Grilled Turmeric Snapper at Butterfly Restaurant

by foodhoe on November 3, 2008

pier 33 @ bay street, the embarcadero, san francisco | tel: 415.864.8999 | website

I work near Levi’s Plaza which is conveniently close to North Beach, Chinatown, the Ferry Building and the Financial District, but in reality it takes a good jog to get to any of these places especially when you are trying to keep lunch to one hour.  Most of the restaurants in the immediate area of the office (Fog City Diner, Houstons, Pier 23, and Il Fornaio) are a bit pricey as they seem geared for people on an expense account and the service is really slow…  Of all the nearby restaurants, Butterfly is my favorite, as can be evidenced by many meals posted here on this blog: kobe beef albondigas soup with tapioca pearls, shaking beef cobb salad, kobe beef burger, lunch 9-07, happy hour 10-07.  Over the course of these memorable meals, I have become a fan of Chef Robert Lam’s style of Asian fusion that is strongly influenced by his own Vietnamese background. I’m just glad it’s just down the block from the office.

I had a craving for a particular dish that I enjoyed a couple of weeks ago, a messy but delicious plate of turmeric grilled snapper, but for some reason or other didn’t take any pictures at the time.  I kept thinking about it until I found myself skipping over with enthusiastic abandon last week for lunch.  There was one of those gigantic cruise ships that had pulled into dock, so there tons of people, taxis and tour buses chaotically milling around.  Once inside I was seated by the window in a cushy little booth where I could admire the extremely cool looking light fixtures that resemble sea urchins floating overhead.

I had an unobstructed view of the enormous cruise ship from my seat – notice the tiny boat in the forefront with two men standing in it to give you a frame of reference…

Back to the food…  Mmmm, they serve a complimentary dish of Edamame that has been tossed with toasted sesame oil then sprinkled with black and white sesame seeds and pink Himalayan sea salt.  This preparation is simple but decadent, and so good.

Here it is, my plate of Grilled Turmeric Snapper, which arrived sizzling in a small cast iron pan on top of sliced white onion, green onion, sliced jalapeno and fresh dill that char and soften beneath the weight of the snapper.  The flesh is tender and flaky inside and crisped around the edges.

It’s served with a plate of fresh butter lettuce leaves and some herbs (mint, basil, green onion) to wrap it up in and an accompanying bowl to make a noodle bowl if you so desire.

Oh and of course it comes with the ubiquitous bowl of classic Vietnamese nuoc cham sauce, which is like pouring liquid firecrackers onto your food because it explodes on your tastebuds with a sweet, salty, sour and spicy burst with an extra kick through the nasal passages from the fish sauce.  Yes the noodle bowl is a very civilized way to eat this dish…

But for us who like to eat with our hands, it is wonderfully messy to eat wrapped up in the crisp lettuce leaf with some of the noodles, grilled vegetables and fresh herbs and then liberally dosed with the nuoc chamsauce.   It’s no wonder I didn’t take pictures last time, I had fish sauce dripping down my arms and was glad for the big cloth napkin protecting my lap!

It finally occured to me that I was enjoying the famous Cha Ca dish that I have been wanting to try after reading Kirk’s post about eating it in Hanoi and he again mentions eating it here on his fabulous blog mmmm-yoso!!!  Dylan at Eat Drink & Be Merry also posted a recipe with gorgeous photos and another post here too, and of course I must not forget Cathy’s series of posts on this tantalizing and famous dish that she pursued while living in Vietnam this past year.  That’s the tragedy of eating a dish at a fusion restaurant with only the anglicized title to go by…  but it was delicious and now I’m really determined to find a restaurant serving it with the fragrant shrimp paste and all the traditional fixings!

Butterfly on Urbanspoon

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Kirk November 3, 2008 at 3:56 pm

Hi FH – At last… get to try Cha Ca Thang Long, albiet a fusiony version. Looks mighty pretty.


Single Guy Chef November 3, 2008 at 6:12 pm

Hmmm, cha ca is great coming on a sizzling claypot. And yes, it always taste better wrapped up with the noodles and fresh herbs. Your photos brought back memories of my trip to Vietnam and all the wraps I ate. Messy but good. So you go so often do you have your own table? 😉


rowena November 4, 2008 at 11:35 am

Gah!!! That tumeric fish is looking mighty good on my screen – all tender and flaky like that [musta been staring for at least 5 minutes already].

Now about the snail….I had always wondered what type of snail that is at the top of your page. Is it one of yours?!?


Gastronomer November 4, 2008 at 11:48 am

I’m always weary of pretty-fied Vietnamese food, but your snapper looks mighty snappy! I read on Yelp that Minh’s in Mountain View serves the real deal:

Gastronomers last blog post..Broken Yolk Café – San Diego, California


foodhoe November 4, 2008 at 12:44 pm

Kirk, yes at long last!
Single Guy, I do end up being seated in the same general area – I like it cuz it has very good natural light for taking pictures!
Rowena, mmmmm! That’s one of the earthy garden variety snails that like to eat the marigolds and pansies in my front planters. I took that picture after a spring rain.
Gastronomer, ooh, I’m checking out Minh’s soon – thanks for the tip!


grace November 4, 2008 at 12:50 pm

you know what? i don’t think i know what turmeric tastes like. hmm.
meanwhile, you’re fortunate to work near such a great restaurant. i have nothing, and i’m not exagerrating. 🙂

graces last blog post..sometimes i wonder what it’s like to be creative


taste tester November 7, 2008 at 5:29 pm

I wasn’t all too impressed with the food at Butterfly when I went, but that grilled snapper might change my mind…

taste testers last blog post..A Meal in a Teak House


foodhoe November 7, 2008 at 6:15 pm

grace, I’m not sure I do either! I know that I wouldn’t be able to pick it out from a lineup on a blind taste test!
taste tester, butterfly as a destination probably isn’t as impressive… for me, it beats sandwiches and burritos for the occasional splurge lunch at the office.


Leave a Comment

Spam protection by WP Captcha-Free

Previous post:

Next post: