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Mar 18, 2007 08:58 AM

2 Canucks, 3 Great Days in SF

After coming from Toronto and spending three relaxing days in Lake Tahoe my partner and I just enjoyed three more great days and nights in San Francisco with wonderfully co-operative weather. We mostly chose all our meals by researching the Bay Area Chowhound files (for which we are truly grateful) as each meal ended up being a memorable one! The criteria we followed was that each place could be visited in very casual attire as we were travelling with only carry-on. This left out the dining emporiums where tasting menus are the norm or where one engages in banter with a sommelier.

On our first evening, The North Beach Lobster Shack (532 Green St) was where we had superb steamed clams and delectable boiled Maine lobsters (you get two 1 & 1/4lb lobster dinners for $50.00). The place is very new having only been open three weeks and is still going through birth pangs. It had no beer and wine licence so I went to the corner store to pick up a six-pack of cold Anchor Steam which was a perfect accompaniment.(In fact we feel that Anchor Steam really does go with everything and we had it as our preferred drink with every meal, already having sampled some great wines in Tahoe).The owner, who looks like Penny Marshall's brother Gary, was very welcoming and the place is very casual and folksy. We had a lot of fun, though they still need to work some kinks out.

We are not breakfast people so we tend to just eat well at lunch and dinner.

For lunch we chose the Swan Oyster Depot on Polk and California where we lined up for a few minutes to get a seat at the always full eating counter before gorging ourselves on delicious clam chowder, combination cocktails of crab, shrimp,clam and oysters and superb cracked crab. Everything tasted wonderfully fresh and was sooo good. As we were going to see Jersey Boys that evening we chose a restaurant close to the Curran theatre and lowered out expectations. Happily, however, we can recommend The Indonesia on Post St. The food was delicious and inexpensive.We ordered beef and chicken dishes that were tasty and mildly spiced, a very good bean sprout,green onions and tofu dish and the dessert of deep fried bananas with mango ice cream which was out of this world.The service was kind and very attentive and the bill was very easy on the pocket.($55.00 for two).

We decided to have a late lunch the next day as we were going to see Beach Blanket Babylon and knew we had to line up early (6.45pm) to get decent seats to see the show as it is a first come,first seated policy.

We chose The Zuni Cafe on Market St as a "special last day in SF" treat and had good (if not great) oysters and the Chicken for Two which was "Oh My God" delicious.We were sat at a table by a window that was open and as the day was gloriously sunny and warm, it made the whole experience fantastic. Nathan our waiter, could not have been more attentive and pleasant. We thoroughly enjoyed the restaurant's ambiance and the people watching on the street as we enjoyed our drinks (Anchor Steam..again!) while whiling the hour away that it takes for the orgasmic chicken to be prepared in. We began our lunch at 2pm and left at 4pm very full and very,very happy.

After laughing ourselves silly at Beach Blanket,we walked down Columbus to Brandy Ho's which was sparsely crowded. It was nearly 10pm by then and we looked over the menu, realising that we were still a little full from our Zuni lunch. However we still managed to share an excellent Dumpling Soup and ordered each a Brandy's Dinner which is a stir-fry of beef,scallop,shrimps and which we watched them cook in big woks. Simple fare yet everything was fresh and very tasty and reasonably priced.

We loved out time and San Francisco and cannot wait to return and next time we will bring dressier duds so that we can try more upscale menus.

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  1. Nice TR! It's always great to have feedback from out-of-towners on our local haunts. The two of you made some nice choices for both food and play.

    1. Wow, thanks. Great report.

      I do believe you are the first to report about Indonesia Restaurant since the ownership change

      What were the kinks at North Beach Lobster Shack since I'll probably be going there on my next trip to the city.

      Gee, this cheered me up. I saw the title and thought ... another visitor request ... grumble, grumble ... and I'll bet they didn't even read the board ... another 3 perfect days ... what is good.

      Yet not only did you guys do your own research you were nice enough to post about it ... AND gave me a tip. It was like a little gift. Most people ask and we never hear from them again.

      Next time you are visiting and if you have any question, please link back to this report to refresh my memory and as far as I'm concerned, you'll get my attention and help. Thanks again.

      23 Replies
      1. re: rworange

        Hello again!

        I am hopefully taking you up on your offer of help exactly a year later! We are coming in for a flying visit on our way to Las Vegas and will be over-nighting in SF on Friday before taking off for the Oakland Airport to catch our flight to LV in the afternoon

        My question is can you please recommend a decent place to have dim sum near the Union Square area (that is where our hotel is). We will have until about 2pm before we have to take the BART to Oakland, so any suggestions would be very welcome.

        Thank you!

        1. re: trevorstreet

          The best dim sum in the City is not in Union Square -- but its close. Go to Yank Sing in Rincon Center. It's about a 5 minute cab ride away. You'll find the freshest, highest quality dim sum there. It can get very crowded, so call ahead and make a reservation.

          Yank Sing Banquet & Catering
          101 Spear St, San Francisco, CA 94105

            1. re: foodiesf

              Welcome back. There is a closer Yank Sing to Union Square on Stevenson Street.

              I like the Spear Street location slightly better. It is in the converted post office building which has a lovely atrium fountain that rains from the celing. The Spear St location has a slightly larger menu, IMO, but not so you'd notice. Depends on how far you want to travel. I'd make sure to have a reservation as both places are popular Financial District eatieries.

              Seeing that you will be hear on a Saturday morning, I'd scope out the Spear St location which is next to the Ferry Building and Saturday Ferry Plaza Farmers market ... which is FABULOUS ... one of the best things about San Francisco. I don't think you went last time ... really ... go ... you might not even be so interested in Yank Sing after all. The market opens at 8am so there is time to look it over before Yank Sing opens at 10 am.

              There is controversy about Yank Sing and the prices on the board. Either people love it or hate it. I love it.

              Also near Union Square is Chinatown. Here's links to Place records about Chinatown dim sum places. Most records have some comments or links to the websites, if any.

              1. re: rworange

                Thank you so much! That is a superb suggestion in regards to the Farmer's Market. We went to the Ferry Building last year, but not on a weekend, day for a great oyster lunch at the Hog Island Oyster Company and did some light shopping (there was/is a great kitchen store there). That now really does give us a plan for Saturday morning. Maybe we will forgo the Dim Sum as for us it is a habit on weekends as here in Toronto. I just hope we are blessed again this trip with good weather as were were last year! I will happily report back when we get back.

                Again, many thanks!

                1. re: trevorstreet

                  I politely refrained from inquiring why you woiuld cpme here from Trtonto and eat dim sum.... Just as last year I refrained from asking why you would come to the West Coast to eat lobster ;-)

                  Watch for me on the TO board, as I may work a TO trip in on my annual Eastern swing around June 1.I'll be looking for the latest on Chinese1

                  1. re: Xiao Yang

                    I would try Dim Sum in every city I go to, just because I like it! For instance, the first time I ever had Sushi and tempura was in San Francisco in 1981 when a friend took me to a Sushi place just off the Castro and 18th. I have never forgotten it as it opened a whole world up for me. I have had sushi all over the world since, and a lot of it much superior, but I still remember that incredibly delicious first taste of discovery in SF. Also the first time I ever had pot stickers was in SF back in the early 80's in some little joint near Pacific Heights.Courtesy of my same adventurous friend, now deceased. I don't think I have ever had as good potstickers since. The best lobster I have ever had in my life was in Newfoundland caught the same day I ate it. I have enjoyed fresh lobster in Scotland, Brittany,Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. All delicious.Yet one the best and reasonably priced lobster dinners in recent memory was at last year at The Lobster Shack in North Beach in your fair city with also some of the best steamed clams I have ever had. Clams (quahogs,cherrystone) are not as popular here in Canada so I eat them whenever I can when I travel to the US. We have some amazing oysters bars and restaurants here in Toronto (Starfish is a particular favorite haunt of mine) and yes Dim Sum (La Wa Heen notwithstanding) is ubiquitous in the city and Lobster too is flown in daily from our East Coast (The Lobster Trap here in Toronto is a great place for it and way off the beaten track). However you have unique specialties like cracked crab (amazing at the Swan Oyster Depot) cioppino and sand dabs at the Tadich Grill ( I started going there in the mid-seventies) and elsewhere, wonderful Italian restaurants and of of course your city's atmosphere is incomparable. There are so many different takes on food everywhere one goes and I just happen to enjoy trying them and comparing them, even if they are deemed better elsewhere.
                    There are in my city some pretty amazing places to eat Dim Sum and Lobster (IMHO) and many other cuisines and I'll happily refer you to them when you are ready to swing by here in June. Meanwhile I know the same is true of SF and I, and my partner, look forward to enjoy as always.

                    1. re: trevorstreet

                      Great answer!

                      I think, though, that you might want to forego dim sum this time in favor of eating at the farmers' market. There are many stalls there with great food -- everyone raves about the Primavera stall, and Mexican is something that's probably not as well represented in Toronto as dim sum -- plus there's a lot of grazing to be done on samples. And you can enjoy the hopefully wonderful spring weather.

                  2. re: trevorstreet

                    Yank Sing has a to go counter, if you wanted to bring something to the airport. It is a pretty building and worth a look since it is a block from the Ferry Building. However, lots of good food at the Farmers Market to bring along on the plane for snacks.

                    1. re: rworange

                      I've always been a fan of YS2Go even though I have little use for the main resto. You get your money's worth with the dim sum"bento" boxes, in the context of FiDi lunch prices. However, cold dim sum, even from Yank Sing doesn't cut it.

                  3. re: rworange

                    Belated but heartfelt thanks for your recommendations of Yank Sing and the Farmer's Market on the saturday morning.
                    Here's a quick run-down of our SF visit.We arrived from Toronto on the friday, mid-morning and managed to check in our hotel to drop our bags and dash to the Swan Oyster Depot to gorge ourselves on chowder and cracked crab. Having said no to the vile Air Canada sandwiches and being famished made our lunch at the Swan taste like the ambrosia it was. Back to the hotel for a nap (3 hr time difference and a couple of Anchor Steams can knock you down). Woke up and did a quick shopping at Macy's Easter sale and got tickets at the hal-price booth for the 9.30pm sho of Beach Blanket Babylon. Went for dinner first at the North Beach Lobster Shack. Slightly disappointing as they still have no beer or wine license but you can byob (the liquor shop on the corner fixed that) and also they had no clams. Tried the lobster bisque and was underwhelmed. Lobster (live from tank) was still very good and a dinner for two is $65.00 which is very reasonable. Howled at the show which is a lot funnier than last year's edition. We got to the Ferry building market at 8am and were astounded at the over-all organic-ness of it all. We saw fruits and vegetables that we had never seen before. We went to Primavera and watched all the yummy food being dished out and bought ourselves a pineapple-cucumber concoction that was delicious. We spent two delicious hours touring the various stalls in and outside the building, sampling a few things (one stall-keeper literally thrust a huge piece of pita in my hand slathered with a piquant and very tasty hummus). My favorite samples were the fruit. I have rarely tasted such delicious sweet oranges and tangerines. Needless to say some left the market with us.

                    Shortly after 10am we made our way to the Rincon Center which we fell in love with. The wonderful thing there we discovered were the amazing Anton Refregier murals that we spent a good twenty or more minutes admiring. Our next joy was walking into the atrium to go to Yank Sing and spotting the waterfall for the first time. Wow! The shine shining brightly as the water fell was simply beautiful. We got a table right away and were surprised at how quickly the restaurant filled up. This was the highlight of our visit. Frankly we have never seen such a variety of dim sum dishes anywhere. Not even in Hong Kong, unless we missed something when we there.
                    The stand-outs for us among many,were the shrimp toast, the chicken in mushroom caps, the scallops on skewers, a dumpling dish which we were told is a signature dish of theirs,the peking duck and prawns with walnuts that were out of this world. My partner had an epiphany over this dish. To accompany this we enjoyed the most fragrant of jasmine teas and absolutely amazing attentive service. Yes it was expensive, but worth every penny and the setting could not have been more glorious. Xiao Yang mentions Lai Wah Heen here in Toronto, however I think as good as it is, the experience is a completely different one and does not invite comparison as both restaurants are radically different in setting, style, service and energy. The weather during our entire 30 odd hours was sublime. We walked back in a euphoric daze to our hotel to check out and take the Bart to Oakland airport for our flight to Las Vegas. Frankly we should have stayed on two more days and passed on Vegas. Many thanks again to everyone who made suggestions and needless to say we look forward to our next visit to your beautiful city.

                    1. re: trevorstreet

                      Thanks for a great report. If I'd known you were into Depression-era murals, I would have suggested the Beach Chalet (respectable micro-brewed beer, mediocre food, but GREAT murals executed under Lucien Labaudt supervision); SF Art Institute (heroic murals by Diego Rivera and a cafe with the best view of any school cafeteria I know of) and Coit Tower (no food, but lots of murals by Diego Rivera acolytes).

                      1. re: Xiao Yang

                        Great tips for our next visit. We have done the Coit Tower (several times over the years) especially to look at the murals there too. The SF Art Institute is down on our lists of must-dos on our next visit. Thank you!

                      2. re: trevorstreet

                        Glad you had a good trip. Thanks for reporting back.

                        Yeah, the soup/chowders at the lobster shack haven't wowed me. I'm mainly there for the clams.

                        Hmmm ... I'll have to check to see if the afgani guy is at the Ferry Plaza market ... he's the devious sort to load you up with generous samples ... which hooks you into buying.

                        1. re: rworange

                          Are those evil Afghan bolani sample guys at Ferry Plaza? They are so freakin' charming. Who can pass up a chance to flirt with hot young men and eat delicious food? Not me! And it works, 'cause the stuff isn't cheap and I always drop a twenty (the spinach bolani make great low-cal wraps, and the garlic herb yogurt sauce and the lentil curry are awesome).

                          1. re: Ruth Lafler

                            Now that you mention it, they were Afghani. And the hummus was very good indeed which tempted me until my partner reminded me that we were not checking luggage and would probably not be allowed on board with it.

                  4. re: trevorstreet

                    Much closer to your hotel and more affordable than Yank Sing (which can hit Lai Wah Heen price levels) is Tian Sing.

                    Tian Sing Chinese Restaurant
                    138 Cyril Magnin St, San Francisco, CA 94102

                      1. re: trevorstreet

                        Yank Sing is not standard Dim Sum for the most part, they have created many of the dishes they serve there and in quite elegant surroundings...if you want to try a more unique style of Dim Sum...yes at a higher price reflecting the quality of the ingredients and the ambiance of the space...Dim Sum you most likely will not find in other cities..than do treat yourself to this experience (preferably at the Spear Street location) definitely is more celebratory!

                        1. re: ChowFun_derek

                          Toronto's Lai Wah Heen and perhaps its sister restaurant (which I have yet to try) Lai Toh Heen is all that, in spades. Once you've tried "Steamed duckling dumpling filled with foie gras paste, job’s-tear & heart of garlic" it's all down hill


                          1. re: Xiao Yang

                            Just as a point of interest, I have been to Lai Toh Heen and as a physical venue it is quite impressive. As to how it compares to Lai Wah Heen in food experience, it compares wel,l but I still find the original has the edge over its newer relative.

                            1. re: Xiao Yang

                              Xiao Yang you're torturing me, I can barely find so-so dim sum where I live now much less stellar...

                              I'd happily settle for the most mediocre fare in SF or NYC...

                    1. Hello and thank you!

                      We are still basking in the afterglow of our trip (we came home on friday and now are prepping for the return to work tomorrow (sigh).

                      The kinks in the Lobster Shack are simply that they haven't yet found their rhythm in putting out the food. We ordered steamers that were absolutely wonderfiul and that came out within fifteen minutes of ordering, but then we had to wait another thirty plus minutes for the lobsters. When they arrived they truly were worth the wait and the sides were very good too. Fresh tasty boiled lobsters, perfectly cooked corn on the cob, delicious clarified butter for dipping and generous tasty fries. We were two of about six customers at the time and luckily in no rush, so we we were fine with the waiting. Another couple seemd a little perturbed for having to wait. The restaurant had run out of rice (offered as an alternate side to fries) but forgot to tell the waiter who seemed embarassed to have to relay the news to the couple who had just ordered it and also had no lobster bisque which was on the menu.

                      The owner apologised many times to the couple and to us for the wait, but offered no explanation as to what was taking so long. As they didn't have a license, a drink on the house could not be offered, however maybe a conciliatory gesture of a dessert or coffee might have been appropriate to those that were feeling the wait more than others.

                      Thank you so much for the offer of help for our next trip. We shall definitely keep that in mind, and needles to say should you ever venture north-east to Toronto, we shall be happy to do the same!

                      1. links

                        Zuni Cafe
                        1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

                        North Beach Lobster Shack
                        532 Green St, San Francisco, CA 94133

                        Swan Oyster Depot
                        1517 Polk St, San Francisco, CA 94109

                        Indonesia Restaurant
                        678 Post St, San Francisco, CA 94109