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SF Trip Report

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  • Jim Leff Jan 10, 2000 08:56 AM
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I've just uploaded a couple of articles detailing my recent trip to the Bay Area (I found tons of great chow!).

Take a look. If your opinions differ, feel free to chime in on this board! Likewise if you think I've missed something important.

Use the link below to go to our "Articles and Special Reports Page", where you'll see the SF stuff

Link: http://www.chowhound.com/writing/writ...

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  1. Thanks for the great report, Jim.

    Sorry to hear that the taco at CanCun disappointed. Maybe you hit it on a bad day or something. It used to be the best in town. Maybe I should have suggested El Farolito instead! There's always next time...

    I think LaTaqueria is ok and very fresh, but a bit bland.

    Cathy

    10 Replies
    1. re: Cathy

      Nobody realizes more than me the variability of restaurants, Cathy! I will try Can-Cun again sometime...you do likewise, ok, so we can compare notes?

      I agree with you on La Taqueria. But, bland though it can be, everything has a fresh, focused taste (that I wasn't able to find at Can-Cun this particular time).

      Ciao!

      1. re: Jim Leff

        I made the pilgrimage and can only share in Jim's enthusiasm, Flint's was positively the best barbeque I've had in ages (ever?). I got the very very meaty pork ribs, the boy got the beef links. We ordered the medium sauce (mild/med/hot) which was perfect for my tastes, and sat back and watched the staff attend the oven. It was exciting to watch a Flint's employee open various doors on raging fires and sizzling meats. Only downside, against better judgment I finished everything on my plate and have been suffering from oversaturation ever since -- I can't get the smell of barbeque out of my system. This stuff is so rich it should be rationed, a once-a-season treat.

        1. re: Rachel Hope

          Rachel, glad you made the trip, but it's kinda hard for me to feel sorry for you for "overindulging" in Flints (I shudder to even type that word in this context!)

          Once a SEASON??? I'm hoping to get there more often that that, and I'm in NEW YORK!!!

          You are blessed. All you San Franciscans are.

          Hey, Bob(TM), did you get back there yet? (he lives 10 minutes away, the lucky guy...)

          ciao

          1. re: Jim Leff

            Hi Jimmy,

            I'm in downtown Oakland at the moment and grabbed a computer here on break from a meeting. My work took me to UC today, giving me a chance to cruise down Shattuck avenue and stop at Flint's to pick up some pork ribs before heading to my next appt. They're waiting for me in the car for a late night dinner tonight - I did succumb to a quick bite (not easy to do while driving!). We'll see if they make it over the bridge before the next nibble.

            Way fun to see you last week, and thanks for the scoop on Flint's reopening!

            - Melanie
            xox

            1. re: Melanie

              Hey, melanie!

              (Melanie is the person who discovered wonderful wonderful Seafood Village in Millbrae, which I wrote about in my SF Trip report--the one NOT about Flints)--at the link below).

              But Melanie....how did you like the ribs???

              Link: http://www.chowhound.com/writing/sftr...

              1. re: Jim Leff
                j
                JB Leibovitch

                I work 5 minutes from Flint's, that "OPENING SOON" banner teased me for months. One of my co-workers drives past every day. The day he told they actually looked open, I dropped everything for a plate of sliced beef (hot, of course). I spilled some sauce in my car as I wolfed a large order, and had that delectable smell for the rest of the week. Anyone who tells you Doug's is better doesn't know 'cue. Jim, the only reason I went to your site is because my wife told me you worship Flint's, so you must be a pretty smart guy! Next time you are in town, I'll be happy to accompany you at Flint's at around 11p (which was our preferred feeding time when I was in college).

          2. re: Rachel Hope

            Just caught something:

            "raging fires and sizzling meats"

            Doh! So much for my characterization of them as "long-smoked, Texas style"!

            1. re: Jim Leff

              or maybe my description was innacurate. The BBQ stoker would open a bottom door onto a shelf of burning wood, red embers, and pour liquid onto the stove bottom causing a burst of steam. Then he would open a top door and with tongs reach all the way into the back for pieces of meat (chicken while I was there) poking them with his finger to check for doneness. The "sizzling" aspect may have been my excited imagination speaking.

              1. re: rachel hope

                If your imagination's gonna get worked up, fabricated "sizzle" is certainly a likely result!

                Anyway, anything you discover about their cooking methods would be great to hear about. I didn't get even a glimpse into the iron doors of their pit when I was there!

                ciao

                1. re: Jim Leff
                  j
                  JB Leibovitch

                  Definitely long-smoked. Nothing is in a hurry at Flint's. The problem with long smoked, if something sells out, it takes a while for it to be ready again. My second visit after they reopened, no beef ribs!

      2. The crab at Thanh Long is well worth the trip out there. Next time you're out here, though, try La Vie (at 22nd & Geary), another Vietnamese restaurant that has wonderful roast crab. Everything I've tried there has been superb; one standout is a sort of roll-your-own salad roll thing with grilled prawns. And it has the added bonus of being right across the street from Ton Kiang, a great dim sum place. You could hit Ton Kiang in the afternoon and, if you stretch it out long enough, finish up there just in time for dinner at La Vie.

        I've never thought all pupusas were made equal, but I was reminded of their inequality last week by the incredibly lacklustre pupusas at El Faro (1st & Mission--it's close to my office). I used to get great pupusas at El Trebol on 24th west of Mission, although I didn't know it was El Trebol because there was no sign out front. Anyone know if they're still there, and still any good? Pupusas are also just about the only thing that would tempt me to go to El Salvador, about whose pupusas I have heard raves.

        12 Replies
        1. re: Tom Hilton

          It's not that all pupusas are alike, it's that, to paraphrase Tolstoy, all good pupusas are alike, while each bad pupusa is bad in its own way.

          1. re: Tom Hilton

            Tom--Are you sure you mean 24th Street, rather than the sign-less El Trebol that used to be on the corner of Shotwell St (parallels Folsom, 1 block west) and either 20th or 21st? Corner door, slightly intimidating from the outside? If so, I regret to inform you that it did not survive the millionarization of SF. I lived on that block 10 years ago, and always considered El Trebol my bellweather of Mission gentrification -- as long as El Trebol was there, all was well. It is gone. And all is not well. And I never had the pupusas.

            1. re: mary

              No, this was on the north side of 24th St. a few doors west of Mission--there was a coffeehouse called Cafe La Boheme right next door. But that was 15-16 years ago. 'El Trebol' is a pretty common name, in any case.

              Sorry to hear about the gentrification of the Mission. I still live in SF but haven't been back to the neighborhood much, partly because I'm afraid to see what it's like now. (I heard the St. Francis Fountain closed--not a wonderful place, but a landmark--which is very sad.) I should go back, though, to visit (now here's where I tie this back in to the original trip report) La Palma.

              1. re: Tom Hilton

                "I heard the St. Francis Fountain closed--not a wonderful place, but a landmark--which is very sad"

                If you mean the old fashioned ice cream shop right near Roosevelt's Tamales, it looked open when I drove by...I could be wrong, though.

                The Mission is much different, but still fun. And great stuff to eat.

            2. re: Tom Hilton

              speaking of that Western area out by Thanh Long (thanks for the La Vie tip, btw...there were things I didn't like about Thanh Long, so I'm glad for a crab alternative), do you know that weird beachfront place just north of there, overlooking the ocean? It's like a Hampton's restaurant/bar, all glass, looked kinda cool.

              PLEASE try La Palma Mexicatessen, ok? Also, while I don't doubt your dim sum place, do check my place in Millbrae if you get a chance!

              thanks for the other tips...I'll get to them next trip!

              ciao

              1. re: Jim Leff

                I think you're talking about the Beach Chalet, at the western end of Golden Gate Park overlooking the Great Highway and Ocean Beach. The building is from the 1920s (I think); they restored it a few years ago, and opened it as a brewpub/restaurant. (I understand there are some classic (maybe WPA) murals inside, if you're interested in that sort of thing (I am)). I haven't been there, partly because it was instantly extremely popular; I've heard the beer is pretty good, the food is uneven, and the prices are high...but then as at the Cliff House, you're paying for the view.

                I'll have to make a trip down to La Palma. I might be able to work the Millbrae place into a trip to SFO to pick somebody up. I do highly recommend Ton Kiang; the quality and variety of their dim sum impressed the hell out of me.

                1. re: Tom Hilton

                  Beach Chalet, bingo! Thanks!

                  During my trip the SF weather was so sunny, warm, and dry that I was ecstatic at combining SF food and architecture with LA climate. I think spotting the Beach Chalet kind of fed on that...I'm not sure that in the usual misty damp chill this place would offer the same appeal!

                  If Ton Kiang still stacks up after you try Seafood Harbor, I'll definitely check it next time!

                  ciao

                  1. re: Jim Leff

                    There are WPA murals in the Beach Chalet (which has public toilets on the ground floor for all you beachgoers), but I don't recall them being very interesting. As regards eating there, the unreliable food/high price quandary can be accomodated by sitting at the bar and simply ordering beer and french fries (or so informants have told me). Time to arrive: shortly before sunset. Spend a very pleasant hour before moving on to more delicious dining establishments for dinner.

                    1. re: Rachel Hope

                      "Time to arrive: shortly before sunset"

                      that's right...I missed my big chance to see a sunset over the Pacific, and that's a great place to do it from!

                      "Spend a very pleasant hour before moving on to more delicious dining establishments for dinner"

                      ..like Thanh Long for crabs, about 1/4 mile away if I remember correctly. I like your strategy!

                      how's the beer, though? standard middle-of-road microbeer?

                      1. re: Jim Leff

                        Don't know about the beer, I've only ever used the bathrooms there (and watched my sunset from the beach). But I hear its acceptable.

              2. re: Tom Hilton

                one more thing...how's Pan-O-Rama/The Bread Man, a shop near there (Guerreo between 15 and 16)?

                They were closed for vacation while I was there, but I got a good vibe. Of course, since it's on the way to heavenly Mitchell's Ice Cream (and I was in a peak mood), Burger King would probably have given me a good vibe...

                ciao

                1. re: Tom Hilton

                  I used to go to Thanh Long years ago before the fancy remodel. It was/is great. When I took my husband there and it started a "Best Crab in San Francisco" frenzy. We haven't been to La Vie, so I'll put it on our list. Our current winner is the chili crab at Straits Cafe, 3300 Geary. Be advised--the rest of the menu is hit&miss and the service can be spotty. But the bartender makes a darn good mojito.

                  Regarding pupusas, a friend who's from El Salvador took me to his favorite place - El Zocalo 3230 Mission. Since then, I have had a lot of bad pupusas elsewhere and always return to El Zocalo to redeem my belief in pupusas. I agree with the remark about the pupusas at El Faro, its right by my husband's office too so we were really excited when we noticed it on the menu. What a disappointment!

                2. OK, where do I start. I guess I'll start off on a positive note. Some places you might find interesting in SF (I lived there for 4 years)for next time:
                  1. Thep Pnomn - unbelievable royal thai. If you like hot, try the larb ped.
                  2. Happy Burrito - you seem to enjoy Mexican ALMOST as much as I do. A must-try is downtown Oakland called Happy Burrito. Order a burrit0.
                  3. Ryans - Don't know if it is still there, but a wonderful comfort food restaurant in the Castro.
                  4. House of Nanking - Can't believe you missed this one. Of course, it is pretty well known to locals. On the outskirts of Chinatown.
                  5. Take it easy Thai - Also in downtown Oakland. Amazing cheap thai.

                  Lets talk about See's candies. It puts all chocolate found on the East coast to shame. I have been raised on it and have now converted all of my in-laws, neighbors and friends in the Philadelphia area. Maybe you did not try the right stuff. Next time try the Dark Chocolate Covered Cherries, the Scotchmellow and the Dark Butterchew. You can order it online.

                  26 Replies
                  1. re: Amy H.

                    1. thanks for the great sounding tips (anybody else out there know these places?)

                    2. I'm willing to concede that maybe I missed the boat on See's chocolate. I've been eating a lot of seriously fancy shmancy Eurochocolate lately, with ultra-slow melts and 120% butterfat. I was rushing fast, chomping a single free sample of milk--not bitter--chocolate, filled with raisins (not my fave). So between my rush, the unfortunate sample, and my somewhat skewed palate, I could well have missed it. But on the other hand, I DID love the almond buttercrunch, and would strongly suggest you add it to your hit list...

                    ciao

                    1. re: Jim Leff

                      A few years ago, I would have agreed with Amy's recommendation of Thep Phanom (Fillmore@Waller), but over the years, I have found the food less and less great. It's NEVER bad, but it seemed to lose a consistent sparkle. Nor have I discovered any one perfect dish that I can always count on. One time, the tom kha soup was a perfect example of velvety, spicy, complex soup, but another time, it was just okay. I was also really in the mood for a perfect papaya salad last time I went (November 99), but was very disappointed by the result. We did have an excellent tofu with basil last time, though, but very ordinary noodles. All told, it's a good, pretty place to go, but I have hit bigger highs at Dusit (Mission@29ish). Next time I go back to SF, I'll go to Dusit instead (and not just because it's a few steps away from Mitchell's).

                      I also never found anything good at House of Nanking, so I stopped going several years ago because it never seemed worth fighting the long lines of people with guidebooks in hand waiting to get in.

                      1. re: Mary

                        Yeah, you could be right about Thep Phenom, Mary. I haven't been there in two years. In any case, I'm with you on Dusit!

                    2. re: Amy H.

                      Thep Phenom:

                      Yes, this is one of my two favorite Thai places in SF (the other being Dusit).

                      Ryans:

                      Don't think it's still there - there are hardly any good restaurants in the Castro, unfortunately.

                      House of Nanking:

                      Eight years ago, this may have been good and well known to locals. Now it's just absolutely filled with tourists and the food has gone way, way downhill. Everything tastes the same.

                      See's is ok for old fashioned chocoates, but why eat that when the amazing Joseph Schmidt chocolate is in the same town?!

                      1. re: Cathy

                        My 2 cents: Joseph Schmidt chocolates are beautiful artistic creations, a treat to the eye. The truffles are rich and lavish--overly so, to the point of cloying, to my taste. The chocolate I find a bit "waxy".

                        See's, on the other hand is definitely "old-fashioned". It is the ultimate comfort food. The chocolate is, for my money, about as good as it gets. I will savor a box of See's for days; it is at the top of my life-list. btw, I don't care for their truffles much, either--same as above, I just find truffles too rich.

                        Link: http://webpages.ainet.com/gosner/syri...

                        Image: http://webpages.ainet.com/gosner/syri...

                        1. re: george osner

                          George--thanks for fleshing out the point I was trying to make.

                          There is, indeed, a value to chocolates that aren't over-the-top rich and intense. Just like some people prefer lower butterfat ice creams--Haagen Daz isn't for everyone--the kind of chocolate done at See's, though a lot less oomphy, is totally worthy. I guess I missed it 'cuz I've been eating super-oomphy and am skewed for that, and I didn't give it proper time and consideration.

                          Loved their almond butter crunch...nobody's talking about it, so I'm assuming y'all haven't tried it. Please do!

                          ciao

                          1. re: Jim Leff

                            Yeah, I see your point, and there ARE times when that kind of chocolate is just the ticket. I'll get some of that almond butter crunch right away!!

                            Speaking of chocolate, isn't Scharfen Berger chocolate from SF? I just got some of their incredible cocoa powder, which makes perfect hot chocolate.

                            1. re: Cathy

                              YES!! Scharfenberger is a new addition to the SF chocolate scene and to my mind it is the best dark chocolate around. if you like those incredibly intense 70% cacao bars, that is. haven't tried the other types.

                              1. re: judge

                                I have a friend who just published a book called the
                                Chocoholic Traveler. She claims someone in Santa Cruz
                                makes the best chocolate. Have to go look up the name.
                                I think he came from Israel.
                                vicki in new orleans

                                1. re: vicki

                                  Have people been? It seems to be fairly well known in San Francisco, but I haven't seen any mentions of it on these boards.

                                  Anyway, I remember it being on what appeared to be an underdeveloped stretch of Columbus. The ex-chef proprietor is shockingly young and good-looking (he retired from the restaurant business after a heart attack) and the truffles are tiny and fresh, 5/$1. The caramel was so good I tripped while I was eating it (it's that really fluid caramel that coats the palate and the back of the tongue all at once so you get that really electric multidimensional caramel experience). If you love chocolate, it's definitely worth the negligible detour.

                                  1. re: vicki

                                    I think your friend was talking about Richard Donnelly on Mission Street in Santa Cruz. This month's Chocolatier Magazine just had a bit about him in their 10 best artisan chocolatiers article in the current issue. I haven't tasted his chocolates but some pastry chefs in a group I belong to (the Baker's Dozen) say that they are really good (and really expensive).

                                    1. re: Nancy Berry
                                      c
                                      Caitlin McGrath

                                      Richard Donnelly chocolate is indeed very good. They do mostly wholesale and mail order business, and, at least several years ago, there Santa Cruz shop wasn't really set up for retail. But they would sell retail if you wandered in, especially around holidays and Valentine's Day. You would find them making the chocolates right there, and they were generous with samples if you were buying.

                                  2. re: judge

                                    Is there somewhere I can order this chocolate from?

                                    1. re: Heidi

                                      Try this link.

                                      Link: http://www.scharffen-berger.com/

                                      1. re: Sharon A

                                        Thanks for the link. I was able to locate a local wine & cheese store that sells the chocolate right around the corner. I bought a tin of cocoa and two of the small bars, one with crunchy nibs and the other with Peet's coffee, actually a bit crunchy also and potent with caffeine. This is outstanding deep,dark chocolate. Just a little bit'l do ya.

                                        1. re: Heidi

                                          can this be purchased in ny? on line?

                                          1. re: adrienne

                                            Go to their site scharffen-berger.com and then to the store locator. Type in the pertinent info and you will find a store nearest to you carrying the chocolate. I found it in walking distance to my home, lucky me!

                                            1. re: Heidi

                                              It's also possible to order the stuff directly on line.

                                2. re: Jim Leff

                                  I love,love,love See's Buttercrunch to the degree where if I have it in my home I will eat until every buttery bit is gone. We had a babysitter who hailed from Tehachapee (teeny town outside of Bakersfield), and every time she would visit her family she would come home with boxes of Buttercrunch and those caramel suckers. Alas, she married and moved on. I have found other sitters, but not a See's connection!

                                  1. re: Heidi

                                    Ah, validation!

                                    But as someone's already pointed out, See's DOES do mail order. so you're in business!

                                    ciao

                                    ps--good to see you posting again!

                                    1. re: Jim Leff

                                      The other day I had lunch with a huge See's fan, who told me that every year they sell See's over the holidays, but at no other time of year, at a local mall here in Northern Virginia. Of course, I'm blanking on which mall/store he mentioned. Does See's appear seasonally anywhere else where you don't otherwise ... er ... see it?

                                      I used to pick my See's up on business trips to Albuquerque. My office basically required anyone traveling there to return with a box.

                                      1. re: Jim Dorsch

                                        I believe that you can simply order Sees candy by mail..they have an extensive catalog. I picked one up last year in San Francisco. They may even have a website!

                                        1. re: Susan L.
                                          r
                                          Rachel Perlow

                                          Once again, click below...

                                          Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                                    2. re: Heidi
                                      r
                                      Rachel Perlow

                                      Jeez - now next time I get the catalog I HAVE to order the buttercrunch! I love their (sans stick) Little Pops suckers, esp. the chocolate flavor. Any opinions as the the marshmints out there?

                                      Link to their website below...

                                      Link: http://www.sees.com/

                                      Image: http://www.sees.com/images/catalog.jpg

                                    3. re: Jim Leff

                                      Hello,

                                      Would anyone be able to tell me where the Scharfen Berger Chocolate store is located in S. F. and what (if they have one) they're web site is called? Thank you in advance for any help.

                                      Yours truly,

                                      Brian.

                                      1. re: Brian

                                        .

                                        Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                              2. this place is incredible. like jim said in his report, moving upstairs would be a dream. thanks so much for the tip! i had chicken tacos dorados, which were fantastic. la palma made my trip to SF last week truly complete.
                                on the other hand, i didn't think la taqueria was all that. rather disappointing, in fact, for all the hype (i had never been there before).
                                also had an excellent meal at fringale in soma (expensive but really worth it). try the mouthwatering hand-made chocolate truffles for dessert. at $3 for four, they're a divine steal.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: melissa

                                  Agreed, La Taqueria tastes like Taco Bell after La Palma. But it IS a different style, and it IS one of the best of its type

                                  sounds like you missed the potato chips at La Palma, and that is a BIIIIIIG shame

                                  jim

                                  1. re: Jim Leff

                                    i must have forgotten to mention those chips. oh, those chips. i ate the whole bag in one day!! another excellent tip. would never have tried 'em if you hadn't suggested it.