Grilled Pork Loin (South FWB, San Francisco CA)

GRILLED PORK LOIN

THE SPOT: SOUTH FWB, San Francisco CA

South FWB (an acronym for “food and wine bar”) is a great little hideaway in San Francisco’s SOMA (the acronym for “South of Market” district), directly across from the CalTrain station on Townsend Street. It’s intimate but comfortable, stylish but not pretentious, and the food and service will not disappoint. In short, South FWB is a hidden culinary gem in a city full of great restaurants.

THE DISH: GRILLED PORK LOIN

South FWB offers a very simple, nicely grilled pork loin, drizzled with its own jus, and capped with small strips of pear and micro-greens. The pork has perfect grill marks, and a small ramekin heaped with crispy shoestring sweet potatoes adds a spicy touch. Simplicity is bliss; the grilled pork loin is a seasonal lunch offering.

Grilled Pork Loin, South FWB, San Francisco CA
Grilled Pork Loin, South FWB, San Francisco CA

THE GRADE: EXCELLENT (4 out of 5)
THE DAMAGE: $14 (lunch)
THE SKINNY: SOUTH FWB RESTAURANT

330 Townsend St, San Francisco, CA 94107

Phone: (415) 974 5599 

Website: http://www.southfwb.com/

Menu: http://www.southfwb.com/menu 

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Fried Alligator Sausage (The Praline Connection, New Orleans LA)

ALLIGATOR SAUSAGE (in BBQ sauce)

THE SPOT: THE PRALINE CONNECTION, NEW ORLEANS LA  

Some people think Louisiana is full of people eating frog, alligator, and all sorts of other wild and strange beasts at every turn. While that can be true in spades in South Louisiana, it’s not easy to find alligator sausage. So it’s a treat to find such a hearty snack at The Praline Connection, a deceptively named eatery that’s as renowned for fried chicken as its famous house-made pralines.

The Praline Connection still draws local New Orleans crowds for its Creole and soul food. Despite it being too brightly lit for dinner, The Praline Connection’s perfect for a late night dinner or snack on Frenchmen Street, when you’re headed to (or from) Snug Harbor, Blue Nile, Apple Barrel Bar, or The Spotted Cat. Co-owners Cecil Kaigler and Curtis Moore are usually on site sporting their jazz-era porkpie hats, walking through and conversing with guests to ensure things go well. Their servers also show a similar spirit: friendly and attentive, but cool. With its lingering reputation as a mecca of flawless soul food, one’s high expectations might fall short on certain Praline Connection dishes. But luckily, we found the fried alligator sausage. 

THE DISH: FRIED ALLIGATOR SAUSAGE IN BBQ SAUCE

Spicy, smoky, and slightly sweet, the alligator sausage is a true Praline Connection winner. The texture and consistency of the alligator sausage is great: the outside skin is a bit crisp from the fry but the pithy meat is plenty juicy and flavorful within.  But swirling alligator sausage in barbecue sauce pushes the little appetizer to snapping heights. Praline Connection’s BBQ sauce is a little moat of beauty, well suited for fried ancient reptiles. 

THE DAMAGE: $6.95

THE GRADE: Awesome (5 out of 5)

THE SKINNY: THE PRALINE CONNECTION

542 Frenchmen St, New Orleans, LA, 70116

Phone: 504/943-3934

Web: http://www.pralineconnection.com/

Spaghetti & Meatballs (Sodini’s Bertolucci’s, S. San Francisco CA)

SPAGHETTI & MEATBALLS

The Spot: Sodini’s Bertolucci’s Ristorante, South San Francisco CA

Sodini’s Bertolucci’s is the kind of old-school Italian joint that you would imagine finding in downtown Las Vegas, or in Eastern New Jersey. With its giant signage, black-and-white awning, and exterior murals of Italian landscapes, it’s a holdover from another era, and a surprising discovery off the main drag in South San Francisco. Giant, framed turn-of-the-century European posters, a wraparound gold striped curtain, a garden fountain, and swirling red booths that swallow you like the jaws of Jonah’s whale make the interior like a Sopranos backdrop, but cleaner.

Sodini’s Bertolucci’s is a fun place to eat, with friendly service and hearty lunch portions at a decent price. Sodini’s Bertolucci’s is probably my favorite place to have lunch in South San Francisco thus far.

The Dish: Spaghetti & Meatballs

Along with Joey & Eddie’s in SF, Sodini’s Bertolucci’s makes the meanest spaghetti and meatballs I’ve eaten in a long, long while. There’s a nice amount of hearty ragu across the pasta, efficiently cooked, and the meatballs are slightly firm on the outside and perfectly tender inside. Just a well-done classic that I hope more people will venture to Sodini’s Bertolucci’s to enjoy.

The Grade: Excellent (4 out of 5)

The Damage: $14

Partner with a glass of Stracali Chianti ($7.50)

The Skinny: Sodini’s Bertolucci’s Ristorante

421 Cypress Avenue, South San Francisco, CA

Phone: (650) 588-1625

Website: www.sodinisbertoluccis.com

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Meatballs (Osteria La Buca, Los Angeles CA)

MEATBALLS

THE SPOT: OSTERIA LA BUCA, LOS ANGELES, CA

The décor at Osteria La Buca is charming and warm for an urban conversion, with high ceilings, exposed steel beams and brick walls. The interior blends simple sophistication into an overall feeling of a neighborhood joint and since that part of L.A. doesn’t have many, it’s a nice feeling to be there.  The place has three dining sections: two downstairs and one upstairs. The little front garden room where people want to sit most looks to me like a sad terrarium or after-thought of a smokers’ lounge in a forgettable foreign airport. You’re too close to the neighboring tables, which is OK if the food is stellar. It just depends if you like that room enough to sit close or if you have the L.A. gene that requires you always be seen. I prefer the front wraparound area downstairs, which feels more like  a bustling neighborhood cafe.

The all-Italian wine list is a nice touch, but most diners would need some waiter assistance with selections from a list of grapes and blends uncommon to the typical American palate. Unfortunately, my waiter at Osteria La Buca automatically pushed the most expensive glasses to us. I knew two other choices were equally good and about half the price, so this was a bad takeaway. Pushing higher priced menu items without consideration for the customer is just a pet peeve of mine regarding restaurant service. Hopefully, that guy’s not working there anymore.

THE DISH: MEATBALLS (appetizer)

The most recent night I dined at Osteria La Buca, meatballs were a special appetizer. They were excellent and perfectly cooked, the way an ancient family recipe warrants. It was a bit odd that the meatballs didn’t sit on, say, some polenta or something to make the appetizer a bit heartier. But the meatballs properly hit the spot nonetheless, with fresh-baked crostini to soak up the ruddy marinara sauce.

Meatballs, Osteria La Buca, Los Angeles

THE GRADE: EXCELLENT (4 out of 5)

THE DAMAGE: about $14

THE SKINNY: OSTERIA LA BUCA

5210 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles CA

Phone: (323) 462-1900

Website: http://www.osterialabuca.com/

Smothered Chicken (Creole Lunch House, Lafayette LA)

SMOTHERED CHICKEN

THE SPOT: CREOLE LUNCH HOUSE, LAFAYETTE LA

Creole Lunch House is an old home turned diner in Lafayette, the heart of Cajun Country in South Louisiana. It’s a lunchtime favorite with blue-collar workers and downtown office workers alike, and definitely not on the tourist or guidebook radar (yet). You’ll see the oyster shell parking lot and the little wooden sign next to the institutional green wooden siding of the house. The unpretentious décor of Creole Lunch House includes artworks by local artists, although it’s mostly a nice afterthought to the basic tables and chairs. The real art is the food. You’re really there for the little chow line to sample a small smorgasbord of Southern specialties, cooked with love by the Creole ladies of the house.

Little Chow Line at Creole Lunch House, Lafayette LA

THE DISH: SMOTHERED CHICKEN (over rice & gravy)

Southern style smothered chicken would have as many variations as there are Southern grandmothers, but the basic ingredients include onions (yellow and green), celery, bell pepper, oil, flour, salt, and pepper. Some folks use bacon drippings and/or chicken stock to enhance the gravy.

I’m not sure the exact recipe the Creole Lunch House ladies serve, but the smothered chicken there is awesome. And you can choose from a fantastic offering of side dishes that include Southern favorites like rice dressing, rice & gravy, yams, collard greens, and cornbread muffins.

If I lived in Lafayette, I’d probably eat at Creole Lunch House two or three times a week, as the main dishes vary daily, and the hearty plates would be my lunch and a good leftover dinner. (Do you see all that styrofoam take-out packaging??)

To me, the food is more Southern and soul, but there are some Creole specialties as well. This is South Louisiana, after all. The sweet ladles at Creole Lunch House really pile it on the plate, so go hungry.

Smothered Chicken Plate, Creole Lunch House, Lafayette LA

THE GRADE: EXCELLENT (4 out of 5)

THE DAMAGE: under $9 for a lunch plate and soda. unbelievably cheap.

THE SKINNY: CREOLE LUNCH HOUSE

713 12th Street, Lafayette, LA 70501

Phone: (337) 232-9929

Website:  Nope

Creole Lunch House sign
Creole Lunch House sign