As a youngster, I always found clam chowder bread bowls among the most exciting mainstays of Fisherman’s Wharf or any similar oceanfront neighborhood. The way the bread soaks up the creamy broth, the joy of scraping and eating the resultant flavor-packed slush, the mischievous pleasure in ripping and eating large chunks of your bowl before you finished the soup.
Stopping off at Scotland Yard in the North Beach, I couldn’t pass up this riff on the classic. Served in a large ramekin, the clam chowder broth is topped with a giant, flaky puff pastry crust instead of the classic sourdough bowl.
Flavor: 2.5 / 5. The puff pastry was nice—soft, flaky, well-balanced in its oiliness. The soup itself left a little something to be desired—a little too briny, a little too watery and insubstantial. Soaking slivers of the puff pastry in the broth was eminently satisfying, but it was the satisfaction of someone who likes to play with his food, not someone who needs to fill his stomach. Get another meal on the side.
Fun: 4 / 5. A fun, welcome twist on a classic, nostalgia-inducing dish. Plus it’s just fun to punch holes into a puff pastry cap and find soup underneath. It’s like a monster-sized xiaolongbao—soup surrounded in dough always has something delightful about it.
Funkiness: 1 / 5. Nothing particularly crazy about it—more novel than weird. But I still love the mashup.
The Pig & Kraut, Brasserie St. James. San Francisco, California.
I have real respect for a dish that’s so massive and imposing in its dimensions that the photographer struggles to get a shot that does it justice. Due to low light conditions and an irresistible urge to start eating, I failed. The above will have to do.
No regrets. Brasserie St. James’ pork knuckle is something that has to be lived anyway—felt, picked up, pulled on, stabbed at, and of course eaten—not simply seen. Crispy and braised, its landscape is one of the most varied of meats I’ve ever experienced. Tender pulled pork here, the chewy goodness of pork rind there, the flavor concentrated skin surrounding it, steaming pockets of fat throughout, and that moistness you only get with meat cooked close to the bone. Topped with a stone-ground mustard and parsley and served with bacon apple kraut and mashed potatoes, the dish does one of the best jobs I’ve seen of the Germanic meat and potatoes model outside of central Europe.
Flavor: 5 / 5. The perfect meat-eating experience if you like your meat more on the wild side—big, bone-in, unwieldy, and a little confusing (“Where do I start?”) This pork knuckle is tasty, well-textured, nicely sauced, and accompanied by sides that are delicious in their own right.
Fun: 2.5 / 5. Anything dish looks as big as your head is bound to be fun. And digging into a boney dish is always more interactive than a straight cut of something.
Funkiness: 2.5 / 5. One of the more offbeat varieties of pork out there—the pig knuckle (or ham hock) is roughly the equivalent of the human thigh. Its boney protrusion and general shape makes it seem slightly more identifiable (and thus a little more “eww”-inducing) than your typical pork cut, but not by a whole lot.