In a city as great as San Francisco there is no shortage of food nor culture to be consumed. I don’t get to visit enough which intensifies the ‘culinary criminality’ of playing favorites or frequenting a particular place when there are so many more to be discovered, but when you love food and you find a place that fits, it’s hard to resist the urge. For example, within an hour of landing at the airport and dropping off my bags I found myself a seat at Katana-ya Restaurant and barely budged for the next two days. OK, maybe I shifted from my seat at the bar to a table near the middle and then a table near the front, but night after night I could be found there, washing down my worries with a draft Sapporo before diving into a tasty treat or two, or three!
I was lucky to find Katana-ya so close to my hotel (thanks to my wife and her nose for great food and restaurants). I feasted on everything from Shiromaguro Tataki to Fried Chicken Ramen. I found the menu grand with many classic and creative takes on Ramen, Udon and Soba noodle soups, but alas Japan is far from Vietnam and what I came here for was great Vietnamese, so I sought to return to the place where on a previous trip I had felt the most at home and had come closest to what my imaginary Vietnamese grand ma might have made. That place is Turtle Tower Restaurant.
Returning there in my mind as I write this relaxes my shoulders and takes my stress level down a notch. I had such fond memories of dining at the large communal style round table near the rear of the restaurant, almost splashing droplets of soup on my neighbors as I gobbled up my share. Surrounded by happiness as person after person came in looking hungry and weary of the day before washing it all away with a bowl of that ancient elixir of health, a warm bowl of soup.
I was welcomed by the same smiling faces as in previous years. This time I started with Poached Chicken on the bone served with a dipping sauce of lime, salt, pepper and vinegar. The dipping sauce defined this dish adding a perkiness and a pinch of squint and pickle to the steaming yellow jelly skin, thin layer of fat, and firm tan meat that lay beneath, but the winning edge in this dish was the wonderful infusion of flavor from the perfectly seasoned broth that poached this bird. Served at a temperature just below hot it was a fantastic entrée to my Entree.
My second course? No surprises there. Pho Bo the dish that has come to define San Francisco for me and Turtle Tower does it very well. The broth clean, warm and lovely although one dimensional, but made all the lovelier by the absolute clutter of tender brisket, tripe and fresh greenery in the bowl which left little space to immerse and cook the side dish of ground raw prime beef. The mixture was a massive cluster of flavors and textures akin to a nebula of dense deliciousness. Even to the eye it has the depth and complexity of a dwarfed galaxy that somehow collapsed into a bowl and the taste is likewise celestial. I slowly savored every drop languid in the company of my bowl like it was an old friend I visit with far to seldom. I was glad this would be the last taste on my lips as I left San Francisco. Hopefully there will be many happy returns.