SF Dining Notes: WesBurger n’More, Hoffmann’s, Kin Khao
Somehow I managed to eat dinner in San Francisco three times in the last week. I didn’t take a single picture, though, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. (Above image is from a very old Kin Khao dinner.) Some notes:
It’s a well-designed spot, WesBurger. Owner Wes Rowe built out the dining room to look like an indoor drive-in, complete with a giant yellow and white awning and pretty shitty chairs and stools. No Edison bulbs, no flashy stark white shit. It’s just a hamburger joint, and I like it that way. I stopped in with K and Em on a Thursday night about 2 weeks after the restaurant officially opened. (Wes had been doing pop-ups for a while, but this is his first full kitchen.) At 7:30, all the tables were full, but there was no line — pretty much the best you can do at a culty SF restaurant right after it opens.
The burger menu is short — three standard burgers and one special, plus fried chicken and random shit like cauliflower steaks. Also, tots, which are now finally hitting the cool kid mainstream. Rowe’s tots come deeply golden brown and crisp and fucking delicious, and they can be topped with various greasy stuff. No totchos, though, which is a shame. (Side note: Why don’t we have a totcho restaurant yet?)
I got the special kimchi burger with kimchi (duh), some kind of cheese goop, and probably something else I can’t remember. Mayonnaise of some kind? It was almost excessively greasy, especially since the buns are of the super extra squishy variety and don’t hold up well to all that fat. The grease did, however, help mitigate the fact that the meat was definitely on the medium side — still juicy, but I would have preferred it rarer. Fortunately the beef was, well, appropriately beefy, which sounds like a weird cop-out, but I really appreciated the fact that it wasn’t super dry aged grass fed beef. The burger tasted like a burger, not a steak. And that’s a good thing.
Service was spotty, but Wes was running around chatting with everyone, and gave us some free mac and cheese because we were waiting a while for some of our food. Also he gave us — and everyone else — free gummy burgers because why not.
Anyway, WesBurger is fine. I appreciate the general chill-ness of a place that gets so much attention online. I’d definitely eat the tots again, but am kinda meh on the burgers, at least when eaten at a normal dinner hour. They’d be excellent after spending three hours at Bar bar.
S and I went to Hoffmann’s for Em’s surprise birthday dinner on Saturday. It’s kind of a random spot for a birthday — Hoffmann's is mostly just a restaurant-restaurant. No big flashy food or design or drinks, just rotisserie-ed meats and vegetable sides. There’s beer and wine and cocktails, too, of course, but it’s all just very … normal.
I was pretty pleased with my half rotisserie chicken; it was generous in size for $16, with crisp, very salty skin, and mostly tender meat below. I’d say the white meat was just like five minutes over, which is pretty alright when you’re talking about rotisserie meat. The potatoes and onions served underneath were nicely soaked in chicken fat and jus. S’s panisse with a poached egg and fennel were better; tender-crisp and almost fluffy in the center. But Jesus christ, whoever was prepping that fennel needs a vegetable lesson — fennel almost always needs its tough outer layer removed, and these bulbs were no exception. They were so tough and stringy, it was hard to cut through them with a knife, let alone your teeth.
Sides were forgettable. My Brussels sprouts should’ve been halved and cooked more. They needed that caramel-y sweetness that comes from deeply browning the vegetable. S’s spatzle needed sauce, or cream, or … something. But the seasoning was there.
Conclusion: Takeout chicken?
On Monday, I went back to Kin Khao for the third time since it opened. While I was generally underwhelmed on my first visit and then taken aback by ridiculously slow and weird service on the second, I have been stubborn about wanting to like it. So I decided to try again, and I’m glad I did. The restaurant continues to improve, and was pretty spot-on this time around.
My dad was in town for work and managed to schlep up from Palo Alto for a late dinner. We started off with some cocktails; my Tom Yum (gin with lemongrass, kafir limes, and citrus I think) was as good as it always has been. I later had a glass of vinho verde and I was not unhappy with it.
The grilled eggplant salad had a good mix of textures — crisp rice powder and garlic chips, tender herbs and chiles, soft and gooey eggplant — and most of the tangy-fishy-sweetness I expected. I think I would have wanted a touch more fish sauce, but that’s mostly just because I/the recipe in the Pok Pok cookbook makes it that way. Stir fried choy sum was perfect. I can’t really even remember what was in it, but there wasn’t much, and the dish was all the better for it. And the rabbit curry was as complex as I remember it the first time I ate it. The emphasis is really on the curry sauce, which is balls-to-the-wall rich with coconut fat and a slow burning lemongrassy heat. But, as it was the first time I tried it, I found the rabbit saddle to be dry. I wish it made sense for the restaurant to find something else to do with that part and just serve the legs and those meatballs. They’re so much better.
The highlight of the meal, however, was the special blood sausage and steamed rice appetizer, which comes tightly wrapped in a fragrant banana leaf, alongside shallots, herbs, garlic, chiles, lime, etc to mix and mash into the rice. Remarkably, the blood sausage imbued none of its characteristic irony flavor into the rice. It had a rich earthiness and a dark grey color to match, but those were the only real hints as to what you were eating. Pim came by to chat and she said that they used some kind of technique involving lemongrass to mitigate the iron flavor, but I didn’t really follow how it worked.
So if you’re around Union Square and have extra $$ to burn (seriously, Kin Khao is not cheap), get some blood sausage rice and a cocktail.