E&O Asian Kitchen

meter-great-E&O Asian Kitchen is a great place to eat. The varied and fanciful menu is packed to the gills with delicious Asian-influenced flavors and preparations, but somehow everything still seems down-to-earth. Some “fusion” type restaurants seem to trip over their own feet by trying too hard to be weird, but E&O has a much better idea of how far to go without over-cheffing things. The food is interesting but not shocking, and even the pickiest eaters are likely to find something here they’ll enjoy.

” It sounded too much like a place to buy T-shirts “

It was Friday night, and I was fighting tooth and nail with an intersection full of other exasperated drivers for the very last parking spot in San Francisco. Miraculously, I emerged victorious – neener neener! I had arrived at E&O only just in time for the 6:30pm reservations that had been made, dinner party in tow. Whew. A few minutes later we were seated at our table in the back of the restaurant’s stylishly appointed dining area, browsing the drink menus. E&O has a decent selection of hand crafted specialty beverages, as well as a small but admirable selection of beers.

We placed our drink orders and got down to the serious business of narrowing down our food choices, most of which feature an Asian flair of some sort. I remember this restaurant back when it was called E&O Trading Company, but apparently the ownership decided it sounded too much like a place to buy T-shirts or trade stock online. In a cunning stroke of subtlety, they changed the name to “E&O Asian Kitchen”, an obvious attempt to club people over the head with the fact that they serve Asian cuisine. Still, as a business I can’t really fault them for this approach. Sometimes you need to shout in the faces of your potential customers in order to get their attention – that’s life in the cutthroat restaurant industry.

Meat on sticks. Satay is caveman food done all fancy-like.

Meat on sticks. Satay is caveman food done all fancy-like.

Ham-fisted name changes aside, E&O’s menu is varied, intriguing, and fun to explore. There were so many different things we wanted to try that we opted for a collection of small plates and appetizers instead of ordering entrees. We kicked it off with one of E&O’s signature dishes: Indonesian corn fritters. We added steak satay, butternut squash dumplings, drunken noodles, and black pepper shaking beef. Our food arrived remarkably quickly and looked wonderful. Kudos to the kitchen staff for being on top of things in the middle of a busy Friday night.

Probably the worst picture of anything I've ever posted. Deal with it. These are corn fritters.

Probably the worst picture of anything I’ve ever posted. Deal with it. These are corn fritters.

The steak satay was so good that we immediately ordered another plate, and we nearly doubled up on the corn fritters as well. Ahh, the corn fritters. They were delicate, crispy, decadently fried, and yet as light and sweet as fresh corn. I could make an entire meal of just those, no problem. If you feel like maybe you’ve heard of E&O’s corn fritters before, you probably have. They are awesome enough to have been featured on the Food Network, so if you haven’t tried them before you owe it to yourself to seek them out.

Butternut squash dumplings. Who'da thunk it?

Butternut squash dumplings. Who’da thunk it?

The butternut squash dumplings were the biggest surprise for me personally, mostly due to the fact that I didn’t expect to like them. I find the flavor and texture of squash to be off-putting at times, but neither of these traits made an appearance in the dumplings. They were creamy and wonderful, and the red curry lemongrass sauce was jam packed with the delicious flavor of every single Thai dish you’ve ever had. The drunken noodles were the only real let-down, and that’s because they were simply good and not great like everything else on the table. I’ve also been spoiled by the drunken noodles at my favorite Thai place, so E&O’s version just didn’t quite make the grade for me.

The drunken noodles were mostly just tipsy.

The drunken noodles were mostly just tipsy.

For dessert we opted for an order of “bananamisu”, devil’s food cake with salted caramel, and spicy ginger cookies. As with the savory dishes, all of the desserts were excellent. The bananamisu, as astute readers might guess, is a banana-based twist on tiramisu. It’s a combination that really works.

Knock knock. Bananamisu. Bananamisu who? Not sure where else to go with this one.

Knock knock. Bananamisu. Bananamisu who? Not sure where else to go with this one.

The well-executed (although predictable) devil’s food cake was delicious, but it was the ginger cookies that got my attention. They were just-so chewy, warm, and intensely gingery. Two of us at the table thought the cookies were tastiest, while the devil’s food cake and bananamisu got one vote each for best dessert. Because I don’t care about opinions that differ from my own, we can conclude that the ginger cookies were indeed the best. One thing that did catch my eye about the bananamisu and devil’s food cake was how similar they looked to one another. They were both dark brown, rectangular bricks of the same size served on the same dish at the same offset. Considering how creatively everything else was plated, this stood out as a bit of a shortcut. There, how’s that for being picky?

COOOOKIIEEEEE  (These are the ginger cookies I mentioned earlier, by the way.)

COOOOKIIEEEEE (These are the ginger cookies I mentioned earlier, by the way.)

In the end, I wasn’t able to find much at all to complain about with regards to my experience at E&O. The only thing that really stood out was that the shaking beef would have been better if it was served with rice. Of course rice is available as a side, but it wasn’t until after the meal that we realized we had missed out on soaking up all that wonderful sauce. It wasn’t a deal breaker by a long shot, just a curious omission. Based on the excellent experience all of us had throughout the meal, I rate E&O Asian Kitchen a solid 9.2 out of 10 corn fritters. It’s certainly worth looking this place up, assuming you can somehow find a parking spot.

E&O Asian Kitchen
314 Sutter Street
San Francisco, CA 94108
(415) 693-0303
www.eosanfrancisco.com

E&O Asian Kitchen on Urbanspoon


If I squint my eyes I can almost see the salted caramel. No, it's gone now.

If I squint my eyes I can almost see the salted caramel. No, it’s gone now.


Standard Restaurant Review Disclaimer
The ambiguous and illogical rating system used in this review is not intended to be pinpoint accurate. It’s only there to give you a general idea of how much I like or dislike an establishment, and it also gives me an excuse to write silly things. If my rating system angers and distracts you, there’s a good chance you have control issues. I would also like to point out that I am not a highly qualified restaurant reviewer person, nor do I particularly care what that job is called. If you were under the impression that perhaps I was one of those people, consider your hopes dashed. Lastly, wow! You read the entire disclaimer. You get a gold star on your chart today.


Random Revisit: Xanh

meter-good+Hot on the heels of a scheduling error, I found myself at HNVX just a week after my first visit. Exactly nothing at all had changed, just as I suspected it wouldn’t. The decor was still just as rave-y, the waitstaff was still as quick and polite as before, and the menu was just as extensive. Clearly I would need to look harder if I hoped to find something new to complain about.

” It’s like trying to eat spaghetti with a rubber mallet and a football “

My wife and I met our previously-scheduled friend just inside HNVX and followed the host person to a cozy table. By “cozy” of course I mean “nestled between a pillar of glowing purple glass bricks and a wall textured like an avocado”. Naturally. After scanning the menu, we formulated our attack plan for dinner and relayed the order to our waitperson. We selected papaya salad (I was outvoted), pineapple beef short ribs, and a bowl of “Pho You, Pho Me”, HNVX’s questionably-named interpretation of classic Vietnamese noodle soup. Because we liked them so much last time, we also ordered some crispy potstickers and Kobe rolls.

I can't tell where the papaya ends and the salad begins.

I can’t tell where the papaya ends and the salad begins.

The papaya salad arrived first, and I reluctantly but politely scooped some onto my plate. I took a tentative bite… and wow! What a great dish. I quickly cleaned my plate and took another helping. Delish! It was crispy, light, and had a mild sweet flavor that was superb and palette-cleansing. And here I thought I didn’t like papaya. I’d certainly order that again.

Somebody at HNVX isn't quite sure what spoons do.

Somebody at HNVX isn’t quite sure what spoons do.

Next up were the short ribs, and they smelled great. Curiously, a spoon was provided. A spoon? I can think of a dozen different ways to eat ribs, and exactly zero of them involve the use of a spoon. Come to think of it, that was the same story with the colossal prawns on our last visit – they came with an utterly useless spoon. Seriously, why? It’s like trying to eat spaghetti with a rubber mallet and a football.

Ignoring the pointless utensil (accidental pun!), the short ribs were excellent. They were marinated and grilled to perfection, and the quality of the beef met even my absurdly picky standards. They didn’t last very long though, but we also had potstickers and Kobe rolls to keep us busy. Regardless, thumbs up on the ribs.

It was pho-nomenal.

It was pho-nomenal.

Finally, and with much anticipation, the pho arrived in a huge bowl. We ladled it out into smaller bowls (note puddles of sloshed soup in above photo) and got to work. It was magnificent. There are probably better examples of the breed lurking somewhere in the dark corners of the Bay Area, but for my money I’m quite happy indeed with HNVX’s rendition. The beef was tender and flavorful, the broth was rich, and there were plenty of noodles to go around. The next time we come here I will definitely be getting this, and I won’t be sharing.

I’m happy to report that my second visit to HNVX was better than the first one, and the first one certainly wasn’t bad at all. With a wider sampling of the menu literally under my belt, I’ve upped the Om-nom-eter™ a tick from its previous reading.

Xanh
110 Castro Street
Mountain View, CA 94041
(650) 964-1888
www.xanhrestaurant.com


Xanh

meter-goodXanh is a Vietnamese restaurant. The sign outside specifically mentions this, I assume to prevent would-be customers from confusing the place with a Piers Anthony novel. Really though, Xanh is more of an Asian fusion type of eatery centered around Vietnamese themes. Don’t let the extremely posh post-modern decor fool you; there are some tasty eats to be found here.

“We need to get going. We’re meeting people for dinner tonight, remember?” my wife said.

“Oh yeah, that’s right,” I lied. “I was just going to get dressed.” I changed into some socially acceptable clothes, grabbed the car keys, and drove us to downtown Mountain View.

I had no idea there was a night club on board the Starship Enterprise.

I had no idea there was a night club on board the Starship Enterprise.

” We felt somewhat on display as we thumb wrestled crustaceans “

As we walked into the back entrance of Xahn, I was immediately struck by the über-chic decor and the muted beatnik electronica rhythms pulsing through the restaurant’s invisible sound system. The overall ambience is about halfway between a black-turtlenecks-only spoken word coffee bar and a full blown rave. Excitingly hidden colored lights abound throughout the establishment, pointing at all sorts of interesting angles and highlighting pretty much everything.

They’re trying too hard to be hip,” said my better half.

“Well, yeah, but they’re kind of doing it,” I replied. As I looked around the crazy decor I noticed a quiet section of wall where half a dozen Michelin Guide dining awards hung. That was a surprise, and also a good sign.

This particular wall is decorated like an alcoholic police car.

This particular wall is decorated like an alcoholic police car.

The people we were supposed to meet hadn’t arrived yet, so we decided to have a drink while we waited. Although the wide selection of on-tap beers made me very happy, I immediately felt way too old to be sitting at the clinically modern bar. In fact, nearly everybody I know would be either too old to be at this bar or simply not old enough to drink. Take your current age in years and subtract 21; that’s how many years ago you should have hung out here, but certainly not now. If you asked me to describe the bar’s decor with a single, hyphenated phrase (Let’s just pretend like you did), I would call it “techno-sterile.”

We decided that a table would be a better place for us to hang out, so we sat down and began reviewing the extensive menus. “XANH” was stylistically written in large, modern font across the cover of each menu. I couldn’t help but notice that, when viewed upside-down (i.e., from the other side of the table) it spelled “HNVX”, which just so happens to be the sound a Rottweiler makes when choking on a kazoo. It’s an odd thing to print on a menu cover.

Primiti too taa nnz kkr muu?

Primiti too taa nnz kkr muu?

We ordered some crispy pot stickers and Kobe rolls as appetizers, and in just a couple of minutes they arrived at our table; HNVX certainly receives high marks for prompt service. As advertised, the pot stickers were crispy and delectable, the chicken-and-shrimp filling was excellent, and the soy vinaigrette was a wonderful addition. The real star for me were the Kobe rolls, which were very much like traditional spring rolls with the added bonus of delicious steak. The crispy shallots sprinkled across the plate were like miniature oniony potato chips, only better. The provided clear sauce was so mild, however, that it almost had no flavor at all. It wasn’t bad per se, it was just mostly a why-bother type of affair.

Each pot sticker was inexplicably perched atop a weird and stumpy spoon-ladel. Alrighty then.

Each pot sticker was inexplicably perched atop a weird and stumpy spoon-ladel. Alrighty then.

As we finished the appetizers, I noted that our dinner double date was now officially 30 minutes tardy. Suddenly, my spouse declared, “Oh, I just realized that we’re supposed to be meeting them next weekend, not today. Sorry! Should we order dinner?”

Oh for the sake of… You know what though? This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. We got to eat at a new restaurant and try a couple things on the menu we normally wouldn’t have. We confided the scheduling error to the understanding and patient waitstaff, booked another table for the following weekend, and ordered some shrimp with garlic noodles (one of HNVX’s most popular entrees) to share.

Release the Kraken!

Release the Kraken!

The garlic noodles were quite good, but honestly they were not the very best I’ve ever had. I would certainly order them again, and in fact I’d recommend that you do so as well, but for me they weren’t a drop-everything type of dish. The shrimp were also very tasty but again, not alone worth seeking out this restaurant for. One of my problems with this entree in particular was how difficult it was to eat. The shrimp themselves were large enough to require license plates, but the only utensils we were provided were a fork, a spoon, and a pair of slippery metal chopsticks. Our options were to A) pick up a shrimp with chopsticks and chew on the end of it, B) stab a shrimp with a fork and chew on the end of it, C) attempt to saw a shrimp in half using a spoon, or D) eat the entire dish with our hands, primate style. None of these options worked out very well (we had a minor noodle explosion at one point) and we felt somewhat on display as we thumb wrestled crustaceans amidst the stylish and surgically clean decor.

In the end I found that I had enjoyed HNVX (ok, Xanh) quite a bit in spite of its idiosyncrasies and “sleepy rave” decor. I rate it 32 out of 40 backlit vodka bottles, making it worth the trek to Mountain View if you’re reasonably near the area. The food was very good, the service was quick, and the bill was reasonable. I’m looking forward to exploring the menu further when we head back here next weekend, but I need to shop for black turtlenecks and glow sticks first.

Xanh
110 Castro Street
Mountain View, CA 94041
(650) 964-1888
www.xanhrestaurant.com
Xanh on Urbanspoon

UPDATE
This restaurant is so nice I reviewed it twice: Random Revisit: Xanh

These little gems were Kobe-licious.

These little gems were Kobe-licious.