Friday, October 10, 2008

BETELNUT, San Francisco, CA

This particular stage of our culinary exploration of the San Francisco bay area was prompted by numerous recommendations from friends and co-workers, each of whom claimed that the spicy asian "street food" of Betelnut was to die for. After a weekly pit stop at City Beer Store, this time with friends Nimo & Nisha tagging along, the four of us hit this Marina hotspot with substantial appetites. Here's what we managed to devour:

Chili crusted calamari
Fried, crispy, and yummy. With or without the sauce, this is understandably a staple appetizer at Betelnut. The chili pepper kick separates this dish from a typical calamari starter.

Firecracker Shrimp
5-spiced with sambal dip
While the calamari dish satisfied any craving we might've had for crunchy, fried goodness, this shrimp starter could've easily prompted us to forget it. Drenched in flavor and spice, doubly-so when dipped in its delicious sauce, the firecracker shrimp was easily one of our favorite dishes of the night.

Glazed Pork Short Ribs
with thai basil & garlic
If any "main" dish was the winner of the evening, it had to be the glazed pork short ribs. Easily the most flavorful (and messy) dish of the evening, the pork was excellent combination of sweet and savory.

Szechuan Green Beans
While spicy and very salty (almost too salty), these perfectly crunchy green beans were incredibly easy to eat and were a great contrast to the rich pork short ribs.

Scallion Hotcake
The scallion cakes were nothing particularly special on their own, but they were a nice vessel for the accompanying sweet chili sauce and peanut sauce.

Roti Prata
with curry and yogurt sauce
Similarly, the roti really required dipping to enjoy, but there were no complaints here. Just the right amount of crispy and buttery, the roti soaked up generous amounts of sauce.

"Little Dragon" Dumpings
pork and shrimp with ginger vinegar
The dumplings were the low point of the evening. Under-seasoned, bland, and generally unappealing, the dumplings just didn't stack up well against the bold flavors of the other dishes.

Fried Banana
with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce
After a table full of shared courses, we amazingly found little trouble making room for dessert. Then again, it's difficult to go wrong with warm, crispy fried banana combined with rapidly melting vanilla ice cream. Chocolate sauce may have been preferred over caramel, but our taste buds finished happy.

Betelnut certainly has its signature dishes (pork, firecracker shrimp, green beans), and I'm sure each of us would gladly return for more of our favorites. Still, this first experimental visit opened our eyes to some not-so-spectacular options we'll avoid next time around. The size of Betelnut's menu, however, suggests we'll have some new dishes to sample when we return (ribeye, anyone?).

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