Allen Pierleoni

Counter Culture: Food to fuel America’s Cup watching

We wanted to catch America’s Cup fever, so we headed to San Francisco to check out the Summer of Racing and see multimillion-dollar catamarans with seven-story-tall masts zip around the bay.

We spent hours at America’s Cup Park at Pier 27/29, and America’s Cup Village at Marina Green. Incredible attractions await the curious. Details and scheduled events and entertainment are at

Being in a city of world-class dining, we also wanted to explore some restaurants and help you find your way to a few highly recommended tables next time you’re in S.F. Follow our lead and you won’t be disappointed.

Our first stop was the esoteric Nojo, specializing in reasonably priced Japanese yakatori (grilled food on skewers). In a city of 4,000 to 5,000 restaurants (for some reason, the exact figure is a mystery), this is a standout.

On our table: sea salt-flecked steamed edamame (soybeans in pods); sea urchin roe in noodle soup; octopus salad; crunchy heads-on prawns; grilled beef tongue and chicken on skewers; and poached peaches with sake-ginger granita.

Nojo: 231 Franklin St.; (415) 896-4587,

Yes, celebrity chef-cookbook author Martin Yan is an entertainer (we once saw him debone a whole chicken with a cleaver in 18 seconds), but he still can cook.

His gorgeous 180-seat M.Y. China – his first restaurant in San Francisco – features display kitchens where the action is nonstop. Sit at one of the food bars and watch in awe. Bring lots of money.

On our table: shrimp wontons; wild boar dumplings; pork-crab dumplings; shrimp-avocado dumplings; salt and pepper calamari; scissor-cut noodles; the city’s best roast chicken; and creamy egg tarts.

M.Y. China: Westfield center, 845 Market St.; (415) 580-3001,

Breakfast is tops at Town’s End, an Art Deco-y, locals-centric place near AT&T Park that understands the concepts of crisp bacon and dark pancakes (blueberry and cherry). The cooks in the open kitchen are a blur of motion, the aromas that fill the air are tantalizing. If the quarters are too tight for your liking, grab a table outside.

On our table: White-corn tamale pie is more like a pudding, with cream cheese, eggs and honey, topped with queso fresco (Mexican white cheese) and drizzled with sour cream and house-made mole. Also: “messy” eggs scrambled with bacon, green onion, garlic and jack cheese, with a side of bacon and crisp potato pancakes; and a luscious crab Benedict. We demolished a basketful of mini-scones and mini-muffins, and emptied the apple-butter jar.

Town’s End, 2 Townsend St.; (415) 512-0749,

We squeezed through the crowd at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana to surreptitiously look at what the patrons at the bar were eating for lunch. We spotted steamed mussels, a slice of stromboli, a crescent moon-shaped calzone, a pizza dripping cheese, a plate of Italian sausages with sautéed peppers.

“This is the best Italian restaurant in North Beach,” said one lunch pal, a Sacramento foodie who specializes in restaurant-hunting in San Francisco. We’ll be back.

Tony’s Pizza Napoletana, 1570 Stockton St.; (415) 835-9888,

Food Network personality, cookbook author and chef Michael Chiarello has expanded his empire with Coqueta, a Spanish-accented tapas restaurant in a beautifully renovated space on the Embarcadero.

We popped in for a look-see at his first San Francisco restaurant: open kitchen, huge windows facing the bay, high ceilings, wood floors, leather-bound chairs. The menu is as intriguing as the classy decor: Iberian cheeses; Serrano and Iberico hams; white gazpacho with Marcona almonds; wood-grilled razor clams; duck and pork meatballs; and paella. Again: We’ll be back.

Coqueta: Pier 5 on the Embarcadero; (415) 704-8866,

Back in Sac

It was the middle of the heat wave that descended on Sacramento in early July, so naturally we chose one of the 105-degree days to have toasted grilled-cheese sandwiches at Cheese Louise.

We could have cooked them on the sidewalk, but it was air-conditioned inside, so we lingered over some very tasty sandwiches that combined gooey with crunchy.

In honor of baseball season, Louise’s Special was a grilled hot dog on sourdough with white cheddar and pepper jack cheeses, plus mac ’n’ cheese.

Another special, Amal’s Grilled Cheese, oozed cheddar, pepper jack and cream cheese, in league with tomato and crisp bacon.

We added the Herbal French, the best of the sampling – Brie and sliced pear on crunchy sourdough. One more: tri-tip with smoked cheddar and horseradish on a French roll. Prices range from $5 to $9.50; there’s flatbread pizza too.

“If I was running around downtown and had 15 minutes to eat, this is where I would go,” said a lunch pal.

That’s a good choice.

Cheese Louise: 1009 Ninth St; (916) 444-7757,

Warning! Or not ...

Recently, the well-regarded but excitable Center for Science in the Public Interest labeled Long John Silver’s new entree item “the nation’s deadliest restaurant meal.”

The chain’s Big Catch is a large fillet of haddock, hush puppies and a side.

The consumer-advocacy group sponsored lab tests that showed the Big Catch “has 33 grams of trans fat, 19 grams of saturated fat and nearly 3,700 milligrams of sodium.” The CSPI chose onion rings for its side, not the optional french fries, corn, green beans, rice or coleslaw.

The version of the Big Catch the CSPI had tested sure didn’t originate in California. We know that because in January 2010 California became the first state to ban restaurants from preparing their offerings using “oil, margarine and shortening containing trans fat.” Trans fat has been linked to the increased risk of coronary artery disease.

Diners in California can at least erase concerns over the CSPI’s “33 grams of trans fat” finding.

As for the Big Catch: We thought the fish was way oversalted, but the steaming-hot fillet was moist and flaky, jacketed in a thin, crunchy coating. It’s $4.99 while supplies last;