manila bowl....rice and meat and twitter?
I don't spend nearly enough time in the mid-Market area! It's both true and facetious at the same time. I mean, anyone who has been down that stretch from say 5th to 10th streets doesn't really go down there unless you are "looking for something specific" or work there. Recently the area has been going through a renaissance, at least that is what the interweb keeps saying. With an influx of new building projects some around town say the area's "character" is going missing. But I'm here to report, that character is still there. As are many of the same characters that have been there for years.
Much of the resurgence in interest can be pointed toward Twitter when they re-made and moved into the old furniture mart building. Along with themselves they decided to bring along a The Market, a kind of upscale grocery store that also specializes in grab and go foods. Presumably to appease those who lived in the 'hood with a "look, we got you a grocery store!" Though more likely so their employees didn't have to venture out into said "hood" to try get some food as the choices around at the time were not exactly plentiful.
It has been a few years now and recently The Market seems to be rearranging its shelves to be more grab and go friendly by adding more food stalls and stuff. Stories about it put things forth as evolving and what not. You can read all about it here. But let's face it, the restaurant/food business in SF is challenging to say the least. Still, I was interested to see what they would do, even though one of their new vendors abruptly shut down a mere months after opening.
I decided to hit up one of the new spots called Manila Bowl, a venture by two former NYC chefs looking to bring their takes on Filipino food to the masses. The set up is pretty much what all these new fast casual spots seem to have and I like to call "the Chipotle method" where you pick a base, then a protein, then some toppings and voila--it's lunch!
After looking at some choices that include adobo and something that I'm pretty sure was tripe, I decided to go a little basic and get the beef pares bowl. I chose a base of brown rice (gotta be healthy!), beef brisket with a sweet soy gravy and tomatoes, pickled carrots and pickled cucumbers, though that seems redundant. I got 3 toppings because that is all you get, anymore is an upcharge and we all know I'm not always the biggest fan of that, unless it is bacon or a fried egg. Somehow it just can't get behind an extra charge for sprouts. All this for about $11. Yikes, an expensive lunch for sure considering I don't work at Twitter.
Everything seemed to be carefully measured out by the person putting the bowl together and at the end, it isn't the biggest of servings for the price. On the bright side, the veggies were fresh and crisp. The pickling was a light tough with just a bit of tang and not overly sour. A nice touch beside the sweet gravy stuff on the brisket. While I'm not the biggest fan of sweet soy, this wasn't cloyingly sweet and I actually might have liked a little more as the the rice underneath was a bit on the sticky thick side. The beef itself was tender though I will stop short of calling it juicy. It was just over the edge of the dry scale for a meat like this, thus the gravy was kind of needed to take that dry edge off.
It wasn't so bad that I didn't mostly like what I had. Between the meat, veggies and rice, it is a decent, yet compact little bowl. Of course that is where the conundrum comes in, it is good enough, but factor in size, price and slightly overcooked beef and it is hard to get too excited about the food. Which brings to mind this article I read today about restaurant ratings, SF minimum wage and the cost of doing to business in this town. It is difficult to be an okay spot here when you factor in all the costs. And with someone like me who is mostly on a budget and likes to get a little value or some other trade off out of a meal, it is hard to spend $11 on lunch.
Manila Bowl kind of falls into this new range of restaurant food places, it is good but not exactly super good or exciting enough to maybe bring out the folks to line up for its food. Though in their case they are at a bit of an advantage being inside a larger market area with a built in audience. Of course, that didn't exactly work out for Doughnut Dolly and with The Market still supposedly "evolving," it remains to be seen what will happen with the other food stalls there including Manila Bowl.