Thursday, August 20, 2015

Balboa Street's April Calf Yields A Creamy Seafood Laksa

April Calf Cafe Restuarant, which opened about a week ago on Balboa St. in the Outer Richmond, describes its offerings on its awning as "Fusion Food, Dessert, Drinks."  It's basically a latter-day Cha Chaan Teng with a touch of modernist cuisine, as much kawaii as can be realized in a shoebox-sized Balboa St. storefront -- and a good-looking seafood laksa onthe menu.

The modernist touches can be seen in the form of a "Cloud Latte" with its frozen foam, a vertical molded kimchi fried rice served on a hot plate with beaten egg poured over it, and in visual puns such as the "flowerpot" dessert. (See pics by owner posted on Yelp.) The kawaii qualities manifest themselves in the simple colorful swatches on the place mats, the cow and milk carton salt and pepper shakers, and the effervescent young Hong Kong women who make up the FOH staff.

But I, noodle guy, was there for the laksa, there is a section of the menu labeled "Southeast Asian Flavors."

Having never been to Malaysia or Singapore, and with little access to Malaysian restaurants in the Bay Area, I don't really have a benchmark for curry laksa, other than Azalina Eusope's spectacular and sometimes eccentric creations. Laksas are among the most photogenic of noodle soups, and I suppose my real benchmark is "does it taste as good as it looks?"  April Calf's seafood laksa came close; six very large tail-on shrimps shared the both with fried tofu, fish balls and fresh bean sprouts.  The shrimps were obviously fresh, and not overcooked, and the fried tofu cubes added a bit of crunchinesss despite being on the hot soup. The noodles were perfectly al dente. My one complaint was about the lack of spiciness; the whole affair was a little bland for my tastes. According to my server (after the fact, alas) it can be made spicy on request (something I should have learned by now).  But I do have an excuse to return to this charming boîte. Next time I'll tll them to crank up the heat, and I'll wash my noodles down with xiaolong bao at Shanghai House across the street.

As for the name? "It''s a calf born in April," said my server. "Why not March or May?" I said. "Calves born in April are special," she said. I guess there are things she learned in Hong Kong that I didn't learn from my dairy farm ancestors.

Where slurped: April Calf Cafe Restaurant, 3528 Balboa St. San Francisco.

My sister Marge, 1950. Calf's birth month unknown.

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