San Francisco Eats – The Tonga Room & Lers Ros Thai
I’ve been sent travelling for work, and my most recent trip was to San Francisco last week. Taking one of Anthony Bourdain‘s travel recommendations, as well as one of local foodie Dennis Pang’s adventures, I visited two really delicious and wonderful local restaurants in SF: The Tonga Room & Lers Ros Thai. Anthony Bourdain hit the ball out of the park with his recommendation of The Tonga Room! Located inside The Fairmont Hotel San Francisco, the Tonga Room is a historical landmark tiki bar/restaurant, opened since 1945 and has entertained San Franciscans, visitors, and celebrities who have visited this famous iconic restaurant. Most recently, the Tonga Room has entertained me! With the sound of rain, a swimming pool sized lagoon, palm trees and Hawaiian decor, the Tonga Room transformed me back to my previous trip to Waikiki! We were quickly seated to our table (a reservation is recommended for dinner) and the lure of tropical drinks awaited us!
The Tonga Room’s signature cocktail is their Mai Tai, served in a faux coconut shell. My coworker ordered the Pineapple Royale, a concoction similar to a pina colada, served in a fresh cut pineapple. Another drink ordered was their lychee vodka – all drinks highlighted the tiki bar theme of the evening. We started dinner with salt & pepper prawns, which were 2 sugar cane skewers of 2 jumbo prawns, grilled to perfection, accompanied with a papaya salad and mango gastrique. For the main, my colleague and I both ordered the Mango Glazed Mahi Mahi, a lightly seared piece of mahi mahi on top of a bed of coconut risotto, accompanied by stir fried snow peas and sweet peppers. Topping off the dish were some fresh macadamia nuts. The mahi mahi was cooked nicely, flakey and moist. The coconut risotto was rich and creamy but was a bit bland. By putting a little bit of salt in it, that made the risotto more flavorful. We also ordered the Braised Niman Ranch Short Ribs – a delicious balance of mashed potatoes, marinated fall-off-the-bone short ribs, fried sweet onions, and an egg sunny-side up to top it off. We also ordered a side of Brussels Sprouts, which were well seasoned and didn’t leave a bitter taste in my mouth. Even though we were quite full, we couldn’t resist dessert, so we ordered their signature “Lava Bowl Sundae”. At $24, we wanted to see what the fuss was all about for a sundae, advertised as being served in a “flaming” volcano bowl. What we ended up having was 6 baseball-sized scoops of ice cream, topped with pineapple mango compote, raspberry coulis, chocolate sauce, and whip cream! We ended up enjoying 4 out of 6 scoops of ice cream, leaving the sorbets slightly attempted at, but not completely finished. On my second night in San Francisco, we made it to Lers Ros Thai, which my foodie friend Dennis had visited on his trip to San Francisco. We went to the one on Larkin Street, located in the Tenderloin District, in Little Saigon. Coming from our hotel we took the cab there – it’s not walking distance from central downtown, and in the evenings not the safest to walk around the Tenderloin District. This restaurant is sandwiched between a lot of ethnic Asian restaurants. We knew that this was the restaurant when we arrived as there was crowd of people at the door waiting for tables. Although they took reservations, we took a risk by showing up without one. We waited 15-20 minutes for a table for 3, while sipping on drinks we ordered at the bar. They serve beer, wine, sake, and for the non-alcoholic drinks would recommend their Thai Iced tea. As we were quite hungry and pushed for time, we quickly ordered. First, we started with the Fried Tofu and Green Papaya Salad. The Fried Tofu was the right amount of crispy, complimented with the sweet thai chili sauce on the side for dipping. The Green Papaya Salad was spicy for medium level of spice. Next time I come here I’m going to ask for mild for this dish.
For our mains, we shared the Pad Thai, Kang Phed Yang (Red curry with roast duck), and Kra Dook Moo Pad Ped (Pork Spareribs stir fried with house made chili paste). The Pad Thai was the right amount of spice and offered a delicious mixture of tamarind sauce, prawns, and peanuts. I couldn’t stop eating this dish. We had jasmine rice on the side to eat with the red curry with roast duck – cooked enough, yet soft and melt in the mouth. The pork spareribs fell off the bone when you picked it up to put in your mouth – with a kick of spice when you bite down and taste the chilis.
For dessert we ordered the deep fried banana with Mitchell’s toasted almond ice cream and the sticky rice with mango. I really enjoyed the sticky rice with mango, but the deep fried banana was too rich for me in the end. Local ice cream shop, Mitchell’s, creates super creamy ice creams. Their toasted almond ice cream was to die for, and I would definitely want to get just the ice cream next time I’m here. Overall, the two restaurant adventures brought sunshine to my work trip to San Francisco! I look forward to trying a few more popular restaurants the next time I’m in the city. Let me know if there are any other places that are worth visiting!