Experience flavorful and creative Gujarati dishes at Besharam, take a break from sandwiches and dig into stuffed arepas instead for lunch, try some fun ice cream flavors for Halloween (complete with critters!), and don’t miss La Cocina’s upcoming F&B: Voices from the Kitchen performances.
Take a Trip to the Cheese Island at Besharam
Have you had a chance to visit Heena Patel’s Besharam in Dogpatch/Potrero Hill yet? It’s a stylish and vibrant restaurant, just next door to the Minnesota Street Project art galleries (it was formerly Alta). Things have fully ramped up, with a cocktail list in place, weekend brunch in effect, and both lunch and dinner service humming along as well. A La Cocina business incubator graduate, this is Heena’s first restaurant — in partnership with Daniel Patterson’s Alta Group — and she’s working closely with her husband, Paresh. The name Besharam translates to “shameless,” inspired by the fact that at 50, she’s following her own dreams and doing something that is risky and fear-inducing. Fortunately for us, she took a leap of faith.
Heena’s menu highlights Gujarati dishes, flavors, and family recipes, along with some California seasonality infused with her unique brand of culinary creativity. Heena doesn’t eat meat, so the menu has some fantastic vegetarian options that won’t have you missing anything meaty, although they do a great job here with chicken makhani, full of deep spice and the perfect amount of heat. The menu is constantly changing, with new dishes added all the time, so return visits offer an opportunity to try new things.
Heena tells me that if you mention the dish handvo, people immediately know you are Gujarati. She says every house makes their own version of this savory bread that uses vegetables and flours rich in protein, like lentil, and it’s popular as a sustaining snack served alongside chai. At Besharam, the handvo ($9) is an appetizer of sesame-topped bread that she makes with a mix of flours, like lentil, millet, quinoa, or pigeon pea, keeping it gluten-free. She also likes to add leftover vegetables, just like her grandma would, using zucchini, sweet potato, cilantro, onion, or maybe leftover cucumber, which helps keep it moist (it’s like a delicate and savory zucchini bread with a little kick!). I’d love to figure out how to make this at home for a nutritious and sustaining snack bread to have around.
But the absolute showstopper is the desi pardesi ($20). It’s a bowl of a curry leaf and leek soup, thickened like a smooth dal, with a mozzarella-stuffed rice ball in the middle, an island of cheesy delight. Heena is inspired by all the Italian ingredients and flavors she enjoys here in San Francisco. She coats the fresh mozzarella ball with her samosa mix, basil, mashed basmati rice, egg, and panko, and then fries it. It’s a play on a samosa with chutney, but instead, you break the fried ball open, and the creamy, mozzarella cheese runs into the soup—this is when you grab your spoon. Your table will hopefully share nicely, all the way until it gets down to the last drops of this perfectly spiced and satisfying dish. Our table almost ordered another just because we were sad when it was over!
The fish moilee ($26) was another beaut, with a tender and fried piece of local rock cod over a bed of cumin rice and coconut curry with shishito peppers, ginger, garlic, and serrano chile. She likes to boil her sauces at a low and slow temp, in order to develop rich flavor without the use of cream and butter — there’s a lightness to her food that leaves you feeling nourished after the meal and not uncomfortably heavy.
Get the gulab jamun ($7) for dessert, the tiniest little doughnuts in rose syrup for the perfect final bite. From the bar, the new cocktails are fun, like the Chaat Up and Drive! ($13), a refreshing highball with gin, rhubarb, chaat masala, mint, and lime. The wine and beer list also has some choice selections, and with three sparkling wine options by the glass, I was in my happy place.
My only wish was that they’d remove the off-putting Bollywood/high BPM trance from their playlist—it makes for an aggressive and stressful soundtrack for such a soulful restaurant. As soon as mellower music would come on in the playlist, I would feel my blood pressure drop and would pray that another brain-bleed song wouldn’t come on. I would rather not even think about it, and just keep savoring the drunken pani puri with zesty and minty gin water!
Try Some Spooktacular Flavors at Salt & Straw for Halloween
It’s Halloween, which means you'll be eating your fill of candy over the next week, but how about some truly Spooktacular ice cream flavors? Of course, both of San Francisco’s Salt & Straw locations (and their new Burlingame location!) got into the fall spirit with flavors like The Great Candycopia (stuffed with housemade Snickers, Twix chunks, Heath bars, and peanut butter cups), Dracula’s Blood Pudding (made with pig’s blood, spices, and cream), Essence of Ghost, Mummy’s Pumpkin Spiced Potion (it’s vegan!), and the showstopper: Creepy Crawly Critters, featuring candied critters (dark chocolate–covered crickets and coconut toffee brittle mealworms!) from Oakland’s Don Bugito.
Adults and kids can have fun with all of these flavors through October — and then it’s time for Salt & Straw’s Thanksgiving flavors in November (yup, one has stuffing in it).
A Different Kind of Hot Pocket: Arepas!
Want to take a break from your usual sandwich for lunch? How about an arepa? At Pica Pica Arepa Kitchen in the Mission, owner Adriana Lopez offers a menu of Venezuelan arepas (since 2010!), which are corn pockets made daily by hand and grilled. You can choose from the sturdy and classic white arepa or the sweeter yellow arepa, and what’s a-maize-ing (sorry, had to) is everything at Pica Pica is gluten-free!
There are a variety of traditional fillings, plus some vegan and vegetarian options as well — all the arepas are $11, and one for lunch is definitely fulfilling. The one I can’t resist is their house specialty: shredded beef pabellón, which is like a dream pot roast, but it’s shredded and stew-like skirt steak, along with black bean purée, sweet and golden fried plantains, and queso fresco all tucked into a corn pocket (I like the sweet yellow for this one). It comes with a lightly tangy-sweet cabbage slaw on the side (with mustard seeds) that you can take bites of to reset your palate, and their creamy and kicky side sauce, pica’pun.
You can also try salads, soups, cachapa crepes, their tasty yuca (and garlic yuca!) fries, and their latest innovation: nachos with taro chips topped with their pulled pork pernil (November 6 is National Nacho Day, just saying!), plus sides, juices, beer, and wine.
Can’t make it out of the house or away from your desk? You can order delivery via Caviar, and that code will give first-timers $10 off your first two orders.
Celebrate the Theme of Matriarchy at The Upcoming Voices from the Kitchen
Don’t miss the opportunity to get your ticket for the latest performance of F&B: Voices from the Kitchen, a storytelling project created by La Cocina that seeks to share the voices and stories from the cooks and kitchens that are less often heard. This twice-yearly event revolves around (and includes) food and drink on a singular topic or theme. On November 8, the theme will be matriarchy (so timely!), with an incredible lineup of storytellers, from writers to artists to chefs.
The reception (6pm–7pm) will be hosted at the Brava Theater with D'Maize Restaurant, an alum of La Cocina which is located directly across the street from the theater. The performances will run from 7pm–8:30pm. Proceeds from F&B will support La Cocina’s business incubator program. Get your ticket for this one-night-only performance!