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Spicy San Francisco — The First Bite

August 7, 2013

“What’s the spiciest thing on your menu?”

Image, from left to right:
crushed red pepper, Vietnamese chili garlic sauce, Russian adjika, chili powder, Tabasco sauce, cayenne pepper, Tōgarashi (middle)

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Hello fellow spice-hounds, Bay Area locals, and curious folk!

Spicy San Francisco is a Warm Beer feature that explores the burning, zesty side of the city’s food culture.

The idea is as simple as adding hot sauce to your eggs: every week I will pick one San Francisco restaurant, eatery, hole-in-the-wall, cafe, food stand or truck.  After asking one question (“What’s the spiciest thing on your menu?”), I will happily eat and write about the meal and locale.

My credentials

* If a meal isn’t somewhat spicy, I usually get bored before I finish

* If a person doesn’t eat spicy food–they are judged

The Tabasco Shot, taken to the next level

The Tabasco Shot, taken to the next level

* While in college, I independently invented the ‘Tabasco Shot’, (drip hot sauce on hand, take shot, lick hand.  Repeat)

* I will go to Safeway at 3:00 AM to buy hot sauce if I don’t have any for breakfast

* If I’ve eaten it more than once, odds are I’ve tried to make it spicy

* Like an untried India Pale Ale, a new hot sauce excites me like Christmas morning, or the first baseball game of the year

Criteria:

This is NOT a search for the spiciest possible dish in San Francisco.  Anyone can up the Scovilles until your mouth blisters–that’s not what I’m after.  I’m not interested in a meal that only tries to hurt me.

When evaluating spicy food, one also encounters a problem–how can I compare two dishes eaten weeks apart?  How do you know what I consider spicy?

To answer the 2nd question–here is what I consider normal: at Thai restaurants, I order my food ‘Thai hot’ (and adjust accordingly if weak); at Indian restaurants, I order my food ‘extra/very hot’ (and adjust accordingly); at Italian / pizza joints, I add crushed red pepper and hot sauce;  for Japanese, I ask for Tōgarashi and try to pretend their wasabi is real wasabi; for Chinese, I harvest that jar of red sauce.

Now, let me introduce my grading system.  I call it the ‘Zeroed Heat vs. Taste Scale’, or ‘Z-Scale‘.

(-10)———-(-5)———-0———-(5)———-(10)  

When prepared perfectly, lamb vindaloo is my favorite Indian dish and often is a 0 on the Z-Scale.

When prepared perfectly, lamb vindaloo is my favorite Indian dish and often is a 0 on the Z-Scale.

 

-1 through -10 [Negative Z-Scale] These values correspond to dishes that could have been spicier without hurting the overall taste.  A dish that is just slightly under-spiced will have a value of -1.  This is still likely an extremely satisfying meal.

1 through 10 [Positive Z-Scale] These values correspond to dishes that exceed the necessary level of heat; as in, the heat hurts and/or hides the actual taste.  A dish that is just slightly over-spiced will have a value of 1.  This is still likely an extremely satisfying meal.

0 (Zero) Z-Scale Value This is the ideal.  The dish is neither under-spiced nor does the heat overpower the taste.  This is what I am searching for and want to eat for every meal of my life.

With these metrics, I hope to identify the best places to eat in San Francisco for those like myself, and those who are looking to kick their life up a notch.

Suggestions for eating locales are welcome from all sources!  Please, let me know where I need to try, and check back to see where I’ve been.

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