Category Archives: Chickens, Cornish Game Hens

Chicken & Andouille Sausage Gumbo (Brenda’s French Soul Food)

BRENDA’S FRENCH SOUL FOOD, SAN FRANCISCO CA

Chicken, Sausage, Okra Gumbo (Brenda's French Soul Food - SF)

Chicken, Sausage, Okra Gumbo (Brenda’s French Soul Food – SF)

Like most sane people, I rarely eat Cajun food outside of Louisiana. I’ve had awful “Cajun” food in New York and Los Angeles, and even Cajun food in Texas and Mississippi can be suspect. I also think blackening fish is criminal, and chain restaurants with anything Cajun on their menu need some schooling. By schooling I mean an old nun with a cane cut from a pecan tree bent on a proper instruction, the kind one remembers for life.

But when somebody moves to a city from New Orleans or Lafayette or any little town in between, my interest is piqued. Brenda’s is just that: literally a hole in the wall run by a New Orleans transplant who puts out authentic Southern, Creole, and Cajun style cuisine.

Only open for breakfast and lunch, Brenda’s has a 45-minute wait at any given brunch time on weekends. Minimum. Definitely worth it, if you had some breakfast already. (Do the folks outside Brenda’s windows look like Tenderloin locals or very hungry hungry brunch-sters? Yep, you know it.)

So, with the caveat that I’m not on a gumbo run, I can authoritatively say this is the best, most authentic gumbo I’ve had east of Lake Charles in as long as I can remember. Seriously good chunks of smoky sausage, juicy chicken, and okra in a nice, moderately dark roux: that little bowlful is richer than it looks, y’all.

The Grade: Excellent / Awesome
The Damage: $7.25
The Tip: Brenda’s is CLOSED TUESDAYS  and only open until 3pm
The Skinny: Brenda’s French Soul Food
652 Polk St, San Francisco, CA 94102-3328
Phone: (415) 345-8100

Buttermilk Fried Chicken (Town Hall, SF)

Buttermilk Fried Chicken

Buttermilk Fried Chicken - Town Hall, SF
Buttermilk Fried Chicken - Town Hall, SF

There’s a reason that Town Hall has had buttermilk fried chicken as a menu staple since their inception. It is just awesome. It’s the best fried chicken you may have in the last year, or perhaps your lifetime. It is simply that good. Perfect batter crunch, and sweetly tender inside, the fried chicken comes with smashed potatoes slurred with a fantastic country bacon gravy. (A colleague who had it reckoned it was the best country gravy she’d ever tasted.) The veggies are seasonal: either collard greens or, here, a chop of summer squash and tomatoes. At mid-year, Town Hall’s buttermilk fried chicken is the best fried chicken of 2009, and gets our highest grade (awesome).

Buttermilk Fried Chicken (detail), Town Hall SF
Buttermilk Fried Chicken (detail), Town Hall SF

The Grade: Awesome

The Damage: $22

The Skinny: Town Hall

342 Howard Street, San Francisco CA
Phone: (415) 908-3900
Website: http://www.townhallsf.com/

Buttermilk Fried Chicken (bacar, SF)

Buttermilk Fried Chicken

Buttermilk Fried Chicken (bacar, SF)
Buttermilk Fried Chicken (bacar, SF)

Caveat emptor: the buttermilk fried chicken at bacar was part of a special July 4th weekend dinner that also included ribs, cole slaw, and a honey-drizzled slab of cornbread (see pic below).

But the fried chicken skin was so light and crispy and the chicken so  perfectly juicy, that I really hope they consider adding it to the menu as a more regular item. Slightly piquant, the batter was really great.

The waiter came by to say the fried chicken had soaked in buttermilk for 12 hours. Nothing like buttermilk to break down meat, making it incredibly tender. This is among the best fried chickens I’ve had in 2009, and gets my highest grade (awesome).

The Grade: Awesome

The Damage: $18

The Inside Tip: Order wines cautiously. Bacar’s wines by the glass tend to be expensive. Keep the wine list at your table so you’re not surprised at the bill.

The Skinny: bacar

448 Brannan St., San Francisco, CA 94102
Phone: (415) 904-4100
Website:
http://www.bacarsf.com/

Buttermilk Fried Chicken (with BBQ ribs, slaw, cornbread)
Buttermilk Fried Chicken (with BBQ ribs, slaw, cornbread)

Fried Chicken (Louisiana Fried Chicken)

Fried Chicken – Louisiana Fried Chicken

Louisiana Fried Chicken + Dirty Rice
Louisiana Fried Chicken + Dirty Rice

Sometimes your body needs fried chicken. It’s not a passing urge; it’s a downright need. Your body says, “Give me fried chicken or I will do something crazy. Fried chicken, now. FRIED CHICKEN!!” 

There are a bunch of chicken chains more famous, and you can’t speak out for consistent quality across each franchise of a chain, but I must say that Louisiana Fried Chicken is killer. Super-crisp skin and drip-on-your-fingers juicy chicken. Get a two-piece or three-piece with a small side (instead of the combo with side, which is more expensive). Dirty, dirty, dirty rice. I want to wag my finger at you like Stephen Colbert, but I’ve already eaten you. 

Did I say how kick ass the chicken is, for a chicken chain?  And it’s about the only thing near AT&T Park you can get for this price before a Giants game. Skip those heinous raw garlic fries at the stadium; get your Louisiana Fried Chicken on, you orange and black screamers. Home runs here.

The Grade: Awesome 

(highest grade)

The Damage: around $6 for 2-piece chicken only with small side

Otherwise your mileage may vary.

The Skinny: Louisiana Fried Chicken

90 Locations, including Cambodia!!!
But let’s be practical:

761 Third Street, San Francisco CA
Phone: I doubt they’d answer it if I gave it to you.
Website: http://www.louisianafriedchicken.com/ (It’s annoying and not nearly as compelling as this review)

Moroccan Chicken (Spruce, SF)

Moroccan Chicken

Moroccan Chicken (Spruce, SF)

Moroccan Chicken (Spruce, SF)

Every so often, one needs the nurturing of chicken. Odd that a nervous, annoying little fowl could render such comfort, but it’s one of the mysteries of life. For some, it’s a hot bowl of chicken noodle soup (goy), or motzah ball soup with chicken stock (oy). For me, it’s a great roasted, baked, or fried chicken. 

And the Moroccan spiced chicken at Spruce is one of the best chicken dishes I’ve had in 2009. Slightly sweet, dreamily aromatic, and skin-crisp, the bird reveals its juicy interior with a soft slice. With couscous, almonds, and dates, it veers toward the sweet without going wandering-mad in the desert. A generously portioned plate and another potential perennial favorite from Chef Mark Sullivan at Spruce. A stellar bird dish; high recommendation. 

The Grade: Excellent

The Damage: $26

The Skinny: Spruce

3640 Sacramento Street, San Francisco CA
Phone: (415) 931-5100
Website: http://www.sprucesf.com/
Hours: Lunch M – F 11:30am – 2:30pm; Dinner nightly 5 – 10pm
Chef: Mark Sullivan 

Make a reservation at Spruce via Open Table

Chicken Mole (Casa Vega, Studio City CA)

Chicken Mole – Casa Vega, Studio City CA

I’ve had chicken mole at many places, and Case Vega makes a pretty darn good mole. The rice & beans topped with cheese is pretty standard; tastes like most any Mexican restaurant’s rice and beans. Well, the beans are above average, actually. But the mole, one of Casa Vega’s house specialities, is pretty wicked. It’s a well-balanced mole, imbued with  smoke and chocolate and it swarms in your mouth with heat, smoke, meatiness, and sweet.

Chicken Mole, Casa Vega Studio City CA
Chicken Mole, Casa Vega Studio City CA

The Spot: Casa Vega, Studio City CA

If you can deal with the boisterous, noisy, margarita-dosed crowds and mediocre service at best, Casa Vega can be a fun place to hang with friends. (Really, the service needs a new manager to train the whole staff…it’s just too slow.) It’s generally better (safer) to drink there than to eat, but some dishes (like the chicken mole) are worth the poor service. For Mexican fare, especially in a city with great Mexican food like Los Angeles, Casa Vega is  pricey and not your best value. But Casa Vega is about fun; it’s  an old-school restaurant. Launched in 1958, its walls are peppered with dark Mexican-themed paintings that are nearly 40 years old. I don’t think it’s changed much since its opening, so that’s what you’re paying for. There’s not much old-school respect in L.A. so you can find more quirky places like this in the Valley. Margaritas are pretty great, as is the people-watching. There are always odd celebrities in the joint, and a curious cross-section of Angelenos.

Casa Vega's Old-School Neon Sign
Casa Vega's Old-School Neon Sign

The Grade: Very Good, maybe Great (depending on margarita intake)

The Damage: ? expensive.

The Skinny: Casa Vega, 13301 Ventura Boulevard,  Sherman Oaks, CA 91423
Phone: (818) 788-4868
Website: www.casavega.com

Hours: Mon – Sun, 11:30 am to 2:00 am

No reservations! (That means go early or drink often whilst you wait)

Casa Vega on Urbanspoon

BAKED CHICKEN (Pressed Chicken)

CHICKEN – Pressed Chicken

Bistro Don Giovanni, Napa CA

 

Baked (Pressed) Chicken, Bistro Don Giovanni, Napa CA
Baked (Pressed) Chicken, Bistro Don Giovanni, Napa CA

 

The Dish: Pressed Chicken

Simple, hearty dishes make Bistro Don Giovanni a favored dining spot for Wine Country locals in the know. I’ve dined at Bistro Don Giovanni a few times over the past year, and I really love their pressed chicken. It’s baked in the oven then finished in the pan, giving a crisp, crunchy skin that covers a perfectly cooked, lusciously juicy half-bird. 

It comes with a deep swirl of peppercorn gravy, but I always ask for more; it’s so good the amount on the plate is just a tease. The chicken is paired with a nice seasonal vegetable; it might be broccoli rabe or new potatoes, but it’s always equally good. 

The Damage: $19

The Grade: Excellent (4 out of 5)

The Skinny: Bistro Don Giovanni

4110 Howard Lane (Highway 29), Napa, CA 94558-1635

Phone: (707) 224 -3300 

Web: http://www.bistrodongiovanni.com/

Directions: http://www.bistrodongiovanni.com/directions.htm