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Report from NY CH considering moving west (long)

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Thank you Bay Area Chowhounders for all of your help in planning my trip last week to your beautiful part of the country. The bad news is that my schedule while there ended up being absurdly busy so I didn’t have the freedom I’d hoped for to be able to sample all of your suggestions. The good news is that we loved it so much that we’re heading back in March for more interviews and to start looking for a neighborhood or part of the Bay where we might like to live. Some highlights of the trip:

FRIDAY:
El Huarache Azteca – while I was in a meeting, my dear boyfriend drove out and picked up a few things to bring back to me. We had the huarache with chicken tinga and chicken mole. The former was really, really special. The huarache a perfect blend of crispiness and chewiness and the chicken and refried beans were flavorful. The mole was less thrilling, although the tortillas that came with it were top notch as were the rice and beans. I look forward the next time I’m there to actually going to the restaurant to sample more things without the detrimental effect of take out. Oh and I’ve got to get to those taco carts!

University Café – I ended up having an appointment down in Los Gatos and on the way back we stopped in Palo Alto. We shared a citrus salad with goat cheese, grape fruit, oranges, and candied walnuts and an open faced turkey sandwich with avocado. While it was pretty standard café food, the amazing quality of the fruit took it to another level. Throughout my trip, I could not get over how different such fresh produce can taste.

Rite Spot – just drinks in the Mission; I liked this spot though

Uzen – exhausted, we drove back to the East Bay and gobbled down some fish at the sushi bar. I was impressed by the quality of the fish and the simplicity of the presentation, especially the baby yellowtail and the sockeye salmon. I also really liked the ume shiso roll (it’s a favorite of mine.) For the price, the quality of the sushi was excellent. Out of curiosity what’s the equivalent of a Sushi Yasuda type restaurant in the Bay?

SATURDAY:
Ferry Building: – We went twice. Once before my meeting to pick up some fruit, and once later around 1:00 to explore more fully. I could not get over how big this place is. We had a great time going from booth to booth and sampling – loved the citrus, the dried fruit, the jams, the cheese. We bought a stick of salmon jerkey that was delicious and then shared a burger from the Prather Ranch – good solid beef, perfect bun. The other stalls selling hot food had closed or run out of food by the time we got there, but I will be back. The prospect of shopping there for cooking purposes is really tantalizing too!

La Taqueria – headed over to the Mission and split a veggie burrito. I’ve since learned that a taco would have been the thing to get, but being in the Mission, we felt we needed at least one burrito, and I have to say I was really pleased. The guac was great, the beans were perfect texture, and the hot sauce on the table was a fantastic level of spiciness. The horchata was a perfect complement to the bite of the hot sauce.

Mission Pie – a friend had recommended this place, and so we split a piece of Myer Lemon pie on the suggestion of the high school student behind the counter. The filling was a little too sweet for my taste, but it had a great texture, and the crust was top notch. I really love the mission of this place and am looking forward to more samples.

Café du Soleil – after a lot of walking, we stopped in for iced tea and lemonade (really tart, very good).

Eva’s Café – after I was finished for the day, we drove out to look at the ocean and our way back, I really needed a bathroom, so we stopped here in Richmond. I asked the woman at the counter to recommend something small and took her advice on the barbeque chicken musubi – barbeque chicken and warm white rice wrapped in nori. It was so comforting and delicious – a great alternative when it’s cold outside and you’re craving sushi but want something warm.

Café Colucci – this was the night we were supposed to go to Chez Panisse Café, but our reservation wasn’t until 9:45, and I was absolutely exhausted, so we decided to save it for our next trip. We tried Pizzaiola, but the wait was too long, so we headed to Café Colucci, and I’m so glad we did. Outside of Café Adulis in New Haven, it was the best Ethiopian/Eritrean I’ve ever had. We had the veggie combo and mushroom tibs, and they were both fantastic. Especially the mushrooms, which we got in the spicy sauce. We loved it, but boy does that injera expand in your stomach…

SUNDAY:
Venus – We put our names down at both Venus and La Note, and after an hour of waiting, Venus called us first. I had the Casper omelet with a side of great sweet chicken sausage and good whole wheat toast and my BF had the 2x2x2 with challah French toast and poached eggs. Our immense hunger by the time we were served may have influenced our take on the brunch, but we were very satisfied.

Berkeley Bowl – Absolute heaven. I could not fathom the rows of citrus. Who knew so many kinds of oranges and grapefruits existed? We grabbed some fruit, some rolls, an amazing loaf of cinnamon bread, and some sharp cheddar (next time we’re hitting the Cheeseboard Collective, I promise) and took a hike up Mt. Tam. A perfect afternoon.

Spices II – We waited for an hour and a half to eat at Burma Super Star and finally gave up. We were with a friend who has spent a lot of time in Northern China, and he said that Spices II was our best bet nearby. We shared pork kidney, Mongolian beef, dry braised string beans, tofu with hot pepper, squash soup, and chicken in hot oil. The beef, string beans, and squash soup were my favorites. All in all it compared pretty favorably with Spicy and Tasty in NY.

So that was my first Chow experience in the Bay Area. The thing that I learned most of all is that I’ve only begun to get a taste of what the area has to offer and that I won’t be a bored eater if we move. I don’t yet have a good enough sense to draw any real comparisons to the offerings in NY, but so far, so good. Thanks again to everyone who offered suggestions and advice. I’m excited about joining this culinary community!

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  1. "Out of curiosity what’s the equivalent of a Sushi Yasuda type restaurant in the Bay?"

    None. Closest is Mori in LA who is almost as good but offers half the variety. That's why Yasuda is well...Yasuda. If you're hurting for high quality sushi, Sebo, Kaygetsu (Menlo Park), and Kappa (sashimi only) are your best bets. Otherwise, Southwest does cheap quick flights to LA and Jet Blue goes direct to JFK.

    We all learn the hard way, but it's best not to search out things in SF and try to compare them to NYC. Play to SF's strengths and go with places like the Ferry Building, Canteen, Incanto, Nopa, Bar Tartine, Oliveto's Truffle and Whole Hog Tastings, Koi Palace...stuff that you don't get in NYC,

    Pass on Michael Mina or The Dining Room if you're trying to find high end french on the level of Daniel or Jean Georges. Instead, try the cuisine at Manresa (Los Gatos). In terms of taste and innovation, it's as good if not better than any of Manhattan's top end.

    You definitely won't be bored eating in SF.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Porthos

      "You definitely won't be bored eating in SF."

      Yes and no. For as high a quality as the food is here, there's far too much sameness and risk averseness in the menus. Few push the envelope. Most just copy with variations. Now mind you, it's some pretty awesome stuff to copy! But this area hasn't really generated any real food waves since Alice Waters and the Mission burrito got started.

      1. re: swag

        They have exactly the same problem in New York:

        http://www.nytimes.com/2004/10/20/din...

        There or here, there's an easy solution: don't eat at places with safe, trendy menus.

    2. Sounds like you made some good choices. The chicken tinga, for example, is my favorite thing at El Huarache Azteca.

      If you liked the farmers market and Berkeley Bowl at the dead of winter, just imagine them when local produce is at its peak! You definitely will not be bored eating here!

      1 Reply
      1. re: Ruth Lafler

        The produce, any time of the year, is perhaps the biggest surprise coming from another part of the country. SF can't do some things other places can, but when I've been to the midwest or east coast during winter and I see the produce I think to myself, "are you serious?" When you consider certain cuisines like Chinese and produce, the drop off can be pretty severe.

        A 3rd...it won't be the same but you won't be bored.

      2. Thanks so much for reporting back. Hope you decide to make the move out here.

        Berkeley Bowl never ceases to amaze me. Recently I bought four different varieties of kumquats ... who knew there were that many.

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        El Huarache Azteca
        3842 International Blvd, Oakland, CA 94601

        Mission Pie
        2901 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

        Spices II
        291 6th Ave, San Francisco, CA 94118

        La Taqueria
        2889 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

        Eva's Hawaiian Cafe
        731 Clement St, San Francisco, CA 94118

        Cafe Colucci
        6427 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94609

        Uzen Japanese Cuisine
        5415 College Ave, Oakland, CA 94618

        Venus Restaurant
        2327 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94704

        University Coffee Cafe
        271 University Ave, Palo Alto, CA