able to stay dry on our way out — no wonder they got SFWeekly’s Best Service recognition in 2012.

2. Isa:  Unlike many other restaurants doing DAT, Isa decided it wanted to give you a four-course meal instead of just three. For two of these courses, you won’t even know what to choose, because you’ll be looking at 7+ options, each! We recommend the dungeness crab salad and the seared scallops. Vegetarians, the spaghetti with Himalayan truffles and truffle risotto are both delicious. Isa is great for big groups (even groups of 20) and has an adorable heated patio in the back. Try the wine list, too — Isa picks the most talented of winemakers to work with. Side tip: Dishes will come out as they are ready so tell your wait staff if you’d like them all to come out at the same time.

3. Dosa on Filmore (more so than Dosa on Valencia):  If you haven’t been to Dosa before, Dine About Town is a great way to try it.  Instead of making the third course of their DAT menu a little $7 dessert, Dosa decided to give patrons an EXTRA entree for the third course, so not only will you get to try many of Dosa’s signature dishes, but depending on what you order, you’ll save over $18 off their typical menu. Having been to Dosa, I can tell you that the portions are very generous and I’d guess that one DAT menu is probably enough to feed two. Putting the great value aside, Dosa does a wonderful job of serving, as ‘Check, Please!’ describes it, “innovative South Indian faire” without compromising authentic South Indian flavors. As an added bonus, Dosa uses natural, free-range & grass-fed lamb, cage-free eggs, antibiotic-free & hormone-free chicken, and sustainably-caught fish and non GMO oils. Feels like something out of Portlandia, eh?

For restaurants other than the ones listed above, Dine About Town is not the best way to dine. Four reasons why

  • Many of the best restaurants aren’t participating: We could make a ‘Simmr heatmap’ of all the hot restaurants in San Francisco that aren’t doing Dine About Town and it wouldn’t look too different from Eater’s 38 list….
  • Incentives aren’t aligned: The event overall caters to individuals who don’t normally eat out at $$ or $$$ establishments or who are traveling into San Francisco. Neither type of guest is likely to return again. Therefore, many restaurants aren’t incentivized to make much of an effort to leave guests happy. What restaurants expect:

  • Not a great value: Over a dozen of the 100 restaurants we looked at in our analysis actually leave you at a disadvantage for doing Dine About Town–charging you more through Dine About Town than you’d pay if you went in on a normal night and got the same dishes! Many others only amount to a $2 discount or at MOST a free dessert.
  • Nothing special about most menus: Many of the menus are offered on a day to day basis and few restaurants have made an effort to give you a great sampling of what’s spectacular on their menu.

So if you’ve tried all the above recommendations or if none of them tickle your fancy, you ought to

  1. Treat yourself to a nice meal at Mason Pacific, one of Simmr’s top picks for San Francisco and recent winner of a Michelin Bib Gourmand.
  2. Go try State Bird Provisions and notice every restaurant you’ve ever eaten at fade in your memory with each bite. We’ll be raffling off some spots in our group reservation on February 12th to Simmr members in a few weeks (sign up to be a member here).
  3. Get a truly special experience at Radio Africa and Kitchen, a completely underrated gem of a restaurant in the Bayview. We even have the hook ups to get you a personal kitchen tour, and sauce making class and a chance to meet Chef Eskender himself for only $10 more than the DAT dinner menu.

Let us know if we left off some stellar menus and tell us where you wind up going!

9 Ways to Score that Impossible Reservation

Welcome to San Francisco, where even the late Steve Jobs can be turned away from a popular restaurant, where Pizzaria Delfina installs a live video stream to help customers monitor the wait time, and where a remarkable restaurant called State Bird Provisions generated the creation of “reservation bots” that book tables as soon as they become available (code here).

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Alas, what to do? Here are some insider tips on how to increase your chances of getting that hot table.

1. Become a regular

No matter how successful a restaurant is, their aim is to get repeat, loyal customers. So, if you find a place you really like, revisit them. Get to know the staff. (Simmr events are designed to help you get to know the people behind the business as friends!) Also, one of the best kept secrets is that people in the industry help each other out — so if you’re a regular at one place, you can potentially have the staff call another hot location and speak on your behalf.

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2. Get noticed

If becoming a regular isn’t an option, get noticed in some other way. We recommend attending a Simmr event and meeting the people at the restaurant in an intimate setting. You can also like them on Facebook, follow on Twitter, leave comments, and leave Foursquare tips — trust us, it makes a difference!

Don't get noticed like this

Tossing your hair will not get you noticed

3. Book at the right time

The best times to make reservations are:

  • 2-4 weeks in advance
  • 2 days before your desired date. Find out when restaurants confirm their reservations and call around that time because that’s when cancellations open up new seats. Prime tables held for VIPs or friends of the house are also generally released back into the reservation system at around this time.

4. Use your hotel concierge / credit card (especially AmEx)

Ask your hotel concierge for information on that city’s best spots. A good concierge will show off the best his/her city has to offer and will get you a seat. Restaurants are happy to accommodate concierges because they are one of their key channels to get the word out.

5. Walk in

Every restaurant holds tables. Once they decide that Scarlett or Brad isn’t going to show that evening, they will free up these tables for walk-in customers. This tactic also has the perk of getting you some of the best tables.

6. Dine in pairs

Grab one friend and one friend only — any more than that and you’re requesting that a host find you a 4+ person table. Having just one friend also makes sitting at the bar, where you can often order off the full menu, easier.

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7. Be willing to eat early

Restaurateurs often need help filling early tables, but toward the end of the night, tables are often filled by walk-ins and people who linger over dessert.

8. Manners, manners

The reservationist has probably talked to 20 other people like you in the last hour, all of whom were just as desperate, whiny, and threatening. Make them remember and want to help you — be courteous and empathetic.

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9. Escalate

Ask for a manager. Sometimes just the act of asking for a manager will make a reservationist comfortable enough to make an exception. And if you do get the manager, make a case for why you deserve a last-minute table. Insiders say restaurants are turned off by those claiming to be hot shots or big spenders. A better strategy is to cite special circumstances — a spouse’s birthday, an important client coming to town, a burning desire to visit the restaurant while in town for the weekend.

What NOT To Do

Lie

Even if it’s telling them it’s your birthday. At least have somebody else in your party tell them it’s your birthday.

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As you probably noticed, most of these tactics involve getting remembered or noticed. Dining with Simmr makes this happen because you’re meeting the restaurant chef/owners in a small setting and you’re learning something unique about the business that you can bring up when you visit again! Check out our upcoming events and fast track your way to all the perks of being a regular!

6 Secrets behind Japan’s Low Obesity, Longevity, and Health

“What if there was a land where people lived longer than anywhere else on earth, obesity was remarkably low, and women in their forties still looked like they were in their twenties? Wouldn’t you want to know their extraordinary secret?” — Japanese Women Don’t Get Old or Fat by Naomi Moriyami

Source: Lizzie McGuire

Source: Lizzie McGuire

The secret, Naomi Moriyama explains in her book, can be found in her mother’s Tokyo kitchen — Japanese home cooking (as opposed to the sushi and izakaya plates we typically see in restaurants).

Here are 6 secrets from inside a Japanese mother’s kitchen that you can incorporate to make your life healthier!

Secret 1: The five pillars of the Japanese diet are fish, soy, rice, vegetables, and fruit

Japanese people eat more than 2x as much fish, 10x as much soy products, and 5x as much cruciferous veggies (broccoli, kale, cauliflower, cabbage) as Americans do. In exchange, they eat significantly less milk, butter, cheese, pasta, and red meat.

Easy resolution: Substitute fish for meat whenever you can!

Source: Hauling Gear

Source: Hauling Gear

Secret 2: The Japanese eat much smaller portions, and think carefully about how their food is presented. 

In Japan, food is meant to be eaten slowly, and every bite should be savored. Meals are presented on tableware that is much smaller, and the principles of food presentation are:

  • Never completely fill the plate
  • Each item is served on its own dish

Easy resolution: Savor your food more by focusing on it — when you eat, only eat — it can take as little as 15 minutes and you’ll be recharged to do what you need to do next with more focus and energy

Source: jesuisteleactrice

Source: jesuisteleactrice

Secret 3: For Japanese cooking, the best cooking is the least cooking 

Japanese kitchens are usually too small for ovens, so Japanese people usually gently steam, pan-grill, sauté, simmer, or stir-fry their food. These methods preserve more of a food’s nutrients.

Easy resolution: When you cook, try to make sure people can recognize what the food looked like in its natural state (e.g. potato –> mashed potato doesn’t pass the test)

Secret 4: The Japanese eat rice instead of bread with every meal

Japanese people eat a medium portion of rice with almost every meal and by having it, they are able to avoid the more processed and less fiber-rich calories in muffins, rolls, and white bread.

Easy resolution: replace rice for bread for one meal this week

Secret 5: Japanese people have mastered the power breakfast

A typical breakfast in Japan includes green tea, a bowl of steamed rice, miso soup with tofu, nori seaweed, fruit, and a small omelette or piece of grilled salmon. In Japan, breakfast is the most important and often biggest meal of the day.

Easy resolution: Make sure you always eat breakfast!

Source: Tumblr

Source: Tumblr

Secret 6: The Japanese have a healthier relationship with food

Probably the single most important difference – Japanese people have a healthier relationship with food.

“Americans primarily associate food with health objectives such as being thin [rather than] with the simple pleasure of a satisfying meal.” — Steve Hawks, Associate Professor of Health Science @ Brigham Young University

Easy resolution: stop thinking about calories and instead focus on how wonderful food tastes and how satisfied you are when you have had a good meal

Source: 30 Rock

Source: 30 Rock

What to do next?

  • Learn some of the basics of Japanese cooking by coming to our Onigilly event — get some hands-on action with Japanese ongiri and Onigilly’s high quality seafood/meat/veggie fillings
  • Copy this easy resolution list:
    1. Substitute fish for meat whenever you can!
    2. Savor your food more by focusing on it — when you eat, only eat — it can take as little as 15 minutes and you’ll be recharged to do what you need to do next with more focus and energy
    3. When you cook, try to make sure people can recognize what the food looked like in its natural state
    4. Replace rice for bread for one meal this week
    5. Make sure you always eat breakfast!
    6. Stop thinking about calories and instead focus on how wonderful food tastes and how satisfied you are when you have had a good meal

6 Most Common Coffee Drinks and How to Navigate Your Way Around Them

Legend has it, coffee was discovered when Ethiopian shepherds noticed their goats were getting frisky and having trouble sleeping after eating from certain bushes.

Source: Cheezburger

Source: Cheezburger

It reached America during the Colonial period, where it wasn’t as successful initially because, um, people preferred to drink alcohol. It wasn’t until the Boston Tea Party, after which many Americans refused to drink tea, that coffee really started becoming popular. Today, coffee is the second most traded commodity on earth (oil is the first)!

The basic brew has been transformed in so many ways that looking at a cafe menu can feel overwhelming…especially before you’ve had your coffee. Here’s a quick and dirty explanation on the makeup of some of the most popular drinks.

1. Espresso and Drip Coffee

The main differences between espresso and drip coffee are how finely ground the coffee is and the brewing time. Espresso is more finely ground and espresso machines generate high pressure to force water through the tightly packed ground coffee, thus shortening the brewing time. This produces a “shot,” or a small amount of pretty concentrated coffee.

Credit: Coolhunting

Source: Coolhunting

Drip coffee, on the other hand, is made with loose ground coffee, through which water filters by the power of gravity (woo!). Because hot water is in contact with the coffee grounds for much longer, this creates for a more caffeinated beverage.

Credit: Clover Food Lab

Source: Clover Food Lab

2. Americano

An Americano is a shot of espresso with hot water. It is served without milk (add milk and you will be judged). The effect is a diluted espresso that is less bitter than black drip coffee.

Credit: Amigos Coffee

Source: Amigos Coffee

3. Macchiato

A traditional macchiato (vs. a Starbucks one…) is a shot of espresso topped with a small amount of frothed milk. It delivers a very potent espresso flavor, with the frothed milk cutting the intensity of a pure shot of espresso just a little.

Frothed milk (as opposed to steamed milk) is milk in which air has been incorporated to form a foam. This creates a new texture for the milk and a slightly sweeter taste.

Credit: Wikimedia

Source: Wikimedia

For all intents and purposes, this basically tastes like espresso, though, so imagine the “gotcha” moment for somebody ordering their first non-Starbucks macchiato…

surprisedbaby

4. Cappuccino

A cappuccino is one part espresso, one part steamed milk, and one part frothed milk. If made properly, every sip should include equal parts of each. The steamed milk cuts the intensity of the espresso much more than in a macchiato but nowhere near as much as in a latte.

Credit: Ventnor Coffee

Source: Ventnor Coffee

5. Latte

A latte is two parts steamed milk and one part coffee. More milk means a more diluted espresso flavor, so the drink is gentler tasting and can also be more easily flavored with syrups like hazelnut or pumpkin spice.

It’s kind of like the gateway version of coffee.

Source: http://www.caffelatte.com/images/CaffeLatte_Glasses.jpg

Source: Caffe Latte

6. Mocha

A mocha is a desert-y drink that is kind of like a latte with cocoa powder or chocolate added. When you get a mocha, you’re pretty much getting an adult hot chocolate, where adult means caffeinated, not spiked. It’s ok to just get the hot chocolate.

Source: www.wikimedia.org

Source: Wikimedia

For extra credit:

Gibraltar/Cortado

Usually not on the menu (but something any decent barista can make), the Gibraltar/Cortado is a little like the secret handshake of coffee geeks. They are two names for the same drink, which is a shot of espresso with some steamed milk. The intensity of the espresso flavor is somewhere between that of a macchiato and a cappuccino.

The name Gibraltar came from the Gibraltar glass in which it was originally served, so if your barista apologizes for not having the right type of glasses, just smile magnanimously and wave it off.

Source: www.foodrepublic.com/

Source: Food Republic

Now go forth and order like a pro.

Interested in learning how to make all of these and taste them side by side? Check out our upcoming event with Contraband Coffee Bar and enjoy a night of coffee geekery!

So Much Pun – Vietnoms (get it?) Version

Believe it or not, there is actually an entire subculture that loves not just food puns, but pho puns. Pho (“fuh”) is a Vietnamese noodle soup made up of a clean, savory broth, fresh rice noodles, aromatic herbs, and tender, juicy meat. Or at least that’s what pho at Turtle Tower is like.  You might’ve seen it on the 7×7 100 Things to Eat list, or maybe in one of its 2,000+ positive Yelp reviews (heck, do I even have that many Facebook friends…?). If not, Alex and Kristina over at Bites by the Bay wrote a good homage to Turtle Tower’s Pho Ga (Chicken Broth Pho) that you should check out.

Point is, Turtle Tower is the star of our next event (punnily titled “Pho Shizzle“), so we thought it would be irresponsible of us to not write a post on pho puns…just for conversation starters during the event, you know. So here are our 10 favorites! If you have others, tell us!

Number 10

Crop?image_url=http%3a%2f%2fpre.cloudfront.goodinc.com%2fposts%2f1287792007pho-king

Pho-King Delicious. Oh, you don’t say?

Number 9

Crop?image_url=http%3a%2f%2fpre.cloudfront.goodinc.com%2fposts%2f1287708630pho4
Un-pho-gettable. How can you pho-get such a great pun?

Number 8

Crop?image_url=http%3a%2f%2fpre.cloudfront.goodinc.com%2fposts%2f1287710567pho6
Absolutely Pho-bulous. Not sure how this is pronounced…and whether it means fabulous or fabulously fobby.

Number 7

Crop?image_url=http%3a%2f%2fpre.cloudfront.goodinc.com%2fposts%2f1287712158pho7
Pho Sho. The first cousin of Pho Shizzle, our event title.

Number 6

whatthepho
What the Pho? You probably see a trend emerging here.

Number 5

pho1
No Pho King Way!? We love audience participation.

Number 4

pho2
Hot as pho. Not just for restaurant names…can be seen on cute girls, too! (Guys, this also doubles as a decent pick up line).

Number 3

pho3
iPho. The new, hot and steaming device.

Number 2

pho4
Friend or Pho. Okay, the pronunciation is off, but we liked the concept.

Number 1

pho5
Pho Kim Long. Say it out loud. What’s great about this one is that it wasn’t even planned.
Craving some warm, hearty pho now? Sign up for Turtle Tower‘s Pho Shizzle event on October 29 before it sells out! You can look forward to joining Turtle Tower‘s Chef and Founder Steven Pham as he retells his journey of 10,000 miles from his beloved homeland, Hanoi, Vietnam to San Francisco to bring authentic Hanoi-style Vietnamese cuisine. Get an exclusive, guided tour with Chef Steven of Turtle Tower‘s new, open kitchen where you’ll see up close and personal all the steps of making and assembling pho. After, customize your own, off-menu bowl!

The Onigilly Event – The Rice is Right!

Check out this awesome post from the bloggers Alex and Kristina at Bites by the Bay about our recent event with Onigilly (The Rice is Right!). We really couldn’t have said it better ourselves…

Simmr presents:  The Onigilly event!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Place:

As great as it is to go around and stuff our faces at all the restaurants in SF (and great it is), when it’s time to have a meal at home, our cooking skills just can’t seem to compare to the high standard The List has set for us.  Now, we are being a little self-deprecating.  We can make a pretty decent meal, but we often find ourselves trying to the make the dishes we have when going out, however they never seem to hit the mark.  The problem is that while we know how to eat the food at our favorite restaurants, we don’t know much about it or how to make it.  Other times we notice our dining experiences kind of running together.  Get a drink, order apps, eat good food, rinse and repeat.  We find ourselves wanting something a little different.  So how does one rectify these issues?  Enter Simmr, a company that connects customers to local restaurants through unique events.  Simmr teams up with chefs and restaurants to create fun, hands on experiences that are sometimes part learning and part eating.

We really like this idea because it has obvious benefits to both customers and businesses.  For customers, they get to experience a restaurant in a way they’d never get to normally.  Depending on how the event is set up, they may learn a little about the concept and history behind the food, they may get to make the dishes, or they may have a sweet customized meal just for them!   Not to worry about price either, this value came for a VERY reasonable price.  For businesses, they get a great chance to give customers a more in-depth look at what makes them special and to forge a more personal relationship.  This can really help create evangelists for their business and increase word of mouth.

IMG_2281

So, on to the food!  The Simmr event we decided to attend was hosted by Onigilly, a Japanese restaurant that specializes in the traditional onigiri, or rice balls, with a little flair of fusion.  Onigilly has two set locations as well as a stand and a roving foodcart.  The event took place in their location in the Financial District, a nice and cozy spot with an open kitchen and a small upstairs.  We were not sure what to expect on arrival but the Simmr and Onigilly staff was very friendly in welcoming us, giving us name tags, and directing us to the event area.

Things kicked off with an introduction of the staff and a description of what we’d be learning / eating.  The size of the group was perfect, roughly 15-20 people, just enough to have fun but not too large.  We had a nice time meeting our table-mates (and of course had an easy topic to talk about, food!), one of whom we found out runs the excellent blog Shikha la Mode which we highly recommend.  After the intro we jumped right into the demonstration!

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The Dish:

The first thing covered was the rice.  Onigilly uses a custom made brown rice that is 30% polished and actually looks a bit more like white rice.  Their method is straightforward; soak the rice for 30 minutes in a 1 : 1.5 ratio of rice to water, and then cover on medium high heat for 10 minutes and fluff.  One of our biggest shocks for the evening was how damn good that rice was.  It was slightly sweet with a little hint of earthiness and the perfect texture.  Unfortunately the rice is custom made for them by Koda Farms, so we might have to search a bit to find something comparable.

Next up was the onigiri itself.  Onigiri dates back about 2,300 years as a popular, quick meal.  Samurai would carry onigiri into battle for a quick and hearty snack.  The concept is very simple; pressed rice and a savory filling, all wrapped up in seaweed.  Though this sounds similar to sushi, it is far from it.  We were told that onigiri is just as popular as sushi in Japan, and more of a staple (we’ll have to ask Uncle Mark, who lives there).  The Onigilly staff gave us a quick demo of two different techniques of making onigiri and then we were let loose to try our hand at it.  There were four different fillings to choose from; Ume (sour pickled plum), Hijiki (soy-braised seaweed and carrots), spicy shrimp, and spicy bacon.  Of course we tried making all four (multiples of each as well).

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Though our onigiri maybe didn’t turn out as pretty as the one’s made by the staff, we were surprised by how compact and easy to hold they were.  Definitely makes sense that these are great for on the go.  Another cool thing is since the fillings are already cooked in different sauces, there’s no need to fumble with the mess of pouring soy or wasabi on it (something anyone who’s had to-go sushi has probably gone through).  All four were delicious, though the seaweed and bacon were our favorites.  The seaweed added a nice meaty texture and crunch and imparted a burst of soy flavor.  The bacon was……well, it was bacon, which is always awesome, but add some spice to it?  Bam!  Now you’re speaking our language.

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We sat down to enjoy our variety of delicious rice balls and were also greeted with edamame, miso soup, marinated mushrooms, chicken katsu, and some delicious infused sake.  Talk about food overload in the best way possible!  We chowed down, comparing notes with the other patrons, talking about food experiences, and generally just having a kick-ass time.

The Verdict:

Yes to Simmr and yes to Onigilly.  We really had a fantastic time, and one that we felt was very unique.  Have you ever watched a cooking demonstration on the Food Network and thought, wow, that looks fun?  Well this is that in real life.  We really enjoy what Simmr offers for a number of reasons.  First off, the best way to learn is by doing, and this allows you to step inside the kitchen of local restaurants and really get to know how things are made.  We are always looking for different types of experiences, and this event was definitely something you don’t get often.  It was so neat to meet the chefs and get to ask questions about the food, their philosophy, and their history, all while eating to our hearts content.  We are looking forward to our next event (especially when we heard that Simmr is teaming up with our favorite pho place, Turtle Tower!) and highly suggest you do the same.  How each event is structured will vary, but you can be sure that it will be something unique.  We will definitely be back to Onigilly and look forward to some more spicy bacon onigiri!

*Note*  There’s going to be another Onigilly event hosted by Simmr, and you should definitely check it out and sign up for the wait list (events get triggered when enough people sign up!)  http://www.simmr.co/events/3

Dig In,

A & K

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Get your dessert on – in the form of a sandwich!

Get your dessert on - in the form of a sandwich!

What can be better than a perfect balance of banana, honey, chocolate, peanut butter, and frosted flakes within a fresh brioche bun? Oh, that’s right. BACON. (An optional add-on for you vegetarians out there)

Mission Picnic is tiny, adorable new sandwich shop at 22nd and Valencia. It’s the perfect spot to satisfy that sandwich craving with plenty of sweet, savory, veggie, and vegan options. Check it out – the wait’s always short and the staff always friendly! There may not be too much seating, but Dolores Park is only a few blocks away.

Sound Bytes after Tava

The feedback is in — we’re hearing some great things about Tava from event-goers!

I was very impressed by Vijay’s knowledge…The glass jar was the best thing ever. Getting a high quality, physical thing to take home meant a lot.

–Jordan L.

The…demo was great. I thought the owner gave a really thorough explanation, and I was happy to learn about chai, get to try theirs, get my own JAR (I freakin’ loved that jar), and then get a spiked chai. The whole progression [of the event] was the best part of the evening.

–Lauren S.

[I am] more likely to go there now because I’ve … met the owner. [I] feel more of an emotional connection. [It was] good that Vijay was available to talk before and after. He had the right personality to be running that kind of event. He had good charisma.

–Ritu T.

[The event] was a great way to get a new intro to a place I didn’t know about.

–Bonni S. @ Chrysanthemum food blog

I don’t like hot drinks, and, believe it or not, I’ve never had tea before, but now I’m hooked in chai!

–Hans M.

After this, I fully trust Vijay can put on a great event, so I would definitely go to another Tava event.

–Charles Z.

Success! — Tava’s 1st Simmr event on the rich, spicy history of chai

After 3 months of staring at a computer screen to build our website, we are happy to announce that we have launched Simmr beta! Our first restaurant is one very close to our hearts (and offices) — Tava Indian Kitchen.

We first met Vijay and Hasnain, co-founders of Tava, in their Palo Alto location, back when we were building an Angellist for small businesses. In classic startup stalking fashion, we noticed what looked like a meeting between the founders of Tava and a vendor. After some nonchalant loitering, waiting for that meeting to end, we approached Vijay and Hasnain. They graciously agreed to answer our questions about how Tava got started.

Fast forward 9 months, past 3 restaurant fundraisings, many conversations with small business owners, and a tough but well deliberated pivot, we reconnected with Tava. A lot had changed on their end, too – with a very successful store in Palo Alto, they had opened a San Francisco store … right across from where we work. With the energy and enthusiasm of an entrepreneur who gets the importance of building real relationships with customers, Vijay signed up to become a pilot Simmr business.

Vijay and Simmr

The Simmr team (Jamie, Wendy, Neeharika) + Vijay

There were so many possible ideas, but we finally settled on showcasing Tava’s chai, a unique blend of 10+ spices that Vijay and his team researched and concocted.

Spices Words

Spices on spices on spices in Tava’s store decor

The evening of the event, attendees were greeted by Vijay and a long communal table. After everybody had a chance to get their fill of Tava’s delicious food, Vijay stepped up to the head of the table with about a dozen glass jars of spices in front of him, some easily recognizable, some completely foreign. He first talked about his background and Tava’s story. The founders of Tava had left comfortable jobs in consulting and private equity to create Tava, which actually is the word for a large, flat griddle used in South Asian cooking for bread.

Eating and Chatting

Attendees eating and chatting amongst themselves

Vijay Presenting Audience

Vijay telling about Tava’s story

Vijay Presenting

Vijay showcasing a spice

Vijay Demonstrating

Vijay preparing a spice

Vijay described how in Indian homes, fresh bread was a norm, such that somebody was consistently bringing out fresh roti during a meal. Inspired by this and the wide range of fresh, high quality Californian ingredients, Tava starts each ordering process by putting a ball of uncooked dough on the tava. As the roti cooks in front of the customer’s eyes, an employee and handy menu guides the customer to first choose a rich base sauce, a protein filling, and a melee of fun, colorful chutneys. All these ingredients and spices are mixed in a bowl or wrapped within a warm, slightly chewy roti.

Sustainable Ingredients

Tava’s sustainable philosophy

Order Process

Attendees going through Tava’s ordering process

Vijay Helping Out

Vijay getting down and dirty behind the counter to help the line go faster

Burrito Bowl

Ah, the finished product!

Chai, Vijay explained, is a centuries-old beverage commonly drank in India after meals. It produces a warming, soothing effect, and acts as a natural digestive aid. Chai literally means “mixed-spice tea” and is made by brewing black tea with a mixture of aromatic Indian spices and herbs. The spices and herbs vary across region and personal preference. In creating the chai on Tava’s menu, Vijay and his co-founders researched a vast array of spices including cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and star anise to come to a well-balanced mixture that is lightly sweet and creamy with a warm, spicy kick – what they call ‘Christmas in a Cup.’

Vijay carefully described each spice and the flavors it brings or enhances before passing each jar for attendees to smell and touch. We learned interesting facts like that peppercorn (from which pepper is made) is actually a fruit and that green ones are milder in flavor than their black counterparts.

Interacting with Spices 2

Touching and smelling a spice

Interacting with Spices

More touching and smelling of spices

Armed with this knowledge and a fresh cup of chai, participants then created their own chai spice mixes to take home in glass jars. Vijay walked around and engaged with each attendee personally, helping to answer questions and giving suggestions on what might be interesting mixes based on each person’s tastes. After some time to chat and interact, we announced a surprise for the evening – a cold, alcoholic chai that was spiked with vanilla vodka, something that Vijay helped create with us and was visibly excited about.🙂

Mixing Jars 2

Filling personal jars to take home

Mixing Jars 3

Stuffing tea bags with strong, Assam tea

Mixing Jars and Drinking Chai

Sippin’ and mixin’

Mixing Jars

Hard at work!

Mixing Jars with Vijay Interaction

Vijay lending a hand and answering questions

All in all a successful night! People who came in skeptical about chai went away loving it and saying they’d stop by Tava just for the chai. Everybody got to have a real conversation with Vijay and felt like they formed a rare kind of relationship with Tava.

Empty Tava Jar

Empty jar

Filled Jar

Filled jar to take home🙂

What’s next, you ask? Many more events with Tava and others like Turtle Tower, Samovar Tea Lounge, American Grilled Cheese Kitchen, and Radio Africa Kitchen! Tava is thinking of featuring their chutneys (yogurt raita, tamarind, cilantro, mint, among others!) or mango lassi, or hosting a “Tava laboratory” where you get to hop behind the counter, operate the cool tava, and mix and match ingredients to your heart’s desire.

Comment or email us with your suggestions!

Check out Tava on

Simmr | Simmr Event Page | Tava’s Site | Yelp San Francisco | Yelp Palo Alto | Facebook | Twitter

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