The rest of JJL's trip to SF
So to continue....
After my incredible meal at La Ciccia last Friday night, I woke up bright and early on Saturday and made my way to the Saturday Ferry Building Farmers Market. I got a huge assortment of flavorful greens from Hidden ____ Farms as well as some beets and purple scallions and such. I also got some brussels sprouts from Iascone (?) Farms, tried cherimoya at a stand, got a pear, walnut, and gorgonzola tart from Frog Hollow (blech - the pears were absolutely flavorless, the gorgonzola just awful against flavorless pears - the pastry was okay, but couldn't save the flavorless filling), a chocolate bomboloni from Borietta (some of you have complained about stale bomboloni, but this was very good - great texture of dough and a nice chocolate custard filling - would definitely return for this and just might go back for one tomorrow!), a raw clam from the oyster/clam guy inside (YUM!), and sampled from various stations. Being so stuffed from my dinner the night before, I had to pass on the Roli Roti stand as well as the Namu and Primavera. :(
Later that afternoon, I went with a friend of mine to the Marin Headlands and drove and hiked around for a bit. Just gorgeous! I envy you all, having such beauty so close by and accessible!
On Sunday, I lounged around and then took a run in Golden Gate Park. After my run, I exited the park at 25th on the north side and made my way up to Geary and walked down Geary all the way to 7th Avenue. I just loved looking in all the Russian/Polish delis and markets. I bought a little package of salmon belly from New World Market and a little cheese/cherry strudel from another. I really wanted to have a piroshki, but my stomach was still recovering from the previous week of gluttony! When I returned home, I showered and then my friend and I went out to PPQ on Irving for pho, crispy spring rolls, soft shrimp summer rolls, and a side of five-spice chicken. I only had a bite of the pho as I'm pretty allergic to MSG. It was quite good, but not the best I've had. The spring rolls were fried well and had a nice flavor and texture and chew. The shrimp summer rolls were your typical summer rolls - not bad, not great. The five-spice chicken was very delicious but quite greasy and fatty. The skin was crisp, the chicken wonderfully flavored. I would order this again.
On Monday, I rented a car and made my way up north to Sonoma! After picking up the car, I drove down to Tartine for a pain au chocolat and a coffee. The pain au chocolat was every bit as good as I remembered it, but if you held a knife to my throat, I would have to pick the frangipane croissant. My first stop in Sonoma was at Gloria Ferrer and I took a tour and had two glasses of sparkling wine. Boy, what a great way to start the day! In general I liked the sparkling wine, but it wasn't anything I'd go back for or make a special purchase for. However, I did buy a bottle for my sister because I felt bad not buying anything. The girl there recommended Deerfield Ranch, so I headed up there. On the way, I stopped in downtown Sonoma and walked around, enjoying the beautiful day. I ate a meal I made from the farmers market bounty of Saturday in the square and then continued on to Deerfield Ranch. I tasted about eight different wines as part of their tasting flight. Much more interesting stuff here, but nothing that I loved. But as the guy working there conveniently "lost track" of what wines I was supposed to have in my tasting flight, I bought a bottle of the one I liked most. I then made my way to Sugarloaf Ridge and took a beautiful two hour hike. Can I say again how much I wish I lived here?? I then drove across to Yountville via Trinity Road (beautiful drive!) and peeped in at Bouchon Bakery and Bistro and of course took a peek at the French Laundry and its gardens. I stopped by Oxbow Market on the way down and got a mini passionfruit cupcake at Kara's. It was a good cupcake with a nice, moist, tender crumb. Very impressive considering its small size. The flavor of the passionfruit curd inside was nice, but I didn't care for the buttercream on top. Too much of it and it tasted plasticky almost and quite bland. What a day!
On Tuesday, I walked around for a while and then met old family friends for dinner. They wanted to take me to Sutro's at the Cliff House. It was a beautiful setting! The food was good, but for the price, not worth it. I felt bad that they spent so much money on dinner! But it was half price wine night, so we got a nice bottle and enjoyed our evening. I got the scallops and they were well cooked and flavorful except for a large piece of shell/rock that was in my first bite.
My colleagues arrived on Wednesday and we went out to La Ciccia as we had the evening off after rehearsal. Boy, it was even better than my first time! I was greeted with such warmth by Lorella and our server from before, Petra. We had five appetizers: the baby octopus stew again (AMAZING!), grilled calamari (tender, lovely, but outshone by everything else), the special tripe with porcini mushrooms in a tomato sauce (this was by far the star of the night - cooked PERFECTLY, great texture, incredible flavor, just one of those "oh my gosh, how is it possible that anything can taste this good??" moments), crostini, grilled sardines (also well done, but a little one-note and not my favorite). We also had five pastas: fregua with cured tuna heart and ricotta (very very rich, but delicious), the spaghetti with bottarga (just as amazing as last time), linguini with mixed seafood (a classic, but done SO WELL), the special rigatoni with goat and lamb ragu (so flavorful and delicious - you really got the particular flavor of goat meat which I loved), and I got a special off-menu pasta which is the spaghetti from the bottarga with chili and extra virgin olive oil but with cured tuna heart - it was just fantastic! Everything was just outstanding. Then we ordered the semifreddo which was again so unique and delicious, the trio of gelati, and then they sent out the saffron and ricotta cake on the house and it was out of this world. They told us that it is flourless. It actually tasted like a ricotta cheesecake. It was surrounded by toasted, slivered almonds and a delicious honey. What a meal this was! Massimiliano came out and talked with us and Lorella was so kind and along with Petra, took such good care of us. This is the kind of place I will return to every time I come to SF.
Yesterday, I tried an almond croissant and hazelnut chocolate croissant from La Boulange de Polk. They were both very good, but my heart still belongs to Tartine. I also tried a cannele there and it was awful. There was NO crust on the outside. It was completely soft and squishy! As soon as he handed it over to me, I knew it was a mistake. I wished I could return it and get something else. I hope this was just a fluke, because that is not the way cannele is supposed to be...
Tonight, we went out with our hosts/benefactors to Aziza. The food was delicious, but the service was not so good. It detracted quite a lot from the experience, actually. But food first! We had the basteeya (delicious, but not amazing - a little bit too sweet and not enough depth of savory flavor), the lamb meatballs (this was really excellent and I particularly liked the warm, roasted grapes; the jicama slaw was also nice and refreshing and added good texture), the trio of spreads (good, but not something I would order again), the lima beans (this was really excellent - great flavor and I loved the added texture from the toasted breadcrumbs on top; one complaint was that half of the beans seemed to be a bit undercooked - they could have been cooked better and for a Michelin starred restaurant, that is not acceptable), chermoula (delicious and done well), sardines (these were much better than the ones at La Ciccia; I liked that there were no bones and I liked the pickled treatment; it also came with toasted brioche and artichoke and I thought the whole dish was just lovely; definitely would order this again). Our main courses were the lamb shank, the wagyu beef, squab, and quail. The squab was disappointing. It was cooked well, but the portion was just ridiculously small. The fried hen of the woods mushrooms were not particularly exciting - just mushroom tempura, really. The lamb shank was nicely cooked and was a good size portion. The accompanying barley risotto was actually sweeter than the lamb was. The lamb was savory and the risotto picked up the flavor of the prunes. Well done dish. The wagyu beef was delicious as well. Very well cooked. A little low on flavor though. The quail, I did not try. Desserts were the banana crepe (I was underwhelmed by this dish as I'd been looking forward to it the most; fritters were ordinary, the crepe was, however, quite nice with the coffee mousse and banana pieces inside), goat panna cotta (really nice goats milk flavor!), hazelnut dacquoise (quite good). All in all, the meal at Aziza was nice, but I would not go back again. It was expensive for what it was and the service was not up to par, especially considering it was a Michelin starred restaurant. The food was very good, but not good enough to cover the lack of other qualities. Next time, I will return to La Ciccia and also try Canteen. I'm so mad I didn't make it this time.... However, our hosts (one of whom also came with us to La Ciccia the other night) just loved the restaurants and we had a wonderful evening regardless!
Thank you, Chowhounds, for your incredible generosity, for helping me find such great places, and for making my visit such a wonderful one. If I can ever be of any help in New York, let me know! In the meantime, enjoy and appreciate this great and delicious city of yours!
291 30th Street, San Francisco, CA 94131
The French Laundry
6640 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599
6528 Washington St, Yountville, CA 94599
439 Balboa Street, San Francisco, CA 94118
New World Market
5641 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94121
, Hayward, CA
Here are the links
5800 Geary Blvd., San Francisco, CA 94121
291 30th Street, San Francisco, CA 94131
900 N Point St, San Francisco, CA 94109
Sutro's at The Cliff House
1090 Point Lobos Ave., San Francisco, CA 94121
Boriana's Tuscan Market
Ferry Slip, San Francisco, CA 94111
PPQ Vietnamese Cuisine
1816 Irving St, San Francisco, CA 94122
New World Market
5641 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94121
Oxbow Public Market
610 First Street, Napa, CA 94559
2300 Polk St, San Francisco, CA 94109
Gloria Ferrer Champagne Caves
23555 Carneros Highway, Sonoma, CA
we were at aziza at the same night jjl, and i too had a disappointing evening there. i've been going to aziza since it opened years ago, but hadn't been since the michelin star... it's not the same restaurant to me anymore, sad to say.
the vibe of the restaurant has changed. it is much louder now, with what i would consider a trendier crowd. i felt it had a kind of "look at us, eating at a michelin star, isn't it wonderful?" vibe. there are more tables in the main dining room than there used to be. presentation is now very pretty, and very small. i suppose this is appropriate for its current purpose, and my own fault for having different expectations. the hostesses were somewhat sour and stressed. it didn't set off the evening well. she ignored us when we entered, then when i told her we had a reservation, she pursed her lips, looked through the list, and then grabbed a couple menus and gestured us to follow her with a "this way." no grace, no "please," no smile.
once seated, i asked our waiter about the couscous aziza (my favorite), which was no longer on the menu. the waiter was surprised i called it that, since apparently it was just called "couscous" in its latest incarnation on the menu, and so surmised i had been coming to the restaurant for a long time. unfortunately, it had been taken off the menu almost two months ago and the waiter said he didn't know why. oh dear.
the table next to us was another couple, who spoke to each other half in spanish, and half english. as we were seated, the man was served what looked like the vegetable couscous dish. he told his female companion in spanish that it didn't taste like anything at all. she responded along the lines of is it really that bad? and he said yes it was, i have to ask for a sauce or something. he asked the waiter (in english, naturally) for harissa and promptly brought it. even once it arrived, he did not look happy.
we started with the spreads and the special soup, a cream of almond and garlic. the spreads were delicious as usual, but nothing particularly exciting. i always like them. the soup tasted rich, with a beautiful velvety texture, but it had little flavor. it made us long for the cream of garlic soup at bayona in new orleans.
the SO ordered a vodka cocktail with cilantro and kaffir lime, and really, really liked it. he was briefly a bartender in a past life, and so may have better appreciated the craftsmanship behind the drink. i found it a little too sweet.
i ordered the scallops, which turned out to be two scallops, three shrimp, a few slices of puntarelle, about six turnips the size of baby pearl onions. not only was there very little of it, but it didn't taste like anything. looking at the menu again, i wonder if there was some sort of "passion fruit" sauce that was forgotten, because it certainly didn't taste like passion fruit at all. the scallops were browned, but lacked a crust. the shrimp were not browned at all, and the puntarelle were just soft. so, there was no contrasting texture. just soft. there was no flavor except butter and some tiny flecks of a green herb. i could have taken the same ingredients at home and made something much better, which really shouldn't happen at a michelin star. and if indeed there was a missing sauce, that also shouldn't happen at a michelin star. as we kept saying to ourselves, a dish like this would get you sent home on top chef.
my SO had the squab. he loves "the little birds" and was excited for his dish. as JJL mentioned, it was laughably small. two pieces of breast about 2" by 1"-2", and the legs confited. the fried mushrooms were delicious with the squab, but there were just a few of those too. he really liked the flavor, but was not satisfied with the portion by any stretch.
i was almost beside myself in disappointment. the waiter came by once after the entrees arrived to check on us. the SO expressed his enthusiasm for the squab and i think i mumbled some reply. this is my fault for not telling the waiter, but i had forgotten about the passion fruit component on the menu. i believe, perhaps wrongly, that you should only send a dish back if there is something actually wrong with it, not just if you don't like it. thus, when i was at batali's restaurant in vegas, i sent back my pasta as it was so al dente as to be crunchy. that's a failed dish. there was nothing *wrong* with my scallop dish; it was just dull and boring. in retrospect, it may have been missing its sauce. i don't know. i would also think that the waiter would have paid a bit more attention to my lack of response, but he didn't.
after the bill came, i told him about my disappointment with the scallop dish. he was surprised, and tried to offer us free dessert. but at that point, i was so disappointed by aziza that i really wanted to leave. so we paid our tab and left. unless couscous aziza reappears on the menu, i really can't see going back. this makes me really sad, as aziza used to be one of my favorite places. but at those prices, i can do better elsewhere.
thanks for the report. Two thoughts: obviously taste differ, but the couscous Aziza was never one of my favorite dishes there (though hubby really liked it) and in fact I always thought it lacked the creativity of some of the other dishes, so that wouldn't disappoint me...that said, if the hostess was sour either she was having an *extremely *bad night, or it is someone new. The welcoming attitude of the hostess there was always a huge plus for me, and there were a few times when she went above and beyond to be sure we were comfotable, seated in our preferred location, etc. I would definitely miss that welcome if it is no longer there.
Hi Artemis - yes, my overall experience at Aziza was quite disappointing as well. I didn't really like the vibe of the room and the service was very distracting. The squab dish, especially, was, as you said, laughably small. I am a small person, but even for me, it was laughably small. It was like an appetizer. I don't think I will be returning here. There are too many other great places to explore. And of course, I will be returning to La Ciccia EVERY time I come back to the city. Susaninsf and everyone else who recommended it - thank you for such a great recommendation of La Ciccia. What a goldmine and treasure!
291 30th Street, San Francisco, CA 94131
Thanks for the excellent, detailed report! I'm glad your hosts enjoyed their meals, even if the service at Aziza was less than stellar. If it makes you feel any better, the largest group I've ever seen at Canteen was a group of 5 (and they were very, very squished), so it wouldn't have worked for you this time around anyway - it's a great solo dining spot, so definitely prioritize it on your next trip.
re: Frog Hollow Farm - I'm actually a little surprised they have a pear tart right now, since pears are so out of season - if you're ever in town in the fall, give them another chance, just for the Warren pears. They're gorgeously perfumed and creamy in texture, easily the best pear I've ever had. They're only in season for a few weeks, though.
re: PPQ - no roasted Dungeness crab with garlic noodles? That's the dish people usually go there for, and it's not a prep I've ever seen in NYC.
re: cannele at Le Boulange - I've mostly had good experiences here (not on par with Baillardran or Pierre Hermes, but some of the best ones I've had in the Bay Area) but you do have to ask for the darkest one possible - the blonder ones definitely look undercooked.
Anyway, glad you had a generally successful trip! For your next trip, aside from Canteen, I'd definitely prioritize chilaquiles at Primavera, a slice of pizza from Arizmendi, some fresh goat cheese from Andante, and a loaf of levain from Della Fattoria (Saturday Ferry Building farmer's market).
141 Petaluma Blvd N, Petaluma, CA 94952
Frog Hollow Farm
1 Ferry Bldg # 46, San Francisco, CA
3265 Lakeshore Ave, Oakland, CA
So glad to hear (but not surprised) that La Ciccia was even better the second time. The warmth of the service there is the real thing!
OTOH, I am a bit surprised to hear that you had a bad experience with Aziza's service, which I've always found to be good. Was it very crowded?
Thanks for the great reports back.
291 30th Street, San Francisco, CA 94131