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Apr 15, 2008 10:06 AM

Trip Report - A Week Around San Francisco

An ex-Californian now living in Atlanta, we try to get back once a year or so to visit friends and do all the wonderful things we love to do around San Francisco. This trip was great, beautiful weather, great hiking, lots of great food.

First, a quick rundown of most of the food we ate, then a detailed trip report. If you want to see a version of this with photos embedded (too much trouble here), you can go to and scroll down to where you start seeing photos. OR, if you want some photo overload, not just food, but also flora and fauna, check out my flickr photoset at

Super way good highly recommended:
Sushiran (Sausalito) - better than ever, incredible meal
Santa Ramen (San Mateo) - better than ever, the kurobuta pork rocks
Fish (Sausalito) - great place on the water, northern california all the way
A16 (San Francisco) - on par with Delfina, which is high praise in my book
Los Amigos Taqueria (Pescadero) - wow carnitas taco from a gas station, gotta love it

Very good, recommeneded:
Pancho Villa (San Mateo) - my old standby, always good
Duarte's (Pescadero) - the "half and half" soup rocks, had a great "Arrogant Bastard" on tap, the pie - meh
Boulange de Polk (San Francisco) - a bit of France in San Francisco
Arcangeli Grocery (Pescadero) - two words .... artichoke bread
Ciao Bella (lots o places) - the lychee moscato gelato was excellent, but others not so great, so taste before you buy
Tartine (San Francisco) - not as good this time as in past, probably because we hit it at the end of the day and things had been sitting around for a while

Good, worth a stop if you're nearby and in the mood:
Ti Couze (San Francisco) - fun place, good savory crepes, nice hard ciders to drink
Flying Fish Grill (Half Moon Bay) - good fish tacos and fish and chips, always a nice stop on the way to the beach
Taqueria San Jose (San Francisco) - decent al pastor, carne asada not so great
Ton Kiang (San Francisco) - good dim sum, not quite as good as I remember it though
Noodle Shop (San Mateo) - good xiao long bao, very rich, the opposite of delicate
Boudin (San Francisco) - chowder in the sourdough bread bowl is always good

Good, but wouldn't recommend it:
Quince (San Francisco) - the food was good to very good, but the service had serious issues - too snooty yet awkward at the same time
Taqueria La Corneta (Burlingame) - doesn't compare to others

Ferry Plaza bits and pieces:
Blue Bottle Coffee - awesome "gibraltar" AKA "cortado", but the drip coffee wasn't my cup o tea
Fatted Calf - others had highly recommended the fegatelli, I wasn't impressed (everything else looked good though
)Cowgirl Creamery - simply excellent cheese shop, as always
Lulu - great house made potato chips
Acme - excellent bread, as always
at the farmers market, so many amazing wonderful local things, this is what makes eating in california great

Now the detailed report... (photo embedded version linked to above)
Day 1: We arrived into SFO around 11am, and of course had to go straight for burritos first thing. Pancho Villa in San Mateo used to be my local taco and burrito spot. They use good fresh ingredients, have an outstanding salsa bar, and very good carnitas (my favorite). A trip without Pancho Villa just doesn't seem right, and we got there for lunch on our very first day before hanging out with friends in Central Park in San Mateo. Always a good time.

Day 2: The next morning, we were headed up to Mt Tam for a hike, and decided to drop in to Ton Kiang for dim sum on the way up. It was still early, so there was no wait. We ate a LOT of food, mostly seafood dim sum - shrimp, calamari, oysters, softshell crab. All good, but didn't wow me as it had in the past.

We hiked most of the day around Mt Tam, starting at Stinson Beach, taking the Dipsea Trail to Steep Ravine, up, and then back down on Matt Davis Trail. Gorgeous views, amazing wildflowers, probably my favorite hike in the Bay Area.

Post hike, we hit another of my favorites, meeting up with friends at Sushi Ran in Sausalito. Our last trip there wasn't quite as good as other meals before it, but this one blew them all away. Excellent sushi, cooked dishes, exquisitely prepared vegetables for our non-fish eating friend, awesome meal.

Day 3: A take it easy day, enjoying the local parks, then hitting another local favorite which was not so great last time but had recently moved to a new (much larger and nicer) location - Santa Ramen. Better than ever - if you like soup (who doesn't?) you need to visit Santa some day.

I made a quick solo trip out for some dumplings later that day when my kids were on a "playdate" - Noodle House in San Mateo makes some very good XLB, hearty, lots of soup inside which is my first criteria for good XLB. The dumpling itself may have been a bit too thick, but these were very enjoyable - better than what I've had in Atlanta at Chef Liu and Frank Ma's.

Day 4: Out to the coast, via Half Moon Bay. An early lunch at another old standy, the Flying Fish Grill. Good seafood shack on the side of the road always hits the spot.

Had a great time at the beach at Pillar Point with the kids, then headed on down towards Pescadero, home to Arcangeli grocery, Los Amigos taqueria, Duarte's tavern, Harley Farms goats, Phipps Country Store for beans, and not very much else. Very high quality to quantity ratio!!! We hit Harley, Phipps, and Arcangeli before heading further down the coast to Costanoa, and came back by on the way up the next day for Duarte's and Los Amigos. Harley and Phipps are both great stops with kids (or without), and the bread at Arcangeli is always great, especially if you are lucky enough to get it warm out of the oven (or buy the half-baked and take it home with you).

Explored and spent the night in a cabin at Costanoa, which is a lovely spot, especially with kids. Tons of hummingbirds buzzing the flowers, great views, nice outdoor hot tub, fires for roasting s'mores. Really great. We were lucky in that it was not crowded at all, we nearly had all that to ourselves.

Day 5: Quick breakfast at Costanoa (surprisingly good) then down the road to Ano Nuevo for a hike out to see the elephant seals. Another lovely walk, lots of interesting animal discoveries along the way, and then the "weaners" - the young seals that stay behind for a while after the adults have left.

Drove back up to Pescadero afterwards for some grub. Duarte's was very good, great green pepper and artichoke soup (half and half), nice bread and crab melt sandwich, VERY good Arrogant Bastard beer on tap! I was pretty full, but had to hit Los Amigos across the street since I had heard good things. The carnitas taco there is probably the best I've ever had.

Kept on driving up the coast, all the way to San Francisco. Checked in to the Argonaut hotel down by Ghirardelli Square (cool place!), then headed out to meet friends for dinner at Ti Couz and a walk around the neighborhood there with its crazy blend of cultures (Indian ice cream, trendy shops, taco shops, etc.). Ti Couz hit the spot. It's not the best place ever, but they serve really good crepes, have a nice cider selection, and make surprisingly good and unique salads.

Then the debate - dessert crepes at Ti Couz? Rose ice cream down the street?? Pastries at Tartine??? We opted for Tartine, and I must say it was probably not the best time of day to go there - everything was delicious, but I could tell the banana cream pie had been sitting around a bit too long. Still loved it of course.

Day 6: Lots of fun today... Ferry Plaza to pick up food for a picnic, over the Golden Gate Bridge to the Bay Area Discovery Museum (GREAT place for kids 7 and under), out to the Tennessee Valley for a hike to the beach, then a fabulous dinner at Fish in Sausalito. Fish is everything right about Northern California, amazing quality ingredients, simple but excellent preparation, very nice beer and wine selection, beautiful view and casual feel. Everything we had was delicious and photo-worthy.

Our friends took us up the road to Ciao Bella in Corte Madera for some gelato. I must say that the lychee moscato was outstanding, a few others I tasted were just so-so.

Day 7: Vacation in Northern California is tough! So much to see, do, eat... Took the kids for breakfast at La Boulange de Polk for a bit of France in San Francisco. It was great. Then we did the cablecar ride up Hyde Street over to Chinatown, which is almost as good as a ride at Disney, certainly with better views. Explored Chinatown and North Beach, then headed over to A16 for an awesome Italian lunch before hitting the beach at Crissy Field on a gorgeous day. Finally, headed out down to Hillsborough to stay with friends again. Our friend Tim treated us to a very nice bottle of Turley Zinfandel. Another great day.

Day 8: Saturday again. Since we were up early anyway, we headed back in to the city for the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. One of my favorite places in the whole world. Amazing local stuff. Spring is a nice season to be there as well - no tomatos or pluots yet, but great greens, flowers, and the year-round staples. A "gibraltar" at Blue Bottle lived up to the hype, and their drip coffee was certainly photogenic if not my taste exactly. So many other amazing things to taste, buy, gawk at. Had a nice tamale at Primavera among other delights.

After the Ferry Plaza, we scooted across town to meet some other friends at the playground at Golden Gate Park. What a great place, kids going wild and having a blast. We even got to watch a few minutes of lawn bowling across the street. Hit Taqueria San Jose for lunch in the Mission - apparently Batali called this his favorite spot, and while it was very good, and wouldn't say it was the best by any means. Al Pastor was the highlight.

Back to Hillsborough to clean up before heading back in to the city for dinner at Quince. I had high expectations, that is always my downfall. We had a good meal, but there were lots of service letdowns, and the meal overall simply didn't measure up to meals I've had at Delfina or Chez Panisse Cafe or Zuni (or Fish or A16 earlier in the trip). No photos of this one, just as well I guess. The evening started with us arriving early and letting them know we'd be walking around the neighborhood if something opened up. There is a lovely park with good views just up the street, and Japantown is a few blocks away - we hit an art gallery (pop Japanime art). Our reservation time came and went with us waiting on the sidewalk outside the restaurant. They don't have a bar or even an entry way for that matter. The hostess did ask if she could get us anything as the minutes ticked away - we weren't sure if she was actually offering to comp us a drink - and we ordered some nice glasses of wine. I noticed that they had a bottle of the Poire Authentique we had at Ti Couz at more than double the price!

Finally seated, our waiter finally came over to talk, then rushed off in the middle of walking through the menu to see to someone else more important than us. He had some confusion also on some of the changes to the menu (vs one that was posted outside) as they had run out of a few dishes as the night progressed (we had an 8:30 reservation and were seated shortly after 9pm). We ordered, and got a nice amuse of lobster over a green garlic puree (or was it green onion?). When the waiters brought out course one, there was much confusion and deliberation over setting down plates in front of the right person at the exact right time, with one poor guy looking desperately at another as he lowered and raised and lowered and raised the dish a few times before finally setting it down. Humorous, and a bit sad! The overall air of the restaurant managed to be both snooty and awkward, which is a hard combination to achieve. Even the sommelier wasn't much help as I asked about a few wines - we ended up with a Qupe Syrah and nice gruner veltliner that tasted a lot like a de-fizzed champagne. And fortunately, I did think the food was pretty good. I had a very nice tagliatelle with veal and mushroom ragu. And I loved the desserts actually, though my wife didn't care for them. Oh well, you win some, you lose some. Still a nice evening out with friends to wrap up our trip.

Day 9: Simply packing, a quick trip down Burlingame Avenue for a sub-par lunch at La Corneta, then off to the airport. All in all, a fabulous, amazing, wonderful time back in the Bay Area.

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  1. Thanks for the great report! What an amazing array of places you got to. A shame about the service issues at Quince, its one of my favorites in town but I do keep reading/hearing about late seatings and service issues recently...hopefully they can shore that up.

    What did you like most at A 16?

    3 Replies
    1. re: ccbweb

      We were there at lunch, so a smaller menu of options. Everything was good. Had two pizzas - one margherita and one Bianca (mozzarella, grana padano, chiles, garlic, green olives, basil, olive oil). Of those two, I preferred the Bianca, the grana padano came through really nicely, and the flavors were just great. It was also slightly crispier, which I prefer (the other one was nicely charred as well though).

      The meatball dish was really nice, simple, good flavor, good texture, and the leftover sauce was perfect with the edges of the pizza crusts dipped into it.

      And the potato and beets were great, the house-made mustard made for an unusual merging of flavors, but it worked really well.

      Finally, whatever Italian red wine we had by the glass was perfect.

        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          Yeah, it's really a shame - bad service can really damage a meal at a place like Quince - making everything seem not quite as good as it really is. I have no desire to return.

      1. What a great and detailed report, thank you. Glad you enjoyed your visit, though I am sorry to hear that your experience at Quince was sub-par.

        1. Thanks for the awesome detailed report.

          I'm wondering, what is it that you didn't like about Blue Bottle's drip coffee? Just curious. I love everything they do, and also just tried the Gibralter this past weekend, which was great. But, I love their drip coffee too, it just doesn't get any fresher than that.

          1 Reply
          1. re: chemchef

            OK, maybe that came across as more negative than intended on the drip coffee. It was fine, a bit more bitter than I care for (I do usually drink french press or espresso), but I was expecting something revelatory, and it didn't deliver anything beyond a typical cup of coffee to my taste buds. As I said though, the gibraltar was excellent, no sugar added.

          2. There are not that many flavors that Ciao Bella does well. The one I like is the blood orange. Thanks for the tip and taking time to report about your trip.

            Tartine Bakery
            600 Guerrero St, San Francisco, CA 94110

            Santa Ramen Japanese Restaurant
            1944 South El Camino Real, San Mateo, CA

            2355 Chestnut St., San Francisco, CA 94123

            Taqueria San Jose
            2830 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

            Flying Fish Grill
            99 San Mateo Rd, Half Moon Bay, CA 94019

            Duarte's Tavern
            202 Stage Rd, Pescadero, CA 94060

            Quince Restaurant
            470 Pacific Av, San Francisco, CA 94133

            Ton Kiang
            5821 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94121

            350 Harbor Dr, Sausalito, CA 94965

            Pancho Villa
            365 S B St, San Mateo, CA 94401

            Ferry Plaza Farmers Market
            One Ferry Building, 200 The Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA

            La Corneta Taqueria
            1123 Burlingame Ave, Burlingame, CA 94010

            287 Stage Road, Pescadero, CA

            Noodle Shop
            164 W 25th Ave, San Mateo, CA 94403

            Taqueria y Mercado Los Amigos
            1999 Pescadero Creek Rd, Pescadero, CA

            Sushi Ran
            107 Caledonia St., Sausalito, CA 94965

            Boudin Sourdough Bakery & Cafe at Bakers Hall
            2890 Taylor St, San Francisco, CA 94133

            1 Reply
            1. re: rworange

              Thanks for adding the links, nicely done. I think you missed a couple...

              Ti Couz Creperie
              3108 16th St, San Francisco, CA 94103

              Harley Farms
              205 North St, Pescadero, CA

              Phipps Country Store & Farm
              79 North St, Pescadero, CA

            2. Thanks for a great report. You've inspired me to drag my son away from the wii and down to Ano Nuevo. (We've never been.) A couple questions: what do you like from Flying Fish Grill? Are the strawberries ripe yet at Phipps? And -- if I can sneak in a non-foodie question -- how far is the walk to the seals? I think I've read three miles. Is that each way, or round trip?

              Glad you had a good time. The Tennessee Valley walk, followed by lunch at Fish is one of my favorite mini-daytrips.

              4 Replies
              1. re: Glencora

                Ano Nuevo is great, though it's now "off season" for seeing the real heavy action and largest populations. Still a great walk and plenty to see. It's a mile and a half each way, basically flat.

                Flying Fish Grill has good fish tacos (the fish is fried) in several varieties, good fish and chips, and we also had a crab, garlic and cheese bread that was a bit on the rich side but good. It's all good, nothing stellar, but just a nice comfortable place for lunch. And the fish market next door is always a good stop as well.

                I didn't see any berries at Phipps, probably a few more weeks.

                1. re: biskuit

                  I want to thank you for mentioning the carnitas at Los Amigos in Pescadero. I got the burrito, not the taco, since I wanted to transport it to the beach for a picnic. It was crispy, maybe a tad dry, but still good. Nice salsa bar, too. My SO was less happy with his roast pork sandwich from Arcangeli Grocery. The meat was fine, but the out-of-season tomato and yellow mustard were boring. We also shared a huge ch. chip cookie. And of course we got some artichoke bread to take home.

                  We enjoyed the walk to the seals, too. (Well, the 14 year old grumbled a bit.) Thanks for inspiring us to get out of the house!

                  1. re: Glencora

                    Since I'm a docent at Ano Nuevo, I'm glad you had a good time there. I think it's still a little early for berries along the coast, but people visiting that area should be aware that Swanton is just a couple of miles south of Ano Nuevo (although technically in Santa Cruz county and thus discussed on the California board).

                    Swanton Berry Farm
                    25 Swanton Rd, Davenport, CA 95017

                    1. re: Glencora

                      Glad you made it out there! Sorry Arcangeli wasn't up to par, we only ever get the bread there, which is always great. I really enjoyed that Los Amigos taco and put it up with any carnitas I've ever had - wasn't too dry at all (though I realize carnitas can vary in quality day to day, or hour to hour).