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Sunday, January 13, 2013

A private lunch at Betelnut Restaurant

4/28/13 EDITED TO ADD: Betelnut is back! After closing and reopening as Hutong the owners decided to go back to being Betelnut. YAY!

2/24/13 EDITED TO ADD: Betelnut restaurant has closed. It will reopen as Hutong restaurant in March 2013.

Ever since my first visit almost 20 years ago, Betelnut has been one of my most favorite restaurants of all time. It offers an Asian fusion menu that represents many flavors of Southeast Asia.

After taking my visiting-from-Australia friends to Muir Woods for a hike, we headed back over the Golden Gate bridge to Union Street in San Francisco.

I joke that our lunch was a private lunch because it was close to 3:00 PM so we were the only diners in the upstairs dining area. Actually, I think we were one of three parties in the entire restaurant which made this one of my most favorite meals ever. Not only was it quiet and cozy, the service was impeccable, and the food outstanding. I often feel pressured to hurry and eat and leave when I know there are others waiting for a table. But we had two hours before the dinner rush would begin so it was nice to relax and enjoy the moment. I may have to start having lunch at 3:00 more often.

Funny how Brussels Sprouts, long the scourge of vegetables, has become as popular and ubiquitous as the also now in vogue kale on restaurant menus. It was a pleasant surprise to find wok tossed brussels sprouts with meyer lemon & sesame soy being offered. We all agreed the candied strips of lemon peel really made the dish shine.

We also ordered my favorite szechuan green beans. If you ever visit you'll have to try them. I've ordered them in the past with just a bowl of rice for lunch. They're all I need.

We also had the chili crusted calamari and glazed pork short ribs with garlic & thai basil, both of which I forgot to photograph along with the green beans. But, I happened to have the calamari and bean pictures from a previous visit. My dining companions loved the short ribs. In fact, everyone I've ever taken to the restaurant who's ordered them has loved them.

And, last but certainly not least, we ordered the mochi trio for dessert. Instead of being filled with sweetened bean paste centers like traditional Japanese mochi, from left to right each contained a chocolate ganache center ranging from white, to milk, to dark chocolate and each was paired with a complementing sweet including a soda, fruit gelées, and a tiny chocolate coffee mousse cake.

In truth I'd wanted to try Betelnut's mochi for almost two years ever since the day my friend Beverly posted a photo and link to a story with a recipe about how you can make them at home yourself. I hadn't tried yet but always wanted to. Now I'm glad I had them at the restaurant first because I know I love the dark chocolate ganache center the best. Someday when I do make them, good, bad, ot ugly, I'll be sure to let you know how they turn out. Especially if they're a disaster. I find the bigger the flop the funnier the result becomes.

I always thought I'd someday get a mochi machine but at around $250 they're kind of pricy.

The recipe I linked to uses rice flour instead of rice which is more convenient but less traditional. The traditional way is to steam rice then pound it to death with heavy wooden mallets until it becomes a sticky paste.

Until you figure out how to make chocolate filled mochi, if you're in the city and want to enjoy some along with a great for lunch or dinner, Betelnut may be just the place.

EDITED TO ADD: Betelnut restaurant has closed. It will reopen as Hutong restaurant in March 2013.

2030 Union St. (Cross Street is Buchanan)
San Francisco, CA 94123

415-929-8855 (phone)

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