At Foreign Cinema, a whole cold Maine lobster ($45). Buried in the oyster and shellfish list at the top of the menu, my Maine lobster, split in half, is sweet-fleshed and moist, just like the ones everyone is eating on the East coast this summer. Pulling out the tail meat is easy. Cracking the big pinchers with a nutcracker to extract big hunks of flesh, no problem. But real lobster eaters suck every bit of meat from the spindly legs.They twist off the tail fins at the end and vacuum the meat out of these. They pull off the head shell to get inside the chest cavity, discarding the spongy inedible lungs on the outer side, using fingernails to dig out the meat, tomalley, and roe on the inside. And, don’t forget to break open the thick legs and knuckles that support the pincher with the nutcracker to get to that delicious flesh. When you finish licking your fingers, remind the waitstaff for a hot towel. One time he brought it; one time she forgot. The next time I come here, I’m ordering a whole lobster all for myself with a carafe of white wine and will make a meal of it. On previous visits, I had to share.
2534 Mission Street, San Francisco; 415-648-7600.
At Delfina Pizzeria on California Street, chilled tripe ($8.50). Finally, after seeing it on the menu many times, I ordered this antipasto as a late dinner after cocktails at a bar down the street. Two of us fought over the last bites. Who knew? I am a lover of tripe served hot, but come to think of it, I have enjoyed it cold in spicy Sichuan starters. So, it came as no surprise that this Roman-style tripe was served with a bottle of Delfina’s chile oil. I dressed the thin, pure white strips, which had been cooked in very salty water and then refrigerated, with a generous sprinkling of the oil and generous squeezes of lemon. Salty, spicy, hot and lemony–this pizzeria’s tripe was a knock-out.
2406 California Street, San Francisco; 415-440-1189
At Nojo, tonkatsu sandwich ($10.50). Like so many other Western dishes adapted by the Japanese, sandwiches in their hands achieve apotheosis, incorporating a genre’s outstanding features. Greg Dunmore, chef/owner of Nojo, starts with thick slices of crustless Acme pain de mie, soft and airy, yet tasty. Inside goes a hot, panko-crusted, deep-fried pork cutlet, so big it flops out the sides of the bread. It’s mostly crunch with a thin layer of succulent pork in the center. The sandwich is dressed with threads of Napa cabbage in a sweet, creamy dressing. The bread, the cutlet, and the slaw make the ultimate sandwich. Try it and you’ll mysteriously find yourself at Nojo for lunch at least one day a week.
An ideal Nojo lunch for two consists of a half of the huge tonkatsu sandwich and a shared noodle salad called hiyashi chuka ($12.50), a deep bowl of al dente udon noodles topped with piles of cucumber, chile, cabbage, bean sprouts, dried seaweed, and scallions. Dress it yourself from little bowls of sesame-soy vinaigrette and creamy Japanese mayonnaise. My advice–pour both of them in and toss well with chopsticks. Juicy and refreshing, the cold noodle salad plays counterpoint to the man-size tonkatsu sammie.
231 Franklin Street, San Francisco; 415-896-4587; Lunch served Wednesday-Friday only.
At Dosa on Fillmore, rava masala dosa (11.50). This lacy, super-thin semolina pancake is the crunchiest of all dosas, a web of lightly fermented batter that makes every torn-off bite a tactile adventure. It comes with a generous masala filling–soft potatoes laced with lots of tumeric-infused onion and aromatic whole spices. Dip the pieces in sambar, a spiced lentil and vegetable soup with body, and two mild chutneys, one coconut, one tomato tinged. Try to use your fingertips. Another Indian pancake, the spicy mung masala dosa ($12), showcases the thrilling spongy sourness of the Tamil pesseratu dosa beneath its crisp surface. Precede your dosa with my favorite cocktail here, the intense Bengali gimlet ($11), lime and gin with a hint of curry spices.
1700 Fillmore, San Francisco; 415-441-3672