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Feb 19, 2010 06:50 AM

(Long) Trip Report from my last AMAZING SF visit and what to try next??

Hello SF Chowhounders!

Many thanks for your incredible help last time. I had an amazing time in SF and have been itching to get back for some more good eats since then. I will be back for work in March, but am coming out a week early to explore more food/restaurants and just relax after a crazy few months.

So last time, I went to a few places.

Oh my goodness.... I had the frangipane croissant, pain au chocolat, bread pudding, passionfruit lime bavarian (which I have since made about 5 times from the cookbook - AMAZING recipe, NEVER fails me!), chocolate eclair, and morning bun. I ADORED the frangipane croissant. It was huge, but amazing. I loved that the outer crust was so "well-done" but that the innards were so buttery, soft, and yet had a nice structure to it. It had chew and substance and the almond filling was just great. I am actually usually more of a pain au chocolat fan, but this one blew the PAC out of the water, though the PAC was by any other standards, incredible! I've had many, many croissants in France and of this style, I would say it definitely competes with the best. The bread pudding was sadly disappointing. Not much flavor there and the fruit seemed to be an afterthought. It was too soggy and as I said, the fruit was meh. The bavarian was really great. Not too sweet. And I would strongly recommend trying to make it at home. It is a little time-cnsuming but TOTALLY worth the time investment. It wows every time and is sure to be a hit. The eclair was GREAT. I usually don't like eclairs that much, but this was amazing, mostly due to the good custard inside and the INCREDIBLE, thick layer of deep, dark, rich chocolate on top. The morning bun was excellent, but definitely paled in comparison to the PAC and frangipane croissant.

That being said, I am DEFINITELY going back to Tartine a few times this trip. It's worth repeating for me.

WOW, this ranks up there with Tartine. It was AMAZING! I had Fatima's Thighs and a Plum and Custard Kolach. UNBELIEVABLE!!!! The flavors were just perfectly balanced and the pastry work was top-notch. The bun of the kolach was perfectly buttery, soft, pillowy and housed the excellent custard and VERY flavorful and potent plum compote. Fatima's Thighs (hehe) was just delicious as well with the orange blossom water essence and the almonds inside. I want to make it back here as well if possible. I also visited the incomparable Berkeley Bowl right afterwards.

I had the yeast glazed, apple fritter, and chocolate custard filled long john. The yeast glazed was probably the best version I've ever had. Of course, I am from the east coast, which doesn't have the donut tradition that the west coast does. The fritter was very good, but not my favorite of the three. The long john was AWESOME. Also want to try to return here! I tried to go to Dynamo, but it was closed the day I went.

I had the salted caramel and mint chocolate chip and had a taste of the honey lavender. SOOOOOOOO amazing. The concentration of flavors and then the texture and richness of the ice cream. DEFINITELY going back.

I was only able to try a few dimsum to go from here as I was alone and on the way from the airport. I got the char siu bao, har gow, and one other that I can't remember. They were much much MUCH better than anything you can get here in NYC. So this time I am going to go back with a group of friends and try a big variety.

Wasn't too taken by this. Probably should have tried the actual restaurant, but didn't have time. It was decent, but I wouldn't return for this.

We had the $9 lunch and it came with the side dishes which were delicious. The main dish was a DISASTER though. The noodles were WAY too spicy (and I am Korean) - so spicy that I could not taste anything after a few bites. I also enjoy fatty foods, but this was absolutely SWIMMING in oil. I took a few bites and could not finish it. It was by far the most disappointing experience I;ve had in a while. I know many have praised it, so perhaps I went on a very off day.

ACME BREAD (Ferry Building)
I had their (forgot the exact name) cheese bread and foccacia. It was excellent!! Great flavor, good crust, nice chew, and didn't hurt that the cheese was so delicious.

We had a few things from here that were good, but not memorable. I wouldn't run back here.

I had a few things from here and was absolutely blown away by their burnt caramel almonds. I bought two bags as presents and boy were those presents very very well-received! A definite must-try.

Salted peanut cookie and rich chocolate cookie with sea salt. Great flavor, very good cookies. Not rushing back here though.

BLUE BOTTLE (both locations)
I ADORED this coffee. Really rich, strong, deep, velvety. Excellent. I prefer sitting down but I didn't really like the Mint Plaza location. I like the vibe at the stand in Hayes Valley, but wish we could sit!

It was awful. Nowhere NEAR the flavor and depth and richness of the coffee at Blue Bottle. Perhaps I caught it on an off day? But I am definitely not going back to check.

I had a field day here! I bought a whole bunch of vegetables here and made a farmer's feast for my friend who I was staying with. Standouts were the lobster mushroom from Far West (though ALL the mushrooms were unbelievable - the lobster was just unlike anything I've tried before!) and the stand with about 30 different types of salad greens. The lady there was SO kind and so helpful - I discovered purslane there and have fallen in love. Definitely going back.

WOW!!!!!! I loved this too! I tried a barbecued oyster and cedar planked salmon and a crab cake. They were all delicious, though I do slightly prefer my oysters raw. I was leaving the next morning, so I just browsed really and was disappointed not to be able to get anything and cook with it. This time, I will definitely go up and have a ball. I took all my food for lunch that day and drove down to the water by Sausalito and sat in my car (it started raining....) and ate while looking out over the water. It was a magical day.

Can't beat the price and the oysters were good, although not the best oysters I've ever had.


I am thinking of Koi Palace return visit and of course Tartine, Birite, farmers markets, etc. But I was thinking of trying Manresa or Commis, Aziza, Canteen (brunch - how are those pancakes??), Brenda's for the beignets, Pizzeria Delfina (how does it stack up to Motorino here in New York?), Frances, Spruce, Contigo.... I am also in search of AMAZING seafood. What are your thoughts on these places I mentioned and do you have any other ideas?

Thanks so much!!!!!

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  1. Thanks so much for your report! Was this a different trip than the one you reported on last February?

    If not, what was the date of your trip? So much of our food is based on what's seasonal, it helps to "calibrate" your comments to know what time of year it was, especially when it comes to farmers markets.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Ruth Lafler

      Well, i was there two different times. One was in February (I went to Marin Farmers Market then) and one was in September (that was the trip in which I really explored the Ferry Market and got the purslane and mushrooms). This time, I will be there in mid-March (next month!)

      1. re: j.jessica.lee

        Thanks. As you must have noted, there's a big difference between the farmers market in February and in September. Although I often think that it's more impressive to someone from other climates to see what's available here in February than in September, which is peak harvest season throughout most of North America.

        Yank Sing To Go sucks. I work two blocks from there and both of the times I've gotten stuff from there I've wondered why. One thing I've never tried is ordering "to go" from their regular menu. Can that be done?

        1. re: Ruth Lafler

          My girlfriend once ordered stuff from Yank Sing's regular menu to go. At first, they wouldn't let her but we know the manager and he reluctantly let her get away with it. The only thing I ever order from Yank Sing To Go is the chow mein. It's not listed on the menu and has to be ordered as a special. (And, not surprisingly, it's kind of pricey.)

    2. FWIW, YANK SING TO GO is nothing like the sit-down experience. It's a steam table for office workers (I worked near-by for 11 years). Love it or not, you can't judge Yank Sing by its take-out outlet.

      1. Canteen is a great brunch, and their big pancake is fantastic, but it's not your traditional stack of pancakes for breakfast. It's always with whatever fruit is seasonal (I was there this weekend and it was with apples, in the late spring it's often strawberries and is often peaches in the summer). Given what you've liked, I think you'd really enjoy Canteen for either brunch or dinner. And all of the places that you're thinking of going for your trip in March are winners (though I haven't been to the latter three, I really want to).

        4 Replies
        1. re: JasmineG

          Thanks! I have been looking online to get an idea of what else they serve at Canteen for brunch. What DO they usually serve? I know they don't have the same menu all the time, but just wanted an idea. Also, is Canteen better for brunch or for dinner? All I could find online were the set menus for Wed/Thurs. On the other days, what is the dinner menu like?

          1. re: j.jessica.lee

            Some of their standard menu items: Benedict, the big pancake, the chupacabra (a shredded pork and black bean hash kind of thing, with eggs on top), and french toast. There's also usually some sort of scrambled egg thing, something more lunch-y, and brioche to share. It's a great brunch. Honestly, I can't tell you whether it's better for brunch or dinner, because I love it for both. The dinner menu changes each week, always very seasonal. If you search for Canteen on this board, you'll find some past reports from dinner there which will give you some guidance about what they serve. It's a great place to go as a solo diner for either meal, the counter is a good place to sit.

            1. re: JasmineG

              Thanks JasmineG! I'm definitely going to have to go to Canteen and I think it may have to be for brunch, though I'm still debating... I only wish I were in SF longer. What are some of your other absolute favorite places? I'd love to hear your other recs!

              1. re: j.jessica.lee

                I had a fantastic meal at Commis a few months ago, and can't wait to go back (and since it seems like you aren't renting a car, if you're debating between Commis and Manresa, Commis is relatively easy to get to from BART + walking, whereas Manresa is much more of a hike). Aziza might be a good fit for your group dinner foodwise; the only problem is that it's quite a distance from downtown, and that might be a pain for your group. I haven't been to Frances yet, but it's definitely a hot new place, so if that impresses your colleagues, that might be something to think about. I've also had delicious meals at Delfina. RN74 has a great bar, so it might be a better place to go for a glass of wine before dinner than a meal. I hope you have a great visit!

        2. Canteen is good for brunch or dinner. Not mentioned much on CH, but I really enjoyed my meal at Saison. Fancy food, but quirky and informal. You can wander into the kitchen and watch the guy cook.

          1. Any reason you haven't done Mexican here? or Peruvian? I would vote for Poc Chuc or one of the Peruvian places (many are seafood focused). It is different than what you would get in NY. Highly recommend Primavera at the Ferry Building Farmers market too. i really like a lot of their dishes - i have only had a couple of just OK ones.

            For ice cream - Humphrey Slocumbe is fun - not as rich as BiRite, but funky flavors.
            Chocolate - since you liked Rechuitti - Cocoa Bella has some, but some is shipped from NY! I like Christopher Elbow's infused caramel flavors. NeoCocoa truffles has its fans, although I am not as head over heals about them, and XOX I like (haven't had recently)

            29 Replies
            1. re: jsaimd

              The best local artisan chocolates I've had recently are Chocolatier Blue on 4th St. in Berkeley. And if you go back to the Marin FM, look out for Barlovento chococolates.

              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                I like some of Barlovento's ganache filled truffles but very much dislike the bars. They do best with their bold flavors IMO and natural tastes.

                Love Chocolatier Blue. His grapefruit rosemary was wonderful... and have to love Amadei couverture.

                1. re: jsaimd

                  I think the Barlovento cherry bar is great, but that's because I love the cherries.

              2. re: jsaimd

                I love Poco Dolce chocolates- pretty easy to find in the Bay area, but impossible to find where I live, so that's a treat for me when I'm in the Bay area ;-)

                1. re: phoenikia

                  Love Poco Dolce burnt caramel tiles - finally someone (besides Rechuitti) that isn't afraid of dark caramel. you can find at Whole Foods and Andronico's in the Bay Area (lots of other places too now)

                2. re: jsaimd

                  Well, I heard that the Mexican isn't as good as in L.A. so wanted to concentrate on things that SF does the best. I go to L.A. once a year so I figured I'd get Mexican there. That being said, I heard that SF does some good Central/South American food. Other than Poc Chuc, any other recs?

                  1. re: j.jessica.lee

                    Yucatecan, Peruvian, and Burmese are three cuisines that are more common in SF than post places. Some good discussion about that subject here:


                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      Thanks for the info, Robert. What is the difference between Yucatecan and Peruvian food? I have been to Lima before and loved the food there, but have never been to the Yucatan peninsula.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        I don't think SF is going to outdo New York at Peruvian. NYC has around 50,000 Peruvians (not to mention over 100,000 Ecuadorians) and plenty of Peruvian restaurants.

                        1. re: Xiao Yang

                          How many NY Peruvian places have cooking at the level of Mochica or La Mar?

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            Mochica isn't really Peruvian is it?

                            You might have a point with La Mar, but if you're counting New Latin, there's Degustation, and a long list of other notable places fusing Latin, which could be named. I'd say go for the refined Mexican (Chilanga, Nopalita) instead, but La Mar is a good suggestion.

                            1. re: sugartoof

                              Mochica Peruvian Restaurant is straight-up Peruvian:


                              The few dishes I've had at La Mar were not quite as good as comparable dishes at Mochica. The latter's halibut tiraditos is one of the best dishes I've had in recent years.

                              Nuevo Latino / fusion, Bocanova is worth trying.

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                The menu is self described as Fusion, and there's a photo on Yelp of a Pork Adobo entree.

                                1. re: sugartoof

                                  Chancho adobado is a traditional Peruvian dish.

                                  Peruvian cuisine is fusion by nature, much like Malaysian, since the cuisines of the highly various immigrant groups have gotten mixed. E.g. tiraditos were adapted from Japanese sashimi, lomo saltado is a local spin on Chinese stir-fry.

                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    I stand corrected on the Adobo, but you called it "straight Peruvian", linked to a menu clearly labeled "fusion", and now you're saying there is no such thing as "straight Peruvian".

                                    Bigger point...NY has plenty of strong, comparable Latin fusion offerings.

                                    1. re: sugartoof

                                      Mochica's the best place I know to get traditional Peruvian dishes such as ceviche, tiradito, chupe, papas a la huancaina, lomo saltado, and anticuchos.

                                      Nothing I've ordered there has had the slightest whiff of Nuevo Latino or pan-Latin fusion or whatever other trend the Web site's unfortunately use of the word "fusion" might suggest. No miso, no black cod, no short ribs, no mango salsa.

                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                        Mo Chica is definitely Peruvian...been to their restaurants in Peru too!

                                        1. re: trvlcrzy

                                          Carlos Altamirano is chef-owner of Mochica, Piqueos, and La Costanera. To my knowledge he has no restaurants in Peru.

                      2. re: j.jessica.lee

                        Poc Chuc features Yucatan-style cooking, not easily found in LA. Mexican food lovers from LA come to SF to eat this cuisine.

                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                          Oh, that's very good to know! Thank you, Melanie! What items are your favorites to order here?

                          1. re: j.jessica.lee

                            I've had almost everything on the menu and the only things I probably wouldn't order again are the braised lamb and the duck breast, just because they're more french in prep. If you're by yourself, I'd rec the platillo maya (appetizer sampler) and ask what the specials of the day are. That's too much for one person to eat, but the prices are quite low and you'll get to try a lot of different tastes.

                            1. re: Melanie Wong

                              Thanks Melanie! The platillo maya sounds amazing and the pictures look even better!

                              1. re: Melanie Wong

                                Oh yes, and Melanie, what are some of your other absolute favorite places in SF? I've read some of your reports on wineries and such and enjoyed them very much.

                              2. re: j.jessica.lee

                                I really love the Escabeche de Pavo (Turkey Stew). It's one of those earthy, hearty dishes that make you feel if you were raised on it it (I wasn't), you would be taken home again. I don't know if that makes much sense, but it's a dish I wouldn't eat every day, but get cravings for it every month or so.

                                Poc Chuc
                                2886 16th St, San Francisco, CA 94103

                                1. re: Civil Bear

                                  We really loved Poc Chuc and will be returning in March with my parents. We've traveled in the Yucatan and this is good stuff. The flat and rolled corn items are very good here and worth trying, as well as the home-style dishes that Civil Bear enjoys. Excellent value here too. Be sure to make a reservation to get the best service -- you will see what I mean if you go :-).

                                  1. re: grayelf

                                    Thanks, grayelf! You're also a fellow non-resident who adores SF! And I know you love Canteen. I'm definitely going, but can't decide if for brunch or for dinner. What is dinner like on the nights that are NOT the prix-fixe? What are your highlights/must orders for both brunch and dinner? I can't wait for my trip!! Any other recommendations? Thanks so much!!

                                    1. re: j.jessica.lee

                                      I do love Canteen :-). It's like going to a diner and then getting a gourmet meal served with finesse and pride. Watching the staff's work ballet in the galley style kitchen is a bonus. I love the atmosphere and the setup though some find it a bit cramped (it is small) and rushed (you have 1.5 hours). Because the menu changes so frequently, must orders are general -- I will go for anything that used to have four hooves. Having said that, we've never had a dud here. There is a limited choice each evening even when it is not prix fixe but again I've not had a problem finding something I like (and I am picky!). We love the delectable brioche which comes as part of dinner, and the vanilla souffle is a must order. I think there will be mayhem if that ever falls off the dessert menu.

                                      As for brunch, that is also worth checking out. Although I usually prefer savoury treats in the a.m., I've been drawn to their sweet stuff here.

                                      I think dinner is the more quintessential experience (you get to see Chef Leary in action!) and I would do that if you can. They do book up well in advance because it is so small. I can't wait for our March 26 reso (we usually go on the Thursday we arrive but this time that date is a prix fixe so watch out for that if you do decide to go).

                                      As for other recs, you've gotten so many good ones I can't recall if anyone suggested La Ciccia for some regional Italian fun and hospitality. Also I notice you loved Blue Bottle Hayes Valley apart from the lack of seats. If you haven't been, check out SFMOMA (it is their 75th anniversary this year) and treat yourself to the Blue Bottle there. Their museum blend is very similar to the Hayes Valley one, and the setting is lovely (with chairs!). Try a Gibraltar.

                                      Have a great trip.

                                      1. re: grayelf

                                        Thanks so much, grayelf! I'll be sure to write up my trip report once I'm back in late March! Can't wait to try everyone's suggestions!